RandBall

Michael Rand started RandBall with hopes that he could convince the world to love jumpsuits as much as he does. So far, he's only succeeded in using the word "redacted" a lot. He welcomes suggestions, news tips, links of pure genius, and pictures of pets in Halloween costumes here, though he already knows he will regret that last part.

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Nuclear Wessel: Down the stretch they come in the Premier League

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated April 24th at 5:07pm 301258831

nuclearDana Wessel works at Go963 FM in Minneapolis and formerly worked at Enterprise Rent-A-Car under their excellent corporate structure where *they* gave *him* the tools to be his own boss.

Bad news, Nuclear Warheads. The Premier League season is almost over.

Then, all we have to look forward to is the FA Cup Final, Champions League Final, Women’s World Cup, CONCACAF Gold Cup, MLS season, Minnesota United season, Men’s World Cup Qualifiers, international friendlies on US territories and the start of the Premier League in August.

SOCCER NEVER ENDS BAHAHH!!!!!!!!!!!!

Speaking of the United, their home lid-lifter in Blaine is this Saturday night. Get out and enjoy some professional soccer.

On to the matches!!!

No. 1: Manchester City vs Aston Villa at Etihad Stadium

When: Saturday at 11:30AM on Big Boy NBC

Last year: City beat Villa at the Etihad 4-0 last season. It wasn’t as big as a runaway as it looks on paper though. All four goals came after the 64th minute and the final two came after the 89th minute.

The Spurs/Southampton ‘battle for 6th place and foolish hope we can still catch City for 4th’ derby will probably be a more intriguing match than this, but I can’t in good faith recommend anybody wake up at 6:45AM to watch it. These two teams had a chance to make this the most exciting top four race ever but they decided to be average instead. THANKS!

This City fall from grace really has been something to watch. Just further proof that you can spend a ton of cash on a ton of high-priced talent and still fail as a team. We see it all the time in baseball stateside. You have to build a team, not just buy the shiniest, most expensive toys.

If it hadn’t been for the combined ineptitude of Liverpool, Spurs and Southampton, they would be clinging to their Champions Leagues lives right now. How crazy would that be?

But they sit comfortably in fourth, seven points clear of Liverpool (having played one more game than the Reds), and even given their dreadful form, you can’t picture them falling any further.

They face a Villa team Saturday having an odd season. They are once again flirting with relegation but have somehow found themselves in the FA Cup final against Arsenal. Villa have to be confident coming off of that win over Liverpool at Wembley last weekend and know only a few more points in their final five matches will officially secure them another season in top-flight English football.

Villa will put up a fight but I see City taking care of business at home much like they did last week against West Ham.

No. 2: Everton vs Manchester United at Goodison Park

When: Sunday at 7:30AM on NBC Sports Network

Last year: Everton beat United and former manager David Moyes last season 2-0 almost a year ago to the day. Moyes was dismissed shortly thereafter as United stumbled to a seventh place finish.

Seems like as good a time as any to remind everyone I picked Everton to finish in the top four this season. If the FA decides to make this match worth 25 points AND if Everton win, that could still happen. YA JUST NEVA KNOW.

United’s faint title hopes came to an end last weekend at the hands of Eden Hazard but that shouldn’t be a blemish on what has been a great year for them. Any United fan in the world would have gladly handed you the deed to their house if you told them in August they’d finish in the top four and above Manchester City.

It has been a bad year for Everton. There is no way around it. They have even won four of their last five matches and still sit in 12th place. Yuck.

Should be an entertaining match at Goodison Park, where United have won just one match in their last five. Roberto Martinez said he expects James McCarthy is fit to play. That helps the Toffees and ensures supporters they get to see him play a few more times before he is inevitably sold this summer.

No. 3 Arsenal vs Chelsea at Emirates Stadium

When: Sunday at 10:00AM on NBC Sports Network

Last year: These two last met at Emirates two days before Christmas last season and played to a 0-0 draw.

Well, this should be a doozy, huh?

The Premier League title race is either (essentially) over with a Chelsea win/tie or will get a lot more interesting if Arsenal can grab all three points.

Here are the scenarios:

  • If Chelsea win, they will go 13 points clear. Arsenal can then get a max of 81 points, therefore Chelsea will need two more points in their final five matches to clinch the title and can do so Wednesday, April 29th at Leicester City at the earliest.

  • If Chelsea/Arsenal draw, Chelsea will stay 10 points clear. Arsenal can then get a max of 82 points, therefore Chelsea will need five points in their final five matches to clinch the title and can do so Sunday, May 3rd against Crystal Palace at the earliest.

  • If Arsenal win, Chelsea will remain seven points clear. Arsenal can get a max of 84 points, therefore Chelsea will need nine points in their final five matches to clinch the title and can do so Sunday, May 10th at the earliest.

Get all that? All of those scenarios are under the assumption that Arsenal will win out. If they drop any points after the Sunday’s match, it makes it even more difficult. Also, I did that math myself (seriously) so if it is wrong, don’t correct me, just take comfort in knowing you are smarter than me.

But all that is in the future! The only thing that these teams control is what happens on Sunday. I think it is obvious at this point that Jose Mourinho won’t really be looking to attack much. Plus, in this title race, a draw is just as good as a win for Chelsea. It may annoy casual fans or folks who support other sides. But Chelsea aren’t here to impress random Spurs or Liverpool fans, they are here to win a trophy.

Diego Cost is a question mark but Jose Mourinho said it is possible he plays ahead of schedule from that hamstring injury. If not, Jose said Friday that Drogba is ready to go. We all know his track record against Arsenal.

Arsenal will be going all out for the win. They have to. It is their only option. Look for Chelsea to defend and pick their chances carefully.

Should be a fun one. I just want to take a long nap until it is Sunday morning.

Enjoy the matches, soccer fans. Until next time, keep your socks taped and your cleats up.

TFD: Twins' pitching rotation has been turned upside down

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated April 23rd at 5:18pm 301129291

miloneOn the morning of Friday, April 3, one could honestly look at the top four spots in the Twins’ rotation and find optimism.

Phil Hughes was coming off a great 2014 season; new free agent Ervin Santana was going to be a stabilizer; Ricky Nolasco was primed for a bounceback after a nice spring; and Kyle Gibson looked ready to make the next step.

A few hours later, Santana was nailed with an 80-game suspension. Then the season started, Nolasco had one bad outing and went on the disabled list. Hughes hasn’t had a terrible start in three outings, but he hasn’t had a particularly good one, either, taking losses in all three decisions. Gibson had one nice start and two bad ones, and his early line of 15.1 innings pitched, 9 walks and just 3 strikeouts is cringe-worthy.

Combined, the four pitchers who elicited the cause for rotation optimism are a combined 1-6 with a 6.57 ERA in seven starts spanning 37 innings. It’s a small sample size, but it’s quite bad.

Conversely, the pitchers the Twins were counting on the least — the guys, really, who were battling for the fifth spot — have performed the best. Tommy Milone, who won the No. 5 job, is 2-0 with a 3.38 ERA in three starts. Mike Pelfrey, who grudgingly went to the bullpen when Milone won the spot but quickly was summoned back to the rotation when Santana was suspended, has a 2.65 ERA in three starts after going seven shutout innings last night. Trevor May, summoned from Rochester when Nolasco went down, pitched into some bad luck his first start but looked solid last time out in defeating Cleveland. Combined, those three pitchers are 4-1 with a 3.45 ERA in eight starts.

Again, it’s a small sample size. And you can look at it one of two ways: the Twins would really be onto something if the top of the rotation was performing … or they’re really lucky to have more depth than in past years because those are the pitchers at least keeping them afloat right now.

This soccer player is 10 times worse than Steve Ott

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated April 23rd at 5:23pm 301110841

Reckless challenge? Check.

Punch in the face? Check.

Pretend nothing happened the tune of an immediate protest to the ref? Check.

And he got away with it.

Shameless. Just shameless.

Slippage from Wild's Dubnyk started before Game 4 blowout

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated April 23rd at 4:04pm 301064011

dubnykWild goalie Devan Dubnyk, the savior of this season, was blasted Wednesday for six goals on 17 shots. On a couple of them, he had little to zero chance. A couple were softies. And a couple were toss-ups — the kinds of saves he made far more often than not during his incredible regular-season run with the Wild.

There were far more things wrong with the Wild on Wednesday than Dubnyk. An all-around mess is to blame for that 6-1 loss. But lurking within that loss was an extension of a troubling trend with Dubnyk: he simply hadn’t been as otherworldly lately, even before Wednesday’s disaster.

In Dubnyk’s first 32 games with the Wild, he posted a 93.9 save percentage, putting him among the top 5 goalies in the league in that span.

In his final seven regular-season games, he posted a 92.5 save percentage — still quite good, but a mark that ranked 14th among NHL goalies with at least 240 minutes played during that span.

In his first three playoff games, it was more of the recent same: a 92.2 save percentage. The number in the playoffs obviously looks a lot worse when factoring in the six goals Wednesday; now, through four playoff games, Dubnyk’s save percentage is a dismal 86.4.

War On Ice tracks the quality of saves a goalie is making, dividing them into high, medium and low danger. In those final seven regular-season games, Dubnyk was still stopping the high-danger shots at around the same rate as he previously had (around 86 percent). It was the medium and low-danger goals that were getting in more frequently. In the playoffs, the sample size is too small to draw many conclusions, but he has allowed seven goals on 24 high-danger shots (70.8 save percentage), a bad number that was hurt further Wednesday but was already down from where it had been earlier this year.

The Wild didn’t need Dubnyk to be great in the final handful of regular season games, since his MVP-level work before that had all but guaranteed them a playoff spot, nor did they Minnesota need him to be great in the first three games of the playoffs because its overall play was so sharp that it could take a 2-1 series lead.

And again, it wasn’t like Dubnyk was bad down the stretch or in the playoffs before Wednesday; he was just closer to earth than he had been, and frankly he just wasn’t tested a ton during many stretches of the first three postseason games.

But with St. Louis seeming to have found its legs and another gear Wednesday, and with the Wild needing to now get at least one more road win to take this series, I dare say Minnesota needs MVP-level Dubnyk to resurface. That means stopping those “high danger” shots at an impressive rate. And in general, it means being sharper not just than he was in Game 4, but also in the 10 games that preceded it.

(Amazing photo of the Blues’ third goal by Strib photog Carlos Gonzalez).

Wild reaction: Blues coach Hitchcock pushes all the right buttons in Game 4

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated April 23rd at 7:38am 301019901

ottThe last I personally saw of Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, he was abruptly ending an unhappy postgame news conference following a 3-0 Game 3 loss to the Wild. He wasn’t rude. It was just clear he didn’t have much more to say after his team was thoroughly outplayed. There were far more questions than answers, and with his team trailing 2-1 in the series it was his job to bridge the gap.

Now: too much can be made of the influence of coaches in sports — particularly in the pro game, when motivation, preparation and strategy can only go so far because the talent of individuals often carries the day.

Maybe Hitchcock had nothing to do with Wednesday’s butt-kicking at the X. But I’m going to guess he did and give him credit for playing some wily veteran coach cards prior to Game 4.

The two main things: Showering the Wild with praise and juggling lines.

Before Game 4, Hitchcock said the Blues needed “Messier, Gretzky, I’ll take an Anderson, Kurri’s fine,” to beat the Wild, harkening back to the Oilers’ juggernaut of the 1980s.

“We’re playing a team that’s played the best hockey in the league since the goalie change and everybody is trying to catch up to them,” Hitchcock said. “I knew they were playing like this when we came in here and got beat right at the end of the regular season. It was our first experience at watching them play. They’re on top of their game and it’s our job to catch up.”

Classic coach stuff. Wild players didn’t read those quotes and think, “Man, we’ve got this one. They’ve quit. Might as well not even try hard.” But don’t underestimate the psychological battles that go on in sports. Anything that might cause an opponent to lose an edge or slip just a little can be critical, and making them think they’re better than they really are is a tactic.

The second thing, juggling lines, is a minor tactical ploy and often the mark of a desperate coach. It can be overrated. But Hitch tweaked the lines, going back to some groupings that had good chemistry earlier in the season, and the proof of effectiveness was in the results. Every Blues line contributed, while Hitchcock also minimized the role of Steve Ott — chief Wild villain, who had been doing the Blues more harm than good. Ott had just 7:02 of ice time in the first two periods, the second-lowest total of any St. Louis player.

Now it’s up to Mike Yeo to decide how to counterpunch. He’s a “slow and steady wins the race” guy in general, believing in his system and trying to be even keel. I imagine he’ll treat Game 4 as a terrible mulligan and hope the Wild’s road pedigree (which starts with Devan Dubnyk) shines through in Game 5. I’m betting he’ll resist any major changes or tactics (other than to remind his team that the hard way seems to be the Wild way and this is no time to panic).

Maybe that will be the right button for him to push. In Game 4, it sure seemed like Hitchcock was the one who could do no wrong.

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Cleveland - LP: T. House 1 FINAL
Detroit - WP: A. Simon 4
Chicago Cubs 0 Postponed
Cincinnati 0
Kansas City 0 Postponed
Chicago WSox 0
Houston - WP: S. Feldman 9 FINAL
Oakland - LP: K. Graveman 3
NY Mets - WP: M. Harvey 8 FINAL
NY Yankees - LP: C. Sabathia 2
Washington - LP: S. Strasburg 0 FINAL
Miami - WP: T. Koehler 8
Toronto - LP: B. Cecil 2 FINAL
Tampa Bay - WP: E. Frieri 4
Atlanta - WP: S. Miller 5 FINAL
Philadelphia - LP: D. Buchanan 2
Boston - LP: K. Uehara 4 FINAL
Baltimore - WP: B. Matusz 5
St. Louis - WP: M. Belisle 5 FINAL
Milwaukee - LP: W. Peralta 3
Pittsburgh - WP: T. Watson 2 FINAL
Arizona - LP: A. Reed 1
San Francisco - WP: J. Machi 5 FINAL
Colorado - LP: B. Brown 4
Los Angeles - WP: B. McCarthy 11 FINAL
San Diego - LP: I. Kennedy 8
Texas - LP: C. Lewis 1 FINAL
LA Angels - WP: V. Pestano 4
Minnesota - WP: T. Stauffer 8 FINAL
Seattle - LP: J. Paxton 5
Atlanta 83 FINAL
Brooklyn 91
Chicago 90 FINAL
Milwaukee 92
Golden State 109 FINAL
New Orleans 98
Memphis 109 4th Qtr 0:28
Portland 104
Washington 1 FINAL
NY Islanders 3
Detroit 4 FINAL
Tampa Bay 0
Nashville 3 FINAL
Chicago 4
Vancouver 4 FINAL
Calgary 7
Philadelphia 1 FINAL
Columbus 4
Real Salt Lake 0 FINAL
New England 4
Sporting Kansas City 4 FINAL
Houston 4
D.C. 2 FINAL
Vancouver FC 1

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