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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Is the Twins' pace more sustainable than in recent seasons?

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated May 5th at 10:42am 302566511

hunterI won’t profess to know everything about this 2015 Twins team, but 26 games in (after tonight’s game, the season will be one-sixth over), these trends are presenting themselves:

1) This is a resilient team. A lot of us wrote them off after a terrible first week. I was guilty of sending more than one text indicating I thought this could be the worst team of the past five Twins seasons. It was a good lesson in small sample sizes, I suppose, but the manner in which this team started 1-6 was alarming … and the manner in which it has now played itself into a 14-12 record is a testament to the manager and players staying the course (and performing better). That resiliency has been on display in individual games, including Monday’s comeback win over Oakland. Down 4-0 after a first-inning grand slam, the Twins looked like they were headed to an improbable 0-6 record in Phil Hughes’ starts. Instead they rallied and kept their momentum going.

2) This team is going to hit. The Twins are 12th in MLB in runs scored and eighth in batting average (.260), and that’s without any one player getting off to a torrid start. Rather, this lineup has the feel of being able to generate runs even if everyone isn’t clicking. Much of the damage Monday came from the bottom of the order: the 6-9 hitters combined for nine hits and 7 runs scored.

3) The pitching still isn’t great, but it’s better. Twins starters have a 4.43 ERA, 21st in MLB. That’s still bottom-third, but it’s a marked improvement over recent seasons. And that’s without Ervin Santana, of course. It speaks to improved depth.

4) Paul Molitor is getting high marks already for the way he manages. I like his mix-and-match lineups — with a willingness to platoon and take advantage of hot hitters or good matchups. I like the way he uses his bullpen and lets guys pitch two innings. I like that the Twins put Oswaldo Arcia on the DL immediately instead of waiting to see if his injury would clear. Playing with a short bench for multiple games puts a team at a disadvantage; whether that’s Molitor’s call or someone else’s call, it seems to be a difference over past years.

5) The biggest question now is to what degree all of this is sustainable. Resiliency can fade if losses mount, the pitching could go south and the bats could cool off. The question is to what degree. The Twins in recent years have had competent stretches of play that gave way to doldrums. And in general, it hasn’t been the first 100 games that have been the real problem; it’s been the final 62.

That said, this team already has a chance to do something no Twins team since 2010 has accomplished: go 3 games over .500. That chance comes tonight, along with a shot at a six-game winning streak. It’s more than some might have predicted at the start of the season, and certainly more than most would have predicted after the first week.

Here's a scouting report on Stephen Curry from before the 2009 NBA draft

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated May 4th at 5:58pm 302482401

Stephen Curry was named NBA MVP today, further cementing Wolves’ fans lament over the 2009 draft when Minnesota took Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn at No. 5 and No. 6 and left Curry to Golden State at No. 7.

Lest we forget, though, Curry was no sure thing coming out of college — as this scouting report from six years ago will attest:

Although he’s probably never going to be a pure playmaker in the Steve Nash or Chris Paul mold, he plays the game at an excellent pace, looks extremely poised at all times, and appears to show a good enough feel for the game to at least develop into a capable facilitator, ala Mike Bibby or Mo Williams. …

All in all, Curry has had a tougher time than he did last season with all the added attention that has been thrown his way, but he still projects as a very solid pro. In the right situation, alongside the right teammates, he could be a very effective NBA player, and his excellent intangibles and winning mentality lead you to believe that he’ll find a way to carve out a successful niche.

Sounds like a nice rotation player, maybe the fourth-best player on a good team — not the MVP, which he has become.

A different perspective on Fox Sports North Girls from someone who used to be one

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated May 4th at 10:35pm 302450501

jennytaftOver the weekend, I learned that Fox Sports was doing away with its “Fox Sports Girls” program. It started as a tip on Friday; on Saturday, a spokesperson for FSN confirmed it with a statement that read:

FOX Sports is constantly evaluating our marketing programs in an effort to keep them fresh and provide the most engaging experience for our viewers.  As a result, we have decided to end the FOX Sports Girls program to focus on other projects that serve our fans.

Since Fox Sports launched the “Girls” program in 2011, it’s been met with mixed reviews. The same could be said for the comments that followed this weekend after it was disbanded. Fans dislike the concept and like the concept for roughly the same reasons: there are pretty women on TV and at events.

“What’s not to like about that?” some fans say.

“It’s a sexist and demeaning concept,” others say.

I’ve always come down more on the side of the latter group, and I’m guessing there were enough viewers (many of them female, including my wife) who felt alienated by the concept that Fox was compelled for that reason to pull the plug.

In 2015, in my mind, the Fox Sports Girls — they had them for all the regional networks, just FSN, and all of them are going away — to be an antiquated concept that opened itself up to more criticism by calling the participants “girls” and by only referring to them by first name. They were somewhere between sideline reporters and cheerleaders — nice people caught in a strange assignment.

I have not, however, ever BEEN a Fox Sports Girl. But I did interview one of the original FSN Girls, Jenny Taft, for a 2013 story (when she was just “Jenny”). Back then, she encouraged me to replace “Girls” with “Ambassadors” when thinking of the role she and others played. That helped to a degree.

“We are trying to be a connection between fans and athletes,” Taft said back then, “and trying to get an inside look at teams and athletes from a fan’s perspective.”

Fair enough.

Taft, who played hockey in high school at Edina and lacrosse at Boston University (where she also studied journalism), was able to parlay her FSN Girls gig into a job with Fox Sports One as a reporter and host.

Reached Sunday, Taft (pictured above as both an FSN Girl and in her current job) said she had heard about the FS Girls program disbanding, though she had not heard an explanation as to why. But she did offer her own perspective on what it had meant to her.

“I enjoyed the job and I was very proud of the Fox Sports North Girls concept,” she said. “I worked with great people who were supportive and I believed in the concept. It also helped me start my career, so I was very lucky to be a part of it.”

Maybe Taft, who was given more on-camera responsibility by FSN as her time there continued, would have risen to her position at FS1 regardless, but so much of breaking into any industry, particularly in the media, is getting a foot in the door.

Maybe that foot in the door shouldn’t have had to come in a role that some would consider degrading, but Taft took it at face value. If the person doing the work doesn’t feel degraded, how do we ultimately judge it? That’s a bigger question that would require thousands of words to even begin to explain, but let’s end here:

Maybe Taft is an example, at least, of something good that came out of something many considered flawed?

Wild vs. Blackhawks feeling all-too-familiar in more than one way

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated May 4th at 10:33am 302420741

sharphawksStop me if you’ve heard this one before:

The plucky local team, filled with optimism and promise after a strong regular season, barrels into a playoff series against an opponent that might have a tendency to bicker or coast at times but that also has a rich recent championship pedigree, a ton of top-end talent and the ability to find another gear when the bright lights come on.

The local team plays well enough at times to win, poorly enough to deserve to lose at other times, while the strong opponent keeps the local team a arm’s length — making their fans feel like there’s a chance before crushing their spirit with turn-on-a-dime momentum switches.

You have heard this before, of course. This was the story of the Wild vs. Blackhawks two years ago and again last season. This is the story so far again in this year’s playoffs, with Minnesota down 2-0 after two losses in Chicago — one a well-fought heartbreaker and Sunday’s an all-around dud.

And this is also, unfortunately, the story of the Twins and Yankees in 2003, 2004, 2009 and 2010 — when New York went 12-2 against Minnesota and won all four series despite feeling like the Twins had a realistic chance to win at least a couple of times.

We’re not at Twins/Yankees crisis level yet in this series or in this progression of yearly matchups. Game 3 is Tuesday at Xcel Energy Center, and this can still be the series people want it to be if (as happened last season) the Wild is able to win the next two games in St. Paul.

But Chicago is 10-3 now in playoff games against the Wild over the past three seasons, and the Blackhawks are giving off a maddening Yankees vibe of looking vulnerable at times before leaning on a combination of skill and championship pedigree that Minnesota can’t match.

Maybe too much is made of the psychological edge in matchups where one franchise has owned the other, but in the case of Twins vs. Yankees it definitely seemed to be a factor. In 2004, the Twins had the best pitcher in baseball (Johan Santana), a huge edge in a five-game series. The Twins won one of his starts, blew another one and lost in four games. By 2010, the last of the four playoff matchups, the Twins had the home field advantage and a veteran roster every bit as good as New York’s, if not better. It didn’t matter; they were swept away.

The difference, you might say, is that the Wild has at least advanced in the playoffs to face Chicago the last two years — unlike the Twins, who were one-and-done in every series with the Yankees. To that, I’d say this: Each time the Twins faced the Yankees, they were two of the eight teams left in the playoffs — just as the Wild and Hawks were last year and this year. So really it’s the same spot.

The Blackhawks might not be in the Wild’s head. They might just be a better team. But if Chicago goes on to win this series, making it three in a row, there will be no doubt who the new nemesis in town is. And given how the NHL playoffs are structured to pit divisional teams against each other in the playoffs, it’s a foe the Wild is likely going to have to topple at some point if it is going to keep making progress toward the ultimate goal of hoisting the Stanley Cup.

Lynx star Maya Moore shares thoughts on feeling less visible in the WNBA than in college

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated May 2nd at 5:18pm 302234281

Lynx forward Maya Moore is a two-time WNBA champion and was last year’s league MVP. In virtually every men’s pro sports league, that would mean her profile is at an all-time high — certainly higher than it was in high school or college.

But in the WNBA, it’s not. Moore writes for The Players’ Tribune about the feeling of being far less visible now that she is at the pinnacle of her pro career. It’s worth a read. Here’s a snippet:

After four years and two national championships, I went No. 1 in the 2011 WNBA Draft. That’s when I felt the drop.

There’s this unnatural break in exposure for the highest level of women’s basketball in the world. Wait, what happened here? That’s a question we as WNBA players ask ourselves. We go from amazing AAU experiences to high school All-American games to the excitement and significant platform of the collegiate level to … this. All of that visibility to … this. Less coverage. Empty seats. Fewer eyeballs. In college, your coaches tell you to stay focused on your team and the game — not the media attention. But you know you’re on national television. You know people are following you. You can feel the excitement. And then as a professional, all of that momentum, all of that passion, all of that support — the ball of momentum is deflating before my eyes.

Gone.

It’s frustrating on several levels. We professional female athletes are continuing to grow and evolve, and trying to make an impact on our communities and other young lives — all of those things we maybe didn’t have time for as student-athletes. And now, there are fewer eyeballs to even inspire or influence because the exposure to the players and our game isn’t as great. It’s hard. Somewhere up the chain of command — in companies that, in many ways, dictate what is “cool” — people are making choices not to celebrate the WNBA and its players. We have a great deal with ESPN — they renewed our contract to televise a certain amount of WNBA games, which is great. It’s a huge reason of why we’re going to continue being successful as a league. But engaged and invested cultural influencers and partners in corporate America are crucial in elevating the profile of the WNBA. We have a product worth celebrating.

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Miami - LP: B. Morris 4 FINAL
Washington - WP: M. Grace 6
NY Yankees - LP: C. Martin 1 FINAL
Toronto - WP: R. Dickey 3
Philadelphia - WP: A. Harang 5 FINAL
Atlanta - LP: A. Wood 2
Tampa Bay - WP: J. Odorizzi 5 FINAL
Boston - LP: C. Buchholz 1
Los Angeles - LP: C. Hatcher 3 FINAL
Milwaukee - WP: M. Blazek 4
Chicago Cubs - LP: P. Strop 9 FINAL
St. Louis - WP: M. Socolovich 10
Oakland - LP: J. Hahn 7 FINAL
Minnesota - WP: P. Hughes 8
Texas - WP: K. Kela 2 FINAL
Houston - LP: C. Qualls 1
Arizona 0 Postponed
Colorado 0
Seattle - WP: F. Hernandez 3 FINAL
LA Angels - LP: M. Shoemaker 2
San Diego - LP: T. Ross 0 FINAL
San Francisco - WP: M. Bumgarner 2
Chicago 99 FINAL
Cleveland 92
LA Clippers 117 FINAL
Houston 101
NY Rangers 0 FINAL
Washington 1

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