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Wild players waiting for the Gus Bus in a new season.
ST. PAUL – Against my hopes and irrational reasoning the Houston Astros ended the Minnesota Twins playoff dreams and sent them packing into the offseason courtesy of a 3-2 win in Game 4 of the ALDS and a 3 games to 1 series win.
Yes the Astros are the defending World Series Champions. But that was last season. I still felt the Twins had a legitimate shot at taking this series and advancing to the ALCS. Houston moves on to face the Texas Rangers and the Philadelphia Phillies will face the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NLCS. From here on out all series will go to a best-of-seven format.
And for the remainder of this year my sports prognosticating is going right to the shelf. How many of my "Favored Four" teams have survived so far in the playoffs and still have a shot at a Word Series title? That starts with a 'z' and ends with an 'o.' As in zero. Atlanta is out along with the LA Dodgers, Baltimore Orioles and the Tampa Bay Rays. In the late August through early September timeframe these were the four clubs that I felt were playing the best ball at that time. So much for that.
As for the Twins there are a few glaring examples of why they didn't get far. On the positive side they have some exciting young talent that bodes well for the future and they finally broke through the club's playoff "curse" winning both games and a series. That's nice but doesn't count for much when you are chasing championships.
In the Houston series the Twins hitters showed some extreme impatience with pitch selection and this damaged their chances of winning the series. Their younger players especially did a lot of "fishing" at the plate, going after some rather poor pitches to take a swing at. The team left 26 runners on base in the series and struck out in 52 plate appearances. I don't care how good you might be, very few clubs can overcome those two factors unless your pitching staff is throwing an all-shutout series. They weren't. And it's not like the analysts and fanbase weren't aware of this before the playoffs. The Twins led the league in strikeouts in the regular season, whiffing in 1654 at-bats.
Twins skipper Rocco Baldelli had a few head-scratching moments for me as well. The Twins staff was serving up a lot of chances for the Astros to go deep and they did. They hit 10 homeruns in the series with just two players, Jose' Abreu and Yordan Alvarez accounting for 7 of them. For me that's on Baldelli. After you watched those two players feast on your staff don't you just start giving them first base? I would have. Is there risk in that? Yes, but neither are gifted baserunners so I believe I would have taken the chance.
There was some post-series chatter about how the balls and strikes calls seemed to all go the way of the Astros. Maybe so, maybe not. I didn't see anything that would confirm that for me. But I did notice the Twins were losing pretty much all of the battles on checked swing calls. They were hardly getting any of them in their favor.
The tournament rolls on without the Twins and it will be interesting to see how the series goes in the Lone Star state and how matters transpire in the National League series. For the Twins, for next season they will bring back this year's team mostly intact. There are 5 free agents to make decisions on, but all of them have expressed a desire to return. It's in the team's hands now.
Even with the Twins out of the playoffs I am looking back and I am smiling. This team just might be on the verge of some greatness once again. They know what must be fixed to do so.
The Minnesota Wild kicked off the regular season last night with a win in the Capital City against the defending Eastern Conference Champion Florida Panthers. The final was 2-0 with netminder Filip "Gus the Bus" Gustavsson getting the shutout. Rookie D-man and hometown hero Brock Faber got his first career NHL goal and it turned out to be the GWG. Marco Rossi had what would have been his first NHL career goal negated on an offsides call on winger Marcus Foligno. Was it a good performance by the Wild? Well...
If I'm making an honest assessment here the Cats outplayed the Wild for the better part of the game. The shutout by Gus saved the team's bacon. He faced and stopped all 41 shots by the Panthers and some of them were "seven-alarmers."
Sergei Bobrovsky faced 21 on the other end. The eighth Swedish wonder of the World, Joel Eriksson Ek had two points with one of those being a power play tally in the second frame. The power play will be a work in progress as time goes forward and the penalty kill was adequate but will need to become better as the season moves forth.
What lies ahead for the Wild? As I expected and due to their salary cap penalties the team could have some nights where they might be suiting up only 19 players out of 20. Of the players they will dress, there is a solid level of talent there. Some of it still needs to build on their NHL experience but they should be able to compete. Is it still dicey to see them locking down a playoff spot next spring? In my view it is and that's because it's still quite early to make that call. Most analysts are still looking at the club as a middle-of-the-league entity this season.
The team is on the road and back in action tomorrow eve against the Toronto Maple Leafs and again on Tuesday night versus the Montreal Canadiens. That can be a challenging pair of road tilts for anyone. The Leafs are tough and the Habs are building and improving. For me, I would go with Gus against the Leafs and give Marc Andre' Fleury the game against Montreal back in his home province. The boys will return home for a matchup against the LA Kings tonight the 19th.
Is Florida a good team with a good coach? Yes they are. Count me as a longtime fan of Paul Maurice. They outskated the Wild, outshot them and had a superior advantage in offensive zone time. But Gus was the best player on the ice last night. How many nights can he provide that as the season gets going? That is the big question...
At 1-4 there isn't much positive to say about the Minnesota Vikings. They will face the hapless CHI Bears in the Windy City this weekend. They will do so without receiver Justin Jefferson who will miss at least the next 4 weeks due to a hamstring injury.
He recently stated that he is upset with trade rumors about him. He didn't say he was mad he didn't get the new mega-deal he wanted before the season started. So, is he really hurt? Have we seen the last of him in a Vikings jersey? I'm wondering. PEACE