Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Don't Buy a House: Catching Up with Minnesota Sports in 2,100 Words or Less

First rule of buying a house: Don't buy this tiny of a house.
On May 30th, my girlfriend and I closed on a house just east of the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. This was the culmination of a whirlwind month-long search to find a place we could afford in a nice neighborhood relatively close to where we worked. A couple dozen showings and open houses into our search, we found what would become our new house on the last day before we would have to switch our focus to rentals. It's a charming 3-bedroom with room for renovation in the finished upstairs and enough work done in the "unfinished" basement to host Vikings games and (heaven forbid) the occasional Minnesota playoff contest.

On May 29th, we drove to our pre-game walk-around of the place and found that the white house that we had grown to love and already had inspected.....had been painted beige, without us or our realtor knowing that an exterior color change was going to occur.

On May 31st, the day after our close, a hailstorm hit the Fairgrounds area. One week later, my girlfriend jumped to inspect a weird-looking ripple in the upstairs ceiling paint. Her fingers went through the damp drywall, indicating freaky leakage. After a month and a half of insurance and contractor hassling, we had a new layer of shingles installed last week.

Courtesy of MPR.

On June 21st, one giant storm system rammed into another giant storm system over the Twin Cities metro area. More than 600,000 of Xcel Energy's customers lost power as a result. Some of our neighbors' trees were completely uprooted from their boulevard soil, and we were fortunate to have just a few long and sturdy branches shear off the 50-foot oak (maybe? Hell, I don't know trees.) in our front yard and tangle themselves within other high-hanging branches in the tree.

But I am an idiot who tried to wrest those branches out of their well-fixed moorings for easier city pick-up, as a local government flyer "encouraged our cooperation" with clean-up efforts on boulevard trees that are technically the city's responsibility. Tangerine-sized chunks of wood (or, as my girlfriend called them, "way smaller chunks than that; basically woodchips") clattered down onto the back of my cerebrum as I probably lightly concussed myself. I then cussed out the tree, the storm, my crappy health insurance plan, and my own stupidity.

So, yeah. I won't go into detail about the weird worms eating our pine shrubs, my terrible work with the splotchy-brown yard, or what we found lurking beneath the surface of the bathroom shower drain. Only 359 more mortgage payments to go until we're free and clear! Don't buy a house. You already missed your chance at a record-low interest rate anyway.


The silver lining of all these activities happening at this time of year, sports-wise, is that the May-to-July section of the Minnesota sporting calendar is generally the Barren Season of the 12-month cycle. At last publication, the Twins were an ant's breath above the .500 mark, the Wild were about to become first-round fodder for the eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, the Lynx were still more than a month away from the start of their season, and the Timberwolves were probably on vacation making treasured memories or bettering themselves by, say, learning a new language. Let's check in on the notable developments for all the major teams in our favorite metropolitan market.

Maya, Lindsey, and Seimone could probably all be nationally ranked bowlers too, if they put their minds to it.

As the only team currently playing in meaningful contests, the LYNX get first mention here for having twice as many All-Star caliber players as the Twins. Four members of the Lynx were named to the 11-member Western Conference All-Star squad, which defeated their hated rival Eastern Conference team 102-98 Saturday. Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus, and Rebekkah Brunson all started for the West and scored in double digits (Brunson had an 11-point, 11-rebound double-double), and Lindsay Whalen scored eight off the bench.

As one might expect from a squad that sports 36.4% of its conference's All-Stars, the Lynx are in the middle of a third-straight fantastic season, with a league-best 14-3 record at the break. Go see their next home game (Friday night vs. San Antonio) because they haven't yet lost at the Target Center this year--stretching back to last season, they've won their last 16 at the home confines--and are currently riding a 7-game winning streak. Augustus recently referred to the Lynx as the Spurs of the WNBA, sorta-overlooked in favor of the flash-n-sizzle of folks like rookies Brittany Griner and Skylar Diggins, but whatever. I'm no mathematician, but if they secure the #1 seed in the playoffs and keep winning all their home games, I believe it will be statistically impossible for any other team to win the title besides Da Lynx.

Samuel "No Soy" Deduno "Alaska." Because he's Dominican. I'll let myself out.
Meanwhile, across Target Plaza, the TWINS have gone 36-49 since we last checked in with them, with pockmarks on the schedule like a 10-game losing streak in mid-May and a 12-losses-in-13-games stretch that encompassed the first half of this month. Joe Mauer is now the father of a pair of twin girls, but with Joe having been on paternity leave for the past week, the team sported zero healthy players who have both 50 at-bats to their name this season and an above average OPS+ rating (a statistic based on players on-base percentage plus their slugging percentage, adjusted for different stadium factors--an average hitter has an OPS+ of 100) going into Sunday's game.

When you combine punchless hitting with a pitching rotation that can't find even three guys who can perform above the level that we would expect a triple-A replacement call-up to provide, you end up with a team firmly entrenched in fourth place in a pretty bad division. Scott Diamond, Kyle Gibson, Mike Pelfrey, P.J. Walters, and "Rancid" Vance Worley have accounted for over a third of the Twins' total innings pitched this season; all five pitchers carried negative WAR ratings into yesterday's final game of a four-game series against the Mariners. All told, the Twins are paying tens of millions of dollars to about a dozen total guys who are all producing around or below the level expected from a triple-A filler guy so far this year. At least the bullpen's been aight. And minor leaguers Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano are two of the top three prospects in baseball at the moment, according to Baseball America. So we got that going for us.

Courtesy of Bob on Hockey.
Plenty of news to report from the wintertime teams as well. The WILD were hamstrung in terms of available cap space (of which there was less for everyone this summer as a decreased salary ceiling kicked in) due to being unable to buy out Dany Heatley's contract because of his off-season status as an injured player. If you're trying to explain to your kids why hometown hero Jamie Langenbrunner didn't get to sign a farewell tour contract deal with the Wild, you can thank a certain winger's shredded labrum. They were also without their 1st-round pick in this summer's draft due to its inclusion in the Jason Pominville acquisition right before the trade deadline.

That didn't stop GM Chuck Fletcher from finding ways to shake up the squad. Gone via various trades and releases are fan favorite Cal Clutterbuck, the rejuvenated Matt Cullen, punching bag Devin Setoguchi, and human muleta Tom Gilbert. New to the team are "El" Nino Neiderreiter, a young Swiss winger (seriously, his nickname is the Spanish word for "the" placed in front of his already existing name); former Gopher and Baudette native Keith Ballard, a 30-year-old D-man; and professional agitator Matt Cooke, who has drawn the opposite of raves from other teams and front offices. Cooke has been suspended a handful of times throughout his career but was not suspended when he applied the first of two concussions to Marc Savard which eventually ended his career with a nasty hit to the back of Savard's head in 2010. Similar hits have since been criminalized by the league, and he's the kind of guy about whom people say things like "Dirty player. He's got no respect." He also may or may not have intentionally stuck his skate into Erik Karlsson's Achilles tendon last season. So, ahh, go get your new #24 jerseys now, I guess. Defensive youngsters Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon also received new two-year deals, and very average goalie Niklas Backstrom received a very average-sized 3-year extension after allowing zero goals in zero minutes during this year's playoff jog (or, alternately, "this year's playoff run to the supermarket for milk and buns").

What a coincidence; I like Ricky Rubio because HE is very pretty.
Speaking of non-existent 1st-round draft picks, the TIMBERWOLVES seem to have botched another chance to add even a serviceable member to their rotation with a top-10 pick in their possession yet again on June 27th. New President of Basketball Operations (and old friend and Christmas card recipient of Glen Taylor) Flip Saunders outfoxed himself in this year's draft after his top target, Georgia shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, was selected by Detroit at number 8, one choice before the Timbas' selection. Flip struck a deal with Utah to trade the #9 choice--which turned out to be Michigan PG and cold-blooded dagger producer Trey Burke--in exchange for the #14 and #21 picks. Because in basketball, I'm told, it's always better to have two below-average players than one potential star, apparently.

But below average doesn't even begin to describe what happened next. If you believe some of what Flip said after the draft, but not other things he said (he has a tendency to contradict himself if you let him on to enough radio and television broadcasts), the Wolves wanted to target a big man--either Steven Adams or Kelly Olynyk--with the 14th pick, but both of those fellas were gone by the time Minnesota was on the clock. So, basically in a panic, the Wolves selected the do-nothing-except-score-inefficiently age manipulator Shabazz Muhammad out of UCLA. Canis Hoopus always has a ton of great draft data; skim through this to see exactly how poorly Shabazz projects as a pro. And check the comments in this thread for "Shabazz gif" if you're curious to see what happens when he tries to go right in a late-game situation.

Flip then took Louisville center Gorgui Dieng, a humble Senegalese kid who should be easy to root for and can potentially serve as the shot-swatting backup center the Wolves need behind Pek. And some other positive things have happened after the Sha-saster. Ultra-efficient scorer Kevin Martin is, simply by virtue of his having signed with the team, the best shooting guard the Wolves have employed since...Fred Hoiberg? Chase Budinger re-signed with the club at a rate that was right in the middle of what White American Three-Point Shooters were going for this off-season (re: more than Mike Dunleavy, less than J.J. Redick and Kyle Korver). Crazy Corey Brewer is back as a (maybe the only?) defensive stopper and not a top offensive option, like he was in his first stint with the team, so unless he chucks up a bunch of ill-advised shots every game, that's positive. The Wolves should absolutely make a run for a playoff spot next season, and they'll do it by scoring (and giving up) a lot of points along the way.

Courtesy of SB Nation.
And the VIKINGS started up their 48th training camp in lovely (?) Mankato last Friday. Two more former Green Bay Packers defected to the west side of the Mississippi River in free agency, as Minnesota's two big acquisitions were WR Greg Jennings and LB Desmond Bishop. Matt Cassel is also around to field all calls for the back-up quarterback that should become audible around late September if Christian Ponder looks lackluster against the Browns in the home opener.

All three of Minnesota's first-round picks--DT Sharrif Floyd, CB Xavier Rhodes, and WR Cordarrelle Patterson--signed their rookie contracts within about a half-hour span Thursday, so the full complement of Vikes were on hand from day one of training camp this year. As of this morning, none of our fine purple castle raiders have sustained any of the catastrophic injuries that have already taken down the likes of the Eagles' Jeremy Maclin and Jason Phillips, Baltimore's Dennis Pitta, and...Seattle's Percy Harvin (oh, drag.). Now that I typed that, do me a favor and please go knock on the closest wooden item in your current location. The preseason home opener against Houston is 11 days away, and the Vikes will start their season on September 9th against Detroit, the first of back-to-back road contests against NFC North teams to begin their 2013 campaign.

We'll have plenty more Vikings coverage as Week 1 gets closer, unless we don't. You never know when I might need another break from this whole "running your very own no-hassle website" thing. Here's hoping legendary recording artist Dewey Cox doesn't stop by and do this to our bathroom; might take me about three months to fix that kind of damage.

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