Some stuff I wrote for you to read between now and Monday morning ...
I was going to title this entry "Magic Number: 4," sort of like how yesterday's entry was called "Magic Number: 6." Then I thought, is there really a point in making a big deal out of a team's "Magic Number" when it's four and there are like three weeks left in the season?
Plus, there's a good chance the Twins will have clinched the division title by Monday, at which point this entry will have been sitting atop this page for an entire weekend, so having "Magic Number: 4" as the headline won't make sense anyway.
Or, to put those rambling two paragraphs another way: The Twins completed their three-game sweep of the White Sox last night, beating them 10-1 behind a three-hit game from Michael Cuddyer, two-hit games from Justin Morneau, Cristian Guzman, Augie Ojeda and Pat Borders, and a surprisingly solid start from Kyle Lohse.
It's a good thing the American League Central race was already over before this series, because otherwise the White Sox and their fans might have been really embarrassed by the way they played.
There are prize-winning show dogs that don't roll over as well as the White Sox. Way to play out the season, guys.
I know many people like to say that a player can't lose his job while he's out with an injury, but I've always thought that was sort of silly. Either the guy is the best man for the job or he's not, right? On that note, I'm hopeful that Luis Rivas has lost at least part of his second base job to Cuddyer while Rivas has been out with his toenail problems.
Not only does Rivas stink, but Cuddyer has played well lately, batting .284 with a .468 slugging percentage since the All-Star break and .280 with a .442 slugging percentage in September. Plus, I think he's played well defensively, both at second base and third base.
Of course, this is about the 100th time over the past few years when I've thought, "Hmm ... maybe Rivas will lose his job because of this."
Oh, how sweet it is. For, as you may have guessed, Batgirl wanted very, very badly to sweep the Bitch Sox - preferably in the most dominating fashion possible. And Batgirl, surely, was not alone - from LaVelle E. Neal to Twins Geek to Aaron Gleeman to Dan Gladden, Bert Blyleven, and even sweet little Clay Matvick, the message was clear: We've had enough, Bitch Sox. Enough of your petty, stupid, jealous whining. You are all jackanapes, every single one of you. Just shut up and go home.
Damn. The Red Sox beat the Devil Rays last night and Curt Schilling picked up his 20th win of the season.
Mark Mulder's recent troubles have taken him out of the American League Cy Young race, leaving only Schilling and perhaps Mariano Rivera as Johan Santana's competition. As I've been saying this whole time, I fully expect Santana to get screwed in the voting, so I see every Schilling win as very bad news.
There is absolutely no doubt that Santana has been better than Schilling this season, but I have yet to be convinced that the Cy Young voters will notice that, as opposed to Schilling likely having a win or two more than Santana. I guess we'll soon find out. It would be nice to be pleasantly surprised by the voters for once.
I watched Mark Cuban's new ABC show, The Benefactor, when the Twins game was on commercial breaks, and I have to say that I think it's a strange show. Not bad, really, but just strange. It's like they've combined aspects of all the different reality shows and then added in a part about not having any discernible rules. Think of The Apprentice, but with Donald Trump randomly firing people without any sort of reason.
I don't think I'll get into the show very much (and I'm a big reality TV guy), mostly because there's nothing to really keep track of. With Survivor, you know who's still in the game, you know what they have to do to win, etc. With The Benefactor, it seems like it's basically just "tune in to see who Mark Cuban decides he doesn't like this week."
If The Benefactor were a sport, it would be something with judges, like gymnastics, because at no point can you say, "I'm certain this person is in the lead." You have to wait for Cuban to get rid of someone and then you can go, "Okay, I guess that person lost."
Also, while Cuban seems like a great guy to hang out with, he doesn't seem totally comfortable being on camera all the time. It's as if he's not sure if he wants to play it totally serious or sort of casual, mean or funny. Meanwhile, Trump is always serious and always funny (although not intentionally).
And here's the fun part (for me, at least): Mark Cuban has his own blog and he's a pretty big internet guy, so there's a decent shot he might read this some day. In which case, it's one hell of show, Mark. If you ever buy a baseball team, give me a call, I work for peanuts.
As I've gotten more and more into poker lately (I had another good day yesterday, in case you care), I've discovered more and more good poker websites, including a couple blogs by professional players.
The other is Paul Phillips' journal, which I just discovered a couple days ago. Phillips is another interesting young player who isn't afraid to speak his mind. I have to admit that the first time I ever saw him, playing a World Poker Tour event, I thought he came across as a massive jerk. Since then, I've warmed up to him quite a bit and he's actually now a favorite of mine. His journal is also a good read and there's a whole bunch of other interesting stuff on his website.
And finally, the Funniest Exchange of the Week ...
New father Jon Stewart, interviewing new mother Gwyneth Paltrow, on The Daily Show: "Now, don't take this the wrong way, and I'm not talking right now, but someday ... I think my son could bang your daughter."
After a long pause for some serious laughter, Paltrow informed Stewart that, "Her father's not going to be very happy with that."
To which Stewart replied, "Uh oh, am I in trouble? And he's a tall man, isn't he?"
Without missing a beat, Paltrow said, "Taller than you."
I have a new column about the Twins and White Sox over at The Hardball Times, but in honor of the White Sox doing so much talking (and so much losing), I'm not even going to talk baseball here. Instead, here's a little poker stuff (I'll give a link to my THT article at the end, don't worry) ...
I was playing a $20 Sit & Go tournament yesterday afternoon and I had what was easily the best run of cards I've ever had in my (admittedly brief) poker career. With three players left and me as the short stack, I got dealt AA, QJ, AA and KK in the span of five hands.
I slow-played the aces before the flop the first time I got them, in the small blind, simply calling the big blind (which was at $500). The big blind, as he had been doing pretty consistently, then raised me all-in just like I thought he would. It worked for him a couple times earlier on, but it obviously wasn't working this time. I called and he had complete rags -- something like 10h8d -- and I doubled up.
I then took down a small pot with QJ, folded a hand, and found myself staring at AA in the small blind again. I again slow-played and this time he knew better than to raise me before the flop. The flop was a rainbow of undercards, so I checked. He bet out into me, probably figuring there was no way I had another high pocket-pair.
I re-raised, and he came back over the top. I thought about the decision for about three seconds, realized there was no flush or straight draw on the board, and took a chance that he hadn't made a set with a low pocket-pair or a lucky two-pair with complete junk. I pushed all-in, he called with pocket tens, didn't hit a set on fourth or fifth street, and I knocked him out.
All of a sudden I went from low stack to chip leader and playing heads up. I look down (I know it's on the computer, but I like talking like I was playing live) and find KK. I figure the other guy has seen me slow-play AA two times in the last four hands, so I decide to push all-in, in the hopes that he has something decent and thinks I'm trying to bluff him out of the money he put up to call the big blind (which was up to $600 at this point).
Sure enough, he calls with QhJh, I hit my third king on the flop, and he misses his straight and flush. I'll take the win, because my bankroll sure needed it, but I almost felt bad for the other two guys or somehow embarrassed. I wasn't really playing all that well, barely managing to make it into the money, and anyone with a semi-functioning brain should be able to go on a tear with AA, QJ, AA and KK.
After that, my confidence was sky high, which I've found is really important to my game. If I've played well earlier in the day, I have a lot more confidence that my reads are right and I have a lot more bravery when it comes to bluffing. I finished in the money in two more $20 Sit & Go tourneys, despite not getting a pocket-pair in either of them, and I went over-the-top more times than I can ever remember, all without being called (or re-raised) even once.
So I'm pretty pumped about my game right now, because after I played really well last month, I went through a very rough patch, but played well enough to live through it and recoup all of the money and then some. My bankroll is bigger than it's ever been, which is a good feeling.
Of course, I'm still a little worried about certain aspects of my play. For one thing, I think I'm definitely slow-playing far too often. However, it just seems to me that the only way to get maximum chips out of a high pocket-pair or a flopped set lately is to let someone else make a mistake in front of you. Still, I know that's a dangerous way to play.
Something that sort of goes along with that is the fact that I'm also probably not raising before the flop enough. I've noticed that I've been checking to see a cheap flop a lot more than I used to and, when I was running poorly last week, it led to getting out-drawn with inferior hands several times.
What I really need is a poker coach. Someone who really knows that they're doing who can watch me play and tell me (who sort of knows what he's doing) all the idiotic stuff I'm doing wrong.
Okay, now that I've got all that boring poker stuff off my chest, go check out my baseball article for today ...
I am in a "Magazine Writing" class and one of the books for the course is Michael J. Bugeja's Guide to Writing Magazine Nonfiction. I was reading the assigned pages yesterday when I came across the following in a chapter entitled, "Magazine Basics: importance of Audience":
This is why magazines exist. Few people, even family members or loved ones, give you what you want or tell you what you want to hear. Think about it. Say you like astronomy. You wake up your lover at 3 A.M. to see Orion on the horizon. The first time, the lover might think the tryst is romantic and might stumble out to the balcony with a glass of wine to peer in a telescope. The second time, the lover might sigh and spend two minutes on that balcony and then stumble back to bed. The third time, the lover doesn't get up. So the astronomy enthusiast buys Sky and Telescope and lets the lover sleep. That's good for the magazine, the enthusiast, and the lover.
That is, without a doubt, the most amusing passage I have ever read in a textbook. The mere idea that someone making a point about magazines would say "lover" six times in one paragraph, use the word "tryst" once, and invent a scenario involving getting "your lover" out of bed, drinking wine, and looking into a telescope on a balcony is marvelously absurd.
Also, did the language in that paragraph remind anyone else of the Will Ferrell "Professor" character from Saturday Night Live, where he and his "love-ah" invite other couples over and jacuzzi with them?
PROFESSOR: Yes. Come here, love-ah. Let me hold you in my big strong arms. What say we make love right here in our favorite chair?
LOVER: Mmm ... I'd like nothing more, love-ah. [She sits on his lap.]
PROFESSOR: Ahhh ... Ow! Ow, my back!
LOVER: What? Love-ah, what?
PROFESSOR: My back!
PROFESSOR: ARE YOU DEAF?! MY BACK! GET THE HELL OFF OF ME!
No? Maybe it's just me. Here's some other stuff ...
I had a bit of a dilemma last night, because Johan Santana was pitching against the White Sox on one channel and the World Series of Poker was running on another channel. I decided to go with the Twins game whenever Santana was on the mound and poker when the Twins were batting or a commercial was on.
So my night was filled with Santana's changeup and Greg Raymer's hypnotic shades.
Just once in my life I'd like to sit behind a stack of chips that big (I've given up on being able to pitch like Santana).
Fortunately, the WSOP was on commercial break while the Twins began to unleash their nine-run sixth inning on the White Sox, so I didn't miss that. I also didn't miss the American League Central race ending.
With yet another dominant performance (7 IP, 7 K, 2 H, 0 ER), Santana improved to 18-6 on the year, increased his AL-best strikeout total to 240, and lowered his ERA to a league-leading 2.76. In fact, only Randy Johnson has more strikeouts (257) or a better ERA (2.75) among all major league starting pitchers.
Santana will likely have three more starts left this year to try to become the first Minnesota 20-game winner since Brad Radke went 20-10 in 1997. During my lifetime, only three Twins -- Radke, Scott Erickson and Frank Viola -- have won 20 games in a season.
Santana has been the best pitcher in baseball this year, but I really think his chances of winning the AL Cy Young award will come down to whether or not he can get that 20th win. It shouldn't, but I think it will. His final three starts will likely come against Baltimore, Cleveland and New York.
Speaking of poker, my own poker play has gone in the tank ever since I wrote about it here last week. I had a big dry spell, but won a $20 Sit & Go tournament yesterday to restock my bankroll a little bit. I guess I'll have to put off quitting school and going pro just a while longer.
The defense of my "NFL Expert Picks" title from last year over at Seth Speaks is off to a good start. I went 12-4 picking games for the opening week of the season, tied for second place and one game behind the leader, Jeremy Kovash, who went 13-3. I went 176-80 (.688) last year, winning by two games, so I'm right on track.
On the other hand, my fantasy football team didn't do quite as well. Had I started the right people, my team would have run away with a victory, but Curtis Martin's 206 yards and two touchdowns were on my bench.
Instead, I took a 20-point lead into Monday night and ended up losing by 12 as Ahman Green went for 116 total yards and three scores and Brett Favre threw for 143 yards and a touchdown for my opponent, and my lone remaining player, Green Bay kicker Ryan Longwell, scored me just seven points.
I'm starting to get the feeling that what Johan Santana and Brad Radke have done for the Twins this season is going to be one of those things where people don't totally appreciate it until they've had a little time to reflect upon it.
Santana has been the best pitcher in baseball this year, currently leading the American League in ERA and strikeouts, 15-3 with a 1.66 ERA since the start of June, and winner of the past two AL Pitcher of the Month awards. Yet, despite all that and despite me constantly reminding everyone who will listen of just how great Santana has been, I don't think Twins fans have quite realized the scope of what he's doing.
And the same goes for Radke too. Radke went seven innings against the Tigers last night, giving up a single run to improve his record to 11-7 and drop his ERA to 3.43. It was his 23rd Quality Start this season, which leads all of baseball. Think about that for a moment.
Combined, Santana and Radke are 28-13 with a 3.14 ERA in 406.2 innings this year and have turned in a Quality Start 74% of the time, which is incredible. Now, there are certainly flaws with Quality Starts as a stat, but I actually like it a lot more than wins and losses.
Quality Starts don't tell you who the best pitcher is or who the most dominant pitcher is, but it does tell you which guys live up to the cliche and "give their team a chance to win." No pitcher in baseball has given their team a "chance to win" more often than either Santana or Radke, and I don't think that fact has quite sunk in yet with most Twins fans (myself included, probably).
As Baseball Prospectus' Dayn Perry (one of the most underrated baseball writers around, by the way) discussed in a column the other day, Santana and Radke have been the best pitching tandem in baseball this year, even when you ignore stuff like Quality Starts and look instead at more advanced metrics like Value Over Replacement Player.
In fact, as Perry showed, the only tandem that is particularly close to Minnesota's duo is Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling in Boston. And, according to Baseball Prospectus' newly-updated Support-Neutral pitching stats, which look at pitching performances on a start-by-start basis, Santana and Radke have not only been the best tandem in baseball, they've been the two best pitchers, period.
The real test will of course come playoff time, when we'll see if Santana and Radke can continue their incredible roll into October. For whatever it's worth, Radke has done very well in four postseason starts, going 2-2 with a 2.19 ERA, while Santana has been more of a question mark.
Santana was halfway to throwing a shutout in his first career postseason start, dominating the Yankees at Yankee Stadium last year, but he was forced out of the game with cramping in his forearm. He came back to make his second start in Game 4 of the series, shut the Yankees out for three more innings, and then completely fell apart in the fourth inning before being yanked. In addition to the cramping issues, he had surgery to clear out bone spurs from his elbow shortly after the postseason ended, so he does have an "excuse" or two.
If the Twins are going to make noise this October, it is going to be because of Santana and Radke. They've been the best pitching tandem in baseball this year and they're so far above the rest of the Twins' rotation that they need to be leaned on as heavily as possible in the playoffs.
In the opening round, that means they may start four of the five games, and if they pitch like they have during the regular season, that will mean the Twins will be playing a second round. Once you get to a seven-game series, the rest of the rotation comes into play a whole lot more, but I suppose we can cross that bridge if/when we get there.
By the way, reason #1,593,403 why it's a shame the Twins play in an indoor ballpark with a permanent roof: They could really use an October rainout or two on the days Santana and Radke aren't on the mound.
I finally saw Mystic River over the weekend. The movie was nominated for "Best Picture" last year and its director, Clint Eastwood, was nominated for "Best Director." Plus, Sean Penn won the Academy Award for "Best Actor" and Tim Robbins won for "Best Supporting Actor." Needless to say, my expectations were pretty high.
The movie didn't disappoint. It is one of the better films I've seen in the past couple years, although I'd call it "very good" and not quite "great," simply because there were a few things that weren't completely "right" in my mind. However, the acting was superb, particularly from Penn, and I thought the film was shot brilliantly.
I wasn't a big Sean Penn fan until the last year or so, during which time I've seen him in Mystic River and 21 Grams, which both gave me a new appreciation for him. Add in good stuff that I'd seen him in before, like Carlito's Way, Dead Man Walking and Bad Boys (the original, not the crappy Will Smith remakes), and I think it's safe to say Spicoli is one of the better actors of his generation.
Overall, I'd give it an eight out of 10.
Here's why I hate fantasy football ... Even if you make a good pick in the draft, it can become worthless if you don't pick the right weeks to play the right guys.
For instance, I thought before the Baseball Think Factory league draft that Curtis Martin was going to have a sort of "comeback" season this year, so I picked him fairly high. Then yesterday, in his first game of the season, he rushed for a career-high 196 yards and scored two touchdowns. Nicely done, right?
Not quite. Martin is my third running back, behind Edgerrin James and Brian Westbrook, so those 196 yards (203 actually, including receiving) and two scores just sat on my bench yesterday. Now, those among you with 20/20 vision might say I should have started Martin, but I don't see how I could have benched either James or Westbrook in favor of him on the opening weekend of the season.
Plus, both James (171 total yards) and Westbrook (161 total yards) had good games, although neither scored a touchdown and neither were as good as Martin. And you know what will happen next week: I'll bench one of them in favor of Martin, they'll score three touchdowns, and Martin will go for 65 yards and no scores.
I read an extremely good book over the weekend -- Ben Mezrich's Bringing Down the House, the story of MIT students who used card counting to "beat" the casinos for millions in the 1990s. I had heard some very good things about the book and it lived up to expectations, and them some.
It's pretty rare to find a great, unique story that is told in an exceptional way, but that's exactly what Mezrich was able to do. He was solely a fiction writer prior to doing Bringing Down the House, and I think that really helped him tell this (non-fiction) story in a way that matched the quality of the subject. Also, Mezrich involved himself in the story in a way that definitely added to the book, which is also rare.
The book was so good that I may have broken my own speed-reading record, which is saying something, because when I get really into a book I almost always finish it in one sitting. I blitzed through Bringing Down the House and its 257 pages, and then was extremely disappointed when I got to the end, not because the ending was a poor one (it wasn't), but because I wanted to read more.
Since I seem to be handing out ratings today, I'll give it a nine out of 10.
The Vikings won big over the Cowboys yesterday behind Daunte Culpepper's 242 passing yards and five touchdowns. I thought the offense was extremely good and running on all cylinders, despite being without Michael Bennett. However, while it's tough to find fault in a 35-17 win, I think the defense definitely needs some work before I can put aside memories of the defensive collapses of the past few years.
Yes, they held Dallas to just 17 points, but the Cowboys are not a good offensive team by any stretch of the imagination. They ranked 21st in the league in points per game last year and they've now got 41-year-old Vinny Testaverde at quarterback. Testaverde had a nice game, throwing for 355 yards and a touchdown while averaging 7.1 yards per pass, and the Vikings didn't get to him once for a sack, despite the fact that he's about as mobile as I was after my trip to the Chinese buffet on Saturday afternoon.
When a team has Richie Anderson and some guy named ReShard Lee as their running backs for most of the game and the quarterback attempts 50 passes, it's not a real good sign when you can't bring him down once. Like I said, it's tough to complain about an 18-point win, but the offense being good was never really in question. As usual, it's going to come down to the defense.
The Twins' "Magic Number" is 11. They have 20 games left to play and so do the White Sox. And as if that weren't enough, Luis Rivas hasn't played in two weeks.
And finally, there's nothing new from me over at The Hardball Times today, but we do have a very special guest column from Bill James. Some of you may have heard of him before ... he's written a few books. It's a real thrill to have him involved in a project that I'm behind.
To read Bill's column (which is, of course, excellent), click here.