Red Sox broadcast shows bogus footage of Metrodome implosion

nesnDuring the Twins-Red Sox broadcast on Boston’s NESN feed, footage of the Metrodome’s implosion was shown.

That’s cool, except:

1) The Metrodome was never imploded in a big blast. It was, instead, taken down piece by piece.

2) The footage NESN showed was actually the Kingdome in 2000.

3) For some bizarre reason, on the video NESN showed, there was a roof digitally added to the Kingdome. A couple of astute readers (and now Deadspin, too) noted that the bogus footage is actually from a Hawk Harrelson spoof. NESN played it completely straight!

Deadspin is all over the visuals, though we’ve added a frame grab (with our own text) from the NESN broadcast. This is bizarre. So bizarre.

Guess you could say that running that footage when they did was the real … 7th inning … stretch.

One key to Twins’ success: Leading early and often

If you’re still scratching your head trying to figure out how the Twins are 28-18 after a 1-6 start and four consecutive 92-loss seasons, here are a couple of charts that explain the “what,” if not the “why.”

First off, the Twins through 46 games have done a great job jumping on teams early. It’s not sure your imagination: in 16 of 46 games this season, the Twins have had a lead after the first inning. That’s more than one-third of the games, a staggering number. By comparison, I looked at 2015 to date and four other seasons in Twins history — 2012 (a 96-loss season), 2010 and 2006 (a pair of division-winning seasons) and 1991 (the team’s last World Series title) — to see how they compare. Scoring early is definitely a dominant trait of the 2015 Twins so far:

But the Twins haven’t just scored early — they’ve built onto or at least held onto those leads very well. To illustrate that, I charted the number of innings per game the Twins have had the lead this year and those other four seasons. The results again show how the 2015 Twins have had the lead a lot — even more than in their best seasons of the past 25 years:

Interestingly enough, as good as the Twins have been at getting a first-inning lead, they’ve been even more prolific at scoring in the second and third innings. They have 25 runs this year in the first (meaning that a lot of those 16 early leads have been one-run leads), while they’ve scored 37 runs in the second and 41 in the third. Add it up and they’ve scored 103 runs in the first three innings — almost as many as the 105 total they’ve scored in innings 4-9. Playing with a lead breeds confidence and gives starting pitchers room to breathe. The results have added up to a great start to the 2015 season.

April 13: The date the curse of Target Field and Target Center was lifted

kgtoriiThe Twins were awful at Target Field each of the past four seasons, going a combined 131-193. Yes, they were awful everywhere, but for a team to have a worse home record than road record (which the 2011-14 Twins accomplished) is truly a ghastly sight.

The Timberwolves have been seemingly cursed forever … but really just since 2004 … and maybe really just since trading Kevin Garnett in 2007. They have most certainly been cursed since 2011, leading some to wonder just which building was more cursed over the past four years: Target Field for the Twins or Target Center for the Wolves?

With the recent run of good fortune for both teams, however, I sought out the answer to a different question: If the curse has been lifted, can we pinpoint the exact date that it happened? After all, the Twins this season are 17-6 at Target Field … and the Timberwolves finally (!) earned the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft after years of lottery futility. Sure, the latter was achieved by being awful on the court, but breaking through the lottery barrier is at least a strong indication of a curse being lifted.

Thanks to some intrepid Twitter help, I think we’ve pinpointed the time and date: sometime during the late afternoon/evening of April 13, 2015.

That was the date of the Twins’ home opener, when they were routed by the Royals to fall to 1-6.

That was also the date the Knicks completed the second of two improbable back-to-back victories over the Magic and Hawks (!) near the end of the NBA’s regular season. With those wins, the Knicks pushed the Wolves into the No. 1 slot in the lottery order, which proved to be the winning slot this season. The Knicks, meanwhile, have the No. 4 pick.

Maybe it was the force of the combined will of Torii Hunter, Kevin Garnett and Tyus Jones all being in one picture (on April 13, before the Twins game) that lifted the curse?

Whatever the case, these are better times for those two teams in those two buildings than we have seen in quite some time.

What does LeBron James’ backing of Tristan Thompson mean for Kevin Love?

lebronThe unquestioned leader of the Cavaliers (and best basketball player on the planet) is LeBron James, but the breakout player for the Cavs in this year’s playoffs might be Tristan Thompson.

Thompson, a power forward/center, was relegated to sixth man duty when Cleveland traded for Kevin Love in the offseason. But he has been a revelation in the postseason since Love was injured late in a first-round sweep of the Celtics. In the Cavs’ past seven games — all wins — Thompson is averaging a double-double while logging heavy minutes and contributing key plays late in games.

James is decidedly on Team Thompson, in part because of those contributions and perhaps in part because they share an agent. Thompson reportedly turned down a four-year, $52 million deal this past offseason. After his huge Game 3 against Atlanta, LeBron said this about him:

“Tristan should probably be a Cavalier for his whole career. … This guy is 24 years old. He’s played in 340-plus straight games, and he’s gotten better every single season. It’s almost like what more can you ask out of a guy, even though we ask for more out of him.”

If LeBron wants Thompson, he’ll probably get Thompson … but it’s also hard to believe there is room for all the big men the Cavs have collected. Thompson will get big money. Center Anderson Varejao, also injured this year, is due more than $9 million each of the next two seasons. The Cavs also have a team option on Timofey Mozgov, for whom they traded Denver two future first round picks (one from OKC and one from Memphis, so the picks could be decent at some point).

So where does that leave Love? Well, he can opt out of his contract and become a free agent or he can stay with the Cavs and be paid for one more season at more than $16 million for the year. He has said he doesn’t intend to opt out, but his less-than-perfect relationship with LeBron combined with his injury and Thompson’s emergence could cause him to rethink that position.

If Love opts out, it’s hard to imagine the Cavaliers just letting him walk after giving away Andrew Wiggins in a trade for him, but if they win a title without him … well, it gets easier to imagine life without him — particularly if life with Thompson makes more sense and is coveted by LeBron.

With Twins’ start, Santana’s playoff ban is no longer a joke

neilallenI distinctly remember when the Star Tribune’s own Phil Miller, on the day Ervin Santana was suspended 80 games for steroid use, tweeted that the suspension also meant he was ineligible for postseason play.

Many of us had a good laugh at what seemed like gallows humor. A team that had lost 92 games each of the past four seasons would never have to worry about that anyway, right? A sample tweet back at Miller, which is reflective of the many sent, read like this:

Now: We are a long way from the finish line of this season. But after 45 games and a 27-18 Twins record, can we at least say that the notion of a postseason ban for Santana — signed in the offseason to be a top-of-the-rotation pitcher and someone who almost certainly would be in a playoff rotation if pitching well — is no longer a joke?

The Twins are on pace for 97 wins this year, which would almost certainly be good enough to make the postsason. Even if the Twins cool off their current pace — and since it is built largely on clutch performances, they are likely to regress at least a little at some point — they’ve banked 27 wins in 45 games.

Last year’s Wild Card winners in the majors — remember, there are four of them total, two in each league — won 88, 88, 88 and 89 games respectively last year.

Let’s say 88 wins was good enough to get into the playoffs this season. That means the Twins would need to go 61-56 in their final 117 games to make the postseason. Again, that’s a much better pace than they’ve been on any of the past four seasons … but it also means that some regression from their current pace would still put them on track to make the playoffs.

And at that point, one of their presumed top pitchers would be ineligible. You might say, “Who needs Santana?” at this point because the rotation has been so much better than in recent years (particularly lately). But much can happen in the next 35 games before Santana’s 80 games are up. He could be a sight for sore eyes in early July … only to return to obscurity if indeed the Twins can keep playing in October.

That would fall under the category of “good problem to have” since it meant the Twins made the playoffs, period, after so many awful seasons. But it would potentially be a blow to their chances of going any further.

Twins’ success: Easy to define, hard to explain

perkinsThe Twins are eight games over .500 at 26-18, and even more impressively they are 25-12 after an awful 1-6 start. Most of us who watched them play in the first week — and even since they have started winning — are scratching our heads trying to figure out 1) what happened? and 2) can it be sustained?

David Schoenfield, who writes for ESPN.com’s Sweet Spot blog, does a very nice job investigating both questions in a recent post that both praises the Twins and investigates just how exactly they are winning. Basically, they don’t have a great overall offense or pitching staff, but they have done both things exceedingly well when it matters most: hitting with runners on base and holding leads in the late innings. His overall summary is consistent with what has been noted with the eye test (this point was apparently written before their most recent victory over Boston):

If there’s one word to describe the 2015 Twins, it’s “clutch.” Timely hits, timely relief pitching. FanGraphs keeps track of a stat they call BaseRuns — the number of runs a team would be expected to score and allow given all the bases it has gained or allowed. Entering Monday, the Twins had outperformed their BaseRuns win total by seven — 25 wins as opposed to the “expected” total of 18.

This gets to a notion that’s been floating around in my head: their success is easy to define, but it’s hard to explain. And whether you think it’s sustainable really depends on what you think of “clutch” being a real thing vs. a small sample aberration.

Some key points noted by Schoenfield:

*They’re walking less. Second in the majors in walk rate in 2014, they’re 24th in 2015.

*The Twins are clutching up with runners in scoring position, hitting .294/.369/.438, versus .257/.311/.388.

*The Twins have the lowest strikeout rate among pitching staff in the majors, so they have more balls in play than the average pitching staff. What the Twins staff does do is limit walks — it has the second-lowest walk rate in the majors.

*The overall bullpen ERA is 3.97, 21st in the majors. It has the lowest K rate among relief corps. It’s 22nd in home run rate. It’s 21st in left on base percentage. And yet, the Twins have yet to blow a game they’ve led in the ninth inning, as closer Glen Perkins is 16-for-16 in saves. They’re 24-1 when leading entering the eighth — in fact, they’ve lost just once when leading entering the fifth inning or later. So give the bullpen a lead and it’s lights out. We can measure that in something called Win Probability Added. The Twins rank third in bullpen WPA, behind only the Cardinals and Astros.

So based on all this, the Twins should have a losing record … but instead they are one of the best stories in baseball. Logic dictates that things will start to even out. They’re sure to blow a late lead or two, fail to get clutch hits, etc., and when they do those 4-3 wins will turn into 4-3 losses.

But it’s also worth noting that confidence can be a self-sustaining thing and that performing well in the clutch is not all coincidence. The ability to be at your best in important situations is a skill, too, fostered by a combination of individual focus and collective environment.

Time will tell how much of this with the Twins is sustainable. For now, fans should enjoy it — and any national exposure that comes along with it.

Matt Millen reportedly replacing Glen Mason as top BTN football analyst

millenmasonFormer Gophers football coach Glen Mason has made a nice post-coaching career out of working for the Big Ten Network, rising to the point that he was the analyst on the network’s top games last season.

But according to reports, Mason will be bumped down a rung on the BTN food chain to make room for Matt Millen — who infamously flopped as the Lions’ General Manager but has a solid TV reputation and currently works for ESPN. Per Sports Business Daily, Millen will take over on BTN’s top game in the fall as the lead analyst.

Nothing is official, though Mason did reply to a fan on Twitter on Tuesday morning with this exchange:

It will be interesting to see how Mason — who I think is good on BTN but who also had a reputation in his coaching days for having a decent-sized ego — handles all of this.

Nuclear Wessel: This is the end of the EPL as we know it (for now)

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.

This is it, Nuclear Warheads. The end is near.

We have reached the final match day in the greatest league in the world. It is both a sad and joyous occasion. It’s like saying goodbye to all your friends on the last day of school. You’re sad but you know you will see them again in August.

In case you are new to the Premier League, the final day of the season has all 10 matches starting at the same time. It is smart because it avoids any team getting a competitive advantage by knowing what earlier results are. Guys scoreboard watch, sure. But this at least makes it as fair as possible. In fact, it is such a good idea that MLB borrowed it last season and is doing the same thing this year.

So previewing three separate matches like I normally do is worthless so I will just let you know where you can find all 10 matches that kick off Sunday morning at 9:00am and what the remaining implications are.

Chelsea were crowned champions like 6 weeks ago and the other three Champions League spots were buttoned up already. Two of the three relegation spots are already filled so there unfortunately is very little to play for on Sunday.

That is, of course, unless you are a Newcastle or Hull City fan. Then Sunday could be a day for celebration or a day for sob-crying into your Memorial Day weekend beer.

16. Newcastle 36 points

17. Hull City 34 points

So here are the scenarios:

  • If Hull City beat Manchester United at home AND Newcastle loses or ties at home to West Ham, Newcastle is relegated

  • If Hull City lose or draw Manchester United at home, Hull City are relegated.

  • If Newcastle wins at home against West Ham, they are safe regardless of the Hull/United result.

Arsenal vs West Brom on Bravo

Aston Villa vs Burnley on Esquire

Chelsea vs Sunderland on NBC Sports Network

Crystal Palace vs Swansea City on E! (Seriously. You know you wanna watch a match on E!)

Everton vs Tottenham on CNBC

Hull City vs Manchester United on NBC

Leicester City vs Queens Park Rangers on Oxygen

Manchester City vs Southampton on MSNBC

Newcastle United vs West Ham United on USA

Stoke City vs Liverpool on SyFy

It’s a bummer there is not more to play for on the final day of the season. Being at a pub when tons of meaningful matches are happening on the final day is such an incredible experience. You keep hearing shouting and yelling from all over. I remember being at Brits three years ago when Manchester City rallied in the 90+3rd to steal the trophy from the hands of United. It was unlike anything I had ever seen.

But this was still an incredible season. It sometimes just works out that way in this format. Thanks for taking the time to read these silly posts all year. Hope you enjoyed the 2014-15 Premier League season as much as I did. Doubtful if you aren’t a Chelsea supporter.

Remember, plenty of soccer this summer. The Women’s World Cup kicks off in June. The CONCACAF Gold Cup kicks off in July. We also have the Minnesota United and MLS happening as well. Cheers.

Blue Jays, using Twins leftovers, lead MLB in runs

valenciaToronto is 19-24 this season. That’s not good at all, in case you wanted a strong take on losing records.

But it has not been the fault, in the least, of the Blue Jays’ offense. Toronto actually leads all of MLB in runs scored with 223 (next-closest is 205 while the Twins are a very solid ninth at 183).

Most of the damage has been done by mashers such as Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, but Toronto is getting some supplementary help from some surprising sources: namely, from three former members of the Twins organization — Chris Colabello, Danny Valencia and Steve Tolleson.

All three were in the lineup Thursday when Toronto bashed its way to an 8-4 win over the Angels. And get this: Colabello started and played right field while batting cleanup for the best offense in baseball; Valencia batted seventh and played left field — and hit a home run. Tolleson went 2-for-2 with two walks and two runs scored while starting at 2B.

Colabello, you’ll recall, showed some big power (and also big holes in his swing) as a journeyman with the Twins in 2013 and 2014. The Jays picked him up this year, and in a limited sample — Colabello is often best in limited samples — he’s hitting .356 in 59 at bats with a .907 OPS.

Valencia finished third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting as the Twins’ regular third baseman in 2010; by 2011, he had regressed and by 2012 he was dispatched to Boston. He’s since played for Baltimore, Kansas City and now Toronto, gaining a foothold as a situational hitter. Like Colabello, he has exactly 59 ABs this year and has a .339 average with an .858 OPS.

Tolleson was drafted by the Twins in 2005 but never made it to the bigs with Minnesota. Oakland picked him up in 2010, and since then he’s had 326 career at bats with the A’s, Orioles and now the Jays. In limited action this year he has eight runs scored and a .794 OPS in 40 plate appearances.

This is not at all to suggest the Twins should have kept any of these players. Rather, it’s just to note both the oddity that all three found their way into the same lineup for the best offense in baseball … and to point out how some organizations have done well picking up situational hitters and squeezing value out of them.

Fewer runs in MLB means adjusting our concepts of good hitting and pitching

After a dramatic drop in runs scored in major league baseball in recent season, offenses are on a slight uptick in 2015.

All the same, the overall trend remains the same: since 2000, offense is waaaaaay down in MLB — and you really only have to go back to 2009 to see a pretty drastic difference as well.

While most of us have noticed this in the games we watch, I have a feeling some of us — and I’m as guilty as anyone — haven’t yet made the adjustment when it comes to the idea of an average performance and an excellent performance.

Let’s start here: The average game had 10.28 runs in 2000 and 9.23 in 2009, but even with a slight increase this year from last year that number is only 8.39 — roughly 4.2 per team, whereas 15 years ago it was about 5.15 per team.

If you adjusted your expectations 15 years ago so that five runs was an average performance, it’s time to drop that back down to four runs begin an average performance and anything above that being what should be more than enough runs to win on most nights.

Similarly, the average ERA in 2000 was 4.76; so far this year, it’s 3.91. Here’s where I’m particularly guilty of failing to adjust my calibration and expectations — and have therefore tended to overrate pitchers like Kevin Correia (career era with the Twins: 4.49) as functional when really they are below average.

And finally, a quick look at OPS, which started to become more mainstream around 2000 — when the MLB average was .782. The average remained around .750 for most of the 2000s; last year it dipped all the way to .700, while this year it has inched back to .710.

The typical standard has been that an OPS over .800 stands out; Bill James, a stats guru, wrote in 2009 that an OPS over .900 is great, over .833 is very good and over. 766 is above-average. We probably need to readjust our thinking on that to account for the times. I’d say now that an OPS above .675 is acceptable, the 725 to .775 range is above-average, .775 to .850 is very good and anything over.850 is great.

By that measure, Brian Dozier, Trevor Plouffe and Torii Hunter all fit into the “very good” range, while Joe Mauer, at .722, is technically above the league average but is on the borderline between acceptable and above-average (at least when compared to all of baseball, though as a first baseman he is expected to hit with more power). The Twins, with a .698 OPS, are below the MLB average but are still fourth in the AL in runs scored thanks largely in part to hitting with runners in scoring position.