Even the more pessimistic among Twins fans — after badmouthing an outfield defense and bullpen that look worrisome, at best — generally concedes that the starting rotation, an eyesore for much of the past four season, should be better than it was last year (mild praise) and downright functional if some things go right.
Most of the true optimism is saved for an offense that finished 7th in MLB in runs scored in 2014 and could keep the team in games, but the rotation is emerging in conversations as a strength — partly by default, and partly because Phil Hughes, Ervin Santana, Ricky Nolasco and Kyle Gibson all have the potential to be above-average, while Tommy Milone as the fifth starter is better than Milone or (fill in the blank) as a No. 3 starter, as the pecking order has gone in recent years.
Here’s the problem, though: even if the Twins’ rotation is upgraded, there are still a lot of questions. Can Hughes — very good in 2010, 2012 and 2014, not so good in 2011 and 2013 — avoid the every-other-year swoon? Will Santana, at age 32, avoid a decline? Will Nolasco, who looked better this spring by all accounts, put an ugly 2014 behind him? Can Gibson take another step? Can Milone be effective outside of Oakland?
There is enough skepticism from the outside to make us wonder if the rotation is truly a strength or if it merely looks better by comparison to previous years. The Washington Post ranked the Twins’ rotation 28th out of 30 in MLB, though admittedly didn’t offer much by way of explanation beyond doubting it has been upgraded enough beyond last year’s MLB-worst 5.06 ERA.
If the second-best thing about your team — better than the defense, better than the bullpen, not as good as the offense — is still bad enough that a major publication ranks it among baseball’s worst, it’s enough to make us wonder if it is really a strength.
One thing is for certain: the Twins will need it to be a true strength if they are going to come anywhere close to .500 this year.
Just how hot is the Minnesota Wild right now?
Well, the squad gone from a 9.3 percent chance of making the playoffs at the all-star break, based on Hockey Reference’s projections, to a 100 percent chance now of making the playoffs (even though the clinch is not yet official).
But perhaps more interestingly and impressively: the site gives the Wild the second-best chance of winning the Stanley Cup of any team in the Western Conference, and the fourth-best chance of winning it all among NHL teams.
The breakdown in terms of percent chance:
New York Rangers (tonight’s opponent): 11.7 percent chance to win the Cup.
Tampa Bay Lightning (Phil Hughes’ favorite team, and a Wild/Bolts final would probably cause him to miss several starts because his nails would be bitten off): 9.3 percent.
Chicago Blackhawks (A team the Wild could face in the first round of the playoffs): 8.4 percent.
Wild (hottest team in hockey since the break): 7.9 percent.
Interestingly, that puts Minnesota and Chicago ahead of fellow Central Division foes Nashville (6.5) and St. Louis (7.2), though it does speak to the overall strength of that division.
The projections are based on current standing and 1,000 simulations of the rest of the season. That’s not as fun as actual playoff hockey, but it is something to think about going forward.
The NFL has revealed when each of its 32 teams will begin their offseason workout programs.
The Vikings, because they have an incumbent coach in Mike Zimmer, were allowed to begin their voluntary workout program as early as April 20 at Winter Park. And they will do just that.
They will hold voluntary on-field workouts at their facility May 26-28, June 2-4 and June 8-11.
Their mandatory minicamp is June 16-18. That will be the first time that disgruntled running back Adrian Peterson is contractually obligated to show up, assuming the NFL reinstates him by then.
Presumably, the Vikings will also have a rookie minicamp somewhere in there. Teams typically hold those a weekend or two after the NFL draft. So it should be the second or third weekend in May.
Fans aren’t allowed to attend the workouts, but we’ll be sure to churn out quality coverage for you.