1. With the Minnesota Wild preseason underway, what areas do you hope to see improvements in this year?
Kras: It will be interesting to see what happens with this team and new coach, Bruce Boudreau. Surely he will have a vision for this team that was different from last season but I believe there are a few key areas they need to improve on. The Wild need to have some of their role players step up and play better this year (Charlie Coyle, Erik Haula, Jason Zucker, Mikael Granlund). Along with that, the depth at the center position is something that has been of concern that past few seasons. The addition of Eric Staal, in my opinion, is an underrated signing for the Wild. Personally I believe that Staal is the best center this team has right now. Coyle and Grandlund are good players and young, with a chance to develop in the next few seasons. Mikko Koivu is an aging vet that should have been moved some years ago and Staal is the new guy so it may take a few games to get into the flow with his teammates. Goaltending will need to be played at a higher level as well. Devan Dubnyk was lights out his first season with the Wild but regressed last season and did not have the same impact. The offense should play more open and loose this year under their new coach, which will hopefully result in more goals and a more productive offense all around.
JJ Bens: I happen to think that the biggest improvements need to come from the young prospects. The young talented players like Grandlund and Matt Dumba and Coyle need to take the next step and become legitimate scorers. It seems like we as fans have been waiting for these players to take the next step for years now. I would think the new coach would put the young players in a position to succeed. More specifically, getting Matt Dumba and his howitzer on the number one power play.
2. What impressed you about the Vikings win against the Giants?
Kras: The defense was the story again. The defense limited OBJ to 23 receiving yards on 3 catches Monday night in a game that never really was that close. The better news for the Vikings, is that they went for over 100 total yards rushing the ball this game. Jerick McKinnon showed some burst in this game. He had 85 yards and a TD, something that has been missing from the offense so far this year. Bradford looks to have good command of the offense and defense is giving up nothing. All stock in the purple is trending up!
Nate Leer: The overall team effort really impressed me. Of course the D is the big story but the offense had its best game in a while dating back to last year and special teams did their job. Zimmer gets production from vets (Terence Newman), young players (Trae Waynes) and underachievers (Cordarelle Patterson). The best teams do their jobs in all facets and the Vikes have the look of a real contender.
3. With the Minnesota Twins having the 1st pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, do you think they should take the best available player or the best pitcher?
Kras: If there is an outright stud pitcher available in the draft I think they should take him. If there is a stud position player that is can’t miss, I think they should draft him and potentially trade him some day for the best pitching they can get in return for him. Here again, regardless of what happens in the draft, it will more than likely not be immediate help.
Nate Leer: The Twins need to load up on high-end arms. The first place to start is in the draft. There is not an uber-prospect like Bruce Harper so they should take an elite arm and develop him. Honestly, they should probably take a SP in the 2nd and 3rd rounds as well and 2/3 of their overall picks should be pitchers. Look at a list of the under-30 position players the Twins have on the 40-man roster: 2B Brian Dozier, 3B Miguel Sano, OF Max Kepler, OF Byron Buxton, OF Eddie Rosario, 3B Trevor Plouffe, 1B Kennys Vargas, 1B Byung Ho Park, IF Jorge Polanco, IF Eduardo Escobar, IF/OF Danny Santana, OF Robbie Grossman, SS Nick Gordon (minors), OF Adam Scott Walker (minors). There is plenty of decent to very good talent in the organization at all positions except catcher, which is not a good option at #1 anyway. Using the draft and trades to infuse arms into the minors would be the best way to build the organization.
1. What did you think of Team USA’s Ryder Cup victory over Team Europe?
Kras: The victory by Team USA was a great victory and was decided relatively early on Sunday. Team USA had a 9.5 to 6.5 lead over Team Europe entering singles play on Sunday. Sunday did not disappoint. Patrick Reed and Rory McIlroy opened Sunday with an incredible match that had the two golfers birdie-ing back and forth over the first 9 holes of their match. Both golfers repeatedly hit great shots and knocked down putts to answer what the other had done. It was fun golf to watch. I don’t know if this was the “best team ever”, but Team USA played good golf at critical times. I think jumping out to a 4-0 lead early on Friday set the tone for Team USA and the rest of the weekend. It seemed like when they got up 4-0, they realized that they could play with, and better than, Europe. The early lead forced Team Europe to play from behind the entire weekend and I think always playing from behind is more mentally stressful. It will also force players to take shots they might not normally, just to try and get back into the match. On Sunday, when it came down to the singles events, I believe there was too much experience on the side of Team USA and ultimately they got it done and brought the Ryder Cup back home. Hopefully this will be the start of a good Ryder Cup run for the next decade for Team USA.
JJ Bens: Having attended the Friday matches, I can tell you that the fans that were attending were taking it pretty personal. Having almost fifty thousand people on a golf course made for an electric atmosphere. Also, I think it was important because of the way the players made it a priority, setting up a task force with captain Davis Love III to make sure the best players were taken with the captains picks. The Europeans wanted to take the role of the underdog even though they had won 8 out of the last 10 Cups. Fortunately, team USA played with confidence and a little attitude that made them the favorite, and hopefully the favorite for years to come.
2. With the MLB playoffs now set, who is your pick to win the World Series?
Kras: I think, if the Giants can get through the wildcard series, they could be a team that could make some noise but I don’t think they will be the ultimate winner. I like the Cubs to make to the World Series, but ultimately I think they will be beat by the Red Sox. The Red Sox have some good pitching (Porcello, Price) with depth in the backend of the bullpen. Along with the pitching they also have a deep lineup with guys that can hit the ball all over the park. The Sox will be a fun team to watch this postseason, plus who doesn’t want to see Big Papi walk off in game 7 with the win? Everyone would love to see that, unless you’re a Cubs fan.
Nate Leer: I think the series will be Cubs-Rangers with Rangers winning in 6. The Rangers have been knocking on the door for a few years. This year they have 2 elite starters, a good offense and solid D. That sounds like a recipe for postseason success. If not the Cubs, I agree with Kras that the Giants could be sneaky. It is also hard to deny the Red Sox lineup and depth. However, I like the Rangers combo of Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels at the top of the rotation versus any other teams’ top 2.
3. With the NFL season a quarter of the way over, what are the biggest storylines in the NFC and AFC?
Kras: My story line for the AFC would have to be the Denver Broncos and their ability to come back this year and pick up right where they left off. They are out to a 4-0 start without strong QB play once again this year. Bringing back C.J. Anderson to anchor the backfield has helped the offense greatly. The wide receivers, Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas, make plays all over the field all the time and are the true strength of that offense. Truth is, with the defense playing like it is, the offense does not have to do much more than it has already this year. If they continue to play this way they will make a run again this year.
The story in the NFC would have to be a team that is similar to the Denver Broncos, in that they don’t have great QB play but their defense is so good they don’t need him to do much. The Minnesota Vikings have been a surprise story. With the loss of their starting QB, RB, and LT to injury, the Vikings have pushed through and somehow came out as one of the leading teams in the NFC. Bradford has stepped in and done a great job of managing the ball and even making Kyle Rudolph a relevant receiving option on the team. They should be able to keep it going as two of the tougher games on the schedule are behind them (@ Carolina, vs. Green Bay). The next 4 games for the Vikes are games that they should be able to come out of with at least a 3-1 record (vs. Houston, @Philadelphia, @ Chicago, vs. Detroit). It is very impressive what the Vikings have done this year.