1. Is Byron Buxton a lost cause at the plate or do you think he will figure out how to hit Major League pitching?
Nate Leer: No one knows if he will learn how to hit, there are too many variables and too many guys who never lived up to the hype to be certain. That said, he seems to have the athletic ability and work ethic to improve. I remember Torii Hunter at a similar age and he was a similar player – all D, no O. Buxton seems to have more talent than Torii so let’s give him time before we rush to a judgment, good or bad.
Kras: I don’t think so. He is still young and has shown some signs of promise in the past. He ended last season with a nice run that has not at all carried over to this season. I am not sure what the answer is to Buxton’s woes at the plate but I do know that the Twins can’t give up on him yet. He is far to valuable from a defensive standpoint to not have in the lineup but at that plate he is almost assured 2 more strikeouts a game this season. When Buxton has been able to make contact with the ball it has not been impressive. Buxton’s batting average is a dreadful .093 this season and he has gone from batting 3rd to start the season to now being in the 9th spot. Hopefully being down in the 9 spot will ultimately allow him to get his mind right but if it continues this way it will be painful to watch.
2. What grade do you give the Timberwolves for their 2016-17 season?
Kras: As far as a letter grade goes I would have to give the Wolves a C. They showed some signs of growth and development this season but they also showed how far away they are from being a relevant contender in the West. The Wolves need to add shooting and defense this offseason and without that they could find themselves in a similar situation next season. With the lack of any real progress from this season to last, I can’t give them any higher of a grade. Better luck next year, Wolves.
Nate Leer: I am a little more forgiving with my grade than Kras although he convinced me to go with a C+ as opposed to a B-. This year was always all about player development and I feel like several players improved as the season went along. I also credit head coach Tom Thibodeau for playing the young guys even when they struggled. PG Ricky Rubio, PF Nemanja Bjelica, and SG Zach LaVine had excellent stretches as well as super talents C Karl-Anthony Towns and SF Andrew Wiggins. Plus, getting a lottery pick in this draft is valuable. The flip side is that the D was somewhere between bad and horrible almost all of the time. I really expected to see improvement in that area under Thibs. Lastly, a couple players did not develop as expected, namely PG Kris Dunn and C Gorgui Dieng.
3. What do you think the biggest reason is that the Wild have not been able to beat the Blues?
Kras: I think we can all agree that the Blues stole game 1 with a great performance by Jake Allen after giving up 50+ shots on goal. Game 2 wasn’t as lopsided in shots but yet again Jake Allen was better than Devan Dubnyk. In game 3, the Wild again peppered Allen with 40+ shots and the result was similar, Allen was lights out. I think Jake Allen has to be the main reason the Wild have not been able to break through and get a win in the series yet. If Allen has another game like he had in the previous 3, it will be over in 4 games for the Wild. I do have a hard time believing the Wild will be swept in 4 games but so far they have shown no signs of being able to crack the code that is Jake Allen.
JJ Benz: I agree with Kras that Jake Allen has been the biggest reason that the Wild have not been able to beat the Blues. In a 7 game playoff series, you would expect the better team to advance. The Wild have outplayed the Blues and have looked like the better team but the better team could be swept right of the 1st round. The other reason the Wild could get swept is their inability to execute a scoring chance when they occur. The LA Kings have twice come back from being down 0-3 in a series on their way to Stanley Cup titles, so it can be done. However, the odds are stacked against them.
1. What is the biggest surprise of the fresh MLB season?
Nate Leer: The biggest surprise to me is our own Twinkies as well as a bunch of other teams that are off to good starts. It’s very early but it is impressive how many teams that looked to be in rebuilding mode are playing above .500 ball. The Reds, Brewers, Diamondbacks and Yankees seem to be overachieving. It will be interesting to see which, if any, of these teams can sustain their success and be actual factors in the playoff chase. I think the Yanks have the best chance to contend and it will be interesting to see if their management is willing to spend at the trade deadline, in money and prospects, to really chase a playoff berth.
JJ Benz: I think the biggest surprise early on in the MLB season is the Toronto Blue Jays only winning 2 games. Their offense is the strength of this team but it has been scuffling to start the season. The injury to superstar Josh Donaldson isn’t helping and it could be an injury that lingers for most of the year. The other factor with the Blue Jays is the team is old. The Jays have traded away most of their young talent to bolster playoff runs the past couple of years. Having such a small sample size, the record doesn’t mean all that much. After all, the Reds are in first place in the NL central right now but no one actually thinks they will finish anywhere close to the top of the standings.
2. Do you think the Cleveland Browns will use the #1 pick in the draft or do you think they will trade back?
Kras: I think the Browns will likely end up drafting with the #1 overall pick. I think they would like to trade the pick and accumulate some future and present assets but ultimately the asking price to acquire that pick from the Browns will be too much for another team to want to pay. In my opinion, the only way a team would trade up to the #1 spot is if there was a sure thing QB.If that was the case, Cleveland would likely be holding onto the pick for themselves anyway. Outside of believing they will keep the #1 pick, I still am unsure who they will draft seeing how they still need so many pieces.
Nate Leer: Kras is right on that the only way the Browns are likely to get decent value for the #1 pick is if a QB needy team identifies a very good prospect at that position. However, Cleveland is QB needy themselves so if a top end prospect emerges, they would probably stay there and take him themselves.It is possible that the Jets or another team falls in love with a QB they HAVE to have and the Browns are not as high on that player. Still, if Cleveland is willing to trade the pick, the Jets can assume they are not taking whoever they like. That would allow them to hold fast or trade into the 2nd slot, or lower, at a lower price. Of course it is the NFL draft so maybe 2 teams will trade up and QBs will go #1 and 2. We’re all just guessing at scenarios..
3. What do you think the biggest upset will be in the first round of the NBA playoffs?
Nate Leer: The biggest upset that could happen would be the Bucks over the Raptors. Toronto has several good players but this series could signal the emergence of the next NBA superstar, Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak’s all around game and emerging scoring ability could start to vault Miwaukee into the upper tier in the East.
Kras: I think Nate Leer is correct with this pick. The Bucks are a young and talented team that have the look of being a top contender in the East. realistically the Bucks could have been in an even better position entering the playoffs had they not lost Jabari Parker to a knee injury this season. Not to mention Khris Middleton was only around for half of the regular season to contribute. Giannis will only become more of a factor as he develops. His size and ability will be something to watch, not only against Toronto but moving into next season as well.