1. If the Twins make the playoffs, is Paul Molitor worthy of being manager of the year?
Kras: I think it would be hard to argue that he shouldn’t be MoY if the make they playoffs. The Twins lost 103 games last season with a fairly similar roster and that speaks volumes in my opinion. Molly has had nothing to work with in the starting rotation. The line-up has been up and down all year. Byron Buxton couldn’t hit anything the first few months of the season and Brian Dozier has not been the same player he was last season either, until lately. The team traded its primary closer at the trade deadline in Brandon Kintzler and he was by far the Twins’ best option out of the bullpen. Somehow the Twins have managed to remain relevant despite looking like they are on the verge of a complete collapse. Molly has earned MoY even if this team goes 1 and done in a playoff series.
Nate Leer: I agree with Kras that Molly is certainly deserving of winning if this team makes the playoffs. They have been written off multiple times this year as not being good enough to compete, beginning before the season started all the way through their swoon in late July that lead to trading away Kintzler and recently acquired SP Jaime Garcia. It seems entirely possible that Molly wins MoY and gets fired this fall. Most Twins followers think the new management will want their own guy in place even though Molly has bought into the new philosophy. Hopefully they realize how special he is for being able to get winning records out of a below average team 2 of the last 3 years. I am guessing the Yankees manager Joe Girardi will be hard to beat for MoY as his team has overachieved as well, though not as much. Being in the NY market probably gives him the edge. I would like to see Molly win as he deserves it, he’s one of us, and it might for management’s hand to keep him.
2. What grade do you give the Vikings for their preseason?
Kras: To this point I would give them nothing better than an average C. The O-line still looks far from settled and cohesive which was a point of concern until late last season. I personally am more concerned with the D. The D-line has looked pretty solid to this point but I think outside of that there are holes that need to be filled. They are still thin at LB and any injury to Anthony Barr or Eric Kendricks and they are in big trouble. I also think Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith are the only proven talents they have in the secondary. Any production from Mackensie Alexander, Trae Waynes, and Andrew Sendejo will be a big boost for this team. Overall the Vikes haven’t been overly impressive, hopefully they got it out of their system because it will be a tough start against the Saints to open the season.
Nate Leer: I think Kras is going too easy on this squad. I say they get a D. I am a fan of Zimmer and have supported most of GM Rick Spielman’s maneuvering but if this team doesn’t improve greatly and sii, it may be a bad season. If that happens, it may be time to start all over. However, as Kras points out, the O-line that was the main concern looks no better for having well over $50 million and 2 draft picks invested in it. And, yes, they have issues on D. They looked average at best. COnsidering what the team invested in the D in picks and cash over the recent years, the D needs to dominate.
3. Who is one player on the Vikings roster that needs to have a better season than last in order for this team to have some success?
Nate Leer: I think CB Trae Waynes is the key to the D. He was a high 1st round pick and has shown talent. However, he has not been able to put it all together to this point. If Waynes can become an above average CB, the Vikes would have the luxury of using veteran DB Terrence Newman as needed in the slot, at safety or on the outside. Waynes and CB Xavier Rhodes would be one of the elite CB combos in the league which would help HC Mike Zimmer unleash more exotic blitz packages. Al in all, Waynes could be the player that make this D as good as any in the league.
Kras: For me it has to Anthony Barr. He had a very lackluster 2016 campaign with some growing concern about his effort from play to play in games. In his 3 seasons with the Vikes, Barr has never had more than 4 sacks in a year with his low total coming last year at 2 sacks. Barr has also never reached the 100 tackle plateau or had more than 1 INT. I think it would serve this team, more specifically this D, well if Barr could break out this season and live up to the potential that was seen in him. He certainly hasn’t lived up to the 9th overall pick where he was drafted.
1. Which team helped itself more in last week’s trade of Kyrie Irving for Isaiah Thomas and more, the Cavs or the Celtics?
Nate Leer: I believe both teams helped themselves given their situations. Cleveland got the best of both worlds for the franchise: talent to win now and assets for the future. Thomas is a quality PG to replace Irving for this year. He and Lebron along with SF Jae Crowder who also came in the trade keep Cleveland the favorite in the East. Cleveland also got a young big man and potential #1 overall pick next year who can lead the rebuild if Lebron leaves as many expect. Even though the Celtics gave up a lot, this was a good move for them. Assuming they can keep Irving long term, they are set up well to compete with Cleveland this year and be the likely favorite in the East if Lebron heads west. Thomas was a nice player and leader for Boston but Irving has another level of talent. Boston has 6 really talented players (Irving, Gordon Hayward, Marcus Smart, Jalen Brown and Al Horford) to start their rotation although they do not have much proven depth beyond F Marcus Morris. If some of their other young players develop quickly, watch out NBA!
Kras: I think both teams helped themselves and each received a piece or pieces that they need. If I had to pick just one, I would say the Celtics. The Celtics got a top 5 PG and an elite scorer. Having Kyrie now to help Al Horford and Gordon Hayward makes this Celtics team a serious contender to dethrone the King and the Cavs as the team in the East to beat. In my opinion the Celtics being able to keep both Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown is big. Both guys are young top 5 picks from the last 2 drafts that figure to both improve their craft and help the strengthen the depth of the Celtics.
2. Which NFL players had the best preseason performances through week 3?
Nate Leer: 3 players stick out to me: QB Dak Prescott, RB Kareem Hunt and WR Kelvin Benjamin with RB Jay Ajayi an honorable mention. Each of these players has something to prove and did as much as they could to do just that this preseason. Prescott is coming off of an extremely efficient rookie campaign but needs to show that he can do even more this year. It is hard for me to believe that the Dallas O line will be as good as last year and the team will be without RB Ezekiel Elliott for their first 6 games. Those factors mean Dak will have to do more than last year with less help up front. Dak looked great in his limited preseason action but it will be more of a challenge when the regular season begins. Rookie Hunt is being looked at as the starter in KC with the injury to Spencer Ware. Hunt has done everything he can to give the Chiefs confidence that he can handle the job. BEsides looking great running the ball, he has done well in the passing game both catching the ball and protecting the QB. The opportunity and Hunt’s readiness make him an early rookie of the year frontrunner. Lastly, Benjamin, the giant receiver from Carolina. Benjamin has had an up and down career with a big rookie year followed by injuries, weight issues and lack of production. However, he has looked fast and physical this summer and seems to work well in the new Panther offensive scheme. Look for Benjamin to re-establish himself as one of the best young possession and TD WRs in the league.
3. GIven the abundance of WR talent in the NFL, which WR do you think will lead the league in TDs and yardage?
Kras: I don’t think the same player will get both these categories so with that said my pick to lead the NFL in TDs is going to be Jordy Nelson. I think what him and Aaron Rodgers are able to do with the back-shoulder throw is almost impossible to defend. That, and as long as Nelson hasn’t lost a step he still has enough speed to get by defenders and catch the deep ball. Nelson ended the season with 14 TDs last year to lead the league and this year I think he goes for more. As far who will lead the league in yardage I am going to go with Brandin Cooks. I think he could have a fantastic season in New England as long as Rob Gronkowski can stay healthy and on the field. With Julian Edelman out for the season with a knee injury, Cooks will be leaned on even more in the passing game.
Nate Leer: I think the player with the best chance to lead the league in both categories is Mike Evans. He is a physical monster and the Bucs are setup to produce a lot of offense. The offseason addition of WR DeSean Jackson could actually help open up more opportunities for Evans bit in the short to intermediate passing game as well as on downfield throws. The continued development of QB Jameis Winston could also help propel Evans to super elite status.