1. Is Joe Mauer a legitimate HOF candidate or is he just an HOFer to the state of MInnesota?
Kras: He is without a doubt an HOFer to the people of Minnesota but that does mean much. I would have to say that he is a HOFer all around. He is the best hitting catcher in my lifetime to the tune of 2 batting titles. A good chunk of his career Joe battled concussions and other injury problems. Joe was also a really good defensive catcher at one time and now has become a solid defensive 1B. With Joe now over 2000 hits and approaching the back end of his career, this debate will only further heat up. With that said, if Joe keeps slapping singles to left field, he is only strengthening his argument.
Nate Leer: Kras is correct that Mauer is a surefire, 1st ballot, one of us HOFer! However, his case for the MLB HOF is a bit tougher. He was certainly the best C of his era and was very good in all facets of the position – handling pitchers, throwing, blocking balls and of course hitting. That said, his prime years were cut short due to injuries. His move to 1B for the 2nd half of his career certainly hurts his case for the HOF. While he has become a damn good defensive 1B, his lack of power and struggle to regularly hit .300 make him a below average option at that position. I think Mauer should make the HOF because he was so good at the toughest position to find complete players but voters may not feel the same.
2. Will new HC Lindsay Whalen be able to get the Gophers women’s basketball team back to the level of play they were at when she played there?
Nate Leer: I think there is a very good chance she can bring them back to glory. This is still a quality program and Whalen should be able to inject energy, quality coaching and recruiting panache that can help get the women to the next level. Just her presence on the sidelines will invigorate the maroon and gold crowds at the Barn. Plus, she should have a huge advantage over her predecessor and rivals when it comes to keeping home grown talent in the state. I think this is one of the best hires in the history of the U and the only drawback is that she won’t be bringing her energy and expertise to Timberwolves broadcasts anymore.
Kras: I think only time will tell if she can bring them back to that level but I also think if there is a person for the job, it’s her. With the exception of prior coaching experience, she has all the traits and assets that one would look for in a head coach. She has won at every level she has played at and to that extent she has plenty of ties across the states that may come into play and help in recruiting. I think she will have a great chance to influence and keep the instate talent that we have in MN. I ultimately do think that if Lindsey has success with this job and gets the Gophers to be a staple in the NCAA tournament, that she will likely replace Cheryl Reeve as the Lynx head coach when that time comes.
3. After a close game 1 loss did the Wolves show enough to lead you to believe they have a chance to win this series?
Nate Leer: No but I am more convinced that they can steal a game or maybe 2. The Rockets we’re unusually cold from 3 in Game one and early in Game 2. As we saw, though, that doesn’t last long against Houston. The Wolves have shown the ability to defend for stretches and score against the Rockets so that could help them get a win or two at home. The worst case scenario is that they get swept right out of the series but that will hopefully motivate the younger players to work on their games in the offseason. If they do take this as an opportunity to learn what it takes to win in the playoffs, this postseason will be a win whether or not they actually get one on the court.
Kras: I have to say no. As encouraging as it was to see the Wolves hang in and have a chance to try and tie game 1, the Rockets were more to blame for it being so close. The Rockets were without PF Ryan Anderson and SF Luc Mbah a Moute, 2 nice role players but the bigger issue in game 1 was the poor 3-point shooting. The Rockets shot 27% from beyond the arch. I suspect that will only go up moving forward. Game 1 was a good opportunity for the Wolves to nab one on the road but all that would do is delay the inevitable. I think it will be a moral victory if the Wolves can get to game 6.
1. Will the Philadelphia 76ers be a real threat to win the East when Joel Embiid returns?
Kras: The way that Philly can get up and down the court and at times be lights out with the 3 ball, they have as good a chance as any team in the East. With the Celtics being down Gordon Hayward and now PG Kyrie Irving, it makes it hard to imagine they will have the overall depth needed for the grind of the postseason. The Raptors have also had their own postseason issues over the past few seasons so it is hard to tell if they will really be a worthy opponent. That really only leaves LeBron James and the rest of the Cavs to deal with and I don’t know if I can trust their roster to make a run at another NBA Finals. Philly is young and talented and once C Joel Embiid returns they will be even better. Embiid is nearly impossible to defend and is a nightmare matchup for any team. If they get anything from PG Markell Fultz, it’s a complete bonus for a guy who didn’t play most of the year. I am a believer in the Process.
Nate Leer: Although I firmly believe LeBron and the Cavs are still the team to beat in the East, this Philly team looks like the #1 contender with an actual shot to dethrone the East champs. as Kras points out, they have a couple of incredibly talented young players in Embiid and point forward Ben Simmons as well as other quality depth pieces. The knock on them is lack of experience but sometimes talent can outweigh experience. Maybe this isn’t the year the 76ers take over the East but I suspect it is coming sooner than later.
2. With the first round of the playoffs underway, which NHL team looks most ready to make a Cup run?
Kras: I think it is the team that has been there time and time again, the Pittsburgh Penguins. They should be able to get past the Flyers and although the series won’t get any easier, they have the all the experience necessary. C Sidney Crosby is tied for second in playoff points, 4 of which are goals. I also believe that C Jake Guentzel will return to the same form he was at last year in the postseason. Guentzel has 5 points in 3 games thus far and will likely continue to build in that. The Pens have all the O they need and behind that G Matt Murray who is 24-10 all-time in his playoff career. Not exactly a slouch. The Pens are surely the team to beat and will likely add to their already impressive dynasty.
3. What has been the biggest story to begin the MLB season?
Nate Leer: Besides the weather related cancellations that have really slowed the start to the season, the biggest onfield story to me is the development of Nationals OF Bryce Harper. He has taken his game to a new level with a Bondsian approach to hitting. With injuries and ineffectiveness hampering the Nationals lineup, teams are pitching around Harper. However, much like Barry Bonds did with the Giants a couple decades ago, Harper is staying patient and attacking strikes when he gets them. At this rate, he could make a legit run at 60 home runs.
Kras: Nate Leer is correct, the weather has likely been the story of the short year so far. To me, so has Shohei Ohtani. As a pitcher, he has shown good ability to keep big league hitters guessing with his ability to mix his pitches. Ohtani ranks in the top 5 in the league in fastball velocity which is nice on its own but that mixed with a good split finger fastball has been the difference to me. With that said, there may be a bit of a learning curve once hitters can identify the split finger and layoff of it. At the plate he has been fairly impressive as well. Ohtani is batting .367 with 3 HRs and 11 RBIs. The addition of Ohtani has rejuvenated the Angels and has them atop the A.L. West.