La Velle E. Neal III
See more of the story

La Velle's 3-2 Pitch: Three observations and two predictions on Sundays.

. . .

For Byron Buxton, it's one checkpoint reached, and a few more to go.

Buxton spent two days in the Twin Cities recently being evaluated following arthroscopic surgery Oct. 13 on his right knee. Twins trainer Nick Paparesta and strength and conditioning director Ian Kadish were on hand to oversee his workout. Buxton later met with Dr. Chris Camp, director of medical high performance. Everyone was pleased with Buxton's progress.

"Dr. Camp said he is fully recovered from the surgery," Derek Falvey, president of baseball operations, told me on Friday. "There are no lingering effects. He looked good. I thought that was a really good sign."

Rehabilitation is ongoing, and completing that is Buxton's next step. The Twins feel he should be cleared to do some baseball-related activities by the end of the year.

Where is this all heading? Center field is the answer. That's the goal, anyway. This progress, the rehab, the winter workouts, it's all being done to get Buxton, a hobbled DH-only last summer, back in the outfield next season.

Vikings: It's Mullens' time

The wait is on to see who will be behind center on Dec. 10 when the Vikings emerge from the bye and face the Raiders in Las Vegas. But coach Kevin O'Connell's decision shouldn't be that difficult.

Start Nick Mullens.

Following consecutive losses to Denver and Chicago, the Vikings need football's version of a stopper in baseball. They need someone who can take care of the ball and make a few plays. That's Mullens, the most experienced quarterback on the roster.

It is not Jaren Hall, at the moment. Hall has talent, and his upside is intriguing. He looked functional against Atlanta in his one drive before leaving the game with a concussion. But this is not the time to hand the offense over to someone who has thrown 10 passes in his career. Hall would be the pick if the Vikings were out of playoff contention. That might change in the coming weeks, but until that happens, he's the emergency quarterback.

It is not Joshua Dobbs. It was a sweet story when he came off the bench in his fifth day as a Viking to seal a win against the Falcons. His background with NASA is something you don't come across often. But the man has thrown five interceptions as a Viking. He threw four interceptions on Monday against the Bears and could have thrown two more. We have seen why he has been with seven organizations. He played better when he didn't know most of the playbook. He's a backup, nothing more.

Mullens is a backup, too. But he's the best of the bunch. Vikings players have remarked how Mullens makes all the throws in practice and grasps the offense well. Yes, it's just practice, but practice is how players earn snaps.

With the defense showing some bite thanks to the arrival of defensive coordinator Brian Flores, competent quarterback play could get the Vikings to the postseason. Mullens is not being asked to live Kirk Cousins' life. He's capable of taking what is given to him.

Justin Jefferson will have a say in the decision as well. He has returned to practice after recovering from a hamstring strain and has worked with all three quarterbacks. Whoever can get the most out of No. 18, perhaps the best non-quarterback in the league, should be the starter against Las Vegas. In most cases, the best place to go with the football is wherever Jefferson is.

O'Connell's call should be easy next Sunday. Don't start the rookie. Don't start the turnover machine. Go with Mullens, who would be the fourth quarterback to start a game for the Vikings in this wacky season.

Gophers get big tests

Though it scored 18 goals in two victories over one-win Bemidji State this weekend, the third-ranked Gophers women's hockey team doesn't have the deep, high-powered offense of a year ago. But that has been offset to a degree by better defense. The Gophers are giving up 1.4 goals per game. That's better than last season's 1.8 goals-against average. They do have forward Abbey Murphy, who has become one of the best players in the nation.

Are they as dangerous as last season's team that reached the Frozen Four? We're about to find out. Next weekend, they play host to second-ranked Wisconsin, which defeated them in the semifinals last March. And earlier in the new year, the Gophers get a visit from top-ranked Ohio State, the only team to beat them this season.

Ridder Arena should be rocking for these big games.


Wild stay hot

Hockey is weird. One coaching change and Connor Dewar gets a hat trick. The Wild will continue to surge under new coach John Hynes with wins over Chicago and Calgary this week before losing to Vancouver.

New arms on the way

P.J. Fleck will bring in two quarterbacks through the transfer portal as he remodels the position following the departure of starter Athan Kaliakmanis and other signal callers. He might want to ask Cole Kramer to stick around, too.