Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Yankees Mike Schmidt

Alex Rodriguez came up with runners on second and third in the seventh inning of today's Rangers-Yankees game, which the Yankees lost 7-2. He struck out and once again you can hear boos directed at A-Rod. In past years, perhaps the boos were warranted and in past playoffs, the boos were definitely warranted. However, booing Rodriguez is unfair for what he does at the plate and reminds me of Mike Schmidt's relationship in Philadelphia throughout his career.

The relationship between Yankees fans and Rodriguez have been very complex. It's full of highs and lows that I can't remember seeing with any player and his own fanbase. We have see the good times for A-Rod (his 3-HR game, 500th HR and plenty of clutch hits in 2007) and the bad ones(2004 ALCS, 2005 ALDS, 2006 season). It could have reached its lowest point after we found out that Rodriguez used steroids in Texas and the unintentional comedy of errors in judgement on how to explain it. However, A-Rod ended up getting credit (rightfully) for admitting to using, while so many others have not. It didn't hurt (no pun intended) that he needed hip surgery and missed the first month of the season. It's been his return that the Yankees were able to start this run of success that have them currently at 79-48, the best record in the league.

A-Rod's return showed us that he's needed in our lineup and he has, while not gaudy as he's accustomed to, been a clutch hitter for the Yankees, hitting big HR's in games such as the Phillies game and the 15th inning winner against the Red Sox. He also has been limited by the hip and clearly will need surgery to try and fix it in the offseason. It's unfair to expect Alex to get a big hit every time he comes up to bat because that is not how baseball works. You can only succeed 30 percent of the time to be considered good, 33 percent to be considered great. There always seems to be a clamoring by certain Yankee fans that A-Rod bat 1.000 when he has a chance to put runs on the board and anything less is a failure. That comes with the mentality that anything less than a World Series is a flat-out failure and a desire to be the first 162-0 team.

Don't get me wrong, if A-Rod chokes away in another postseason, you're jeers are on point and I will join you in that case. However, I believe it's time to listen to Subway Squawker Lisa. She has been defending A-Rod all year, not only against Red Sox fans who can't claim the PED argument anymore, but against Yankee fans who continue to be hard of him while he has hit more game-winning hits as a Yankee than Derek Jeter. The playoffs are one thing, but let's be fair during the regular season with A-Rod, especially with the big lead.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Randomness While Thinking of New Ways for the Mets to Lose

It's really becoming Groundhog Day for this franchise. This time, it was Eric Bruntlett pulling off the first game-winning unassisted triple play since Johnny Neun did it on May 31, 1927. Following that loss, and yesterday's as well, it appears that Johan Santana is the latest Met to get hurt and need surgery in the offseason. Santana now joins Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, Jose Reyes, David Wright and John Maine as the key players who have been hurt for most of this season. It seems like anytime the Mets have had a particularly painful loss, it gets followed by the loss of a key player. Bruntlett's triple play joins Sean Green's walking in the winning run in Philly on May 2, the loss to the Dodgers where the Mets made baserunning mistakes, dropped flyballs and a game-losing throwing error, the Luis Castillo drop against the Yankees and the Cardinal game where Green hit the winning run, followed by Albert Pujols with a mammoth grand slam.

Let's also discuss the Billy Wagner trade to the Red Sox. First off, great job Mets for giving away two high draft picks to restore your farm system and only get two PTBN. Now, Bill Madden on Daily News Live set the scene for Boston; Jonathan Papelbon doesn't want to close, he doesn't want to stay in Boston and he hasn't pitched well from the closer spot (Fang's Bites routinely tweets about him as heart attack Papelbon). Wagner gives the Red Sox a chance to bridge the gap before Daniel Bard becomes the closer and if Bard's ready in 2010 or Wagner pitches horrible, definitely possible, Wagner will net them the two draft picks if they offer arbitration.

Now that we're coming up on the end of the baseball season, the awards races are starting to heat up. The only award the seems to be his to lose is Pujols as NL MVP. Maybe Ryan Howard, Hanley Ramirez and Troy Tulowitzki could be considered, but Pujols is still the best player in the league and since the Cards will make the playoffs, he's a shoo-in. AL MVP is tougher because Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter will split votes from one another and I believe that if the Twins stay in the AL Central race into the last two weeks of the season, Joe Mauer will win the award. His hitting this year at catcher is to great to ignore for a contending player. Keep an eye for Miguel Cabrera and Michael Young, however, since they are having terrific years for competitive clubs. The NL Cy Young looks like it will be between Tim Lincecum and Chris Carpenter, while the AL Cy Young is completely wide open between the likes of Zack Greinke, CC Sabathia, Justin Verlander, Roy Halladay, Josh Beckett and Mariano Rivera.

Looks like the Mark Sanchez bandwagon took a hit after yesterday's game against the Ravens. How do I know? Because my father is the bandwagon; anytime he changes his mind on anything, it must be how bandwagon fans operate. I, on the other hand, never make too much of preseason. The thing everyone should remember is that Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco is the exception of how rookie QB play, not the norm. Peyton Manning struggled through his first season, so did Troy Aikman, Terry Bradshaw and Steve Young. So Jets fans (and I'm not one of them), keep your expectations low and you'll be satisfied regardless what he does.

The good people at Sorts of Sports have started to rank their top fantasy players with the QB's and will continue to do so for this week and next. I will not and suggest you read them, but I do have a few players that you should look to for fantasy. The two players I'm very big on this year are Matt Forte and Steve Slaton, Donald Brown is my sleeper runner, Aaron Rodgers is someone you should look at if you lose out on Drew Brees and Tom Brady. I think Michael Turner should be avoided if possible, and any QB after the Peyton, Rodgers, Warner group is really the same. I'm sure you noticed I haven't touched on WR's. My feeling is look for any teams number 1's. Vincent Jackson should do well because he's Phil Rivers top guy, same for Santonio Holmes, Jerricho Cotchery and whomever wins the battle of the Giants top receiver. And I agree with Matthew Berry, defense/special teams are as interchangeable as kickers, you pick up the one who don't allow that much points and the rest comes together.

Great Twitter post by the legendary Bill Simmons about ironic Sports Illustrated covers from the steroid era. Couple of comments; it's a shame (unless proven to be a PED user) that Griffey is associated with Sosa and McGwire and the 1998 Sportsmen of the Year cover is the greatest in terms of comedy's sake.

Good job by Entourage to realize that their show hasn't been good this year and decided to bring in Bob Saget uncensored. Here's the video of it. And if you only think of Saget as Danny Tanner on Full House, think the opposite for his standup act.

DirecTV and Versus have to get a deal done so us hockey fans who have DirecTV aren't shut out of the playoffs. We can survive the regular season without Versus, but the playoffs, including two Stanley Cup Final games need to be on. Not to mention that they have a college football schedule that includes teams like Texas, USC and Florida St.

On the plus side of sports on TV, great job by ESPN for showing the English Premier League on Saturday mornings. I've never had a channel that showed the matches live and it was easy for me to ignore it, but now I'm going to try to be as into the EPL as I ever was. I'm very surprised by the slow start by Liverpool and maybe now that Bill Simmons has officially joined the Tottenham Hotspur bandwagon can they succeed in the league.

Finally, let's talk about the Knicks. Now, the stated goal when Donnie Walsh and Mike D'Antoni came in was to be ready for the 2010 free agency. That's been the impetus to every move since they came in last year. They succeed in getting rid of Jamal Crawford's and Zach Randolph's contracts and haven't signed anyone past 2010 since then. However, with the shrinking salary cap next season, no first round pick and the inability to move Eddy Curry and Jared Jefferies (which was Walsh's biggest mistake since he could have traded him and Nate Robinson for Kenny Thomas' expiring contract) will keep this team no closer to contend this season. The target is LeBron James and if LeBron only cares about non-basketball reasons for his next contract, the Knicks would fit. If he makes a basketball decision, he should stay in Cleveland or even head to the Clippers if he thinks of both on- and off-the-court reasons.

Thus, I believe the Knicks should shoot to compete by 2011. The fact is, the Knicks don't have the team that will be enticing to a franchise player, which they need if they want to win. Which is why they should hold off their plans for another year of adding talent to surround a star. The economy could be in better shape after another year and with Curry and Jefferies contracts off the books, they will have more cap room. They also could use their advantage in money to trade for a franchise guy from a team that needs money, like Chris Paul. Besides, when the NBA has a lockout in a couple years, they're going to need a New York team to do well to recreate buzz after the players return.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Plax's Plea and the Sham of Vacating Games

A couple of news items this morning that I believe deserved my attention. First, I'll start with Plaxico Burress pleading guilty today for gun possession and will get two years of jail time as a result. Now my father and I have seen differences with Burress; he thinks he shouldn't be arrested for shooting himself since he had a registered gun, regardless if it wasn't a New York license. However, I believe he saw the Giants look awful to end last season and is willing to overlook the situation so the Giants would win. I, however, know that the law is the law and he was guilty regardless. But, the fact that Burress had the insane motion that he would avoid jail time after Mayor Bloomberg wouldn't let the gun law be a sham is ridiculously dumb. He should have agreed to the plea deal back in June, instead of stalling.

Day one, Burress and his lawyers should have been doing everything they could to mitigate a jail sentence. He should have pled guilty back in January or February and hope they get six months for quickly cooperating. And if Plax thought that delaying the trial would let him play this season, I'm sure Roger Goodell would of suspended him. Now, Burress is going away for two years and his NFL is probably over. It's a shame really; he was huge playing hurt during the N.Y. Giants Super Bowl run, especially against Green Bay in the NFC Championship abusing Al Harris all day. He signed a contract extension before the 2008 season opener and everything for him went downhill from there. The Giants moved on and hope to replace him this season and fortunately for them, Burress can't go anywhere and burn them for letting him go.

The other story I read today was the NCAA vacating all the wins from the 2007-08 Memphis Final Four season. This marks the first time a school had two Final Four's vacated by the NCAA as the 1985 Memphis Tigers also had their appearance removed. This is also the first time a coach led two teams to a Final Four and the appearance was vacated as former Tigers coach John Calipari had his 1996 Final Four appearance with UMass removed as well. There is an obvious pattern that has formed for Coach Cal as he leaves a school and all the skeletons come out. This time, it was a discrepancy on Derrick Rose's SAT exam as reports are that someone else took the test for him.

Here's where the NCAA gets it wrong, vacating wins doesn't make any impact except insulting our intelligence as college basketball fans. If you want to punish a school, give them probabtion, cut scholarships and/or ban them from postseason/TV. And for a case like Memphis, I would suspend Calipari because he was in charge when the violations occurred and even though he left for Kentuck; he is still bound by NCAA rules. That's the NCAA's problem, they don't deal with problems, they act like they never happened. That's what vacating wins and honors means, to pretend like nothing happened, even though if you put on ESPN Classic or ESPNU, you could find a Fab Five Michigan game and you will see the Kansas-Memphis title game from 2008 again as well. It's time for the NCAA to end it's archaic penalties for rules violations and instead to be more proactive to show coaches and schools they won't tolerate disobeying of their rules.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Randomness as Tiger Becomes Human and Favre Remains in Our Lives Forever

Honestly, I'm still in shock over the loss by Tiger Woods in a major after a 54-hole lead to a man named Y.E. Yang. It started when I was checking to leaderboard Saturday and his four-stroke lead was reduced to a tie at one point. Still, I didn't think Tiger would lose. To his credit, Yang hit the shots when he needed to like at 14 when he chipped the eagle and at 18 when his approach was within 8 feet. The thing about Tiger in the majors this year, he has not putt well at all. However, I don't think this will effect Tiger's chase for Jack's record of 18 majors like my good friend Dan of Dan's Take hints at rightly comparing Tiger's loss to Tyson against Buster Douglas (at least as a singular event of itself).

After Tiger's loss, everyone is ready to make Usain Bolt the most dominant athlete in the world and after his 9.58 performance in the 100m yesterday, shattering his record from the Olympics a year ago, who could blame them. The biggest problem Bolt has is he competes in a sport that you can't trust whenever runners put up records because of PED's. When people like Ben Johnson, Tim Montgomery and Marion Jones end up in shame after it comes out they used and were stripped records and medals, you get suspicious. However, if Bolt turns out to be clean, it could save track and field, giving the world its best pure runner since Michael Johnson.

It's stories like this that make the Oakland Raiders not taken seriously. Apparently, head coach Tom Cable punched out his assistant Randy Hanson during the Raiders training camp. Sounds to me that Hanson switched to DirecTV and the Cable Guy taught him a lesson. Just remember the last time a coach punched a coach (Buddy Ryan punching Kevin Gilbride), the Houston Oilers moved to Tennessee four years later.

I'm writing this article after the N.Y. Giants play their first preseason game, so I'm finally getting a look at these players. Big Blue View wrote a post about who should make the team and Matt Mosley at ESPN wrote about the team in camp. Ahmad Bradshaw looks ready to replace and exceed Derrick Ward as Brandon Jacobs new complement at RB, Clint Sintim will be huge as the Giants attempt to win with a 5-man defensive line and more experimental defensive strategy under new defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan. Also, for the first time that I can remember, I'm excited about the Giants secondary, after Football Prospectus thinks Corey Webster will become a top-10 CB and Kenny Phillips could be a Pro Bowler this season.

It's great to have Mad Men back on in our lives again. If Curb Your Enthusiasm wasn't returning next month, Entourage would be in trouble of going on my shelf, but I'll hang around for the rest of the season and watch Mad Men an hour later.

A couple of moves for the N.Y. Rangers, they sign Vinny Prospal to a one-year deal, reuniting him with John Tortorella and they hired The Captain Mark Messier as Glen Sather's assistant. I think the fact Prospal was willing to play for Torts again is a positive, so anything I read or watch about past Torts-Prospal issues shouldn't be a big deal. On the ice, Prospal adds a scoring touch that the Rangers still need and at a little over a million is a safe investment and Scotty Hockey is right, the first three lines for next season actually looks good. As for Messier, he now takes a job like Steve Yzerman did in Detroit and Cam Neely in Boston as he gets to gain experience before being ready for a GM job in the future. I'm curious though if he gets to be the Rangers GM after Sather retires (or if we're lucky, fired) or do they promote assistant GM Jim Schoenfeld and Messier ends up having to go somewhere else like Don Maloney did. Not to mention that Doug Risebrough, former Minnesota GM, I believe is a Rangers consultant who could get a look (though I wonder why).

Looks like the Nationals avoid letting Stephen Strasburg go to waste as they signed him at midnight. He shattered the record rookie contract by signing for $15.67 million, satisfying Scott Boras I'm sure. To be honest, he ruined my tirade that I was ready to go into. I was planning on a scathing paragraph on how Boras went too far with the demands, how Strasburg is too gullible and just follows Boras and how incompetent the Nats organization is to not sign this guy. I guess I'll save my tirade for Brett Favre since he can't leave the spotlight now that Michael Vick is signed.

I just heard the news that Brett Favre will in fact return to the NFL and play for the Vikings. Already, if you turn on ESPN, they're acting as if the Vikings just picked up '07 Tom Brady or '89 Joe Montana. They think he can just walk in and the Vikings will not only win a Super Bowl, but also help fight hunger, find a way to get the economy working and send people to heaven. Nothing in sports upsets me more than the gushing over Brett Favre, so here are facts to consider: He turns 40 on October 10, how many 40 year old QB's succeed? Also, not only did Favre finish last season with five bad performances, he also had a four-game stretch against the Bengals, Raiders, Chiefs and Bills where he wasn't good either, except the Jets won three of those four so everyone forgets this.

Ask any Jet fan what they think of Brett Favre and for that matter, ask any Jet player from last year. I never advocate injury for a player, but I'm making an exception for Brett, I want someone to knock out Favre with some sort of injury so he would be forced to retire. I'm so tired of hearing about Brett Favre that if I was a Hall of Fame voter, I would never put him in; I don't care if he has all the passing records. The last player who played this game of will I/won't I in sports was Roger Clemens and thankfully for all of us, karma intervened and he became disgraced forever. Let's hope this happens to Favre.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

NL Power Poll

Except for Seattle, who I'd move ahead of Toronto, I'm still satisfied with my AL Power Poll from last week. Now it's time for the NL Power Poll, which will be much harder. The reason being, the National League is much wider than the AL is this year. Joel Sherman in his Hardball blog wrote about eight teams with a legitimate chance to win this year. So let's get started.

16. Pittsburgh- '51-'55 Pirates: In Rob Neyer's "Big Book Of Baseball Lineups", he wrote about the Branch Rickey years which the Pirates were horrible and they traded players like Ralph Kiner and Gus Bell. However, he does make the point that the Pirates would eventually win the World Series five years after Rickey was let go in 1955, since eventually a lot of his players would succeed on the major league level. What does this have to do with the '09 Pirates? Well, Pittsburgh you have to believe will become successful again. They finally went into full-scale rebuild mode, instead of just wait until one player becomes expensive, then trade him, trade another the next year and so on. Getting rid of all your veterans have made some people mad about the Pirates, but I think they should gut the team and bring in as many young players as possible and hope they build a winner.

15. Washington- '95 Twins: Best example for this years Nats is a forgettable Minnesota team who played poor despite still having Chuck Knoblauch and Kirby Puckett hitting, and Brad Radke and Scott Erickson pitching. Also, because of the Twins respectable 37-44 record after July 4th. The Nationals have also started to play better since All-Star break, winning eight in a row before losing to Tommy Hanson and the Braves Tuesday night. The problem with the Nationals is that unless Stephen Strasburg is real deal, they won't be good for many years. It's a shame that Ryan Zimmerman's prime will be wasted with the Nats.

14. Cincinnati- '04 Mets: Only reason I compare these Reds with these Mets is the fact that the Reds picked up Scott Rolen when every indication is that they should sell. Of course, they didn't give up a player of Scott Kazmir's caliber like the Mets did and can't overturn this mistake by spending their way to a pennant. This season has really become a lost year for the Reds as they were a sleeper pick for most of the experts. However, all the good pitching of a year ago (Edinson Volquez, Johnny Cueto) has gone down and Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo are now wildly overpaid. The Rolen trade, Cincinnati believes make them better for 2010 in a seeming desperate attempt to contend but I think they are another one who should of tried to gut the payroll but now is in the no-man's land of baseball.

13. San Diego- '93 Padres: This Padres team is a lot like the one from 1993 when they tore apart their team, particular their trades of Gary Sheffield (though it netted them Trevor Hoffman) and Fred McGriff. While not in the single-season aspect, they have over the past couple years since the loss to the Rockies in the one-game playoff have gutted the team with the exception of Adrian Gonzalez, the Tony Gwynn of this generation for Padres fans. Trading Jake Peavy gave them four players, including a good starter in Clayton Richard and they passed the closer baton to Heath Bell from Hoffman. For some reason, I do think San Diego will successfully rebuild and in a few years they will win the NL West again. Why? Because the NL West has someone else win every few years.

12. New York- '01 Red Sox: I resisted using the '02 Mets because they weren't injured enough which led me to the 2001 Red Sox. They lost both Nomar Garciaparra and Pedro Martinez for long stretches in that season. The main difference was Manny Ramirez had a Manny-like season while David Wright lost his power. They also both had lesser rotations (with the exception of Johan Santana) and plenty of older players playing old. Anything else you want to know about the Red Sox in 2001, just read Bill Simmons two-part review using The Godfather quotes. As for the Mets season, just read my column about the Omar Minaya-Adam Rubin mess. More about the Mets, they can be saved next season if Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes can heal. If not, they should unload Reyes and try to rebuild.

11. Arizona- '08 Giants: Last year's San Francisco team had transferred to this year's Diamondbacks as the Snakes have one great starter, weak pitching staff for the rest and a lesser offense. The key difference is that Arizona has Mark Reynolds and Justin Upton who are their only power on the club and Brandon Webb is injured, while Matt Cain just wasn't as good last year. Actually, when Webb returns from injury next season, Arizona will be set to compete again in 2010, especially if the Giants maintain their impotent offense and the Dodgers come down a bit. They also could see the offense improve with more experience for Miguel Montero and Gerardo Parra.

10. Milwaukee- '97 Padres: I'm sure nobody remember this Padres team, not even San Diego fans. This team was surrounded by the Padres two playoff appearances in the 90s. However, I do feel this example is apropos since they had good hitters but poor pitchers in the following season of a playoff appearance. Of course, I don't remember Ken Caminiti calling out their management and pitchers like Ryan Braun did when he wanted to get another pitcher and I definitely don't remember Tony Gwynn trying to get into the Dodgers clubhouse for a fight, like Prince Fielder did last week. The fact is, this team is continuing to implode this season, but to be fair, the future still is bright. If they get another pitcher in the offseason to go along with Yovani Gallardo, they would be back in the playoffs in 2010.

9. Houston- '83 Royals: Here's another team that no one remembers but I chose the Royals because this was in the middle of an era of success and 1983 was a rare down year for those Royals. The hitting was still good (even the last good season from Willie Mays Aikens), but the pitching was older and not as effective. Sounds like the Astros this year, except they aren't in a division with a runaway winner like Kansas City was that season. The Astros usually play better than expected; I for one picked them for fifth before the season started. However, with Drayton Mclaine not willing or able to add payroll, Houston had no chance to improve prior to the trade deadline and competing for playoff spot doesn't allow him to trade guys like Miguel Tejada. What ends up happening is a no-man's land that no one likes because they won't go full bore for a title or rebuild for a new contender.

8. Chicago- '08 Yankees: I haven't really thought about it, but the similarites between the Yankees last year and this year's Cubs are there. Both were among the favorites to win the World Series, both had loaded lineups who have underachieved and both have had pitching problems (Yankees starters; Cubs bullpen). The key loss for the Cubs has been Mark DeRosa and replacing him with Milton Bradley has crashed and burned for them. Down years by Alfonso Soriano and Geovany Soto have hurt, along with Aramis Ramirez being hurt this year. Derrick Lee is the singular reason the Cubs have stayed alive, and maybe they can make the playoffs if their hitters start hitting and their rotation stays healthy. However, with an improved Cardinals team to deal with and trouble beating good teams, chances are the Cubs drought continues for another year.

7. San Francisco- '88 Dodgers: I know it's blasphemous for a Giants team to be compared to a Dodgers one, but San Francisco is following the L.A. playbook from 1988. The Dodgers had one hitter carry a poor hitting team (Kirk Gibson) which the Giants have as well in Pablo Sandoval. Tim Lincecum has been the Giants' Orel Hershiser; though the Dodgers didn't have a number two starter the likes of Matt Cain. If this team can get any extra hitting, they will win the wildcard, but that is unlikely. This is a team that could do damage in the playoffs with that staff, but need to get there first, and I just don't see that happening.

6. Florida- '99 Red Sox: To be fair, this year's Marlins are the poor men to that '99 Red Sox team. While Hanley Ramirez and Nomar Garciaparra compare as great hitting shortstops, Josh Johnson isn't in the class Pedro Martinez was back in 1999. Pedro was untouchable, like Greg Maddux in 1994, Ron Guidry in 1978 and Dwight Gooden in 1985. Josh Johnson isn't having that kind of year, but 11-2 with a 2.92 ERA is very impressive and the Marlins can be sure that they will win whenever he starts, it seems. Both lineups hit just enough to avoid their shortstops as the lone hitting threat, but not enough to be consistently good enough to win. Their pitching staff outside of Johnson is poorous, like the Red Sox in 1999 except for Bret Saberhagen. They keep winning, but I don't see how they make the playoffs when they allow more runs then they score. Run differential for the Marlins is -1 and it catches up to you when September rolls around; that's why the Mariners won't win and neither will Florida.

5. Colorado- '03 Marlins: I was going to compare this year's Marlins to the '03 team, but going over the Rockies, I saw that they have a better comparison to Florida. They have been spurred by a managerial change when Clint Hurdle was fired for Jim Tracy, the hitting is very similar and so is the pitching aside from higher ERA's. Also, the Rockies rotation is a little older than the Marlins were in 2003, as Dontrelle Willis and Josh Beckett were mainstays that season. As for the lineups, Pudge Rodriguez led their lineup much like Todd Helton is doing this season, while Brad Hawpe and Troy Tulowitzki have provided the power of a Mike Lowell and Derrick Lee. Add the speed of Dexter Fowler to Juan Pierre and you have very similar teams.

Now I thought before the year the Rockies wouldn't compete again, especially after trading away Matt Holliday. However, this team has been on a roll since Tracy assumed the job of manager and it's hard for me to see Colorado fall apart. Ultimately, I think this team will fall short of the playoffs because the pitching is beatable and the lineup hasn't hit like a typical Rockies team. I also don't believe you get to make another surprising run to a World Series more than once in a decade. The Astros had a great run in 2005 and I can't believe they would do it again for many years. It's one thing for a favored team like the Yankees in 1978, 2005 and 2007 reaching the playoffs from behind or the Braves in 1993; they corrected themselves after an underachieving start. The Rockies weren't picked, started slow, and have picked it up, I think they will have another slump before it ends.

4. Atlanta- '05 Indians: Just like that Cleveland team, the Braves have returned to contention with the help of a good rotation and enough hitting. At least the Braves aren't dealing with loaded Yankees, Red Sox and White Sox teams the Indians did. Tommy Hanson has been a revelation and the rest of the pitching staff is as good as any in the National League (and I include the Giants). Javy Vazquez continues to prove the perfect National League pitcher, Jair Jurrjens continues to make the Tigers rue the day they traded him for Edgar Renteria and Derek Lowe has turned around an off year in the past month and a half. Rafael Soriano has thrived in the closer spot and they have been led at the plate by Brian McCann, Yunel Escobar and Chipper Jones.

The biggest problem the Braves have is that the lineup hasn't really been healthy all year and an injury could derail them. Plus, having the Phillies in their division leaves only the wild card left to grab. However, I think there is a flaw on the Giants and Rockies that isn't as noticable on the Braves and this team return to playoffs, maybe for the last time for Bobby Cox. And this won't be the last you hear of the Braves as there is some youth on this team that will contend for a few years, though not the 14 year run that Atlanta had before.

3. Los Angeles- '02 Giants: Since I compared the Giants to the Dodgers, it's fitting to compare the Dodgers to a San Francisco World Series team. The rotations for both aren't that deep, the lineups are good, but depend on one guy to succeed who has a steroid past. I guess the biggest difference is that Barry Bonds played a full year, while Manny Ramirez was suspended 50 games for failing a drug test. They even both have Jason Schmidt as a starter, though the Dodgers just got him back from a two year injury. The only difference between the bullpens is age, but Jonathan Broxton is a good closer and George Sherrill strengths a strong unit that Joe Torre tends to overuse.

After the great start, the Dodgers have started to slow down and the Rockies and Giants are now on the Dodgers heels. A lead of nine games has been reduced to 5.5. However, I still think the talent level in the lineup is the best in the division and the rotation led by Clayton Kershaw and Randy Wolf is solid enough with their lineup. The key will be Chad Billingsley because if his hamstring keeps him out for an extended period of time, the Dodgers could be in trouble, since the rotation is quietly thin. That was why they should have tried to get Roy Halladay, even if the Jays wanted Billingsley. Also consider, Torre has been there many times before and can motivate his guys to play the way they should play.

2. St. Louis- '93 Braves and '89 Athletics: This was the toughest team to compare because I couldn't find a midseason hitter pickup that will have the impact that Matt Holliday has had except for Fred McGriff. The '89 A's also made a big midseason pickup as they traded for Rickey Henderson and that led to a World Series win. Both teams, however, didn't only have one source of hitting that the Cardinals had with Albert Pujols. The Holliday acquisition has now turned the Cardinals from a possible playoff team to a slam dunk.

The key for the Cardinals is that Chris Carpenter is back and pitching like the Cy Young winner he once was. Adam Wainwright and Joel Piniero have pitched just as well and they have as good a rotation as anyone in baseball for the playoffs. The Holliday trade, along with the Mark DeRosa pickup and Ryan Ludwick starting to hit like he did last year, has made the Cardinals lineup a strong one and now teams must think before they decide to walk Pujols or not. Finally, Ryan Franklin has been great as closer and the rest of the bullpen have proven a strength. This team is certainly a contender for a World Series and I think are better than the Dodgers now, but the Phillies seem to be ahead of everyone.

1. Philadelphia- '93 Blue Jays: I know I already used the '93 Jays with the Yankees, but to be fair, the team fits the Phillies more. Terrific hitting team improves offense after winning a championship, while strengthing their rotation; that's this year's Phillies. Actually, these Yankees remind me more of the teams from 2002-04 when they still had the championship aura, but was starting not to win. Philly is now even better following a championship and that is discerning for the entire National League.

The trade for Cliff Lee already has CC Sabathia-in-Milwaukee potential after his 3-0 start with a 1.12 ERA. There are no longer any lineup questions as Jimmy Rollins has hit better in the past month and a half and Raul Ibanez has proved an upgrade over Pat Burrell. The pitching depth is there as Pedro Martinez can be effective as a fourth starter in a playoff series and Joe Blanton has been consistent as of late, making only quality starts since July began. Two huge concerns for the Phils. Can Cole Hamels and Brad Lidge return to 2008 form and can the Phillies win if they don't. I think they can win if Hamels doesn't pitch as well because of the addition of Lee, but they need to replace Lidge if he can't improve. They have Ryan Madson who could take over as closer if they need to and they might. The best thing about the Phillies, their offense will slug it's way out of trouble and their clutch, which is very important in baseball. This team is the favorite and should repeat as world champions.

Signs of the Apocalypse

I know I'm late late about this, especially since I was the one to coin the name "Shanahan to the Chiefs", but I have to write about "Mort Goes to Camp." He basically drives around in John Madden's used cruiser, only he has a map on the back for signify where he went, even though we can watch it. SportsCenter even gave us a tour of the bus because they obviously know that's the reason we watch.

Now I know ESPN has their top guys tour training camps, but the fact that they have to turn Chris Mortensen into the story is infuriating. You don't see the NFL Network setting up a bus for Scott Hansen to travel around during training camp. This is just another example of ESPN trying to be the news instead of reporting on it. Add the fact it's Chris Mortensen, who's stories are correct half the time (they should be right higher than 95%), and this a complete waste and I hope you change the channel when Shanahan to the Chiefs appears on screen.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Let's Sign Bettsy

I haven't discussed the Rangers offseason for a while but the one thing I'm sure all you Ranger fans have noticed; Blair Betts is still available. I know that most people think that because the Rangers signed that thug Donald Brashear, Betts was a goner. However, look at Aaron Ward; he was sucker-punched by Scott Walker and now their teammates after the Bruins traded him to dump salary (by the way, what will they do with Phil Kessel). So if Ward can play with guy who gave him a dirty hit, why can't Betts do the same. The Rangers aren't too bad with the penalty kill if they lose Betts because Christopher Higgins, Chris Drury, Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky are good PKers. However, this was the best PK in the league and Betts was a big part of it. So Glen, put down the cigar and sign this man. My other NHL offseason thoughts:

-I'm sure Dubinsky will sign and the Rangers should go with him as the center to Marian Gaborik. He flourished as Jaromir Jagr's centerman during the 2007-08 season and I think he will do better this year with Gabby since Dubi is more experienced and should see his numbers grow. Also, I think Scotty Hockey had it right that the Rangers should take a look at Vinny Prospal now that he was bought out by Tampa. I don't think they should go after Todd Bertuzzi because besides being less than what he was was pre-lockout, ever since the Steve Moore incident, Bertuzzi has been bad luck to whomever signs him and doesn't show up in the postseason.

-I have to mention the story about Patrick Kane being arrested for assualting a cab driver in Buffalo. Obviously, this can't be acceptable by anyone, but for a hockey player to do something that someone in the NFL would do is shocking. Kane has a bright future in this game and is the face (along with Jonathan Toews) of the Blackhawks. This is just a terrible thing for the league and Kane should be ashamed of himself for fighting over twenty cents. Besides, you should be tipping more than $1.20 anyway.

-I'm still surprised Alex Tanguay is available. I'll tell you a team that should look at him, Florida. They are going to try to build on last season and it will be hard without Jay Bouwmeester. However, Jay-Bo left a place of strength with the Panthers and Tanguay could be a valuable piece as the Panthers try to make the playoffs for the first time since 2000. If he stays healthy, he helps their offense as their young guys develop.

-Finally, I'm tired like everyone else about Dany Heatley. Can't the Sharks just trade for him already. He can't go back to Ottawa, he's become a pariah there and the Oilers thankfully said enough is enough. The Sharks make sense because they need to do something that can help them win, though I don't believe Heatley necessarily is the best example to winning. Honestly, trading for Heatley takes a lot of pressure off Joe Thornton. Thornton has started to develop an A-Rod type reputation for coming up small during the playoffs. However, if the Sharks acquire Heatley, Heatley takes the brunt of the spotlight due to his public trade demand and will be scapegoated if the Sharks lose again. That means Joe can just focus on playing and be under the radar, though if Heatley and Thornton share a line, their successes tie together.

Monday, August 3, 2009

AL Power Poll

The dust has settled from the trade deadline, though I'm certain we will see a great deal of August trades this year. Even so, this is the perfect time to rank all of baseball from worst to first as a bit of a preview for the final two months and a more official prediction than you saw during my All-Star column. In fact, this should read more like my NBA Power Poll back in April. One little quirk: I will compare each team today and with the NL next week with the historical team they most resemble. Let's get started.

14. Kansas City- '97 Phillies: Like those Phillies, the Royals are terrible, but can trot Zack Greinke every fifth day, which is what the Phillies did with Curt Schilling. Unlike like those Phillies, the Royals did nothing at the trade deadline except take on Yuniesky Betancourt's awful (for them) contract. They should of dealt players away like the Pirates and Indians did, except Greinke. Instead, they continue to be a sad-sack franchise who's payroll is too high for a team that will be the worst in the AL.

13. Cleveland- '95 Expos: Just like Montreal, the Indians have torn apart a team that were very close to winning a World Series (certainly not the same scenario). Now, the Indians have traded two Cy Young winners and a couple of valuable hitters because of the awful contracts of Travis Hafner, Jake Westbrook and Kerry Wood. Those three contracts all are easily in the top-10 in worst contracts in baseball and you can't play in Cleveland and have three contracts that bad. Add the fact that the Indians are losing $16 million for next season, and we might have our next broke franchise, unless LeBron knows how to play baseball. Then again, if he did, he'd sign with the Yankees.

12. Oakland- '95 A's: This was the last year of Tony La Russa's nine-year run in Oakland, who by this time was losing his genius status as A's manager (though would retain it in St. Louis). Billy Beane this season has started to do the same as this A's team has no one besides a washed-up Nomar Garciaparra following the Matt Holliday trade. Maybe Brett Wallace will be good in the future, maybe Gio Gonzalez as well and maybe Beane will find some good draft picks in the next few years. However, his career could end up just like the movie about his and Michael Lewis' book, on the shelf.

11. Baltimore- '93 Indians: That Cleveland team was a year away from becoming one of the best teams during the '90s. They started playing Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton and Manny Ramirez with regularity. Now, the Orioles are about to be the same thing as the Indians, they will be the third team who could beat the Yanks and/or Red Sox in a given year once the Rays crumble under small-market tendencies. Baltimore has the offense of the future with Adam Jones, Nick Markakis and Matt Wieters headlining a potent lineup and the pitching is on it's way in a few years. More importantly, this team is capable of sustaining success as long as Peter Angelos is willing to spend, which he's done before.

10. Toronto- '97 Expos: The situation the Blue Jays are about to go through already occurred with Montreal. The Expos never signed Pedro Martinez long-term and after his Cy Young season, had to trade him to Boston for the Carl Pavano pu-pu platter. Now, Roy Halladay wasn't dealt before the trade deadline at his highest value and now Toronto will receive much less than they should have if they weren't so steadfast to their price. However, if Alex Rios really was claimed, they should start doing cartwheels to be rid of his contract and be sure not to mess up and ask for a player.

9. Seattle- '02 Expos: Another team following the Expos playbook; this team straddled the fence between buyer and seller. No team ever did this as well as the Mariners this year. Two trades they will look back as either great or awful; the Jack Wilson/Ian Snell trade which they gave the Pirates five prospects and the Jarrod Washburn trade which is contingent on Luke French's success and Seattle's chance to resign Washburn in the offseason in a very hockey-like move (see Tkachuk, Keith).

8. Minnesota- '03 Cards: Now we finally get to the meat of the league. The Twins are always capable of making the playoffs, just like the Cardinals for the bulk of the Tony La Russa era. You can't write them off when Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau hit for you and Joe Nathan is as good a closer as there is in baseball. However, the rotation seems to be lacking (they traded for Carl Pavano today) and the rest of the lineup isn't any good. Honestly, by now the Twins should have started to see good things from the Johan Santana trade and obviously that's not the case. Of the eight playoff contenders, Minnesota is most likely to miss the playoffs.

7. Chicago- '89 Mets: It seems like the White Sox still have the reputation of a winning team, like those Mets did. They both also acquired a former Cy Young winner at the trade deadline, giving up pitchers in return. Those not as bad as the Mets in 1989, the White Sox offense has declined and the pitching is about even for both teams. Most importantly, the Mets were in contention for much of the year but fell short and I think that's what will happen for the White Sox with the AL Central becoming better as the season went on. Plus the Peavy trade won't make them better this year, and happens to make them worse because Clayton Richard is better than whomever they trot out in his place, while Peavy gets healthy. Also, if the White Sox decided to claim Alex Rios, they take on another $10 million+ contract without any guarantee of success.

6. Tampa Bay- '07 Tigers: Detroit seemed like they would be better after picking up Gary Sheffield in the offseason and maintained everyone else, until the pitching let them down. The Rays are about to fall victim the same way as their pitching hasn't returned to form at all, neutralizing a good offense. Their bullpen is still iffy and starters like Scott Kazmir and James Shields have been mediocre when we expected the rotation to continue improvement. It seems like their pitchers are feeling the effects of pitching through the World Series, like the Tigers before. Their offense has kept them in the hunt, like Detroit did, but it seems like now the World Series loser is becoming like the Super Bowl loser; they fall apart the year after. However, the wild card in the AL will have a flaw and they have the offense to steal the last spot in the playoffs.

5. Boston- '06 Red Sox: This Red Sox team reminds me so much of the Sox in 2006; won the title two years earlier, lost in the playoffs as a wild card and now seemingly falling apart. Kevin Youkilis has been huge for this team, Jason Bay started hotter than anyone and Dustin Pedroia has moved his average back to .308. Also, Josh Beckett is pitching is typically good odd-numbered year, Jon Lester has bounced back from early trouble and the bullpen has generally pitched as good as advertised.

However, this lineup is still weaker then normal since David Ortiz and Jason Varitek are automatic outs and they haven't been making clutch hits as of late. Also, they rotation, once thought to be as good as any in baseball, now is very weak as John Smoltz pitched like Chien-Ming Wang back in April, Tim Wakefield and Dice-K are hurt and Clay Bucholtz is a tweener; great in the minors, mediocre in the majors (like Kei Igawa) only the no-hitter he pitched still gets everyone thinking he can be good. If Boston makes the playoffs, they need to have Victor Martinez join Youkilis and Pedroia as the real hitting threats and they need to find an arm to acquire, maybe Jon Garland if the D-Backs make him available. I think of all the teams, they will be the ones to most regret not going all in for Roy Halladay.

4. Texas- '07 Rockies: Now while I do throw the label of the Rockies for this Rangers team, let's let it be known that no one has any idea if the Rangers can win 21 of 22 games to reach the World Series. In fact, the AL is too tough for anyone to do that in the playoffs. However, Texas if finally getting enough pitching to compete, like Colorado did that year, which is the real question for both teams annually. The real question left for Texas is can they survive the final month of summer and still have enough to continue through into September. One thing to remember, the Rangers have beaten the Angels eight of their ten games entering Saturday's game, just like the Red Sox against the Yankees.

The Rangers offense isn't as strong as it generally has been since Josh Hamilton has been hurt and ineffective when healthy. Their offense is on pace to score less than 100 runs from last year. They're winning because they're on pace to give up less than 250 runs, which is amazing to say the least. The bullpen has been great for the Rangers this year; hard throwers who have found control this year, while Kevin Millwood has been quietly effective and Scott Feldman and Tommy Hunter have stepped up as well. Michael Young, after the switch to 3B and his demand for a trade, is having an MVP-like season. They look like the wild card in this league.

3. Detroit- '87 Tigers & '91 Twins: Both teams fit for the Tigers mainly since the Doyle Alexander trade for John Smoltz might end up being the Jarrod Washburn for Luke French trade if French is great. Everyone forgets that Alexander went 9-0 during the stretch run as the Tigers returned to the playoffs. They compare with those Tigers also by having a strong rotation support a weak bullpen. They play more like the Twins though as the offense is above-average like Detroit's offense has become. Also, they have bounced back from worst-to-first like the Twins did, yet still had recent success to harp on during the dog days. Washburn joining Justin Verlander, Edwin Jackson and Rick Porcello for a fearsome foursome of starters for the playoffs.

This is the AL team you want to avoid in the Division Series because they can pitch as well as anyone. And if they play the series that skips a day, they would only need to use Verlander, Jackson and Washburn in a series, each of whom has pitched his team to the World Series. While the bullpen and lineup do leave something to be desired, Miguel Cabrera is having an MVP season and Fernando Rodney is a legit closer. Think of the Tigers as the top sleeper because of their starters.

2. New York- "93 Blue Jays : The lineup is just as stacked as the Blue Jays were during their second championship season, while the pitching was good, but can give up some runs. The major difference between those Jays and these Yankees is the fact that Toronto were the defending champs, but the free agent spending spree by both teams were similar as Toronto signed Paul Molitor and Dave Stewart. In the past few weeks, it's become obvious that the Yankees are headed to the playoffs and now we need to see where they end up. Ever since A-Rod has returned, the Yankees have gone 54-27; as Tim McCarver said, that's winning two out of every three games. The pitching has been good mostly, great at times (like last night), awful at others (last Saturday).

The biggest issue of this Yankees team is can they beat the Red Sox and/or Angels in a playoff series. Now the Yankees have took the last two games against the Red Sox, but if that's the Red Sox team that will continue this season, the Red Sox are a non-factor. The Angels are different, they were just swept in Anaheim before the All-Star break in almost every way you can lose a series. They should be worried about the White Sox and Detroit as well; if they lose one at Yankee Stadium, they could be beat on the road in Round 1.

1. Los Angeles- '02 Angels: This Angels team is the most like their one World Series winner. They have started to hit as well as they did back then and have done it without Vlad Guerrero and Torii Hunter for large stretches this year. The pitching has got better and I still think they will continue to improve from earlier this year when they lost three starters, one of which tragically in Nick Adenhart. However, this rotation is probably as thought of as the rotation was in 2002. They had guys like Ramon Ortiz and a past-his-prime Kevin Appier pitching in the playoffs. One thing to be aware, Mike Scioscia will always have the team ready to play everyday and that is something you don't overlook.

Honestly, if the Red Sox were doing better, I would of had them ahead of the Angels because they always beat them. However, the Angels always beat the Yankees; all they need is to win one at Yankee Stadium in any series it seems and they finish them at Angel Stadium. Also, I'm sure Bobby Abreu would love to beat his old team. Look at the Angels lineup and everyone is hitting above .290 except Howie Kendrick and Gary Matthews Jr. Matthews won't play once Hunter comes back and Kendrick is a Yankee-killer should they meet. As long as the Angels avoid the Red Sox in the Division Series, they should win the AL