Friday, September 30, 2011

NLDS Preview

Yesterday, the ALDS was tackled. Yet, already the Yankees-Tigers series has taken a complete turn because of the rainout in Game 1, forcing CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander to lose their impact, going from in essence two starts to one. Buster Olney this morning had been tweeting like crazy about the potential of Sabathia convincing Joe Girardi to let him go in Game 2. I believe the chances of him pitching Game 2 hinge on how the rest of Game 1 plays out. If the Yanks lose, then I can see CC pitch, or be saved until Monday if the Yankees lead 1-0. Enough about this series, today the National League begins their round of playoffs.

Let's start with the Philadelphia Phillies and the St. Louis Cardinals, who like the Rays, surged their way into the playoffs, beating out the Red Sox brethren in the art of the collapse, the Atlanta Braves. It wasn't a good year for the Cardinals up until late August, then Albert Pujols turned around his year, and Tony La Russa started taking a firmer role with the pitching staff and bullpen once Dave Duncan left the team to be with his wife. It's been tough for the Redbirds without Adam Wainwright all year, and they have patched together a staff led by Chris Carpenter, and a bullpen that only recently started to gel. Carpenter, Kyle Lohse and Jaime Garcia have been decent, but will have to be extraordinary to match the Phillies arms. The Cardinals bats don't have as much to match; they still have Pujols, plus Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman. They arguably have the better lineup when compared to their opponents.

Meanwhile, the Phillies lineup continues to get older and less productive (aside from Shane Victorino). Jimmy Rollins is the NL-version of 2010 Derek Jeter, Ryan Howard is more and more becoming a feast of famine hitter and Chase Utley just can't stay healthy for a full year. You'd be more worried if not for the fact that the Phillies can trot out the best pitching rotation since the 90s era Braves. Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt are as formidable a quartet of arms as any in history. I mean Hamels carried the Phillies to the title in 2008 and he's now the number 3 starter. Doc shows up in postseason play last year, and all he does is throw a no-hitter. Lee has swung the pennant for the last two years with his pitching, particularly last year. And everyone forgets Oswalt because his last postseason play before last year was in Houston back in 2004-05 as well as the fact he's struggled with injury this year. One last thing about the Phillies, the bullpen is not weak. Ryan Madson has filled the role of closer superbly and it appears the Brad Lidge is back as a setup man, which for some reason, I think can work out. If the Phillies go down, it won't be against the Cards. This should be like their series with the Reds last year and I see a sweep.

The final first round series is the one that's starting within an hour as the surprising Arizona Diamondbacks will take on the powerful Milwaukee Brewers. Power is the word for the Brewers in their approach to hitting and pitching. The Brewers three-headed monster of Yovani Gallardo, Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum are as good as any trio not named Halladay, Lee and Hamels. They are also supported with a vastly improved bullpen with Francisco Rodriguez as the setup man and John Axford as the closer, who's been a gem this season. We all know the Brewers lineup with Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder as the biggest threats, but once you start rattling names like Corey Hart and Rickie Weeks, then you have the most formidable lineup in the NL and one any team would be wary to face, especially at Miller Park, where the Brewers have a majors leading 57-24 record at home.

That's the challenge for the Diamondbacks, who seemed to win the NL West with ease after back-to-back losing seasons. The story most of the nation knows about Arizona is pitcher Ian Kennedy's breakout season which saw him win 20 and Justin Upton as the dominant bat in the lineup, but that's not fair to Kirk Gibson's team. They have Miguel Montero, who's just as much a run producer as Upton, despite lesser power. You also happen to be dealing with arguably the best fielding team in baseball, and just so happened to score more runs this year than Milwaukee. The pitching staff for the DBacks are solid behind Kennedy, with Daniel Hudson as the best of the rest. The real pitching story is the improved bullpen that they have. This team had the worst bullpen in baseball the last few years, but led by closer JJ Putz, David Hernandez and Brad Ziegler, they are impressive. Just not impressive enough to outlast the Brewers with home-field advantage, as Milwaukee will win a hard-fought 5 game series.

ALDS Preview

Today is the beginning of the American League playoffs and I'm absolutely certain the drama will not match that of the last day of the year. It can't, there won't be four must-win games going on at the same exact time in these playoffs. There will be a spacing of these games for television purposes, so it's not built to equal the excitement of the opening weekend of March Madness, which Wednesday night was (and will be next year now that Gus Johnson no longer will call that).

Now, we are down to 4 teams left in the AL and they are very similar to the teams last year as a result of the Tampa Bay Rays incredible comeback win Wednesday, giving the Red Sox the worst collapse in history, an 11 on the Choke-O-Meter. Now, they get their rematch with the Texas Rangers with two major differences. One, Texas has the home-field and last year, home-field meant nothing as the road team won each game. And two; no Cliff Lee, the main reason the Rangers won 2 games in Tampa. Instead, it's C.J. Wilson who heads the staff with Derek Holland pitching Game 2 and some combination of Matt Harrison and Colby Lewis in Tampa. The Rays might be a little stronger in their rotation, despite the struggles of David Price this year as James Shields is much improved and Jeremy Hellickson has been tremendous in his first year. However, the surprise is how Matt Moore will make his second career start later in Game 1. One thing's for sure, if all the managers in baseball dropped their pants, Joe Maddon I guarantee you will end up with the biggest set of balls. Bar none.

The lineups are a contrast, just like last year. The Rangers, led by Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler and Adrian Beltre can mash with anyone. Meanwhile the Rays have Evan Longoria as their biggest threat, with a lot of guys who can do anything and are opportunistic. This results in Matt Joyce and Dan Johnson with season saving home runs in back-to-back games. The Rangers have the clear edge in the bullpen because Neftali Feliz is a MAJOR upgrade at closer than Kyle Farnsworth. The Rays have been up and down with their relievers, only they are pitching very well as of late. Texas now will have Alexi Ogando in the bullpen, joining Mike Adams and Mike Gonzalez as quality arms in the bullpen (I don't care how good Darren Oliver is, I'll never trust him, though he could succeed against Tampa). It comes down to this, Tampa is hot, very hot in the past week, however, they might have better served playing Boston yesterday and keeping the momentum going. The day might kill it, like it did last week in NY and I think Texas wins this series in 4 games.

The other series is the Yankees once again, facing the lone newcomer in the AL, the Detroit Tigers. The script for this series could be the Game 1 matchup of CC Sabathia against Justin Verlander, the man who will win the Cy Young and dare I say, likely MVP winner. You'd think that the Game 1 winner sets everything up for the series, but the Yankees have Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia going in Games 2 and 3 and you won't know who either man will pitch. The Tigers trot Doug Fister, Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello and that's not exactly a Phillies rotation full of arms either, though Fister has been very good and if Verlander should fall tonight, Fister is more than capable to winning Game 2 and getting a split.

Both teams lineups are good offensively, even though the number of household names is less on the Tigers. I will say that the most feared hitter on either team is Miguel Cabrera, yes, even more than Robinson Cano, though not by much. However, no team will have an easy time getting through Curtis Granderson, Cano, Alex Rodriguez (if he's healthy) and Mark Teixeira (if he finally can hit in the postseason). Lineup wise, A-Rod is the key, just like every other postseason the Yankees have been involved in since his arrival. It's funny that the one year A-Rod hit like he does in the regular season, the Yanks have won his lone World Series. Detroit has Victor Martinez alongside Cabrera, with Alex Avila and Jhonny Peralta also with terrific years. Looking at the bullpens, the Yankees have the advantage, but not by much since Jose Valverde is perfect in save opportunities. We all know Mo, that's the advantage, plus when you add the ridiculous year David Robertson posted. Tough series and if this goes 5, the Tigers win. I think it goes 4 and the Yankees take it, setting the rematch in the ALCS.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

So Long College Football

I've had it. Conference realignment has ruined college football for me. And it's about to ruin college basketball, which I've always held more dear than football. Part of the reason is because I went to Seton Hall, a non-football playing Big East school. So already I don't belong to any college football team and thus, I never really root for anyone.

The inspiration to this rant: this tweet. This is still a sport that can't and won't decide it's national champion on the field, which makes it useless to follow the sport anyway. I know that conference champions mattered more before the Bowl Coalition/Bowl Alliance/BCS Era, but now with these superconferences, no longer is there anything close to a true round robin. Money and greed has ended the Nebraska-Oklahoma rivalry (which really ended when the Big 12 was formed).

Better reactionary articles can be seen here, here and here. All I'm here to say is because of Dan, Gregg and JP, I'm all but finished following college football with the same passion as the other sports I follow until either these schools stop sacrificing tradition for money or until they create a real playoff, which will naturally solve the first point.

Does this mean I won't watch college football anymore? Probably not. I'm sure I'm going to bet on college and will have to at least know who's good and who's not. However, I'm certainly finished thinking about college football outside of a game itself. To me, it's a better version of high school football. The only regret I have will probably be the way I evaluate potential pros. That's what the Combine and these All-Star games are for.

MLB Awards

Wednesday is the end of the regular season in baseball and it's once again time to give out some regular season awards. As it's been the case for most years, the vote in various categories should be contentious. And that's just the battle for AL MVP, as tough a vote as I can remember. As a matter of fact, I'd say there's only award that has a no-brainer answer (I'm pretty sure you can guess, but I'll make you sweat a little before revealing). Without further adu...

AL Manager of the Year: Joe Girardi and Jim Leyland both have compelling cases. Tigers are back in the playoffs for the first time in 5 years, while Girardi has the Yankees with the best record despite only one good starter (same issue with Leyland). Before Yanks fans give me hell for writing that, the stats show that a lot of Freddy Garcia's and Ivan Nova's success this year is due to luck (low BABIP, high FIP). You also can make a case for Mike Scioscia for having the Angels alive until last night despite a pedestrian offense. However, if you look at the Tampa Bay Rays, you ask yourself why they are tied for the wildcard. Their pitching is good, but no ones been outstanding. They haven't had anyone in the lineup to carry them, just someone new everyday (they probably are better this year had they brought up Desmond Jennings earlier in the season). Seems to me that the answer is clearly Joe Maddon. And that's before mentioning how the Rays lost Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Matt Garza, Joakim Benoit and Rafael Soriano last year.

NL Manager of the Year: Tony La Russa will get votes for having the Cards alive into these last two days. The Milwaukee Brewers are back in the postseason, and Ron Roenicke will also get attention for that. However, both teams were expected to contend this year. The Arizona Diamondbacks weren't. Maybe I was wrong, I think there are two awards that are easy to figure out and Kirk Gibson for NL MOTY is the other one. Only fringe MVP and Cy contenders (even though I do love Justin Upton) and a marked turnaround seems like the recipe.

AL Rookie of the Year: There's something to nitpick about each candidate. Nova's win totals are inflated. Jeremy Hellickson has been very lucky according to his BABIP. Jordan Walden's been good, but I happen to have a bias against voting closers in postseason awards, unless it's a no-brainer. Mark Trumbo's .290 OBP is horrible for a major award candidate. Eric Hosmer hasn't played well defensively, according to defensive metrics, knocking down his WAR to 1.6 on Fangraphs, 1.5 on Baseball Reference. And then I look at Michael Pineda. He has a 9.11 K/9, leads all rookie starters in FIP and xFIP and is tied for first with Alexi Ogando in Fangraphs WAR with 3.4. I don't see a flaw, so Pineda's my guy (though I wish Jennings and Brett Lawrie were up for a full year, then we'd have a race like the NL last year).

NL Rookie of the Year: Clearly not as strong as a year ago. Freddie Freeman probably would be the winner if he could field. Only Lucas Duda was a worse fielder among rookies. It seems to me that it all goes back to Craig Kimbrel. Yes, I know I just said I have a bias against closers, but I just don't see a better rookie than Kimbrel. His K/9 ratio is 14.86, only beaten by Kenley Jansen of the Dodgers. Even for a closer, his FIP and xFIP is very low. Add the 46 saves on a playoff contender and I forgive the fact that Fredi Gonzalez has overused him (and the rest of the bullpen) down the stretch for the Braves.

AL Cy Young: This should be a closer race. CC Sabathia had in my mind his best season as a Yankee and Fangraphs WAR has him tied for 1st. Jered Weaver has a 2.41 ERA, just one point behind 1st. James Shields should get some credit for completing 11 games, something I thought pitchers don't do unless their last name is Halladay (Comeback Player of the Year for him). But the fact is, Justin Verlander is a nominee for MVP. Pitching wins might finally no longer decide awards after King Felix a year ago, but 24 wins is hard to ignore, not to mention that he's going to win the pitching Triple Crown (provided Weaver doesn't beat him out for ERA on Wednesday). Plus, Verlander doesn't have a flaw (not going to hold his low BABIP against him). He's the Cy Young and there really is no doubt.

NL Cy Young: Here's a better race. Ian Kennedy will get votes for finishing 21-4 and has a nice 2.88 ERA, but he's really not a contender. The race seems to be down to Roy Halladay, Clayton Kershaw and Cliff Lee. Here's where the divide between Fangraphs and Baseball Reference WAR shows up. Halladay has an 8.2 WAR on Fangraphs, up 1.3 on Kershaw. Baseball Reference, however, has Doc at 7.1, up 0.2 over both Kershaw and Lee. The ERA is close between all three, with Kershaw ahead. Roy has the better FIP, while Lee has the better xFIP. Kershaw has the better K/9 innings, though Zack Greinke leads. Really, down the line, all three are so similar except one thing. Halladay and Lee are on the same team, that's the advantage Clayton Kershaw has. So I think Kershaw will win the Cy Young because of the split, and I'll go with that because I have to pick someone. Couldn't we take away Eric Gagne's and Brandon Webb's Cy Youngs and hand them to Halladay and Lee. It's only fair.

AL MVP: If you thought the NL Cy Young was a tight race, may I present you the MVP of the American League. Every baseball fan has been bombarded ad nausem on this race for MVP. It's a race that even after I write this, I might change my mind another 2-3 times. So who wins the award? Let's start by those who won't win. Michael Young is the dark horse because of all he does for the Rangers (despite them taking him for granted every offseason, like the Yankees did at the end of Bernie Williams career). Yesterday, Jacoby Ellsbury was back on the forefront of the MVP race, today no so much. It's not fair, because Ellsbury has been a better version of Curtis Granderson this year, as Granderson is clearly better in HR, runs and RBI, but gets trumped in WAR by Ellsbury on both Fangraphs and BR. Miguel Cabrera gets taken for granted by baseball people for having the same awesome numbers every year. Probably should of been the guy who the Tigers focused on trying to get MVP. Instead we're down to Jose Bautista and Verlander. An interesting case, a pitcher vs a slugger for a non-playoff team. I give the nod to Verlander for two reasons. First, because Bautisa had a worse second half than his first, though he still has a 1.061 OPS. And also because Verlander was carrying the Tigers back when they were struggling with the Indians and White Sox. Let's not penalize him for Tigers running away with the division once September hit.

NL MVP: As good a year Justin Upton has had and as good a close to the year Albert Pujols has given the Cardinals, it's really a three man race between Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder and Matt Kemp. The same problem as the Cy race, two of the three are on the same team and they will split votes. The difference; I think it's much clearer that Matt Kemp is the NL MVP. Braun beats Kemp in OPS, but by only 16 points. Kemp looks like he'll finish third in batting, aside from finishing first in HR and RBI. He wins both Fangraphs and BR WAR (BR has him ahead by over 2 wins). Eric Seidman had a great article on Fangraphs about how both Kershaw and Kemp could make history if both win their respective awards. It would be deserved, both men are the reason the Dodgers, despite all the turmoil with ownership, will finish over .500 and can legitimately be contenders next year with the right moves.

Many thanks to Fangraphs and Baseball Reference for providing all the numbers used in this post.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Week 3 Picks

I hate to disappoint everyone, but there will be no video this week, as Tiffany's camera was broken. Thus, it will just be my Week 3 picks that will be the purpose of today's post. Not a lot of time until the games start, so let's get started.

Home teams listed in CAPS

CINCINNATI (-3) over San Francisco: Home opener today for the Bengals, who actually look halfway decent. Andy Dalton is competent under center and A.J. Green has already made people forget about Chad Ochocinco. As for the Niners, they were so close to 2-0 in both their home games, before giving up the game to Dallas. Now they have to play an early game. Don't like them today.

New England (-7.5) over BUFFALO: My heart says pick the Bills. When that happens, I try to see how much my head will overrule my heart. In this case, I can't allow myself to pick against the Pats. They might make an example out of the Bills today.

Houston (+4) over NEW ORLEANS: I really don't know the flaw for the Texans, except at head coach. But, that's a flaw that wouldn't show up until later in the season, not September. Saints defense will have their hands full with the Texans offense, that's why I'm going against them at home.

PHILADELPHIA (-9) over Giants: Looks like Michael Vick is going to play. If it was Mike Kafka, I can make the case that the Giants pass rush would avoid the Eagles from completely exposing the major weakness in the secondary. Not happening with Vick, unless he's a turnover machine today.

Miami (+3) over CLEVELAND: This is off the board at Bodog, but I'm using this line here. For the Dolphins, we need to see if they can win road games like they did last year. For the Browns, we need to know if they are any good, or that the Colts are that brutal. I'm going with the former.

Denver (+7) over TENNESSEE: I wish I know how in the world the Titans beat the Ravens last week. Meanwhile, the weight of the world on Kyle Orton's shoulders got a little lighter after last week's win and now that he's on the road, I think the Broncos will play looser. As for Tennessee, I see a letdown, unless of course, Chris Johnson actually plays some downs.

Detroit (-3.5) over MINNESOTA: So we're all agreed; any line that's close, go against the Vikings, but if it's over 7, then pick them. If football games ended in the first half, the Vikings will have a chance to go undefeated. Now being serious, the Lions should handle the Vikings pretty easily; they are that much better.

CAROLINA (-3.5) over Jacksonville: Only chance the Jaguars have is if Blaine Gabbert in his rookie debut can throw like Cam Newton did. I mean, if Cam Newton's going to throw over 400 yards against the defending champs, he can do the same today, right? I'm going wrong, because he won't need to throw in the fourth quarter, so by design, his passing will go down. I'll love Monday though if they win and Cam has only 320 yards and the reaction is he failed everyone.

SAN DIEGO (-15) over Kansas City: The Chiefs are horrific. The injuries have ruined their own season and now my fantasy season is in major jeopardy because of Jamaal Charles season ending injury. I hated having to pick up Thomas Jones on the waiver wire. Chargers should win easily.

OAKLAND (+3) over Jets: I know the last time the Jets were in Oakland, they cruised to a 38-0 blowout, which allowed for Mark Sanchez to have a celebratory hot dog. This time, the Raiders are better and the Jets just don't play well in Oakland, going all the way back to the Heidi Game. Expect a lot of running and some payback by the Raiders defense to the Sanchise.

Baltimore (-6) over ST. LOUIS: I don't expect another bad game from the Ravens. The Rams, though, will continue to lose these games because they find ways to shoot themselves in the foot against teams up a class. Still will be alive for the NFC West even when they go 0-7 before their bye. Brutal opening schedule, no NFC West games early.

Atlanta (+1) over TAMPA BAY: Here are two teams we just don't know about yet. Both were handled pretty easily in Week 1 (though the Tampa score didn't indicate it), both needed comebacks in Week 2 to stay level. Now in Week 3, who's for real? Who's fake? Are they both fake? Today, I'm going to ride Matt Ryan, even though I should be riding the Bucs for a whole number of reasons personally. As a matter of fact...

TAMPA BAY (-1) over Atlanta: Because I have Josh Freeman in fantasy, along with Mike Williams and the fact there's a Bucs NFC Championship ticket in my house and I can't have them lose many more. Done.

SEATTLE (+3.5) over Arizona: There will be games I won't take the points in a Seattle home game. It just won't happen when they play the NFC West. None of the 3 teams will be good enough to win at Qwest Field, unless no one shows up.

Green Bay (-4.5) over CHICAGO: Think the Bears are more like the team we saw in Week 2 than in Week 1. The Packers should control this game, maybe the score will be tight at the end, but not 3 or 4 points, at least I hope. Green Bay will eventually have to answer questions about their defense, but Jay Cutler won't be the one asking those questions.

Pittsburgh (-11) over INDIANAPOLIS: Couldn't NBC flex this game out? We don't need until Week 10 to know what games don't belong on primetime. At least two games I see getting flex out late this year (Pittsburgh-Kansas City and Indy-NE as hard to believe that will be) with both Giants games an interesting discussion if they don't play well early on here. As for the game, nothing needs to be said.

Washington (+5) over DALLAS: Tough finding a line for this one, but two reasons I'm picking against Dallas. First, uncertainty with Tony Romo, even if he plays. Second, because Dallas cost me big last week in that OT. James Holley goes 77 yards to the 1 yard line and anyone who had Dallas -3 knows that the field goal meant a push. Hoping the Cowboys would at least try to run it in, instead Jason Garrett sends out the FG unit on 1st down and wins the game. So yes, I'm still mad and will be ready for Rex Grossman to ruin the Cowboys home opener.

Last week: 9-6-1
This Season: 15-15-2

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Worst Collapses Ever

As any baseball fan knows, the Boston Red Sox are in need of someone to give them the Heimlich. They have lost again tonight, leaving them a 2.5 game lead in the AL Wild Card over the LA Angels and the Tampa Bay Rays. They have company in the choking department as the Atlanta Braves now lead the St. Louis Cardinals by only 1.5 games, with the San Francisco Giants only down 3.5 games. As we watch both teams unravel and see if either of them can salvage their seasons' and reach postseason play, let's look back at all the history of collapses, with a twist. I'm going to measure all the times a team has blow a huge lead and determine how much of the loss was because of a comeback by 2nd place or a choke by 1st place. Let's get started.

1964 Philadelphia Phillies: Remains as the holy grail of baseball chokes. Up 6.5 games with 12 games to play, they lose 10 games in a row to cost themselves the pennant. It was that inexplicable, even the World Series programs for the 1964 World Series were set. Choke-O-Meter: 10

1951 Brooklyn Dodgers: I never blame the Dodgers for losing this one. The reason, if the Giants go 32-15 in their last 47 games, Brooklyn still makes the World Series easily. They were an ordinary 27-24 down the stretch, but not bad enough to lose, except the 2nd place Giants finished 39-8 to reach the World Series, including the win in the 3 game playoff. Choke-O-Meter: 4 (for giving up "The Shot Heard Round The World")

1962 Los Angeles Dodgers: Not nearly as famous as '51, but in my eyes, more of a choke by the Dodgers here. Leads to another 3 game playoff which they lose to the Giants. The reason why the 3 game playoff takes place is because the Dodgers finished the year 3-10 after a 7 game winning streak seemingly won the pennant for them. Choke-O-Meter: 7 (points taken off because their lead was only 4 games before the downturn).

1969 Chicago Cubs: The Cubs were up 9 on August 16 over the surprising Mets. Then, the Mets finished with a 36-11 surge, while the Cubs slumped to a 17-26 finish and is a symbol of the 100 years of futility of the franchise. Choke-O-Meter: 7 (yes, the Mets played great, but the Cubs could of at least stayed alive until the final weekend had they not choked).

1978 Boston Red Sox: Falls into the '51 Dodgers category as they were done in by a hard-charging team, rather than their own ineptitude. The thing no one remembers is that the Yankees were in 4th place when they were down by 14 games. Lost 14 of 17 to fall out of 1st place, then won 12 of 14 to force the famous one game playoff. Choke-O-Meter: 5

1987 Toronto Blue Jays: They were riding high after a 7 game winning streak, the last 3 against the 2nd-place Tigers to take a 3.5 game lead in the AL East. Then they lost all 7 of their final games, capped by a 3-game sweep by those very same Tigers. Combined with their loss in the 1985 ALCS after leading 3-1, they earned the label as "chokers" until they finally won in 1992. Choke-O-Meter: 8 (Loses 2 points because they never held a big lead, despite the epic finish).

1993 San Francisco Giants: Very much like the Red Sox in particular, because the Braves caught them and the Giants needed to rally. San Fran finished the year 38-27 after reaching a 10 game lead out West, while the Braves soared to 49-16 after trading for Fred McGriff. While they did play well, the Giants were hurt by an 8-game losing streak which knocked them out of 1st. Choke-O-Meter: 5 (followed the losing streak by winning 14 0f 17 at the end).

1995 California Angels: This team peaked with an 11 game lead on August 9th, then everything went wrong. The Angels slumped badly for a month and a half, finishing 18-31 and couldn't overcome the Mariners 30-19 finish and lost in a one game playoff. It never gets the attention of the Dodgers or Yankees, but this I believe is the worst of the mid-August collapses because bad play opened the door, not super play by 2nd place. Choke-O-Meter: 9 (avoids 10 because they won 5 of 6 to force that playoff).

2007 New York Mets: The Mets were swept in a memorable series to the Phillies that cut their NL East lead to 2 games on August 30th. They won 10 of their next 12 and brought their lead back to 7. Then, they proceed to finish 5-12, while the Phillies won 13 of 17 to win the East and signal a change in fortune in both teams. The Phillies suddenly became the class of the NL, while the Mets became the class clowns of the league. Choke-O-Meter: 9 (and the effects are still felt).

2009 Detroit Tigers: The Tigers were sailing to the playoffs, and led the AL Central by 7 games on Sept 6th. Then, the Twins rode a 18-8 finish into a one-game playoff, as the Tigers finished 11-15. What puts them here is they were up 3 games with 4 games left. They lose the final game of a series with the Twins, then lose the first two to the White Sox, before salvaging a playoff with a win on last day (a game which Justin Verlander needed to pitch because they were tied). Choke-O-Meter: 6

Just so you know, both the Red Sox and Braves easily reach a 7 on the choke scale, and the Red Sox scale might well be 9 if they finish this collapse through to the end. Should be a fun final week of baseball ahead, something I didn't think would happen.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Tiffany's Week 1 Recap and My Week 2 Picks

Every year in The Cycle's existence, the weekly picks post has undergone changes. It started with the Babe of the Week in 2009, then I scrapped the theme in 2010. We once again have a running theme as in lieu of a recap post, I will post the NFL musical stylings of Tiffany Orbin. Last year, she started doing parodies of popular and famous songs with the happenings each week in the 2010 season. You can visit her YouTube page for more videos, but every week, I'll post her videos here, starting with this one from Week 1.

Before we go to the picks, I need to talk about my fantasy team. Yes, I know no one cares, but I go to bed on Monday night pissed off that Darren McFadden didn't have a chance to run out the clock, seemingly allowing me to lose my fantasy matchup by 1.5 points. Next time I look at my roster, I notice that in fact I won by half a point. The reason for the switch; I'm guessing because we have defensive players and tackles and sack can be applied later. Best bit of news I received all week.

And now, let's go to the Week 2 picks. (Home teams in CAPS)

NEW ORLEANS (-7) over Chicago: Here's the deal, the Saints lost a close one against the Packers in Green Bay, the Bears win a weird game at home against Atlanta. I want to see the Bears show up in the Superdome.

DETROIT (-8.5) over Kansas City: Chiefs were in trouble before losing Eric Berry for the year. I expect the Lions to take better advantage of the Chiefs than they did against the Bucs last week.

Jacksonville (+9) over JETS: Because I don't believe the Jets can blow teams out when they're supposed to. The offense still isn't good enough and I can easily see the Jets allow the Jags to hang around and win late.

BUFFALO (-4) over Oakland: Going against the West Coast team playing at 1 pm eastern here. Plus, even though the Chiefs were awful, Ryan Fitzpatrick is good enough against lesser teams. Confident he will play well at home.

WASHINGTON (-4) over Arizona: Rex Grossman looked great against the Giants, now he gets the worst secondary in football. I also expect Kevin Kolb not to play that well if the Redskins defense is for real.

Baltimore (-6.5) over TENNESSEE: Don't expect Chris Johnson to start running well against the Ravens. Meanwhile, the Ravens made a statement with that win over Pittsburgh. They aren't going to be a "contender, but not really one" this year.

PITTSBURGH (-14.5) over Seattle: Not worried about the Steelers just yet. Get this home opener with an awful Seahawks team and should right themselves.

Green Bay (-10.5) over CAROLINA: Let's see Cam Newton do what he did against the Cards this week when he faces a real NFL secondary.

Tampa Bay (+3) over MINNESOTA: The Vikings only chance of winning games this year will be if Adrian Peterson wins them alone. Donovan McNabb won't do so. Also, let's see if the young Bucs can bounce back.

Cleveland (-2) over INDIANAPOLIS: The problems the Browns had against Cincinnati won't show up against the Peyton-less Colts. Expect better Colt McCoy play in this one.

Dallas (-3) over SAN FRANCISCO: Sorry, Niners. Unless Ten Ginn Jr. is going to score on every possession, I'm afraid the Cowboys are just a little above your weight class. Besides, it's not a big game so Tony Romo probably won't lose the game for them.

Houston (-3) over MIAMI: Tossup game if you still don't buy the Texans. I do, so I have no problem laying 3 points. Dolphins will have just as much trouble defending the Texans as they did the Pats and Brady threw for over 500 yards.

San Diego (+7) over NEW ENGLAND: Let me get this straight, the Pats are a touchdown better than the Chargers because of last week? Sorry, but the Chargers aren't giving up 500 yards of passing and Philip Rivers is far more dangerous than Chad Henne.

Cincinnati (+3.5) over DENVER: It's too the point that Kyle Orton can't start at home anymore because the Broncos fans are so opposed to him. It's a real Ed Whitson situation, only Orton's actually good.

ATLANTA (+3) over Philadelphia: Statement game for the Falcons. Everyone's down on them after the playoff blowout against the Packers and now last week's loss. No one expects them to beat Vick and the Eagles. It's time for Matty Ice and Co to make a stand.

GIANTS (-7) over St. Louis: Same deal for the Giants, plus they really can use a win before their trip to Philly. The Rams are just as banged up as NY, especially on offense, though Bradford will play. Season can spiral out of control if Steve Spagnuolo beats his former team.

Season record: 6-9-1

Monday, September 12, 2011

Randomness In Between Looking At Scarlett Johansson

Seriously, here's Scarlett Johansson! Just remember that's NSFW.

Once again, the U.S. Open had to move the men's final to Monday afternoon. The matchup itself, also was like last year, a rematch between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. Both men waged a war on the court, serving rallies rarely seen, with some of the best shot-making I've ever seen. It almost knocked out Djokovic with a back injury, until the greatest massage in sports history leads to an epic happy ending.

Djokovic's win caps off the best year in sport for any athlete and it's not even close. His record this year is 64-2, with one of those losses coming because of an injury. He won 3 of the 4 Grand Slams, first to do so since Mats Wilander in 1988. As for his competition; no one in baseball was particularly dominant, Dirk Nowitzki and Aaron Rodgers carried their teams, but weren't as consistently dominant. Tim Thomas was, but he can't score for his team. I guess Lionel Messi would qualify, but he does have great players around him, which Djokovic obviously isn't afforded.

We go from greatest in a calendar year to greatest over a period of years, as we congratulate Mariano Rivera for save number 600. It really doesn't matter how many saves Mo ends with; it's not like he's a greater pitcher because he picked up a save last night and the number at the end happens to be round. Still, a milestone like this gives us a reminder of his career and really shows how spoiled Yankee fans are (yes, I know how foreign a concept a "spoiled Yankee fan" is).

It was nice of the Red Sox and Braves to allow their playoff spot have the guise of a race. I'm still certain both will go, but it does give baseball some juice before October. Not to mention the AL West race.

If he has anything left, I love the signing of Brandon Stokley by the Giants. Give Eli Manning a safety blanket that they really don't have right now in the passing game. Now, if only they can block for him (not to mention a week without injuries).

NFL Picks will be up Saturday morning, with a twist. Until then, back to Scarlett.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Week 1 Picks

It's not often that the last play of the game is extremely important equally for fans root for either of the two teams and the gamblers. Thursday was one of those times, since the Packers were favored by 4.5 or 5 depending on the sportsbook. Result: Packers stuff Mark Ingram and win 42-34 (by the way, Al Michaels was horrible Thursday, made Joe Buck sound like Gus Johnson), making Pack fans and bettors happy. One thing's for sure, I can't wait for the rematch in the playoffs.

So I've started 1-0 and will look to maintain that +.500 mark all season long. Fact is, I don't care if my preseason picks are right or not (unless they work out for me like last year). However, I always want my weekly picks to be right, shows if I have a feel of the NFL season or not. So here's the rest of the slate for Week 1 (Home team in CAPS).

Pittsburgh (+1) over BALTIMORE- Coin flip whenever these two play. Not more I can say, just that I think the Steelers win this one.

Detroit (+1) over TAMPA BAY- Winner gets a head start on making the breakthrough into contention.

Atlanta (-3) over CHICAGO- Did you know these two teams were to top 2 seeds in the NFC last year. Yes, I didn't remember until yesterday.

Buffalo (+5.5) over KANSAS CITY- Because the Chiefs are screwed if Matt Cassel either doesn't play or gets hurt in the game.

HOUSTON (-9) over Indianapolis- Too soon to back Kerry Collins on the road. Statement week for the Texans.

Philadelphia (-4.5) over ST. LOUIS- Good game to start for both, Eagles might look a little too good after this one.

CLEVELAND (-7) over Cincinnati- My God, look at the Browns starting schedule, their first difficult game is at Houston in Week 9. Gotta rethink as a sleeper.

Tennessee (+1) over JACKSONVILLE- Why are the Jags still favored? Do you really want to give points with Luke McCown, against Chris Johnson no less?

Giants (-3) over WASHINGTON- I'm seeing Redskins buzz for absolutely no reason. Giants can really do anything this year.

Carolina (+7) over ARIZONA- Don't think the Cards blow out the Panthers. They shouldn't be giving 7, not until we see if Kolb can play great.

Seattle (+5.5) over SAN FRANCISCO- Still think Jim Harbaugh is coaching this year to get Andrew Luck. We all know Pete Carroll and the Seahawks are doing the same. Could be a tie.

SAN DIEGO (-9) over Minnesota- First step for the Chargers; own September. Begins with the Vikings and revenge for Adrian Peterson's record day.

Dallas (+5.5) over JETS- Really scares me how much no one really likes the Cowboys. As a Giants fan, I want overrated Dallas, not underrated.

MIAMI (+7) over New England- One of the two games between these two in a year is usually close. I think it's this one.

DENVER (-3) over Oakland- If only the Chargers weren't in the division. Could be an interesting sleeper if Orton plays great.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

NFL Preview

The NFL resumes tonight with the defending champion Packers hosting the Saints. Unfortunately, work is going to keep me from watching the entire game or write a more detailed preview for the upcoming season. So here's my order of finish in each division with a brief synopsis following it.


1. New England- I'm with everyone else picking the Pats as the AFC East champs. Can't go wrong picking against Brady, plus a motivated Haynesworth is a scary one.
2. NY Jets- The only way they are better this year is if Sanchez improves. Defense didn't improve and the offensive weapons are older. It's on the Sanchise. Playoffs though.
3. Miami- Too much talent at other positions to finish in last. Of course, when Chad Henne's involved, you never know. 8-8 or 7-9 will be the record.
4. Buffalo- Long time without winning, and they're still not close to legitimate. Fitzpatrick will keep them at about 5 wins; really could use 2 wins and Andrew Luck.


1. Pittsburgh- Unlike their two Super Bowl wins with Roethlisberger, they lost and will be hungry this year. Steelers defense is still the same. AFC favorites.
2. Baltimore- Was tempted to shock everyone by having them 3rd, but couldn't pull the trigger. I think it's Ray Lewis last chance to win. Like the Jets, they go where Flacco does. Wild card.
3. Cleveland- They're getting better, let's see if the marriage of Colt McCoy and Pat Shurmur will lead to 8 wins for the Browns, maybe more. There's hope in Cleveland.
4. Cincinnati- Lost Johnathan Joseph and Ochocinco. The great QB battle between Bruce Gradkowski and Andy Dalton. Pencil in 3 wins.


1. Houston- No excuses Texans. Peyton Manning's missing time for the Colts. Wade Phillips is the DC, which he can handle. Gary Kubiak has to be fired if they lose again.
2. Tennessee- Because I think Peyton Manning misses a lot of time. Because Matt Hasselbeck will start more games than Jake Locker and put up 8 wins.
3. Indianapolis- Because Kerry Collins was going to retire. Manning's been the reason the Colts have stayed in the playoffs the last 3 years. No Manning=6 wins.
4. Jacksonville- Even if Blaine Gabbert is any good, Luke McCown isn't and could put the Jags into enough of a hole.


1. San Diego- Better special teams, going along with 1st ranked offense and defense. Full years for Vincent Jackson and Marcus McNeil. MVP=Philip Rivers.
2. Kansas City- This team gets a tougher schedule and falls back to 8-8. Kind of like the Dolphins after they won the AFC East in '08. Especially with Matt Cassel's injury status.
3. Denver- Broncos will still play good offense and now their defense is beginning to catch up. AFC West is about to be good again.
4. Oakland- The Raiders will slip. They can't help it after losing Asomugha to Philly. More troubles for the once proud franchise.


1. Dallas- Surprised? A healthy Tony Romo, another year for Dez Bryant and the Rob Ryan led defense. Also, they have no pressure this year, because of the Eagles.
2. NY Giants- I figure Eli Manning won't throw 25 INT's again. Despite the injuries on defense, Justin Tuck is still there. People will be surprised when they make the playoffs.
3. Philadelphia- And they'll be shocked when the Eagles miss them. Vick doesn't play as well as last year and their front seven weakness will show up at a key point. Gut feeling.
4. Washington- Rex Grossman beat out John Beck for the starting QB job. Add that their roster is average and another Andrew Luck sweepstakes team is compiled.


1. Green Bay- The champs get back Jermichael Finley and Ryan Grant and do something they didn't do last year, win the division.
2. Minnesota- My surprise in the NFC because Adrian Peterson will run the ball and run all day like he's supposed to. Plus, McNabb has a better year with AP.
3. Detroit- Because I don't believe Matt Stafford stays healthy all season. If he does, Detroit will be 2nd, with Johnson, Suh and company. Also they make the playoffs with Stafford playing.
4. Chicago- Worst to first? Yes, because they could have easily have finished in last. Lucky team all last year, starting in Week 1. Luck always evens out in this league.


1. New Orleans- The year-after hangover is over. Brees will be his normal great self, the defense will return to '09 mode and with Mark Ingram, the running game improves as well.
2. Atlanta- Good team, not great. Suspect defense put more pressure on Matt Ryan and that offense. They can handle it in the regular season, but not in the playoffs.
3. Tampa Bay- They come back a bit, though I do think Josh Freeman gets better. I have to, he's my fantasy starting QB.
4. Carolina- Growing pains while we watch Cam Newton start from Day 1. Last again, but better, likely 6 wins.


1. St. Louis- Bradford leads the Rams to the playoffs, though being the NFC West, it doesn't say much. Big year for Steven Jackson will result as well.
2. Arizona- They have a QB in Kevin Kolb; and unlike in Philly, he'll have a chance to play without worried about a backup over his shoulder. Team needs more talent.
3. San Francisco- Enough talent to stay out of last, but too much Alex Smith to make a real run (we all know winning the NFC West doesn't count as a run).
4. Seattle- The team that proves the West means nothing. They won the division, and a playoff game, yet are still in rebuild mode. Qwest Field keeps Andrew Luck away.

AFC Title Game: San Diego over Pittsburgh
NFC Title Game: New Orleans over Green Bay

Super Bowl: New Orleans over San Diego