Monday, March 30, 2009
We've been waiting for it for the entire NCAA Tournament, and we've been waiting for it the entire PGA Season. This weekend our wait ended. We got the game that defined the NCAA Tournament in Villanova's last second win over Pittsburgh, and we got Tiger's first win since coming back from knee surgery at the Bay Hill Invitational. Both wins were very dramatic and seemed to echo wins of the past for both Villanova and Eldrick .
Tiger Woods did not look quite back to prime form this weekend; but just like last year, he broke out of a tie on the 18th hole by draining his final putt. While Tiger did not strike the ball especially well, he hit great shots when he needed to. Meanwhile, the mental toll his presence took on Sean O'Hair was evident the entire round. On the last hole, O'Hair's caddie was pleading with him to talk about the next shot and it was clear O'Hair was totally rattled and acting like a little brat. I can't imagine ever playing with Tiger. I would be completely wrapped up in everything that he did and would not be able to focus on my own game at all. I would probably just resort to the John Daly strategy of crushing beers and taking off my shirt. I might even invite an overalled Kid Rock to be my caddie. While Tiger may not be 100%, the effect he has on the field is very evident. His gamebreaker always seems to be full, and he always seems to have Tiger Vision when he needs it. These two things definitely worked to his advantage on the 18th hole yesterday.
In Boston, Villanova woke up the echoes from 1985's unlikely championship season to knock off favorite Pittsburgh at the last second on a Scottie Reynolds lay up. While I had Villanova going to the Final Four knew that Pittsburgh was vulnerable, Villanova should not have won this game. Not in regulation at least. The long bomb inbounds pass when Nova was ahead by two with 10 seconds left was about the dumbest thing I have ever seen. They had gone 22-23 from the foul line at that point. Why risk a turnover like that? The only explanation I can come up with is that the inbounds passer was nervous about getting the ball in within 5 seconds and just chucked it. In criticism of Pittsburgh, there is no reason they should have pressed after Lavance Fields hit the two foul shots to tie the game. This is what allowed Scottie Reynolds to coast down the court and hit the lay up in the lane. Had Pittsburgh fallen back and picked him up at half court with some sort of a trap Reynolds would have never gotten such a good look. The stupidity of Villanova was offset by the stupidity of Pittsburgh on the very next possession and allowed the Wildcats to win the game. After watching "The Perfect Upset" on HBO yesterday, I couldn't be more psyched about one of my hometown teams going up against the Tar Heels. They are ready to schock the world. If Nova faced UConn in the finals I would be more torn than Natalie Imbruglia.
With just about everything going to plan in this year's NCAA Tournament, it was very good to see what I consider to be a huge upset in Villanova's win over Pittsburgh. The win conjured up images of Rocky Balboa, Vince Papale and Ed Pinckney in the minds of Philadelphians everywhere. Also, it is good to see Tiger return to the winner's circle in the PGA. While Tiger's absence was good in that it allowed for other players to step up, it was enjoyable to watch how he can will himself to victory once again. This weekend's wild finishes were very exciting and gave both the PGA Season and the NCAA Tournament a real shot in the arm.
Friday, March 27, 2009
Coming off of their first World Series championship in 28 years, the Philadelphia Phillies will have a tough road ahead of them if they wish to repeat this year. As they do every year, the Mets spent a lot of dough and signed some key pieces for their team. The Marlins as usual have another crop of good young pitchers and are looking to pull off another World Series or bust year, and the Braves and Nats could steal a few wins here and there from the rest of the NL East. Familiarity certainly breeds contempt in the NL East, and this year will be no different. Despite the Mets offseason moves, I see the Phils again taking the NL East this year. The Mets may very well win the wild card, but they do not have the stuff that legends are made of. The Phillies are the real "Beast of the East".
The past two years, the New York Mets have entered September in first place in the NL east only to be displaced by the Phils. Each year the bullpen was supposedly to blame for their collapse. Therefore, this year the Mets made a big splash in the free agent market by signing Frankie Rodriguez and trading for J.J. Putz. I already know that I can lump K-Rod in with Carlos Betlran and Carlos Delgado as Mets that I have a passionate hatred for. Despite this major improvement in the pen, I still don't think the Mets have what it takes to win the division. Their rotation anchored by Johan Santana is merely average behind him with Mike Pelfrey, Oliver Perez, John Maine and Livan Hernandez. Maine and Pelfrey can look great at times, but really bad at other times. A consistent season can not be expected out of any of them besides Santana. The Mets lineup is always scary; D Wright, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado make for a talented middle of the order that is always good for a homer or two per game. However, the past two years they have all faltered down the stretch along with the pitching. On paper, the whole team looks pretty solid but it never works out for the Mets. They are the cornerstone of my "not enough Americans" or "too many Latino ballplayers" argument I am working on. Anyway, I see them playing better this year and possibly winning the wild card. They will not overtake the Phillies this year though.
The Marlins will finish in third again this year. You never know quite what to expect from Florida because their lineup is so different every single year, but their young pitching is looking to improve on last year's success, and Ricky Nolasco and Josh Johnson could be very good this year. Or they could be mid-season trade bait. Florida's bullpen is a complete mystery, and their unproven closer Matt Lindstrom got injured in the WBC, so that could spell trouble for them and potentially cost them some wins. Their bats should be pretty solid this year. They have a lot of power with guys like Dan Uggla, Hanley Ramirez, Jorge Cantu and Cody Ross, and are looking for breakout years from Cameron "Definitely" Maybin and Jeremy Hermida. If they can put it all together, the Marlins could potentially make the playoffs, but there are way too many unproven guys on this team to expect that much. The Marlins will probably finish somewhere around 5 games over .500 and implode their team in the off-season.
My feelings on the Braves were made known in the article "Tomahawk Flop". Sure they improved a bit in the offseason, but not enough in this division. The signing of D. Lowe is not enough to counter the loss of Tim Hudson to surgery, and Chipper Jones has already injured himself this season. Hopefully for my sake, Brain McCann and Jeff Francoeur will have huge years, but the Braves just do not have enough to compete in the NL East.
Where to begin with the Nationals. They have Adam Dunn and that is about it. Dunn, Nick Johnson and Ryan Zimmerman make for a pretty hefty middle of the order, but other than them the Nats are pretty much all prospects that are now busts. Everyone is still hoping for Elijah Dukes and Lastings Milledge to break out, but I doubt that will happen. Their pitching is pretty deplorable in both the rotation and the bullpen. This was made evident when Odalis Perez decided to ditch out on training camp and get himself cut rather than playing for the Nats this year. I love Adam Dunn, but it will be another tough year for the Nationals. They will bring up the rear in the NL east again.
The World Series Champs will again win the NL East. They are proof that it is player development and making the right moves that help a team win, not just throwing money at the biggest free agent on the market. In the rotation, look for Cole Hamels to improve greatly if he stays healthy, for Fat Joe Blanton to win 15 games or so, for Brett Myers to have his best year yet having lost 30 pounds in the offseason, and for Jamie Moyer and possibly Chan Ho Park to provide solid starts every 5th day. The bullpen is hurt by the loss of JC Romero for 50 games, but at least he can pitch in the minors in the meantime and he will be ready when his suspension is up. Other than Romero, the best bullpen in the majors last year is still in tact this year. The only change in the Phillies lineup is the addition of Raul Ibanez in left field. Though he is another lefty, look for Ibanez to more than adequately make up for the loss of Pat Burrell in terms of average, RBIs and runs, and hit just about as many homers in the cozy confines of Citizen's Bank Park. Jayson Werth could also benefit from a full season's "Werth" of at bats. With every team in the NL east looking to improve this year, the Phillies are no different. Through one or two signings, but mostly through player development, I see the Phillies outstripping the improvement of the other teams in their division and staying atop the NL east again this year. Sue me.
NCAA Predictions for tonight:
Oklahoma over Syracuse
UNC over Gonzaga
Kansas over Michigan St.
Louisville over Arizona
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Just about every team in the NL Central has a big time slugger. In St. Louis it is possible "Next One" Albert Pujols, in Milli-wau-kay it is the Fat Man Prince Fielder, in Houston it is the Big Puma Lance Berkman, in Chicago it is the injury prone Alfonso Soriano, in Cincy it could very well be Joey Votto, and in Pittsburgh it is nobody. With all of these big bats in the same division, it appears as if the winner of the NL Central will come down to pitching, supporting cast, and injuries. Taking all of these factors into account, I see the Chicago Cubs once again taking the NL Central division, if they can survive the injury bug.
I see the St. Louis Redbirds finishing second in the central this year and challenging for the NL Wild Card. Any team that has as great a player as Albert Pujols, who is certain to have an amazing statistical season this year, and as talented a manager as Tony LaRussa can contend no matter what. They also have a good supporting cast with Ryan Ludwick, Rick Ankiel, Chris "I lost the ball in a thundercloud" Duncan and Yadier Molina. The real question with the Cardinals is pitching. Can Kyle Lohse and Adam Wainwright build on last year's success? Can Chris Carpenter come back from such a devastating injury? Or will he forever be labeled injury prone? Can new closer Jason Motte shoulder the load? I think Lohse and Wainwright will do well, but not much can be expected from Carpenter any more. The Cardinals will compete, but I don't think they have quite the fire power to surpass the Cubs this year.
The Reds are an interesting team and I have them finishing third as the NL Central reshuffles a bit this year. With young pitchers Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez showing great promise and pitching well in the WBC, the Reds have a solid foundation to build on. Now, if Aaron Harang "brain" can pitch like he did two years ago the Reds would be in business. With some wiley vets like David Weathers and Arthur Rhodes in the pen, and Coco Cordero shutting the door in the 9th the Reds look like a pretty solid staff. They will need a breakout year from several of their hitters if they want to fulfill this prophecy however. Joey Votto will have to fill in for the loss of the Big Donkey, and Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce will each have to play as well as they did last year. Other than that, the Reds have mostly journeymen filling out their lineup. The Reds might be one of those teams this year that gets off to a roaring start, then fades in the late summer months. The pieces are in place though.
Pittsburgh is my surprise pick to finish fourth in the NL Central this year. Their young staff of Paul Maholm, Ian Snell, Zach Duke, Jeff Karstens and Ross Ohlendorf (where's Matt Morris?) could turn some heads in the central this year. They also have a proven closer in Matt Capps, though he is battling the injury prone label as well, and a decent pen with John Grabow and Craig Hansen throwing some heat. The Buccos lineup has some up and comers with Nate McClouth, Ryan Doumit and the "Gruesome Twosome" Andy and Adam LaRoche. While I doubt very much that they can make the playoffs, I think that this is the year for the Pirates to climb out of the cellar.
Houston's motto for this year should be "now or never". Unfortunately, I think it will be never for them. With 6 of their starting position players well into their 30s, the window is closing for the 'Stros. Though their lineup is well old for the most part, they can still hit. Berkman is coming off of a career year, Pudge strutted his stuff in the WBC, and young gun Hunter Pence is close to becoming a franchise player. No, Houston will never have a problem putting runs on the board, but preventing them will be hard. Behind Roy Oswalt is a vast wasteland of pitchers. Wandy Rodriguez might be decent, but he is not very comforting as your #2 starter. Jose Valverde can slam the door in the ninth, but who's gonna get it there? Nobody. Expect the Astros to be well under .500 this year and play in a lot of 10-9 games. They will finish 5th.
Now for the least improved team: the Milwaukee Brewers. Milli-wau-kay may be Algonquin for "the good land", but good the Brewers will not be this year. The Brewers took a run at it last year, and I give them credit for that, but now they are a shell of what they were. Their two front end guys in CC Sabathia and "Injury prone king" Ben Sheets are both gone, leaving them Yovani Gallardo, Jeff Suppan, Carlos Villanueva, Manny Parra and Braden Looper as starters this year. These guys are all #3 starters at best. Yikes. They also signed the ancient one Trevor Hoffman to be their closer. Double yikes. While no one can deny that the Brew Crew have a great lineup with the Fat Man, Ryan Braun, J.J. Hardy and Corey Hart, their pitching is god awful. Maybe dead last in the central is too far for them to fall, but I can't see them doing well at all this year. They are like the Texas Rangers of the past few years, all offense and no pitching.
Last and obviously not least, I like the Cubs to win the NL Central again this year. The Cubs lineup is pretty stacked with Derek "DP" Lee, Aramis Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano, Milton Bradley, Geovany Soto and Ryan "You Can't Quiet" Theriot. Not to mention the power that the Big Z brings with him every 5th day. Speaking of which, the Cubs also have the best rotation in the NL central with Zambrano, Ryan Dumpster, Rich Harden, Ted Lilly and Sean Marshall. Their bullpen is pretty sharp too with Jeff Szamardzija (sic), Kevin Gregg, Chad Gaudin and Carlos Marmol. The biggest question for the Cubbies will be injuries. Of all the names I just mentioned several (Soriano, Bradley, Zambrano and Harden) have been officialy labeled "Injury Prone" by yours truly. I have gone so far as to refer to Rich Harden with pictures of a robotic or prosthetic arm to illustrate his fragility. However, last year he showed me something by pitching very well down the stretch and in the playoffs. If the Cubs can stay healthy, they are head and shoulders above the rest of the teams in the NL central. I see them using their bench well when some guys are injured and overall staying fairly healthy to win the NL Central. The real test will be to see if they can win in the playoffs.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
It is hard to discount any team managed by Joe Torre, especially a team that made it to the NL Championship Series last year. However, I think that the Dodgers offseason moves left a lot to be desired, and left a lot of responsibility to several as yet unproven pitchers. The Dodgers let staff "ace" and innings eater Derek Lowe flee via free agency and also let former closer Takashi Saito sign with Boston as a set up man. These are two huge losses for LA. Joe Torre is hoping Chad Billingsley, who is already injured, and youngster Clayton Kershaw can pick up the slack left by D Lowe, but I think it is too early to put so much faith into those two and that they will falter down the stretch. Also, Jonathan Broxton may throw gas, but it would have been good to have Saito there in case of injury or in case Broxton goes through Matt Stairs syndrome. With their lineup improving, decent pitching and the managing styles of Joe Torre the Dodgers will contend, but in the end the curtain will fall on the Dodgers in Mannywood this summer.
San Francisco has a great rotation with Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, Randy "He should put a towel on" Johnson and Barry Zito; but thats about it. Their bullpen, even with Dorne's favorite player Brian Wilson, is nothing to write home about and their lineup is god awful. Talk about some no names: Travis Ishikawa, Kevin Frandsen, Fred Lewis, who are these guys? I'll tell you who they are. They are all projected starters for the Giants. Yikes. Until their lineup becomes a little more seasoned, the power arms will go to waste for the Frisco Giants.
The Padres are pretty much a shell of a team built around Jake Peavy and Adrian Gonzalez. These two guys have way too much pressure on them, which is scary considering how shaky Peavy looked in the WBC. The Padres could very well lose 100 games this year. Chris Young is the big wild card here as we will see how he responds to getting hit in the face with a line drive. Always a difficult comeback. Either way, I wouldn't expect much from San Diago.
The Rockies are an interesting team. They have certainly changed their identity from their 2007 World Series team and could make some noise this year or fall flat. I have them as high as second or as low as last in the NL West this year. They have a good lineup with Chris Ianetta and Troy Tulowitzki looking to break out this year. If Todd Helton can come back from a down year, the Rockies could be pretty formidable, but there are a lot of ifs in this lineup. The same can be said of the pitching. What kind of year will Aaron Cook have? Will Ubaldo Jimenez finally harness all of his ability? Can Jason Marquis be a reliable 3rd starter? Who will step up for the injured Jeff Francis? In Colorado it is always hard to tell how the pitching will do. Though the bullpen is pretty strong with Corpas, Huston Street and Taylor Bucholz, I think it will be the starting pitching that keeps the Rockies out of the playoffs this year.
With all that said, I like the Diamondbacks to make the playoffs this year. With Dan Haren, Brandon Webb and new addition John Garland they have 3 pitchers capable of winning 16-18 games, and unlike the Dodgers, can afford to take a chance with upstart fireballer Max Scherzer in the 5th spot. Their bullpen is vastly improved with the addition of Jon Rauch and Scott Schoeneweis, leaving their lineup as the only question mark. The D'Backs are pretty young lineup wise, but have been showing improvement through the last two years. Conor Jackson aka "Co Jack" is ready for a breakout year, as is Justin Upton, and the rest of the lineup has some decent pop with Stephen Drew, Mark Reynolds and Chris Young all hitting over 20 home runs last year. This lineup has no stars, but no bums either. Anyone can step up and get the job done, and I think that will be the case this year. With the best combination of starting pitching, bullpen and hitting, I think the Diamondbacks overtake the Dodgers this year and make the playoffs. Once in the playoffs, who knows? They could get shut down in the first round, or ride Haren and Webb deep into October. But now I am getting ahead of myself.
Monday, March 23, 2009
Friday, March 20, 2009
Pitt over Eastern Tennessee State
Okla. St. over Tennessee (really hating on Tennessee today)
Fla. St. over Wisconsin
Portland State over Xavier
Temple over Arizona State
Cuse over Stephen F. Austin
Mizzou over Cornell (Sorry Nard Dog)
Utah State over Marquette
Michigan State over Robert Morris (Sorry Hank Fraley)
BC over USC
Kansas over North Dakota State
West Virginia over Dayton
Wake Forest over Cleveland St.
Utah over Arizona (hating on Arizona too)
Siena over Ohio State
Louisville over "Craven" Morehead St.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
After a bone chilling winter we can now finally feel spring just around the corner. With the weather heating up, what better way to celebrate the coming warmth than with some heated action on the courts in the NCAA Tournament? This is one of my favorite weekends of the year by far. Each year in March Madness we are treated to some major upsets, unlikely heroes, and some great basketball games. I submit that March Madness is one of the single greatest sporting events ever. Maybe someday I'll actually win a March Madness pool.
The NCAA Tournament has the power to turn unknown basketball players into national heroes for a few weeks. Who can forget people in years past like Khalid El-Amin, Wally Szczerbiak, Bryce Drew, and Tyus Edney? Their tournament heroics made them into NCAA legends even though they didn't go on to do that much more. El-Amin became a pot smoking fat midget, as opposed to just a fat midget, and is playing overseas somewhere. Bryce Drew had a few unproductive years in the NBA. Tyus Edney was drafted by the Kings and then faded into oblivion. Szczerbiak has had a decent career, but will always be remembered for taking Miami of Ohio to the Sweet 16 as a #10 seed. Though they might not have had successful pro careers, these men will always be remembered as legends of the NCAA Tournament.
Often more so than the players, we remember the upsets. Teams like UCLA, Arizona, Duke and Indiana never get my total trust in the tournament based on times that they have burned me in the past. Who can forget Princeton's back door offense and the way they upset UCLA years back? Or Kerry Kittles' Villanova Wildcats getting bounced by Old Dominion in 1995 in 3 overtimes; a very dark day in Philadelphia. How many people hate George Mason for wrecking their bracket by getting to the Final Four in 2006? Imagine going to one of these schools that pulled off a major upset in the tournament. This is the stuff dreams are made of. The tournament would become stale without some of these classic upsets, regardless of what they do to our brackets.
Upset or not, last second hero or blowout, we are always treated to some great basketball games in March Madness. A #1 vs. #16 game is always good for a few 360 dunks, vicious rejections and unskilled white guys getting embarrassed. Meanwhile, an #8 vs. #9 game is usually very close and often comes down to the last possession, except for today's Texas A&M over BYU rout *cough* DBillz *cough*. All the while we get to highlight our correct selections like we are Zandar the Magnificent, or watch our brackets explode before our very eyes like fireworks on Bastille Day.
No doubt this years NCAA Tournament will not disappoint in providing us with at least one unlikely hero, an upset or two, a Cinderella team and plenty of great basketball. We'll just have to sit back and watch it all unfold. I gotta run though, game's on!
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
It's hard to believe, but my blog that started with a man and a dream only a few months ago has now reached its 50th post. We have learned a lot about each other since January, and I look forward to learning even more in the future. Let us now take time to reflect on just what we've discovered in 50 blog entries.
We have learned that Gordon Bombay is the undisputed "Best coach ever" and will be referred to as such from now on. Whenever we talk about pro, college or even pee-wee coaches, we will have to see how they measure up to the Bombay standard before we can really make any judgements about them.
In baseball we learned that Candy Maldonado has the best baseball name ever. Candy is currently working for ESPN Deportes and declined to comment on the distinction (probably). However, Candy's 146 career homeruns and .254 lifetime batting average will always ring true in the halls of TPLIYP, even if he is from Puerto Rico. We also, learned that people do not trust Albert Pujols. Despite a recent Sports Illustrated cover (curse) in which Albert said that people can trust him, blog readers think that he is juicing. Albert will be referred to on this blog as "The Next One".
Perhaps my most groundbreaking theory is that the highest paid teams in each sport rarely ever win the championship these days. I look for this trend to continue for the foreseeable future. Money just makes things so nasty sometimes that it is hard to get over as a team. I also proposed that A-Rod is a curse, though all we could come up with was the "Lightning Rod". We will work with it. I am also working on a doozy of a theory about baseball teams with a lot of Latino players on them. It needs some more research though, so stay tuned!
Here are some other quick tidbits that we have covered:
-Kids sports these days are a joke
-Placido Polanco has a huge head
-John Daly is a revolting blob, but I would party with him fo sho
-ESPN commentators are all pretty much assholes, along with Curt Schilling and Eric Mangini
-Starbury is a huge distraction: Celtics have gone 4-5 since he signed with them. Not all on him, but I'm just saying
-Alex Ovechkin is the future of the NHL
-Jack Edwards is the man (still waiting on that autographed picture Jacky)
-Old facemasks are cool, Greg Lloyd's plastic cage was the coolest
-Detroit is going to suck because they didn't hire a black coach
-People that skip college for the pros are lame
-The Braves will not be good this year
-Fantasy baseball is awesome: DRAFT THIS WEEKEND
-MLB Network is awesome
-The Schellinator is a legend
Now with all that nostalgia out of the way, I would be remiss if I did not mention a couple things. The first being last night's WBC game. WOW. That's all I have to say. With my prediction, my name as a writer, and possibly my pride as an American hanging in the balance, Team USA delivered a 3 run 9th inning to stick it to that fleck of land in the Caribbean. I watched the whole game and I am very glad I did. Throughout the game I kept noticing how many US players had dirty uniforms. I saw this as a good sign, they were all working hard and I thought it would pay off for them at some point. Then the 9th inning happened and it was super sweet. The other interesting dynamic I noted in this game was how old rivalries were forgotten. If you look at the picture at the top of this post, you will see Kevin Youkilis, Derek Jeter, David Wright and Shane Victorino celebrating. Youk's "Thriller" shuffle aside, this picture never looked so right before. If this were the regular season this would make any Mets, Phillies, Yankees or Red Sox fan sick. But the WBC makes it all gravy. In the final innings of the game, I found myself rooting against Phillies reliever J.C. Romero and for Mets 3B David Wright. Crazy. My colleague Jeff Woglom also found it very strange that the roles of good and evil had shifted as such. I did find enough time to hate Carlos Delgado and Carlos Beltran even more though, so that was good. But, the WBC has certainly made for some strange alliances. I for one can't get enough of it. Great stuff.
The only other thing I wanted to do was to throw out my picks for tomorrow's NCAA Tourney games. I found this year's tournament extremely tough to forecast. So many teams that could make a lot of noise, or get upset in the first round. It seems like any team could lose at any time. No real favorite. Very unsettling. Here are my fearless picks for Thursday:
UConn over Chattanooga
Butler over LSU
Memphis over CS Northridge
Texas A&M over BYU
Purdue over Northern Iowa
UNC over Radford
Cal over Maryland
Washington over Mississippi State
Texas over Minnesota
Clemson over Michigan
Nova over American
Zags over Akron
Duke over Binghamton
OU over Morgan St.
VCU over UCLA
Western Kentucky over Illinois
As always, thanks for reading and let's hear some chatter in the comments section.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Well folks, it's come down to this. The United States team is facing a must win game against Puerto Rico, the team that de-pantsed them a few days ago 11-1 in a mercy rule game. Now they taught us in middle school that Puerto Rico is a self-governing unincorporated territory of the United States, but let's be honest: USA owns Puerto Rico. Tonight, even with mounting injuries and a bad loss in the books already, I see the USA getting jingoistic on Puerto Rico and sending them back to the Caribbean, possibly on a raft or flotilla.
USA was a sleeping giant in their past few games. A "who cares" loss to Venezuela ended the first round, and was followed up with a rout by Puerto Rico in which the US just couldn't dial it back up after playing a meaningless game and a long layoff. The game against Netherlands was just what they needed. With their backs against the wall, they beat up on, to be fair, the worst team in Round 2 but also ratcheted up the intensity with some late inning fireworks between the two teams. USA is now awake. So long as the bats can be anything like they were in the last game, and the US can play mistake free, we got it in the bag. Look for Adam Dunn to be the MVP of the game.
There is no reason for me to be optimistic with Ted Lilly on the bump tonight. Especially when Puerto Rico ran up the score on Jake Peavy already. However, I remain confident that the US will turn the tables on Puerto Rico and destroy them. This will be their finest hour. Puerto Rico is going down. USA! USA! USA! USA!
In closing here are some fun facts about Puerto Rico and the United States:
Rosie Perez is of Puerto Rican ancestry
Puerto Rico is roughly 3 times the size of Rhode Island
The best selling flag in New York City is the Puerto Rican flag
Puerto Rico was ceded to the United States after the Spanish-American War
Canada is America's hat
Florida is America's wang
A main export of Puerto Rico is canned tuna
A main export of USA is goods and barley
Puerto Rican people like to put stickers all over their cars
Oscar from Road Rules 2 hailed from Puerto Rico, he was roundly disliked
America landed on the moon first
Monday, March 16, 2009
In basketball, we had the tournament seeds announced. March Madness is one of the greatest, if not the greatest thing ever. Let's look at some interesting stories with this; I didn't think UConn deserved a 1 seed after losing two games in a row to end the season. However, no other team besides Louisville did anything to strengthen their case in my book, c'est la vie. For those of you looking for a few bracket busters, I see VCU making some noise, BC possibly going to the Sweet 16 or further (or getting knocked out in the first round, very hot and cold), I see Illinois as the perennial #5 seed knocked out in the first round, and possibly Portland St. over Xavier as a #13/#4 upset. Also, I think that any of the #1 seeds could get upset in as early as the second round, very strange year this year. Speaking of upset, I'm sure that DBillz is as upset as I am about Penn St. not making the tourney. I thought their regular season spoke for itself. Shit ain't right man.
In WBC land we saw USA get absolutely pulverized by Puerto Rico 11-1, then respond by pummeling The Netherlands. In the game against the Netherlands we also saw some intensity from Team USA as Matt Lindstrom threw at a Netherlands player after being shown up on a home run by the previous batter. David Wright also yelled at the player from the dugout. If Lindstrom hadn't injured himself in the process I would have liked it, even though that previous batter didn't really gloat that much. At least Team USA is showing that they are into it. I am worried for the next game against the loser of Puerto Rico vs. Venezuela though. Venezuela has come alive and would be facing Ted Lilly "the lilly pad" who they've already gotten to once, and we have seen very recently what Puerto Rico is capable of doing to Team USA. If they are able to advance to the next round, if would be a major accomplishment. Am I the only one who cares about this by the way? My uncle was calling me out for it.
Finally, we had Phil Mickelson or "Fat Phil" as I call him win at Doral's "Blue Monster" to take the World Golf Championship. I couldn't tell you anything that happened at this because I heard Phil Mickelson was winning so I decided to watch Jackass 2 for the 50th time instead. I heard he had to go to the hospital for heat exhaustion though, what a loser. I don't know what it is about Phil Mickelson but I just can't stand him. We need Tiger or someone else to step up and knock this joker off of his pedastal.
It's great to be back. Now let's get pumped for tournament time and the thrilling conclusion to the WBC!
Saturday, March 14, 2009
In the University of Connecticut fight song, there is a lyric that goes "UConn Husky, symbol of might to the foe". Nothing could be further from the truth right now. Old Jonathan probably appears more like an un-house trained puppy to the enemy right now. UConn has some serious problems right now and if they do not address them, they could end up getting sent out of the NCAA tournament faster than Thabeet sends back a shot to where it came from.
While the last few games were not as crucial for UConn as they are a lock for the tournament, they have been very damaging, and have shown several signs of weakness in the team. Against Pittsburgh, securing rebounds really haunted the Huskies. It looked like players like Jeff Adrien, Stanley Robinson and Hasheem the Dream had good position to pull down rebounds, but somehow the ball was taken away from them by Pittsburgh's front line. This resulted in numerous second chance points for Pittsburgh and ultimately a loss in my book.
The next problem facing UConn is their depth. The injury to Jerome Dyson is really starting to show its significance as the Huskies are struggling to score points off the bench and run basically a 7 or 8 man roster. Gavin Edwards is the ultimate stiff and is a symbol of the shallowness of the UConn roster. I would have liked to see Jim Calhoun expand the role of some of the bench players during the Big East tournament. Believe it or not, there are two other 7 footers on this roster; but we will have to "dance with who brung ya". If the starters are not clicking in the Tourney, look out.
Finally, UConn's Achilles Heel, if you know your Greek mythology, has all year been foul shooting. Don't get me wrong, I thought the 6 OT game against Syracuse was amazing but it easily could have been won in regulation if UConn could just hit a damn foul shot. The final stat line had UConn shooting 57% from the line while Syracuse shot a robust 79%, including Flynn and Harris going an unbelievable 29-30 from the line. We saw how foul shooting de-railed Memphis' seemingly locked NCAA Championship last year. UConn's foul shooting is very comparable.
We have all seen what UConn can do when they are on a roll. When all cylinders are firing, UConn is the best team in all the land. However, their weaknesses are apparent. They very well could have dropped to a #2 seed with their most recent losses, and have definitely given other teams a blue print on how to beat them. I am still hoping for the best for UConn in the tournament, but I am preparing for the worst. If I had a picture of me smashing beer bottles in the bathroom of the bar I was in after the Huskies lost to San Diego in the first round last year, I would insert it here. Let's go Huskies!!
Thursday, March 12, 2009
The Schellinator's early beginnings are not well known. What we do know is that he came from Newtown, Pennsylvania and as a young boy his father threw his Phillies hat in the garbage and told him "Boy, you are going to be a Red Sox fan.". This taught the Schellinator, before he was even the Schellinator, to stay on his toes and to always be ready. Legend has it that the young Schellinator hit 107 home runs in NAA (Newtown Athletic Association) tee-ball. Although they never kept score, this still stands as the official un-official record. As the Schellinator grew up, his feats only grew more and more outstanding. At age six he broke onto the travel team scene. Refusing to use an aluminum bat because it wasn't "his style" the Schellinator tore up the league of much older players with a 47 ounce bat made out of a Sequoia branch that he called "Lil Reggie". The Schellinator was well on his way.
In high school, Michael Schell played soccer, basketball and baseball for Lawrenceville Academy. The highlights of his other sporting careers were slide tackling Landon Donovan so hard that he started crying and Donovan's mother came running out onto the field in a similar fashon to Mrs. Burns in "Meet the Parents" after Ben Stiller slams the volleyball into the bride to be's face. He also scored 76 points against Blair Academy in an exhibition game and made the first successful "3 point dunk", a dunk from behind the 3 point arc, posterizing NBA star Luol Deng. Of course this was an exhibition so it did not get recorded, and there was nobody at the game video taping. Baseball was his true talent though as he pitched Lawrenceville to a state championship with a 25-0 record, and had the first and only "Too Perfect Game" in which the pitcher records all twenty seven outs on first pitch line drives back to him, not even needing the help of any other players on the team. He also broke up the opposing pitcher's perfect game bid with a homer in the bottom of the 9th with 2 outs to win the game 1-0. It has been described as "The Best Game Ever" amongst those who were there to see it.
In college the Schellinator began to experiment as many kids his age do. He grew out a mullet, and soon enough the style took the Holy Cross campus by storm. The Schellinator has still been known to rock the mullet to this day. He also began using a wiffle ball bat in games, and managed to put up 29 home runs in his freshman season. In his player profile he was listed as a third baseman, but he was in fact a shortstop. Many speculate that he was listed as such because he routinely got to the plays at 3rd before the third baseman even was able to react to the ball. He also did not let being named Holy Cross player of the week on March 22nd, 2005 go to his head. He just kept dominating. Upon his 5th reunion from college, he will be inducted into both the college baseball and football Hall of Fame. He never set foot on the football field. Indeed, college was very confusing times for the Schellinator.
After college, our hero went on to tackle the titans of industry. After coming up with the idea for Blu-Ray in a dream, he moved on to build the first space ship powered solely by tears. The space ship is currently in another galaxy gathering data. Nowadays, the Schellinator leads a much more laid back lifestyle, volunteering at a school and coaching a little baseball. A new challenge awaits him however, raising a 10 month old son who has already drawn comparisons to a young Chase Utley. Yes sir, the Schellinator certainly has it all. If only he could hit the slider. Feel free to add your own Schellinator folk lore in the comments section.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
When I forecast my predictions for Team USA a little while ago, my main fear for them was that they would not gel as a team like they did in 2006 and would flop in 2009. Hello, Dominican Republic. The team that was expected to tear up opposing pitching with guys like Jose Reyes, Big Papi, Hanley Ramirez and Miguel Tejada ended up batting .221 in the classic and played some terrible baseball overall. The Dominican Republic will have 4 years to stew over two very bad losses to a Netherlands team that batted even worse than they did at .137 overall. One thing is for certain, they better come back in 2013 with their egos checked at the door.
The Dominican came into the WBC with high hopes. They had a very formidable lineup, 2 flame throwing starters and a couple of good relievers to close the game out. Somewhere it all went wrong though. Even with all that good hitting, it looked to me as if the Dominican team wasn't playing very disciplined baseball. I saw them swing at a lot of first pitches, often leading to outs, which is not conducive to successful hitting. This is evidenced by their .221 batting average over the 3 games. Moreover, they managed to counter the great pitching they got with lazy defensive play. In their two losses to the Netherlands, the Dominican Republic made a total of 6 errors. That is unacceptable against any team. Finally, the attitude and cockiness of this team really made their downfall please me.
It is no secret that I do not care for a number of players on this team to begin with (Reyes, Ramirez, Taveras, Jimenez, Cano) but their actions in the WBC made it obvious that they are not team players and deserved to lose. After their first embarrassing loss to the Netherlands, you would have figured that the Dominican Republic team would have wiped the smiles off of their faces and gotten down to work. Alas, they did not. In a rout of Panama in the next game, you could still see Dominican players like Jose Reyes, Big Papi and Hanley Ramirez clowning around in the dugout. They learned nothing from their first loss. The moment that really had me wishing for their downfall though, was when they all started celebrating like crazy after they went up 1-0 in the 11th inning of the second game against the Netherlands. Outfielder Nelson Cruz ran out of the dugout puffing out his chest and showing off the Dominican Republic logo on the front of his jersey like he had just sliced somebody up in a rap battle or something. They still had learned nothing; and sure enough in the very next inning the Netherlands came back to tie and eventually win the game.
I for one couldn't be happier about the Dominican Republic losing, even though I picked them to finish 3rd in the WBC. They need to get their attitudes in order if they want to come back and win this thing in 4 years, or ever. As team Netherlands showed them, you have to play as a team, and not beat yourself with stupid errors in order to move on in the WBC. Talent mixed with laziness and a bad attitude will get you nowhere fast. See you in 2013 fellas.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Is there any baseball team out there that could find an extra space for a 14 time All-Star, 13 time Gold Glover, 7 time Silver Slugger Award Winner, MVP and World Series Champion? As it appears right now, apparently not. Pudge Rodriguez may be 37 years old, but he is proving in the World Baseball Classic this year that he is just as sharp as he ever was, hitting .625 with 2 homers and 4 RBIs so far. It would be wise for some team, any team, to give Pudge a look at catcher. I would still take him over most of the catchers in the majors right now.
There is no way that Pudge could not help any team that signs him. The man had a bad end of the season last year with the Yankees, and has lost a little power, but he is still a great leader, and a lot of younger guys could learn a thing or two from him. Even if he was signed as a backup, Pudge could provide defensive stability, a safeguard against base stealers because of his rocket arm, and a solid approach at the plate. He has also worked with some of the greatest pitchers in the game, including Nolan Ryan and Brad Penny, and could aid in the development of a young pitching staff. Pudge Rodriguez could be exactly what a young team needs to get over the hump.
I see Pudge as a perfect fit for a team like the Cincinnati Reds or maybe the Arizona Diamondbacks. He could help bring along their relatively young pitching staffs a la Crash Davis, drastically improve their defenses, and provide an upgrade on offense for two teams that could use it. However, if any team would be willing enough to loosen their purse strings a little bit, a great catcher and a great team guy could be theirs for a bargain. He may have been pudgy as a kid, but now he is one of the greatest catchers ever to play baseball. Give him a chance.
Monday, March 9, 2009
Team USA impressed this weekend as they went 2-0 against some of the better competition in the World Baseball Classic. As it appears now, the players are buying into the team first concept. If you couple that, with the supreme talent that they have on their roster, Team USA could have what it takes to win the WBC in 2009.
Adam Dunn is the personification of Team USA so far. The slugger known as "The Big Donkey" dropped everything a week or two ago when he got the call to replace Brad "Hup" Hawpe for Team USA and has put his heart and soul into this tournament. In game 1 against Canada, Dunn unloaded for a 2 run home run that put the US in the lead for good. He was also seen checking his pulse in the dugout in the last inning as USA closed out a narrow victory. Is he into this or what? Having never been a part of the MLB Playoffs, Dunn remarked that the WBC "is my playoffs". He looks like a kid out there, playing to win and playing for country rather than for self. This is exactly the kind of guy that you want on your team and he is paying big dividends for Team USA. Thank god Brad Hawpe got injured.
As far as talent is concerned, Team USA really showed the importance of having a strong bullpen against team Venezuela. Venezuela was leading the US 3-2 when Armando Galarraga was lifted on Sunday night due to the 70 pitch maximum rule. After that, the Venezuelan bullpen proceeded to give up 13 runs, including 8 in one inning, and the impromptu mamba, samba, salsa and line dancing in the Rogers Centre by the Venezuelan fans was abruptly halted. Meanwhile, the US bullpen went 5 and 1/3 innings giving up only 3 runs. With these pitch maximums in place a good bullpen is crucial; and with all the live arms that the US has in their bullpen even without Joe Nathan and B.J. Ryan, I like their chances against anyone. If Peavy and Oswalt can bounce back in the next round too, we got it made in the shade.
There are still several dangerous teams out there. The Dominican Republic, or Dominica as I call them, came back with a vengeance after a shocking loss to the Netherlands. Cuba and Puerto Rico look mighty strong, and you never know what to expect from those wacky teams from the Orient. Team USA can certainly hang with all of them though. Who knows, The Big Donkey himself might just carry Team USA all the way to the gold on his back.
Friday, March 6, 2009
Yesterday, the news wire was buzzing with the report that Alex Roidriguez will be out for at least 10 weeks due to a torn labrum in his hip. While the Yankees will miss his production during the first seven innings of the game, this may not be all bad. I would like to propose a new curse called the "Curse of the Rod", perhaps we can find a better name for it later. Whatever team A-Rod has been on in his illustrious career has ultimately failed to win a World Series. With Rod out, the Yankees might just be able to come together as a team, put all of A-Rod's baggage behind them and take the league by storm. If this occurs, they must just want A Rod to stay out for the whole season.
Alex Rodriguez is no doubt one of the most skilled players in all of baseball, however he has no World Series hardware to prove that he can lead a team (even with the star studded supporting cast of the Yankees) to a championship. In his 4 years in Seattle, the Mariners made the playoffs twice but only went as far as the ALCS. As a side note, the year after he left for Texas the Mariners won a major league record tying 116 games. In his three years in Texas, a team that was once on the verge of greatness in '98 and '99 finished 4th in the AL West for three consecutive years. Finally, in A Rod's 5 years in New York, the Yankees have witnessed their arch rivals the Boston Red Sox win 2 championships and even failed to make the playoffs last season. I wouldn't say that failure follows A-Rod wherever he goes, but if a team is looking for a World Series title I don't think he is the guy to win it for you. It's "The Curse of the Rod".
This year has been a whirlwind of controversy for Alex Rodriguez. He has admitted to using performance enhancing drugs while with the Rangers, leaving many to question whether he is telling the entire truth, and has reporters following him wherever he goes. This is probably normal for a team like the New York Yankees, but A Rod has become even more of a distraction nonetheless. His injury could prove to be a good thing for them.
With A Rod out, the focus with the Yankees again becomes baseball. No longer will the questions to every player be about A Rod. Now, guys like Derek Jeter and Mark Texeira can step up and lead this team with out the A Rod sideshow. In my opinion, this could give the Yankees a real shot in the arm and I'm worried. It is my hope that A Rod comes back so that the double curse of being the highest paid team in baseball and "The Curse of the Rod" (pending) really bite the Yankees. With A Rod out though, the Yankees will see the error of their ways over the past 9 years and once again begin to play like a team instead of a bunch of over-paid individuals.
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
A professional athlete's body is crucial to his well being. It is through his athleticism and physical skill that he makes his paycheck. Despite this, we have seen several athletes who have risked their bodies and their paychecks all for the sake of fun. The best example of this is probably former Duke basketball stand out Jason "Jay" Williams. After being the most dominant guard in the NCAA at Duke, Williams was drafted in the first round (2nd overall) by the Chicago Bulls and no doubt singed a fat contract. After a promising season with the Bulls, Williams was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident and almost lost a leg. He also was not wearing a helmet. Kellen Winslow Jr. also decided that it would be a good idea to buy a motorcycle and, after missing all but two games in 2004 with a broken leg, crashed his bike and tore his ACL causing him to miss all of 2005. Moreover, my boy Big Ben Roethlisberger got into a motorcycle crash that kept him out of week 1 in 2006 and never let him get off to a good start to the season.
It's not only motorcycles though, and the stories do not all end with just a broken bone or two. Former Patriots defensive end Marquise Hill was killed when he fell off his jet ski in Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana and drowned. And most recently, we have the case of the three missing football players whose search and rescue operation was called off by the Coast Guard yesterday.
Why do these players, whose contracts stipulate that they can not engage in activities other than their sport that may endanger their health, act so irresponsibly? Why do they willingly risk their physical well being, which is crucial to their job? It is like they are sitting on a winning lottery ticket and just throw it away. Do they think that they are indestructible because they are pro athletes? Is playing a pro sport not fun enough for them? Whatever the reason, they are not taking their careers into account. Some of these pro players need to think about just how much they are risking when they hop onto that motorcycle or jet ski or boat.
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
I like to think that the Eagles would have re-signed Dawkins had the Broncos not offered him a ridiculous 5 year/$25 million contract. Now I love Dawkins as much as anyone, but that is crazy. A 35 year old free safety is given a 5 year contract? Stupid. The Eagles could not in their right mind come close to matching that. Therefore they had to let him go. Moreover, Dawkins was slowly being phased out of the defense anyway. His age and injuries were starting to catch up with him and he could not cover as much space as he used to. Though he made the Pro Bowl in 2008, I thought there were several more deserving candidates at Free Safety (Jack Atogwe, Nick Collins) and that Dawkins was selected on reputation. The Eagles hand was forced by the Broncos and they had to move on.
The Eagles have also made several moves like this in the past that have turned out well for them. The release of fan favorite Jeremiah Trotter sent shock waves through Philadelphia in 2002 (and again in 2007), but he struggled with both the Redskins and Buccaneers while the Eagles D didn't skip a beat. Popular defensive ends Hugh Douglas and Jevon Kearse were also cut loose in the twilight of their careers, only to flounder as backups elsewhere as the Eagles were grooming their new starters. As much as I dislike them, the Eagles management usually knows when it is time for a player to hit the road. I expect it to be no different with Dawkins this year.
Dawkins departure will leave the Eagles searching for a new identity. Who will step up and take charge of the defense? Who will fill the void at free safety? Hopefully it won't be Quinton Demps, who was last seen tripping over himself as Larry Fitzgerald caught a bomb for a touchdown behind him. Most importantly, who will be the team leader? Dawkins used to be the answer to all of these questions. Hopefully somebody new can step up and provide even a fraction of the leadership that Dawkins did. He will be sorely missed, but the move was necessary to move the team forward in 2009.