Monday, April 30, 2007

Which is worse?

I just assummed that last years NBA finals would be the absolute worst it could get. Boy was I wrong.

I know that they could still come back from this travesty. They won three games in a row a number of times this year. It's not impossible. But they look like crap. I honestly can't believe this.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

NHL Playoffs - Round 2

Before, I get into the next round, I have to separate myself from the journalist side and try to avoid being driven to tears by last night's game. Two things that totally killed me about the game. 1. The referees so concerned about making sure they made calls they were supposed to make, made calls they should never have thought of making - and the Stars not realizing that until they had given the Canucks about 10 power-plays and the lead. 2. (and most importantly), I will never forgive the My27 broadcast team (who must have been rooting for Vancouver) for putting up a stat on Marty's shutout streak while the Stars were about to go on the penalty kill again. It couldn't have been 2 minutes after that graphic that Vancouver scored. It never fails. If your watching a home-team broadcast, shouldn't graphics like this be outlawed?

OK, so I did great in the Eastern Conference and picked every winner (although I missed the number of games in a couple cases - we should have had a NHL playoffs bracket so I could redeem myself after the NCAA embarassment). Next round:
Sabres (1) vs Rangers (6). So, this is a great matchup if you like a lot of team speed and to top it all, it's another NY matchup. The Sabres handled the Islanders pretty easily, but the Rangers swept the Thrashers. When two teams are well-matched, I tend to go with goaltending (as I stated before). I think Ryan Miller is a superb netminder and will win this series. Sabres in 6.

Devils (2) vs Senators (4). I'm going against my best goalie trend here. I think the Senators are too hungry and talented for even Brodeur. I think NJ is a good team, but I feel that the Sens will move on. Ottawa in 7

Western Conference:
Ducks (2) vs Canucks (3). This should be another great goaltender matchup for Vancouver. Marty almost did them in and Giguere can be just as frustrating. That being said, I think the Ducks can be more frustrating to play against defensively because of the pounding they dish out. The Canucks have some momentum from winning a game 7, but the Ducks are more rested and their offense has been clicking more lately. I think Ducks in 6 (If Vancouver wins again, I won't pick against them anymore)

Detroit (1) vs. San Jose (5). San Jose is probably the best 5 seed I've seen in a long time. I still find it hard to believe that Detroit has remained so good under the cap. The big questions are can Thornton do it in the playoffs? (jury's still out), and Will Hasek Dominate? I think San Jose gives too much defensively and that will hurt them in the long run. Detroit in 7

Thursday, April 19, 2007

What does MVP mean?

We have been in the middle of a great MVP debate in the NBA for months now, and everyone has an opinion. Your choice for the award depends on how you define MVP, though.

I admit, this is something I have a hard time with because my definition changes. I can't decide which is the best definition, which I suppose is what makes MVP such a lively debate.

Some simply define the MVP as the best player on the best team.

Some look for the most dominant player.

Some say the MVP is the best player in the league based on stats.

Some say the MVP is the player whose team has the worst record without him.

Some penalize a player for being on a bad team.

Some penalize a player for being on a good team.

Some people think 'valuable' is a general term.

Others think it means 'valuable' specifically to a player's team.

Some say you just know it when you see it.

Bill Simmons, always doing things his own way, has three questions that he asks:

  1. Ten years from now, who will be the first player from this season that pops into my head?
  2. In a giant pickup game with every NBA player waiting to play and two fans forced to pick sides with their lives depending on the outcome of the game, who would be the first player picked based on the way everyone played that season?
  3. If you replaced every MVP candidate with a decent player at his position for the entire season, what would be the effect on their teams' records?

Again, I'm not here to debate who the MVP is, but rather how we define the term. And I'm not looking for consensus, either. I just want to hear the reasoning behind your MVP definition.

Don't forget the other sports as well. Just because NBA MVP talk is dominating at the moment, don't limit yourself to that. Does your MVP definition change for different sports—for example, the Heisman in college football?

What does MVP mean to you?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Statement Game

So, I'm not totally sure how to post this, because naturally, it started with hockey, but has moved beyond that in my mind. I've actually been thinking of writing this column since Saturday, but life gets in the way sometimes. I'm totally rambling. So here is what I've been thinking about. The Statement Game - def. when a game is played by a player/team who has had they ability/heart questioned by another team, or the media, and they so dominiate that the only response after is that they made a statement with the way they played the game. The thought began with Marty Turco's shutout of Vancouver after a heart-wrenching loss to the Canucks in 4OT (yes, I watched all of it - and yes, I was completely worthless for the first half of the next day at work). That game did a lot to start changing the way Marty has been seen in the playoffs. Unfortunately, he followed it up with a late goal against and a goal against in OT, but to be honest, I put that loss more on the lack of scoring than his goaltending.

Statement games are always enjoyable because they usually lead to the reimaging of a player (or the cementing of an image). They can happen when a player has never made it on the biggest stage, or when someone says that a player has lost his ability to age, or when a rookie is said to be over his head. And of course, there is always the "you shouldn't have traded me/let me go through free agency" game. I started thinking back to come up with some statement games and thought it might be fun to throw it to the group. I'll come up with a list, and you guys help me add to it. Here are some I came up with:
1. Turco's shutout - still a statement game
2. Tiger Woods Last year - Even though no one thought he'd had it, after getting cut at the US Open, he tied for second at his next tournament and then won the next 8.
3. Jordan against the Jazz with the flu - He looked awful before and after the whistles, but once the game was playing, he looked like Jordan.
4. Gretzky's first season in the NHL - Coming from the WHA, he was thought to be overmatched. All he did was win the MVP (Hart trophy), and tie for the league lead in scoring (the most ever by a first year player - didn't get the trophy cause he had two less goals than Marcel Dionne)

So, let me know some of your favorites.

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Rangers: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Well, not quite 1/10 of the way through the season and I've finally had a chance to breath after they really stunk it up the first series against the Angels. I mean it's frustrating. You wait six months for baseball to start, you're reasonably optimistic about the season and they lay an egg on the west coast, which means if you want to watch or listen to the game you gotta stay up past midnight. There's another issue to complain about as a Ranger's fan. Why is it that the Rangers are the only team two whole time zones away from their rivals in the division? With the unbalanced schedule a ton of games start at 9:00. That's ridiculous, but that's not why I'm writing now.

Where are the Rangers after this first two weeks of the season? In the same place they have been far too often in their history: last place. Thankfully, it is still the first two weeks and not the last two weeks. So at least we still have something to talk about and hope can still grow. But for hope to really take hold, they gotta start playing better. Let's take a look at what's gone right and what's gone wrong and what we need to see coming up for them to claw their way out of the depth of what looks like a pretty mediocre division.

The Good
1. Ian Kinsler- Any list of what is goin right has to start with the sophomore second baseman. He leads the team in HR (6) and RBIs (10) and is hitting 343 .452 .886 to pace the team. He has unquestionably been the Texas' early hitting star. Which raised the question of why Ron Washington continues to bat him ninth instead of the Wilkerson or Sosa, who, though not making the what's not going wrong list, have struggled out of the gate. There is not a baseball player (who isn't a catcher or pitcher) who looks less athletic than Brad Wilkerson. He looks like he should be in beer league somewhere.
2. The late bullpen- The closer combination of Akinori Otsuka and Eric Gagne have been good at the back of the bullpen and Joaquin Benoit and Scott Feldman have been pretty good.
3. The starters haven't been an abomination (with the exception of Brandon McCarthy's last start: a less than sterling effort- 2IP, 6H, 6ER, 3 HR. I mean could we not have had John Danks give up a bunch of homeruns in that spot in the rotation? I thought the fact that McCarthy had had major league experience was a major plus over Danks.) Millwood has been the horse that he's supposed to be and Tejeda is showing signs of being a decent #4 starter.
Ok, I confess. It's been hard to come up with three things that have gone well so far. But they are what they are.

The Bad
1. Vincente Padilla- Norm Hitzges warned us that Padilla, with a guaranteed contract, would not be that great and his initial starts have just not been that good. So far, in three starts he has 17.2IP, 19H, 15R, 7BB, 6K, 6.62 ERA. In his only good outing, he gave up two long homeruns to David Ortiz. I am expecting much more from the #2 starter.
2. Mark Teixeira and Hank Blalock- Neither of these guys right now can hit their way out of a paper bag. Tex, a notorious slow starter, has continued that trend- .233 .365 .256, 1 double. That's right. One extra base hit. He's batting clean up and has 2RBIs. Chris freakin Stewart has 2RBIs! Blalock is usually terrible in the second half, but he drops of from what's he's been doing, then they need to send him to AAA- .256 .289 .349. He has more extra base hits, but no HRs and only ONE RBI. The one saving grace for Teixeira is he has 8BB, indicating that either he's not getting any pitches (and with Sosa behind him, it's possible) or he's close because at least his eye is still there. These two guys have got to start hitting. (Even Michael Young has been less than expected so far. It just hasn't been a good year offensively so far for the Rangers.
3. Sosa- I've alluded to him a couple of time. The guys on the radio say the Rudy Jaramillo says that Sosa's close. Well, he has not looked real good so far. I give through Memorial Day to get his stuff together.

The Ugly
1. Defense- Ron Washington is supposed to be a defensive guy. Well, so far, the lessons have not taken. They have had some sloppy games defensively, the last two losses to Seattle were prime examples. They committed 3 errors in both games have had at least 2 errors in 4 games and lead the league in errors with 13. I thought that this was going to be a fundamentally sound team, but not so far.
2. Clutch Hitting- This is little more nebulous and I haven't seen a stat, but it seems that they are having trouble getting the runners in after they get on base. They've have opportunities, but have blown them on too many occasions.
3. Ron Washington- Have you seen a picture of this guy? He is one funny looking dude.

As I look at all this, I can only say that's it's still very very early. They've got a tough couple of weeks ahead: @ CWS, OAK, SEA, @CLE, @TOR. Hopefully, they can start improving on their rough start.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

And another thing on Imus...

Don Imus has been ripped for his racist comments and has paid for it. But there is another suggestion in his comments that I haven't heard being mentioned that I also find disturbing.

Imus referred to the Tennessee team as 'cute' and the Rutgers team as, well, you know what he said. This seems to imply that Imus thinks women's athletics exists purely to be eye candy. This shows a blatant disrespect for the women on both teams, who were playing for the national championship.

Unfortunately, Imus is not alone in this opinion. There are many sports fans who were disgusted by the racist aspect of his comments, but feel the same way regarding women in athletics. Here are a few other examples of female athletes not being taken seriously:

  • Anna Kournikova got attention despite never winning a tournament.
  • Jennie Finch was a winner, but got much more attention for her looks.
  • Some players on the LPGA feel the need to 'sell sex' to promote their tour.
  • How often have you heard about Playboy offering a female athlete X dollars to pose?
  • Sports news websites occasionally run lists or contests for the 'Sexiest Woman in the _______'.

Imus got what he deserved, but perhaps there are plenty of others who need to thing about how they view female athletes.

Finally, a confession of sorts: Before this situation, I had never heard of Don Imus. Maybe I've lived a sheltered life. I'm pretty sure I was happier not knowing him.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The 2007 Dallas Cowboys Schedule

Let me start by saying that I have no idea how the team will do this year with Wade Phillips coming in. I'm not thrilled by him, but Bill Parcells leaving is worth something. Basically, this is all even more conjecture than usual. But I'll give it a shot anyway.

Sept. 9 v New York Giants
Cowboys split with the Giants, each team winning at home. Win

Sept. 16 @ Miami Dolphins
Miami is in turmoil. Win

Sept. 23 @ Chicago Bears
I'm not a Chicago believer. Win

Sept. 30 v St. Louis Rams
The Rams are about five seasons into their decline. Win

Oct. 8 @ Buffalo Bills
Bills got nothing. Win

Oct. 14 v New England Patriots
I keep waiting for their Rams-like decline, but it hasn't happened yet. Lose

Oct. 21 v Minnesota Vikings
See Bills. Win

Oct. 28 BYE
I like the placement of the bye week—right in the middle of the season.

Nov. 4 @ Philadelphia Eagles
Same as Giants—split season series. Lose

Nov. 11 @ New York Giants
Season split with the Giants means a loss in the Meadowlands. Lose

Nov. 18 v Washington Redskins
See Bills/Vikes. Win

Nov. 22 v New York Jets
See Bills/Vikes/Skins. Win

Nov. 29 v Green Bay Packers
See Bills/Vikes/Skins/Jets. Win

Dec. 9 @ Detroit Lions
See Bills/Vikes/Skins/Jets/Pack. Win

Dec. 16 v Philadelphia Eagles
What goes around comes around. Win

Dec. 22 @ Carolina Panthers
Toughest pick on the sked because the Panthers are so unpredictable. But since they couldn't get it together last year, and they're all a year older, I'll go with a Cowboy Win

Dec. 30 @ Washington Redskins
Skins still got nothing. Win

Can the Cowboys really go 13-3? The schedule seems to favors it, and I'm not one to usually drink the Cowboy kool-aid—I save that for my Longhorns. Besides, as I mentioned before, not having Parcells and his tension around should be worth something. Note: a 13-3 record would not necessarily make the Boys a great team. But even if they don't quite reach 13-3, they should easily make the playoffs this year, and who knows, they may even win a game once they get there. Anything can happen once you get to the playoffs—just ask Tony Romo, he of the botched hold.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Why the NHL is greatness

Due to PJ's constant NHL banter since the launch of 110 Percent, I have thought quite a bit about hockey over the past few months. I mentioned before that I used to be a fan, but had lost interest, largely because of ridiculously inept leadership. Upon further reflection, I have been reminded of the things that attracted me to hockey in the first place. I finally decided that I'm not going to let Bettman rob me of a great game, so I'm back on the bandwagon and excited about the Stanley Cup playoffs. Let me make perfectly clear: I have experienced this shift in spite of Bettman and the NHL leadership (or lack thereof), not because of them. Without further ado, here are the reasons why the NHL is greatness.

The Stanley Cup - In Baseball v Cricket, I said the Ashes urn was a nine. For reference, the Stanley Cup is a ten—it is the hockey icon. Watch the final game of the Stanley Cup Finals this year (even the playoffs are named for the Cup) and witness the winning team pass the Cup around, each player taking their turn hoisting it over their head. And then you get to the off season, when each player on the championship team gets the Cup for one day, and legendary stories emerge. In every other North American sport, you talk of winning a ring. In hockey, it's all about the Cup.

Party crashers - There is almost always a young, low-seeded team that rides a hot goalie deep in the playoffs. They win their first round series and everyone calls it a fluke. But when they reach the conference finals, people take notice. A couple years ago, it was the Calgary Flames and the Sea of Red who were the darlings of the Finals. If you like underdogs, hockey is the sport for you.

Overtime playoff hockey - If you like sudden death overtimes, this is the only place it really happens. Basketball tacks on more minutes, and baseball is only sudden death for the home team. I suppose the NFL has sudden death overtime, but that is negated by the fact that it almost always ends with a couple running plays to center the ball before concluding with another field goal. Where's the tension in that? Nothing beats triple overtime playoff hockey, full of breakaways, odd man rushes and jaw dropping saves. Nothing.

Exciting defense - In most sports, good defense makes for boring games. Not so in hockey, where a goalie standing on his head, particularly in the playoffs, is more exciting than the league leading goal scorer. Picture this: Kobe drives the lane after losing his man with a wicked crossover, then clangs the layup off the front of the rim. Result: you were brought to the edge of your seat, but you feel cheated when it doesn't result in points. Now this: Sidney Crosby dekes two defenders and fires off a shot only to be robbed by a Brodeur glove save. Result: no score here, either, but it's still exciting because one great play is trumped by another.

Team handshakes - Two teams slug it out over seven games—they fight, bleed, hack and generally try to tear each other to pieces in order to advance. So when one team has clinched the series, what do they do? They line up and shake hands, congratulating the winners and appreciating the effort of the defeated. You don't get this in any other major American sport. Pure class.

So there you have it. Over the next two months, you have the chance to see some great hockey. Forget Bettman, strikes, lockouts and all the mess and enjoy the greatness of the Stanley Cup playoffs, because you never know when two goalies are going to go nuts and star in a triple quadruple overtime game.

Monday, April 9, 2007

The NHL Playoffs

So, that time is upon us again. Things have been crazy around sports and my favorite sport is heading into the playoffs (that's hockey for those who don't know). I'm extremely excited for this year's playoffs because unlike the last two times the Stars made it, there is no possible way for the Colorado Avalanche to knock them out this year. Before I start the Playoff Preview, I'd like say congratulations to Mike Modano of the Dallas Stars. Modano finished the season with 507 goals (for his career, not the season... that would be crazy) which is the most of any US-born player in the NHL. How cool is it when every goal you score is a new record. He is also 6 points away from having the most points of any US-born player. He'll have to get that record next year.

Now, to the playoffs. Let me start with the Eastern Conference. Sabres (1) v. Islanders (8). This one is easy. The Sabres have been rolling (except the hiccup against Philly) and the Islanders limped into the playoffs because Montreal lost and they won in a shootout. Sabres in 5

Devils (2) v. Lightning(7). This should be a very interesting match-up. The Lightning can score as Lecavalier showed in the regular season with his NHL-leading 52 goals, but no goaltender is as "money" as Brodeur. I think Devils in 6 maybe 7.

Thrashers (3) v. Rangers (6). I think we see an upset here. Lundqvist has been great in goal for the Rangers and both teams can score, so with all else equal, I go with the better Goaltender. Rangers in 7.

Senators (4) v. Penguins (5). This one all hinges on how Fleury plays in goal unless Crosby can continue to find open space and time. He's been everything advertised and led the Penguins to the playoffs a year or two before anyone really expected him. Ottawa has a tendancy to fold in the playoffs, but they know that and have built to avoid it. I think Ottawa in 6 and the loss has a positive effect on Crosby for next year.

The Western Conference: Red Wings (1) v. Flames (8). Detroit hasn't fallen off the face of the Earth as they were expected to after the implementation of the salary cap and Stevie Y's retirement. Hasek looks like he's ten years younger which would still make him older than Kiprusoff, and Detroit has a ton of balance on scoring. If Iginla doesn't catch fire (pun intended), the Wings roll. Detroit in 5.

Ducks (2) v. Wild (7). I think the Ducks are too strong for Minnesota. I know Gaborik and Demitra are supposed to light it up for the Wild, but the Ducks have better scoring and are defensively on par with Minn. Ducks in 6.

Predators (4) v. Sharks (5). Wow, I'm not sure where to go with this one. It's the hardest pick of the playoffs for me because both teams have great scoring, timely goaltending, and potential game-breakers. Neither team made a massive playoff surge, so it's hard to go on recent record. So, I've got to go with the team who has the intangibles. Forsberg, Arnott, etc... mean that the Predators should take it (even though I can't stand Tootoo). Nashville in 7.

Finally, Canucks (3) v. Stars (6). I hate this first round match-up for the Stars because they will be going against a Goaltender who can change the game. That being said, I'm not sure how Luongo will do in the playoffs. Plus I'm a huge Stars "Homer" Therefore, I say Stars in 6.

Monday, April 2, 2007

It's opening day and it's already over.

Let me take you back to October 17, 2005. Game 5 of the NLCS and my beloved Astros are one out away from their first World Series. Forty three years of frustration was about to come to an end and in front of the home crowd. Only one batter stood between the Astros and history, Albert Pujols. The great Brad Lidge stood on the mound armed with serious cheese and killer slider. For the previous couple of years, Lidge had been as automatic a save as anyone in baseball

I was giddy with excitement. Jumping around my bedroom ready to celebrate over 1000 miles away in Queens Village, NY, probably the only person in New York who cared.

Unfortunately, the unthinkable happened. A slider didn't quite make it all the way inside of the plate and floated out over the plate, and like it was on a tee, Pujols crushed it to left. Now Minute Maid park has a short left field where its just 315 down the line. But this ball, I think, was still on an going up when it hit the window looking out onto the street.

Now the Astros won game six behind Roy Oswalt, and the Astros went on to the World Series to be swept by the Chicago White Sox. Maybe things would have been different if Oswalt would have started game 1, but probably in the end, the Astros wouldn't have been able to buy a clutch hit anyway. But the real question is what has happened to Brad Lidge? Ever since then, he has been terrible and basically kept the Astros from winning the NL Central last year. (Of course, their anemic offense didn't help. Heck, calling the Astros offense anemic is an insult to all those people out there who lack a sufficient number of red blood cells.) Pages could be and have been written about the Astros putrid offense, but I'm focusing on Brad Lidge.

Here is some statistical evidence:
2005: 4-4, 42 saves, 5 HRs, 2.29ERA
2006: 1-5, 32 saves, 10 HRs, 5.58ERA, 6 blown saves

In the middle of the season, the Astros moved to a closer by committee. After the All-Star game, he saved 10 of 12, but Dan Wheeler was their main closer.

Tonight, in the season opener, after Roy Oswalt has pitched a solid 7 2/3 innings and the offense put together a grand total of two runs, Lidge got the first two outs easily, but then gave up a tieing home run to Xavier Nady.

Lidge still has nasty stuff. Even last year when he struggled, he averaged well over a strike out per inning. But there is something wrong. Perhaps a change of scenery would help him get out of his funk, but he is done in Houston. He was terrible during spring training (9 in, 13 H, 2 HR, 11 ERA) and it doesn't look good for 2007. He can't be the Astros closer anymore. Perhaps the rest of league has caught up to him. If so, put in as the set up guy. He flourished in that when he joined Billy Wagner and Octavio Dotel as the best bullpen in the big leagues. They have a guy who can close in Wheeler. If he can't handle that kind of demotion, trade him for a bag of balls and a fungo bat.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Rangers outlook

Let me first say thank you to Rus for answering the charges laid before me regarding the Rangers this season. However, I was already preparing my own answer, even before the question was asked. And while I appreciate Rus's effort, he gave the wrong answer. I suppose it's the thought that counts.

As I said in a comment to Patrick and his case for the Braves, when you start dropping if's to argue your team's case, you've already lost. Rus even titled his post if, if, if.......—not good. Here is the correct answer to the question: What about the Rangers?

If #1: Pitching - Yes, it is better. No, it is not good enough. No ace. You've got three pretty good 2-3 type guys, although that hasn't really shown this spring. At the bottom of the rotation, who knows? The bullpen should be good. If Gagne holds up, and I think he will, Otsuka can be traded for a starter. Again, the staff is better, but it's not felt (read: pennant material).

If #2: Offense - Something we've always taken for granted in Texas. Comparatively speaking, this offense is rather anemic, especially considering their home park. If they had a top notch pitching staff they could get away with it. But they don't, so they won't. The defense should be good, but they'll pay for it at the plate.

If #3: Manager - Yes, Buck is gone, and any change has to be good, but I'm not buying in to Wash yet. I'm suspicious of all the hype, and worried there won't be any substance to back it up. I could be wrong, but I still wonder if Trey Hillman wouldn't have been a great hire here.

There may be fewer ifs, but the bottom line is that there are still plenty, certainly more than other teams have. I think the Rangers will finish third, although I wouldn't be surprised if they came in second. First is out of the question for at least another year. They are getting closer, but they aren't there yet.

However. . . if they do somehow take first out West, I think this team could make some noise in the playoffs. I assume that they will have traded for some pitching to get there, and once in the playoffs, the bottom of their rotation becomes irrelevant. I think they have three guys (plus the hypothetical trade acquisition) who can compete with most, and their defense becomes more important in tighter playoff games.

I think this team is built for playoff baseball, but I don't think they can weather the 162 game schedule to actually get there.