Sunday, March 30, 2008

Russell’s Rangers Preview

Last year, I wrote a preview that basically said that the Rangers will do well if...

If McCarthy and Tejeda can solidify the third and forth spots in the rotation.

If Gagne is healthy and the bullpen falls into place.

If the Blalock can break out of his malaise.

If Cruz and Kinsler are as good as advertised.

If the offense can get it done.
If Sosa doesn't become too big of a distraction.

Well, Gagne was good and got traded and Kinsler was pretty good, but everything else didn’t happen. In fact, almost the opposite happened. Not only did McCarthy and Tejeda not solidify the rotation, but Millwood and Padilla were terrible. Blalock looked really good, then got hurt. Cruz went the way of Tejeda and now both are all but gone. Sosa was ok, but not that great. All the worst case scenarios happened to the highest degrees. Well again, hope springs eternal and new year starts tomorrow. Will anything change? It’s frustrating year after year to lose and lose and this year looks to be no different. The question is are they making progress in the building of the team? Is there a light at the end of the tunnel? Are we really going to be able to tell? Here’s my rundown of the Rangers with keys to look for to see progress.

1 Kevin Millwood
2 Vincente Padilla
3 Jason Jennings
4 Kason Gabbard
5 Luis Mendoza
Injured: Brandon McCarthy
Next in Line: Eric Hurley, A.J. Murray, Sidney Ponson, John Patterson, Matt Harrison
This years Gagne: Padilla, Jennings

The rotation does not look pretty. The top three are great big IFs (can be really good, can be pretty bad, probably will be mediocre), Gabbard has been terrible during the spring and has a limited upside anyway, and Mendoza was given away by Boston a year ago. So it’s just a lot of “ifs” there. We will be able to see progress if Hurley gets to Arlington in August and performs well and McCarthy gets past his injury issues. These guys should be rotation mainstays for years, but as we all know injuries and control issues usually kill the Ranger pitching prospect. They brought in two guy recently who have been considered good, but have struggled with injuries and ineffectivness- John Patterson and Dustin Nippert. Are they going to be anything? Probably not. But progress could mean one of these two become something like everyone thought they could be. I expect the rotation to be better, and possibly see Padilla and Jennings traded with Hurley and Patterson or Nippert taking their places.

C Gerald Laird
1B Ben Broussard
2B Ian Kinsler
SS Michael Young
3B Hank Blalock
Util Ramon Vasquez
DH Frank Catalanotto and Jason Botts
Next in line: C Jarrod Saltalamacchia, 1B Chris Davis, 2B/SS/3B German Duran
This year’s Teixeira: Broussard, Laird, Catalanotto, Blalock

Trading Teixeira for Broussard is HUGE step down. The hope is that Blalock will be healthy and Kinsler will continue to improve. Overall, I expect the offensive output to be similar to last year. We’ll see progress if Salty solidifies his catching defense in Oklahoma and Davis comes up in September to get his feet wet.

LF Marlon Byrd
CF Josh Hamilton
RF Milton Bradley
4OF David Murphy
Next in line: Kevin Mench, Brandon Boggs
This year’s Lofton: Bradley, Mench Byrd

When you have bad pitching, you need really good defense, in the Ballpark especially. Last year, they had one center fielder, Kenny Lofton. Now, they have three with another on the bench. Add the power of Hamilton and Bradley and this outfield is going to be A LOT better, on offense and defense. The future here is further down on the farm. Hopefully, Hamilton will prove that he can stay healthy and play at least 130 games.

CL C.J. Wilson
RP Joaquin Benoit
RP Kaz Fukumori
RP Eddie Guardado
RP Josh Rupe
RP Franklyn German
RP Jamey Wright
Next in Line: Frank Francisco, Wes Littleton, Kameron Loe, Kea Kometani
This years Gagne: Guardado, Wright

I’m a little worried about the bullpen. Wilson, Benoit, and Guardado have been injured or sick during spring training. The bullpen was a strength last year, but I’m afraid that this will be the weak point of this team. The guys who need to step up are Wilson, Rupe, Francisco, and Littleton.

Overall, we want to see progress in the Rangers. I think .500 is the high end of the Ranger year. Around 80 wins would be a pretty good year, but we want to see guys like Kinsler, Hamilton, Murphy, Saltalamacchia, and Botts on the offensive side and Hurley, Wilson, Nippert and Gabbard on the pitching side to lead the way for the Rangers. If it’s Padilla, Jennings, Broussard, and Catalanotto, then progress isn’t being made.

I realize we keep pushing this back, but 2010 is realistically when the Rangers can think about seriously contending for the World Series, but let me give a hypothetical. The Angels are relying on an old outfield and injuries have thinned out their pitching staff. The Mariners are Bedard, Ichiro, and ..... The As are rebuilding just like the Rangers. Can the Rangers contend? Is it at all possible that August roles around and they are within a five of games of first? Could they make a big trade to bring in top pitcher (a bullpen guy) and roll into the playoffs? Or just ride good young players like the Rockies? Maybe, stranger things have happened. I’m not holding my breath though.

Here are my picks for this year.
AL East: Boston Red Sox
AL Central: Cleveland Indians
AL West: LA Angels
AL Wild Card: Detroit Tigers
AL Champion: Indians
NL East: NY Mets
NL Central: Milwaukee Brewers
NL West: Arizona Diamondbacks
NL Wild Card: San Diego Padres
NL Champion: Diamondbacks
World Series: Indians

Friday, March 28, 2008

110 Percent looking for new talent, Mavs reporter

You may have heard about the flap this month about bloggers and Dallas Mavericks. If not, here's the short version: Tim MacMahon, Mavs blogger with the Dallas Morning News, was ejected from the Mavs locker room by Cuban, and a policy banning all bloggers, regardless of affiliation, was implemented a few days later. According to this Friday article in the Dallas Morning News, the NBA has told the Mavs they must allow fully-credentialed full-time bloggers proper access. But the next part shows why it is important to read past the headlines.

Cuban has implemented a new policy that does not discriminate between professional bloggers and, well, us. So any blogger, and he even mentions Blogspot by name, can apply for a press credential and get in there. This is where you come in.

Since two of the three of us currently here aren't in Dallas, and the third isn't really an NBA guy, I want you to join our team. If you live in Dallas and have always wanted to interview the players, now is your chance. Send me an email and I'll get you hooked up with us, then you can apply for your credential. Act fast, though, because there are only four home games left:

Wed, Apr 2, Golden State
Tue, Apr 8, Seattle
Thu, Apr 10, Utah
Wed, Apr 16, New Orleans

I don't expect this policy to carry over to next year, and playoffs in Dallas are looking unlikely, so let's get in on this now. I look forward to your contributions to our team.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Random thoughts on the tourney

After two rounds, our tournament challenge picks up right where it left off last year, with Sam's Amateur Psychic bracket at the top of the leaderboard. But Rus is tied with him, trying to salvage the integrity of the 110 Percent pros. And we aren't worried here--Sam has Memphis winning it all, when everyone knows they won't get past Texas.

If you thought you could take on three pros no problem, you might be interested to know that there is a fourth on the leaderboard. Currently in fourth place is Kevin Hayward from All on the Field. He's running a MLB preview right now; be sure to head over there and check it out.

The reigning champ might be at the top, but there are eight other teams within four points, which is the value of each game in the next round. And by the time the regional finals are over, the standings could look quite different--particularly after Memphis gets KOed.

As for the actual tournament, I've got a few observations. I'll start with this year's phenom, Michael Beasley from K-State. In a word: unimpressed. I watched the first round game between USC and K-State (thanks, CBS Sportsline!), my first game of the year. (Before you get too smug, think about how many games you watched before March. Only need one hand? That's what I thought.) I've read a lot about Beasley, but if I was an NBA GM, I'd pass. I freely admit that I can't quantify why; it's just a feeling I have, and it's only based on the one game. I think it's his attitude--he seems too cocky. Confidence is good, but Beasley looks like he thinks he's a little better than all this. He foresee a journeyman's career. Now, OJ Mayo, USC's star, I'd take. He's gonna be good.

We've got two 12s and a 10 in the Sweet Sixteen, and yet none can really be considered a Cinderella. Parity really his college baskeball this season. All of the teams seeded four to twelve would be six to eight seeds historically. The fours aren't really that good and the twelves aren't really that bad. So when number 12 Villanova "upset" Vandy, you shouldn't have really been surprised. And, yeah, number 12 Western Kentucky beat Drake in the first round, but they only had to beat 13 seed San Diego to make the Sweet Sixteen, and that doesn't qualify them as a Cinderella yet. If they beat UCLA in their next game, then we can talk.

As for the Final Four, I'm still confident with North Carolina, UCLA and Texas. With Georgetown getting knocked off in the Midwest, however, it looks like Kansas is going to have a hard time choking their way out of this Final Four. I'll stick with UNC over UCLA in the Final, but you know I'll be pulling for Texas. I'd be more than happy to write another article about how I love being wrong.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Would the real Dallas Mavericks please step up?

I have seen the light. I have come around on the Kidd trade.

All season, the Mavs have been enigmatic. They would play well against the best teams, even winning on occasion, then they would lose to a lottery team. There was no rhyme or reason to it. Since Kidd got to town, all has come into focus.

So in a word, here are your 2008 Dallas Mavericks: eh.

Since Kidd's arrival, they are 0-8 against the best of the NBA. And they just completed a nice run against teams with worse records. So there you go. The Mavs are average.

OK, not average; they are still a very good team. If they were in the East, they would be in the top three for sure. But in the Wild, Wild West, very good isn't good enough. Very good might even get you a ping pong ball in the lottery, especially when your star player goes down to injury for a few weeks.

The truth is, the Mavs are the same team they have been since 2000, despite Avery's coaching and numerous trades: soft inside, jump shooters on the outside and below average defense. Cuban showed up for Sunday's game with an "Avery's team" shirt as a public show of reconciliation, but the fact is he hasn't provided Avery with the personnel that fit his system. And I'm with Avery on this one. His style wins championships, not jump shooters who don't play defense. Avery has his faults, but this isn't one of them.

This is not to say that this is Kidd's fault, only that his arrival coincides with the clarity. And he is symbolic of the Mavs' problems going forward: this team got old this year. And with no first round draft picks for the next two years, it's going to be hard to get younger. Not to mention that those might be some pretty good picks.

Reality check: the Mavs might miss the playoffs, and Dirk's injury doesn't help. And even if they do stay ahead of Denver, they don't have a chance against any of the top seeds in the West. I'm talking sweep.

This team and front office needs a wake up call. Over the next month, they'll get it.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Bracket Key

No time to waste, so here's the picks.

Sweet Sixteen: (1) Kansas, (2) Georgetown, (3) Wisconsin, (4) Vanderbilt
First round upset: (12) Villanova over (5) Clemson

Sweet Sixteen: (1) UCLA, (2) Duke, (3) Xavier, (5) Drake
First round upset: (11) Baylor over (6) Purdue

Sweet Sixteen: (1) North Carolina, (3) Louisville, (4) Washington State, (7) Butler
First round upset: (9) Arkansas over (8) Indiana

Sweet Sixteen: (1) Memphis, (2) Texas, (3) Stanford, (4) Pittsburgh
First round upset: (10) Saint Mary's over (7) Miami

Final Four
North Carolina over Georgetown
UCLA over Texas

North Carolina beats UCLA 76-71

Am I the only one who is baffled by the parity of the seedings? Look at a particular pod in the East: George Mason, Notre Dame, Washington State and Winthrop. Without looking, could you correctly identify who is the 4, 5, 12 and 13 seeds? Or would you really be stunned if (1) Memphis lost to either (8) Mississippi State or (9) Oregon in the second round? Me either.

Having said that, I have a very pedestrian bracket, with only two picks lower than a four seed in the Sweet Sixteen. And one of those is a very underrated Butler, who somehow got a seven seed despite being eleventh in the most recent AP polls. Last year was a tough one for picking against the favorites; this year, it is virtually impossible.

But what's the point in picking underdogs if you're wrong?

You still have a few hours to get your bracket in, so if you haven't done so already, head over to the 110 Percent Madness Challenge to take on the 110 Percent "Pros". And if you want to have a little fun with it, you can put together a wacky bracket (see below). A few wacky brackets are in, but we can always use more. If you ever wanted to know if you would be better off picking games by uniform color, this is your chance.

But if you want to win, use the Bracket Key posted above.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Wacky brackets

Are you tired of the person in your office who doesn't know a thing about basketball winning the pool? You know, the guy (or gal) who fills out their bracket according to team colors or mascot? Well, it's time to beat them at their own game.

If you have multiple Yahoo accounts, please feel free to submit additional brackets to our 110 Percent Madness tournament, using your favorite wacky method of filling out a bracket. As the tournament proceeds, we will each be able to see how our "legit" brackets compare to the wacky brackets, and maybe even learn what's the best option for next year's pool.

To get us started, I've already done "Free throw percentage" and "Fans vs. Fans" (based on the feature of the same name in the Yahoo game) brackets. Other suggestions include:

  • RPI
  • Coin flip
  • Tuition
  • Uniforms
  • Academic ranking (or perhaps reverse?)
Or feel free to choose your own wacky method. Please title the bracket according to the method so everyone knows what you've done. Have fun with it and good luck.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

110 Percent Madness 2008

The bracket is set and 110 Percent invites you to pick against our 'pros'. If last year is any indicator, that shouldn't be too big of a challenge. The one you have to look out for is Sam, last year's winner.

Click on 110 Percent Madness Tournament Challenge to play.

Here are the details:
Group name: 110 Percent
Group ID# 69767
Password: teameffort

This is hosted by Yahoo!, so you will need a Yahoo! ID to play. Also, you can also make your bracket eligible for the Yahoo's bracket contest--first prize is ten thousand dollars, and a perfect bracket will net you five million.

Let the madness begin.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

The role of the record book

Prior to each of past three seasons, Brett Favre has contemplated retirement. Each time, he chose to come back, despite various difficulties in his private life and the Packers struggles on the field. So when the Favre and the Pack had a great season in 2007, and high expectations in 2008 for the first time in years, what does Favre do? He suddenly, and unexpectedly, retires.

Favre has had a fantastic career, and is without question one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. As for the timing of the retirement, Favre has said that he didn't feel wanted by the Packers and that the only reason to come back would be to win a Super Bowl. But is that the whole story?

Allow me to play devil's advocate for a moment. Prior to 2007, Favre had 57,500 yards, 414 touchdowns, 5021 completions on 8223 attempts, and 147 wins. Oh, he also had 273 interceptions. After the 2007 season, Favre passed Marino's 61,361 yards for a career total of 61,655. His 442 TDs surpassed Marino's 420. He already had the completion record, but the extra season got him to 8758 attempts, bettering Marino's 8358. He easily surpassed Elway's 148 wins, setting the new mark at 160. For good measure, he even passed Blanda's interception total of 277, reaching 288. Might not have hurt to leave that one out, Brett.

I know he's a year older and that he wants to spend time with his family. But the Pack have as good a chance as anybody of reaching the Super Bowl next year. Could the fact that he has no more records to chase play a role in his decision? Better question: Is there anything wrong with that?