Friday, March 30, 2007

Bring the Crazy's 2007 Guide to When Your MLB Team Becomes Irrelevant

I had intended to write up a baseball preview, but then I realized I don't really care enough to break down the Royals' roster, or analyze the Rockies' pitching staff, or dissect the Orioles 7-8-9 batters. I just don't care. I won't watch a Royals game or a Rockies game or an Orioles game all-season unless they somehow end up on my television screen playing the Red Sox, or if I somehow end up in Kansas City, Denver, or Baltimore during a homestand.

Because you know there will be tickets available.

If you want an actual baseball preview, check out the Goat Feeders' complete baseball preview. If you want to find out how much time you're going to have to invest as a fan in your team, keep reading.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

STOP CARING IN JUNE: Royals, Orioles, Mariners. The Royals, Os, and Ms should be relegated to Triple A. The only real intrigue with any of these teams is whether the Mariners move Ichiro or watch him walk after the season. The Mariners and Royals are at least moving in the right direction, but they could use a few years of seasoning before they see the bright side of .500.

STOP CARING IN JULY: Devil Rays, Rangers. If Tampa was in the West they might hang around for another month or two, but they're in a division with too much offensive experience in Boston, NYC, and Toronto, so, well, too bad for Tampa and that staff. Another couple years and they'll be contending for the playoffs.The Rangers are a fun team to watch if you like watching other people play video games, or ex-steroid users trying to make a comeback, but they'll be done by the trading deadline.

STOP CARING IN AUGUST: Twins, Athletics, Blue Jays. The Twins are a good young team but they don't overly impress me. Toronto is trying to hang with the big spenders, but they just don't have enough pitching. It wouldn't surprise me to see them finish ahead of the Yankees, though, if the Yanks collapse like the Red Sox did last year.

STOP CARING IN SEPTEMBER: Yankees, Tigers. I know the Tigers were in the World Series last year and I know they've probably got the best young pitching in baseball, but I can't get over the fact that they were 40-41 in the second-half last season. I'm guessing making it to the WS last year will have just enough of their players coming back a little fatter and contented than they need to be to compete in the AL Central. The Yankees might finish third in the East. They've got no pitching you can rely on past Mussina and Rivera and as good as that offense is there's more good teams than bad in the American League this year. Plus, this whole A-Rod business will fester all season.

CARE ALL THE WAY TO OCTOBER: Red Sox, Angels, White Sox, Indians. I think the Double Sox are the two best teams in baseball, but I may be biased because I'm a Red Sox fan living in the midwest and watch the White Sox more than any other team. Both teams have big offenses and solid pitching from the rotation to the closer. The White Sox are getting older but with four teams as close as the AL Central appears to be, I'll take their experience. The Angels are starting to remind me of those really expensive Orioles teams that never did jack after that little kid stole the playoffs from them because Richie Garcia went blind. $50 mil for Gary Matthews Jr. was the second worst signing of the off-season, even before he was outed as an HGH buyer. Still, as long as Bartolo Colon doesn't mistake his right arm for a chicken wing, they should have enough pitching to take the AL West. I'm not sold on the Indians, really, but they either take a big step forward this season or they'll start moving pieces again. I could see them winning the division or finishing fourth.


NATIONAL LEAGUE

STOP CARING IN MAY: Nationals, Pirates. You suck, and you're barely trying.

STOP CARING IN JUNE: Rockies. I think the Rockies are moving in the right direction, but they're not close enough to stick, yet.

STOP CARING IN JULY: Diamondbacks. Relying on Randy Johnson will turn out great. Right, Yankees?

STOP CARING IN AUGUST: Cubs, Giants, Reds, Braves, Marlins, Padres, Astros. The massive mediocre middle of the National League. The NL, on the whole, blows, so they'll stick around because the teams ahead of them won't be able to pull away.

STOP CARING IN SEPTEMBER: Cardinals. The Cards won the WS, but they barely made the playoffs. I don't see a lot of improvement here. They'll probably win the division, but I wouldn't be surprised to see them slide back a bit.

CARE ALL THE WAY TO OCTOBER: Phillies, Mets, Brewers, Dodgers. I think Milwaukee might be this year's Detroit, as the team that jumps ahead one year in the rebuilding program on the strength of their pitching. They need more offense, though. The Phillies, Mets, and Dodgers aren't so much great teams as they are slightly less worse then everyone else.

WORLD SERIES PREDICTION: Boston over Philadelphia.

Monday, March 26, 2007

4 Teams Worth Rooting Against

Georgetown. UCLA. Florida. Ohio State. Ugh.

We might have been spared Duke (thanks, VCU), North Carolina (big ups, G-Town), and Kentucky (thanks, poor recruiting!) but this is about as depressing a Final 4 as I can remember in terms of having someone to root for next weekend. Where's George Mason? Where's Marquette? Four great teams, to be sure, so hopefully the games will be entertaining, but I don't think I can actually root for any of these four teams to win.

FLORIDA - As annoying as they are talented; I don't want them to win because I can't stand to see them celebrate anymore. Plus, Florida has won enough collegiate championships in the past season. Start spreading it around, UF.

UCLA - I have nothing against UCLA, but a team that's won 11 national championships don't exactly scream underdog.

GEORGETOWN - Orangemen and Hoyas do not mix. Plus, I rooted for them against North Carolina and I don't think I could stomach doing it twice more. Still, them winning it all might finally reignite the Cuse/Gtown hatred for one another that's been missing for much of the past decade.

OHIO STATE - I'm already tired of hearing people talking about a Florida/Ohio State rematch from the football national championship and it hasn't even happened yet. The only good thing about OSU winning is that it would guarantee Oden going pro. The current 99.999999999% probability of him going pro is killing me with suspense.

Maybe we'll get lucky and all the basketballs in Atlanta will disappear next weekend.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Paps to Close

Jonathan Papelbon is going back to closing games for the Red Sox. While this isn't the end to the idea of him being a starter, it seems likely that Papelbon will be a closer until his performance takes him out of the role instead of a desire of the ballclub to return him to starting.

Every comment from Red Sox players that I've seen think this is the right move to make.

I'm not sure it is.

Because of the failure of the front office to acquire a closer moving Paps back into a closer's role helps the team for this season, but long term I'd rather see him starting than closing. Paps thinks I'm an idiot and closing is where it's at: "This is something I'd like to do the rest of my career. Forget about starting. Go out (as a closer), chase records and hopefully do for the Red Sox what Mariano Rivera does for the Yankees."

If he becomes Mariano Rivera (or anything close), this is a good move, but guys like Rivera are the rarest of MLB birds. Closers can come out of nowhere, be lights out, and then ... just ... lose ... it. Right, Brad Lidge? We're talking about a position, after all, in which the following pitchers had at least 30 saves last season: Francisco Rodriguez, Trevor Hoffman, Bobby Jen- fuck it, people, there were NINETEEN pitchers who hit 30 saves. Nineteen. Eleven had 35 or more. Paps had 35. One behind Joe Nathan, JJ Putz, and Joe Borowski. Two behind Todd Jones and Huston Street. (There is no truth to the rumor that the Hall of Fame is going to let all five of those closers in before their careers are out.)

I'm not dogging Papelbon. His 0.98 ERA and 0.78 WHIP were the best of all closers in the game. He's as good as any closer in the game, but so are 7 or 8 other closers.

The Sox have two potential lockdown closers a year or two away in Craig Hansen and Bryce Cox. With the move of Papelbon back to closing and his stated desire to remain there, you have to wonder if the Sox will revisit their trade talks with the Rockies for Todd Helton. Hansen was one of the prosepects Colorado wanted and one of the prospects the Sox flatly refused to swap.

To fill the void in the rotation, the Sox will move Julian Tavarez into the 5 spot and move Wakefield to the 4th slot. Tavarez did a surprisingly solid job starting last year, so I'm comfortable with him there until Jon Lester's ready to resume his spot in the rotation.

Even with that eventual move, the Sox are back in the position of looking for a starting pitcher and instead of hearing names like Akinori Otsuka, Chad Cordero, and Takashi Saito come trade deadline, we'll be forced to endure outrageous demands for the likes of Jon Leiber, Miguel Batista, and Odalis Perez.

Yeesh.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Innocence Lost: Wrestlers Take Steroids

Sports Illustrated is reporting that professional wrestlers take steroids. I am shocked. Shocked.

And outra -yaaaaaaaaaaawwwwwnnnn- ged.

Here are the names: Eddie Guerrero, Rey Mysterio, Randy Orton, Edge, Shane Helms, and apparently six more whom SI decided not to name because, as the investigative reporters, Luis Fernando Llosa and L. Jon Wertheim, admit: "Obviously the "big names" are what have made this investigation a national concern. And, in all candor, it's the main reason news organizations -- including Sports Illustrated -- are pursuing the story."

It's nice to see Llosa & Wertheim being honest. They're out there, working the story, and they know that SI is really only footing the bill because they want names - the bigger the better. Give SI one Barry Bonds or Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa over 100 anonymous minor leaguers.

As the reporters note, though, investigators are "much more interested in breaking up the distribution pipeline which, they allege, is a marriage of fraudulent anti-aging clinics, complicit compounding pharmacies and doctors who rubber-stamp prescriptions for human growth hormone (HGH), testosterone, steroids, etc., often without examining the patients."

While I am outraged at MLB players taking steroids I'm not overly concerned about wrestlers or actors (looking at you, Sly) taking trenbolone, nandrolone, stanozolol, anastrozole, Clomiphene citrate, oxandrolone, testosterone, HGH ... whatever. Don't get me wrong, I'm not wishing harm on any of these guys. Eddie Guerrero died back in late 2005 because of "heart disease, complicated by an enlarged heart resulting from a history of anabolic steroid use," and it's a shame he worked in a business that turned a blind eye towards steroids usage.

Steroids, after all, were allegedly one of the main factors in the old WWF admitting that the results of matches were pre-determined, so they could classify their events as entertainment and not sports, and thus circumvent state sports authorities who might want to, say, test for steroids. And steroids are why Vince McMahon was put on trial in the mid-1990s, as prosecutors charged him with distributing steroids to wrestlers and bodybuilders under his employ. (Vince was acquitted, though he admitted he was a steroids user.)

These are adults making adult decisions, however, and if they want to take those risks, so be it. They don't need to do it - WWE lore says (my way of saying I don't know how true or false it is) steroids-free wrestlers like Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels were pushed in the mid-90s precisely because they were clean, but they were every bit the superstars fans wanted. If they choose to do it, I don't have a problem with it. I see wrestlers more akin to actors than professional athletes and I don't care if Sly's roiding up to play Rocky, I don't care if Kurt Angle's roiding up now that his wrestling is done in the ring (or whatever TNA calls what they wrestle in) and not on the Olympic mat.

If what they're doing is illegal, they can pay for those crimes in a court of law, but I'm not going to crucify them in opinion anymore than I do those who smoke pot. You make the choice, you take your chance. Hurt yourself and I don't care; hurt others and that's when I'll have a problem.

And to give full credit to McMahon and the WWE, they're been relatively proactive on steroids in the past few years to a degree that puts most pro leagues to shame. As the WWE makes clear in their press release responding to the SI article: "All of the allegations set forth in a recent SI.com article mentioning WWE predate the initiation of WWE’s current Talent Wellness Program. This WWE program prohibits the use of performance enhancing drugs, as well as other prescription drugs which can be abused, if taken for other than a legitimate medical purpose pursuant to a valid prescription from a licensed and treating physician. For purposes of WWE's policy, prescriptions obtained over the Internet and/or from suppliers of prescription drugs from the Internet are not considered to have been given for a legitimate medical purpose."

Sunday, March 18, 2007

St. Patrick Demands Rematch: NCAAs, Day 4

Another .500 day for random luck with the picks as St. Patrick goes 4-4 to come in 2 games behind my 6-2 day.

Here's Sunday's picks

MBQ: Florida, Oregon, UNLV, S. Illinois, Kansas, Texas, Tennessee, Memphis

STP: Purdue, Winthrop, UNLV, Virginia Tech, Kentucky, USC, Virginia, Memphis

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OVERALL NCAA PICKS

MBQ: 28-12
THOMAS JEFFERSON: 9-7
SACAGAWEA: 8-8
ST. PATRICK: 4-4

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Fighting St. Patrick: NCAAs, Day 3

Our nation's first Secretary of State was a spot over .500 (9-7) yesterday, and while Sacagawea wants back in for the start of the second round, I'm challenging St. Patrick on the day named for him. (My copy of the Modern Library's Irish Fairy and Folk Tales will stand in for St. Patrick.) I went 11-5 for the second day in a row, thus proving that after 32 games I am a whopping 5 games better than random luck.

Fridays action was a bit better than Thursday but from here the NCAAs have been a bid letdown so far, even with Purdue's win over Arizona. It was good to see that Florida (won by 43), Kansas (won by 40), and Tennessee (won by 35) didn't see a need to run up the score on powerhouses Jackson State, Niagra, and Long Beach State.

On to Saturday's action:

MIDWEST
MBQ: Butler
STP: Butler

WEST
MBQ: Pitt, UCLA
STP: Pitt, Indiana

EAST
MBQ: UNC, Washington St., Georgetown
STP: Michigan State, Washington St., Boston College

SOUTH
MBQ: Ohio St., Louisville
STP: Ohio St., Texas A&M

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OVERALL NCAA PICKS

MBQ: 22-10
THOMAS JEFFERSON: 9-7
SACAGAWEA: 8-8

Friday, March 16, 2007

MBQ v. Thomas Jefferson: NCAAs, Day 2

Yesterday, I vanquished Sacagawea in mortal combat picking NCAA games. I went 11-5 and she went 8-8, which just goes to prove she might know how to lead a couple of ignorant army guys up a river they've never seen but that knowledge doesn't translate into successful college hoops predicting. (Kinda fitting flipping a coin resulted in an 8-8 record ...) I was going to bring her back for a second day, but she's got a couple of cityslickers who think they're ready to run the Colorado so she's begged off and asked the man responsible for the Lewis & Clark Expedition to take her place. So today my goal is to crush everyone's favorite alleged slave-"loving" President, Thomas Jefferson. Let's see what you're made of, Mr. Hemings.

Before we get to the picks, howzabout that first day of the tourney, eh? Worst opening day of games in how long? What a bunch of suck that was. Chalk City. Only three lower seeds won, and two of those were in 8 v. 9 games. Only two of the sixteen games were decided by less than 5 points. Only three games were decided by 10 points. Seven games - one less than half - were decided by at least 20 points. Ugh.

And yeah, it's good to see Duke get dumped and it's good see Coach K almost break down and cry, but that doesn't make us even, Day 1.

Let's hope Day 2 makes up for it.

MIDWEST REGION

MBQ: UNLV, Wisconsin, Arizona, Notre Dame, Oregon, Florida
T-JEFF: UNLV, Texas A&M-CC, Purdue, Winthrop, Miami-OH, Florida


WEST REGION

MBQ: Va Tech, Villanova, Kansas, Holy Cross (WUSSSTAH!!!!!)
T-JEFF: Illinois, Villanova, Kansas, S. Illinois


EAST REGION

MBQ: Texas, USC
T-JEFF: Texas, Arkansas


SOUTH REGION

MBQ: Virginia, Long Beach State, Memphis, Nevada
T-JEFF: Virginia, Long Beach State, Memphis, Creighton

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OVERALL NCAA PICKS

MBQ: 11-5
SACAGAWEA: 8-8

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Am I Smarter Than Sacagawea? NCAAs, Day One

Since you can get actual NCAA Tournament previews anywhere and everywhere there's no real reason to come here and get any insight you're not going to get elsewhere. As an attempt to have some fun, then, I am challenging my prognosticating skills against famed basketball historian and 19th century river guide, Sacagawea. I'm making my picks first and then seeing what Sac can come up with.

MIDWEST REGION

MBQ Picks: Maryland & Butler
SAC Picks: Maryland & Butler

WEST REGION

MBQ Picks: VCU, Pitt, UCLA, Gonzaga
SAC Picks: Duke, Wright St., Weber St., Gonzaga

EAST REGION

MBQ Picks: Texas Tech, Georgetown, Marquette, Oral Roberts, Vandy, UNC
SAC Picks: Boston College, Belmont, Michigan St., Oral Roberts, Vandy, E. Kentucky

SOUTH REGION

MBQ Picks: Louisville, Ohio St., Texas A&M, BYU
SAC Picks: Stanford, Ohio St., Texas A&M, Xavier

There you go. Howzabout that crazy bitch taking Eastern Kentucky over North Carolina and Belmont over Georgetown, eh? Then again, she is smart enough to take Duke over Virginia Commonwealth, so we'll see how it goes.

NIT: The Tournament for Big Losers and Little Winners

Why hold a tournament that no one wants to play in?

There's not a single team in the NIT that actually wants to be there instead of in the NCAA Tournament and yet, year-in and year-out, the NIT assembles 32 or 40 teams and pits them against each other with the reward being an extra few weeks of practice and games and a trip to Madison Square Garden to play in front of fans who most likely would rather be at an NCAA Tournament game, too.

In an attempt to make the NIT more relevant or exciting or just to amuse themselves, the Powers That Be now give automatic berths to regular season conference champions who don't win their conference championship and get an automatic berth into the NCAAs. It is about as good an idea as they could come up with given that the NCAA isn't always guaranteed to take the regular season champs from the Mid-Majors, let alone the ... um ... whatever you call the school below the Mid-Majors, which I guess could be called the Low-Majors or Almost-Mid-Majors or, more appropriately, the You-Mean-They're-Not-Division-II?-Majors.

Last night, my beloved Syracuse played against Directional Alabama in front of almost 17,000 people, which is probably an all-time record for people watching an NIT game. Of course, they all seemed to be there to protest the team not making the NCAAs, as if the NCAA gives a crap what they think. Far be it from me to think for anyone else, but it should be pretty obvious to anyone who doesn't need to have drool wiped off their chin on a regular basis that Arkansas does not belong in the NCAA Tournament, given they were 7-9 in the bad-half of the SEC Conference. Whether SU belongs in ahead of Drexel or Florida State or Kansas State or not ... don't know, don't really care at this point. The fact is if SU had beat Oklahoma State or Drexel or Wichita State (three teams that also didn't make the Real Tournament) they'd probably have gotten in. Or if they'd managed to beat Notre Dame in the Big East Tourney. Or if they hadn't lost to St. John's, a school that at this point has to remind people they still have a basketball program.

In other words, yeah, I think SU deserves to be in over Arkansas (and Illinois and Xavier) but if you put yourself in a position to be on the bubble you get what you deserve. And honestly, if you're a bubble team you weren't really going to go anywhere anyway, so it sucks for you but not so much for the NCAAs. You will never hear anyone say, "Well, sure, Kansas won the National Championship but they were lucky Clemson got stuck in the NIT."

If you do hear someone say that, punch them, because it's probably a hack announcer (Jim Nantz) trying to be funny with some dumb-ass, meaningless stat.

As a Cuse alum I'm pretty embarrassed by the wussy scheduling the school has arranged the past few seasons. I don't mind that they "don't leave the state of New York until January" as Dukie Vitale always rants, but they should be bringing better teams to them if they're not going out to play anyone else. This is college basketball - you do yourself no harm scheduling two or three really tough out-of-conference games. SU's scheduling this season seemed designed to get them 13-14 cream-puff wins and then break even in conference play which gives them 20-plus wins which everyone assumes is enough when you're playing in one of the toughest 3 conferences in the country. But when you schedule to "get by," you better win every cupcake you play and SU didn't. When Boeheim was asserting SU should be in because they played a tough out of conference schedule that included Oklahoma State he was off to a good start, but when he finished that sentence by bringing up Wichita State and Drexel it was a little sad. This was a lifeless team all season that played like it either didn't listen to the coaching staff, or weren't properly coached. I have no idea which of those two statements is closer to the truth but this is a veteran squad that played like a bunch of underclassmen all season long. One great win (against Georgetown) doesn't offset 4 or 5 or 6 bad losses.

So they're in the NIT and the players don't want to be there and the fans don't want to be there and the coaches don't want to be there. For fans it's almost a chore to have to watch. I had the game on but I really wasn't watching; it was background noise to check out now and then as I polished off a book. Truth be told, I'd rather see SU go to the NCAAs and get bounced by Vermont in the first round then win the NIT.

I'm not arguing the NIT is worthless. Just mostly worthless. The NIT is the equivalent of the Motor City Bowl or the FA Cup. Big teams don't really care and little teams care a little.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Lance Briggs Will Make $7.2 Mil This Year & He's Getting Screwed


Lance Briggs, an outside LB for the Chicago Tightwads, was all over the media yesterday explaining why he's upset at being forced to accept a one-year, $7.2 million dollar deal by being the Bears franchise player. Heavyweight columnists like Peter King are weighing in on the matter in columns titled "Shut Up and Play" and fans struggling to make ends meet are blasting him for having to take "only" $7.2 mil. Briggs says he'll sit out and people tell him to stop whining.

Please. Lance Briggs is getting absolutely screwed by a bullshit system.

King argues Briggs is directing his anger at the wrong place, that it's not the Bears fault but the NFLPA's fault for agreeing to the franchise system. King's right that it's the NFLPA's fault, but Briggs can't get them to overturn the system right now so his only recourse is to try to force the Bears to release him, trade him, or offer him the long-term contract he'd be getting right now if he was a free agent.

Briggs is being denied roughly $14 million in guaranteed money by being franchised by the Bears. On the open market, it's safe to assume Briggs would be offered similar money to what Adalius Thomas received from the Patriots, which is to say whatever inflated numbers and years are inked, there would likely be a base of about $20-22 million in guaranteed money over the next three seasons.

By using the franchise tag, the Bears are costing Briggs $14 million. Now, sure, he could go balls out all year and potentially cash in next season, but this is the NFL - Briggs could blow out a knee at any moment and he'd be out the $14 mil. The Bears know this, of course, which is why they slap the franchise tag down, which guarantees Briggs the average salary of the 5 highest paid players at his position. But it doesn't give him a signing bonus and it doesn't give him multiple years.

Sure, $7.2 mil is a nice salary, but it's still an unfair system. Take any position at any job - if you were forced to take a one-year contract for $30,000, $300,000, or $3,000,000 and your contemporaries were scoring three-year deals for $90,000, $900,000, or $9,000,000 should you have to "shut up and take it?" That's bull.

Lance Briggs isn't asking you to weep for him. He doesn't want your pity. He just wants his opportunity to cash in like every other player in the NFL who isn't slapped with this ridiculous franchise tag.

He should have that opportunity, no matter what the dollar amount.