Thursday, August 31, 2006
5 1/2 Truths About The 2006-2007 College Football Season
1. Don't buy the hype, the Big East is weak - Yes, I am aware that either West Virginia or Louisville could easily finish the season undefeated, but don't let that fool you. Are these teams fun to watch? Yes. Are their offenses bound to light up the scoreboards? Sure. But these teams are far too weak to make a case for the National Championship. Not strong enough defense and a watered down Big East will make these teams poised for a BCS bowl game, but will also call for a potential blow-out should they reach the BCS Championship.
2. There will be 3-4 undefeated teams at the season's end - BCS haters will have plenty to chew on in early December when the bowls are being sorted out. It is very likely that West Virginia. Louisville, Miami, FSU, Auburn, USC, Notre Dame, Texas and Ohio State ALL have strong cases to run the table. Granted, it's impossible for all of these teams to go undefeated as some of them play each other (see #3) but look for another BCS mess at the end of the season.
3. Notre Dame vs. USC will be the best game of the year, again - Saturday, November 25th @ 8:00 p.m. Mark your calendars. USC only has two tough games beforehand (Cal and Arkansas) and will likely be undefeated when they face off against the Irish. Notre Dame has one hell of a schedule, as they have to travel to Georgia Tech and Michigan while hosting Penn State in September alone. However, after those three games, it should be smooth sailing for the Irish. People may be overlooking USC since they lose some guys named Bush and Leinart, but USC will keep plugging in 5-star recruits and will keep contending for the National Championship. Notre Dame has it's same dominant offense, but it's their defense that will need to step up in this game. I predict USC edging out ND 38-35.
4. Brady Quinn will win the Heisman - Perfect system? Check. Marketable player? Check. Quarterback? Check. On national TV every week? Check. It's Quinn's Heisman to lose, and he won't. With Darius Walker adding some men to the box, look for the Quinn-Shark combo to rival some of the best duos in college football history. Quinn for Heisman, book it. By the way, the Packers (my pick to hold the #1 pick in next year's draft) will really regret their Aaron Rodgers draft. Quinn would look great in green and gold.
5. Patrick Willis will be the best rookie in the NFL next year - Who is this guy you might ask? This beast of a middle linebacker plays for Ole Miss (sadly) and may be the best player in college football. Last year as a junior, Willis was a 1st Team All-American, was a semi-finalist for the Bednarik award and had 120 tackles. Willis is already one of the top prospects in the '07 NFL Draft and I guarantee he follows in the footsteps as the other rookie LBs in recent history (Vilma, Tatupu). Keep your eyes open for this guy, he's gonna be special.
5 1/2. Auburn will beat Miami for the National Championship - I only gave this one a half of a truth because I am not 100% confident with this prediction. However, if "The U" gets past FSU, they don't have too many bumps in the road the rest of the way. If Auburn can withstand their brutal SEC schedule, they could easily be there as well. Don't write this one down yet, but this is my prediction for the National Championship game.
Bring on the football..
Thursday, August 17, 2006
My 2007 Red Sox
If I were Theo Epstein this offseason, this is the Sox squad that I would put on the field next season.
note: * = 'Untouchables,' the young guys who under NO circumstances should be traded in the off-season
1. Kevin Youkilis - 1B (Despite being unbearably slow, Youk's OBS is worthy of a lead-off spot. Plus, being serviceable at 1B helps too. Although the Sox could use more power from their corner infielders, Youks is too valuable to not start. Looks for Youks to be an everyday 3B come 2008 though.)
2. Mike Lowell - 3B (Fairly good hitter, excellent defender. Sox probably won't re-sign Loretta, so Lowell may be the only option to hit second in the order. Let's hope Lowell can have another strong year in '07.)
3. David Ortiz - DH (He's so good. In the past seven years, Papi has increased his HR's every season. Papi could easily hit 53-55 homers in '06, I'd call Cooperstown if he can increase on that number in '07.)
4. Manny Ramirez - LF (There are three guarantees in life. Death, taxes, and Manny Ramirez starting the season slow but then finishing with these types of numbers: .300+, 40+ HRs, 130+ RBIs.)
5. Wily Mo Pena - RF (Needs to fix two things: Get better defensively in the tough right field of Fenway, and learn to hit the outside breaking ball. Let's hope another season with Ron Jackson, Papi and Manny will finally turn Pena into the 40+ HR hitter he has been hyped to be.)
6. Jason Varitek - C (He may never again be the hitter he once was, but as long as he remains as the best game-caller in baseball, we can deal with his potential .270, 18-20 HRs, 70-75 RBI season.)
7. Dustin Pedroia* - 2B (2nd round pick in 2004 is ready for The Show. 23-year old prospect is a slick defensive player and is hitting .311 this season in AAA Pawtucket.)
8. Alex Gonzalez - SS (The Sox should sign Gonzo to a 1-year deal, like they did in '06, unless they can trade for Miguel Tejada for a reasonable price. Gonzo may not be the greatest hitter, but his defense is second to none. Unless there is a better, and less expensive, deal than Tejada, stick with the cheap Gonzo.)
9. Jacoby Ellsbury* - CF (My man runs like the wind blows. Two years ago, Ellsbury was the best player in college baseball. Now, he is tearing up the minors for the Sox. Coco Crisp is excellent trade bait to land a pitcher or bullpen arm, so it's time for the Sox to give Ellsbury a chance. I GUARANTEE he will not disappoint.)
1. Curt Schilling (Swan song for the big guy. Cooperstown is calling, but they'd love to have another 17-18 win season and a playoff berth to solidify his case. So would Red Sox Nation..)
2. Josh Beckett (I've had my problems with Beckett, and those may explode if he doesn't step it up this weekend against the Yanks. He is still young though, so hopefully he can return to form in '07 and live up to the potential.)
3. Jon Lester* (Great start to his potentially excellent career. Let's hope he can continue to pitch well. A 15-16 win season could potentially put the Sox into the playoffs, and is very likely.)
4. Matt Clement (If you can trade him, get rid of him. Sadly, his fat contract won't allow that. Just think of it this way, '07 is the last season we will see this bust in a Sox uniform.)
5. see below
Potential 5th Starters:
note: If the Sox acquired some of these pitchers, they certainly wouldn't be #5 pitchers, they'd be the ace or #2 pitchers at least
1. Barry Zito (Not a chance this free agent-to-be will be re-signed by the A's. Although he will be extremely expensive, the still young lefty is certainly worth the price. Playoff/big game experience, and what Fenway Faithful wouldn't love to see that filthy 12-6 curve in Boston?)
2. Mike Mussina (That's right, you heard me. The Yanks will probably not exercise his '07 option, although they still may resign him. Mussina already said he would only play for a contender that plays nearby his hometown in Western Pennsylvania, i.e. Yanks or Sox.)
3. Mark Redman (Former Marlin owns the Red Sox, and the lefty would probably come pretty cheap. Having Redman as your staff's #4 starter is nothing to frown about.)
4. Jason Schmidt (What do you think? Do you really want to spend 12+ million a year on a 33-year old NL pitcher? Granted, Schmidt dominates the NL, he isn't worth the price. Then again, the Sox will have money to spend, and improving the starting pitching isn't only their priority, it's their whole off-season plan.)
5. Roy Oswalt (Sick, filthy stuff, but would need to be acquired via trade. Oswalt wants out of Houston, but if I were the Sox, I'd wait until the '07 offseason, or even the '07 deadline to get Oswalt. He is worth the free agent money, but the Sox would have to trade one of The Untouchables to get him.)
6. In-house starter (Why spend the money or trade the prospects when you could use one them as your #5 starter. The Sox don't have any major league ready pitchers in the minors for at least another 2-3 years, but look out for these names to possibly take over the #5 spot or make some emergency spot starts: Lenny DiNardo, Abe Alvarez, Michael Bowden, David Pauly, Clay Buchholtz, Kris Johnson or Daniel Bard.)
7. Roger Clemens (Pardon my NY Lotto knock-off, but hey, you never know.)
MRP - Some overpriced veteran (No doubt Theo will make his annual bad bullpen signing. He'll sign a 38-year old NL set-up man for $2 million and he will suck in Boston. Write it down)
MRP - Some overpriced lefty (This may go as an underrated reason why Boston won't make the playoffs this year. Who is going to pitch to guys like Giambi, Thome or Abreu down the stretch?? Theo better address that next season..)
SU - Manny Delcarmen* (Boston native has been decent this year, but not great yet. One year more mature and better from this year though and I wouldn't mind seeing him pitching the 7th inning)
SU - Craig Hansen* (Young fireballer will be one of the best set up men in the league next year. Timlin is likely to retire, as he has already shown signs of dead-arm this season, so Hansen's effectiveness is essential to Boston's success. Hansen is still 2-3 years away from being a closer, but let's hope he follows in the path of K-Rod and Rivera in being a prime set-up man while 'training' to be a top-flight closer)
Closer - Jon Papelbon* (The Kid may not win the Rookie of the Year, Cy Young and especially MVP this season, but you can sure as hell make a case for all three with him this year. He has been lights out for the Sox. Papelbon is a natural closer, and if Boston is smart, they'll keep him in that role until Hansen is 110% ready to close. Zito-Beckett-Papelbon in the rotation in '09 sounds pretty damn good huh?)
So all in all, that is the team I would put forth every day. Granted, the Sox may make a splash with a big offseason deal or signing for a bat (Tejada, Carlos Lee, Ichiro, Soriano) but they most likely won't do anything too drastic offensively.
I sure hope that my 1,000 word piece basically writing this season off and looking forward to next year just reversed-jinxed them into showing up for the Yanks series. Let's hope, and I'm looking right at you Beckett..
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
My Plea To Josh Beckett
Two months ago, I was contemplating on whether to get a Papelbon t-shirt or a Beckett one. I mulled over my decision for a good two or three weeks (about 13 or 20 days too much) and finally made up my mind...wisely going with The Boy Wonder, Jon Papelbon. And man am I happy with my purchase. Had I have gotten Beckett's, I would have come very close to having a three-days worth supply of navy blue toilet paper in my downstairs bathroom.
Josh Beckett, you have one more chance with me..
Does Beckett have any idea who am I am? No. Would he even give a shit about me if I somehow got to meet him? Probably not. But as an active member of Red Sox Nation and a blindly optimistic Red Sox fan, he better give a damn about letting this season slip away.
I recall seeing ESPN's 'Bottom Line' running the "BREAKING NEWS: Red Sox acquire P Josh Beckett from Marlins" and nearly jumping out of my seat. I mean, this was the guy who dominated the Yanks in the '03 World Series, in Yankee Stadium mind you. This was the #2 pick overall a few years back. This was the guy who had dominated the NL for years with his 98 mph fastball and knee-buckling change up.
This was our guy..
Beckett started the year 3-0 with a 1.29 ERA. I was already on MLB.com pre-ordering my "Red Sox 2006 World Series Champions" t-shirt. It was our year, again. Matched up with a healthy Schilling, we had the 1-2 punch we had in '04 with Pedro and Schilling. This was our year, again. Two titles in three years? Are you kidding me?? I couldn't wait. In late-April I was already researching bottles of champagne to pop in mid-October when Papelbon shuts the door in a 5-game win over the Mets.
Man it was gonna be sweet..
I was in Yankee Stadium when Beckett beat the Yankees on May 9th. 7 IP, 3 ER, 7 Ks. Tough to ask anything more from a Boston pitcher when he heads to the Bronx. Then, less than a month later, 6/5, I was ready for more magic from Beckett. As I sat down on my couch, typically sporting a Sox shirt for the big game, I imaged Beckett beating the Yankees again. I remembered the '03 series. I remembered the game a month before where I witnessed Hideki Matsui go down for the year AND Josh Beckett deflate any hope of the Yankee fans. Now, I had the best seat in the house (my Dad's couch) and primed for it again.
1.1 IP, 7 ER, 1 K..
(To put it in Lehmen's terms, Beckett had his lunch handed to him.)
It was almost as if Beckett was throwing BP to the Bronx Bombers. It was awful. My faith in Beckett unraveled right in front of my very eyes as I saw him smirk as he finally got taken out of the game.
Some might say that injuries to the starting pitching are the reason why the Sox are out of the playoffs as of now, and have some major work to do if they want to claim a spot. Well I don't buy that. I place the blame directly on the big right arm of Josh Beckett. Manny and Ortiz could arguably finish 1st and 2nd in the MVP voting, while Papelbon and Schill could each be in the top-5 of the Cy Young voting. I know Boomer and Wake have missed time (and don't get me going on Clement) but the state of the Sox rides on Josh Beckett.
When we acquired him, we expected two aces. We expected two 20-game winners. We expected two sub-3.50 ERA guys. We expected a World Series ring. Well, we got one of those. And then we got another guy who we traded away some uber-prospects for, who has one of the best arms in the league, who can blow a hitter away, but hasn't put it together yet.
And he's running out of time with me..
I'm giving Beckett a pass as of yet. At least he's stayed healthy. That's fine, good for him. But he has one more chance with me if he wants to salvage my confidence, but more importantly, the Red Sox season. We can't go anywhere without him, and this weekend is his last chance.
Sports pundits everywhere have deemed this weekend's five game Yanks-Sox series in Fenway "Armageddon." And they're right. If the Yanks come into our house and kick us around, the AL East race is over. As of now, they hold a 2 game lead. By the time the series starts, it could easily be up to 4. If the Sox take 3 of 5 (at least), well, the race for the AL East crown is just getting started. And what game will all eyes, especially mine, be on??
Saturday, August 19th. 1:20 p.m. Beckett vs. Johnson
This is Beckett's final chance to salvage his season with the Red Sox. Biggest series of the season. National TV. Biggest rivalry in baseball. A chance to bounce back.
This is it. You have one more chance, or the Red Sox are done..
Thursday, August 03, 2006
Playoff Predictions: NL
NFL Previews coming soon, and those I'll actually do.
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
My Letter To 'The Sports Guy'
I love your columns, read them a lot, and as a Red Sox fan, I love any articles about the Sox that you do. I just got done reading your comparision between Bird and Papi, and I have to say that I disagree with you through and through.
Now, I am a huge Sox fan, and also (and sadly) a Knicks fan. So I obviously love Papi, and have no real feelings towards Bird. However, I'm sure that if Bird was black, he wouldn't be considered a top 5 player (pardon my Scoop Jackson. I don't want to start playing the race card, but that's just how I feel). Anyway, I think that Papi is on a level higher than any athlete I've ever seen, especially Bird.
Your stats said it best, that in the past 1 1/2 seasons, Papi has "converted" on 14 of his 15 game ending chances. And that doesn't include his '04 post-season, in which numbers and words can not merit that performance. Now, I know he had 4 or 5 walks in that, but that's still a success. Let's look at that again. 14 of 15...
The reason I say that is because baseball players have a 35% chance of getting on base (the good ones) every time they come to the plate. Now, consider Papi does his damage against top-flight pitchers, given that they are closers, let's lower that chance to 25%. Now I am no math guru, but converting 14 of 15 chances is a 93% sucess rate. I mean, that is simply out of this world. If you even take away his walks, it's STILL 66% chance that he will end the game on a hit. Now, compare that 93% success rate to the average of 25%...and my god you know he's clutch.
As for Bird, the average basketball player has a 50% chance of making a shot. I have no clue what Bird's stats are when he takes a shot with the game on the line, but if they were higher than 70% I'd be astonished. And I know you may say that it's not all about the shot, but it is. You put the ball in the hoop to score points, and scoring points wins games...it's as simple as that. So by Bird making 70% of his game-winning shots (which may be a generous number) compared to the league average of 50%, you can't possibly say he is more clutch than Papi?!
Now, I hated to bust out the formulas and percentages, but as an avid reader of your column, I just had to respond. I respectfully disagree with your opinion on this case, even though I know you LOVE Bird, but Papi has basically reinvented clutch.
I mean, 14 of 15, come on that's unreal. That sounds like A-Rod's numbers in a mid-April, mid-week series against the Devil Rays (zing....)
Hope you get a chance to read this, thanks for your time.
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
Playoff Predictions: AL
AL West: A's
The AL West will be a very, very tight race all the way to the wire. Fittingly, the A's will host the Angels in a 4-game set to wrap up the season in the last weekend of the '06 campaign. Not to overstate the obvious, but look for both teams to be within 1 game of each other going into the weekend, with the A's coming out on top.
The Mariners will soon fall out of contention, and the Rangers may not be far behind. Granted the Rangers added Carlos Lee to their already powerful offense, but their pitching is still awful, and as the season winds down and the late-September games feel like mid-October ones, pitching rules all. The Rangers certainly made their line-up much more dangerous, but their starting rotation is not quite good enough. Kip Wells was just brought in as their savior. Do I even need to make a joke?
So now it's down to the A's and the Angels. Before the first pitch was even thrown, I predicted the Oakland A's to win the World Series. I may be a little off, due to the fact that I thought their line-up wouldn't be this bad, but the A's can ride their filthy starting rotation all the way to the playoffs. Plus, the A's haven't even been at full-strength yet this season, as stud pitcher Rich Harden has barely thrown yet. When Harden comes back, the 1-2-3 combo of Zito, Haren and Harden will show shades of the mid-90s Braves.
Mark your calendars though: September 28-October 1st. Angels @ A's to wrap-up the season.
AL Central: Tigers
Ok, it's August 1st, the Tigers can come back down to earth already and fall out of contention. These are the Detroit Tigers right? The team that was a punchline only three short years ago? But they're 7 1/2 up on the "Best Team In Baseba;;" Chicago White Sox. These guys? Fuckin' right they are.
Pardon the rant I am about to go on, but the Tigers aren't going away, and why should they? They have top-flight starting pitching, a young and powerful bullpen, and a stellar line-up. So why should they go away? It's August and they're 7 1/2 games up, what would possibly lead people to believe they will fade? Their starting pitching is young (besides Kenny Rogers) so an injury is unlikely. It's time for people to stop hyping the White Sox, and start believing in the Tigers.
AL East: Yankees
My favorite division is about to be won by my least favorite team. I love the Red Sox. I hate the Yankees. Unfortunatly, I know what's about to happen. The adding of Bobby Abreu makes the Yanks line-up that much better. Abreu is no Sheff (who now won't be back until mid-September, if at all) but Melky/Bernie/Guile are no Abreu. People keep saying Corey Lidle is the answer for the Yanks. Ok, give me a break. However, with Mussina and Wang throwing well, Randy Johnson having two of three starts being quality starts, and Jared Wright and Lidle staying healthy, the Yanks will be just fine.
I know the Sox are clearly not done yet, and really won't go away anytime soon, but their pitching is awful. Clement is gone for the year, Boomer isn't read yet, and Wakefield is still a month away. Beckett/Schill/Lester have been excellent, but the Sox would need a little more for their division title push.
AL Wild Card: Red Sox
As I just stated, the Red Sox mediocre pitching will soon catch up to them, but not enough to completely drop them out of the playoffs. I do think there is a strong possibilty the Yanks win the WC and the Sox win the division, it will be tough for the Sox. They need Wake and Boomer to both pitch well, or else it's almost an automatic loss every time those two take the mound. The Yanks and Sox still face each other 9 more times this season, including a huge 5-game set in Fenway Park starting Friday, August 18th. That series right there could sway the division one way or the other, and stay that way until the playoffs start.
The White Sox have been called "The Best Team In Baseball" all year long, but now people are starting to realize that they are complete idiots for saying so. Aside of Contreras, the ChiSox rotation has been horrible recently. And the Baseball Tonight "experts" have all been saying that starting pitching is their strength, but it now clear to everyone that the ChiSox rotation all had career year's last season, and that the magic is running out. The ChiSox will make it close, but will fall in the end.
The Twins are this season's sexy pick to make a late-season run and win the WC, but it may be too late. The Twins are only 1 game out of the WC, but they have been playing out of their minds this past month, which is something that may not go on for the rest of the season. They still need to travel to Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park, in games that will pose to be huge. Should the Twins make the playoffs though, their 1-2 punch of Santana and Liriano will be tough to beat, and that may be the understatement of the year.
Coming tomorrow: NL Playoff Predictions
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
Team USA Basketball Will Be Back On Top
Coach K and company made their "final" roster cut, shaving the roster down to 15. Now Coach K can only dress 12 players for the games later this summer, so Shane Battier, Brad Miller and Antawn Jamison better not get too comfortable. And that's not a knock on any of those players (well except Brad Miller, I guess Jeff Foster and Austin Croshere were each not available to try out) but those three players didn't have a chance.
Team USA is looking to rebound after 4-6 years of embarrassing international basketball. And pardon the cliche, but this team is fit to do it. Here's a look at the projected starting line-up:
G - Chris Paul
G - Dwayne Wade
G - LeBron James
F - Dwight Howard
F - Amare Stoudemire*
* = if Amare isn't healthy, Chris Bosh or Elton Brand fill in just fine.
Looking at that list of projected starters, the first thing that jumps out is that there is nobody over the age of 25. That isn't just showing that the NBA is changing and that the young guys have taken over, it shows that Team USA is about to use their athletic ability to their advantage.
There is no team in the world that can run with the athletes that Team USA has, that's for sure. Coach K isn't exactly known for a "Run n' Gun" style, but he also isn't known for being a bad coach. Coach K is a good enough coach to know where his team strength is, and he will likely exploit that against the less-athletic teams.
However, USA has also upgraded it's outside shooting and defense, something that plagued them heavily in years past. Gilbert Arenas (who could start), Joe Johnson and Bruce Bowen are all excellent outside shooters. Also, Bowen is the best defensive player in the league behind Artest (he covered a 7'0 Dirk pretty well despite being 5 inches shorter) and Arenas is also an excellent perimeter defender. And although they both will likely not be starting, with the fresh legs and deep bench that USA has, they will certainly get plenty of playing time.
In all, Team USA is fittingly built more like a college team than a pro team. They of course have their stars (LeBron, Wade) but they also have role players and specialists to fill the holes from the past years (Bowen, Hinrich, Arenas).
The addition of these role players, the younger, more fresh legs of the squad, and the more complete team play should lead Team USA back where they belong...right on top.