Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Notes from the start of the offseason

It's obvious that Scott Boras has at least one fish on the hook, otherwise he never would have done the high-profile opt-out on Alex Rodriguez' contract. That being said, the real intrigue here is over who leaked the story during Game 4 of the World Series, and why. John Heyman over at SI.com was the first to report it, but the question of who got him the info remains open, and interesting. The leak certainly hasn't helped Rodriguez' bargaining position any, and the fan backlash against Boras may make it easier for GMs to hold the line on Boras clients.

Speaking of the A-Rod debacle, can anyone else remember seeing Peter Gammons so visibly furious on-camera? That being said, why Der Commish took a swipe at "statheads in their garages" during his post-World Series rant over Dustin Pedroia remains a mystery. Correct me if I'm wrong, but the Red Sox remain one of the most analytic-friendly organizations in baseball (four words: Bill James, on payroll), and durn near every "stathead" I know loves Pedroia precisely because he produces instead of just looking good in a uniform. (See: Braggs, Glenn). One explanation - Boras is fond of doing all sorts of dubious statistical projections to prove his clients are going to be twelve stories tall and made of radiation over the life of their exorbitant contracts. Then again, if more teams were analysis-friendly, they'd be able to call bullshit.

Renteria to the Tigers. The big win in this one, of course, is anyone who gets to listen to the Braves' announcers trying to pronounce the names of the players the Braves got back - Jair Jurrjens and Gorkys Hernandez. Both are young players with lots of upside, but Renteria is still an All-Star caliber shortstop, and the Tigers had strength at precisely the positions (young pitching, outfield) to allow them to deal. The real question will be how Carlos Guillen's production stacks up at first base, now that Tigers have moved him across the diamond to protect his health.

Joe Girardi is an interesting choice to manage the Yankees. While he was Manager of the Year in the NL for his job on the 2006 Marlins, let it not be forgotten that A)he fought against keeping some of the players who overperformed on the roster out of spring training and B)pretty much every young pitcher he touched blew a gasket this year. That can't make Joba Chamberlain, Philip Hughes, et alia feel good.

Torre to the Dodgers is also interesting, in large part because he'd be stepping into a situation where he'd have a GM who prefers vets to kids and a farm system full of kids ready to contribute (not to mention better than the vets on the roster). What this really does, however, is let the Dodgers grab at least some of the headlines this off-season, even if the Angels do nab A-Rod. For all of the "If Torre goes to LA, then A-Rod will follow" speculation, let's not forget that the two of them weren't exactly inseparable in the Bronx. It was Cap'n Jetes whom Torre let sit in Santa's lap all the time, not "the third baseman".

At this point, all things Steinbrenner are just sad.

Grady Little - zapped at the last minute by the Yankees, again.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Our First Guest Post!

(My lovely wife, a razor-sharp college football fan in her own right, herewith holds forth with her perspective of The Season So Far. One of the many many reasons I'm lucky enough to be married to her, of course...)

A couple of Virginia Tech fans in my office were upset yesterday about their 14-10 loss to
Boston College. As I walked in they looked at me and screamed "Don't say a word; you are only a BC fan because you married into it." And while that might be true, I got to live through the hell of a bad season last year that on paper sounded better than it was with a 10-3 record. The coach last year, Tom O'Brien, was about as inventive as a worker ant. He gave away a win to NC State playing a very poor version of prevent defense. This year, with many of the same players, Coach Jags is undefeated and his previously unknown quarterback will at least be invited to the Heisman ceremonies at the end of the season.

Back to the VT fans: they were claiming that BC was overrated because they did not play consistent football the whole game, and they don't deserve that #2 ranking because VT supposedly "gave" BC that win. (Ed. note -- Hubby says thanks.) They also claim that BC wouldn't be ranked #2 if everyone else was consistent, and that now BC belongs in that crowd. But the difference is BC only played inconsistently for about 56 minutes, and then who they are came out with a vengeance and VT showed their typical weaknesses.

Everyone who watches SportsCenter or reads the internet knows this has been a crazy college football season. There is more parity in college football this year than there has ever been, and unfortunately the SEC, to its detriment, is beating itself up better than usual this year. While always being the best football conference in the country, t
he SEC is even better than usual. Kentucky and South Carolina are no longer gimme games and are actually at the top of their divisions. Hell, even Vanderbilt is beating people, and that never happens.

It is difficult to make a National Championship run when you are playing National Championship-caliber teams eight times a season. Because the fact is that if Ohio State or Boston College actually had to play in the SEC they wouldn't have winning records. So yes, my dear Hokie fans, BC is overrated, but that's only because no one will vote the 12 teams of the SEC 1-12 in the rankings. LSU cleaned VT's clock in September, and everyone says LSU doesn't look as good now as it did then -- maybe that is because they have been playing other good SEC teams for the last 4 weeks who most likely would kick VT's ass right back to Blacksburg.

Ohio State is no better. They know what it is like to get their asses handed to them by the likes of the SEC after losing their locked up National Championship to the underrated Florida Gators. I am quite sure they would prefer not to visit there again. The rest of the Big Ten is a joke; the PAC 10 has offense but no defense; and USC, the most overrated team in history, lost to Stanford (you know, the folks with a tree for a mascot). The Big 12 has a couple of decent teams, but they are big and slow and would not match up to the speed of the SEC. Everyone else would like to be able to play this game, but trust me, you really don't. No matter what their ranking, this year, don't mess with the SEC, because they will end up playing you in which ever second-tier auto-part bowl they get resigned to -- since they can't all go to BCS bowls but they travel well -- and they will win, and you will be shaking your heads in resignation.

I generally don't care about who plays for who and who had the better recruiting class; what I do care about is that those who show up, play. And this year, on any given Saturday a lot of young men are showing up, and proving to the world that any team can have what it takes to win. Thursday night, Boston College showed that to Virginia Tech, and on Saturday it will happen approximately 50 times around the country, and win or lose, it is a hell of a lot of fun to watch.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Hey, At Least VT Can Close the Deal in SOME Water Sports...

I mean, they really stuck it out to the end, there. It was in the bag from the get-go. Just look at the...the confidence in the post-game quotes:

"To come to a new body of water, find the fish and actually win it — it's just an awesome feeling," said Thompson, a junior is majoring in building construction. "We just won a national championship. It's just something I never thought I'd have a chance to do."

So earnest congrats to the Hokies. I mean, when it's that wet out, you really got to admire those teams that step up. Like the saying goes, Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day.

But teach a man to fish, him to fish, and...he wins some nondescript trophy that, I'm sure, more than makes up for, erm, deficiencies in other areas.

The secondary, for instance.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

We Would Like to...erm...Thank the Good People and...uh...Student-Athletes of the (Seriously?) State University of New Jersey...

...for their valiant and successful efforts this past Thursday. To wit, this:


(2) South Florida 10 7 3 7 27 Final

Rutgers 3 10 14 3 30

has led to this:

The top five teams in The Associated Press poll:


So all you Eagle fans do the right thing and hug a New Jersey-ite this week. (Unless we lose to Virginia Tech. Then feel free to punch them in their damn face.)

Friday, October 19, 2007

Say It Ain't So, Joe

Once upon a time, teams were heartily discouraged from making managerial and front office moves during the playoffs, under the theory that MLB didn't want anything distracting anyone from, you know, the baseball.

These days, not so much. Part of that is the fact that the playoffs now stretch longer than track 2 on your average ELP record, part of it is that no one seems to care. And so we have our Jockettys and our Stonemans and our God knows what else, and in the middle of it, all the speculation over Steinbrenner and Joe.

Well, not any more. Torre sensibly turned down, if turning down a job that pays $5.0M/year and does not involve shoving condoms stuffed with heroin into various bodily bits can be called sensible, the Yankees' one year offer. Now everyone's happy. Joe can walk without looking like he's cutting and running, the Steinbrennerlings can say "Hey, we tried" and promote their fair-haired boy Donnie Baseball, and the Red Sox can breathe easy knowing that whoever comes in will probably be worse than Torre was.

That Didn't Last Long

Rutgers 30, USF 27.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Colorado Rockies, National League Champions

It's a truism that the team that's the best on the first day of the season often isn't the best on the last day. The Rockies are a case in point; saddled with utterly dreadful pitching through much of the season, they jettisoned the deadweight in the nick of time and brought up the kids. And damned if those kids can't throw lights out - anywhere else and they'd be talking about Ubaldo Jiminez in the same sentence with guys like Philip Hughes and Homer Bailey.

They've gotten this far with great fielding, with luck, with timely hitting, and with a bench that runs deep in guys who can actually get the bat on the ball. The Rox' end of bench guys are at least league average-type hitters with some pop, as opposed to the Abraham Nunezes of the world who populated the pine for their playoff opponents.

But most of all, they're getting it done with pitching. The numbers for their bullpen are absolutely sick. I don't much care that six of the seven guys down there are former/current "closers"; what does matter is that they're all hard throwers who go after hitters and pound it down in the zone, to minimize home run damage. Game after game, it's been the same story. The Rockies score a run or two and the other team's batters start swinging for the fences, trying to hit five-run homers in every at-bat. The end result, of course, is a lot of strikeouts and weak popups. Check Arizona's numbers with RISP if you don't believe me.

Right now, the Rockies are by far the best team in the National League. They hit, they field, and they pitch. And even last year, who'd have thought you could say that about Colorado?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Ladies and Gentlemen, Your #2 Boston College Eagles

27-14, and really, it should have been a lot worse. What are the odds Coach J institutes pass-catching drills for the defense this weekend after more botched interceptions than the Syrian border patrol.

And with Cal and LSU losing, the only worry is USF leapfrogging BC after an impressive thumping of Central Florida.

Things are getting verrrry interesting.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Yankees blah blah blah

Blah blah blah Torre gone deserved better blah blah blah not actually fired his contract just ran out blah blah blah Steinbrenner wanted to fire but Cashman talked him out of it blah blah blah blah blah A-Rod choked never mind the actual numbers blah blah blah blah never mind Jeter's double plays blah blah blah A-Rod homer didn't count blah blah blah Old Yankees go bye-bye except the ones who won't blah blah blah.

And I think that sums up most of the writing on the Yankees' exit from the playoffs.

For my part, I'm impressed that Eric Wedge's gamble paid off, the only time a manager juggling his rotation for the next round/game actually paid off in the entire Division Series hootennany. Paul Byrd may in fact have pitched like his hair was on fire, and may have been one solid single from giving up about eighteen runs, but the fact is the Yankees never got that single, and he rope-a-doped his way through that lineup just long enough to turn it over to the bullpen.

As for Rodriguez, he had a decent series when nothing less than superhuman would have satisfied his critics. He actually outperformed most of his lineup-mates, but dogpiling on Hideki Matsui doesn't quite have the same ring as another "choker" column. The facts, well, they're inconvenient.

The real issue, as has been noted elsewhere, is that the Indians used Chien-Ming Wang as their personal speed bag, and once again Roger Clemens came up mysteriously lame in a big game once his team had fallen behind. No team, be it the Yankees, the Phillies, Babe Ruth's barnstorming squad or the Justice League's intramural softball team, is going to be able to overcome getting a shiv in the kidney from their starter in three out of four games.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Colorado Advances

In the end, it wasn't the pitching. Jamie Moyer threw the game of his life last night, battling Coors Field, an inconsistent strike zone and a red-hot Rockies lineup and only allowed one run.

No, the problem was the Phillies' bats. Overeager, they jumped on too many first pitches, rolled over too many weak grounders to second base, and gave away too many opportunities. Pat Burrell's at-bat in the top of the sixth is, in my mind, what sealed their fate. For a moment, the Phillies had looked like the Phillies. With one out, Jimmy Rollins worked a walk. He stole second, unhinging rookie pitcher Ubaldo Jiminez, who then gave the struggling Chase Utley a free pass as well. At a moment like this, when a kid pitcher is losing his control and his composure, the time-tested approach is to force him to get you out, to lay back and wait to see if he can throw strikes, and if he can't, to wait on the meatball coming down the pike once he digs himself into a whole.

Burrell swung at the first pitch and popped out. The next batter, Ryan Howard, tapped weakly to second. Rally over, season over. Everything else was anticlimax.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Manny Being Manny


Maybe all that time to heal up his oblique was a good idea after all.

Kudos, incidentally, to Eduardo Perez on Baseball Tonight, for pointing out how rigorously Manny works on his hitting and how he attacks every at-bat with a plan. Manny may or may not be a world-class eccentric, but the notion that he's some sort of hitting savant who just magically, effortlessly knows how to do this is borderline insulting. The man works hard at his craft, and deserves respect for it.

And the sheer exuberant joy on his face as he headed for home? That's the best reason in the world to watch this stuff.

Friday, October 05, 2007

A Legend Is Born

And his name is Fausto Carmona. Tonight was Carmona's "here I am" moment, an utterly dominating 9-inning performance against a stacked Yankee lineup in the middle of what looked like Biblical plague #11. While his teammates were flailing away against Andy Pettite, Carmona was a groundball machine. 19 groundouts out of 27 - add that to his 5 strikeouts and the 2 double plays he got and all of a sudden that's 26 out of 27 outs either on the down low or just plain missing bats. That's domination.
Don't forget that the last two outs he got were strikeouts. He made Derek Jeter look absolutely silly, then after his defense let him down on Bobby Abreu's grounder to short, he went to work on Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod, to his credit, had a magnificent at-bat. He went down, guns blazing, against one of the best pitchers in baseball on a night when he had simply filthy stuff.
(Not that this will matter to the New York media, who will conveniently ignore Jeter's flailing swings to concentrate that A-Rod failed in the clutch. But that's a given.)

Meantime, heralded Yankees rookie looked like he might be following another post-season path: Rick Ankiel's. After a dominating seventh, he had the wheels come off in the 8th. Hit batsmen. Wild pitches. A visible loss of composure on the mound, and almost heartwrenching shots of him standing there, bugs crawling all over him as he visibly tried to pull himself together before throwing another one in the dirt.

All in all, it was a magnificent game, and absolutely riveting. Or, to put it another way, when Grady Sizemore sprinted home to tie the game, my wife the extremely casual baseball fan, noticed. When Jeter struck out, she put down her knitting and watched. And when Pronk ended it in the 11th, she cheered with me.

Now that's a game.

Sorry, Uncle Charlie

Charlie Manuel has done a lot of things right this season as manager of the Phillies. He's kept the team's head in it when it looked like they were drowning early. He came up with a way to turn a glut of below-average third basemen into a useful platoon. At no point did he throw a snowball at Santa Claus. Stuff like that.

But the one place his tactical acumen always failed him, and the main reason that serious Phillies bloggers always referred to him as Charlie "Needs A" Manuel, was his handling of the bullpen. Now, to be fair, Pat Gillick hasn't exactly given Manuel the Magnificent Seven out there, choosing instead to pick up every aged reliever who once saved an important game involving the Florida Marlins. There's El Pulpo Alfonseca, who can best be described as the second coming of Joe Table. There's Jose Mesa himself, so old that I saw a CGI version of him attacking a brontosaurus in the latest installment of Walking With Dinosaurs. There's Geary and Madson, both worked to death by Charlie in best pseudo-Yankee tradition. There's Clay Condrey, a reliever so bad his name literally is mud. You get the idea.

But none of that excuses going to Kyle Lohse as a reliever with the bases loaded, when he's basically never pitched as a reliever before. And none of that excuses pinch-hitting for him immediately thereafter, negating the innings-munching effect of using a starter as a reliever, and forcing a guy like Jose Mesa into the game. What's worse, burning Lohse for minimal work means that the Phils are forced to rely on aged soft-tosser Jamie Moyer, a guy who lives and dies by his breaking stuff, in an elimination game at Coors Field.


Monday, October 01, 2007

I'm Betting You Didn't Even Clap Your Hands to Save Tinkerbell When the Germans Bombed Pearl Harbor, Did You?

...DID YOU?!
(Oh, and Bergmann, J., of the 3-3-3-3-1-2-good-enough-for-government-work line, is ready for his "You're welcome" any day now.)

NASCAR Does It Again

So let me get this straight. The guy who crossed the line first didn't win the race. Race winners are regularly checked after the race to see if they cheated (that's what "car failed post-game examination" means, folks) and if they did, they're docked points. No forfeits, no "hey, you cheated, so we probably shouldn't call you a winner," no nothing. Oh, and the rules change over the course of the season as the mysterious "Car of Tomorrow" and road tracks make their appearances.

(The fact that these "stock cars" are not in fact stock, well, we won't get into that.)

But in the end, you'd think there was one inviolable rule - the guy who crosses the finish line first wins. This week in Kansas? Not so much.

Why the Phillies, Why Not the Mets

In the end, the same thing won the NL East for the Phillies that doomed the Mets: pitching. The back end of the Phillies' bullpen - Tom Gordon, JC Romero, and Brett Myers - came together at the right time, shutting down opponents and taking the ball night after night. Meanwhile, the starters were better than expected (Kyle Lohse, Kyle Kendrick) or at least not utterly catastrophic (Jamie Moyer, Adam Eaton), and the Phillies' bats kept on doing what they'd been doing all year - beating the living hell out of anything baseball-shaped. Whatever you think of the merits of Jimmy Rollins' MVP campaign, it's clear that he set the tone for this team, one that didn't give up even when they were couldn't get over .500, were friccaseed with injuries, or seven back with a mere seventeen to play. They did what they had been doing all year, with the addition of a shutdown pen, and in the end, that was good enough.

The Mets, on the other hand, can blame this one squarely on their pitching. Given a season-closing stretch of the soft underbelly of the National League, they instead found new and exciting ways to give games away. The culprit? Once again, pitching, though with an assist from a defense that suddenly went AWOL. Not to put too fine a point on it, but if 19 runs over 3 games doesn't buy you at least one win against the soft-swinging Nationals, something's wrong. And in this case, the something was the pitching. An old and fragile rotation that wore down by the end of the year, a bullpen that never jelled, and the late-season disappearance of All-Star blame dodger Billy Wagner all contributed to the Mets' pitching just not being good enough to win major league ballgames. Don't blame the bats for this one; for the most part, the hitters did their jobs. The pitchers just didn't bail them out.

Incidentally, one wonders when the blame for this will start settling on Wagner's shoulders. For years, he's been cruising on an undeserved reputation as a stand-up guy that seems mostly predicated on throwing his teammates under the bus to distract from his failures. It was his meltdowns against the Astros that cost the Phillies a playoff spot in 2005, after all, not the Pat Burrells of the world that he started blaming from a safe distance of 90 miles up I-95. Now he's got a hatchet job on his pitching coach and manager the day of the biggest game of the year to explain, not to mention his mysterious disappearances when the Mets first started to slide. Then there's the 9.00 ERA over the last seven games of the season. Small sample size, I know, but isn't that precisely when "proven standup guys" are supposed to excel?

In the end, blame for this one will no doubt be assigned to Willie Randolph's "poor managing and motivation" of the team, to Jose Reyes' disappearance in September, and to the mysterious power of the choke. That's the story that history will no doubt remember. For my part, however, I'd prefer to remember that the Phillies finally put it all together, right as the Mets' pitching fell apart.