Wednesday, May 21, 2008

MLB Power Poll

Sorry it took me extra time to get this up, but it's hard to post without a computer. My Mac f'ed up awhile back and I really only have computer access at work. Hopefully I'll have a new comp by next week. Since nobody cares, I'll plunder into this week's poll. A couple new teams join the ranks including a big newcomer jump. The biggest change though is that we have a new number one for the first time in the history of the poll.

1.) Boston Red Sox (31-19)- Say hello to the new big team on campus. The Red Sox have been absolutely en fuego over the last week. They haven't lost since my last post en route to a 7 game winning streak. Anyone trying to come in and win at Fenway? Fuggedaboutit! The Sawx have the best home record in the league (20-5) and are really starting to get into a groove. In fact, they haven't lost in Boston since May 1 against Toronto. Their offense leads the AL in every relevent category except SB (they're #2 in steals). Their pitching has been unstoppable led by Dice-K who is 8-0 and has dropped his ERA 2 points since last year (4.40 to 2.40). The Red Sox also get brownie points for Jon Lester's no-hitter on Monday. How can you not be happy for this guy after he beat cancer to get to this point. No one deserves it more.

2.) Arizona Diamondbacks (28-19)- The D-backs fall off the top spot after enduring a sweep at the hands of the Florida Marlins. This team is still very close to taking back the number 1 seed as they won 5 of 6 before the sweep. Still, Arizona's pitching has looked human lately after their one-two punch of Brandon Webb and Dan Haren both took L's this week. Webb fell short of becoming the first pitcher since World War II to win his first 10 games of the year, thus silencing analysts that thought he could win 25 games this year. I see him definitely notching 20, but 25 is a little extreme (only 2 other pitchers have done it in the history of the league). The Diamondbacks rotation is still in the top 4 in all of the relevent pitching categories in the NL.

3.) Chicago Cubs (28-19)- Don't look now, but the Cubbies are tied with the D-backs for the second best record in the NL. Credit Lou Piniella for keeping Chicago consistent this year. They're always close in every ballgame, even the ones they drop. They haven't lost a game by more than 2 runs since May 9. The entire offense has chipped in this year giving opposing pitchers no rest during any part of the line-up. After a rough start, Kerry Wood has settled into the closing role quite nicely. He hasn't blown a save since May 1, and since then he has 6 successful save conversions. Props to Geovonny Soto who finally gives the Cubs an offensive weapon at the catcher position. He currently leads the team in RBI and OPS.

4.) Chicago White Sox (26-20)- The Windy City goes back-to-back in this poll thanks to the scorching play of the White Sox. The South Siders are on an 8 game winning streak and currently have the biggest division lead of anyone in baseball (3.5 game lead). While the Indians and Tigers were supposed to dominate the AL Central, but it's the White Sox that have risen to the top while Cleveland and Detroit wallow in the bottom half of the division mired in losing records. In fact, the Indians just got swept by Chicago this week. Javier Vazquez has finally gotten some run support and is tied for the league lead in K's at 65. Say hello to Carlos Quentin. A forgotten addition in the off-season from Arizona is raking in Chicago. He leads the team in HR, RBI, Runs, and OPS.

5.) Florida Marlins (27-19)- Welcome back Marlins. It's good to see a team that most pundits thought would finish in the cellar of the NL East with the division lead this late into the season. The only reason the fish don't lead by more is because the other division contenders keep winning too. They just swept the D-backs for the first time in 5 years thanks to Andrew Miller who pitched 7 innings of shut out ball with 9 K's (he leads the team in Strikeouts). Watch out for Dan Uggla. He may have a funny name, but there's nothing funny about his game. He's always had pop (team leading 14 HR and 32 RBI), but his average used to lag way behind like a mini Richie Sexson. Howeverrrr, he pacing Florida right now with a .315 BA. Go Figure.

6.) Tampa Bay Rays (27-20)- Next up is another Sunshine State team with a miniscule payroll. Tampa stays afloat at the 6 slot, by playing just above .500 ball on the week (4-3). At 11-12 on the road, they actually have the best road record of any AL East team. Since coming off the DL, Scott Kazmir has been straight up filthy. In four starts this year, he's only given up 4 ER (and 3 of those were in his first game). Along with James Shields, Scotty will be a menace to AL society all year long if he can stay healthy.

7.) LA Angels (28-21)- It's tough to bump the Angels down this far, but the teams above them have just been a little better. The Halos have to be happy about getting John Lackey back. An already intimidating pitching staff is now downright nasty. The flame thrower gave up just one run in each of his two starts off the DL. It's tough to say who's better right now between Lackey and Kazmir. Either way, they're both extremely swole. Back to the Angels pitching where Francisco Rodriguez quietly leads baseball in saves at 19. Add that to 7 game winner Ervin Santana and 6 game winner Joe Saunders (not to mention a young and sweezy Jared Weaver) and this pitching staff is clearly among the cream of the crop in all of the MLB.

8.) St. Louis Cardinals (28-21)- This is another team that could probably be moved up in the poll, but this week the red birds are #8. St. Louis is just 5-5 in their last 10 and have looked mediocre lately against a relatively tame schedule (Pittsburgh, Tampa, and San Diego). Their pitching has really done them in especially the bullpen which saw Jason Isringhausen drop out of consideration for the closer role. On the positive side, Pujols continues to be just as dominant as ever. In the win over the Padres on Wednesday, he took out San Diego's Pitcher (Chris Young) and Catcher (Josh Bard) in the same inning. The moral of the story is, don't fuck with Phat Albert. Let's give some praise to an unsung hero on the Cardinals. Ryan Ludwick has been tearing the cover off the ball this year and has really filled the void for St. Louis in Right Field. He's currently the team leader in HR, RBI, and OPS.

9.) Atlanta Braves (26-21)-
The Braves are on a 5 game win streak right now and are making a strong push to move right up the Power Poll. Everyone always knew they had the talent, but until recently, they hadn't played up to it. Sure, Chipper Jones has been doing nothing but bashing, but Mark Texeira had been a little sluggish. Well not anymore. Sexy Texy has been showing bitches who's boss lately with 12 hits in the last 6 games to raise his average from .247 to .279. He still ranks 6th among everyday players on the Braves roster in average though (they lead the NL in BA at .286). Guess what else Atlanta leads? ERA (3.42) in part due to the stellar play of Jair Jurrjens. The main chip in the Edgar Renteria trade from Detroit has been unhittable lately. He's given up just 1 ER in his last 2 starts (wins over the Mets and A's) and leads the entire Hotlanta rotation in ERA and K's.

10.) Houston Astros (27-22)-
The Astros were flying high, but lately have hit a little bit of a rut (5-5 in their last 10). Don't blame Lance Berkman. The all-everything man for Houston leads the team in every major offensive category and is making a serious push for the triple crown...although we'll take a wait and see approach with that. No, it's their pitching that's been their achilles heal. The only SP with a winning record is Shawn Chacon, but he's only 1-0 on the year. Ace Roy Oswalt needs to get his act together if Houston wants to rise up.

UEFA Champions League Final Preview

Young Swole has been out of action recently, criss-crossing the nation to drink with friends and remember what 50 degrees feels like. There hasn't been much time to post on here, but today's momentous soccer final appears a good time to jump in. For the first time in Champions League history, two English teams will face off in the final, which will feature Manchester United and Chelsea. Not only will this game feature two extremely talented squads, it will also speak loudly on the general condition of English soccer. With so much on the line lets jump in and see whats in store for us at 230 this afternoon.

How Man U got here:
Manchester United has been the best team in Europe all season. This sentence made me sick to type because usually English club teams are vastly overrated compared to other teams from across the continent. However you can't overlook a team that won its league, and scored the most goals in the Champions League tournament in the run up to the final. Thanks to the wonderful talents of Cristiano Ronaldo, the tireless work ethic of Carlitos Tevez and a skillful defense led by Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra, Man U has been able to play an aggressive style that incoroporates the blinding speed its attacking players possess.

How Chelsea got here:
Chelsea was supposed to have reached this point years ago, but finally with Jose Mourinho quitting the team last fall did Chelsea break through to this point and validate the hundreds of millions of dollars that Russian oil baron (tyrant) Roman Abramovich has thrown into the team. With arguably the most talented roster on the face of the planet, Chelsea caught fire in the winter months and continued that into the spring, where it dispatched Liverpool in a classic semifinal matchup in the CL and very nearly caught Man U in the EPL. Chelsea has a fantastic midfield led by Michael Essien, Michael Ballack and Claude Makelele, a solid defense and a ruthless striker in Didier Drogba up front. It finally seems that Chelsea are playing more forward as well and are willing to take more chances in order to score, which has been a problem in the past. This freedom may be the reason why they have gone further this year than in the past.

Man U Probable Lineup
G - Edwin Van Der Sar
D - Gary Neville
D - Rio Ferdinand
D - Nemanja Vidic
D - Patrice Evra
M - Owen Hargreaves
M - Michael Carrick
M - Paul Scholes
M - Cristiano Ronaldo
F - Carlos Tevez
F - Wayne Rooney

With Vidic healthy and anchoring the defense, Man U's attacking options have the freedom to move forward and pressure the Chelsea defenders. If Carrick and Scholes can handle the Chelsea midfield and thus control the ball and the pace of the game, Man U will have an excellent chance to win. This will not be easy because neither player is as physical or talented as Essien is for Chelsea. Keep an eye on Evra, who has been a revelation since joining Man U from Monaco and has the speed and talent to support and augment the Man U defense while being able to keep up with Chelsea's attack.

Probable Chelsea Lineup

G - Peter Cech
D - Michael Essien
D - Ricardo Carvalho
D - John Terry
D - Ashley Cole
M - Claude Makelele
M - Michael Ballack
M - Frank Lampard
M - Joe Cole
F - Didier Drogba
F - Salomon Kalou

Chelsea does not have the firepower of Man U, which means they will have to rely on their midfield more to create a more deliberate pace of play. They definitely have the ability to do so, and if they turn the game into a physical affair then their size and strength advantage could stifle Manchester. Whoever plays right back will have the task of slowing down Cristiano Ronaldo. Paulo Ferriera may have been able to in the past, but Ronaldo is just too fast for him now. That means that the sublime Essien should be the man with the task, and with his talent he may do better than anyone else has at stopping the Portuguese Metrosexual.

One note on the state of English Soccer
Its funny how so many soccer fans think England plays the best soccer in the world and this all-English final will probably be more ammunition in the minds of the dim-witted humans who support this fact. However, if we look at these two squads in addition to the other powerful English club teams Arsenal and Liverpool, we see teams full of players from other countries. Man U will likely only start 4 English players at the most, Chelsea only two. Liverpool has a Spanish coach and their best players all come from different countries. Arsenal doesn't even have an English born player in its starting 11. What this shows is that not only do English clubs have the most money to spend on foreign players, they also realize that the players from England simply cannot cut it for their teams. This is reflected in the shambolic state of the English National Team, which failed to qualify for the Euro 2008 tournament that begins in a couple of weeks because they could not beat Croatia at home in the final qualifying game. When coupled with the fact that England also failed to qualify for the World Cup in 1994 and haven't made it past the quarterfinals in any tournament since, its obvious that English soccer deserves none of the hype that is still somehow bestowed upon it.

Prediction for the game
The key in any champions league final is for an early goal to be scored. If one team scores early than the game is forced to be opened up out of sheer desperation for an equalizer. If not, then most of the time teams grow fearful of allowing a goal and play it very close to the vest. With both sides almost completely healthy, there will be no temptation on either side to try and play for the inevitable penalty kicks. And with Chelsea's newfound desire to actually try and score goals and Man U's attack minded style of play, this game could become wide-open similar to Chelsea-Liverpool in the semifinals. Every soccer fan obviously wants this, and I think the trend of English teams shitting the bed in big games will be offset since thankfully there are very few English players in the game. Chelsea is going to try very hard to control Ronaldo and i think they will be effective. However, Carlos Tevez is one of the most underrated strikers in the world and has the speed and ability to elude the Chelsea defense and finish his opportunities. I have a feeling he is going to have a huge game today while Chelsea tries to stop "The Fruity One". Chelsea is not that good at playing from behind, and will struggle to open up Drogba from Ferdinand and the excellent Vidic in the center of the field. I think Man U will tack on a late goal and celebrate deep into the Moscow night with a 2-0 victory.