Friday, May 30, 2008

Back like Cooked Crack

Young Sweezy has returned from his Award Tour (c. Tribe) through the midwest and is now ready to deliver many shipments of delicious brew to the millions of faithful readers out there. Along the way The Swole One saw famous sports landmarks such as Indianapolis (home of fantasy villain Marwan), Louisville (home of Muhammed Ali and the decomposing remains of 8 Belles who is still chilling in the first turn at Churchill Downs), and Nashville (where Sweezy stopped at one of Pac Man Jones' old strip club hangouts). Now I'm back in Dixie, ready to catch sports fans up on the news that needs to be told.

NBA - Last night the Lakers clinched a finals berth by defeating defending champs San Antonio. Kobe Bryant was incredible down the stretch, and Pau Gasol is finally receiving the attention he deserves for being such a good player for so long. The Lakers should be the favorites in the finals regardless of who they play because they will have the best player in the finals and the deepest team in the finals. Two things kept crossing my mind as I watched the celebration. One was how damn good are the Lakers going the be next year when Bynum comes back healthy. The second was how much i'm going to miss TNT Inside the NBA over the next 5 months, it simply is the best sports show on TV.

Tonight we get Game 6 of the Celtics-Pistons series. Because of my travels i've only seen about 30 seconds of this series so I don't really know how its unfolding, but I do know what Rip Hamilton means to the Pistons and if he isnt healthy than the Pistons have no shot. Between him and Billups still suffering from a calf injury, the Pistons greatest advantage over the Celtics has been negated. Rajon Rondo can't get abused in the post by the stronger Chauncey and Ray Allen can completely focus on offense now that he doesn't have to chase Rip City around on offense. With that said, I don't see the Pistons losing tonights game. Their bench guys are going to play with a ton of energy and Boston has not exactly been stellar on the road during the playoffs. Game 7 may be another story, but at least for one more night Detroit Basketball will get the job done.

NHL - I was finally able to catch some NHL action, now that games are being televised on channels that America can actually see. What i witnessed was Pittsburgh getting a huge Game 3 win and making this into a series. Sidney Crosby did what superstars are supposed to and led the Penguins to a big win and finally overcome the brutal Wings defense. Now Game 4 becomes the tipping point in the series. If the Wings win its over in 5, but if the Penguins can get this one then the series turns serious. I'm hoping for the second option, because i feel cheated out of watching all of these playoffs and want to at least see a few hockey games before the sport dissapears into 'Bolivian until next June once again.

MLB - There are still a lot of suprising teams leading the standings in baseball such as the Marlins, Rays and White Sox but now these teams and the other suprising teams throughout the AL and NL must avoid the dreaded June Swoon. There are three really good matchups this weekend in baseball, even though ESPN will probably ignore them completely. First up is Florida heading to Philadelphia. Florida has done it with offense all year and is staying remarkably competitive in the toughest division in baseball. Philly's offense has exploded recently thanks to Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino returning from injury and Ryan Howard finally starting to hit for power. This will be a good test to see where both teams stack up and to see who has the better chance of staying in the division battle for the long haul. The second series to pay attention to is the LA Dodgers versus the NY Mets. For some reason Joe Torre returning to New York seems to be worthy of our attention, even though he hasn't had any sort of connection with the Mets since he played for them 40 years ago. If we leave that bullshit aside there are many better reasons to focus on. Both teams are playing below their expectations, and this Met homestand may be a make-or-break one for manager Willie Randolph. The Dodgers are also strugg-a-ling, but send rookie phenom Clayton Kershaw to the mound tonight. The third series to pay attention to this weekend is the White Sox visiting the Tampa Rays. Tampa has been the surprise of the season, and boasts the best young quartet of starting pitchers in the majors. And despite subpar seasons from most of their big hitters, Chicago is on a roll and has moved to the top of the AL Central thanks to an unhittable bullpen and unexpectedly reliable starting pitching. Look for a low scoring series and close games all weekend in Tampa.

World Soccer - With only one week remaining before Euro 2008 gets underway, the 16 squads in the field are finalizing their rosters and playing tune-up games to prepare for the start of the tournament. Among the games played today include teams like the dangerous Czech Republic, World Cup 2006 winners Italy, and co-hosts Austria and Switzerland. Tomorrow's slate has games featuring tournaments favorites France-vs-Paraguay, Spain-vs-Peru and Germany-vs-Serbia. Sunday has games featuring The Netherlands and Greece among others. All of these tune-ups are critically important since national teams rarely play together and must have game time to find the chemistry between players.

(By the way, if you search Bafe Gomis in Youtube, you can see the sick goal that this young superstar pulled off in the image at right against Ecuador last week. He will be one of the young superstars of Euro 2008.)

Whats on Tap - Next week brings the full preview of Euro 2008 including predictions from Young Sweezy and Young Knuckleballer. The French Open will be analyzed and predicted by the same 2 brewlords and we will select our Tennis Betty of the tournament. There will also be extensive coverage of both Major League Baseball and College Baseball as the NCAA Tournament swings into high gear. Finally the NBA and NHL finals will be analyzed and predicted along with any other news that needs to be covered and which isnt mentioned by the East Coast-Centric sports media.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

MLB Power Poll

I realize it's still early, but I have a bone to pick with the MLB. The voting for the All-star game is just bogus. Currently, the AL Starting Roster would be comprised of 6 Yankees and Red Sox. Does Kevin Youkilis deserve to be the starting 1st Basemen? Should Jason Varitek be the starting Catcher? Fuck no. Justin Morneau and Victor Martinez are much more deserving. Will justice be served as time goes on? Probably not. Rarely do the best players get elected to start the All-star game. Typically it's name players from teams with the biggest fan bases. Baseball needs to step in and change this in the near future. Sure the fans should have a say, but they shouldn't be the only voices. On to the poll.

1.) Tampa Bay Rays (32-21)- I'd be lying if I said that the Rays would hold down the number 1 spot at any point when I started making this poll. Hell, I didn't even think they'd be in the top 10, but here they are. The Rays have the best record in baseball for the first time in franchise history. In fact, they've finished last in the AL East every year of their existance except for 2004 when they snagged 4th place. Since their first season in 1998 they've compiled a .405 winning percentage (worst in baseball even with the great start to 2008). The reason for the turnaround? Great all-around play. They rank in the top 6 in every major hitting and pitching category.

2.) Chicago Cubs (31-21)- The best record in the NL belongs to the Cubs. The Senior Curcuit has looked geriatric against the Cubbies juggernaut of an offense this year. They're first in the league in Runs, Average, OPS, and OBP. They have six everyday starters batting at least .300. They also have some of the best hitting pitchers in baseball led by Carlos Zambrano. He's 15 for 35 at the plate this year. Let's not get it twisted either, Big Z is a menace on the mound too. He's 7-1 this season and hasn't lost a start since the beginning of April. Former ace Kerry Wood is also tied for third in the league in saves.

3.) Boston Red Sox (32-23)- The Sawx have struggled lately against mediocre competition. They got swept by the A's and lost this week to the weak ass M's. Their offense is fine (still ranked top 3 in all major offensive categories), but their pitching has slipped a bit lately. Jon Lester followed up his no-hitter over the Royals with a poor performance in a loss to Oakland. They also just lost Dice-K yesterday to a shoulder injury. He's getting an MRI and we'll know by tommorow if he'll make his next start or not. The Red Sox sure hope he'll be back quickly, but I bet the rest of the league won't be too sad if he's out for a bit considering his 8-0 record. To get back on track they'll need to step it up against their own division over the next 7 games after they fly out of Seattle.

4.) Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (32-22)- The Angels are cruising under the radar like usual, but don't sleep on them. They're seperating themselves from Oakland (2 game lead) and this division could easily be settled by early August. In their last 10 games, they're 7-3 which is a pretty average line for the Angels. It's all about their elite pitching. Joe Saunders is tied for the league lead in wins, while Ervin Santana just pitched a CG against the Tigers and is 6 K's short of the league lead. Really they can just go into cruise mode for awhile and still be alright.

5.) Arizona Diamondbacks (30-22)- How far have the D-backs fallen? Well they were the top team in this poll for the first 7 weeks before dipping to number 2 last week. Why you ask? They're just 3-7 in their last 10. Brandon Webb started off the year 9-0, but has since dropped his last 2. Their pitching in general has been weak sauce over the last couple of weeks. Unbelievably, they still lead the league in every pitching category except for saves. Offensively though, they struggled mightily, and having Eric Byrnes on the DL isn't going to help. Luckily, the rest of their division is horrendous. 2 of the worst teams in the league (Rockies and Padres) are wallowing in the basement of the NL West.

6.) Philadelphia Phillies (30-24)- Nobody has been hotter than the Phillies over the past 3 games. They've scored 42 runs which is about as much as the Padres have scored this month. A healthy Jimmy Rollins has been the difference for this club. Chase Utley has been ballin' for awhile now, but last year's MVP gives them a great 1-2 punch. If they can only get Ryan Howard back to 2006 form, they will be unstoppable. They're currently just behind the Marlins, but expect that to change in the coming weeks. Their upcoming series against Florida will be a tell-tale sign of which direction the divison will head. Speaking of...

7.) Florida Marlins (30-21)- The Marlins have a razor-thin lead in the NL East, but don't expect that to last the way the Phillies are playing. Florida looked pretty weak against New york yesterday, but Johan Santana can make most clubs look silly. It'll be important for them to bounce back if they want to stay competitive in the division down the road. They've been getting by with so-so performances from their pitchers, but somehow come away with wins. Case-in-point, Mark Hendrickson, who has a 7-2 record to go along with his 4.14 era.

8.) Chicago White Sox (29-23)- The White Sox to everyone's surprise are still on top in the AL Central. They continue to get by winning series that noone expects them to. They've only lost 3 times in the last two weeks including a sweep of Cleveland last week and 2 of 3 from them this week. Who would have thought that the Rays/White Sox series this week would be between division leaders. It should be an entertaining 4 games to say the least. After that they've got a 7 game homestand against division rivals Minnesota and KC. This can only mean good things for the North Siders as they look to lengthen their AL Central lead.

9.) Houston Astros (30-23)- The Stros have been staying consistent thanks to their stellar lineup. Lance Berkman (still leading the team in every offensive category) and Company have been picking up the slack for the sub-par pitching (worst cumulatively in the NL). On top of that, Berkman is in the top 2 in RBI, HR, and Average in the NL. A triple crown is still not out of the question for the Big Kahuna. The division is tight though, and unless pitchers not named Roy Oswalt step up, they aren't going to be able to hold up for the long haul. If they are still in the race in July, I wouldn't be surprised to see this team trade for a pitcher. Luckily, Houston gets Wandy Rodriguez (king at home, douche on the road) back from the DL today, so that can't hurt. Unfortunately, he's going against a rock solid offense from the City of the Arch.

10.) St. Louis Cardinals (30-23)- The Cards could be labeled as 9b. They are pretty much the Astros equal right now, although their offense isn't quite as potent. They do however have much more consistent pitching. They're in the top 5 of every pitching category in the National league. All of their regular starters have winning records, except for a ho-bag named Joel Pineiro (although he's on the DL now, so nobody cares). It's only a matter of time before Mark Mulder will be back in the Red Bird uni. The Lou hopes he can boost their playoff chances. It's not like the Cards offense is slouching. They're third in average and 2nd in OBP in the Senior Circuit. Albert Pujols really can't be denied right now. He's third in the NL in Avg. and OPS. He's also a thug. Don't mess with Phat Albert.

Also Receiving Votes: Atlanta Braves, Oakland Athletics

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Boom or Bust

The baseball season is more than a quarter done, which officially means "It's early" is no longer an excuse or explanation for the stellar (or less than) play of some surprising individuals around the League. I wanted to take some time to identify some of the biggest surprises and disappointments of the season, with a little GDB-flava thrown in for good measure.

The Good:

Ryan Ludwick, OF, St. Louis
.333, 13 HR, 38 RBI, 31 R
Ludwick was a highly touted prospect...about ten years ago. A string of serious and bizzare injuries kept him out of the majors, but not anymore. Big Stick Ludwick is teaming with Albert Pujols to form one of the more potent 3-4 combo's in the NL, and his play is demanding an everyday spot in a lineup crowded with talented outfielders on the surprising Redbirds club.

Dan Uggla, 2B, Florida
.317, 16 HR, 38 RBI, 40 R
Uggla has been pretty decent during his couple of years in the show, but not like this. If the MVP voting took place today, I have to think this guy would get a couple votes. As is, he's playing well enough to make people forget about his fellow Florida middle infielder, a guy named Hanley Ramirez. The guy has 16 homers, a truly Utley-esque power display from an otherwise power-starved position.

Nate McLouth/Xavier Nady, OF's, Pittsburgh
Combined: .320, 20 HR, 78 RBI, 71 R
Like Mr. Uggla, the amazing numbers these guys have put up so far are making people forget about their more heralded teammate and fellow outfielder, Jason Bay. The Pirates pitching still stinks worse than Nick Bragin's butthole, but these guys are padding their stats and playing for fat paydays in the future, probably hoping to get as far away from the Pitts-burgh as possible.

Honorable Mention: Josh Hamilton, OF, Texas (omitted due to status as #1 overall draft-pick and impressive '07 rookie campaign. Geovanny Soto, C, Chicago (Cubs).

The Bad

Barry Zito, SP(&RP), San Franciso
1-8, 5.65 ERA, 27K, 28BB
I think everyone saw the writing on the wall when SanFran offered up big money to this dude. He became one of the most expensive relievers in history when the Giants demoted him to the bullpen, then plugged him back into the rotation without making an appearance in relief. The once-prized Zito is radioactive in fantasy leagues, and his recent win should hardly be considered the sign of a turnaround in the future.

Jim Edmonds, OF, Chicago (Cubs)
.173, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 6 R
Look at the stat line above. That is all that Jimmy Ballplayer has been able to put together in 110 at bats. The man who finished 5th in the 2004 MVP voting is a shell of his former self and was cut by the worst team in the league two months into the season. Unlike similarly disappointing Andruw Jones, he doesn't even still have good defense as a selling point. But as a Cardinals fan, I'm happy to see him in a Cub uniform.

Travis Hafner, DH, Cleveland
.217, 4HR, 22 RBI, 19 R
This guy used to post numbers like that in the course of one week. Unfortunately, Dodgers speedster Rafael Furcal has more home runs this season than Hafner...and Furcal has been on the DL since May 6th. I don't know what Pronk's malfunction is, but he is playing like a steamy sack of shit. His dead weight is part of the reason why the Indians have become a massive disappointment.

Honorable Mention: Jim Thome, DH, Chicago (White Sox)

The Ugly

Andruw Jones, OF, Los Angeles (Dodgers)
.165, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 18 R
Jones officially became a huge bust when he went on the DL for knee surgery last week. The same problems that developed in Atlanta followed him to L.A., and now mercifully they will not return for 4-6 weeks. As mentioned above, he has a lone redeeming quality of still playing plus defense. But at age 30, there is no upside left to a bad that has had its pop drained by a decade of grueling major league seasons.

Jason Isringhausen, RP, St. Louis
1-5, 8.00 ERA, 10 Saves, 6 Blown Saves
Izzy is strong as a bull, as evidenced when he pitched most of the 2006 season with his hip out of the socket before being shut down to make way for Adam Wainwright. But this time it wasn't a bad hip but a loss of confidence (and an altercation with a clubhouse flat-screen) that sent him on the DL, but once again the farm system has sent a more-capable-replacement up to replace him: Chris Perez, the AAA Memphis Redbirds closer, who has struck out 5 in 4.2 big-league innings.

Eric Gagne, RP, Milwaukee
1-2, 6.98 ERA, 10 Saves, 5 Blown Saves
I'll give a million dollars to anyone who DIDN'T see this one coming. But unlike a few other underachievers, Gagne has the excuse of not being on the 'roids anymore for his poor performance. The former supercloser sucked just as hard in Milwaukee as he did in Boston. Like Izzy, he has been shut down for the foreseeable future. And like the Cardinals, the Brewers are lucky to have other options (Salomon Torres, Guillermo Mota) available.

Honorable Mention: Eric Byrnes, OF, Arizona