Friday, May 8, 2009

Whitlock addresses the state of sports journalism

My Literature of Latin American independence class that is about to wrap up, but I wanted to pass along this Jason Whitlock column I have been reading to pass the time.

The title is "Time to rethink the role of sports journalists," and it's a worthy read.

It's got some salacious material. 

"My jabs are never personal," Whitlock writes. "As little respect as I have for Lupica, the Barry Bonds of sports writing, I've never shared all that I know about his despicable treatment of the support people he sees as easy-to-replace underlings."

Anyway, if anyone's still reading Chimpanzee Rodeo, take a look and let me know what you think in the comments.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

How'd I miss this back in March?


Our venerable professor was answered 10 questions on Feb. 26 as part of an interview series on RealClearSports.

The first question hits kind of close to home. 

RCS asks: "What is more enjoyable: shouting at Reali, Paige, Mariotti, Cowlishaw and the rest of the Around the Horn panelists, or shouting at the eager young minds in your classroom?"

Here is the answer from our fearless leader, block quoted for posterity.
Blackistone: I don't think I've shouted at the next generation's sports journalists yet, save for the first time they missed deadline. I gave them the old Dave Smith treatment, my legendary longtime boss in Dallas. The students are still full of the right kind of questions rather than the wrong kind of answers.

But I've really come to enjoy the banter with my ATH comrades. It's as much fun as it appears... I've always been in need of a little levity in my approach to sports journalism.

Beaten by Bill Plaschke in a popularity contest? It's a sad day indeed.

To be fair though, this was before our magical van ride to USA Today. And maybe if Kevin had grabbed a bite at Jason's deli, we could have enjoyed some banter of our own.

Either way, it's nice to get a shoutout for missing deadline. Never again.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A winning streak of 1

The Nats are on a winning streak!

That's right, one win for a team that only has five on the season qualifies as a streak.

For the first time all season, a pitcher other than Jordan Zimmerman and Shairon Martis recorded a win. This hurler was Scott Olsen who pitched 5 2/3 innings, giving up only one run with 6 SO and 2 BB.

Olsen was not the only player to have a big day though. The bullpen, who has frankly been atrocious thus far this season, held the Phillies scoreless after Olsen left the game.

Similarly, Ryan Zimmerman hit safely in his 18th straight game, a team record and the longest such streak in the majors thus far this year.

The games result, which was preceded by terrible losses, is indicative of the Nats young club. They will lose a devastating game 13-11 one night and come back two days later and look great winning 5-1.

Still, Nats fans should not rejoice once. The team still is not good and this win came when Brett Myers was on the hill for the Phils.

Phillies fans, you know what I'm talking about. He's....not good.

The Great Bat Debate

You thought I would let the Chimpanzee Rodeo die? I didn't find that monkey riding a dog for nothing, folks.
Anyway, I just wanted to pass along this Kansas City Star article (ed. note: Starticle?) comparing the merits of a pair of baseball bat materials.

Ash v. Maple. Let's get it on.

As New Englander and fan of syrup, I was saddened by the results.
Smith said ash likes to grow in a long straight grain, which is fairly easy to see. So if you look at a piece of ash, it’s evident if the grain is parallel to the length of the board.

“That’s what you want to have,” said [Washington State University Sports Science Lab' Lloyd] Smith, who is with the school of Mechanical and Materials Engineering. “That’s where the strength is. If your grain is not parallel then you’ve introduced a weakness in the material.”

However, maple generally does not like to grow in a straight grain. Also, the grain doesn’t have as much contrast, so it doesn’t stand out as much as ash.

This is important, because it makes it easier to detect a crack in an ash bat.

This is a great example of a unique and interesting sports story. And the Star uses the internet to its advantage with a nice graphic to accompany the piece. 

It's too bad the text on the graphic is barely legible, even when the picture is enlarged.

Finally, the article answers the obvious question: If ash is better, why is maple the popular choice among major leaguers.

Blame it on Barry Bonds. Smith estimated that about 5 percent of baseball players used maple bats before Bonds broke the single-season home run record in 2001.

“There’s much more superstition in baseball than there is science,” Smith said, “so people started saying, ‘Aha, here’s the magic formula. It’s not Barry Bonds, it’s maple.’”

Of course, we all know it's not maple. It's the steroids.

Suck Meter: April 29

Surprise! It's a last-second blog so I don't fail. Also, sadly, it is the last Suck Meter reading. So let's see who "won"!

After a hard-fought battle between the Nats and O's this year, the overall loser is... area fans! Congrats everybody, we did it again!

Nationals. After making a serious run at a winless season, the Nats have been on fire lately, going 3-7 in their last 10 games. Jordan Zimmermann is a pitcher who also has a pulse AND can get people out, which is either a late April Fool's joke or a sign of the impending apocalypse.

Bad Clubhouse Guy Adam Dunn has six homers and is OPSing over 1100. And don't look now but Ryan Zimmerman has had a pretty good start to the season too. Unfortunately, even with all this promise, the team is still 4-15. Just imagine what happens if these guys cool off. It's going to be a really long summer full of empty stadiums.

One major reason the Nats are so bad is the bullpen. The only guy who looked like he was going to be able to throw baseballs at major league hitting, Joe Beimel, is hurt. That leaves guys like Saul Rivera (who has given up an abysmal 11 earned runs in 9 2/3 innings), Joel Hanrahan (8 ER in 8 1/3) and Wilfredo Ledezma (6 ER in 5 2/3). Awful, awful, awful.

This is going to be a bad, bad year. We'll see you at Steven Strasburg.

Verdict: Ugh. 1.

Orioles.
Now here's a team that sucks gloriously. Our "loser" for the I-95 Suckfest, the Orioles actually show some promise before blowing games in any number of heartbreaking fashions.

The Orioles certainly have a major league lineup this year. Adam Jones, Aubrey Huff, Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis have been tearing it up this year. Too bad there has been absolutely no pitching to speak of, or else this team would be cared about outside of Baltimore.

"Staff Ace" Jeremy Guthrie has a 5.20 ERA in his first 27 2/3 innings, and he's been the bright spot. So far in the young season, only three pitchers on staff have ERAs lower than Koji Uehara's 4.56. Three! That's unconscionable. And those three guys have pitched a combined 23.1 innings. Yikes.

This is going to be a bad, slightly-less-worse-than-the-Nationals year. See you at Matt Wieters.

Verdict: Barf. 1.

Overal Verdict:
Since this is the last post, I've gotta call it for the Nationals. The O's gave a valiant effort to suck as hard, but they've been streaky. Washington fields a team that is consistent in how terrible it is, and for that reason, your 2009 I-95 Suckfest Champion is the Washington Nationals.

Nats stink, but so do a lot of other teams

Things just keep getting worse for the woeful Nats. The day after they scored 11 runs and still lost to the Phillies in their bandbox stadium, supposed Ace John Lannan led the team to yet another victory on the season.

In that 13-11 loss on Monday, the Nats hit five home runs, two by Ryan Zimmerman, who is having an unusually hot start to the season. Last season, the Nats major malfunction was their inability to score runs and hit home runs. Now, with the addition of Adam Dunn and, the health of Nick Johnson, the maturation of Elijah Dukes and the comfort that a new contract has apparently given Zimmerman the team is hitting home runs at a seemingly much higher rate.

Still, as it is often said with teams, such as the Detroit Lions who hold the top picks in the NFL draft, will fixing one problem solve the team's overall issues. In the case of the Nats, obviously not.

The team needs a lead off hitter, three more starters, a closer, a set-up man, the rest of a bullpen. The laundry list is long.

It really should come as no surprise to fans and pundits, however. Everyone knew that this team lost 102 games last year. Do the additions of Dunn, Daniel Cabrera, Josh Wllingham and Scott Olsen really add a significant number of wins to the team? Obviously not.

Perhaps it is the fault of the team and its management, not in the way that people think though. The team seemingly worked overtime to hype their spring training optimism this year. Yeah, they have to sell tickets, but even with the hype they barely sold out opening day after pimping out Nationals Park to Phillies fans. Because of the team's start on the road, they were found out to be awful before home fans even got to see them play in person.

So, the team, its manager, the majority of players, and even the equipment managers seem to be over matched this season. Still, I am completely sick of hearing people make jokes at the Nats expense. Particularly fans of teams like the Orioles, who have not been good for 13 years. Just because you finally have a team to make fun of doesn't mean you should do it. The majority of fans can still make fun of you too.

Cano Answering Doubters

The story had become familiar around the American League. Robinson Cano's batting average dropped from .342 in 2006, to .306 in 2007, and then finally .271 in 2008. His on-base percentages in those years: .365, .353, .305. Those low numbers were due to walk totals of 18, 39 and 26. The word around the division was that Cano had no patience, and there was no reason to throw him good strikes. He didn't seem to get the message no matter how apparent it was to the world that he could not hit a double on a slider six inches off the outside corner.

But this year, Cano's approach has changed, and the early results are very encouraging. He has walked six times in his first 20 games, which puts him on pace for 48 walks this season. While that may not sound like much of an improvement, he has been having better plate appearances. He has been working the count into his favor, fighting off tough pitches and making contact. He has only struck out eight times so far, which is right on par with his career numbers. The kid makes contact. But this year, he is waiting for his pitch to do so.

The results so far are staggering. Cano is hitting .381 with a .418 OBP, and his slugging percentage has jumped from .410 last season to .619 so far this year. If Cano can keep hitting quality strikes, he is one of the most dangerous hitters in the Yankees' offense.

His newfound patience was illustrated last night in an outside-the-boxscore way. He had great at-bats against a dominant Edwin Jackson in the fourth and sixth innings. The first at-bat was a 12-pitch infield single, and the second a 10-pitch strikeout. Neither result was particularly awe-inspiring, but if you can take 22 pitches out of a pitcher's arm on a day when he is shutting your team out, you are doing your job. The Yankees reaped the benefits in the seventh, when they jumped all over the Tigers' bullpen.

Hughes Impressive in Season Debut

Over the last weekend, the New York Yankees were unable to hold large leads against the Boston Red Sox en route to an embarrassing sweep that made the Bombers look very vulnerable.

As New York talk radio went crazy, I took a deep breath and convinced myself that a four-game losing streak is nothing to worry about. They happen to every team, but it is important that someone steps up and delivers a quality pitching performance when a team is scuffling.

Phil Hughes did just that in his first start of the season. Replacing the ineffective Chien-Ming Wang in the rotation for the time being, Hughes looked the part of rookie phenom in his 2009 debut. Against the formidable Detroit Tigers lineup, Hughes threw six innings of two-hit shutout ball. Along the way, he walked two and struck out six. It was Hughes first big league win since 2006, and it had to take a lot of pressure off of him after his 0-4, 6.62 ERA experience in the Majors last season.

Joe Girardi made it sound as though Hughes could be making an extended appearance with the big league club.

"I don't want him to think that no matter what happens, he could possibly go back," Girardi said. "We want him to pitch great and stay in the rotation."

Hughes fastball touched 96 miles per hour last night. With the increased velocity, the youngster has all of the tools necessary to set up his impressive off-speed stuff and assume the role of phenom that he temporarily separated himself from last season.

It will be interesting to see how the rotation plays out. But between Hughes' strong start at AAA and now a clear sign of success in the American League, it is pretty clear that the Yankees should still be optimistic about this kid's future.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Rajon' Cajon, and Big Baby Gets Bigger

Can you believe the nerve of Rajon Rondo?

Rondo came out of nowhere. A former Kentucky Wildcat, Rondo's in his third year in the league, and he's showing exactly why Doc Rivers loves him so much. He can do it all: He can assist, rebound, and now he's become an efficient and quick scorer, constantly driving down the lane like a bowling ball. And he's gotten so good in these three areas, last night he came close to his third triple-double in five games. In last night's thrilling finale, Rondo led his team in scoring with 28 points. With Ray Allen having fouled out, and Paul Pierce struggling from the field for most of the game, Rondo's become the go-to guy.

Luckily, Rondo isn't the only unexpected player to step up. Glen "Big Baby" Davis has taken the pacifier out for good. Finally becoming the toddler he was meant to become, Davis is standing on his own two feet, storming up and down the court and drenching the basket with mid-range jumpers. Pretty impressive, considering the former LSU Tiger was more effective as a post player.

Point is, if these two played the way they did with a Garnett, they would be simply unstoppable. So regardless if they lose in the Eastern Conference playoffs or the National Championship, or even end up winning it all, just imagine this team with another 6'10 energy boost, averaging 15+ and 10+ a game.

***

NBA PREDICTION UPDATE: Looks like the Blazers hit a bump in the road, but they managed to push the Rockets into a game 6 tonight. Watch out, Brandon Roy's looking hungry.

Enjoy the show!

-Davius "Heyward-Bey" Smith

Raul Ibanez Paying Dividends

Raul Ibanez hit a grand slam in the bottom of the eighth inning last night to cap a 6-run inning that turned an 11-7 deficit into a 13-11 win.

Nevermind that Nationals reliever Joel Hanrahan was absolutely awful and anyone could have smelled Ibanez's blast coming from about three batters before it happened. Ibanez is on fire, and he is already proving to be well worth the 3-year $30 million deal the Phils signed him to in December.

Ibanez is leading Phillies regulars in hits, runs, home runs, total bases and OPS through April 27.

He's also been clutch. In addition to last night's bomb, he hit a walk-off home run to give the Phils a come-from-behind 5-4 win against San Diego on April 19.

Many so-called experts, most notably ESPN's Keith Law, were extremely critical when the Phillies' signed Ibanez to replace Pat Burrell, pointing out his advanced age of 36 and that he would make the Phillies' lineup too left-handed.

But Jayson Werth has hit well enough to stay in the five hole and create a right-handed buffer between Chase Utley and Ryan Howard and Ibanez, and the lineup has been producing all season.

Ibanez has hit just .182 so far against lefties, but he's still been able to produce and the left-handed tilt to the lineup hasn't really had much effect on the offense.

The Phils lead the major leagues in runs scored per game, and Burrell has worse numbers than Ibanez is virtually every statistical category.

As the immortal Scott Graham used to say, "Put this one in the win column for the Fightin' Phils."

Let's call them the Cardiac Kids

That seems to be the nickname of choice for D.C. United's so far this year, as this group of youngsters (over half the roster is under the age of 25) has now stolen 4 points in stoppage time over the last two matches. Following Ben Olsen's game-tying strike in the 91st minute to force a 1-1 draw with New England in the game prior, D.C. again came from behind Sunday against New York to get a result in added time.

After taking the lead on Rodney Wallace's first career goal in the 21st minute (Wallace, interestingly enough, beat former Maryland teammate and current New York defender Jeremy Hall to the ball on the play), United failed to capitalize on a number of opportunities before halftime. At the break, New York inserted Venezuelan playmaker Jorge Rojas, whose presence gave the Red Bulls life. Setting up strikes by Juan Pablo Angel in the 68th minute and Dane Richards in the 74th, Rojas looked like he had led New York to victory.

But Santino Quaranta's expertledly served onetime ball from the left side found Luciano Emilio in the 90th minute, whose shot glanced off the bottom of the crossbar before crossing the line and tying the game 2-2. Then, less than two minutes later, a major miscommunication between New York defender Alfredo Pacheco and goalkeepr Jon Conway allowed D.C. substitute Boyzzz Khumalo to sneak in and collect a seemingly harmless ball sent into the box by Marc Burch. Khumalo shanked his shot as he fell off balance, but Pacheco slipped as well, at which point D.C. rookie Chris Pontius dashed into the box to slot the ball into an empty net.

The dramatic strike gave D.C. a 3-2 victory, its first on the road this year. Barring a play-off rematch, it marked the last time D.C. will ever have to play on the concrete turf of Giants Stadium, as the Red Bulls are moving in a new, soccer specific stadium next season.

Here are the highlights from the game. For fans of overly enthusiastic Spanish-language commentary, they are a must-see.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Major League Baseball: What isn't the problem

It's easy to jump to conclusions in these trying economic times.

And it seems that a recent Washington Examiner column by Jim Williams about the economy and baseball does just that.

Williams relies on well-respected sources and broad conclusions to tie most of the game's recent attendance shortcomings, especially not being able to fill up the new stadiums in New York, into an economic issue.

Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. says he expects many Minor League parks to break attendance records because they are more affordable than the Major League venues. Political analyst David Gregory paints an idyllic and outdated picture of baseball as a summer right of passage. And CBS Sports President Sean McManus says the recent increases in sports TV ratings are related to people wanting cheap entertainment and staying home more.

Only the last one of those makes a whole lot of sense to me, and even that isn't a baseball issue.

The popularity of the Minor Leagues, which Ripken has become heavily invested in as an owner of multiple teams, has been growing in recent years because they can offer a more fun, family friendly experience in an intimate setting. Sure, cost has a lot to do with this, but attendance has been increasing every year anyway, and I don't think this is a new phenomenon.

Gregory's take is definitely outdated. Baseball has been passed by the NFL and at the very least, caught by sports like the NBA and NASCAR in popularity. In a long regular season while other pro sports are winding down with playoffs, it's logical to think that MLB should take a back seat during its first two months before getting a virtual monopoly on the market until football rolls around.

McManus' point is well-taken. It's understandable that major sporting events like the NCAA basketball tournament and The Master's will get more viewership in this tough economy. If a guy can't even afford the gas to take his family on a Sunday drive, he's more apt to flick on the TV and watch the Master's final round. But I don't think it's possible to turn it into a baseball issue because there are so many games on a given day that viewership gets spread out and more meaningful national numbers can be harder to compile, especially when there are teams like the Nationals out there.

Baseball has surely been hit by the economy, but I don't think it's fair to make the connections that Williams has attempted above. By the time summer rolls around, baseball will have its monopoly on the sports world and this column will be an afterthought.

But if the Yankees and Mets lowered their ticket prices for premium seats, that might also help this situation.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Zimmermann shines

On a team loaded with "prospects" and major league fill-ins, starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann, 22, has provided actual talent and victories for a team devoid of both.

Jimmermann recorded his second win in as many starts Sunday after being called up from AAA Syracuse April 20. This victory was the team's first on the road all season.

Zimmermann has accounted for half of the team's wins thus far this season. He has accomplished this feat, which admittedly sounds better than it really is, with the help of a fastball of four solid pitches.

Dave Sheinin of The Washington Post included in his Nationals Journal blog on April 22 a major league scout's impressions of Zimmerman:

"I really like him. Everybody talks about his velocity, but I like the potential for both of his breaking balls. His slider is very good. Once he finds his true velocity, I think he'll eventually pitch at 92 [mph] wth two very good breaking balls. His change up is his worst pitch, but he has the potential to be a true four-pitch pitcher.

"I had him topped out at 95, but he was really comfortable at 92, 93, and I think that's where he's going to settle in. The one thing that bothers me in his delivery is [that] he flies open a little bit. And his command in the strike zone -- he throws a lot of strikes, but they weren't all necessarily quality strikes. He was getting hit hardest on his fastballs. His fastball command was a little less consistent than I'm sure he would've liked.

"I think he's going to be a solid rotation guy -- or maybe better than that. He has the potential to be a [number] 1 or 2. If I had to pencil him right now, I'd call him a 2. But I tell you, if they draft [Stephen] Strasburg and get him signed, and if this kid [Zimmermann] does what he's supposed to do, that's a hell of a back-to-back. If they come up with a third pitcher, they're the Florida Marlins. They could really have something here."

Zimmermann's stats for the season (2-0, 2.38 ERA, 8 SO, 3BB in 11.1 IP) compare favorably to those of the rest of the team's pitchers, who have a combined ERA of 5.09.

While many players on the Nats current roster have been labeled as having "potential," none, save for the other Zimmerman, Ryan, have come through the Nationals system as quickly or with as much success as Jordan Zimmermann.

The Nationals drafted Zimmermann in the second round in 2007. He then split time between A and AA in 2008 and was named to the Eastern League All-Star team. MLB.com also tapped him as the Nationals' organizational pitcher of the year.

During a bleak season, Zimmermann is a sign of hope for Nats fans. While they watch the loss total climb higher and higher, they can dream of the team's potential 2011 rotation and feel a modicum of comfort.

Such dreams take shape as:

1. Steven Strasburg
2. Jordan Zimmermann
3. Colin Balester
4. Shairon Martis
5. John Lannan.

Nats fans, keep flipping the pages on those calendars.

Seeing Red: The Pistons And Bulls Story

Today made one thing clear, for the Detroit Pistons and the Chicago Bulls, one era is over, while one era is only beginning.

The Detroit Pistons were swept away by the Cavaliers in an easy four games. It's hard to believe that just last year, the Pistons were an Eastern powerhouse, according to most. The Pistons thought it would be addition through subtraction when it came to Flip Saunders, and they thought they found their Answer in Allen Iverson; but in reality, they gave up the two components that made up the glue--Flip and Mr. Big Shot--keeping the Pistons together.

Now, you can see how all over the place they are. Without Rip Hamilton having a 30 or 40-point game, the Pistons are rusted. Sad to see 'em fail, but until the Motor City turns it around and grows an optimistic disposition, it looks like their sports teams are doomed. Just a guess, but I'm pretty sure sports reflect the cities, and the other way around.

If that's the case, I might recommend moving to Chicago. The Bulls are looking up, doing twice in one year what the organization has never been able to do: Beat the Celtics in the playoffs.

Hand it to Derrick Rose for the much-needed burst of energy Chicago needed. Without him, Salmons or Gordon still wouldn't be enough to get this team over the hump. But thanks to their energetic point guard, Bulls fans finally have something to cheer about. It wasn't easy to get over Michael's departure, but it's good to see that this team is coming up.

After all, the success of teams comes in cycles. So in the future, maybe you'll see an NBA Final between the Chicago Bulls and the Portland Trail Blazers, two young teams that have the powerful parts they need; they just need experience. Hey, it won't be Jordan's Bulls versus those unbeatable Blazers of old, but it's definitely an interesting matchup.

The show the Bulls put on today was great (I might argue that the Celtics imploded, but hey, credit where credit's due), and the show that Detroit put on was equally telling. No matter how you slice it, both teams are mad. One with hunger for more, another wondering how their Answer could've been the wrong one after all.

- The Notorious D.A.V.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Pena Hits Two Home Runs to Support Kazmir

Amidst the Tampa Bay Rays' slow start, Carlos Pena is mashing the ball. Yesterday, Pena clubbed home runs off of Trevor Cahill and Dan Giese of the Oakland A's to help Scott Kazmir earn his third win. The first baseman has eight home runs and 21 RBI in his first 67 at-bats. The Rays have to be excited to see the big lefty continuing to improve. He is quickly establishing himself as one of the most potent lefties in the AL East given the decline of David Ortiz. If the Rays are going to right themselves, they are going to need Pena to continue being productive.

Evan Longoria is also tearing the cover off of the ball to the tune of five early home runs and 16 RBI. Akinori Iwamura, Ben Zobrist and Jason Bartlett are getting on base very well. But B.J. Upton, Gabe Kapler, Dioner Navarro and Pat Burrell are all underperforming. Upton and Navarro have been absolutely atrocious, and they are both very important to the team. What made this team so strong last season was the everyone-can-be-the-hero mentality that they took to the ballpark every day. The Rays offense needs to get in sync so that all the pressure isn't on their big two power guys.

But the bigger problem with this team has been pitching. Scott Kazmir and James Shields have been playing almost up to their skill level. Shields is 2-2 with a 3.67 ERA and a stellar 1.11 WHIP. Kazmir is 3-1 with 3.97 ERA and a decent 1.32 WHIP. But Matt Garza, the unsung hero of that rotation last year, is off to a slow start at 1-1 with a 4.58. His WHIP is actually better than Kazmir's at 1.27, so it is somewhat safe to assume that his numbers will improve and that there is not a larger problem except for luck. But his 10 walks in 19.2 innings are simply too much.

The back end of their rotation is another story. Andy Sonnanstine is having a lot of trouble pitching effectively this year. He is 0-2 with a 5.74 ERA and a ridiculous 1.53 WHIP. It may be that his stuff is not effective enough to survive another tour through the league. When they got rid of Edwin Jackson this offseason, they decided to stick with Sonnanstine's control over Jackson's ace-type stuff and unpredictability. But Sonnanstine is averaging around four walks per nine innings right now, which is way too much for someone with his stuff.

Jeff Niemann has had similar problems. He has compiled a line of 1-2, 5.40 ERA, 1.50 WHIP. He is walking just under 4.5 men per nine, and giving up nearly two home runs per game. You have to wonder how long David Price is going to stay in the minors if Sonnanstine and Niemann don't hit their stride, because it is very hard to win games like the two of them are pitching right now.

The bullpen is probably the biggest concern, as it was last year. J.P. Howell is off to a solid start with a 2.45 ERA and 1.09 WHIP. So is Brian Shouse, who has a 1.59 ERA and 1.06 WHIP. After that it gets ugly. Newcomer Joe Nelson has been the next best thing with a 3.52, but his 1.43 WHIP is too high. Lance Cormier's numbers are 4.09 and an unacceptable 1.82. Troy Percival hasn't pitched much, but he has a 4.91 ERA and a 2.18 WHIP. Grant Balfour has walked six men in 5.1 innings, his ERA is 8.44 and his WHIP is 2.06. Dan Wheeler has given up three home runs in 5.2. His ERA is an unsightly 11.12 to go along with his 1.59 WHIP.

If some of these guys don't straighten themselves out [If I'm the manager, I'm looking at Wheeler and Balfour, and it's not a warm gaze] the Rays are going to have a tough time holding leads this season. Joe Maddon needs to hold a clinic on strike-throwing or something, because pitchers that walk a lot of batters don't win much in the major leagues. Unless they have A.J. Burnett-type stuff and can overcompensate. And of course unless their managers have pacemakers.

Wang to DL, A chance for Hughes

New York Yankees pitcher Chien-Ming Wang is headed to the disabled list. I had blogged about his ineffectiveness earlier, but this development is interesting.

The question of whether Wang is actually injured is a fair one. Doctors say he has weakness in his hip muscles stemming from his foot injury last season, but this strikes me as something entirely different. It's pretty clear that the Yankees just wanted a chance to send him to the minor leagues without exposing him to waivers.

Phil Hughes will come up and pitch on Tuesday against the Detroit Tigers. Their ballpark is one of the best to pitch in in baseball, though they do have a tough lineup. With Hughes' early success in the minors, this makes all the sense in the world. Let Wang figure his issues out, and give the once-jewel of the organization a chance to show how he has matured since his struggles last season. I lobbied heavily on my other blog for the Yankees not to re-sign Andy Pettitte and give the rookie a spot.

With Pettitte pitching effectively so far, I can't still hate the move. But Hughes is still very talented, and there is no reason to bury him in the minors. Every start he gets in the majors adds to his knowledge, and even if he has a tough time, it's good for the organization to get him the experience. Since Wang was a batting tee for his first three starts, this is a win-win for the organization until the Taiwanese righty can return to form.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Say it ain't so, Lenny

In today's struggling economy, the line between athletes being stupid and unlucky seems like it can be increasingly blurred.

Make some bad investments and trust some of the wrong people, and it's just bad luck.

Blow all your savings frivolously a la Mike Tyson, and it's plain stupid.

I'm going to give former Major Leaguer Lenny Dykstra a break on this one and say he falls somewhere in between.

ESPN.com put investigative reporter Mike Fish on the case after several articles were published detailing Dykstra's erratic behavior and money problems.

Just a few years ago, Dykstra was being praised for his handling of life after baseball, which was rich with car washes, a recently-launched athlete-specific magazine and lots of big dreams. MSNBC's Jim Cramer has and does support the former Phillie as a genius investor.

The picture painted by Fish is equal parts sad and disappointing. Dykstra's personal and financial life are spiraling into ruin, according to Fish, done in by the struggling economy and overambitious real estate maneuvers.

There doesn't seem to be a happy ending in sight for Dykstra, who doesn't seem to realize he has a problem despite mounting legal trouble and a thirst for chartered jets.

He stands to lose millions on his investment of Wayne Gretsky's former home, and that's at the bottom of his list of worries behind alienating his family and facing legal trouble.

As a Phillies fan, it's tough to watch 'Nails' struggle like this. With the steroid allegations and now this, it is hard to believe he has any positive legacy left, completely overshadowing his tremendous work in the 1993 playoffs.

But in this struggling economy especially, there's a lesson to be learned from Dykstra for former players that they won't find in the glossy pages of his magazine:

You need to be smart with your money and surround yourself with people who aren't afraid to disagree with you.

The Dude found out the hard way, and at this point, his problems are far from over.

Tough Day For the Phils

While I watched the first few innings of the Phillies vs. Brewers game on MLB.tv during my JOUR 350 class this afternoon, I was encouraged by Cole Hamels.

He cruised through the first three innings, had the velocity on his fastball up in the low 90s, and was spotting his developing curveball nicely.

Then I come back to my apartment after my next class to see Hamels got knocked out of the game by a line drive off his shoulder shortly after I stopped watching.

Plus Brewers starter Dave Bush took a no-hitter into the 8th.

The Phils are currently trailing 6-1 in the bottom of the eighth, and it's looking like they're about to drop their second straight game to fall to 6-8 on the season.

It's obviously way too early to get seriously concerned, but it's definitely that the Phillies seem to struggle in April year after year after year.

The Phils had the worst starting rotation ERA in the major leagues heading into today, and taking a line drive off his pitching shoulder certainly isn't going to help Hamels.

Luckily the Mets and Braves are also struggling, and it looks like the Marlins might be regressing to the mean after their 11-1 start, but days like today just aren't ballin'.

The Phils really just need to wake up.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Rose Ain't No Bull...

...He's the real deal.

(See what I did with that?)

This weekend, Derrick Rose single-handedly showed everyone in Boston his ass, as he wiped it all over the Celtics defense, closing them out in their first playoff game on their home court.

OUCH. And you thought Garnett's absence hurt 'em.

But how 'bout them Bulls?

Even though the Bulls finished the regular season at .500, the Bulls have shown their moments of brilliance at times, especially in the hands of Ben "Out Of His" Gordon, Derrick "That Morning He" Rose, and new addition John "It's Sahllmons, not Salmons" Salmons.

They're young and they're not so flashy as the other teams, but this team's got drive. Joakim "Yes Ah" Noah has been surprisingly good on defense, blocking shots and pumping up his team. Sound familiar, Kevin Garnett fans?

And while the Celtics have tied up the series 1-1, you've still got to worry if you're a Celtic fan like me. They won because Ray Allen hit his shot from 3, but if you watched the game, you'd know that the Celtics must play their best to even do that. They're missing Garnett, they're missing Scalabrine (he went to USC, remember?), and now they're going to miss Powe like his name misses that 'R' at the end of it. In case you're too tired to go over that last riddle, Powe brought power to the team.

(See what I did there? Tell me you're not impressed.)

In any case, I feel that if the Celtics can discover a line-up that works for them, and maybe if Marbury gets out of this slump, they've got a chance to get to Round 2. And if the match-ups are right, maybe they'll go back to the finals. Maybe.

The Cavs are too good on their home court (even with a team of riled-up Pistons they wipe the floor with 'em), and the two teams with the only real shot at the Cavs, in my humble opinion, are the Magic and the 76ers (I'm an Iguodala fan). Unfortunately, only one of those teams will make it past this round. Tee hee.

Either way, looks like the playoffs are gearing up for some good fun. Like the NHL, some first day upsets, and a huge fan turnout. Looks like fun. Stay tuned ya'll.

-Dave "UConn Makes Good Players, and Connecticut Makes Good Insurance" Smith

Monday, April 20, 2009

Can't blame anyone for not caring enough to spell the team's name right

If it seems like I haven't blogged in a few days, there is a very good reason. The despair of actually being a fan of the dysfunctional Natinals (yeah, i meant to spell it like that) has left me with no desire to discuss the team.

This club, following its first and only win of the season, blew two ninth inning leads in a row and now sports a majors' worst record of 1-10. Following their most recent bullpen disaster, the Nats also decided to blow up their bullpen and see if more pitchers who should not yet be in a Major League uniform can do the job that their opening day roster could not.

Poor play is not the team's only problem, however. In fact, their performance might be the easiest of the many worries to swallow. A team of such inexperience and dubious talent cannot act its age. Players, including Lastings Milledge and Elijah Dukes, have been late to work, evoking punishment from the organization. Milledge was demoted to AAA Syracuse because of the combination of his tardiness and poor on-field performance. Dukes received a warning that if he is late again, he will join Milledge in the minors.

It also appears that the Nationals management is losing control of the team. The front office wanted to sit Milledge after he was late to a team meeting before the first game, but Manny Acta decided that a fine was sufficient. Now, when Dukes was five minutes late after an appearance at a Little League function, he was warned that if it happens again, he will be sent down. Either there is more to Dukes' conduct this season than has been announced, or the team overreacted. They did not act strictly with Milledge and overcompensated with Dukes. You cannot send mixed messages to a player with Dukes' past. Yes, he should be kept on a short leash, but punish him for punishable offenses not trivial tardiness which was caused by laudable actions that should be a means of revamping his image not tarnishing it further.

Additionally, the team's performance must be blamed on the front office. After their rough start against the Marlins, the club with MLB's best record, the Nats either blew leads or lost close games in many of their following contests. It is obvious that they do not yet know how to win. With such an inexperienced team, a veteran who can teach this is imperative. Adam Dunn doesn't cut it. He has never won anything. Yeah, he's a start, but the team shouldn't be surprised that they are losing with a team whose pitching staff is probably more suited to AA than the bigs.

Just look at the Rays. Last year, they had Troy Percival, who had won a world series with the Angels, and this year they added outfielder Pat Burrell who helped the Phillies beat them in the World Series last year. A blend of talented youth and veterans who have won before is requisite for success. The Nationals don't have the calming veteran presence, and it remains to be seen if the promise of their young players will materialize into actual talent and victories.

As of right now, the Nats simply appear dysfunctional-from the equipment managers to the owner. To solve the problems, the team has gotten even younger, bringing up top pitching prospect Jordan Zimmerman, as planned, and Justin Maxwell among others from the minors. For, now Nats fans have to continue taking their medicine and hoping that a Rays-like revitalization will follow sometime in the team's future.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Suck Meter: April 19

Wow, what a difference five days make. The worldbeating Orioles are now the mediocre Orioles. Coming soon to a theater near you: The irrelevant Orioles! Thanks for playing, guys.


Today's Suck Meter provides a first: I can't go on keeping the 2009 Nationals out of the all-time baseball cellar. In fact, at this point, I'm starting to consider if they're an even worse baseball abomination than Major League III: Back to the Minors.

Nationals. The only words that can be used to describe the Nationals this year can't be used on a family-friendly blog. Flat-out, this team sucks. After another loss to the surprising Marlins today, the Nats are sitting on an abominable 1-10. One win. Ten losses. If you extrapolate that out to a 162-game season, that's 15 wins. And honestly, I can't see this team winning even another 14 games.

The only time the Nats have won this season was last Thursday against Philadelphia and I don't think this team is ever going to win again. There's absolutely no reason to think that if this team comes into a game in Major League Baseball that they're going to come out with a win, unless the entire other team gets injured or has to forefeit or something. This is a baseball disaster.

Coming into today, somehow, Christian Guzman was the NL leader in batting average, just proving that sometimes some things just don't make sense. This is inconsequential and is in no way relevant to how this baseball team could or should perform. But for what it's worth, the guy was hitting .515 coming into today. The fact that we have a guy who is getting more hits than outs and one win just goes to show how few wins we're going to have when he evens out.

Lastings Milledge remains in the minors, so for all of you who had him in your headcase outfielders pool, congratulations. Sorry to those of you who had Elijah Dukes.

There's not much more that I can say for this team. Steven Strasburg isn't going to help. Larry Bird isn't walking through that door. Harmon Killebrew isn't walking through that door. This franchise just needs some kind of massive overhaul or huge lucky strike of some kind.

Verdict: This team will challenge to be the worst ever. Scratch that. This is going to end up being the worst team ever. 0.

Baltimore Orioles. Unlike the team down the road, at least these guys have a...pulse. Or I mean like, more than one win. But the weekend series against Boston just goes to remind us of the difference between a successful franchise and a franchise that is going to struggle. Namely, this difference is pitching.

The Orioles just plain have no pitching. And if Guthrie goes through a bad stretch, these guys are really going to feel it. Guthrie not on his game + Koji being a guy who is exceedingly hittable + whichever three homeless people are dragged into the stadium to pitch on the other three days + another not-so-good outing from Guthrie and you're looking at huge potential losing skids.

But at least we've got a team at .500 for now, which, in contrast to the Nationals is like a world champion. And one pitcher's better than none. And on top of that, Sleepy Jones has become a bona fide fantasy baseball superstar.

The Orioles are going to be all downhill from there, make no mistake. But this is a franchise with the pieces in place, sort of. As soon as some of these guys come through the farm system, we're going to have a much better idea of where this team is going in the coming years.

Verdict: Blowing the 7-0 lead was ugly, getting swept by Boston was ugly and there are a lot more ugly things awaiting this team this season. But again... at least it's not the Nationals. 5.

Surviving a Recession, NBA style

Kudos to the major sports leagues and owners who get it.

Sometimes that means making decisions with the fans' best interest in mind, rewarding players who work hard and contribute to the community, or taking other steps to positively craft the image of a league or team.

The latest additions to the list are the NBA and the owners who met with JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon this week to discuss the impact of the economy on their sport.

According to Bloomberg, owners from the 30 NBA teams met with Dimon in a New York hotel for more than an hour, delivering an "interpretation of the economy" based on data the company has collected. JP Morgan Chase is one of 14 banks that are involved in lending to the League as part of a $200 million line of credit it has taken out to help teams deal with the recesssion.

NBA Commissioner David Stern is forcasting a decline in league revenue next season. That is really significant in an era that has been marked by increased growth in many of the major sports leagues. Given that truth, even a leveling off of revenue has implications for the way franchises are run.

The League has a salary cap, so unlike Major League Baseball, which began to see the impact of the economy on its free agent market this season, there should'nt be too much of an impact on the team's personnel. But several teams are losing money and will depend on these NBA loans to stay afloat until the economy turns around.

That means that all the owners are kind of in this thing together. It's refreshing to see them meet and get on the same page, so that they can move forward unilaterally. They picked a good place to start meeting with Dimon, who has been influential on the national economic landscape recently.

It's not an unprecedented move. Major League Baseball owners met with former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker in November and learned that the ills of the economy would take a while to fix.

But it's clear that the NBA is not going to sit back and let this turn into a major problem. By working proactively and consulting with the best in the world, they might be better suited to solve their problems in a way that will not effect their fans nationwide.

That is the best-case scenario right now because fans are the lifeblood of the league. Keeping them happy (and subsequently the advertisers who want to reach them) is important, and major changes as a result of the league's money problems won't be good for anybody.

The NBA obviously gets that.

Lowrie Injury Bad News for Sox

Boston Red Sox shortstop Jed Lowrie went to see a specialist to get his ailing wrist examined yesterday. He first injured it last May, and was hampered by it all year. He thought, albeit without professional input, that he needed surgery and could miss the year. If he is lost for an extended period of time, it is bad news for the Sox.

Julio Lugo has been very disappointing in his Red Sox career. The Fenway Faithful will likely not be enthused to see him assume the starting role once he returns from extended spring training, where he is himself recovering from an injury.

I think Lugo is a pretty solid shortstop, but his recent injury is troubling. If that should recur, the Sox would be stuck with a combination of journeyman Nick Green and Gil Velazquez at the most important infield position. Lowrie was only hitting .056 in his first 18 at-bats, but he is a serious upgrade over Nick Green in every element of the game. The Sox better be praying to the baseball gods that either Lowrie can come back sooner than he thinks, or that Lugo can stay healthy and regain some of his old form.

The Sox seem to be doing fine without Lowrie so far. They've won three in a row to improve to 5-6. But the shortstop problem could hang the team out to dry in their spiffy new hanging Sox uniforms over the course of the season.

Ben Olsen: Heart of a Lion

For those of you who don't know much about D.C. United veteran midfielder Ben Olsen (and let's face it, I assume that's all of you), I would like to give you a history of the player's career. After playing at Virginia from 1995-1997 (and being named by Soccer America Magazine the national player of the year), Olsen joined D.C. United as a speedy outside midfielder, racking up four goals and eight assists en route to winning 1998 MLS Rookie of the Year honors.

Those numbers rose to five goals and 11 assists during his sophomore campaign with United, and Olsen topped the year off by winning the MLS Cup MVP after scoring the second goal in D.C.'s 2-0 win over the Los Angeles Galaxy. With former D.C. United and Virginia coach Bruce Arena taking over the U.S. National Team, Olsen became a prominent player for the red-white-and-blue as well. Simply put, Olsen was as promising a young American soccer prospect as there was at the time.

In 2000, however, Olsen suffered a major ankle injury in a collision with Chicago Fire goalkeeper Zach Thornton and missed much of the season. After recovering, however, Olsen was loaned to England First Division side Nottingham Forest and immediately impressed. The side was ready to offer MLS a transfer fee for Olsen's permanent rights before the young midfielder suffered another devastating ankle injury.

Over the course of the entire 2001 and 2002 MLS seasons, Olsen started a grand total of seven games. He completely fell out of the U.S. National Team picture and watched from home as the Yanks made a Cinderella run to the 2002 World Cup quarterfinals without him. On November 17, 2002, in the U.S.'s first game since World Cup, Olsen returned to the national team by getting the start against El Salvador at RFK Stadium. Olsen made his comeback an emphatic one, scoring the game's first goal in an eventual 2-0 U.S. win. In 2003, Olsen continued his career revival, starting 26 games after returning to his right midfield slot.

Olsen, however, missed the 2003 MLS play-offs after yet another ankle injury. Under new United coach Peter Nowak, Olsen was moved from his traditional outside midfield position to a new central midfield slot. Having lost much of the speed that once made him one of the league's fastest players, the move into the middle of the park suited Olsen well. Embracing the role of a hard-nosed, defensive-minded veteran whose scrappy play compensated for a lack of physical prowess (Olsen, aside from having lost his speed to injuries, only stands 5-8), Olsen earned MLS All-Star honors and was a key contributor to a United side that won the 2004 MLS Cup.

Although he was no londer the prolific goal scorer and playmaker that once sprinted up and down the outside of the pitch, Olsen's continued to be one of MLS's best players, even if his contributions didn't show up in the box score.

Despite his play, Olsen was considered a long shot at best to make the World Cup team since he did not play in a single 2006 World Cup qualifier. But the veteran scored twice for the U.S. in the team's warm-up games and, thanks to his versatility and reputation as an extremely positive locker room presence, Olsen earned a presitigious spot on Arena's 23-man roster. After not playing in the first two games in Germany, Olsen came on as a first half sub in the Americans' final game against Ghana. Later on, Olsen would repeatedly cite this as the most proud moment of his career.

In 2007, with Olsen having been free of injury for several years, new United coach Tom Soehn moved him back to his old outside midfield spot and the grizzled veteran responded with the best season of his career. Scoring seven goals (including his first professional hat trick in a 4-2 win over Red Bull New York), tallying seven assists and earning MLS first team honors, Olsen was back to the player he used to be. Playing again for the U.S. at the 2007 Copa America tournament, Olsen was regarded as arguably the Americans' best player.

For a player whose career was so devastated by injuries, who had to go from relying on speed and energy to depending on his soccer IQ, leadership and grit - to see Olsen make the World Cup team and then have that kind of MLS season was one of my most satisfying experiences as a fan.

That off-season, however, saw Olsen's faultly ankles again give him trouble. He publicly contemplated retirement and missed the entire 2008 season, aside from one appearance as a substitute on June 28 in D.C.'s 4-1 win over the Los Angeles Galaxy. In a game where over 40,000 people packed into RFK Stadium to see David Beckham play, Olsen received the loudest ovation (the Olsen stuff starts at 6:40) upon enterting the match and being handed the captain's armband. The United supporters exuded their appreciation of Olsen, unveiling a banner that read "Ben Olsen: Heart of a Lion."

Olsen has returned to United this season, again moving back to central midfield. Few think Olsen has the fitness to play a full 90 minutes anymore, but on Friday against the New England Revolution, injuries forced United to use all three of its subs and Olsen had no choice but to play the whole game. In the second half, Olsen and Revs midfielder Wells Thompson had confrontation that ended with each player earning a yellow card. With United trailing 1-0 in second-half stoppage time, Olsen leaped over Thompson to head home (goal is just after 3 minute mark of that video) a Jaime Moreno freekick and salvage a 1-1 draw for the home side. After scoring the goal, Olsen gave some choice words to Thompson amid his celebration.

Following the game, Olsen gave this gem to the Washington Post about his feud with Thompson:
"Ah, he's a good kid," the DCU veteran said. "Look, it's New England-D.C. I figured I would try to start a fight to get us moving (laughing). It's a heated game. No hard feelings."

For a bit more about Olsen, check out Mike Wise's fantastic column (and great making the column video)

Damon Airs Out Wang

You never like to see a team start with infighting this early in the season.

After Chien-Ming Wang (0-3, 34.50) fell apart for the third consecutive start en route to a 22-4 loss to the Cleveland Indians, Johnny Damon had some choice words for the former ace. "He's making it real tough on our bullpen right now. We have to count on guys in our 'pen to go seven or eight innings. We have six losses on the year right now, and he's got three of them. In all three of those games, we've been blown out and we've had to go to our bullpen, so maybe our bullpen's not sharp the following days. I don't know what more to say, but hopefully he can figure it out, because it'd be tough to keep on going like this," the outfielder said.

The Yankees are concerned about Wang psychologically right now. His mechanics are clearly off, and his sinker is not the biting pitch that it used to be. It is very alarming considering the fact that an opposing hitter once described hitting Wang's sinker as akin to smacking at the ball with a wet newspaper.

Damon should probably have kept his mouth closed. Nothing he said is inaccurate, but the last thing the Yankees need is for Wang to start feeling like an outcast on the team, or like a burden on his teammates. The guy won 19 games each in 2006 and 2007, years the Yankees were desperately thin in the starting rotation. He didn't mouth off about other pitchers who struggled, and he definitely didn't air out Damon during his forgettable 2007 season. Say what you want to about his current performance, but Wang is a soft-spoken, classy athlete. He doesn't deserve Damon's lacerating comments in a public forum.

Everyone in New York is very aware of Wang's ineffectiveness without Damon pointing them out. Last night at an artsy bar in Brooklyn, it was a recurring topic of conversation around the room. On Twitter, New York celebrities like Artie Lang and Joe Budden were weighing in on Wang's struggles.

The Yankees are talking about skipping Wang's next start, in Fenway Park, where he has struggled in his career. They have a day off before then, so it would not affect the other pitchers' rest. But what will likely need to happen if Wang doesn't pitch a gem in his next outing is a AAA assignment. Phil Hughes (2-0, 2.31) is off to a hot start with the 10-0 Scranton-Wilkes Barre Yankees, and Wang clearly needs to make some adjustments.

It would be a real shame if he really has lost his touch. Watching him pitch at the height of his game is a joy. No one hits the ball out of the infield. He is a master of inducing weak contact. No one expected this.

BL finally picks up a BS

Brad Lidge blew a save for the first time as a Phillie last night, allowing four runs to the Padres to turn a 5-4 ninth-inning lead into an 8-5 loss.

Lidge had converted 47 consecutive save opportunities dating back to 2007--and also went 7-for-7 during the Phils' 2008 postseason run--but Lidge allowed a lead-off double to Jody Gerut who later scored on an RBI groundout, then allowed two two-out walks before leaving a fastball up to Kevin Kouzmanoff who hit a three-run home run.

Despite the performance, the crowd at Citizens Bank Park gave Lidge a loud ovation after manager Charlie Manuel took Lidge out after the home run. Whatever the public perception is about Phillies fans, you probably wouldn't see that in too many other ballparks.

It was certainly an unfortunate performance, but not something that you didn't really see coming. Lidge has looked solid but not untouchable in his first several appearances this season, and it seemed inevitable that an opponent was going to catch up with him eventually.

It's not helping that the Phillies have now lost three games in a row, and the bullpen has looked terrible in all three losses. But it's better that this is happening in April rather than in September. Just ask the New York Mets.

I'd certainly rather see Lidge blow a one-run lead in Game 2 against the Padres than have seen him blow a one-run lead in Game 5 against the Rays.

The key here is to see how Lidge responds to this.

It took him about two years to get over the monstrous home run he gave up to Albert Pujols in the 2005 NLCS, and if he blows a couple more saves here the fans won't be clapping for much longer.

Lidge still has nasty stuff, and nobody's perfect forever. But as the Phillies have now fallen 5.5 games behind the red-hot Florida Marlins, Lidge and the rest of the bullpen is going to have to pick it up for the Phillies to stay close.

IN OTHER NEWS: The ceremony honoring Harry Kalas on Saturday morning looked like a really nice event. It was touching to see all the players walk by and touch the casket as it sat behind home plate.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

With Nady Injured, Yanks' Overstock Turns Precarious

Now that Xavier Nady is likely out for the season, the Nick Swisher addition seems providential despite the Mark Teixeira signing. Besides the fact that Swish has been mashing [and pitching scoreless relief], how happy must Brian Cashman be that he does not need to start Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner for the remainder of the year?

An outfield of Johnny Damon, Cabrera and Gardner could have been one of the least productive Yankees' outfields since the dead ball era. And to the fans: don't even mention Hideki Matsui as an outfield solution. He is clearly not right, and I am relatively sure that he can not play the outfield regularly ever again.

Swisher now becomes a very important cog in that lineup. His attitude has been good for the Yankees so far. They desperately needed to be loosened up, and if there is any chance that Swisher can contribute at the level of his potential, the trade that sent Wilson Betemit to Chicago looks like a steal.

Austin Jackson is apparently on a tear in AAA, and thanks to Swisher, he will likely get the full year to develop. As the Yankees' heir apparent in center field, this can mean nothing but good things for the organization. Thankfully, they will not need to rush him because they accumulated some depth. This injury could have cost them the season in a parallel universe. But the peace in Yankeeland is precarious. An injury to Damon or Matsui could seriously hinder their ability to produce on offense.

Friday, April 17, 2009

New Yankee Stadium Allays my Fears

Watching the New York Yankees get pounded 10-2 by the Cleveland Indians at the New Yankee Stadium was tough to swallow. I was relieved that the Yankees picked up the first strikeout [C.C. Sabathia on Victor Martinez in the 1st inning], first hit [Johnny Damon single in the bottom of the frame], and first home run [Jorge Posada, who deserves it as much as Derek Jeter did], but it was definitely disappointing that Sabathia didn't pick up the win. The bullpen is becoming a concern for the Yankees, but I am not here to talk baseball.

During the YES Network telecast [thank you MLB.TV] I got to see a lot of the different parts of the ballpark for the first time. The biggest concern that I, and probably most Yankees fans, had about the new ballpark is that it would leave behind the sense of history that I became so accustomed to feeling the second I entered the old building. Monument park is still out there. There are 2,000 or so photos from the New York Daily News archives sprayed around the park, representing every era of Yankees greatness. In the bar in center field, giant baseball cards of all the great Yankees adorn the ceiling. Throughout the Great Hall, banners of the same titans rest high on the wall [including one for Paul O'Neill, which is awesome]. Monument Park even looks about the same out there. The famous Yankee Stadium facade now rings the back of the park, like in the pre-renovation days.

And then there are the modern amenities. High-definition big-screen TVs are everywhere. The jumbotron is one of the most impressive and terrifying creations made thus far by man [excluding nuclear weapons]. No one should see Derek Jeter's pores that clearly. But I kid. It is an awesome, impressive stadium, and I no longer feel like my youth was snatched away from me by corporate greed [though it was].

All in all, the place holds onto more than enough of the past to feel like home, and the modern amenities are breathtaking. It is a crown jewel for the organization, and I can't wait to get out there and see it myself [I have tickets for a game in June]. Unfortunately, the place seems to be cursed, because the Yankees have never won a regular season game there [sike, I'm not one of those fans].

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

NBA SPECIAL EDITION: Roses For Portland

Whatever you do, don't listen to NBA "analysts" on ESPN who think they know basketball. Trust me, instead. I'm unemployed.

So from my beggar hat, I pick the lottery winner, and that winner happens to be...

THE PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS

That's right, kiddies. Not the Lakers, Cavs, Celtics or Magic. The Blazers.

And I've never supported them before this year, but here's why the Blazers will be bringing that shiny gold trophy back to the Rose Garden Arena.

The Portland Trailblazers (54-28 on the year) are hot, and they've only been heating up as the season's been coming to a close. This is a good sign for Portland.

Here are some facts that will make you sign up for the Portland bandwagon, when it rolls through College Park this Saturday:

  • Portland has the most blow-out wins in the NBA this season. They're dangerous. Hot to the touch.
  • The Rose Garden is LOUD. Oregon arenas and stadiums have a nasty effect on visitors (see: Oregon State vs. No. 1 USC)--just good craftsmanship, is all.
  • Because of this, Portland has 33 wins out of their 38 games on their home court. Both times they played the Lakers at home, they won.
  • Rudy Fernandez. The boy wonder set the NBA all-time record for amount of 3-pointers by a rookie in a season. He made 159 3's this year. So you can count on him to make at least 2 from the land down under.
  • This team's got Mos Depth. Tonight against Denver's Nugnuts (No. 2 seed, btdubs), Portland's bench scored 72 of the game's 104 points. No starter had double figures. Tonight, Portland also had 29 total assists. As Boston showed everyone last year, helpers win championships.
  • Portland swept the reigning champs of Boston this year (that was with Garnett playing). They lost both games to the Cavs, but you want to know the margin? One game by 6, another by 5 in overtime.
  • Brandon Roy. Need I say more?
In the first round, Portland opens up against the Houston Rockets. If they use their speed, they can beat chop Yao, arrest Artest, and chew on Wafer. Portland has home-court advantage for this game, which could prove especially useful.

After that, should they get so far as to meet the Lakers, you can expect a great series. While Kobe will play his heart out (he will not be embarrassed again by the Eastern Conference), there's a good chance that Phil Jackson may overlook this team as a legitimate threat. It's always the team you least expect. Well don't forget, Phil, your Lakers got beaten in two very rough and tumultuous games in Portland this year. Portland will want to win as a point of contention. Watch yo'self.

Portland is one of those teams that has the ability, if they play well together, to beat any team in the NBA. They know the Lakers, they've beaten the Celtics, and they've made it close with the Cavs.

Watch out, these Portland stars look to blaze a trail straight to the playoffs. Better hope your team isn't first.

Sorry Houston.

Now to get myself a job...pirates are making a comeback, I hear.

-Dave "Tax Refund" Smith

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Suck Meter: April 14

The year is young on the Beltway but there's some early hope out of Baltimore. And the Nationals are also a team.

Let's take a look at the Suck Meter.Nationals. My preseason underdog has really stepped it up in the first week of the season, going an unprecedented 0-7. With a combination of a nonexistent pitching staff, unfulfilled potential and just a downright lack of talent, the Nats might contend for the worst season in baseball history.

Only one team in the majors has given up more runs than the Nats' 54 (Cleveland, 55. And they have an offense. And they're still 1-6). This is bound to happen when you're airing commercials showcasing a guy getting delirious because of a worthless game where "ace" John Lannan struck out seven Mets last year. This is a franchise grasping at straws. Your current rotation: Lannan, Scott Olsen, Daniel Cabrera, Jordan Zimmermann and a JUGS machine built in 1964 that the Nats stole from a Florida trainers' room. Yuck. At least the ESPN Nationals site has a sense of humor, showcasing the team "Wins Leader" on the right side of the page. Here's a hint: it's a tie!

Here's some breaking, cutting-edge news for you, Blackistone. Hope-of-the-Franchise Lastings Milledge was sent down to the minors a few hours ago. So... so much for that. Is it possible to be eliminated from playoff contention in May? We're about to find out.

The talk is that the Nationals have to draft Steven Strasburg in June, but knowing them, they'll screw that up too. Besides, to say this team is going to use their pick to fill a need is basically a given. Everything on this team is a need. What a failure of a franchise and everyone involved should be ashamed of themselves. Verdict: Last time, I said, "Terrible, but not otherworldly terrible." This time? Otherworldly terrible. 1.

Orioles
. This has been a team on a mission, and I've even started tricking myself into thinking that the Orioles might stay relevant all year. Of course, they won't, and they'll have another historically bad August where they go 1-24 or something like that, but for now it's been pretty nice.

The thing is, the Orioles have shown that they at least are smarter than the Mariners, and at best they have a competent offense. Seriously, as time moves on, that Bedard trade is looking smarter and smarter. Pac-Man Jones is your next big thing, and Goofy George Sherrill is locking down games like Mo Rivera. Which is wonderful, because Chris Ray has been an abomination so far.

But how about that offense? Aubrey Huff, Nick Markakis, Pac-Man and Brian Roberts. Those are four legitimate baseball humans. Sidenote on Roberts: I went to the game on Saturday and I was depressed that his at-bat music wasn't "Stanky Legg." I thought that was going to be a given.

But I digress. The lineup is for real, and once Wieters comes up we could see the best offense Baltimore has had in a decade. On top of that, it's been a hot start for the O's, who find themselves behind the Blue Jays somehow for second in the East at 5-2. As I'm typing this, they're in the eighth inning in Texas, tied at 3-3. Certainly not a bad start to the season.

Unfortunately, that offense is going to have to hold up, because we're not going to see too many 3-3 games with this team. Guthrie is a nice player and Uehara has shown that he at least understands how to use his arm to propel a baseball forward, but I can't say that much about anyone else currently on the major league roster. But you never know, maybe if they're hanging around mid-season, one of the big prospects (Tillman, Matusz, etc.) comes up and pitches okay, maybe there's someone out there on the waiver wire (Ben Sheets?), maybe this pitching staff gets patched together.

Oh, wait, Peter Angelos still owns this team. Crap.

But as for right now, this team is relevant. And that's more than I can say for the Nationals. Verdict: This is very close to the best we could possibly hope for as Orioles fans. 7.5.

Nats play as expected

The Nationals play Monday during the team's home opener was representative of the realistic expectations for this year's squad and led to the team maintaining its season opening winless streak.

In the game, Adam Dunn walked, hit an RBI double and a home run, made a questionable defensive play and struck out in a key situation. This performance just about sums up what Dunn brings to the table. Walks, sure. Power hitting, yep. Lotta K's, oh yeah. Lumbering, insufficient defense, you bet.

Additionally, the Nationals pitching presented no surprises. Starter Daniel Cabrera had a fine outing, but threw a lot of pitches and had to be removed after the fifth inning following three spectacular plays on hard hit line drives. This took the Nats to their bullpen, one of the team's many question marks.

The pen proved to be the team's destruction against the defending champion Phillies. Saul Rivera gave up a three-run home run and a solo shot in the seventh inning, busting a tied game wide open.

The offense while explosive at times thanks to a revamped middle of the order could not keep up with their pitchers' tendencies to give up dingers and their young defense's inclination to make mistakes.

In all, while this team has not yet tallied a win this season. There are reasons for hope. The offense, led by Dunn and shortstop Christian Guzman, kept fighting back after their pitching lost a lead.

Notes: Christian Guzman injured his left hamstring yesterday while rounding first base. He is day-to-day/

Nats fans, including me, experienced long lines for concessions, sparking the ire of many.

Barack Obama broke a long-standing tradition of the President throwing out the first pitch at the D.C. franchise's home opener.

Lastings Milledge was sent down to AAA following his tardiness to a team meeting and a slow start at the plate.

Monday, April 13, 2009

And now for something completely different

Today has been unexpectedly depressing.

As Schimmel pointed out, we lost Harry Kalas. Also passing today were former Detroit Tiger Mark Fidrych and porn legend Marilyn Chambers.

I don't know enough about Fidrych to eulogize him in this space, and Chambers is regrettably beyond the scope of this blog.

Instead, I can only offer a simple photo. I was going to sit on this today, but with the growing sadness I felt moved to liberate this image. 

Hopefully it'll bring a smile to your face.


Kenny Albert, lost in mix of fright and awe. Time for a new stylist, Eric.

RIP Harry Kalas

Harry Kalas died today.

The Voice of the Phillies passed out in the press box at Nationals Park hours before the Phillies played the Nationals, and he was pronounced dead at a local hospital shortly thereafter.

As strange as it may sound to be so attached to an announcer I never met, this is kind of hard for me to take.

Because other than perhaps my father, nobody is more responsible for my profound love of baseball than Harry the K.

Some of my earliest memories of the sport involve waiting for my dad to get home from work, turning on the old PRISM network and listening to Harry call a few innings before I had to go to bed.

I had his trademark home run call down pat by the time I was five:

"A LONG DRIVE...WATCH THIS BABY...OUTTA HERE!...HOME RUN DARREN DAULTON..."

I wore out my VHS copy of "Whatever it Takes, Dude" the video retrospective of the 1993 season that he narrated, and loved the scene where he sang "High Hopes" with the team in the training room.

After I moved to Connecticut, I'd try to catch the fourth inning of the Phillies game on 1210 WPHT on nights the station was powerful enough, because that was the inning Harry would switch to the radio booth.

More recently, when I watched big games on national networks or on opponent's stations, I'd always have to go and listen to Harry's important, dramatic calls on the internet after the game.

Driving back to school after Game 5 of the World Series last year, I kept thinking how I couldn't wait to listen to Harry's call on the Web once I got back.

My dad introduced himself to Harry at one of the World Series games in Tampa last year, and when my dad called me to tell me he saw Harry again the next day--and Harry remembered him--he spoke with the enthusiasm of a starstruck child.

As a coordinating producer on Baseball Tonight, my typically stoic father has spoken to dozens of current and former players, but he never reacted to me like he did when he encountered Harry. "He called me 'MISS-ter. KIM-mel' though," my dad said, imitating Harry's baritone as you always had to when recounting any kind of story about Harry. "But I didn't even bother to correct him."

Sports fans across the country were probably more familiar with Harry as the voice of NFL Films or from his Chunky Soup Commercials. His voice was distinctive enough that I'm sure you knew it even if you didn't know it was Harry.

But Harry Kalas belonged to Philadelphia.

He was a constant figure in the Philadelphia sports scene for the past 38 years. You don't last 38 years in the most passionate, unforgiving city in the country unless you really bring something special.

And you don't last 38 years in Philadelphia without becoming a part of the fabric of the city.

Harry called all 548 of Mike Schmidt's home runs, the Phillies' last four National League Championships, and the entire 2008 World Series run in his last full season.

When national broadcast rights prohibited him from calling the Phillies' first World Series title in 1980, the resulting public outcry led to a revision of the rights to allow for local radio broadcasts the following year. He was that good.

It may sound cliche, but without Harry Kalas, watching a Phillies game will truly never be the same.

You're 'Outta Here,' Harry. Rest in peace.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Eastern Conference and the Electric Mayhem

Hope everyone's had an eccentric Easter and a passé Passover! I know I have.

To celebrate the final day of the Masters, I watched basketball!

We're getting near the playoffs folks, and while No. 1 and No. 2 in the East are locked, loaded, and ready to play (so there was nothing tremendous on the line), LeBron didn't get the memo. I swear, I'm gonna fire my memo guy. I'm pretty sure no one's getting my hundreds of memos.

LeBron's well-defined Calves faced off against Paul "Simon" Pierce, Ray "Garfunkel" Allen, and Rajon "Cajon" Rondo in Cleveland. Both Boston and Cleveland had their respective winning streaks--congratulations, gentlemen--and they hoped to use this game to build some steam before diving headfirst into the long, twisty, dark waterslide known as the NBA Playoffs.

So while the game would seem like another great game between the two titans of the East, LeBron literally force-fed each of the Celtics until they puked. I know I almost did. The score after the first quarter was 31-9. Boston was so manhandled that Samuel Adams felt it, right before he rolled over in his grave, reached into his mini cooler and popped open another cold one. (Wouldn't it be weird if Samuel Adams drank Coors? I think imagining him still alive in his grave is probably weirder.)

Like I said in my last post: No Garnett + No Powe = No Eastern Playoffs Championship = No Awesome Christmas Party at Danny Ainge's House Next Year. The best thing about the Celtics is that Marbury--like I mentioned in a previous blog post--has stepped up like I told him to. At least one guy gets my memos. But that's the bottom line of that. Moving on!

Is anyone paying attention to Dwayne Wade? This guy is the Rodney Dangerfield of basketball. Lovable, but still gets no respect.

In an attempt to wrangle some respect, he put up 55 points on the Knicks. While the Quest hasn't been the greatest of teams this year, this was the same Knick team that just took out the Orlando Magic on their home court, so they ain't just whistlin' dixie.

Dwayne "The Rock" Wade had 55 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists and a block, but you know what? He'd probably average a triple double like LeBron if he had anybody to pass to. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Wade won't win the MVP race over LeBron, but he better get second place among voters, cause DAMN.

While this isn't what I should be talking about, just one note about the Masters. Angel's win is great, but this is his second major he's won because the leader blew it. Again, don't get me wrong, props to Angel, but it's terrible that Perry blew it, especially since he had so many chances to redeem himself.

-Dave Smith, "The Jewish Jay-Z"

An up-and-down first week.

The first week of the Phillies' season is in the books, and despite terrible starting pitching and falling behind in all six of their games, the Phils' head to Nationals Park tomorrow with a satisfactory 3-3 record.

In honor of arguably my favorite talk show on WMUC, I'm going to put together a "Rose-Bud-Thorn" for the first week of the season. Here's two things I liked, two things I didn't like and two things I'm looking forward to about the Phils.

Rose: The bullpen. The Phils' starters have been terrible (see below), but the pen has kept the team in games so far. In 24 innings pitched, eight relievers have combined to allow just seven earned runs. Clay Condrey, Ryan Madson, Jack Taschner and Scott Eyre have combined to pitch 10.2 innings WITHOUT ALLOWING A BASERUNNER. That's more than perfect game for those guys. Brad Lidge is 2 for 2 in save opportunities, and Madson especially has shown tremendous stuff in the eighth inning. I'd take Lidge and Madson over Rodriguez and Putz right now and I don't care what you have to say about that.

Rose: Chase Utley. It wasn't clear whether the stud second baseman would even be ready to start the season after offseason hip surgery, but clearly he's good to go. Utley hit .476 in the first six games, and hit the game-tying home run in the 8th inning of the Phils' win over the Rockies today. He also made at least one diving play that I can remember on a ground ball up the middle, so clearly he is not limited by his injury.

Thorn: The starting rotation. Each of the Phillies starters has been pretty terrible, except arguably Brett Myers who settled down after his first two innings in the season opener and pitched a decent game in his first win of the year Saturday night. Collectively though, the Phils' starters are 1-3 with an 8.41 ERA the first time through the rotation plus a second start by Myers. Chan Ho Park sucked today in his first start, giving up five runs on seven hits in 3.1 innings. Joe Blanton gave up seven runs on nine hits on Wednesday, and Cole Hamels gave up seven runs on 11 hits on Friday. There have been no quality starts through the first six games, and only Myers has made it into the sixth inning. The offense and bullpen can only bail the club out for so long.

Thorn: Jimmy Rollins. The 2007 MVP is off to a terrible start, and is in one of those stretches where he just looks uncomfortable at the plate. This happens to him from time to time, and you usually just have to wait it out. When he's not going well he often chases pitches out of the zone and that's what he's doing now. Rollins is hitting 3-for-28 (.107) right now. One just needs to appreciate his defense until he snaps out of it.

Bud: The Hamels situation. The 2008 World Series MVP was terrible in his first start on Friday, and his stuff wasn't nearly where it was at the end of last season. His command was spotty, and his fastball, which usually sits in the low 90s, was stuck around 86 or 87. It's possible he just isn't up to speed yet after missing time in spring training with elbow stiffness, and hopefully that's the case as opposed to a more serious injury. Our esteemed colleague Eric Detweiler seems to think the Phils should send Hamels to the DL to make sure he is fully healthy, but I'm not ready to believe in that yet. Hamels has maintained he is OK, and hopefully he'll work his way into form soon enough. The Phils are going to need him to pitch well if they are going to compete this season.

Bud: The Phils in DC this week. I'll be at the ballpark for some Phillies-Nationals action Monday and probably either Wednesday or Thursday as well, and Barack Obama is scheduled to throw out the first pitch Monday afternoon. Nationals President Stan Kasten invited Phillies fans to invade the ballpark , so I don't want to let him down. The Nats have looked good so far by the way. Almost got that first win today.

Swisher Making his Case for Playing Time

Yankees fans are breathing a lot easier after C.C. Sabathia's second start. The lefty went 7.2 strong innings, allowing no runs, six hits, no walks and six strikeouts against the Kanssas City Royals yesterday afternoon.

Sabathia was supported by Jorge Posada and Nick Swisher, who knocked in three runs apiece in the Yankees' 6-1 victory. Swisher connected on his second home run of the season, and added a triple. Swisher is stealing the show among the Yankees' new acquisitions so far, and is making a serious case to be a regular starter.

Through 13 at-bats, Swisher has seven hits, including six for extra bases, and nine RBI. His slugging percentage is a robust 1.385 thus far. He has also drawn three walks, pushing his on-base percentage to .625. If the Nick Swisher of old has come to play for the Yankees, Xavier Nady could find himself in a new uniform before long. His contract expires following the season, and the Yankees apparently think that his agent, Scott Boras, is going to demand too much money for Nady's worth, which is diminished by his low on-base percentage.

As much as I have campaigned for Nady, I also recognize that Swisher had an extraordinarily unlucky season last year. His batting average on balls in play (BABIP) was .248, which was the fourth lowest in the pros. That is not characteristic for someone who hits the ball as hard as Swisher does, and at his best levels, he is a far superior offensive player to Nady. If Swisher continues to play like his old self, it might be time to check the phones and see what the Yankees can get for a season of Nady.