Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Upset and the Devil Child

I'm not a soccer guy.

This in spite of playing AYSO, high school and college soccer for a combined six seasons, and pick-up games on the fields of Boston and Williamsburg, VA for probably another four or five years. Like basketball, it's a sport I enjoy playing more than watching.

That said, I spent a lot of time covering high school soccer when I first broke into reporting, and I do watch the World Cup. Not religiously, but I do enjoy the occasional WC game.

Yesterday team USA accomplished something in the FIFA Cup tournament that most who know soccer would call one of the unlikeliest of achievements. They beat Spain in the semi-finals.

I don't claim to know a lot about the sport from an international perspective, but I know this - US Soccer isn't going to get the credit it deserves for this win due to the lack of interest in this country. Sure, it will from American soccer fans, but it's sad that the rest of the country probably won't acknowledge this win for what it is. This was the US beating Team Russia in hockey in the 1980 Olympics.

The only parallel that doesn't exist is that Spain isn't the big bad villain of a shadow war with the United States. But, otherwise both Spain Soccer and the Russian Hockey (are/were) the best in their respective sports. Spain had gone undefeated for 35 matches, and had notched 15 straight wins. Their goalie had gone the equivalent of five games without giving up a goal when the US scored on him.

Both times the US faced the most dominating team in the sport in the semi-finals, needing to beat that team to move on to the finals. If the Americans can win the FIFA cup, they seal the deal and the parallels with the 1980 US Hockey Team are close to complete. All that will be missing is the attention Hockey got for its win. And that's a shame.

Devil Child...

Jon Lester got the win last night and is now 6-6 after going 6 innings, while giving up 6 hits and striking out 6. Yup, Jon Lester is Damien.

Overall, Lester has put up average numbers this season - 6-6, 4.68 ERA - however, after a rough start to the season, Lester appears to have turned a corner.

Since May 21, the Red Sox lefty is 4-2 in seven starts with five quality starts. He has had only one start in which he gave up more than three earned runs, has given up only one run four times, logged one complete game and has a 2.78 ERA over that stretch.

To put that in perspective, previous to May 21, Lester was 2-4 in eight starts with a 6.51 ERA. Only three of those eight starts qualified as quality starts, and five times he gave up five earned runs or more. On top of that, over the last seven games he has averaged two-thirds of an inning more than he was averaging over his first eight games. While that might not outwardly sound like much, in essence he has pitched roughly an extra five innings.

Speaking of turning a corner, David Ortiz might have. I'm still hoping this isn't just a streak, or a signal that Big Papi has hit the beginning of the end and this is his last hurrah, but after starting horribly, Ortiz has come on strong in June.

Sure, he's only batting .219 with an OPS of .700, but as recently as May 30 the big guy was hitting .185 with an OPS of .569. Since May 30 the big man has been on a tear. He has hit six of his seven homeruns since May 30 he's batting .297 and has 15 (of his 33 total) RBI. For the month of June he's hitting .327.

Historically, his best months have been June (career .307 average in June) and July (.322 for his career), so it should be interesting to see what happens over the next month to Ortiz.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

One liners

So...should we just start referring to PED's as Rocket Fuel?

If Tom Brady picks up at the beginning of the coming season where he left off at the end of 2007, what's the over/under for the first bionic man reference? Week three?

If Peyton Manning struggles, what will be blamed first? Age or the change in coaching staff?

If Brady struggles, what's the over/under on blaming him for coming back from rehab too quickly?

This year's Daisuke Matsuzaka has been more crumbling Dice than tumbling Dice. Take your time figuring it out, and get back when you can.

Is it just me, or are there a lot of morons out there complaining about the value for the dollar with the Dice-man. It's three seasons into a six season contract, and this is the only season that the Dice has come up craps, so to speak.

A Penny saved...if Brad Penny continues on pace, he will have a comparable year to his 2006 campaign with the Dodgers...adjusted for pitching in the batter's A-League of course. For what it's worth, I'll take 14 to 16 wins from my fourth starter.

Am I the only one hoping that Patrick Chung turns out to be a better pick than the last man the Pats drafted with that last name - Eugene Chung?

Should we call him Steroidin' Sammy now?

Yeah, I'd be peeved at Alex Rodriguez if I were Yankee management - fatigue from an operation and playing are one thing, but Jet-setter Lag?

Yup, sometimes it's the trade that didn't happen that determines the fate of a franchise. How about them Apples, NY?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Least surprising news ever

So, Sammy Sosa tested positive back in 2003 along with Alex Rodriguez. The news of this comes out only a few short weeks after Sosa went public, lobbying for his place in the Hall of Fame.

In an interview with ESPN Deportes at the beginning of June, Sosa said,

"Everything I achieved, I did it thanks to my perseverance, which is why I never had any long, difficult moments [as a baseball player]. If you have a bad day in baseball, and start thinking about it, you will have 10 more," Sosa said in his first public comments in months.

"I will calmly wait for my induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Don't I have the numbers to be inducted?"


"I always played with love and responsibility, and I assure you that I will not answer nor listen to rumors," Sosa said. "If anything ugly comes up in the future, we will confront it immediately, but with all our strength, because I will not allow anybody to tarnish what I did in the field."

Coincidence that his name gets leaked three weeks after he begins to lobby for the Hall? I think not.

The only two places this could be coming from are either the Union, or the Justice Department which forced baseball to turn over the list. My guess is that it's being leaked by someone in Justice.

At this point he can pretty much kiss the Hall goodbye as he definitively has joined the ranks of McGwire, Palmeiro, Clemens, and A-Rod as players whose artificially inflated numbers are being viewed with either increased or overwhelming skepticism.

Typically, I'm not big on comparing players from different eras in baseball, but this is different. Everything is skewed from about 1990ish on. Some players used PEDs, some didn't. But it should change how players are viewed, and this most recent era almost demands we consider how these players would have done in earlier eras. And I don't think they would hold up well.

We have lived through an era that should make anyone who knows the history of the game appreciate those who came before much more. Appreciate Roger Maris and Hank Aaron, Ted Williams and Babe Ruth all the more for knowing they did it not only without things like steroids and HGh, but without the diluted pitching that sluggers have faced for the last two decades.

Does anyone really believe that without steroids and facing the likes of Sandy Koufax, or Tom Seaver, or Don Drysdale in their primes that Jason Giambi would have anywhere near the same number of career homers? Barry Bonds? Alex Rodriguez?

We live in an era where pitchers average only about six innings per outing, in spite of the fact that they get an extra day of rest from the five man rotation as opposed to the four man rotation that was popular 40 and 50 years ago. As recently as the 1970's and early 80's a horse was a pitcher who threw 250 to 300 innings in a season. Now if a pitcher hits 200 innings he's the horse of a rotation.

At one point the Orioles had four 20 game winners in one season. There were four in all of baseball last season. That staff (1971 Orioles) also accounted for 70 complete games. Last season it took 21 pitchers to combine for that many complete games.

On a lighter note -

David Ortiz is actually hitting over .300 for the month of June and has raised his batting average by 22 points. I'm still a little skeptical given the fact that he has always hit the Yankees well for his career and he's currently facing the Marlins after facing the Tigers and Rangers. The only one of those teams with decent pitching is Detroit. Otherwise, the Yankees are 26th, the Marlins 22nd, and the Rangers are 17th in team ERA.

I'm not saying that I'm not happy about this streak, I'm just saying that I'm hoping it's not just a streak. I will feel a whole lot better if Ortiz can get that batting average up to around .240, particularly given the fact that I sincerely believe that Varitek will go into his usual cool down mode as summer heats up.

It is possible that facing the weak pitching is exactly what Big Papi needs to break him out of his funk, but give it to the All-Star Break before you get too excited. In other words, be happy for now, but if he takes a hard left turn back to where he was, don't be surprised. I'm hoping he doesn't - call it cautious optimism.

As for the potential of the Sox going to a 6 man rotation - it's something I think might help Daisuke Matsuzaka given that he pitched in a 6 man rotation in Japan. Otherwise, I don't know how beneficial this will be to the rest of the staff given the fact that it looks like everyone else has begun to hit a rhythm.

Final note - The Australian football team on which I play, the Baltimore/Washington Eagles kicked off their season with a 105-15 win over the Columbus (OH) Jackaroos. This upcoming weekend is an off-week before we head on up to New York to play the Magpies in Yonkers.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Crazy eights and other observations

Eight in a row after an eighth inning comeback.

Are the Red Sox in the Yankees' heads? Maybe. Maybe not. I think it's as much the fact that the Yankees just aren't constructed to hang as anything else. Yes, there are a lot of big names in there, but let's really look at this. And just for symmetry, lets look at eight reasons why the Yankees are looking up at the Red Sox after dropping eight in a row to their arch-rivals to start the season (and nine total going back to last season)...

1. CC Sabathia, the would-be ace to get the team over the hump - 5-4 with a 3.68 ERA. Only 50 percent of his starts qualify as quality starts. Solid, yes. Dominating the way an ace should be? Hardly.

2. The revamped bullpen - The Bronx Bombers are 19th in ERA after the 7th inning so far this season with a team ERA of 4.33, and the team as a whole is also 19th in ERA with men in scoring position and 2 outs at 19.73. Sure, no one has a spectacular ERA in that position (the Dodgers lead the league with a 15.86, and the Red Sox are 5th at 16.96, almost three runs better per nine innings than the Yankees). As good pitching will almost always overcome good hitting, this does not bode well for the Bombers as the season progresses.

3. Counting on Wang and Burnett - The Yankees were counting on Chien-Ming Wang to bounce back from a year in which he struggled due to injury during the first time in his career. Wangs' issues, reportedly, had to do with a foot injury. Even if he's healthy, working back from a foot injury is going to affect a pitcher's mechanics. They have also counted on the idea that AJ Burnett would dominate like he did last season. But outside of contract years, Burnett is an imminently mediocre pitcher. AJ was signed with the expectation of being the number two or three guy in the rotation. He would be the four or five guy in the Boston rotation.

4. The New Yankee Stadium - A raucus home park gives any team an advantage. A home park that can't sell a significant portion of its seats due to overpricing gives visiting teams an advantage, particularly when the team is already starting with an overrated pitching staff and has redesigned the home park to be a launching pad.

5. Better depth overall - Without starting center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, back-ups Mark Kotsay combined to go 3 for 11 (.273) with one run scored against the Yanks. On top of that, both made spectacular defensive plays in the field on what looked like sure extra-base hits. Instead, Yankees found themselves walking back to their dugout, failing to reach base. For all the talk about the Yankees combating injuries, the Sox played the series without their aforementioned outfielder, started their back-up catcher in one game, and continue to play without their starting short-stop. The back-ups thrust into starting roles this series went 9 for 26 (.346), with two home runs, 3 RBI, 7 of Boston's 17 runs scored. This doesn't even deal with the fact that the Sox bullpen can overcome a bad outing by one of its members. The Yanks' pen can't.

6. David Ortiz - Before anybody reads a whole lot into a potential resurgence of the Boston slugger, it should be noted that Ortiz is batting .263 against the Twins and then it drops again to .235 against Baltimore. There are four AL teams against which Ortiz is batting .160 or below. He's been strong batting .364 against Texas and .313 against Cleveland. He has been a Yankee killer, however, batting .321 with 8 RBI against Yankee pitching.

7. The starting rotation - The Yankee starters are a respectable 21-16, with six starters putting that record together. The Sox, with six starters, racked a 28-18 record. Both teams have logged 60 starts with Sox starters qualifying for 46 decisions and averaging just under 8 decisions per starter as well as 4 wins per starter. NY starters are averaging just a shade over 6 decisions per starter and 3.5 wins per starter. In essence, the Yankees are having to go to their bullpen with greater frequency. During the series, at least 8 of the Boston runs crossed the plate with a Yankee reliever on the mound while Sox starters logged 18 innings in three games to the Yankees' 12.1.

8. Timing - for all the to do made regarding the Yankees errorless streak, it seemed that whenever the Yanks needed a big defensive stop, or a clutch hit, the team came up short while Boston made the plays. Whether it was A-Rod's double clutching leading to unearned runs, or the Sox relievers coming up with the big stop when NY relievers couldn't, the Yankees in the first eight games of the series against the Sox have made mistakes or failed to come through at the worst possible times.

And other observations...

Vince Young wants his starting position back. I suggest he fight for it on the field rather than in the press. I suspect that he's not the only "quarterback of the future" that will end up riding the pine this season. My guess, Matt Leinart continues to ride the pine, as does Tavaris Jackson, and that Jamarcus Russell loses his starting job to Jeff Garcia.

And finally, I suspect that Michael Vick will land somewhere, but not anytime soon, and I can hardly venture a guess as to where he will land. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if no one signs him, but I think someone will at some point. Someone will think that he will make for a good option in the Wildcat, or might help their team out in some way or other. However, given a little bit of time removed from the "excitement" that is the Vick experience, I think that most personnel people have realized that he's not going to be the answer at quarterback, and for all the excitement he might bring on the field, that he's not worth the headache and lack of dedication off of it.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Rejected headlines

Yanks' Wang flaccid

Limp Wang removed early

Yankees' Wang impotent and ineffective

Yankees kicked in their Wang

Wang's balls help Bombers knuckle under

Sox knock Yanks' Wang

Okay, admittedly this is among my more juvenile posts, but I couldn't resist. Back again when the Sox-Yanks series concludes, and some observations about other NFL happenings like the boneheaded comments of Vince Young and other thoughts.