Thursday, May 31, 2007

I spy with my little eye...a Vick

According to an AP report that hit early this morning, the prosecutor investigating the Michael Vick case has linked Vick to dogfighting and charges are imminent. According to prosecutor Gerald Poindexter, eyewitnesses to Vick at dogfights in Virginia have voluntarily come forward to finger Vick.

Suddenly Vick is in a lot more hot water, and things could really be on the verge of finally falling apart for the talented player who has lived on the edge for quite some time. As I watch this case quickly unfold, I can't help but think that this isn't going to end well for him.

Speaking of football...
It appears that Chad Brown might be on the verge of returning to the Patriots. If moved back outside to his natural position, Brown might provide the Patriots with decent depth.

If he does indeed come back, it would make sense for Belichick to move him to the outside for other reasons as well - he struggled when moved to the inside, and with the five linebackers in front of him, there are three, Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel, and Adalius Thomas, better suited to the inside.

A new challenger to enter the arena...
According to reports, there's a new football league on the horizon - the United Football League, tentatively scheduled to begin play in August of 2008. Even though it's looking at kicking off during the NFL season, the league is reportedly looking at a smart design for competition.

The UFL is looking at setting up teams in eight markets that currently have no NFL team such as Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and San Antonio (though nothing is written in stone...except for maybe Vegas). Games will be scheduled for Fridays so that it avoids competition with the NFL's Thursday and Sunday games as well as college football's Saturday heavy schedule.

For the real football hardcore, that means five straight days of professional or college football from Thursday through Monday. For the NFL, this means little except that they might accelerate their plans on getting a team into the L.A. market.

The league will face a lot of issues as a start-up. The last league to successfully challenge the NFL for any sort of market share did so before the big television contracts, however, it's a loophole in the laws that govern the NFL's broadcasting that the league hopes to take advantage of. According to one report:

The UFL plans to exploit the 1961 Sports Broadcasting Act, which prohibits the NFL from televising games on most autumn Friday nights. The United Football League the U.F.L. plans to make a smaller deal with a cable network like USA, TNT or Comcast’s versus network.
This might be a smarter move than the USFL in the 1980's or the more recently failed XFL which tried for spring league football, competing with the more established fandoms of baseball, not to mention for ratings with playoff basketball.

Their bigger problem will be competing for talent with the NFL. The only way I can see that happening is if the UFL offers guaranteed contracts with the caveat that if the league folds, then no monies are guaranteed. Otherwise what incentive will talented players have to go to a smaller league with no established stars, no established fan base, and what is likely to be a much smaller television contract?

How serious is the upstart league? Investment banker Bill Hambrecht, an owner of one of the original USFL franchises has already put up money along with his partner Tim Armstrong, a senior executive at Google, and basketball mogul Mark Cuban has already dipped his feet in as an owner.

It's certainly bound to be an interesting ride.

Yanks at Sox...
I was going to preview this weekend, talk about match-ups, best-case/worst-case scenarios and all, then it occurred to me...there's no reason to talk about how far ahead of the Yankees the Sox could be at the end of the weekend. Really.

Until the Yankees show that they can string more than two games together without immediately losing three, there's not point in talking about them in relation to any sort of run at first place.

Yes, they are that bad right now (in spite of their win last night). They are at a point where they merit far less consideration from the press than they are currently receiving - do the Texas Rangers or the Kansas City Royals get this sort of press? No? Until the Yankees pull ahead of Baltimore and Toronto, I think (unless something else goes monumentally wrong for them) I will begin to focus more on the Orioles and the Jays in the AL East.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Finding new ways to lose...

Somehow, amidst all their other problems, the Yankees have found ways to squander quality starts. It seems when their hitting was working in April, their pitching fell apart, then in May, when they got the occasional quality start (I hesitate to say their pitching has turned around because most of their quality starts have come from one pitcher), the hitting falls apart.

Last night Aaron Hill of the Blue Jays stole home to tie the game at 2-2 before the Jays went on to win 3-2. Now, I understand that Pettitte is lefty, but you have to at least check the runner at third.

As the Yankees free-fall to 14.5 back along with the Devil Rays, the Jays and the Orioles have strung together a few wins to creep closer to the .500 mark. Currently those two teams are three games and two games under .500 in the win column each...the Yanks? Eight.

As recently as Sunday the Yanks were at least tied with the Sox offensively...something that could give some hope that if the pitching turned it around, that maybe there could be a legitimate run at the wild card. Since Sunday the Yankees team batting average has dropped from .276 to .270. The Sox have gone up a point to .277.

The Yankees were supposed to have the new Murderer's Row's on what many prognosticators based their predictions of Yankee success. They haven't been bad scoring runs (258, good for fifth in the majors), but they still languish behind Detroit (289), Cleveland (276), and Boston (276) in the American League. Their 54 home runs trail Boston (55) and Toronto (62) in the AL East.

There are a number of other offensive categories in which the Yankees are trailing other teams, but the important stats still are related to pitching. Only one team in the entire AL East lags behind the Yankees in ERA (4.61)...the Devil Rays (5.55). The others ERA's, coincidentally enough, reflect in the standings - 1. Red Sox (3.62), 2. Orioles (4.13), 3. Blue Jays (4.34).

Possibly most telling of all, and most overlooked - the Yankees are dead last in the majors with only three saves. Even Tampa Bay is in double digits with saves. The only other team with fewer than ten saves is the Texas Rangers who are currently fighting it out with the Royals for the worst record in baseball (teams the Yankees are only two games ahead of in the win column).

As strange as it is to say it after a decade, I would say that the Jays and O's are worth more worry as a Sox fan than the Yankees are for remainder of this season.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Nuggets from the weekend

Patriots back up defensive end Marquise Hill died this weekend in a jet ski accident on Louisiana's Lake Pontchartrain. Hill was 24.

I am not going to wax poetic about how Hill was a supremely talented football player who was on the verge of a break-out year. He wasn't. He was a second round draft pick who was likely entering his make or break year with the Patriots. He worked hard, but in three seasons managed to play in only 13 games.

There's a chance there was a great player beneath all that hard work that would have surfaced in a system other than the one played by the Patriots, that sort of thing happens all the time. As it is, we'll never know.

Unfortunately, the young defensive end is now a cautionary tale as he and his friend went jet skiing sans life-jackets and Hill ended up paying a terrible price.

Hill, a native of New Orleans, according to reports had dedicated much of his free-time to the rebuilding efforts of the hurricane ravaged city. Also according to reports, Hill's final act was to make sure that the childhood friend with whom he was on the lake, was able to grasp a nearby pylon, saving her life.

Hill's death comes in an odd NFL off-season during which Hill is the third active player under the age of 25 to meet an untimely demise. The other two were Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams who was shot on New Year's Eve and back-up running back Damien Nash who collapsed after a charity basketball game.

The longer it goes, the worse it looks...
According to an AP report that hit the wires over the weekend an individual termed as "a reliable" police informant has placed Vick at the scene of at least one dog fight laying down money on dogs. The informant claims that his own dog beat Vick's dog in a fight.

The report goes on to say that the Surry County, VA district attorney is preparing charges, but it does not note whether or not Vick will be included in those charges.

In previous reports at least one neighbor has placed Vick at the property that he claims to have never been at (in spite of owning it), and now someone is placing Vick at a dogfight. I wonder how the Falcons are enamored with their second string quarterback, because it seems a strong possibility that they're going to be using him a lot this year.

A note on the AL East...
Currently the Yankees reside 13.5 games behind the Red Sox and 7 games under .500. This has been the lead story on ESPN and a number of different sports pages. Almost none of these stories have noted that the Yankees are tied with the Devil Rays for last place in the East, nor do most note that both the Orioles and the Blue Jays are ahead of the Yanks, and both teams are beginning to play decent baseball.

The Yankees on the other hand are playing like they're in beer-league softball. They look old, worn down, and reliant on the long-ball for most of their offense.

The fact that sports writers are not writing about the Orioles or the Blue Jays is something of an injustice. Not a huge one, as both teams are battling to get back to .500, and the second place Orioles are only two games ahead of the Yankees, but that still puts them two games closer to the AL leading Red Sox, and two games closer to the wild card.

Outside of the Red Sox, the teams in the AL East have to be setting their sites on the wild card. In about one month we will be halfway through the season. If the season ended at the All-Star break, this is the ground that teams would have to make up -

Detroit Tigers: 29-21 Wild Card Leader
Seattle Mariners: 25-22, 3 Games back
Chicago W. Sox: 24-22, 4 Games back
Oakland A's: 25-25, 4 Games back
Minnesota Twins: 25-25, 4 Games back
Baltimore Orioles: 24-27, 5.5 Games back
Toronto Blue Jays:23-27, 6 Games back
New York Yanks: 21-28, 7.5 Games back

What do the teams at the top of the list have in common? Almost all have some quality starters. Not starter...starters. The teams towards the bottom of that list? The Yankees have the lowest innings pitched per start in the entire league, the Blue Jays only now got their ace back from the DL and their closer hasn't pitched an inning this year, and the Orioles closer who was so dominant last year has been pinata-like this year.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Dirty Dozen...and a half

Twelve reasons the Yankees are languishing behind the Red Sox

Currently the Red Sox are leading the AL East by 11.5 games over the Baltimore Orioles, 12 over the Toronto Blue Jays, and 12.5 over New York. As the Yankees were a chic pick to finish atop the AL East amongst many of the sports writers out there and the two teams have been inexorably linked since Babe Ruth was sold to the Yankees, I want to address twelve reasons why the Bronx Bombers find themselves twelve-plus games back.

1. Keeping up with the Soxes: In order to keep up with Boston's personnel moves, George Steinbrenner mandated trading the farm for his own "OWGA" (Old White Guy Ace), in acquiring Randy Johnson (in order to keep up with the Schilling acquisition). Problem was, Schilling had more left than Johnson, and Brian Cashman worked hard to replenish the depleted farm system. Unfortunately, between injuries and youth, the now replenished farm system is not yet ready for prime time.

2. Health: This goes back to the OWGA's, and to the now fired strength and conditioning guy. The Bommahs have had injuries to key starters in the field and in the rotation - Johnny Damon, Jorge Posada, Mike Mussina, Chien-Ming Wang...the list goes on. While not all have gone on the DL, it has resulted in sub-par play, and sub-par starting pitching.

3. The Yankees Dirty Dozen: When Roger Clemens joins the rotation in about a week, it will make the twelfth starter the Yanks have had in the rotation this year. Of the Yankees' 22 wins on the season, only 14 have come from the starters (for perspective, the Red Sox' Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka combined have 14 wins). Their best starter has been Andy Pettitte against whom the AL is batting at a .268 clip. How long could his sub-3.00 ERA last if he's not fooling the batters.

4. Abreu being Abreu: Last year for two months after being acquired by the Phillies, Bobby Abreu had (arguably) the best two months of his career. Talk to Phillies fans...the real Bobby Abreu has just stood up.

5. The Bullpen stops here: If there has been one historical criticism of Joe Torre, even in the team's World Series years, it has been his handling of the pitching staff, particularly when and how to use his relievers. Unfortunately his starting pitching has been so bad that he has had to use his bullpen to excess.

6. The Rocket is the Answer: Never mind that Allen Iverson is the answer (and that I have no idea then what the question is), The Yankees answer to their pitching woes is to sign a 44 year old power pitcher who was barely able to maintain a 4.00 ERA during his last go-around in the AL, averaged only six innings per game in the weaker NL, and is two years older than the last time he pitched in the AL...well, you get where I'm going. I guess the bullpen will live by the "no rest for the wicked" credo.

7. Hideous No Mo: Ever since 2004 lights out closer Mo Rivera has been a crap shoot against the Red Sox, blowing saves in the early season series this year against the Sox who have a higher batting average as a team against Mariano than any other team in the majors.

8. Unity/Chemistry: Maybe a little overrated in baseball, but the fact of the matter is that Jeter doesn't like A-Rod, management is unhappy with Giambi, reliever Kyle Farnsworth doesn't like Clemens' special treatment...and those are just the situations we know. Steinbrenner went out and bought a lot of talented, shiny baubles that might not necessarily all fit together. He lacks that Alex Cora/Dave Roberts-type guy off the bench that becomes a fan favorite not because he's talented, but because he's the hard-nosed get my uniform dirty guy that makes things happen when he gets in the game.

9. The Sox Future Rotation: Right now the core of the Red Sox future is making the future the present...Matsuzaka and Beckett (the same number of wins as all Yankees starters combined) are the cornerstones of the future pitching staff, and right now the Sox have top rated pitching prospects in excess at AA and AAA ball. The Yankees have Wang who suddenly seems unsure of himself, and an injured Philip Hughes. Sure, Beckett is on the DL, but this season they will be getting Jonathan Lester as their fifth guy in the rotation, and will be faced with who to trade and who to keep amongst pitchers named Delcarmen, Buchholz, Gabbard, and at least two others that buzz is only now beginning to surface about.

10. Quality Starts: Even when the Sox starters are getting roughed up early as they have been lately, they are still making it into, and typically to at least the end of the sixth inning. The Yankees have only recently even raised the average number of innings from their starters to five innings per start.

11. Bench contributions: See some of what was written under the heading Unity, but also consider the following: The Red Sox and the Yankees are currently tied with a .277 team batting average. The Yankees have Posada, Jeter and A-Rod among the top five in hitting. A-Rod is showcasing his power like never before for his contract opt-out. The Red Sox still haven't seen a hot Manny Ramirez, JD Drew is struggling with a batting average hovering around .220, their lead-off guy, Julio Lugo, is struggling as much this year as Coco Crisp was last year...yet their offense right now is keeping pace with the Yankees offense.

12. One Full Run: The Yankees team ERA is more than one full run higher than the Red Sox. The Sox are in the top five in the league in team ERA, the Yankees are in the bottom five. It doesn't matter how good your offense is if your pitching can't hold a lead.