Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Is It Over Yet?

"And there we were all in one place
A generation lost in space."

So I happened to watch the NBA Finals last night, and by "watch it," I mean frantically fast-forwarding through the game, wondering aloud "when exactly is the offense going to make an appearance?" This is absolutely brutal to watch. The one guy of any intrigue is not playing nearly as well as he had all throughout th playoffs, which has San Antonio up 3-0, with the Spurs winning their fourth title a preconceived notion. LeBron has floundered, and has never looked comfortable in this series, and as for the rest of the team, it's been a nightmare. The funny thing is that I never really brought attention to the fact that Mike Brown, the Cavs coach, really doesn't know what he's doing. Again, he is in kind of a figurehead position for right now, with LeBron basically going pseudo-Bill Russell, handling the coaching and playing at the same time. This is kind of like "Kicking and Screaming" when Will Ferrell tells his players the only play is to "give it to the Italians" (man I'm reaching on references). Brown doesn't really have any control over the situation, and when you factor in the idea that none of his starters have any experience in the Finals, and you have a recipe for disaster. I think, really, if Cleveland had someone in place, like a Pat Riley or Don Nelson, that has been around the game awhile, and knows how to handle superstars, then perhaps, Cleveland would have had at least a fighting chance in this series.

Also, is there anyone else who feels like the refs are refraining from whistle-blowing a little too much. This was evident especially last night. Look, I know LeBron came out in his press conference after the game and told the press he didn't get fouled, but if you look at the footage, which I have seen countless times today, it is blatantly obvious that Bruce Bowen hacked him, and that, even if you don't call a continuation, and give him three free throws, you have to call something there. Bowen almost grabbed James and pulled him back, knowing that there was a good chance LeBron could pull off a buzzer beater to tie things up. It's amazing how the one time a guy actually wants a foul to be called, the refs let it slide and let the teams play on. There have been numerous instances when the contact has been a little too much. I'm aware that in the playoffs, a lot more contact is let go, and the games have less stoppages, but in this series, I have seen an abundance of no-calls that cannot happen. The refs need to start out early and carefully monitor the contact being dished out. If they started calling fouls early in the game, and setting the tone in that manner, then players would eventually learn what they can/cannot do, and act accordingly, or else risk getting into early foul trouble, something no one wants in the biggest series of the year.

Justin Verlander tossed the sixth no-hitter in Tiger history last night in a brilliant performance at Comerica Park, shutting down the Brewers in a 4-0 victory. Verlander ended with 12 strikeouts, and was clocked at 102 MPH on his 108th pitch of the game (ended up with 112 pitches). In terms of stuff, you may never see as much filth as Verlander was throwing last night. Absolutely ridiculous. Not saying I predicted a no-hitter would be forthcoming, but I was not in the least bit surprised that he was able to pull it off. I have been touting Verlander ever since I saw him pitch last year against the Royals (I know you were probably expecting me to say I saw him at Old Dominion...sorry to disappoint), and he was electric. He can smoke guys away, but what was really impressive was that off-speed hook pitch he threw (I want to say it's a slider, but it's not as fast in velocity, and it's not a curve because of its overwhelmingly lateral movement, so I just call it a hook pitch...very technical I know). The only thing that concerned me was if he would have the ability to sustain that kind of stuff for an entire season. Well, he proved to me, and the rest of the baseball world, that he's nasty, and he's got the stamina to pitch 200 innings a year. After a 17-9 rookie campaign that saw him become the #2 starter on the eventual AL pennant winners, Verlander is off to a 7-2 start, with a 2.79 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP, which no doubt was helped by last night's gem. So if there was anyone that was not aware of how special this guy is, they definitely know now.

What kind of took me back was that there have been discussions about how it's too early to be talking about how great Verlander is because of some pitchers in the past who burnt out before they could ever really continue their initial success. What exactly is the problem with calling a guy great based on what he has done? The guy is dominating right now, and who are we to speculate on how long he can keep it going, or how long his career is going to be? Why can't we just let the guy pitch, and, knock on wood, anything should happen, then judge him then. Sure, there have been guys in the past, like Mark Prior and Kerry Wood (hate to go all Cubs with that, sorry) who have gotten off to fast starts only to have their careers mired by injuries, but how can that be a basis on what Verlander's future may hold? Anyway, that's how I feel about all this speculation and the whispers going on about how this may be it for him. Enjoy this guy's pitching right now, because he truly is a gifted player and has a tremendous future that could stretch out for who knows how long.

So, is there anyone out there still doubting me after I came out and said that J.D. Drew and Julio Lugo would not be able to live out their respective five-year deals? Lugo was placed in the nine spot for last night's game in favor of the red-hot Dustin Pedroia (by the way, I think he's getting comfortable now...hate to say I told you so), and Drew has been horrendous except for two games against the D-Backs, which I'm convinced was a total fluke, and more or less it was an attempt to show brother Stephen who was better. It sounds juvenile, and although I don't have any siblings, I would have to imagine if you were facing your own flesh and blood, you would want to come out looking like the superior player. I mean there is a reason that they call it "sibling rivalries" right? See, again, this is a move that was made because they didn't believe Wily Mo was good enough to play right, so they went out and got the most expensive, fragile replacement for Trot Nixon they could. Quick sidenote here: When has going out and getting the antithesis of something that was great ever worked? In any event, I never liked the signing, although I think he is a good player, but giving him that kind of scratch is not the best way to motivate a guy.

The same goes with Lugo, who doesn't really have much going for him besides the fact that he's fast. He's a liability at short, he really doesn't hit with a lot of pop, and he doesn't get on base that often for a leadoff guy (.214 AVG and a .274 OBP...ouch!). I foresee the recent lineup changes to definitely help the top of the order. Hey, Lugo does have 18 steals, and already has 34 ribbies (projected to go to 91, but those are projections; there's still a lot of baseball left), so not all has been lost for Julio. I do think that if you keep him deep in the order, it will take a lot of the pressure he has off of him. Another thing to note is that Lugo is hitting .291 at home, so he at least seems to be somewhat comfortable (there's that word again) in front of the home crowd. And yes, J.D. has hit worse at home than on the road (.230 to .255), so he's pretty much screwed no matter how you slice it.

So in hopes we can continue the great play we've had in interleague games this year (5-2 coming into tonight), I'm pulling for Schill to have another great start, because his start against Oakland was probably the most encouraging performance from any pitcher so far this year (actually, Wake's start last night was not too shabby at all). Take care guys. Thanks for reading. Peace.


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