Monday, March 30, 2009

Opening Day Countdown

"You were lost in the silver spoon,
thought I pulled you out in time."

Apparently they are actually going to play baseball in Boston next week. Good luck with that. Today was like 35 degrees with 30 MPH winds and a steady downpour all day long. In other words, totally optimal baseball conditions. In any event, I'm totally stoked for this season. There are so many questions and so much intrigue. I feel like I say this every year, and every season, it ceases to amaze me about the ride that this team takes. I know that baseball is a long season, but really, the Sox start to make their way into the daily routine after about a week. That 7:00 game just works very nicely. You wake up, go to work, come home, have dinner, and then you're ready for the game. It all just kind of falls into place. So, again, I'm extremely excited, and if I do happen to be teaching on Monday and there is a TV that gets NESN present, all bets are off. Who can teach on opening day? That's just lunacy.

Random Prop Bet: Yankees' Winning % without A-Rod +50 vs. with A-Rod...I'm telling you, the last thing a Yankees fan will want to see is Alex Rodriguez donning the pinstripes. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Actually, that just inspired me to create a list:

The Top Ten Prop Bets of the 2009 MLB Season (completely made up):
  1. Bobby Cox's Ejections: +/- 3.5
  2. A.J. Burnett Trip To The DL +/- June 1 (The J.D. Drew DL Trip line has officially been taken off the board due to its absolute inevitability, and also for the fact that he may start the year on the DL anyway...were we suppose to expect more than a game winning grand slam and one really good month for $70 million?)
  3. First Manager To Get Fired +/- July 1 (in addition, who will it be: Cecil Cooper (Astros): 2/1, Jim Leyland (Tigers) 9/2, Clint Hurdle (Rockies): 5/1, Cito Gaston (Blue Jays): 7/1, Dusty Baker (Reds): 10/1, Joe Girardi (Yankees): 12/1)
  4. Major League Best for Home Runs: +/-42.5 HRs
  5. Triple Crown Winner: 100/1; Player Winning Two Legs of the Triple Crown: 7/1
  6. Red Sox Sellout Streak Continuing: 3/1; Not Continuing: 8/1
  7. Combined HRs by Red Sox catchers +4 vs. Matt Wieters' HRs
  8. The Higest Annual Salary of a Player Who Gets Traded Before August 1: +/- $12 million (2009 figures: Magglio Ordonez: $18, Todd Helton: $16.6, Miguel Cabrera: $15, Mark Buehrle: $14, Matt Holliday: $13.5, Jose Guillen: $12, Joe Nathan: $11.25, Carlos Guillen: $10, Brian Giles: $9.7)
  9. Both New York Teams Will Once Again Not Make The Playoffs: 11/1
  10. Total Number of Players Who Will Test Positive, or Have Tests Leaked That They, At One Point, Tested Positive For Any Performance Enhancing Drug: +/- 20
And here's what I'm taking:
  1. Under (I will use the Lethal Weapon "I'm getting to old for this s***" defense)
  2. After June 1 (I have the suspicion that Burnett will really start off on fire, much like I think the Yankees will, but then as soon as A-Rod is healthy again, the wheels will come off the wagon...and Burnett is going to the DL eventually...I mean there's no two ways about's happening)
  3. Before July 1 (If Detroit struggle again, Leyland will be gone real quick; also, keep your eye on the Houston situation, because that team, from all accounts, is going to suck pretty bad this year, so Cooper will also likely be on a short leash)
  4. Over (I think this will barely go over...the best candidates to hit 44, which I think will probably be the mark, are Ryan Howard, Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Josh Hamilton, and Adam the way, last year's mark was 48 by Ryan Howard, but he and Adam Dunn were the only player to hit 40 or more)
  5. Triple Crown: No, 2/3: Yes (If anyone does actually win all three legs of the Triple Crown, it will be Albert Pujols, but the NL is so loaded with power hitters that I see it hard for Pujols to win the home run title. In the 2/3 bet, I will take Miguel Cabrera (HR/RBI), Josh Hamilton (HR/RBI), Ryan Howard (HR/RBI, which he actually did last year), Ryan Braun (HR/RBI), Pujols (AVG/RBI), and perhaps a dark horse, but Lance Berkman (AVG/RBI)
  6. Not Continuing (This is sad I know, but really, when is the last time you could buy bleacher tickets at face value right now for over half of the Sox' home games?)
  7. Wieters (At the absolute most, a catching platoon of Varitek and Kotteras will hit 17...that's the ceiling. With Wieters, I can see him getting to 20...and that's after he comes up in June. I'm saying right now he's good for at least 15 this year, and honestly, I'm not even sure the Sox' catchers will hit double-digits this year)
  8. Over (I have convinced myself about Holliday, especially if the A's are out of it. Basically all these guys are ripe to be dealt "especially if the (fill in the blank) are out of it." I am absolutely amazed by Detroit's salary figures. Barring some unbelievable turn of events where they are both amazingly good and sell out every game, they are going to have to get rid of at least one of their big-name players)
  9. No (I have absolutely no idea how the Yankees are going to end up even second in the East. Right now, Tampa and Boston are just better than them, and even with all the Yankee additions, are they really going to make that big of a jump in the standings? They gain Teixeira, but they lose Giambi (.247/32/96) and Abreu (.296/20/100), and Teixeira alone cannot make up for that (.308/33/121). The pitching is better, but the bullpen is still awful. So I think the absolute best they could do is second. I don't know where people are getting this "9/5 to win the World Series" stuff. I have already said that the Mets will win at least 90 games this year, and the law of averages simply says that there's no way that they don't get in to the postseason this year. They are 7/5 to win the East, and the NL East has been installed as the 1/2 favorite to land the NL Wild Card)
  10. Over (I have to believe that more names will be leaked off of the A-Rod 2003 report, an entirely different report will come out penning another big name which will entail itself to others, 10-15 will get caught just because they're not smart/rich enough to get around it, or a combination of the three. Whatever the case, I don't think people who try and dig this stuff up will be completely satisfied until every last big league player who has played in the MLB from the years 1988-2008 one way or another get indicted for using something.)
The Celts and the Bruins are rocking and rolling lately. Let's start with the defending NBA Champions (I have no idea how much longer I'll be able to say it, so you'll have to indulge me for at least a few more months on that). The Celtics have been playing without Kevin Garnett for what seems like forever right now, and yet they have managed to stay in the hunt with Cleveland for the best record in the East (although right now, they're actually in third behind Orlando). I think it took a little bit for this to happen, but right now, and what has been true in the last few games, is that everyone is really stepping up their game to account for KG's absence. I know Paul Pierce is fully capable of running the team by himself, but really, when he's surrounded by the talent he has (even without KG, it's still quite a formidable team), he really shouldn't be put in the position where he has to take over ever game. Every once in a while...that's fine, but don't make it a habit. Now, you are looking at a team that is playing really solid at both ends of the court. Of course they are still having some trouble in the low post, but that generally happens when you lose your starting power forward and the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. Let's also not forget that the C's have been playing without Leon Powe for the last two weeks, a guy who you could have definitely made an argument for Sixth Man of the Year. Of all the guys on the team, I say Big Baby has made the most surprising impact in the past month or so. I mean this guy is just an animal. Last night, his forehead was basically ripped open, he had to get ten stitches, came back, and was able to put up a double-double (although most of his stats were put up before he had to leave the court). I was a huge advocate of Davis' play ever since he was drafted last year. I thought it was ridiculous how the media was ripping him for his slow start this year, saying that he should stop shooting and didn't possess the toughness needed to make an impact. Then, there was the KG incident, which just gave the critics more ammo. Sure, he wasn't shooting all that great, but that just comes with work, and now that Davis is actually getting some regular minutes, he's proving that he's a competent shooter. He has mastered that 13-foot shot, and that's just tough for another big man to defend against. Also, his defense has been outstanding. I'm just so impressed at how he's responded, because a lot of players have come to Boston and just got lost in the media scrutiny to the point that it totally went to their heads (a certain #5 comes to mind).

The guard play has been off the charts for the C's as well. Of course, when you have a starting backcourt duo consisting of Rondo and Ray Allen, it definitely helps the cause. Not that those two haven't been playing great...they have...but I'm even more impressed with the play of Eddie House and Stephon Marbury. House is as lethal of an outside shooter as you can find in the NBA. It's gotten to the point where it is justifiable for him to shoot any shot within 30 feet, and even if he air-balls it, it's like "yeah, but he'll still make that shot 7 out of 10 times." I think he's on a Ray Allen level with me in that he can just take any outside shot, and if he misses, I don't think twice about if they could have got a better, that's Eddie House...he's not bashful...when he gets the ball, he's shooting. Marbury was someone who I thought would have a positive impact on the C's because he is very much in the "Randy Moss mode" of being able to set aside ego and individualism for the good of the team and the ultimate goal of winning a championship. Really, outside of an MVP, what has Marbury not done individually for a point guard that's left? Do you realize that he is in the top 15 all-time in assists? Yeah, I was surprised by that too, but it's true. He gets the bad reputation because he's on bad teams and gets frustrated. I love how his "strained" relationship with KG in Minnesota was brought up before he ended up in Boston. He was 21 when they traded him! Of course he's immature. You don't even want to know half the stuff I did or thought about doing when I was's frightening. In any event, you have a kid, for all intensive purposes, who was brash and didn't really understand the "team" concept, and yes, maybe it took him a bit longer than most players in the league to fully understand that concept, but I keep going back to Moss because it's just a bizarre parallel that these two have created. Both were superstars in the league, fell on rough times, were labelled as having "bad character," then move onto a team completely willing to take the risk for the above-average reward that could come, and both have benefited greatly from their moves. Marbury's timing couldn't have been better. With Tony Allen basically done for the year, Marbury then pushes Eddie House from the backup point guard to backup shooting guard, a role that I think even he will tell you is just much more suited to his game. This is all just coming together very nicely, but still, the C's are going to need to get KG and Leon back for the playoffs, because as well as the C's are playing right now, they're going nowhere without those two guys.

The Bruins, yes, your Northeast Division Champion Bruins, currently hold a seven point advantage over the Caps for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. The Bruins just went through a stretch where they didn't play for almost a week, which I think definitely helped them. Credit does have to go to Claude Juilen, who apparently was real hard on his team in the week-long hiatus from the ice, putting them through extensive practices with drills, scrimmages...the works. They played with a purpose in their two games back, going off on Toronto on Saturday in a 7-5 contest. They then turned right around the next day, flew to Philly, who is fourth in the East right now, and came away with a 4-3 victory to all but clinch the top spot going forward in the playoffs. I think a lot of it has to do with the deadline acquisition of Mark Recchi, and getting all of their pieces aligned around Recchi's arrival. When you add a guy like that, there is definitely some shifting of the lines that will take place, and there was obviously some adjustments that had to be made because of that, but now that everyone seems to be on the same page, the B's have looked pretty impressive, winning five of their last seven in this most critical time of the season. The B's are in a precarious position in that, if the playoffs were to start today, they would get the #1 seed, and guess who would be waiting for them in the #8 seed? You guessed it, those damn Montreal Canadiens, who have given the Bruins nothing but grief recently in the playoffs, starting with the 2003-04 season, a season where the Bruins were the top seed, and the Habs were #8 (deja vu is contagious). Boston was up 3-1 in the series, and watched then-Hart Trophy winner Jose Theodore put on a goalie clinic from Games 5-7, reeling off three straight wins to bounce the Bruins out in Game 7. Then, last year, the B's, who this time were the underdogged #8 going up against the top-seeded Canadiens, rallied back from 3-1 to tie the series, forcing the action to move back to Montreal for a Game 7...where we got annihilated. So, I guess what I'm trying to say is that I really just would rather avoid the whole Montreal thing. Then again, you're looking at a championship drought that has lasted for over 35 years (although this drought was more or less the product of terrible ownership and not a curse), and seemingly, it's always coming down to the arch-rival to move on...maybe the B's can use some of that '04 Red Sox magic to conjure up a Cup run this year (also, how long do they want to be so-called "black sheep" of the Boston sports landscape for not winning a title?).

I'm so happy I did not buy into the Julius Peppers story. See, I bet a lot of people were let down by that, but not me. I steered clear of that whole saga. Sure, I mentioned it to people, but in the same breath, also noted how much skepticism I had about it. Peppers hasn't even signed his franchise tender, so the Panthers can't even have direct communication with the Pats even if they wanted to trade him. Okay, so now, I'm just hoping the Pats get Jason Taylor, or at least someone proven to play OLB. In my latest mock draft, I have them taking Aaron Maybin from Penn State, which may be wishful thinking considering there's a very real possibility that he doesn't make it out of the top 15. Even if the Pats get Maybin, I would like to see some kind of Plan B being inititated. Jason Taylor, as I've said all along, makes way too much sense considering the talent you would be getting for the price tag that will come along with it. People are rushing to try and determine who had the best offseason. I think we should wait until after the draft to really start assessing how each team has fared. With that being said though, I really like what the Pats have done. They have brought experience (Taylor, Springs, Galloway) and youth (Bodden, Lewis) into the fold, and armed with eleven picks, including six in the top 100, you know the Pats will be major players on the first day of the draft.

I've thought about this Cassel trade for literally months now, and here is my final conclusion: Yes, a second round pick was probably not as much as the Pats may have been able to get. However, with the 34th pick, they suddenly find themselves in a position where teams could be willing to trade up to that pick and be prepared to ship New England a first-round pick in next year's draft. I don't think a lot has been said about this, but the Pats could absolutely bank a first-rounder out of this. For some precedence as to what I'm talking about, back in the '07 Draft, the Niners traded a fourth round pick in '07 and a first rounder in '08 to Indy for the #42 overall pick. So, based on that model, the #34 overall could be turned into a first-round pick. I guess I'm just throwing this out there because I've been thinking about this, like most Pats fans have, for months, and I think this is an idea that really hasn't been mentioned yet.

Well, I figured I would just check in and give you something other than college B-Ball. Next week is going to be crazy, starting this weekend with the Final Four, then onto Monday with the Sox playing their Opening Day game against the Rays in Fenway at 1, then the NCAA Championship game being played that night, and finally the Masters, easily the best tournament in golf, starts up on Monday and will feature Tiger Woods fresh off of his amazing finish at Bay Hill yesterday. Yeah, he's good. Well, hope all is right with you out there. Peace.


Sunday, March 29, 2009

2009 NFL Mock Draft 2.0

"I'm the fear addicted, danger illustrated."

So the combine and the free agency period has come and gone, and instead of studying for my upcoming teaching licensing exam, I'm going to spend a few moments by updating my mock draft. Again, I have no idea how many of these I will do, but here comes the second installment:

1. Detroit- Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit: Okay, now I'm convinced about this one. Detroit is sitting there with the 20th pick, which they could easily turn into Jay Cutler at this point, and yet they are standing pat, which basically is telling me that they're sold on Stafford to take him #1.

2. St. Louis- Eugene Monroe, OT, Virginia: This one now has me a little perplexed in the fact that the Rams are obviously going to draft a tackle...but which one? Personally, I have Jason Smith higher than Monroe right now, and yet the whispers around are saying that the Rams are favoring Monroe right now. They absolutely are drafting a tackle though after the release of Orlando Pace

3. Kansas City- Aaron Curry, LB, Wake Forest: This now becomes the easiest pick to predict...even easier than the Stafford pick. Curry is exactly what the Chiefs need, and while they are still needing to address Jared Allen's absence two years later, Curry is the #1 player in this draft, and as I've said before, a linebacker with a top-10 grade rarely misses.

4. Seattle- Jason Smith, OT, Baylor: This pick has changed for me over and over again. They needed a receiver, but then they got Houshmandzadeh. Then I'm thinking D-Tackle, but they trade for Cory Redding, so that's out. They very well could go receiver here, but I think if one of the two tackles (Monroe or this case, Smith) falls to them at four, they cannot afford to pass on them. Walter Jones is 35, and they are going to need help at that position sooner rather than later.

5. Cleveland- Brian Orakpo, DE, Texas: I originally slated Malcolm Jenkins because it made a ton of sense...he's a corner, which they need, and he's a Buckeye, which works in Cleveland. The problem is that this draft will be run by Mangini and Co., which means that corner will probably not be something they think about at #5. Instead, they are probably going to try the Mario Williams route and try to get the franchise end. I'm huge on Orakpo, but I'm going to closely monitor this one because right now, there really hasn't been much of a read on this one.

6. Cincinnati- Andre Smith, OT, Alabama: Again, the concept of a team full of bad characters accepting yet another bad character into the group makes a bunch of sense. Can someone please explain why Smith ran shirtless at his pro day? He was wildly out of shape, so why showcase the man-boobs? This guy is probably the scariest pick on the board.

7. Oakland- Everette Brown, DE/OLB, Florida State: Instead of taking a chance on a guy like Crabtree or B.J. Raji, the Raiders, or more or less Al Davis, will be going for the best athlete on the board. Brown can play two positions, and is a total workhorse. All things considered, this is still a good value pick for Oakland.

8. Jacksonville- Mark Sanchez, QB, Southern Cal: I didn't think it would come to this for the Jags, but despite the fact that Jacksonville has David Garrard in place, I think they secretly are looking for a reason to unload him, especially after last year's debaucle. What a difference the '08 season made. Going into last year, they thought they had their franchise QB in Garrard, and now it seems like they can't wait to get rid of him. This works also in the fact that Sanchez will likely be able to take a year to be under Garrard's tutilledge, for whatever that's worth. It is proven that a rookie QB is much better in the short-term sitting out the first year and learning the system than to jump right in from Day 1 (Matt Ryan being an obvious exception).

9. Green Bay- B.J. Raji, DT, Boston College: I think the basic sentiments about Raji are that he is as good of a "sure-fire" pick as you're going to get in the draft. Athletically gifted, great football IQ, Raji is the total package. Green Bay will be shifting to the 3-4 next year (which has already been viewed with some skepticism), and from watching the kind of impact Vince Wilfork has on the defense, it's easy to understand how critical it is to have a competent tackle in a 3-4.

10. San Francisco- Michael Crabtree, WR, Texas Tech: This team needs help at a bunch of different spots, but what's interesting to me is that no one has mentioned the Niners going after a receiver with this pick. At last check, their receivers are Josh Morgan, Isaac Bruce, Arnaz Battle, Bryant Johnson, and Jason Hill...not exactly a "who's who" for that position. The Niners clearly are not comfortable with their quarterback after their recent pursuit of Kurt Warner, but if Stafford and Sanchez are both gone, there isn't a QB outside of those two who is deserving of a top-10 pick.

11. Buffalo Bills- Michael Johnson, DE, Georgia Tech: It appears like the Bills will be looking for some help on their D-Line, which means that they may reach here for Johnson, whose combine performance likely helped him get from the bottom of the first round to near top1-0 status.

12. Denver Broncos- Brian Cushing, LB, Southern Cal: So the Broncos have sure made a ton of noise for all the wrong reasons since the last mock draft. Despite their QB issues, look for the Broncos to address their linebacker shortage with this pick. Basically, it's like "pick your favorite Southern Cal linebacker here."

13. Washington- Michael Oher, OT, Ole Miss: I think the 'Skins biggest problem isn't the effectiveness of Jason Campbell (it's a problem, but not the biggest), but keeping Clinton Portis healthy. The 'Skins need of Portis in the game is almost as crucial as the Colts needing of Peyton Manning to run the offense...that's how vital Portis is in the gran scheme of things. With that being said, going O-Line here would be a sound move in re-building a line that was shaky at times last year (mostly due to injuries).

14. New Orleans- Malcolm Jenkins, CB, Ohio State: This would be a pretty good get for the Saints to snag Jenkins outside the top 10. They have some concerns at linebacker, but right now, I think they go with Jenkins because of the value they are getting here.

15. Houston- Rey Maualuga, LB, Southern Cal: The Texans have done a nice job of refurbishing their defense through the draft, and I feel like they will continue to do so in this draft and with this pick.

16. San Diego- Tyson Jackson, DE, LSU: For right now, I'm going to just assume that the Chargers are going to wait to work on their running back situation and instead focus on something that is more pressing in the current situation. The Chargers had an incredibly tough time putting pressure on the QB after Merriman went out for the year.

17. New York Jets- Jeremy Maclin, WR, Missouri: It's amazing what the effect of Crabtree slipping to pick #10 has on Maclin, the consensus second-best receiver in the draft. The Jets are definitely going to be in the market for a receiver after watching Laveranues Coles head off to Cincy.

18. Chicago- Darius Heyward-Bey, WR, Maryland: Another workout warrior here in Bey, who ran the fastest 40 time at the combine. He has slipped in front of Hakeem Nicks for the #3 WR, which in my opinion is a mistake, but in any case, the Bears have to go receiver here...Devin Hester is the #2 receiver on this team...that's not something to gloat about.

19. Tampa Bay- Josh Freeman, QB, Kansas State: I'm basically going to go with my fellow draftniks on this pick because they all have Freeman going to the Bucs. Of course the whole Jay Cutler situation has yet to be resolved, and Tampa is obviously going to be a major player if Cutler is made available...again...but if they can't get him, it looks like they will try and make Freeman a franchise QB, which he very well could do, but I think we don't know enough about him right now to annoint him a "franchise" QB.

20. Detroit- Vontae Davis, CB, Illinois: I think that trying to figure out what the Lions are going to do is the hardest task of this entire draft...what do you get for the team that needs everything? A lot of people are in line with my thinking in that the Lions will just be trying to get the best player available, because if they do that, a.) they really can't miss, and b.) one way or another, they are going to be filling a need. I will be absolutely stunned if the Lions cannot put together a top-3 draft class given the picks that they have.

21. Philadelphia- Brandon Pettigrew, TE, Oklahoma State: Of course when you do these mock drafts, you try to think like how each of these teams' GMs think. If I'm Philly, I have to spring for Pettigrew right now. As history has shown us, these bottom ten picks in the first round are very much up for grabs. So, this makes sense because he's the best TE available, the Eagles desperately need a TE, they have to be wary of other teams trying to trade up to get him, and I think the biggest reason this makes sense is that drafting Pettigre at #21 is not a reach, and you're getting good value for the pick.

22. Minnesota- Eben Britton, OT, Arizona: The Vikings lost Matt Birk to the Titans, which leaves a rather huge hole in their O-Line. However, there isn't an interior O-Lineman that is worthy of going right here. I think they take Britton to sure up the right side of the line. Remember, they are starting the year with Sage Rosenfels behind center (whoever that center may be), so any help they can get on that line will be needed.

23. New England- Aaron Maybin, DE/LB, Penn State: This is one of those times where I'm betting with my head over my heart on this one. Obviously, my heart is screaming for James Laurinaitis, much like it did for Paul Poslunsky in a similar spot two years ago. I just Laurinaitis fits the mold better than anyone that the Pats could take. Optimally though, they are looking for an OLB, and Laurinaitis is an ILB, so I'll slot Maybin here.

24. Atlanta- Peria Jerry, DT, Ole Miss: I'm sticking with Jerry here because the Falcons were so bad against the run last year that they absolutely need to improve up front.

25. Miami- Alphonso Smith, CB, Wake Forst: I was pencilling in a linebacker here, but it appears like the Dolphins may be heading in a different direction than I initially thought, suring up their defensive backfield instead and going with Smith, who heads up the second tier of DBs in the draft.

26. Baltimore- Hakeem Nicks, WR, North Carolina: Nicks is a big, physical specimen who is likely to yield big dividends to whoever takes him. Baltimore is ideal because they simply don't have that big target for Flacco.

27. Indianapolis- Percy Harvin, WR, Florida: It's a long shot that Harvin stays on the board for this long, but if he does, doesn't Harvin fit in Indy really well? He's a good system receiver, and he'll be going into a system that operates much like Florida's did (basically the "you can't stop them, just hope to maintain them" philosophy).

28. Philadelphia- Chris Wells, RB, Ohio State: It definitely took a long time for the first running back to come off the board, which makes me think that I may be doing some adjusting here (well, I was going to do some adjustments anyway, but this is another reason for it).

29. New York Giants- James Laurinaitis, LB, Ohio State: The Giants have drafted exceptionally well on defense recently, so don't be surprised if they add on another defensive stud here.

30. Tennessee- Kenny Britt, WR, Rutgers: Britt has officially broken through into garnering a first-round grade after his impressive workouts, and again, as was evident in the playoffs last year, the Titans desperately need a possession receiver other than Justin Gage.

31. Arizona- Knowshon Moreno, RB, Georgia: This is really low for Moreno, who I had going #16 in my first mock draft. However, if Moreno is not careful, he may slip out of the first round altogether with LeSean McCoy and Donald Brown nipping at his heels.

32. Pittsburgh- William Beatty, OT, Connecticut: Beatty is another example of a player helping themselves out with the combine and their pro days. Beatty now has a high second-round grade, and given the Steelers' needs, likely bumps him into the end of the first.

Again, and I know this gets repetitive, but there will be more of these to come, so stay tuned for that. Have a good week everyone. Peace.


Bracket Breakdown: Elite Eight

"I'm not growing up, I'm just burning out."

Sorry I put this up so late. I got kind of hung up yesterday and was not able to get writing before the games started. Again, sorry for the lateness.

Saturday Games:

4:40: (1) Connecticut vs. (3) Missouri; West Region; Glendale:

Mizzou was dominant against Memphis, but they allowed the Tigers to get back into the game. UConn has been either the most or second-most impressive team in the tourney, and right now, I think the Huskies just have too much of everything. All things considered, Mizzou has established themselves as a presence and a team on the brink of being a national powerhouse.

Original Pick: Memphis, Present Pick: Connecticut

7:05: (1) Pittsburgh vs. (3) Villanova; East Region; Boston:

I'm in one of these elimination pools where your team has to beat the spread to continue on. Long story short, I ended up with Pittsburgh, who is favored by two. However, if I have to make a pick, regardless of my personal potential financial gains, I have to go with the 'Cats in this game. It is between 'Nova and UConn for who is having the most impressive tournament. I loved Pitt from the beginning, but as the tournament has gone on, it is clear that the Panthers do not quite have it.

Original Pick: Pittsburgh, Present Pick: Villanova

Sunday Games:

2:20: (1) Louisville vs. (2) Michigan State; Midwest Region; Indianapolis:

The Cardinals have had one of the luckiest draws in recent memory, not having to play anyone above a 9-seed in the first three games. The Spartans have been scratching and surviving through the last two games, especially last round against Kansas. I feel like the Cards will get a taste of reality here. Plus, the Spartans are this close to getting to the Final Four in Detroit. I don't remember the last time a team had basically a home game in the Final Four.

Original Pick: Michigan State, Present Pick: Michigan State

5:05: (1) North Carolina vs. (2) Oklahoma; South Region; Memphis:

So the matchup that I never thought would happen is happening: Blake Griffin vs. Tyler Hansbrough. If this was a one-on-one contest, I'm taking Griffin every time. However, the game will not be just about these two guys (although a large majority of it is). The Tar Heels are absolutely loaded, and they have been playing well even with Ty Lawson clearly not at 100%. The Sooners blasted 'Cuse last round, and they were also going up against a team who had a point guard in less than optimal shape. I feel that ultimately, Lawson's injury will creep up again, and the Sooners will be able to take advantage of it. To me, this game will come down to coaching, and as much as I like Jeff Capel, he has never been this far as a coach. I feel like Roy Williams' experience will take over, and the Tar Heels' depth will shine through.

Original Pick: North Carolina, Present Pick: North Carolina

I swear I really had 'Nova winning yesterday. What a fantastic finish. In any event, we will not have four #1's in the Final Four again, and I hope that never happens again. 'Nova is adding a little spice to a tournament that, for the most part, was totally mundane. Anyway, enjoy the games today. Peace.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Bracket Breakdown: Sweet Sixteen

"'Cause it's soon one morning, down the road I'm gone."

So I figured out that apparently, now-a-days, picking higher seeds will work out for you. 16-0 in my second round picks, but it's really nothing to go on about because the high seeds went 15-1 on Saturday and Sunday, with Purdue being the only "lower" seed to move on. Once again, the tournament basically produced all higher seeds making the Sweet Sixteen, which is both deserved and incredibly lame at the same time. I know that the higher seeds should be the ones moving on, but if all the higher seeds advance, what is the point of watching really? If we already know who's moving on, it defeats the entire purpose of the tournament. So, I'm at least hoping that the tourney throws us a few change-ups in the next few rounds.

Thursday Games:

7:07: (1) Connecticut vs. (5) Purdue; West Region; Glendale:

So UConn has been in the news...for basically all the wrong reasons. They have been the most dominant team in the tournament, and yet all that anyone will be able to talk about is the recent recruiting charges they may be facing. Is this going to be enough to deter the Huskies from Detroit? My thinking here is that they will be distracted, and there will be no denying that, and it will be especially evident once play hits the second half. I feel like UConn will start out strong, but I think that Purdue will be able to claw back into the game. Ultimately though, I have to stay with my original thoughts and say that UConn will have too much size for the Boilermakers.

Original Pick: Connecticut, Present Pick: Connecticut

7:27: (1) Pittsburgh vs. (4) Xavier; East Region; Boston:

Of all the number 1's, Pittsburgh has been the weakest thus far. East Tennessee State took the Panthers to the limit, then Okie State gave them a battle. These two games tell me something: Pittsburgh is resilliant, but they can be had, which definitely concerns me considering I have them going a long, long way. I've been saying all along that Xavier continues to go unappreciated, and guess what? They still are! The Xavier Muskateers are for real! I feel like I have to get on top of something very tall and just start screaming this out. Xavier is going to push Pitt to the edge...again, but Pitt will prevail, and why you ask?...

...because it's DeJuan Freggin' Blair.

Original Pick: Pittsburgh, Present Pick: Pittsburgh

9:37: (2) Memphis vs. (3) Missouri; West Region; Glendale:

Memphis just played mad against Maryland. You could almost see how much it bothered them that Cal State Northridge nearly bounced them in the opening round. Don't suspect for a moment that Calipari won't use that once again vs. Mizzou. My boy Leo Lyons for the Tigers has had an outstanding tournament, but the Tigers that I see playing with more intensity and no abandon will be the ones from Memphis.

Original Pick: Memphis, Present Pick: Memphis

9:57: (2) Duke vs. (3) Villanova; East Region; Boston:

Get ready for Chapel Hill North tonight when the Dukies go into the Garden to play 'Nova. In case you were unaware, pretty much everyone absolutely hates Duke up here, so expect all those Pitt fans and Xavier fans to be pulling for the Wildcats, because a.) they're not Duke, and b.) they are the lower seed, meaning, technically, it would make for an "easier" road to the Final Four. Sorry, but that's just the way it is. 'Nova, much like Memphis, came out and played inspired basketball in the second round, against UCLA, after they nearly were eliminated in the first, by American. Even I'm shocked that I had Duke making it this far. There will be no love-loss tonight in Beantown for the Blue Devils.

Original Pick: Villanova; Present Pick: Villanova

Friday Games:

7:07: (1) Louisville vs. (12) Arizona; Midwest Region; Indianapolis:

Yup, still kicking myself about having 'Zona out in the first round. The Wildcats proved to be legitimate with their opener against Utah and their thrashing of Cleveland State in round two. Louisville got a scare from Siena, and really had to work some magic to get the job done there. Ultimately, I think the Cardinals just have a better all-around package right now than 'Zona does.

Original Pick: Wake Forest; Present Pick: Louisville

7:27: (2) Oklahoma vs. (3) Syracuse; South Region; Memphis:

So the 'Cuse have played well, looking sharp against Stephen F. Austin, and managing a late ASU rally in the second round to reach the Sweet Sixteen. Oklahoma has been rolling along as well. Again, if Clemson plays anywhere close to their capabilities, they are in this game right now. That's what makes me so mad. I hate this team for obvious reasons, and now the degree of hatred has risen even more, which I didn't think it could possibly have done. Right now, I think Johnny Flynn is playing on an entirely different level than pretty much everyone in the tournament left, and while I love Blake Griffin's game, I hate to keep picking the team that has the best player in the country, because it never works out...Clemson should have done it...I hate the Tigers!!!!!!

Original Pick: Clemson, Present Pick: Syracuse

9:37: (2) Michigan State vs. (3) Kansas; Midwest Region; Indianapolis:

See, this is where I see State getting into the Final Four. This tour of the Big 10 now makes a stop in Indy, where State has been dominant (undefeated all-time in Indy...8-0 I think?). I think now, they have a whiff of Detroit (in a good sense), and they are one step away from playing in a National Semifinal game in their home state.

Original Pick: Michigan State, Present Pick: Michigan State

9:57: (1) North Carolina vs. (4) Gonzaga; South Region; Memphis:

Okay, here's my grand theory, and one of the reasons I had Clemson going to the Elite 8: UNC vs. OU will not's too good. The matchup of Tyler Hansbrough and Blake Griffin would be too epic, too's too easy. One of them will win I think though. So, if I have 'Cuse in the first game, I'm sticking with UNC in this one, even though I really want to see Gonzaga win here and get to the Final Four, something that program has been destined to do for over a decade.

Original Pick: North Carolina, Present Pick: North Carolina

Hope everyone has had a nice couple of days off from the madness, but get ready, because it commences once again tonight. Take care everyone. Peace.


1st Annual Over/Under MLB Predictions

"...then I stepped away."

I know that we're right in the middle of the tournament, but I have a feeling that I will be way too preoccupied later on to not do my first ever over/under column with baseball. This is going to be a quick one probably, but I have to get it on record to look back on and say "hey, maybe I still have it," or "hey, I should have quit two years ago." Let's get right into it (last year's wins in parentheses):

Arizona Diamondbacks (82): O/U 85.5:
Obviously, the D-Backs are top-heavy in their rotation with Webb, Haren, and introducing Max Scherzer. The bullpen is pretty questionable, and it's not because the talent isn't there, but it's more like there are too many unknown factors, like if Qualls can adjust fully to being the full-time closer? Can Pena stay healthy? On offense, I love Stephen Drew, and outside of Hanley Ramirez, he's probably the best shortstop in the league. They couldn't bring back Adam Dunn, so they lose a bunch of power there. So, they're going to be relying heavily on Conor Jackson, Mark Reynolds, and Chris Young to put up similar power numbers as they did last year. Two more questions will be how well Justin Upton will do in his second full year, and can Eric Byrnes ever even come close to his form from '07? Too many question marks for me here.

Pick: Under

Atlanta Braves (72): O/U 83.5:
This is going to be the first of probably numerous instances where I will just sit here in silence and think "damn you Vegas, why do you read my mind like this?" In all seriousness, I would have said 83 wins for the Braves this year. So, I guess I have to think this one out. Okay, well, I like the Braves' starters, especially Jair Jurrjens. I think he will be big-time this year. Questions definitely linger in the bullpen, especially considering there is really no clear-cut favorite for the closer position. Mike Gonzalez is penciled in, but Rafael Soriano is a very capable pitcher, but just can't stay healthy. On offense, Brian McCann has taken the torch of being the best offensive catcher in the majors from Joe Mauer. Chipper Jones is probably going to be out for a bulk of time though, and that's their go-to guy considering the utter collapse of Jeff Francoeur. I love Kelly Johnson, and I think especially in the situation he's in where his offense is going to be relied upon heavily. So, a .290/20/90/10/95 season is totally within reason. I think the NL East is going to be in kind of an off-year, with no one really running away with it. So, going three games over .500 is definitely a possibility.

Pick: Over

Baltimore Orioles (68): O/U 73.5:
Baltimore made those two trades a couple of years ago to beef up their minor league system, but outside of Adam Jones, none of those prospects involved in those trades will really have any impact this year. Of course, the big story with the O's is Matt Wieters. I will fill you in right now, in case you were unaware, and just say that Wieters, in maybe two or three years, will absolutely be the best catcher in baseball. I predict things all the time, and I definitely have had my share of misses, but this one is as close to a lock as you can possibly get. We will get to see him probably around June, and I am really looking forward to that. Nick Markakis is one of the best young outfielders in the majors. Aubrey Huff had probably the most silent .300/30/100 seasons in recent memory. Brian Roberts will get his 40 steals, but outside of that, this will be a season of hard-knocks for the O's, and you pretty much have to know it considering Jeremy Guthrie is the "ace" of the staff. Again, can't wait for Wieters, love the Markakis/Jones outfield combo, and Huff may be able to come close to what he did last year, but they simply have no pitching, so I say they stay right around where they were last year

Pick: Under

Boston Red Sox (95): O/U 95:
My read on this team is this: They may not score as many runs as Sox teams have in the past, but their pitching is probably the best in baseball. However, just because they have the best pitching, that does not necessarily mean they will shutout every team they play. I like this year's version a lot, but 95 wins could be a bit lofty. I'm thinking more like 91-93.

Pick: Under

Chicago Cubs (97): O/U 92:
Basically, you're looking at the same Cubs team from last year without Kerry Wood and Mark DeRosa. In this division, which continues to be mediocre at best, the Cubs should have no problem getting back into the 95-win range. The only real question for me is Carlos Marmol becoming the closer this year. He's been lights-out as a set-up guy, but when he was asked to be the closer when Wood went on the DL, the results were very much mixed. This will be an interesting situation to follow especially after the Kevin Gregg trade with Florida. Gregg was the Marlins' closer last year, and if Marmol struggles out of the gate, you have to wonder how long Pinella's leash on him will be until he makes Gregg the ninth inning man.

Pick: Over

Chicago White Sox (89): O/U 77.5:
I'm not really sure what I'm missing here to make me believe that the ChiSox will drop twelve games from last year. Buehrle is still going to get his 15 wins, Gavin Floyd and John Danks look to improve on their fast starts from last year, they have a solid closer in Jenks, the offense is pretty well off with Dye, Quentin, and Thome, and Alexei Ramirez is already being touted as one of the best second basemen in the game...what exactly is there not to like?

Pick: Over

Cincinnati Reds (74): O/U 77.5:
I think this one will be close. This is a different team without Adam Dunn. They really missed his 40 homers in the middle of the lineup. Still, there are a bunch of bright spots. Jay Bruce and Joey Votto both showed they were worth the hype, Edwin Encarnacion silently continues to pile up good numbers for a third baseman, Edison Volquez is making the Josh Hamilton trade at least look somewhat fair to them, and I think Francisco Cordero will have a nice year. However, questions still have to linger about the two struggling starting pitchers: Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo. Both of them pitched way below their collective potentials last year, and it remains to be seen if they can get back to their past forms. Also, the offense has a ton of holes in it. One of the keys will be how Ramon Hernandez does in a contract year at a hitters' park. If he can get to the 20/90 range, the Reds have a chance to get to .500. Also, can WIlly Taverez make the kind of impact at the top of the lineup as he did in Colorado? Right now though, I don't quite see it.

Pick: Under

Cleveland (81): O/U 84.5

There are a lot of unknowns circling this team. I have to start with Kerry Wood, because I still don't think you pay a guy with that questionable of an injury past $10 million a year to close out games. Then there is Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner. Martinez is coming back from an elbow injury that basically had him out of the entire season last year. Wedge will try to get him in as a DH and at first, but you have to wonder if he will be able to hold up through an entire season. As far as Hafner goes, what happened to Pronk? He was one of the most feared lefties in the AL, and now, you can pick him up on the waiver wire in fantasy leagues. If he can figure out whatever reverse voodoo was put on him, he still is totally capable of 25/100. After Cliff Lee, this pitching staff is pretty dreadful. To sum that up: Carl Pavano is the team's fourth starter. Really, how good could they be?

Pick: Under

Colorado Rockies (74): O/U 76.5:

With Matt Holliday gone to Oakland, the Rockies are in a state of rebuilding after making the World Series just two years ago. They are on a five-year plan, and these will be the beginning stages. Colorado still doesn't have the starting pitching that it takes to make a run for the division, despite the fact that the NL West is probably the worst division in all of sports. Tulowitski will be back to full strength, and they desperately need him to be back to his '07 form to at least attempt to make up for Holliday's absence. If Brad Hawpe ever wants to become a legitimate star in this league, now is his chance.

Pick: Under

Detroit Tigers (74): O/U 81.5:

The Tigers severely underachieved last year. Their hopes were riding on Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis to right the ship, and while Cabrera lived up to expectations, Willis was a disaster who ended up in single A. Their offense is still very potent with Cabrera, Ordonez, and Granderson. Carlos Guillen will be making his debut as a full-time outfielder, so it remains to be seen how that experiment will work. The Tigers traded for Gerald Laird and signed Adam Everett to improve on their defense. The starting pitching is actually not that bad. Verlander is the ace, and the Tigers are counting on him big time. Detroit wanted Joel Zumaya to close for them, but he could not stay healthy, opening the door for the Brandon Lyon signing. There are going to be three teams to finish over .500 in the AL Central, and I think Detroit will be one of them.

Pick: Over

Florida Marlins (84): O/U 75.5:

The Marlins start with Hanley Ramirez, who is now the top-rated fantasy player in all of baseball. Of course fantasy very rarely translates into reality, but believe me, you are not going to see too many guys like Ramirez come along very often. The numbers he puts up in that offense is staggering. Dan Uggla and Jorge Cantu are two 25-homer infielders that seemingly can't get any respect. Jeremy Hermida is much like Brad Hawpe in that if he ever wants to make a name for himself, now is the time. Matt Lindstrom will enter the season as the closer, but he already has gotten himself dinged up at the WBC. We'll see how much of a factor that will be going forward. I think the Marlins have just enough pitching and hitting to put them around the .500 mark.

Pick: Over

Houston Astros (86): O/U 73:

The Astros fell right off the deep end this offseason, failing to make themselves a legit division title contender, like they have been for most of the decade. When I looked at the over/under and saw that there would be a potential thirteen game drop-off, I thought there may have been some mistake. Then I looked at their depth chart...Mike Hampton is the third starter, Russ Ortiz is their fifth, they just signed Pudge Rodriguez...this may have worked if you wanted to build a winner in 1998.

Pick: Under

Kansas City Royals (75): O/U 75.5:

I pegged the Royals early on as the team to watch in 2009. I absolutely love this team. Mike Aviles is on the cusp of becoming an elite middle infielder in just his second year. Mike Jacobs was a great pickup from the Marlins who could hit 30 homers. Alex Gordon showed his potential in the second half, and now that people are not going to be riding him to become "the next George Brett," I think he will become more comfortable at the plate and get to the .300/25/90 that his potential suggests he should do. The outfield is probably the most under-appreciated in's pretty solid with DeJesus, Coco, and Jose Guillen. The pitching is above average with Grienke and Meche anchoring the staff, and one of the best closers in baseball in Joakim Soria. Watch out for the Royals.

Pick: Over

Los Angeles Angels (100): O/U 88.5:

If the Angels had an outspoken owner and spent $50-75 million more, they very well could be called the Yankees. The Halos spend close to $100 million each season ($
119,216,333 last year), and yet they have not made it past the first round of the playoffs since '01 when they won it all. Is it me, or is it painful just to watch Vladimir Guerrero do...anything? I can't even imagine what his knees are like right now. After that, there is a ton of young players that will be stepping into full-time. Napoli could be one of the best catchers in the league if he stays healthy. They picked up Bobby Abreu to add to an outfield of Guerrero and Torii Hunter...not bad. They lose K-Rod and replace him with Brian Fuentes, which is interesting because Fuentes was not the full-time closer last year in Colorado (although he did have to step in after Manny Corpas started falling apart). This is an interesting staff with Lackey (contract year), Weaver, Saunders (who for some reason everyone hates even though he will put up 17 wins this year), Dustin Moseley and Nick Adenhart, who both have been erratic in the majors and the minors. The thing is that the Angels play in a terribly weak division, which makes me believe they can get to 90 wins.

Pick: Over

Los Angeles Dodgers (84): O/U 85:

Manny has signed...I think? So, just with that, the Dodgers should make it to 90 wins easily. This team has a ton of quality hitters. Russell Martin is one of those "M" catchers that you have to have (Martin, McCann, Mauer, Martinez). James Loney is totally underrated because he doesn't hit 30-35 homers, but still, expect 20-25 from him. The outfield is stellar...probably the best in baseball. Manny, Matt Kemp (who if you were unaware of before this season, you should probably look into his numbers and his projections for this year...pretty impressive), and Andre Ethier. The pitching is also extremely young, which is both exciting and horrifying in the same instance. Hiroki Kuroda is in his second season, and he has already been dubbed the "ace." Billingsley and Kershaw are both young hurlers who both could hit 17 wins. Then, the biggest question mark is probably Jonathan Broxton, who will be in his first full year as the closer. He did step in last year when Takashi Saito went on the DL. Can Broxton be an elite closer (in case you didn't know, Broxton is like the NL least in potential), or will he just be average? I'm thinking elite...really like the Dodgers this year...World Series? I wouldn't doubt it.

Pick: Over

Milwaukee Brewers (90): O/U 81:

Don't kid yourself by thinking otherwise...the proposed nine win drop-off has anything and everything to do with C.C. Sabathia going to the Yankees. Another factor could be Ben Sheets, but honestly, when can you really make an accurate prediction about not only how many wins he could account for, but how many starts he'll make in general? They get Trevor Hoffman, who, not surprisingly, has already succumbed to the injury bug and is out indefinitely. The offense is still nasty. They have the best 3-4 combo in baseball in my opinion with Braun and Fielder (sorry Yankee fans), Hardy brings the rare "power shortstop" aspect to the table. I love Rickie Weeks, Corey Hart, and Mike Cameron because you have three 20/20 guys in the same many teams can boast that (and actually, you can throw Braun in there to make it four). All and all, the Brewers' staff will obviously be taking a hit with their two best pitchers gone, but are they really that bad? Gallardo, Bush, Suppan, Looper, and's not the best 1-5 in the game, but all of them are capable of double-digit wins. The bullpen really has me concerned. There's not a lot of depth, and most of the guys there I just don't like (basically everyone outside of Seth McClung). Still, this team will be second in the N.L. Central, and make a push to get back to the 90-win mark.

Pick: Over

Minnesota Twins (88): O/U 83:

Already, this Joe Mauer injury really makes me second-guess the legitimacy of this team. I know that they have a really nice compliment of starting pitching with Liriano, Baker, and Slowey, and have one of the most consistent closers in Joe Nathan, but where do they go from there? The outfield literally has no power (Delmon Young, Carlos Gomez, and Denard Span combined for 23 homers last year), you have a Nick Punto/Alexei Casilla double play...outside of Morneau and Kubel, I have a hard time trying to figure out where the offense will come from.

Pick: Under

New York Mets (89): O/U 89.5:

This is another one where I'm very much on the fence about my pick. Do we really know what is up with this team? The core guys have been there for like three years, and yet it just doesn't seem to be clicking in Flushing. Now, with a new stadium, and two consecutive choke job seasons (yeah I said it), the Mets, hopefully, will be playing with a sense of purpose this year. This team is like the Tigers but with even more potential, which really baffles me how they couldn't eclipse 90 wins in the NL. The first thing you have to look at is behind the plate with Brian Schneider, who will be going into his second season in New York. Here's a guy who has never had over 12 homers and has not hit over .270 for an entire season. That's a question mark...does this remind you of any other team with a $100+ million payroll with a suspect offensive catcher? Hmmm. Another question comes in the outfield. Beltran in center is solid, but Daniel Murphy in left and Ryan Church in right?...a little less solid. However, I think Church has potential as long as he can get his 400 ABs (his one season with 400+ AB in '07 w/ the Nats: .272/15/70...not bad). The staff is headed up by Santana, but after that, it gets interesting. I think Mike Pelfrey and John Maine are just bugging the crap out of Mets when are these guys going to be the stars that they were advertised to be? You already know how I feel about the Putz/K-Rod set-up/closer combo (and in case you don't know...I'm not a big fan). Even with the question marks, the Mets have got to get to 90 would just be appalling if they didn't. I know "appalling" is harsh...but wouldn't it be? A team spends $140 have to get to 90.

Pick: Over

New York Yankees (89): O/U 94.5:


Pick: Under

Oakland Athletics (75): O/U 82:

You know, I like this team, but I don't like them that much. Here's what I like: The Matt Holliday trade is obviously going to be a rental kind of situation unless Billy Beane gives someone around $100 million for the first time ever. Still, Holliday is going to put up decent numbers in that lineup. They signed the OC...if you've been reading this column from the start, you know of my insatiable love of Orlando Cabrera. I don't know what else to say, I just love the a player. That was one of the top 10 free agent signings, and another one, at least on paper, is getting Jason Giambi back. I think he will work out...again, in Oakland. Plus, I like the potential of the pitching staff, especially Sean Gallagher (a guy from Boston who throws in the mid 90s...what is there not to like?). Now, here's what bugs me: First, Duchscherer, their ace, may not be able to pitch until May because of the most dreaded injury to hear concerning a pitcher: "elbow issues." Then, who exactly is closing for this team, and once we figure that out, are they even major league ready? It's between Ziegler and Devine, and I don't know how much confidence they have in either of them. Lastly, Eric Chavez just cannot stay healthy, and if they are trying to contend for second place in the West (which is basically the best that Oakland, Seattle, or Texas can do at this point), then you're going to need Chavez's bat and, more importantly, his glove out in the field.

Pick: Under

Philadelphia Phillies (92): O/U 88.5:

The defending World Champs are expected to have a drop off this year? Really? Hmmm...well this is definitely worth breaking down. Okay, hands down the best double play combo (Utley/Rollins) in baseball...I mean it's not even a competition for that anymore. If the Phils ever got a somewhat decent catcher, they would probably have the best lineup since the '03 Red Sox. At the corners, they have Ryan Howard, who hits obscene amounts of homers, and Pedro Feliz, who I have always been big on despite an off-year last year (first time in five years he did not hit the 20 home run plateau). In the outfield, you have a solid group in Jayson Werth (potentially could go 30/30), Shane Victorino (20/40 guy), and new addition Raul Ibanez, with the only knock on him potentially being the big contract he pulled down. My concerns are all pitching-related. Cole Hamels has basically been deemed "untouchable" in fantasy drafts, which just means trouble. Then you factor in Brett Myers, Joe Blanton and Jamie Moyer...they pitched faily well last year, can they all collectively stay healthy and pitch anywhere close to last year? The odds say no. Then you throw in the Brad Lidge factor, who was perfect last year (and I would know because I was the smart one that drafted him in the 14th round last year...yeah-ya!). I think he's a great pitcher, but there is no way we can honestly expect him to do the same thing this year. It's simply not realistic, as it is not realistic to expect the Phillies to run the tables again this season. I am with Vegas in expecting a bit of a drop-off.

Pick: Under

Pittsburgh Pirates (67): O/U 69:

Ahhh yes, the Bucs, who now own a piece of my heart after this summer in Lynchburg. What to make of this team? Well...they're young, that's for sure. The most experienced starter on the team is Jack Wilson, and he's 31, so you can pretty much go from there. When you talk about the Pirates, you have to talk about Nate McClouth, who had one of the best all-around seasons the Pirates have seen since at least the first couple of Jason Bay years. McClouth is the real deal, so expect more of the same this year. No one talks about Ryan Doumit because, well, he plays for Pittsburgh, but in all seriousness, he's definitely one of the top 5 catchers in the NL. Adam LaRoche also was a pleasant surprise in the Manny-Bay trade. Now, here are the concerns...and there are plenty. First, Nyjer Morgan and Brandon Moss starting off the year in the corner outfield positions. Basically, both these guys are rookies. I know much more about Moss than Morgan from him being in the Sox organization, and from what I've seen, I think Moss will end up as a guy who will not crack the 20/80 zone at any point in his career. He's a good player, but he's not a game-changer, which the Bucs need now that Bay is in Boston. I look for Steve Pearce to supplant one of these two (most likely Morgan) before the All-Star break. Then you have the rotation, which is a total mess. Maholm looked good at times last year. I've all but given up on Zach Duke. Who really bothers me in terms of if he will show up is Ian Snell. I remember watching him in the WBC, and thinking something like "is this Ian Snell's brother?" and "where as he been all this time?" I understand the stage was more grand in the WBC than it is at PNC, but Snell looked amazing for the P.R., and yet I think he will just be mediocre...again. Also, Matt Capps is coming back from a year in which he battled a shoulder injury to save 21 games. If he stays healthy, they at least have a shot late in games if they are ahead or close.

Pick: Under

San Diego Padres (63): O/U 71.5:

I definitely have to side with Vegas in believing that the Padres will be able to improve on last year's 99-loss season...actually, it's extremely hard for the Padres to do any worse, which makes me believe that there is nowhere to go but up. I expect superstar years from both Adrian Gonzalez and Jake Peavy because, well, they're superstars. Chase Headley is on the fast track to really putting up some huge numbers, and I expect that coming sooner rather than later. Chris Yound had a huge down-year, and I really think he will be turning it around because he simply has too much talent to be a below-average pitcher. The bullpen is surprisingly deep even after Hoffman moving on. Also, never bet against a David Eckstein team.

Pick: Over

San Francisco (72): O/U 79.5:

There seems to be a little buzz going on about this Giants team. One of the reasons is Pablo Sandoval, who will start the season at third and can also play first. Based on what we saw last year, Sandoval could answer some of the questions about power that the team has. Bengie Molina had a huge season last year, leading all catchers in RBIs with 95. The outfield is also fairly underrated with Fred Lewis, Aaron Rowand, and Randy Winn. Tim Lincecum is the reigning Cy Young award winner, and expect the same kind of things this year. Matt Cain is also due for about 14-16 wins. The question marks come in the form of 3/4 of the infield. Travis Ishikawa, Kevin Frandsen, and Edgar Renteria...not exactly the guys you want to start a franchise around. Then there is Barry Zito and Randy Johnson in the rotation. Zito arguably received the worst contract is professional sports, and has not even come close to earning a tenth of what he got. Johnson is 45, and while people believe that he may have something left in the tank, I respectfully disagree with that. Jonathan Sanchez is the fifth starter, and in terms of #5's, you can't do much better than Sanchez. All and all, I think the Giants were one move away (Manny) from being a serious contender, but with that being said, I think that the pieces they do have in the lineup and the Lincecum/Cain combination will be enough to get this team close to .500.

Pick: Over

Seattle Mariners (61): O/U 72.5:

Another really interesting team. The Mariners start the year with a new coach in Don Wakamatsu, and that's just the beginning of the changes. Ken Griffey, Jr. makes his triumphant return to Seattle. Much like Jason Giambi, I think this will be kind of a rejuvanating force on Griffey's career. Ichiro will move back to right field after spending last season in center. Of course, he will get his 200 hits, 40 steals, and a gold glove...that's just what he does. Adrian Beltre is ready to hit his 25 homers and 90 RBIs, as is Jose Lopez, who is vastly underrated as a second baseman. Felix Hernandez will be looking for a little more support this year, and Erik Bedard is a prime candidate for comeback player of the year. What concerns me the most is the indecision about who is starting for this team. Jeff Clement has been groomed to become the starting catcher, and yet the M's signed Kenji Johjima to a contract extension. The same goes with Wladimir Balentien, who was slated to be the starting left fielder in place of Ibanez, and now it seems that Endy Chavez will start the season there. Then there is the closer situation. It makes too much sense to have Brandon Morrow there. This is kind of like the Joba Chamberlain situation in New York, where the club believes they are under-utilizing a young pitcher in the bullpen. Morrow is the best option to be the closer, and yet the M's want him to be the 5th starter. I think these indecisions will hurt the team from the start, and it will be hard to make up those wins later on in the season.

Pick: Under

St. Louis Cardinals (86): O/U 82:

When you talk about the Cards, you have to talk about Albert Pujols, the most consistent and apparently clean player in the majors. Pujols actually has a nice compliment of hitters behind him in Rick Ankiel and Ryan Ludwick. They have a .300 hitter behind the plate in Yadier Molina. Colby Rasmus is one of the highest touted prospects in baseball, and will immediately be put into the lineup in left field. I can see some big things happening from Rasmus this season, as it seems that every Cardinal hitter who has come through the system with power potential has seen it come to fruition. Jason Motte will start the year as closer, and I expect that if he is able to hang onto the job, he will be in line for 30-35 saves. There are some question marks with the infield and the starting pitching. The Cards have two guys in the infield who are career outfielders (Skip Schumacker and Joe Mather), and the starters include Joel Piniero, who will be going into his second full season as a starter, and Chris Carpenter is still recovering from shouler and elbow troubles. Still, I think they have enough with Wainwright, Lohse, and Wellemeyer just in case either of them don't pan out.

Pick: Over

Tampa Bay Devil Rays (97): O/U 89:

Why am I supposed to believe that the Rays can't do it again, or at least come close to doing what they did last year? They are returning everyone from their starting lineup, and if anything, they have gotten better with the addition of Matt Joyce. If B.J. Upton and Carl Crawford can stay healthy, Tampa could sneak up to the 100-win mark. If anything, maybe you have to worry about Percival as the closer. Other than that, I can't find many weaknesses here.

Pick: Over

Texas Rangers (79): O/U 75:

How many years have we had this thought: "Hmmm, the Rangers...if only they had pitching." Well, we go back to that thought again this year, as the Rangers inexplicably could not find any starters in the market. However, the Rangers do have plenty of offense. Jarrod Saltalamacchia will begin the year behind the plate, and could receive competition from Taylor Teagarden and Max Ramirez throughout the year. At first, Chris Davis is my #1 candidate for breakout player of the year. Kinsler is one of the best offensive second basemen in the game. Michael Young will start the year at third to make room for Elvis Andrus. This will be Young's second position change, and one that he was not too thrilled about. That could be a developing story this season. The outfield is an interesting one. Josh Hamilton thrilled everyone with his barrage at the Home Run Derby, but saw his second half numbers trail off, much like Bobby Abreu's did three years ago after he set the single round record. Still, I think Hamilton will be able to rebound this season and put together huge numbers. Many have Nelson Cruz on pace for a 25/90 season, and David Murphy has definitely shown flashes that he could be an above-average outfielder. The pitching is and will continue to be the reason that this team cannot contend for a title. Still, the offense alone should get the Rangers to the .500 level.

Pick: Over

Toronto Blue Jays (86): O/U 79:

This is another example of a team I simply cannot see regressing. They return everyone from last year's 86-win team, and will hopefully have B.J. Ryan and Scott Rolen for an entire season, so why will they go backwards? Plus, they will have Travis Snider in a full-time role. I just don't see it happening.

Pick: Over

Washington Nationals (59): O/U 72:

I like the Nationals, I really do, but do I like them enough to see thirteen more wins? Ehhh...I'm not so sure about that. They have two breakout candidates in Lastings Milledge and Elijah Dukes. I'm especially high on Milledge, and I think he could be one of the top 5 leadoff hitters in the game as this season progresses. They made a huge upgrade in their lineup with the signing of Adam Dunn, and although they probably wish they had Mark Teixeira, Dunn will still get 35-40 homers this year. Still though, you have to wonder about a starting pitching staff that has John Lannan as their #1. I like Hanrahan as the closer, but I don't see any kind of bridge to get to him, which could end up being a problem. I think the Nats will improve, but I'm thinking they are about two years away from making a serious run at .500.

Pick: Under

Absolute Best Bets:
  • White Sox and the Over (77.5)
  • Rays and the Over (89)
  • Angels and the Over (88.5)
  • Rangers and the Over (75)
  • Yankees and the Under (94.5)
Alright, well, hopefully you enjoyed that, and if you didn't, here's something I hope you do:

The Top 10 March Madness Moments:
  1. The Alley-Oop (1983)
  2. The Shot (1992)
  3. Valpo (1998)
  4. The Legend Of Gus Johnson Is Born (1996)
  5. Larry vs. Magic (1979)
  6. The TO (1993)
  7. Today, We Are All Patriots (2006)
  8. The Left Handed Free Throw (1990)
  9. The Prayer (1981)
  10. The Best Upset Call I Ever Had (2006)
Honorable Mentions: The Second Best Upset Call I Ever Had (2005), The Most Thrilling College Basketball Game I Have Ever Seen (2004), His Airness (1982), Nova (1985), Big Country (1995)

Alright, that's all for now. Oh, and here's to the 2008-09 Northeast Division Champion Boston Bruins! Finally, hockey is back (although it really never left, many were convinced that it did). Take care. Peace.


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Bracket Breakdown: Round Two

"You know all of the things that I know."

So the tourney got off to an interesting start that saw me at 13-3 after Day 1, and then a fairly disastrous 8-8 record on Day 2. All I can say is this: I'm glad I changed my Wake Forest Final Four pick. That would have been real bad. I do have to give some credit to the Big 10. I said that conference would "flame out," and they still have four teams left (and they really should have had five if Ohio State didn't blow a big lead against Siena). The ACC has been awful. The aforementioned Wake, BC, Clemson, and FSU all going down in the first round. The two games I totally regret not picking were the Cal/Maryland game and the Utah/Arizona game. They were too easy, and I think I may have psyched myself out there. However, I was 3-1 in the 8-9 games, and I can't remember the last time that happened. So, it's on to the second round:

Saturday Games:

1:05: (3) Villanova vs. (6) UCLA; East Region; Philadelphia:

Both these teams survived pretty big scares in round one, with 'Nova losing by double-digits in the second half against American, and UCLA barely able to hold on against VCU. Again, I have to stick with the "home" team here. UCLA looked totally jet-lagged on Thursday, and I don't see them getting their feet underneath them today.

Original Pick: Villanova, Present Pick: Villanova

3:20: (2) Memphis vs. (10) Maryland; West Region; Kansas City:

Talk about scares. Memphis saw their tourney lives hang in the balance against Cal St. Northridge, but I think that may have been a wake-up call. Here's the thing: There are only two ways this could go: (A) The team who almost gets beat responds with a resurgence of intensity in the next game, or (B) the team who almost gets beat is really not that good, and they are being exposed going against tougher opponents. Memphis is a bit of an unknown because three of their players from last year's National Runner-Up team got drafted, and they play no one in Conference USA. Maryland got incredibly lucky that Cal decided to not show up for their game. Seriously, that could have been one of the most dreadful tourney performances I have ever seen. The Bears looked like they were running with concrete boots. On inbounds plays against the Maryland press, they stood still, and even got a 5-second call against them, which you rarely ever see.

Original Pick: Memphis, Present Pick: Memphis

3:35: (1) Connecticut vs. (9) Texas A&M; West Region; Philadelphia:

UConn was able to play without Calhoun on the bench Thursday, but he will be back on the sidelines today against the Aggies. This game scares me because (A) I really don't like UConn's chances at all this year, and (B) A&M can jump out to really quick starts, just like they did against BYU, who they simply dominated the entire game.

Original Pick: Connecticut, Present Pick: Connecticut

5:40: (4) Washington vs. (5) Purdue; West Region; Portland:

Not picking U-Dub and showing my homerism for Miss. St. really cam back to bite me. I actually really liked the Huskies all along, and yet I went with the "hot" team, which sometimes works, but more often than not, it doesn't. So, I regret that to an extent. Purdue let Northern Iowa stay in the game, but in the end, they simply had too much size, which is why I think they will move on here.

Original Pick: Purdue; Present Pick: Purdue

5:45: (1) North Carolina vs. (8) LSU; South Region; Greensboro:

I think it will be easy to look past LSU for Carolina. I have a feeling they will hold out Lawson, which could hurt them on the perimeter, because I'm not sure if Ellington can stop Thornton. Still though, LSU is susceptible to perimeter scoring, which is why Butler was able to get back in the game against the Tigers in the first round, and which is why I think that, while UNC may not have its best game, they will still be able to win by double-digits.

Original Pick: North Carolina; Present Pick: North Carolina

5:50: (2) Oklahoma vs. (10) Michigan; South Region; Kansas City:

You know, I have no regrets about picking Clemson to go to the Elite Eight (you know, outside of the fact that they lost and all). I watched the entire Clemson/Michigan game, and Clemson was absolutely dominating down low, but Ogelsby simply could not get a shot to drop, and instead of looking for someone else, he kept shooting. I didn't know this before, but Ogelsby, in two years in the tourney, has not made a three pointer...not one. Interesting. I feel like the maze and blue will get dominated down low again, but this time, I suspect that they will be encountering a better shooting team in the Sooners.

Original Pick: Clemson; Present Pick: Oklahoma

8:10: (4) Gonzaga vs. (12) Western Kentucky; South Region; Portland:

The way the 'Zags rallied against Akron in the first round makes me wonder if this is the year they break through as a top seed. I mean they have been a top-4 seed for what, like six years in a row? Isn't this an example of the Coke Machine Corollary in full effect? They keep rocking it, eventually it falls over right?

Original Pick: Gonzaga

8:15: (2) Duke vs. (7) Texas; East Region; Greensboro:

Again, I feel like putting Scheyer at the point may have turned the tides for the Dukies (unfortunately), and in Texas, I just don't see them getting a good game here.

Original Pick: Duke, Present Pick: Duke

Sunday Games:

12:10: (3) Syracuse vs. (6) Arizona State; South Region; Miami:

For what it's worth, Jonny Flynn went from being a late first-rounder to a lottery pick in the last two weeks. Harden from State scares me though. If he gets going, and their complementary guys step up, it's going to be tough for the Orange to survive. I'll stick with my original pick in hopes that the Big East keeps going.

Original Pick: Syracuse, Present Pick: Syracuse

2:20: (4) Xavier vs. (12) Wisconsin; East Region; Boise:

Luckily, I was not one of the crowd to pick Florida State to make the Sweet Sixteen, and believe me, there were a lot of them. So, I'm riding Xavier, a team that, again, I felt was totally unappreciated by everyone considering they were an Elite Eight team last year.

Original Pick: Xavier, Present Pick: Xavier

2:30: (3) Kansas vs. (11) Dayton; West Region; Minneapolis:

This is one of the few occasions where I got both of these wrong, so this will at least give some rooting interest now. Kansas was very close to getting bounced by North Dakota State in the first round, but was able to get past the cinderella factor and the overwhelming support towards the Sioux, which makes me believe that they can do it again against Dayton, who I still don't understand how they beat the Mountaineers on Friday.

Original Pick: West Virginia, Present Pick: Kansas

2:40: (12) Arizona vs. (13) Cleveland State; Midwest Region; Miami:

I really regret not taking Arizona over Utah in the first one. Everyone had 'Zona...damn it! Well, I'm leaning towards Arizona purely based on the fact that I don't even know if Cleveland State could play any better than they did against Wake, and they are going to have to play at least as well against 'Zona as they did on Friday. I really like State, but I think 'Zona may be too much.

Original Pick: Wake Forest, Present Pick: Arizona

2:50: (1) Pittsburgh vs. (8) Oklahoma State; East Region; Dayton:

DeJuan freggin' Blair

Original Pick: Pittsburgh, Present Pick: Pittsburgh

4:50: (3) Missouri vs. (6) Marquette; West Region; Boise:

Mizzou looked great in the first round, while Marquette was barely able to scrape by Utah State. I lost like every close game in the first round...that was frustrating.

Original Pick: Missouri, Present Pick: Missouri

5:00: (2) Michigan State vs. (10) Southern Cal; Midwest; Minneapolis:

I told you about BC...this whole betting with my head thing may be something to look into. Both these teams looked great in their openers, which means this could be potentially an interesting game, and a tough one for State.

Original Pick: Michigan State, Present Pick: Michigan State

5:20: (1) Louisville vs. (9) Siena; Midwest; Dayton:

Siena was a great call for me. Ohio State had that game won, and somehow Siena was able to tie the game up, send it to OT...and then another OT. Louisville looked great, and their road to the Final Four got made a lot easier by Arizona and Cleveland State knocking out the 4 and 5 seeds. I really think that unless Siena pulls out the upset, Louisville will be booking it for Indy and the Elite 8.

Original Pick: Louisville, Present Pick: Louisville

Alright, well, I threw out all the Saturday games, and in the games I had a potential winner in, I went 7-0, which brings me back to my original theory: For some reason, I am way better on Thursday/Saturday than I am on Friday/Sunday...I don't know what it is, but I just can't get it together on the Friday games...ever. Alright, well, I'm hoping that Sunday goes as well. Even though I lost two elite eight teams already, I still have a shot, so I'm pretty stoked. I'm already making a goal for next year...14-2 on one of the first round days...and so it was written. Alright, hope your brackets are coming to a positive fruition. Cheers. Peace.