Saturday, May 31, 2008

NBA Finals Prediction

Well, I got both the series winners wrong this time, but that's OK. At least it's not Spurs/Pistons again. I don't know that I could have handled that, I just hate stifling defense so much.

Boston vs. Los Angeles - I don't like Boston's chances. I know, home court advantage and all, but the Lakers won two in Denver, and one each in Utah and San Antonio, so I think they're capable of doing the same here. On the plus side for the Celtics, they won two road games this round, so maybe they could win one in L.A. as well. That would be interesting.

Here's my the thing as far as Boston is concerned. I worry about their ability to hold leads. Whenever they get big leads, they go into the NBA version of the prevent, where every possession is about using up as much clock as possible, even if it means passing up good shots that would help you score points, and instead just heaving up wounded ducks because the shot clock is about to expire. The shot usually misses, and rebounds allow the other team to run if they want, which they usually do, since they're way behind. The trailing team gets quick baskets and chips away at the lead. That happened to Boston in all three rounds, and they usually held on, but with the way Kobe's going right now, I'm not sure they can do it here.

So let's talk matchups for a bit. I'm guessing Odom will guard Garnett, because he's got a similar body type, so I figure he's quick enough and big enough to bother KG's shooting. On the other hand, I expect KG to guard Pau. He's the primary interior scorer for L.A., so they'll put KG on him to try and stifle him. I don't know who Kobe guards. Pierce is probably the bigger threat, but Allen seems to have rediscovered his shot recently, so they might want to lock him down, to put more pressure on Garnett, Pierce, and the rest. As for gaurding Kobe, well, I guess Allen will try, but I imagine he'll get lots of help from the big men, since Bryant's probably going to drive to the hoop at will. As for the coaches, Phil Jackson vs. Doc Rivers is a seriously one-sided fight. Maybe P.J. Brown could take over as head coach, stage a coup? That'd be kind of cool. The Celtics seem to have found their footing as the playoffs have gone on, and that's good, but they still can't seem to put teams away, and the Lakers have demonstrated that even 20-point leads aren't safe against them. Lakers in 6, but it'll probably be a close, entertaining series, hopefully without too much bitching about the refs. I know, small chance of that when Phil Jackson is involved, but we can hope, right?


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

NBA Conference Finals Predicitions

I picked two of the winners, but the two series where I got the number of games right, I got the winner wrong. Go figure.

Boston vs. Detroit: So the Celtics still haven't won a road game in the playoffs. What's actually more troubling to me is that they would build these big leads at home, then kept letting the Cavs creep back into the game. I caught the end of game 7, and let me tell you, that was some smooth offense the Celtics demonstrated. Let Pierce dribble the ball for 18 seconds, then drive clumsily into four Cavs, then hoist up an ugly shot. Yeah, that's some good basketball. Christ, what a mess. The Pistons seem pretty comfortable right now. They've got a set rotation (as opposed to Boston, where Rivers seems to be pulling guys in and out the game with abandon), all their starters are capable of taking over and being the big difference maker (except maybe McDyess), and they don't seem to be letting things slide as much. When the Magic would gain an advantage, the Pistons would actually seem to work hard to force Orlando into turnovers and sloppy offense, letting Detroit retake control.

I want the Celtics to win. Well, I want Kevin Garnett to win, to shut up all the people saying he doesn't come up big, because he plays at the same level all the time. What's wrong with that? I don't like some of these guys that just coast along, half-assing it until the postseason, and then they get serious. On the other hand, Garnett probably does defer too much, but who knows, maybe guarding Rasheed Wallace will be enough of a challenge to help him find another, even greater level of play. Just imagine it, Kevin Garnett, turned up. . . to 13. It would be staggering. Old women would fall to their knees and weep with joy. In all seriousness though, I haven't seen any indication the Celtics can even be competitive on the road against Detroit, and I figure the Pistons, being better rested, and with playing time less in flux, can get at least one in Boston. Rip Hamilton is a different defensive challenge for Pierce. less physical, but all the running off-screens, it must be like chasing a hyper-active five year old through a crowded room (is "hyperactive five year old" redundant?) I figure Detroit in 7. Or maybe Pierce guards Tayshaun, he's not as much of a focal point, but can Allen stay with Hamilton? Or maybe Rondo, being younger, has the legs to chase Rip, and Allen tries to keep Billups from getting open shots. I think the Celtics have more problems guarding the Pistons than in the reverse. Pistons in 7. {Actual result: Boston in 6. Damn, the Celtics learned to win on the road. And all it took was Billups and Rip being dinged up. Seriously though, I'm impressed that after they fell in the 3rd quarter, they actually came back and won. When I saw they'd blown their lead, I figured Game 7 for sure. So, good for Boston.}

Los Angeles vs. San Antonio: Well, the Spurs did it again. Faced the team that actually plays in a manner I find entertaining, and beat them. They're clutch, they're experienced, they're gritty, they play tough D, they're smart, blah, blah, blah. I'm so sick of the Spurs. In fact, fuck the Spurs. Fuck that flopper Ginobli, fuck Bowen and his sticking his foot under the feet of guys coming down from a jump, fuck Horry's getting 7 rings when he does absolute jack shit for 98% of any given season, fuck Duncan and constant bitching about being called for fouls, fuck Popovich for apparently teaching Avery Johnson to be a defense-obsessed control freak that sucked the fun out of the Mavs. Now I've got to root for Kobe fucking Bryant?! Fuck! Hey, Kobe's a great player, no doubts, he's just not a favorite of mine.

OK, I've marginally calmed down. So let's see. Do the Lakers have anyone who can guard Duncan? ESPN lists their PF as Vlad Radmonovic, so I'm thinking it'll fall to Odom, unless they want to risk getting Gasol in foul trouble (and I doubt he can do it). Odom has the length, but he probably lacks the mass, so maybe Vlad is primary defender, but Odom comes off Bowen to try and swipe the ball/cut off passing lanes? Kobe's a pretty good defender, so he'll probably be assigned Manu, so on the plus side, Manu probably won't get many calls. Ha! Hey, I onyl said I'd marginally calmed down. Can Derek Fisher stay with Tony Parker? Probably not, but maybe that's where Odom comes in. Really, whoever is guarding Bowen (and to a probably equal extent, Oberto) should be help defending. Of course, then there's Finley to worry about, and Barry, and Horry. Maybe someone could elbow him in the teeth.

For the Spurs' D, well, you know Bowen will be guarding Kobe. Bryant had some back issues last series, correct? So I imagine we'll see lots of "inadvertent" elbows to that region. So who guards Odom? I don't think Duncan has the speed, does Oberto? They can't use Manu, can they? I guess Oberto probably guards Gasol, and Duncan will guard Radmonovic, to the extent he needs to. Again, I think the Spurs have the edge, where they have more matchups in their favor, and I wonder if Kobe will try to do too much, so Spurs in 6. {Actual result: Lakers in 5. Oh, I am so happy to be wrong, though I can't believe I'm saying that about a Lakers victory. Barry did get totally screwed at the end of Game 4 though. I don't buy that line about, if he really wanted the foul, he should have gone up immediately. So he should just pin everything on getting the call, rather than going ahead and trying to get the best shot he can under the circumstances? Of course, all that ignores the issue of why Brent Barry was the one shooting, but that's something else entirely I imagine. Anyway, the Spurs are dead. Until next year, anyway.}


Saturday, May 17, 2008

Rage That Destroys Love?

The sad thing, to me, about this "Jim Edmonds is a Cub" situation is these Cardinals' fans I see online proclaiming Edmonds is dead to them now. Really? Why, because he still wants to play and the Cubs were willing to give him a shot? I can't see it being about money, since he's getting more from the Padres and the Cardinals not to play for them than he will be from Chicago. And it's not as if he left St. Louis on bad terms with the fans, like say, Clemens leaving Boston and deciding that the time to actually train during the off-season. These fans liked Jim two weeks ago, they were talking about how they would have cheered for him when the Padres came to town. Now, he's persona non grata.

So is this common? I meant to call up my dad and ask him if he had this reaction when Keith Hernandez went to the Mets back in the '80s, because my dad loathed the Mets back in the '80s, which is where I get it from (It was part of why the '06 postseason was so sweet. You gotta swing the bat to win the game, Beltran!), but I didn't get around to it. The thing is, Hernandez was traded, so it isn't really the same situation, as it would be more akin to when Edmonds got traded to the Pads, than his choosing to sign with the Cubs.

I've been trying to think of a similar situation in my experience, and I haven't so far. There have been players who joined a team I rooted for who I wish had stayed away (Emmitt Smith joining the Arizona Cardinals, John Mabry rejoining St. Louis in 2004, Gregg Jefferies being traded to the Cards in '93), and there are players I've been glad to see gone (Jeff Brantley, Ron Gant, Craig Paquette, well, it's a long list, and a post for another time), but I can't think of a player I liked when he left the team I rooted for, who I decided I disliked once he signed with a particular team. Maybe Stephon Marbury, but I think that was more the way he seemed to force his way out of Minnesota (because he hated playing 2nd fiddle to KG), than it was because he signed with the Nets. I didn't give a crap about the Nets one way or the other. I guess I've been lucky.

Has it happened for any of you (he said, as though more than one person is reading)?

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Cardinals' 41 Game Mark Season Review

So we're about a quarter of the way through the season. The Rays are in first in the AL East, to the consternation of the two fellows who run the comic shop I go to (they're both Yankees' fans). The AL Central looks like a real mess, and nobody looks particularly good so far, but if it keeps up, at least it'll make for a tight pennant race. The collapse the Mariners began last fall (costing them their shot at the Wild Card) has continued this year, and it's so bad even Ichiro isn't hitting .300. I really wish Ichiro had been playing over here right from the start, instead of spending all those years in Japan. If he had, I'd say he might have been able to go after Pete Rose's hits record (hey, this is only his 8th season, he's already over 1600). Meanwhile the Marlins have the edge in the NL East, though it looks like everyone except Washington will be in contention in that division this year. The Padres and the Rockies both stink, which makes me think Arizona might run away with that division, and then there's the NL Central, unsurprisingly lead by the Cubs. What is surprising is that the teams people were suggesting would challenge them, Milwaukee and Cincinnati, are sitting in 4th and 6th place, and it's the Cardinals and the Astros that are closest so far. But it's still early.

As to the Cardinals, I'm struggling with expectations. On the one hand, I said they might be .500 this year, so the fact they've started this well is a pleasant gift. On the other hand, once they started that way, I wanted them to stay there, and the fact they're now stuck behind the Cubs is kind of annoying me. I don't think I expected them to stay in 1st all year, but it would have been nice if they could have. Sadly, they've stumbled of late, winning just 3 of the last 9 (and 1 of the last 7). But let's break it down a bit.

Rotation: So far, they've only used six starters, and Brad Thompson's start on April 8 is the last one by someone other than the current 5. The trick with the rotation appears to have been an abundance of home games, as Busch 3 is a bit of a pitchers' park. Not to an extreme, but the pitchers have been better at home every year of its existence. Wainwright has been very impressive thus far, even if he does keep getting hosed by his bullpen (more on them later). I'm still not ready to proclaim him an "ace", but I think I'm ready to say he's a #1 starter, whereas by the end of last season I'd pegged him as a solid #2. Kyle Lohse started out quite well, but that was with him not allowing any HRs, but striking out fewer guys than he had in the past. He's still only allowed two, but his numbers are looking more like his career norms than they were in April. I still feel he'll be a solid Suppan-style pitcher for the Cardinals, which for the price they're paying is pretty good. Wellenmeyer has really surprised me. He's basically a six inning pitcher, but for those six innings he's pretty good. He's throwing strikes, which always helps, and that's kept his walk rate at 3/9 IP, whereas his career average is closer to 4.5. He's also the best power pitcher they've got. The question is whether he has the stamina. Looper started out well last year, then broke down in June and labored the rest of the way. Wellenmeyer's high in innings is 79.3, and he did that last year. He's at 48 now. Something to consider. Speaking of BLoop he's doing alright. He's working a bit deeper into games (he went into the 9th against Colorado last week), but he's also not much more than a six inning pitcher, something he in common with everyone except Wagonmaker. And then there's Pineiro, and he's been up and down. He doesn't strike anyone out, and his K/BB ratio isn't great either, but he's only had only really bad start, and that was his first one. He's another solid back of the rotation guy, to go along with all the others.

On the injury front, Mulder has been shut down following yet another rehab stint where he got whomped by minor leaguers. I suppose that's progress, as the previous two years TLR and Duncan went ahead and threw him in the rotation anyway, with disastrous (and predictable) results. Carpenter's done a little throwing, I think, but it'll still be awhile on him, and Clement seems to have fallen off the face of the earth.

Bullpen: Maybe it's a sign someone out there has a sense of humor. Last year, the only positive thing you could really say about the Cardinals was they had a solid bullpen. Every other unit was hurt or old. This year, all those other parts are largely holding up their end, and the bullpen has decided to fall apart over the last couple of weeks. Izzy appears to be done, but at least he recognizes it, except now Tony has to figure out who can be closer and the pickings are slim. There's a lot of fan support for AAA closer Chris Perez, but he has control issues, and even though Tony's been giving the younger set a chance this year, I imagine he'll exhaust as many veteran options as he can first. Franklin's been OK, though not as steady as he was last year, and Russ Springer has fallen mightily back to earth. Not a surprise, since people who have a career year at 38 don't tend to duplicate the success. Flores and Ron Villione have been pretty solid as the lefties, though Villone crashed and burned last night against Pittsburgh. I don't have high expectations for either of them. McClellan, Parisi, and Reyes have all had good appearances and bad, though Reyes is back starting in the minors, apparently as an attempt to drum up trade bait. Even though I'm a Cards' fan first, part of me would love to see Reyes traded to another team, and come back and kick the shit out of a LaRussa/Duncan coached Cards' squad.

Catcher: Yadier's playing his usual high level of defense (when he isn't getting ejected), but he's not having much success throwing out baserunners (6 for 21 success rate). The blame seems to be pointed at the pitchers, whether it's because they don't hold runners, or they're just slow to the plate I don't know. On the plus side, he's sporting a .724 OPS, which I will gladly take from him. It looks even better in comparison to Jason LaRue, he of the 4 for 35 start to the season. At least he got his average above .100.

Infield: Albert is getting walked - a lot. No surprise, given the lineup around him. He's currently at 1.103 OPS, plus his usual pretty good level of defense, though whenever he makes a mistake (missing a foul ball pop-up, for example) big innings seem to follow. Fortunately he's not making too many of those mistakes. Adam Kennedy's numbers are dropping with his batting average, as he isn't walking much, and he's hitting for very little power. For his career, he has a .389 slugging, and that includes this year's .337, and last year's .290. If his batting average continues to fall, he's going to be a major drag on the team, because his Range Factor suggests he isn't exactly playing a great second base. Meanwhile, Izturis is hitting even worse (.233 AVG/.336 OBP/.282 SLG), but has a Range factor of 4.9 (average for SS is 4.43), so it's sort of excusable. I can't figure how he's managed to walk 13 times this year. Seriously, how do you walk him? He can barely hit! Troy Glaus has been better defensively than I figured, but he's hitting like he's doing his best Scott Rolen, 2007 impersonation, with a slugging of just .382. However, Glaus reminds me of Tom Brunansky: low batting average, power potential, but very streaky, so I'm hoping Troy's about to go on a hot streak, because the offense needs another power bat.

As far as backups go, Aaron Miles is playing a lot more than I'd like, and is putting up the same stat line as Kennedy, except with even less power (.313 SLG?). And of course, LaRussa insists AAAron can play 2B, 3B and SS, but he doesn't really play any of them well, historically. His RF at 3rd is pretty good so far, but both his 2B (4.27; league average is 4.9) and especially his SS (3.15) values are well below average. At least it doesn't look like he'll be third on the team in ABs this year. Brendan Ryan hasn't had a lot of time thus far, but he seems to be in the same mold as Miles and Kennedy: decent batting average, no walks, very little power (.289/.304/.333). On the plus side, he's played a good SS (4.81) and 3B (3.50) in limited duty and he's been better than Miles at 2B (4.50).

Outfield: Well it's a nice change of pace that the Cardinals have five useful outfielders. it means they have someone to use at DH when they play in American League ballparks (my vote is for Duncan). Currently Duncan's power is lacking, and his average is pretty weak, but he's drawing walks and I'll guess that'll have to do. He's still a debacle in the outfield. Skip Schumaker's slowed down from the torrid second half of April, but if he puts up a .289/.365/.401 all year, I'll take it. I'm very impressed with Ankiel, who plays a much better centerfield than I thought he would, has a .500 SLG, and is also drawing walks (I'd suggest he and Duncan are walking because of all the punching Judys in the lineup, so the dangerous hitters are pitched around, but that still wouldn't explain Izturis). Brian Barton's been fairly useful, though he doesn't seem to use his speed much, and Tony keeps insisting on taking him out late in games for defensive replacements (yet he doesn't do that nearly as much with Duncan, who has all the grace of a tranquilized tree sloth). The real story has been Ryan Ludwick, with his currently .701 SLG, which is Bondsian territory right there. I know, early going, long season ahead, probably won't lat, but still, that is really impressive. Plus, he's a pretty good outfielder, and he can play all three spots.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Edmonds To The Cubs?

That's the rumor, that the Cubs are considering signing Jim Edmonds, who the San Diego Padres recently released.

On the one hand, I was against the Cardinals trading for Edmonds prior to the 2000 season. He'd been hurt, was an alleged clubhouse problem, and I didn't figure the Cardinals could spare the pitching they were losing in Kent Bottenfield (before you criticize, recall Bottenfield won 18 games in '99). Through 2005, Edmonds stayed mostly healthy (minimum of 137 games played every year), and he was apparently a locker room leader with the 2006 squad, and I never heard anything bad about him chemistry-wise until last year. So I was wrong. It happens.

I think I was a pretty staunch Edmonds supporter for most of his time here. He struck out more than I would have preferred, but so did Ray Lankford, and I liked him. It actually got to the point where, in 2002 and 2003 (I think), I would get routinely angry because Bernie Miklasz would write columns advocating the Cardinals trade Jimmy Eds for starting pitching, because Edmonds got hurt too much. Let's overlook the fact that Edmonds plays in at least 130 games, compared to a starting pitcher's ~35. We'll further overlook that the guy he mentioned most frequently as the desired target was Darren Dreifort. Yeah, that would have solidified the Cardinals rotation, like a pair of cement shoes. Consider simply that the current starters might have missed having Jim in the outfield behind them, and who was going to take his place? At that time, the prime candidates were Eli Marrero ( a converted catcher) or J.D. Drew (who makes Edmonds look like Cal Ripken Jr.).

So I was a fan of Edmonds, but not to the point I didn't recognize his declining skills, and so I wasn't all that sad when the Cardinals traded him last offseason. If nothing else, I figured he and LaRussa would be happier if they were in different time zones. So I'm not distraught at the thought of him patrolling centerfield for the Cubs, primarily because I figure he'd be bad enough to help sabotage their season. Whoo-hoo!

Really, I don't get this from the Cubs' perspective. I recognize that Felix Pie and Reed Johnson have not torn the cover off the ball, but Edmonds was hitting so poorly that the Padres, the worst offense in the league, told him to get lost. And there's no way he's as good defensively as Pie at this stage in their careers.

As far as I can tell, Cubs' fans aren't any happier than Cardinals' fans. What I did find curious (read, mindblowingly stupid) was one Cubs fan listing things about Edmonds everyone in Chicago hates. Among those was that he sprints around the bases after he hits a home run. I somehow doubt this person speaks for all Cubs' fans. Edmonds would have been hitting those home runs against the Cubs, and this fellow is sore Jim didn't stop to admire them? Note to self: If I ever hit a home run at Wrigley, pause at the plate for 30 seconds, as if the ball is still going, then walk around the bases, meandering over to the stands on the first base side to steal a Cubs' fan's beer, then doing the same on the third base side, except this time taking a hot dog. Oh, and remember to stop, drop my pants, and wave my ass in the direction of Chicago's dugout (but not if Joe Buck is at the game). Then I will be a legend in Chi-town.

Tomorrow, I'm planning my Cardinals' 1/4 season review. Yep, we're at that time of year where I almost post here regularly!


Sunday, May 04, 2008

NBA Round 2 Predictions

Well, now that Boston has finally taken care of Atlanta (thumbs up to the Hawks for making it a series) I can get to my semifinal predictions, which is kind of silly since two of the series have already finished game 1, and the Lakers/Jazz are in the first quarter as we speak. For the record, I didn't correctly predict the length of any of the series, but I did pick all the winners correctly. But I also picked the higher seed to win every time, so big deal, right?

Boston vs. Cleveland: Both teams wrapped up series against opponents that got pretty physical. The difference is Cleveland did it faster, against a better opponent. Which doesn't exactly bode well for Boston. I don't know, maybe the Celtics were a little too full of themselves, and needed a wakeup call to get serious (which they certainly seemed to be in Game 7 against Atlanta). Sounds a lot like the problem the Pistons have, except the Pistons have actually won a title to allow for such over-confidence. These Celtics (except Cassell) can't make that claim. LeBron still doesn't seem to be getting much help from the rest of the team, at least not consistently, which ought to work in Boston's favor. They're supposed to be a top defensive team, so in theory they can clamp down on LeBron and force those other fellows to actually do something. I think if you can force Wally, Zydrunas, Big Ben and Joe Smith to beat you four times in a seven game series, you're probably in pretty good shape. Problem being, I'm not sure the Celtics can shut LeBron down, and after that last series, my confidence in Boston isn't exactly high. So, Cavs in 7. {Actual result: Celtics in 7. Right number of games, wrong team. Somehow, I don't think Boston can pull off the "win all your home games, lose all your road games" shtick against the Pistons. At least it's over.}

Detroit vs Orlando: Well, I thought the Magic would be able to steal some games, as the Pistons would coast like they often do. If Game 1 was any indication, that may not be happening, as Detroit shut all Orlando's players down, while having a balanced offensive attack of their own, and blew the Magic right out the doors. In a coaching battle, I'll take Stan van Gundy over Flip Saunders (who I was a big fan of in his Minnesota days, since he often seemed to coax 45 or so wins out of a team of Garnett and a bunch of schmoes. I mean, Troy Hudson?), but it comes down to players and I think Detroit has the advantage. The Magic are going to win a couple of games, through a combination of being fired up at home and Detroit coasting again (I'll believe they're past that when I see it for an entire series), but Detroit in 6. {Actual result: Detroit in 5. Hmm, maybe the Pistons actually are taking this seriously. Or maybe the Magic just aren't all that good.}

Los Angeles vs. Utah: The Lakers mopped the floor with Denver, and Utah struggled to put Houston away. Of course, Denver doesn't play any defense, so I expect things to be a little harder for Mamba and Friends this time around. Of course, Phil Jackson teams tend to play good defense too, so it won't be easy for Utah either. I really don't know a lot else to say about this match up. Derom Williams and Boozer are a good combo, but I think Kobe/Gasol is a better one. Who's responsible for containing Kobe? Kirlienko? Is he up to that, with all the talk about whether he's mentally soft? Who does Kobe guard, and can they wear him out on D, take away some of the spring in his legs late in the game? I think the Lakers are the better team, and that they'll win the series. Lakers in 5. {Actual result: Lakers in 6. Hooray! Someone other than the Pistons managed to win a game on the road!}

New Orleans vs. San Antonio: I have to say, I didn't expect the result we got in Game 1, with the Hornets just running away from the Spurs. I don't expect Tim Duncan to be held to five points again (though I'd love it if he was), and I while I can see the Hornets winning, I can't seeing it being that easy. I wonder about fatigue, though, for both teams. The Spurs are an old bunch, especially when you factor in all the playoff games to go along with their regular seasons, but the Hornets aren't a particularly deep team, if I recall. Granted, postseasons are you about seven or eight man rotations, but the Spurs depth could come in handy, just for giving some of the old legs an extra few minutes. I really want the Hornets to win this series, but I think Game 2 is the critical one. I know they still won't have gone back to San Antonio yet, but I want to see how both teams respond to Game 1's result. Do the Hornets get cocky, and how much do the Spurs have left to respond with? That kind of thing. But if you're pressing me on it, I'll give the Hornets the nod (kiss of death alert!), in 7. {Actual result: Spurs in 7. We're never going to be rid of the Spurs are we?}