Thursday, May 21, 2015

It's Not All Basketball Here

I do talk baseball sometimes, and the Cardinals are 40 games into their season. They're sitting at 27-13, 4.5 games ahead of the Cubs, which isn't anything to complain about. Depending on how you look at it, they've either been lucky or unlucky. Unlucky, because they've had a host of injuries. Wainwright tore his Achilles, he's done for the year. Molina aggravated something, and Heyward had a groin pull for a few days. Matt Carpenter missed a couple of games with what they called extreme fatigue, which sounds like heat exhaustion, maybe. You could consider them lucky because these don't seem to have particularly slowed them down yet.

Their offense is ticking along. 2nd in OBP, 4th in slugging. They're 4th in runs, 1st in doubles, and all the way up to 8th in HRs. Which doesn't sound terribly impressive until you remember they were basically at the bottom of the NL last year. Molina, Adams, Jay, and Heyward are struggling to various degrees. Molina at least has a .345 on-base percentage, and Heyward has an isolated power of .146, which is hardly great, but a decent step up from last year's 113. The guys that are carrying the offense are Wong, Peralta, Carpenter, and Holliday. All of them have an OPS+ of at least 125 as I type this. Carpenter in particular has already hit 16 doubles (almost half of last year's total) and 7 HRs (one fewer than last year). Holliday's iso is only 135, but his OBP is .442, which works. Mark Reynolds has been useful (.779 OPS, 111 OPS+, 3 HRs in 95 PAs), and Peter Bourjos has, through 75 PAs, pretty much fulfilled my dreams for him when the Cards acquired him. .273 average, pumping up a .347 OBP, and his 3 triples go with the 3 doubles and one HR to give him a .455 slugging. And Grichuk has been a useful source of power in limited chances.

The pitching is a bit more suspect, what with Wainwright's absence. Martinez has struggled with control walking 22 guys in about 46 innings. He's also averaging fewer than 6 innings a start, which isn't surprising, given all the walks, but is disappointing. Tyler Lyons has continued to not have success in the majors, but Lackey, Lynn, and Wacha are all pitching well (though Wacha's FIP suggests he's getting pretty lucky).

In the bullpen, Rosenthal and Siegrist have given up 4 runs combined in 38 innings, which is probably unsustainably good, but it's encouraging. Siegrist's walk rate is just under 4 per 9 innings, which worries me a little. Belisle and Choate have both been fine so far, while Maness is scuffling a bit. Might just be misfortune, his ERA is 4.67, but his FIP is 2.9, and he hasn't walked anyone so far. Carlos Villanueva has done better than I expected, and appears to be Matheny's go-to guy in the 9th when it isn't a save situation, considering he's finished more games than anyone besides Rosenthal. Not sure what that means, possibly that Matheny's using him as an innings sponge for unimportant times, so he doesn't overwork his key guys. If true, it's not the worst idea I've heard. Jordan Walden was doing fine before he went on the DL, and it looks like Mitch Harris got all the good luck Maness is missing, as he's allowed 18 baserunners in 10 innings, but only 4 runs.

Overall, I'd say the season has gone as well as can be hoped, even without considering injuries. They've won two-thirds of their games so far, that's really good. It probably won't last (and I think they're something like 6-5 in their last 11 games), but those early wins don't stop counting in the standings just because a team doesn't maintain that pace. And I feel confident the Cubs aren't going away.

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Monday, May 18, 2015

All Bullshit Aside, It's Conference Finals Time

I think we've finally eliminated all the shit teams from the Eastern Conference. At least, I sure hope so. Let's see, I nailed Cavs/Bulls exactly, but the Hawks beat my prediction by a game, as did the Warriors. And the Rockets won when I picked them to lose, which is fine with me, because it meant death to the Clippers.

Atlanta/Cleveland: I've been on the Hawks' bandwagon since roughly mid-December, and all throughout that time, I have maintained they can beat Cleveland. Even when the Cavs were smoking hot after acquiring Mozgov, Smith, and Shumpert. Even as the Hawks scuffled a bit after the All-Star Break. I'm not changing my mind now. I still think the Hawks' offense can pick apart Cleveland's D. If Kyrie is still hobbled I don't know who he guards. Teague will torch him, and he sure as hell won't be chasing Korver around screens for 35 minutes. I'd assume Lebron will guard DeMarre Carroll, so he can potentially help more, and I'm not sure Kyrie could really bother Carroll's shot anyway, with the 5 inch height difference and all.

Also, I feel Horford's a bad matchup for Mozgov. He's a legit shooter out to 20 feet, which is going to draw Mozgov away from the basket, which either opens up lanes for other Hawks to cut to the basket, or for Horford to beat him off the dribble.

I don't expect it to be easy. It's Lebron James, no Eastern Conference team has beaten him in the playoffs since 2010. But I believe the Hawks can do it. They don't have to win by a ton, the way the Spurs did last year. They just have to win 4 games by any margin of victory they can manage. A 1-point win counts as much as a 30-point win. Hawks in 7.

Golden State/Houston: So Golden State was able to handle Memphis' dual big man attack, and now they get Dwight Howard. Well, it shouldn't be any harder of a challenge down low, though the Rockets don't play nearly as many offensive zeroes as the Grizzlies.

Still, only one of these two teams was historically great all season, and that's Golden State. They were better on offense and defense than Houston. I think Klay Thompson's going to make Harden's life difficult, and I don't see the Warriors' defense letting the other guys - Terry, Prigioni, Josh Smith - go off against them the way the Clippers did. I don't have any real fancy insights or reasons for this pick. The Warriors have been better than Houston all year, and they haven't lost anybody critical to injury thus far to make me think that's changed. Warriors in 6.


Monday, May 04, 2015

Rushing To Beat Round 2

Able to get back to Internet access just in time for the start of the conference semifinals. So let's take stock of the first round. In the East, Atlanta had much more trouble with Brooklyn than I expected/hoped, while Cleveland had less with Boston, even if the Cavs were on cruise control for much of the series. I nailed Bulls/Bucks exactly, and for the second year in a row, pessimistic Wizards' fans made me pick against them, only for them turn around and roll over their first round opponent.

In the West, Golden State beat my prediction by one game, mostly by overcoming a huge deficit in Game 3. The Rockets won in 5 as Rondo self-destructed for Dallas, and the Grizzlies beat Portland one game sooner than I thought they would. On the downside, the fucking Clippers beat San Antonio. So that's no good.

Cleveland/Chicago: Kevin Love's out for the remainder of the playoffs with an injury, supposedly. Players have surprised and returned in the past. J.R. Smith is out for the first two games of this series, because he's a dumbass sometimes. On the other side, the Bulls don't seem quite right. Noah is either gassed, or hurt, and Taj Gibson doesn't seem like his usual force.

Love being out probably hurts Cleveland's spacing, since they lose his 3-point shooting, but Tristan Thompson is an upgrade defensively and on the boards. Historically, the Bulls have been sound enough defensively to take advantage of any edge they can get, but I'm not sure that's the case here. Their defense is a little more spotty, maybe because of a reliance on weaker defensive players like Gasol and Mirotic, or the decline in some of the other key guys. Regardless, I'm inclined to pick Cleveland. The Bulls did not impress in Round 1, and they've never had much luck actually beating Lebron, anyway. Cavs in 6.

Atlanta/Washington: So the Wizards won handily, but how much of that was them getting their acts together, and how much was Toronto being a complete mess that's about to be dismantled? the Hawks struggled against the freaking Nets, but I'm going to try and chalk that up to them being unfamiliar with being the favorite in a playoff series. It's a learning curve. Title-winning teams have struggled in the early rounds before. Look at the Spurs last year, or Boston the last time they won the title. The Wizards have some size with Nene and Gortat, but got a lot of mileage out of playing Paul Pierce at power forward. My guess is the Hawks will handle the Wizards generally trash fire of an offense better than the Raptors regardless, just by virtue of having better defenders and a better scheme. At the same time, it would be nice if Atlanta could take away the Wizards' new favorite toy by punishing Pierce on the low block, but I'm not sure Paul Milsap can do that. He's a good player, but he's not a low-post brute on the scale of Zach Randolph. Even so, I'm picking Atlanta. I've believed in them since about the start of the year, I'm not stopping now because Washington played well for 4 consecutive games. Hawks in 7.

Golden State/Memphis: Warriors in 5. Let's just get that out of the way. The Warriors have been a great defensive team this year, and even if Mike Conley can play through his broken face, the Grizzlies are not a good enough offensive team for me to expect them to break Golden State's D. They need Tony Allen's defense on either Klay Thompson or Steph Curry, but then that gives the Warriors someone to ignore. Vince Carter's been a mess offensively all year, Jeff Green scares no one, Beno Udrih has a bum ankle, and is a huge defensive liability. Andrew Bogut can lock down either Marc Gasol or Z-Bo, and if not shut them down, at least make life difficult. Draymond Green would seem to be at a disadvantage guarding either of those guys, but I imagine he too, would make life very hard for them.

I fully expect Memphis' defense to at least slow the Warriors' scoring, but the Warriors have a lot more wiggle room on that score than the Grizzlies do.

Houston/Los Angeles: Jesus, this is going to be hideous. You have DeAndre Jordan on one side, and Houston's Legion of Shitty Foul Shooters on the other. Chris Paul and his flopping, versus James Harden and his constant attempts to get fouled. Couldn't we split these teams up and make them face Golden State or Memphis instead? No, I suppose then there would be the risk they'd meet in the Conference Finals anyway. At least this way we're rid of one of them now, and hopefully the other in the next round.

As for who's going to win, I'm guessing the Clippers. They don't have much depth, but my feeling is their best guys are overall better than Houston's best guys, and those are the ones you lean on most in the playoffs. If they win, they may not have much left for the next round, but I expect they have enough to get by Houston. Clippers in 6.