Thursday, April 28, 2005

You think Georgia will miss Brian VanGorder?

Games in which various programs have allowed 30+ points since 2001:

Auburn - 8
Florida - 13
Tennessee - 12
LSU - 10
Georgia - 1
Michigan - 9
Ohio State - 6
Notre Dame - 9
Oklahoma - 7
Texas - 9
Nebraska - 14
USC - 5

Wow. Georgia leads the pack and it isn't even close. Tennessee surprised me a little with their poor showing; maybe another reason why they're overrated this year? LSU also surprised me, given that their defensive braintrust of Saban and Muschamp is generally highly-regarded.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

"Dan Doodie"

That's Dan Kolb's new moniker, thanks to my scatologically-inclined wife. It goes without saying that the 9th inning yesterday was painful. Nothing will annoy a baseball fan quite like a bad closer because he can undo hours of good work by the rest of a team, not unlike a kicker. Smoltz and Reitsma combined to hold a potent lineup to one run over eight innings and yet, Dan Doodie couldn't hold a three-run lead in the 9th, even after he lucked out by getting a double play when a screamer was hit directly at Marcus Giles. With two outs, no one on, and a three-run lead, Doodie allowed two doubles and two singles, none of which were cheap hits with the possible exception of Piazza's grounder up the middle. Kolb's pitch location worries me. He's apparently responded to his fit of wildness against the Phillies on April 17 by throwing meatballs down the middle.

All that said, I'm not especially worried about the closer position because Chris Reitsma is pitching well enough that he could be plugged into the slot quite easily, with Kevin Gryboski, Roman Colon, and Jorge "You stall your deal with" Sosa moving into the set-up role. It's a long season and there is plenty of time to make adjustments, especially with the team off to a pretty decent start.

John Foster is not going to be the full-time closer or even a set-up man, but I liked seeing Bobby use him in a critical situation. Maybe Cox was being too conventional by going lefty-on-lefty (especially given Floyd's terrific average against lefties,) but it was nice to see him trust a young pitcher in a pressure situation. There's no better way to determine whether Foster is useful than to throw him into a tough situation in the 9th inning at Shea. He passed the test, although I wasn't wild about the pitch location that got Floyd to pop out.

And the BCS gets dumber and dumber

Wonderful, a poll composed of the likes of Roy Kramer and former coaches and players. I don't have a tremendous amount of respect for the coaches poll to begin with because I view most college football coaches as glorified gym teachers (with some exceptions.) (Yes, I have reasons other than the 1997 sop to Tom Osborne.) I have less respect for former coaches and players because they generally aren't even current with what's going on in their sport (again, with exceptions.)

Look at TV analysts. Do former coaches or players like Lee Corso or Aaron Taylor really seem to know more about the sport than we do? Sure, they know a lot more about the technique of playing, but are they any more able to compare team A and team B? No. Maybe I've internalized Moneyball too much, but I'm just not impressed with the fraternity of former players and coaches, who claim to have a better understanding of their games than the "eggheads" who analyze it. Now, current and former coaches and players are going to comprise two-thirds of the BCS rankings. Wonderful. That'll stop fans like me from asking for a playoff.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Ridiculously Judgmental Statements about the Falcons' Draft

Roddy White - I'm not a fan of this pick for several reasons. First, it's the third straight year that the Falcons have spent a first round pick on a wide receiver. (Remember that Peerless cost a first-rounder.) The Falcons are spending too much of their cap and too many of their Draft picks on receivers, which means that they are forgetting that defense is 60% of football.

It also means that they are continuing to kow-tow to Michael Vick in every way imaginable. Peter King made a comment a few weeks ago that the Falcons are treating Vick like a superstar before he actually becomes one. I assumed at the time that he had some sort of inside information that he couldn't share. Now, the Falcons' pick puts some meat around that theory. Add in the fact that the Mayhem guys were saying that Vick (and his posse) has a reputation around town as a bit of a jerk and you have some serious hubris concerns. I worry that we are heading into the second half of "Scarface," after the "Take it to the Limit" montage of money rolling in and Tony getting married to Elvira and right before Tony starts to do too much blow and becomes paranoid. Hopefully, it won't end with Vick shooting Alge Crumpler because Alge married his sister.

My other worry about the Falcons is the fact that Arthur Blank seems to play a bit too much of a role with the team and a draft pick of a flashy wide receiver over a Shaun Cody or Brodney Pool is the kind of pick that a football novice would make.

The upside of taking Roddy White is this: if White and Jenkins mature over the next 2-3 years, then Vick will have much better targets than he currently has and will be able to mature into a very good passer. It's unfair to grade him as a passer when he's throwing to Peerless Price and Brian Finneran, although one gets the sense that Donovan McNabb or Peyton Manning would make those receivers a lot better than they are. If either White or Jenkins get better, then Peerless can become a complementary receiver, a role that he filled well in Buffalo. (This assumes that his success as a Bill was not solely the result of his desire to get a big contract, a desire that was sated the moment he signed with the Falcons.)

The rest of the Draft - On the other hand, the Falcons spent the rest of the Draft shoring up the defense, so they deserve some credit for paying attention to their biggest area of need. I love the Jonathan Babineaux pick. 25 TFLs speak for themselves. I'm also a fan of players from Iowa because they come out of a program that 1) teaches technique properly and 2) does a great job with strength and conditioning. If Babineaux is healthy, then he'll be a starter sooner rather than later.

I don't know much about Jordan Beck, but he sounds like a very good athlete and he should benefit from instruction by Mora and Donatell. Could he push Demorrio Williams for the WLB spot? The Falcons are accumulating small, fast linebackers, which will put more of an onus on the defensive line to keep guards off of them.

Chauncey Davis intrigues me. He sounds like the typical Florida State defensive end: very fast, but not able to get anything done once engaged with an offensive tackle. Once an OT figures out Davis' game, then he can just ride him out of plays by taking a wide angle. Still, Davis was fairly productive as a senior at FSU and FSU DEs never ring up huge numbers because Mickey Andrews rotates his guys so much. Not a bad 4th round pick at a need position.

Frank Omiyale...???

I like the Michael Boley pick, as well, solely because he was extremely productive in college.

Deandre Cobb will be the player who will surprise Falcons fans the most. He was one of the fastest players in college football over the past two years, as evidenced by the fact that he led the nation in kickoff returns. He'll be the immediate replacement for Allen Rossum. However, I might be too optimistic here, but I can see him ultimately replacing Warrick Dunn as T.J. Duckett's back-up. He was fairly productive as a runner in college. With his speed and small statute, he could do well in a running game that spreads out a defensive front seven. Vick's presence does just that. He forces defensive ends to line up wide and stay in their lanes for fear that Vick will turn the corner. Cobb is the perfect runner to exploit those fissures and if he gets into the secondary, there are precious few players who can catch him.

Darrell Shropshire was also a good gamble in round seven. There aren't many 301-pounders who run a 4.87 at the Combine. He has little or no idea how to play properly (like most players who came out of the South Carolina program during Lou's twilight,) but with a year or two on the practice squad and good instruction, he could be a useful part of the DT rotation. If not, the Falcons didn't invest much into him. Like Beck and Davis, the coaches will be tested by Shropshire's raw potential.

Overall, I liked the Falcons' Draft from the second round onwards. The defense should be deeper and better next year. As for the offense, Michael Vick's development as a passer will determine whether the team can win 11 games again against a much tougher schedule. Right now, I smell 9-7, but I hope I'm wrong about that.

Your first BCS update of the year

To me, the BCS lost all credibility last year when their nuclear option occurred: a major conference team (that was not on probation) played a challenging schedule, went unbeaten against that schedule, and didn't get an opportunity to play for the national title. To boot, a mid-major went unbeaten, destroying every opponent in its path, including two decent BCS conference teams, and was not only denied a shot at the title, but was relegated to a bowl game against a mediocre Pitt team.

After that, the BCS lost all credibility, so the attached article about how the BCS Commissioners are struggling with coming up with a new system that will retain credibility seems, to me, to be rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Since the BCS Commissioners are given an impossible task by the BCS university presidents - select only two teams from 117 for a playoff - the better analogy might be Pravda during the final days of the Soviet Union. The poor BCS commissioners have to explain the unexplainable, but they can't say what everyone knows: that college football's post-season structure has been exposed as fundamentally flawed.

College football is still my favorite sport because it's the only American sport with a truly meaningful regular season, and creating a playoff that doesn't devalue the regular season excessively is tricky. Plus, once a four-team playoff is implemented, then forces will consistently push it towards expansion, which would be a bad thing. (Look at the bloated NCAA tournament and the meaningless college basketball regular season, for an illustration.) That said, the two-team playoff has been exposed and the sooner we are rid of it, the better.

Friday, April 22, 2005

One nice thought about the Braves

Yes, they didn't score an earned run in 18 innings in Washington against two average pitchers in a hitter's park, but the pitching is still good. Thinking back to the Braves team that actually experienced post-season success, the '95 Braves finished 9th in the league in runs scored. If you think we can't win with Brian Jordan and Raul Mondesi prominently featured, recall that the Braves win the World Series with Mike Devereaux winning the NLCS MVP, as well as Jeff Blauser (OPS of .660) and Mark Lemke (OPS of .681) in the middle infield. Marquis Grissom and his .693 OPS was patrolling centerfield. We gave 180 ABs to Rafael Belliard and his incomprehensibly low .499 OPS. (He also started the entire World Series because of an injury to Jeff Blauser.)

Correlation doesn't equal causation and it might be that the Braves winning the World Series had nothing to do with their weak offense. On the other hand, maybe playing post-season style baseball all year - low-scoring games in which pitching and defense were critical - helped the team in the playoffs. The trick will be making it to the playoffs. The offense, as currently configured, is clearly not enough to win the division or get the Wild Card. The NL East is too strong for a bad offense to prosper. However, if the Braves can simply get that offense to mediocre status...

On the other hand, Chad Ford's column is worth reading

(although you need ESPN Insider to access it.)

1. He says that ownership is divided on Billy Knight. On the one hand, it's unfair to off him in the middle of his rebuilding plan. On the other hand, if they really think that he's going to screw up a top pick and $20M in cap space, then they need to make a move now. As Florida AD Jeremy Foley says, that which will be done eventually must be done immediately. Personally, I think Knight is going to do fine. His track record in Memphis is good and he did a good job with the Hawks' two first round picks last year. Really, Ford's comment only goes to show the weakness of a seven-man ownership group: it doesn't have perfect direction. There are forces pulling it in a number of different ways.

2. Every bad team in the NBA is looking for an "athletic shotblocker." Translation: the Hawks aren't going to get one in free agency. It's the Draft or bust, unless Tyson Chandler or Sam Dalembert really, really like the Cheetah.

3. Shockingly enough, Utah has their eyes set on Andrew Bogut. If the Hawks get one of the top two picks, then they could use Utah's Bogutlust to trade down and probably get either a future #1 pick, which would likely be in the lottery, or Mehmet Okur, provided that the Hawks could balance the salaries out by sending players to Utah. If the Hawks came out of this off-season with Okur and Darren Williams, then Billy Knight should be elected mayor.

Possibly the dumbest non-Scoop Jackson article to ever appear on

To paraphrase the principal from Billy Madison, we are all dumber for having read it. I already had a low opinion of Tom Friend for his consistent shilling for Maurice Clarett, including about 572 excuses for why he ran slower than some defensive ends and middle linebackers at the Combine, as well as the fact that he writes for that rag ESPN the Magazine. Now, he has truly outdone himself with the linked article. (Click on the title of this story for all of the idiocy. I implore you.)

Only a second-rate writer from the People magazine of the sports world would think that the irrelevant personal details that he mines about "misunderstood" athletes are more important than their physical skills or production. His argument is meaningless because, as his writing shows, you can find these impressive personal details about ANY athlete. I'm sure that Cade McNown also got really excited before games. I bet Bruce Pickens watched tape of Deion Sanders and wanted to be him.

I can't believe I just spent two paragraphs on this swill. Let's just move on.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

If you're going to rip on the Hawks, then at least be funny, Jeff

Jeff Schultz's columns occasionally contain some solid analysis, but most of the time, he comes off as a second-rate Bill Scheft (and I usually skip over Scheft's tepid jokes in Sports Illustrated.) Not surprisingly, he has some glib things to say about the Hawks upon the conclusion of their miserable season. Aside from the fact that Jeff is picking on the lowest of low hanging fruit, his arguments are just weak:

"I know. Cap space means flexibility, which means maneuverability, which means possibilities, which means . . . bupkus."

No shit, Sherlock, but do you have any better ideas on how to get better? The NBA rewards teams for solid drafting and player development to a greater degree than the NFL, which forces teams to give up some of their best players, or MLB, which allows teams to use naked economic power in the place of shrewd management. As a result, it's hard to build quickly because teams that have built properly have an advantage in retaining their players. The system hurts the Hawks now, but it will help them down the road IF they build right.

Free agents are not interested in the team now, unless the Hawks significantly overpay for them. However, if the team drafts properly, as the Bulls have done over the past several years, or if they make smart trades/free agent signings, as the Wizards did in acquiring their nucleus of Larry Hughes, Antawn Jamison, and Gilbert Arenas, then they will suddenly become a more attractive place to play. The Hawks seem to be using the former route. As I said yesterday, the team isn't attractive to free agents right now, but add a Chris Paul into the mix? Hmmm...

"The only problem is that sports executives don't make their mark by obliterating things. They make their mark by building. And so far, Knight has built one of the worst franchises in NBA history."

This is almost willfully ignorant. Knight hasn't built anything yet because he hasn't had time. He blew the foundation up, which everyone agreed was the right thing to do, and now he's building it back up. To criticize him for the current state of the team fundamentally misunderstands what rebuilding looks like and how long it takes in the NBA. Maybe Schultz should have taken a tour of the Ted this summer after the Braves dismantled their old Jumbotron and ripped the team for destroying Turner Field.

"Knight traded Antoine Walker to Boston for a package including a first-round draft pick that the Celtics had obtained from the Lakers. But the pick was lottery-protected and, well, the Lakers missed the playoffs."

Way to sound like a five-year old, Jeff. "If I don't get my popsicle now, then I'm going to be sad! I don't wanna wait until dinner!"

The bottom line is that Schultz offers absolutely no constructive ideas on another way to build the team. His impatient attitude is exactly what led the Hawks to build the horribly flawed Terry/Rahim/Robinson/Ratliff team that set the team back several years. If you squander high draft picks and cap space on second-tier players because they're available and because you want to build swiftly, then you end up where Pete Babcock is right now.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Sports Guy on Fever Pitch

This column reminds me why I like Bill Simmons' writing so much. He's great on pop culture and when he's not lording the success of his teams over the rest of America like some message board loser, he's very perceptive. Anyway, here are my favorite lines:

"The scene when Barrymore says something like, 'There's more to life than knowing that Schilling's pitching on Friday,' and even though they're in a heated argument, Fallon HAS to correct her and say, 'Actually, Pedro's pitching on Friday, Schilling's pitching on Saturday.' I liked that. Any true sports fan wouldn't have been able to fight off the urge to correct her."

This is exactly right. I was reminded of the time early in our relationship when my wife was nice enough to read me the sports section while we were on a long drive and she mispronounced "Glavine" (she pronounced it Glay-vine) and I haughtily corrected her with "It's pronounced Glah-vine. I can't believe you don't know that. He's gonna be a Hall of Famer." This while she was being nice enough to read me the sports section.

"There were dozens of little moments like that, all of them undermining the movie and pushing it toward no-question-about-it 'Chick Flick' status (because only females would accept a movie this inane under the "I'll sit through anything as long as two people are falling in love" corollary)."

I laughed out loud at this line. If my wife wrote the same corollary for me, it would be that I'll accept any movie that involves someone getting impaled or beheaded in a historically significant battle.

"Your boyfriend's friends only get in the way. The sooner you can destroy them, the better."

Every woman's fantasy?

I'm divided on the lottery now

I'm not sure if I really want the Hawks to win the lottery. For one thing, if they pick second, then they might not have a chance to take Andrew Bogut, which would be preferable. For another, I'm not sure that dropping to fourth and getting Darren Williams instead of Bogut or Chris Paul might not be the best fit for the team.

I love Paul, but he reminds me a little too much of Jason Terry: a super-quick player with an outside shot, but limited defensive skills because of his size and a tweener problem because he's not a true point, but he's too small to play the two. Williams reminds me of Andre Miller: a true point guard with a competent outside shot who is big enough to defend well. Wouldn't that be a better fit for this team? The Hawks play terrible defense, in part because they can't stop dribble penetration. Williams addresses that need more than Paul does. On the other hand, the Hawks are a terrible outside shooting team and Paul addresses that need more than Williams.

Here's my other concern about Paul: why didn't Wake win more with him? Wake had good surrounding talent, so a star point guard should have gotten them to at least one Final Four. Why didn't they win more? Does Illinois necessarily have more talent or better coaching than Wake?

I'm like a middle school girl now. I love Chris Paul one minute and I sour on him the next. That G-d my wife is a psychologist.

Not a good night for the local pro sports collectives

Same old same old for the Braves, other than the fact that they got a second straight non-quality start from John Thomson. (He got much better last year in the second half, so I'm not overly worried.) No one on the team hit, other than Chipper, and they continue to swing at balls way out of the zone. Andruw officially looks terrible; he's gone back to swinging at everything down and away. For his third K last night, he waved at three straight off-speed pitches down and away. I could get him out at this stage. When that guy slumps, he REALLY slumps.

After two straight solid performances, the Hawks left their fans with a turd to remember in their final home game of the season. Here's a piece of evidence for the theory that opposing teams don't play hard against the Hawks: the Pistons played their prospects (Delfino and Darko,) who were motivated to show their merit, and they dominated our hometown Hawks. Great.

Another depressing thought: I've gotten my hopes up that Tyson Chandler, who would be a perfect for this team, will be available. Then I watched the Nets highlights and thought to myself: "how good would the Nets be with a quality big man to go with Kidd, Vince Carter, and Richard Jefferson? And would Chandler rather play with Jason Kidd or Royal Ivey?" There are a ton of teams looking for free agent big men and most of them are far more attractive than the Hawks. So, the Draft it is.

Now, if Mr. Chandler is confronted with the idea of playing with Chris Paul...

Is Dan Reeves running the Redskins?

They acquired the 25th pick in this Draft, but gave up their third this year and a first and fourth next year? What in G-d's name are they doing? First of all, if they merely gave their 2006 first rounder for Denver's 2005 first rounder, that would still be a bad deal because the Redskins are unlikely to finish better than 8th or higher in the NFL this year. The fact that they threw in a third round and fourth round pick is just further lunacy, especially for a team lacking in depth. Maybe the Skins have their eyes on a certain player, but if that's the case, then why not wait until Denver's pick is up and then make the trade if the player is still on the board?

This trade confirms my impression of Dan Snyder as George Steinbrenner operating under a salary cap. He has absolutely no patience, hence the repeated decisions to get rid of future #1 picks. He doesn't understand that, in order to win operating under economic restraints, he needs to get starters through the Draft; he can't overpay for free agents at every position. If I was a Redskins fan, I'd be looking into Ravens tickets.

And speaking of the Ravens, with the market for trading down from the top picks so depressed, why in the world would they not swing their #22 pick, along with a second rounder, to get up into the top seven picks to take Braylon Edwards or Mike Williams? Heck, it might be worthwhile to spend next year's #1 as well to get Edwards. The difference between Edwards and the receivers available at #22 (Roddy White? Reggie Brown? Troy Williamson?) is significant, and probably worth an extra #1 pick, especially since the Ravens would be a sure playoff team with Edwards and their '06 #1 would be low. Can they do any better than having Derrick Mason, Braylon Edwards (or Mike Williams,) Todd Heap, and Jamal Lewis as their skill position starters? Hell, can any NFL team do any better than that? Once and for all, they could determine whether Kyle Boller is a quality NFL starter.

Great article on Lee Corso

I'm not a huge Corso fan. I've come to view him as the court jester on Gameday, stuck between Fowler and Herbstreit for comedic relief. Nevertheless, this article humanizes him a lot and I'm probably too hard on his analysis. When he's not talking about Florida State, he's pretty perceptive. Anyway, here's my favorite part of the article:

"His first Louisville team, coming off a big loss and depleted by injuries, was playing Thanksgiving Day at Tulsa. Corso, searching for an edge, remembered "we used to rally around the goat mascot" when he was an assistant coach at Navy.

"He decided the team needed a turkey on a leash.

'Everybody at the pregame meal had to pat it,' says ESPN NFL analyst Tom Jackson, on that Louisville team before going on to playing 14 seasons in the NFL. 'It charged out on the field with us. And he told us about the bet.'

"Corso had taught the mascot to respond to a leash — it escorted Louisville's captains at the pregame coin toss — but he had not made a bet. He just told his players he had, with the Tulsa coaches: If they won, they could eat the bird.

"Corso, almost choking with laughter, recalls a late-game timeout to remind his players there was a life at stake: 'And they said, 'We'll hold 'em!' They did and carried me and the turkey off the field.'

"Says Jackson: 'No one has ever had more fun coaching than Lee Corso. He has a shtick on TV, but he was a good coach.'"

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

My column on the NFL Draft is up

Follow the link above. It only took a few minutes to receive the first irate message from West Virginia. It's fun to write columns and guess which remarks are going to draw the ire of college football fans. Anything critical about Alabama or Auburn is a lead pipe lock, but West Virginia is close behind. Clemson fans can also be very prickly.

One nice thing about Rafael Furcal

When I was a camp counselor in the summer of 1996, the age group head ended every staff meeting by forcing each of us to say "One Nice Thing" about someone else in the age group. Since so much of what I do on this Blog is criticize, it would be nice to play One Nice Thing this summer.

Anyway, although he's been impotent with the bat, Rafael Furcal deserves some credit for some terrific defensive play over the first 13 games. He has only committed one error and he's getting to everything, according to both my lying eyes and the zone rating/range factor stats. He made a beautiful throw from short left field yesterday to get a runner at first, the kind of throw that only the Shawon Dunstons of the world can make. (He's my archetype of a strong-armed shortstop.)

The Braves are doing their best Juventus impersonation

Juve, for those of you who don't know, are the most famous soccer team in Italy and have a tendency for playing very defensive games. The Braves ought to join Serie A (the Italian soccer league) at this point. Their starting pitching is better than any of us dreamed. Here are their starters' pitching stats for the past three games:

24 IP, 12 hits, 2 ER, 6 BB, 14 K

The team's defense has been fairly good, so the fact that the Braves are 1-2 during those three games is the result of the other two pieces of the team: relief pitching and hitting. None of the relievers inspire much confidence right now. Chris Reitsma had been the belle of the ball, but he looked really bad last night, loading the bases with no outs before pitching his way out of the jam, with the lucky element of a liner right at Marcus Giles thrown in. Dan Kolb converted a save, but still looks uncomfortable on the mound.

Of far greater concern is the offense, which consists of Chipper Jones and the odd contribution from the rest of the team. Remember the depressing walk stats that I showed yesterday? Last night was more of the same. The team drew 2 walks in 12 innings. I know they were going against the reigning NL Cy Young winner, but they made his job easier by consistently swinging at the splitter out of the zone. On the bright side, I got to impress the wife by predicting when the splitter/strikeout was coming from Clemens or Lidge with some accuracy.

So the million dollar question is this: will Giles, Furcal, and Andruw heat up before the starting pitching comes back to earth? Until then, we are going to have to be entertained by terrific pitching battles on a nightly basis. (Admittedly, this isn't a bad prospect.)

The New York Times Don't Make the Man

[Insert Jayson Blair joke here.]

I never thought I would quote the BeeGees for any reason, but it makes sense after reading their post-season NBA awards, including this little nugget:

"WORST EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR Chucky Atkins might say it was Kobe Bryant. But in general manager circles, the joke is that Atlanta's Billy Knight should be named executive of the last two years. Knight wanted draft picks to rebuild his team up from the basement, but in the process he traded Rasheed Wallace to Detroit at the deadline last season. And he traded Antoine Walker back to the Celtics at this year's deadline, while agreeing to waive Gary Payton, who rejoined the Celtics without ever leaving. While the Hawks are languishing, the Pistons and the Celtics are in the playoffs."

The author of this nugget, Liz Robbins, shouldn't have to look any farther than her own borough to find the worst GM in basketball. Isiah Thomas has assembled a high-priced team of mediocre players with long term contracts. The Knicks are going to be bad for the foreseeable future because they're not quite bad enough to get a great draft pick, but they're not good enough to win anything. More importantly, they have no cap space for the foreseeable future, which is a crime in New York, which is one of the most attractive places to play in the NBA.

Knight, on the other hand, understands rebuilding far better than Thomas does. While Thomas was busy destroying the CBA and mishandling the Indiana Pacers, Knight was laying the groundwork for the Memphis Grizzlies' emergence. (Don't be fooled by Memphis' eight seed. If they were in the East, they'd be as good as any of the playoff contenders, save Detroit and Miami.) Knight did so by building the right way. The team was terrible, but he resisted quick fix solutions and relied on the Draft to build a young nucleus. Now, Memphis is a more attractive place for a free agent.

Robbins suggests that Knight should have held onto Wallace and Walker. Huh? First of all, the team wouldn't have won with those guys because they aren't top players. They are successful as second or third fiddles on their current teams, but even if the Hawks could have kept them both, they wouldn't be much better than a marginal playoff team, not unlike the Knicks last year. In any event, keeping Walker or Wallace is pie in the sky dreaming because Wallace was not going to re-sign with Atlanta and Walker was only going to do so for far more money than he's worth.

Instead, Knight got a mid-first round pick for Wallace, the pick that became Josh Smith. He also got a first round pick for Walker, which could ultimately be a lottery pick if the Celtics don't make the playoffs next year. He got Al Harrington for Stephen Jackson, whom the Hawks weren't going to keep anyway. He's also kept the team's cap space so they can throw oversized contracts at the young big men on the restricted free agent market this year. He's basically building the same way that the Bulls built: suck for several years, draft well, and then build a young nucleus around which a fan base (and free agents) can rally.

In a few years, when the Hawks are starting something like Harrington, Smith, Childress, Chris Paul, and Tyson Chandler (all G-d-willing), all in their mid-20s in the second half of this decade, and the Knicks are rolling out Starbury and Jamal Crawford along with seven undersized power forwards, we'll see who did a better job building a team.

The key to this whole scenario is Knight making good draft decisions and not overpaying for the wrong guy, which he nearly did for Erick Dampier. The Josh Childress selection is looking better and better, especially if he develops a jumper over the summer. The Josh Smith selection was terrific, especially for the middle of the first round. If Knight can replicate that Draft success, then the Hawks are on the road to success, no matter what the New York Times says.

Monday, April 18, 2005

A nice thought about the Braves

I'm sure I'm going to jinx Tim Hudson by making this point, but to illustrate how important it is that the Braves have two bona fide #1 starters, look at how instrumental our #1 starters have been in the Braves' playoff exits over the past three years:

2002 - Glavine is shelled in games one and four and finishes with a 15.26 ERA; the Braves lose the series in five.

2003 - Ortiz pitches OK in game one, poorly in game five, and finishes with a 5.06 ERA; the Braves lose the series in five. (In fairness, their inability to hit Kerry Wood was the major factor there.)

2004 - Jaret Wright gets bombed in games one and five and finishes with a 9.31 ERA; the Braves lose in five.

If the Braves get to the playoffs this year, they will be going without the handicap that has killed them for the past three years: the absence of a true #1 starter.

Must not overreact. Must not overreact. Must not overreact.

Almost a nice win for the Braves last night, but Cox, Mazzone, and Kolb combined to blow it. I only assign some blame to Cox and Mazzone for leaving Kolb in for a second inning, especially when it was clear that he did not have anything left for the 10th inning. It worries me that they don't have confidence in the rest of the pen. Reitsma was out after having pitched two straight games, but what about Colon or Gryboski, who hadn't thrown in days, or Sosa, who hadn't thrown since Friday night? Kolb was extremely annoying. Walking David Bell and Mike Lieberthal, two mediocre hitters who are unlikely to get anything more than a single if Estrada told them what pitch was coming a la Crash Davis, is inexcusable. I worried about Kolb giving up hits because he can't get strikeouts, but the lack of control is something new and worrying, including his throws to third base. Kolb is not responding well to the pressure of playing in meaningful games. The natural inclination is to make Reitsma the closer, but Cox is patient and that's one of his virtues, so we'll see how this plays out.

Lost in Kolb's shaky pitching is the fact that this team is not scoring runs. They managed two runs in the final two games of the series against the Phils. To me, the primary problem is that the Braves' hitters are far too anxious and swing at too many pitches out of the strikezone. As a result, guys like Brett Myers and John Lieber can coast through games without running up significant pitch counts. The Braves are next-to-last in the NL in OBP right now and 14th in walks. (Bizarrely, the Cardinals are last in both categories.) Here are the worst offenders:

Raul Mondesi - one BB in 40 ABs
Pete Orr - one BB in 33 ABs
Rafael Furcal - two BBs in 53 ABs (YOU'RE A 5'7 LEADOFF HITTER IN A CONTRACT YEAR!)
Brian Jordan - two BBs in 42 ABs
Adam LaRoche - three walks in 36 ABs
Eddie Perez - no walks in 18 ABs
Julio Franco - no walks in 14 ABs

Either this team is going to start showing some plate discipline or opposing pitchers are going to continue to get them out with balls out of the zone. Not coincidentally, Chipper is leading the team in walks and is the only guy who has managed to produce any offense.

Sweet, sweet victory

Congrats to the Hawks for eking a win out in New York last night to end the possibility of 70 losses. Admittedly, beating the Knicks isn't the greatest of accomplishments, but I still believe that this team isn't so far from being respectable. They've been competitive in most of their games during the second half of the year. In fact, thinking back on the season, I've been to ten Hawks games and only seen them blown out once (by Golden State of all teams.) They are generally competitive for the first two to three quarters and then lose the game late.

Saturday night was a perfect example. The Hawks had a 19-point lead over the Bulls, a team that needs to win games to lock up the #4 seed, in the third quarter and then blew it. Maybe opposing teams take the first half off against the Hawks and the good early play from the team is a mirage. I hope not.

A couple other random thoughts:

1. I went to the University of Michigan during the mid-90s, so suffice it to say I was not shocked to see Maurice Taylor miss a potential game-winning shot last night. The next clutch late shot he hits will be his first. Don't get me started about that guy.

2. Contrast Kobe Bryant, who despite his other flaws, has kept playing hard for the Lakers even after they have been eliminated from the playoff race and despite nagging injuries, with Al Harrington, who has not. I like Al, but he'll have plenty of time to rest his knee after Wednesday night.

3. has the Hawks taking Andrew Bogut with the first pick. Good luck to the team's marketing department with that one.

4. Boris Diaw's line last night: 20 points, nine rebounds, 9 assists, ten trips to the free throw line. Don't tease me like this, Boris. I had all but written him off after a disappointing second season, but he's showed some flashes late in the year.

5. The Fox Sports South cameras found Billy Knight and Isiah Thomas chatting at the Garden last night, leading Bob Rathbun and Grant Long to joke that Thomas is trying to unload some of his contracts on Knight. It didn't occur to them that Knight and Thomas were teammates at Indiana in 1980.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Is There Anything Better Than a Shaky Closer?

Just asking.

The good news is that the Braves' starting rotation has been almost perfect since Smoltz's poor outing in the opener. Hudson gave the team exactly what they're paying him for: 8 innings, 1 earned run, and a lead going into the ninth.

More good news: Andy Marte's stats after six games at Richmond are .435, three homers, and eight RBI. Schuerholz and Cox are going to have some decisions to make if he continues to tear up AAA pitching and Mondesi, Langerhand, and Jordan continue to struggle (or get hurt.) Marte to the outfield is the most likely move.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better

Not content with Tennessee getting all the hype for off-field violence, Derrick White and Kedric Golston step up and get the Dawgs back into the limelight. Way to go! If Georgia was playing Georgia Southern and punchless South Carolina in the first two games again, then this altercation and likely resulting suspension wouldn't matter. However, 2005 Boise State and South Carolina will both have good offenses, so Georgia missing two starters in the front seven will be an issue. Maybe Mark Richt's investigation will turn up more exculpatory evidence this year, as compared to his Odell Thurman probe from last summer.

957 words on the Hawks/Bobcats Game

I didn't exactly pay to see the two worst teams in the NBA duke it out for ping pong balls; the Hawks gave out free tickets for completing a survey on my experience using a Chic-Fil-A Family Fun Pack. (Remember what I said about the Hawks being the Fat Girl who will go the extra mile to please her targets?) Anyway, the game was possibly the most fun game of the year. I kid you not. Here's why:

1. Not only did the Hawks give out free tickets, but they were good seats. In truth, it probably wouldn't have mattered, since the ushers could not possibly have cared less if fans were moving into the lower levels. I counted five fans in the entire upper deck region behind one of the baskets. Anyway, the good seats behind the Hawks bench (once we moved from Row V to Row H) allowed me to observe the Hawks' behavior on the bench:

a. Al Harrington seemed to be paying attention, but my wife couldn't stop staring at the bling in his ears. (Hint, hint, Michael.)

b. Poor Obinna Ekezie had to sit in the second row of the bench, all the way at the end, or as I dubbed it, the Gulag seat.

c. This season is just killing Mike Woodson. He's still trying as hard as he can, but it has to hurt the pride of a guy who played under Bobby Knight to coach a team this bad.

d. Jason Collier was more interested in the breakdancers and dance team than what was going on in the huddle. He generally seems to be thrilled to be getting an NBA paycheck. In other words, it doesn't bother him that he loses crunch time minutes to the swarthy Drobber.

2. It was discount night at the Team Store. $25 Thrashers practice jerseys tested the strength of my NHL boycott, but it was fun to look at price tags and not think immediately: "whom do these people think they are kidding?"

3. The even sparser than usual crowd allowed us to spread out. I kid you not, there was a woman a few seats down who was doing work the whole first half. I guess she figured that Philips would be quieter than a library.

4. The game itself was a lot of fun. NBA basketball is entertaining, perhaps even moreso when the teams are just playing out the string. In contrast to playoff basketball, which generally involves a lot of clutching, grabbing, and molesting, the game last night was played at a good tempo. Josh Childress served up a facial in the open court to Emeka Okafor, and that led Josh Smith to one-up him in the second half with a dunk in the face of Primos Brezec. The teams also shared the ball nicely. The Bobcats had seven players in double digits, while the Hawks had six. Again, that's a welcome change from Playoff basketball, where the ball is constantly funneled to a couple key players. (Listen to me rationalize that making the Playoffs is a bad thing.)

I suppose I ought to be distressed that the Hawks all but clinched the worst record in the NBA last night, but that was the goal from the start of the season (along with getting the young players PT.) There was no way that this team was going to make the playoffs, so it's more important that they build for the future and they can best do that with ping pong balls and the Joshes getting better as fast as possible. Like Saturday night, Childress was extremely effective in the first half, scoring, rebounding, and passing, and then faded as the game went on. Smith was more consistent and showed a nice pull-up jumper twice. He has the potential to become a good shooter because his form is good. It was encouraging to see that the Hawks were very good when the Joshes were on the court and then faded in the second and third quarters when they took their breaks.

What was a little distressing last night was that the Joshes were not involved at all in the offense on the critical possessions in the fourth quarter and overtime. I'd like to see what they can do in those situations, but every late possession involved a high screen for Tyronne Lue, set by either Tom Gugliotta or the Drobber. The screens were generally poorly set, and then the shooter would pop out, leaving Lue to either take the ball to the hoop or hit the big white guy for a long jumper. A little diversity in the offensive game plan would have been nice.

On the defensive end, Tyronne Lue showed why he's playing for the worst team in the NBA. Charlotte constantly ran a pick and roll with Brevin Knight and one of their big men and the Hawks never, ever defended it. Part of the problem is that the Hawks' big men are immobile and provide no help by hedging against the ball handler or getting quickly to the screener when he rolls or pops. Lue was also part of the problem, as he was getting lost on the screens, allowing Brevin Knight to have his way.

The game served to emphasize that the Hawks are weak at the 1 and the 5 (no big shock there) and need to address both areas in the near future. Chris Paul would solve one problem; a free agent signing of someone like Sam Dalembert would solve the other. The game also showed the problem that Andrew Bogut would have in the NBA. Is he quick enough to help out on a point guard and still get back to his man?

I Promised Not to Care about the Yankees and Red Sox...

...but the discussion on 790 this morning was about how the Yankees shouldn't have been on the top step of the dugout paying homage to the Red Sox when they got their rings and how that evidences a "loser mentality." Two thoughts:

1. What do you think you get when you have a team full of mercenaries? When they Yankees sign players for huge money like Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield, A-Rod, Randy Johnson, Carl Pavano, Mike Mussina, and Jaret Wright, then their fans shouldn't expect them to bleed pinstripes. (Is that the right metaphor?) How can the players possibly care that much when they are in New York because the Yankees offered more money than anyone else?

2. Aside from the fact that it's classy to applaud and is certainly the "big brother" move, if I'm Joe Torre, I want my players to have to sit through the whole thing so they are more motivated to never have to go through that misery again.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Spring: the time when young men think of girls, parties...

And inflicting head wounds.

Normally, I would make a joke about Phil "Gumshoe" Fulmer putting on his Columbo jacket and investigating this episode first-hand (read: advise witness not to proceed,) but Schaeffer's alleged actions could resolve an uncomfortable depth chart situation. This little scrape will probably speed Schaeffer on his way to Central Florida.

And while we're at it, let's hear it for the Hawks!

12 wins! Billy Knight must be so proud! It was nice to see the Hawks get a win on Saturday night, although it served to emphasize how bad the T-wolves are at this stage. It's also a little hollow to get a win because Tony Delk and Tyronne Lue went off, given that neither of them figure into the team's long-term plans. It's not unlike the winning streak at the end of last season that was spurred by Bob Sura playing like Pete Maravich. The Hawks still have a three-game "lead" over the Bobcats for the worst record in the NBA, so they can afford to beat Charlotte tonight without risking losing ping pong balls.

Josh Childress and Josh Smith both played fairly well in the game. Childress kept the Hawks in the game with 14 points in the first half, although he disappeared offensively in the second half. (He did play fairly well on defense in the second half.) The T-wolves showed that they aren't very bright defenders because they kept jumping out on Childress when he caught the ball on the wing, apparently unaware that he can't hit a jumper to save his life. Smith was quiet in the first half and then started dunking everything in sight. He also had a beautiful block on Garnett on which KG got a reputation call.

And by the way, I'm not saying anything controversial when I say that Garnett is a terrific player. He was completely unstoppable on Saturday night, although matters could have been worse, given that he was being guarded by Tom Gugliotta at the start of the game. He has the longest arms in the galaxy, so there's nothing to be done when he releases that shot at the apex of a jump. He was let down hy his teammates, who can't guard Stephen Hawking at this stage. Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell simply can't be bothered by putting in decent effort on defense. That's where the T-wolves lost the game.

The oddest thing about Saturday night was that the crowd and home team were both dead at the start of the game. The Hawks looked like North Korean PoWs during the opening intros and the arena was half-full. By the second half, the arena was pretty crowded and loud and the team was playing hard and actually cracking occasional smiles. The game was a reminder that no matter how bad the Hawks are, they are capable of the occasional strong effort and the fans in this town are just dying to get behind them.

On an "Every Rose has its Thorn" note, the Drobber played dreadfully on Saturday night.

Other thoughts on my first trip to the Ted this year

1. I'm officially boycotting the beer at the Ted. Previously, my go-to selection was a 24-ounce beer for $7.50, which, in the distorted world of ballpark economics, was a reasonable deal. Now, those beers have been done away with and all that the beer vendors are selling are 16-ounce plastic bottles for $6 and change. I hate those plastic bottles. Aside from the fact that they contain less product and more packaging, the packaging isn't any damn good because plastic does not keep beer cold. The good news is that I'll probably lose some weight and save some money this year. The bad news is that I'll be sober.

And while I'm bashing the concessions at the Ted, kudos to the geniuses at Ballpark Burgers in the upper deck. I waited in line for a good ten minutes to get a grilled chicken sandwich, only to be told by the unapologetic, flat-affect MENSA member at the front of the line that there were no more gilled chicken sandwiches. (Translation: our dumb asses forgot to defrost enough of them and we don't want to spend the effort now.)

All that said, the new Jumbotron is a sight to behold. It's huge, it's clear as a bell, and it actually shows replays of close plays, as opposed to the old, smaller version, which was only used for advertising and between-inning merriment. It also shows more player stats, which is nice.

2. The Braves were completely without a clue against Pedro. He's a great pitcher and he was throwing strikes consistently, which prevented the Braves from working the counts and turning the game into a battle of the bullpens. The Braves only got three baserunners all game and hit two balls sharply. This offense is going to need to get a little better. Right now, good pitching (read: Beckett and Pedro) has made the batters look terrible.

3. Kudos to Rafael Furcal, who made a very smart play in the field to keep the game scoreless yesterday. On the third inning, Miguel Cairo doubled to left center with one out and Jose Reyes at first. Brian Jordan got the ball in fairly quickly, forcing Reyes to make a big turn at third and then stop. Instead of automatically catching the ball and relaying it home, Furcal took a look at the situation, realized that Reyes had stopped, and immediately threw the ball behind him, nailing him at third. Instead of third and second and one out, the Mets were left with a runner on second and two outs.

4. In my obsession with Cox leaving Smoltz in for too long, I need to remember just how dominant Smoltz was in the first seven innings. How about 15 Ks AND NO WALKS. It's so rare to see a pitcher be that untouchable with that sort of control. I need to enjoy Smoltz every time I see him.

Overall, the Braves have won their first two series against their two rivals, so things are good.

To quote Yoda, this is why you fail

I love Bobby Cox (as a manager) and there's almost no one else I would prefer running the hometown baseball collective, but he has never had an especially good tactical acumen, especially when it comes to utilizing his bullpen, and yesterday's game was a perfect example. Lest you think that I'm engaging in Monday morning managing, my friend Daniel and I both said after the seventh inning: "Surely that's it for Smoltzie." The players in the dugout seemed to agree, as they were all shaking his hand after he came in after the seventh. It was very obvious that, as dominant as he had been, he was losing steam. He had just gone over 100 pitches for the first time in years. He had given up a sharp single in the seventh and ended the inning by fielding a hard grounder from Pedro Martinez of all people. He only struck out one batter in the seventh, which after he had struck out 14 over the past six innings, was another sign that he was done. Aside from the tactical aspects, strategically, Cox was risking an injury to Smoltz by allowing him to run up a high pitch count on a suspect elbow.

Nevertheless, Cox left Smoltz in for the eighth inning and sure enough, a single, a sacrifice, and a homer later, he was leaving with 15 Ks and a 2-1 deficit. Cox then added to his tactical blunder by permitting Tom Martin, the very personification of gasoline on a fire, to emerge from his cave to allow a homer and a double without recording an out. (Could we get a local Infiniti dealership to sponsor Martin's statistics for the rest of the season?)

Maybe the bullpen wouldn't have held the lead. After all, Roman Colon and Jorge Sosa both looked a little shaky when they came in, although by the time they entered, the game was lost and they were stemming the bleeding, rather than trying to win the game. Nevertheless, it was OBVIOUS that Smoltz needed to come out, but Cox made the Grady Little mistake and deferred to his pitcher. And what a crock it is that a manager would ever ask a pitcher if he wants to come out. What pitcher, especially one as competitive as Smoltz, is ever going to ask to come out of the game?

Friday, April 08, 2005

Jimmy Fallon must be so happy

"Baseball Tonight" was playing in the background while I ate lunch. You might think that the purpose of this show is to show Major League Baseball highlights. Unfortunately, that requirement apparently does not exist when the Red Sox or Yankees are off, because the opening segment of the show contained extended highlights of Curt Schilling's spring training start, followed by Curt at his press conference, followed by an in-depth report on Terry Francona's chest pains. Silly me, I thought that there are other teams in baseball beyond the defending AL East runners-up. I must have been in the bathroom when they reported on Johnny Damon's BM from yesterday.

And ESPN helpfully preceded "Red Sox Tonight" with an "Outside the Lines" show on pitchers breaking their arms while pitching. Nothing goes better with a grilled chicken salad than seeing Tom Browning's arm snap for the 857th time. (Question: why am I so squeamish about arms breaking mid-pitch, but I can watch Tony Montana shoot a mansion-full of Sosa's henchmen and not mind at all?)

And after all that talk about a good start being irrelevant to the Braves...

They're 2-1 after taking two tight, defensive games from the Marlins. The bats have been pretty dreadful so far, but keep in mind that the Braves went up against three good pitchers (Beckett, Leiter, and Burnett) and did so without Marcus Giles and Johnny Estrada for most of the series. Incidentally, the Marlins represent a real threat to win the division if Burnett and Beckett are healthy because they'll be able to roll Dontrelle Willis out as their fourth starter. Contrast them with the more-hyped Mets, who, after Pedro, have Glavine (who's over the hill,) Victor Zambrano (who led MLB in walks last year despite being injured for the final portion of the season,) and Kaz Ishii (oooh!). The Braves have a good excuse for averaging two runs per game against the Marlins' staff; they don't have a good excuse for not scoring some runs this weekend.

The pleasant surprise from the first series was the performance of the bullpen. I told you people not to worry as long as the Braves have 3-4 reliable relievers, but I wasn't expecting to get three shutout innings from Tom Martin and Adam Bernero on Wednesday night. I was watching a tape of the Chelsea/Bayern Munich game and intermittently checking up on the Braves on Wednesday night. When I saw that Martin was starting the 10th and the score was still 1-1, I proclaimed that the game would be over by the next time I checked. Happily, I was wrong, although Martin only got out of the inning because of a bad bunt by Juan Pierre, so I'm not expecting him to be able to repeat his feat. The pen that the Braves rolled out last night for the final four innings - Sosa, Gryboski, Reitsma, and Kolb - is more than sufficient to win games, as long as those guys aren't overused.

The defense has been pretty good so far, which is important with a groundball staff. The Braves have turned a ton of double plays so far, which is partly a function of their pitching and partly a function of having good middle infielders. The double play in the 13th inning on Wednesday night was especially nice. Dan Kolb got Miguel Cabrera to ground to deep short and Furcal and Orr both had very strong throws to get two.

Good article on SEC vs. Big Ten runners in the NFL

Schatz isn't saying anything that we don't already know, namely that Big Ten running backs tend to be busts in the pros, but he does a nice job of quantifying the disparity. If he would extend his study farther back into the past, he'd find the same phenomenon occurring.

So why does the disparity exist? Personally, I think that SEC teams tend to play faster players, especially in the front seven, which allows their defenses to emphasize penetration into the backfield. SEC running backs then have to learn how to change directions right from the start of a play. Big Ten teams play slower defensive players and do not penetrate as much, so the runners are able to get a head of steam going through a hole. As a result, Big Ten runners tend to be in the Dayne/Anthony Thomas/Curtis Enis mold: big guys with good speed when they get going, but little ability to change directions or get to top speed quickly.

If you want an illustration, watch how Michigan defended Ron Dayne in the late 90s. Dayne tore up the Big Ten, but Michigan throttled him twice (handing Wisconsin two of their three losses in 98-99). UM had Ian Gold and Dhani Jones at ILB, two undersized backers who, not coincidentally, have been far more successful in the pros than UM's bigger run-stuffing ILBs like Jarret Irons, Erick Anderson, or Steve Morrison. Those backers shot into holes, making Dayne change direction at the start of a play. He was unable to do so, presaging his failure in the NFL.

The irony is that Big Ten coaches prefer bigger players because they think that bulk helps them stop the run, but as the teams in the SEC have shown, fast linebackers are the key. Sometimes, you can't rely on coaches to know what's in their own self-interest.

One other factor: Big Ten teams do a good job producing NFL-quality offensive linemen. They make life too easy on the runners, giving them huge holes through which to run. This was my theory for why Nebraska produced so few quality NFL runners during the 80s and 90s, although Ahman Green certainly showed that a good back can come from Big Red.

One other explanation, which I disagree with, is that Big Ten teams overuse their runners. If Big Ten backs carry the ball too many times, then one would expect that their career longevity would be less, but it doesn't explain why they are busts right from the outset. Also, there have been plenty of SEC runners who have carried the ball a lot in college and were fine in the pros. Herschel and Emmitt come to mind immediately. Ricky Williams, although not from the SEC, toted the ball a lot at Texas and that didn't stop him from being a very good NFL runner. Ron Dayne was going to be a bust in the pros regardless of how many times he got the ball at Wisconsin.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

CFN's Georgia Preview Is Up

Some thoughts:

Georgia fans are going to way overrate D.J. Shockley going into this season. Maybe playing with the first team in practice and getting plenty of reps will help him, but the bottom line is that he's been a 43% passer for the past two seasons. And it isn't as if Mark Richt hasn't designed packages for him before. I've heard the Charlie Ward comparison made, but that simply illustrates that the media still fixates on skin color: "Richt coached Charlie Ward and he was black and mobile, so surely he can do the same things with D.J. Shockley!" Shockley still hasn't shown an ability to read a defense and as of the end of last season, he still displayed the tendency to make bad situations worse by retreating and then either taking a disastrous sack or throwing the ball up for grabs.

Georgia's offensive line and running backs should be very good in 2005, so the key to the offense will be whether Georgia can maintain the threat of big plays in the passing game. Otherwise, the Dawgs are going to be running against eight- and nine-man fronts all season. Georgia's new receivers are going to have to answer questions as to whether they can beat man coverage and Shockley is going to have to show that he knows how to get the ball to them accurately. D.J. has shown flashes over the past several years (Clemson '02, Tennessee '04, and the first half of the '04 Tech game all come to mind,) but he needs to be far more consistent.

As for the defense, the million dollar question is how Georgia's defense will be affected by Brian Van Gorder's departure. Right now, I don't have much of an opinion. I'll need to think about this a little. With Tennessee and Florida both looking very strong offensively and suspect on defense, Georgia has a chance to win the division if they get a very good performance from the defense. The talent is there. Richt has recruited very well on the defensive side of the ball for the past several years, so the losses of Thomas Davis, Odell Thurman, and David Pollack could be a little overrated. The play of Georgia's safeties last year in pass coverage was a little suspect, including Davis, and we should know pretty quickly if they have improved in that area when Boise State comes calling in the opener.

Maybe I place too much importance on recruiting, but I'll be very interested in seeing whether Georgia's big-name defensive recruits of the past several years distinguish themselves this year. I'm talking to you Mudcat Elmore, Paul Oliver, Darius Swain, and Brandon Miller. None of you are projected to start. Now, with all of the focus on 1) other teams in the conference and 2) the players that Georgia lost from the '04 team, it's time for you to put up or shut up. (Cliche alert! Cliche alert!)

The Braves are 0-1!!! Let's Hyperventilate!!!

After the Braves played mediocre baseball last year well into June before catching fire and winning the division with ease, I'm not going to get too upset by one loss, even if it was a 9-0 pasting. For G-d sakes, the Braves started the season two years ago by getting swept at home by the Expos. Also, John Smoltz's introduction to being a closer in 2002 was a shelling at the hands of the Mets (on the day that I bought my Smoltz jersey and wore it to the Ted, no less,) so we shouldn't get too bent out of shape that he had a rough outing.

The one concern, if we can even have a concern from one game when there are 161 just like it yet to be played, is that the game started off with Furcal and Giles getting on base and then Chipper, Andruw, and LaRoche failing to move them along. I'm pessimistic about Chipper's chances to do very well this year. His OPS has declined for the past several years and he's at the age where one would expect his production to go down, not up. If the first inning yesterday is any sort of harbinger that the leadoff hitters are going to get on base and Chipper is going to strand them, then the Braves are in trouble.

Also, the Braves got what they're paying for from the corner outfield spots yesterday: virtually nothing. I've bought the Raul Mondesi hype just like a lot of other people, but he could turn out to be Rico Brogna II. I like to believe in the transformative effects of playing in Cox's clubhouse and there are plenty of examples of those effects (last year's best hitter and two best starters, for instance,) but sometimes, a player is who he is and Mondesi hasn't been productive for the past several years.

Then again, after all of this criticism of the hitters, it helps to remember that they were batting against Josh Beckett yesterday and Beckett was due to pitch well against the Braves. He's too good to continue to get shelled by any team.

The good news is that Jorge Sosa and Roman Colon were both effective. The day wasn't a complete failure.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Carolina Fans, The Thank You Notes Can Go To Bob Knight, 123 General Boulevard...

In my neverending effort to see support for my preferences in every sporting event, I watched Sean May lead North Carolina to a national title last night and I kept thinking about the fact that he would probably be wasting away at Indiana if not for Bob Knight advising Scott May to send his child to Indiana. Now, at the time, Matt Doherty was the coach at UNC, so the advice wasn't entirely sound (unless the goal was to find a temperamental tyrant to coach Sean, not that Bobby would know what one looks like.) Still, Knight's powers work in mystical ways. He must have know that Roy Williams would come to Carolina and guide the Heels to immortality. So, Tar Heels, you can thank the coach who's just a little bit better than Dean Smith.

Other game thoughts:

1. I like Billy Packer because he's willing to criticize whereas other announcers do their damnedest to avoid any form of negativity at all. Last night was a perfect example. Packer pointed out that the officials weren't calling illegal screens and then jumped on the case when Jack Ingram did his best Orlando Pace impression to set up Luther Head for an open three late in the game. And don't give me this crap about the refs "letting the players decide the game." If they let illegal screens go and Illinois won because of that competitive advantage, then the refs would still be deciding the game. I suppose a late call would have been unfair because they were letting illegal screens go all game, which means that refs should make that call early to set the limits from the start.

1a. Packer also wasn't afraid to point out that Marvin Williams had a major case of stage fright. Can you imagine Dick Vitale ever saying that, assuming arguendo that he removed his lips from J.J. Redick's...?

2. If Carolina would have lost, then the howls of criticism regarding Roy Williams' coaching decisions would have been intense, mainly because Sean May was unstoppable, but Carolina barely got the ball to him when Illinois was making their late run to tie the game. That criticism would have been partially wrong because May was clearly tired and was not active in making himself available for passes late in the game. Still, Carolina's late-game offensive strategy was questionable, which illustrates the fact that winning or losing often clouds our judgment of individual merit. Roy Williams was a very good coach before he won a national title, but he's not any better now that he's won one. On the flipside, the fact that he won his first title last night doesn't mean that he coached his best game.

3. Sean May was the best player on the floor last night, but Raymond Felton was arguably Carolina's MVP. That team was TERRIBLE when he wasn't on the floor. Also, the two biggest late plays for the Heels were 1) his three when Illinois was on a 10-0 run to tie the game at 65 and his sweet steal when the Heels were defending their two-point lead.

4. I wish I would have started this blog in February so I could have made the "Illinois' weak post play will be their undoing" post. I also wish I would have posted my Thursday morning epiphany that Carolina and not Illinois was going to win the whole shebang. You'll have to take my word for it. Despite getting the champion and three Final Four teams right, I only finished fourth in my office pool. Thanks, Andy Bogut.

5. Last night got me to thinking that if the Hawks could trade the #1 pick for two later lottery picks and then take Deron Williams (Andre Miller, part two?) and Sean May (Elton Brand without the shot-blocking,) they would be doing pretty well for themselves. Hell, May and Felton would suit me fine. (SportsGuy's Felton/Chauncey Billups comparison is interesting, although Chauncey was stronger in college.)

6. Bruce Weber, if you dress like Lou Henson, then your team is going to underachieve like a Lou Henson team. (Speaking of another topic about which Bobby Knight was absolutely right.) That said, Illinois runs beautiful offensive sets. They're a lot of fun to watch and I hope that Weber is able to convince future generations of Illini to move without the ball and pass like this year's team did.

Anyway, congrats to Carolina. After two straight years of Northeastern teams winning the title, it's nice to see college basketball's big prize returning below the Mason-Dixon line.

The Hawks Can't Buy a Break

Not only do the Hawks have the worst record in the league, not only are they collapsing at the end of the year from mildly competitive to downright embarrassing, not only would they have a hard time beating the newly-crowned NCAA Champion, but now, they had to deal with additional negative press because they are raising ticket prices. And the worst part is that they also cut ticket prices as well, but they get no credit for that.

Basically, the Hawks increased ticket prices for all of their best seats, which are typically bought by people whose demand for those tickets is relatively inelastic. In other words, if you're going to spend $65 to watch a terrible team, then you're probably not going to mind paying an extra $10. Meanwhile, the Hawks dramatically cut prices on the most overpriced tickets in the arena: the upper deck seats behind the baskets. Those sections are almost always barren, so cutting those tickets from $25 to $10 is a smart move. It will make Hawks games more affordable for fans who are more affected by a $15 change in price. Plus, the Hawks are talking about $5/seat for those seats in a season ticket package. An NBA season ticket for $205? Hell, I'm not much of an NBA fan and I'd be very tempted by that offer.

The Hawks are doing what Arthur Blank did: cut end zone prices dramatically to encourage fans to buy cheap season tickets. Now, all they need is the basketball equivalent of Mike Vick and Philips might stop being such a mausoleum.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Disjointed Remembrances from the Weekend

1. I watched the Final Four on Saturday night, but I can't say I was paying that much attention. We had some work friends over and I spent a lot more energy justifying the merits of "Roadhouse" and defending my debate nerd high school career than I did actually watching the games. My recollection is that Illinois' half court offense looked unstoppable and that North Carolina had better individual players on the court than Michigan State did. Overall, the whole episode just reminded me that I'm not the sports fan I used to be. The old Michael would have gotten furious at being with people who aren't paying attention to the game on the screen. Married life has whittled away at that angry man.

2. I hope that the Tim Hudson who got shelled on Saturday afternoon isn't a harbinger of the guy we just signed to a long-term deal. Hudson gave up a steady diet of sharp grounders and line drives, en route to allowing seven earned runs in four innings. If his declining strikeout rate really is a sign that his best days are behind him, then the Braves are in serious trouble in the coming years, since so much of their payroll is going to be tied up in Hudson, Hampton, and Chipper, all of whom are probably in some form of decline. I tried to write Hudson's struggles off as meaningless spring training stats, but if we're going to get excited about Andruw because of his hitting this spring, then shouldn't we be concerned about Hudson?

And by the way, the Indians who torched Hudson were shut out today in the opener, mustering only two hits.

3. I bought EA Sports' MVP '05 for PlayStation II a couple weeks ago and my progress can be summed up this way: Saturday, I went 31 straight innings without scoring a run. This is like my last year of little league baseball all over again. Strangely enough, the wife wasn't sympathetic to my "I'm 0-0 with the Mets in the 13th inning!" excuse when she asked why I hadn't gone out to buy limes.

In her defense, she ripped the "Fever Pitch" article out of her new "Entertainment Weekly" without reading it, possibly in solidarity with my jihad against it.

4. If you're looking for a pick-me-up on a Monday, then here's what not to do on your lunch break: drive to lunch listening to a book on tape describing the SS's medical experiments on untermenschen in the early 40s, followed by reading an Atlantic Monthly on the compilation of war crimes committed by Saddam Hussein's regime. The lesson, as always, is that I'm insane.

5. I'm proud to say that I watched about two-thirds of an inning of the Red Sox/Yankees game last night. The bitterness boycott commences...

6. One sign that the Hawks have a little to learn in becoming the Fat Girl: I ran in the Philips Arena 5K on Saturday morning, which was good fun, especially when a homeless man joined the race at the end and demanded to know where all the prizes were. However, whereas the Falcons' Draft Day 5K last year included running on the field at the Dome, tours of the locker rooms ("This is where Michael Vick puts his bling!"), and plenty of games on the field, the Philips Arena 5K allowed us access to none of the above. No locker room tours, not chances to walk on the court or shoot baskets or even go inside the arena itself at all. I'm OK with the idea of running a 5K in support of an arena owned by very rich people and sponsored by a giant multinational corporation, but couldn't they do a little more to sell their wares to me? Where was the huckstering? The true Fat Girl would never miss this opportunity.

Friday, April 01, 2005

The Hawks as the Fat Girl

Unsatisfied with making repeated "they take the short bus to games" jokes, I've settled on viewing the Hawks as the Fat Girl. Most guys have known or been friends with at least one fat girl who was really nice and went the extra mile (in all sorts of ways) to make up for, uh, how should I put this, society's expectations for a woman's figure. The Fat Girl knows that she can't compete with the Hot Girl (who has taken her main male target home from the bar 13 straight times, even if she can't seem to get him to put a ring on her finger) or even the Reasonably Decent Girl (who has the hot new acquisition that everyone's talking about) for your attention, so she provides benefits that the others won't. Because this is a family web site, I won't make precise comparisons to all the bobbleheads and discounts that the Hawks dole out.

Anyway, the Hawks sent me an e-mail yesterday asking for feedback on the Chic-fil-A Family Fun Night package I bought in January and for completing the survey, I got free tickets. The wife and I are running in the Philips Arena 5K tomorrow, for which we get free tickets (and other schwag that the wife hasn't yet specified.) What other team gives out so much so easily? Do I need to keep explaining this analogy?

(By the way, this post is funnier if you hum Queen's "Fat-Bottomed Girls They Make the Rockin' World Go 'Round" whilst reading.)

Nick Green for Jorge Sosa

Not a terrible deal, but highly dependent on whether the Braves' scouts have correctly pegged Sosa as a quality reliever. Losing Nick Green isn't a huge loss, other than the fact that he was local and provoked Boy Band reactions from young female fans. (The team needed someone to fill that role after Javy Lopez left. Now? I hope that Ryan Langerhans is a looker.) Green was hot when he first came up, but then cooled off and regressed back to his numbers from the minors. The Braves are trading him at his likely highest value, as they did with Charles Thomas.

Sosa's stats with Tampa were pretty weak, but remember, he was playing for Tampa. He struck out a lot of batters last year, but gave up a ton of homers and walks. In other words, he sounds like someone who would benefit greatly from Mazzone coaching him on taking a little off the fastball so he can locate it better. The Braves took a similar risk in acquiring Juan Cruz last year and he turned out to be one the Braves' better relievers by the second half of the year.

The #1 benefit from the deal is that every time Sosa comes in, I can go into "Scarface" mode and imitate Robert Loggia imitating a Cuban-American drug/car dealer: "You thought Omar was a stoolie because SOSA said so?" or "Let me tell you something about that greaseball c***-sucker. He is a snake. You turn your back on him and he'll stick it in." Everyone who watches or attends a Braves game with me should be on notice, although if they put up with the standing ovations for every appearance by Antonio Alfonseca, then they can put up with anything.

Atlanta still lacks a decent lefty reliever in a division where their chief rivals (Philly and Florida) both have lefty first basemen with prodigious power, but that's a relatively minor role to fill. It's more important to find quality relievers who can throw 70 good innings than lefty specialists who come on to get one batter.