Tuesday, May 31, 2005


1. Would it be too much to ask for the geniuses who run RFK Stadium to paint the entirety of the foul pole?

2. What's galling about the decision yesterday to rule Brian Jordan's home run foul is not just that the call was initially made correctly, but rather that it was made initially by the third base ump, who had the best view of the play. Once he has made the initial call, there's no way that anyone else had a better look or was more sure that he was right. In the end, the call came down to 1) the umps liking Frank Robinson more, 2) the umps not wanting to anger the crowd or 3) Ed Montague being the alpha male in the group. Who knows. Anyway, with Brian Jordan struggling to show any power, this was especially upsetting. (Is it a coincidence, by the way, that he played one of his better games of the year after Raul Mondesi, who has similar stats to Jordan, was released?)

3. Who didn't know that Roman Colon was going to concede a run once he came into the game?

4. The controversy over the home run obscures the fact that the team didn't hit the ball for shit against a mediocre starting pitcher. The team didn't have an extra-base hit until Andruw's homer with two outs in the 9th. When you get out-hit 9-4, you probably don't deserve to win. Not only did the Nationals out-hit the Braves, but they had more close calls, namely Jose Guillen's two drives that would have been out of a lot of stadia.

5. John Foster is up to nine innings without allowing a run. (Jinx?)

Monday, May 30, 2005


In an effort to spur him through his dreadful start to the season, I tried a new tactic on behalf of Raul Mondesi on Wednesday night when he pinch-hit in the 8th inning against Roberto Hernandez. During the wind-up, I rolled an "R" on my tongue and then unleashed "ah-ool!" during the delivery. Sadly, this tactic didn't work and Raul struck out, although the eight-year olds in front of us found iot terribly amusing and my wife rolled her eyes, so two important tasks were achieved. Anyway, that was pretty much it for Raul, as he went 0-3 on Friday night, sat out Saturday, and was given his walking papers (with a two-day delayed fuse) on Sunday.

This move was inevitable for the Braves. Mondesi was simply not hitting and his arm, while still strong, was somewhat erratic. He's ranked dead-last in Baseball Prospectus' rankings of right fielders. In the end, it wasn't Raul's rumored bad attitude that doomed him. The Braves all spoke highly of him, especially regarding his work ethic. He genuinely realized that this was his last chance and he worked very hard during spring training to get his swing back. Unfortunately, he never healed from his torn quadricep last year and he doesn't have the leg strength needed to hit the ball. I was going to write a post about whether the Braves should cut Mondesi or Jordan to make room for Kelly Johnson, but you'll have to take my word for it that I thought that Mondesi was the guy to go. He's not as versatile in the outfield and he's not as good a role model for Langerhans and Johnson as Jordan is. That said, Jordan shouldn't feel too comfortable, since he has virtually no power any more. If you don't believe me, go to a game and watch where the opposing outfielders play him.

I'm excited about getting to watch Kelly Johnson play. His .438 OBP at Richmond was tittilating and he showed that plate discipline yesterday, drawing one walk and generally working the count. He hit two line drives to the outfield, which was far more encouraging than his RBI groundout. He also made two very good plays in the outfield. Hopefully, he'll have the same impact that Charles Thomas had last year, although Johnson is a bigger prospect and his good hitting would have less of a feeling of flukishness to it. (By the way, poor Charles is hitting .098 for Oakland. A's fans have to be cursing the Braves right now, since Thomas has been useless, Juan Cruz has a 7.20 ERA, and Dan Meyer is on the DL after pitching very poorly in AAA. I like Billy Beane, but wow are the early returns on the Hudson deal bad for the A's.)

Other thoughts from the weekend:

1. The Braves' struggles against the last place team in their division are, in part, a reflection of how deep the division is. Right now, the Phillies are 24-27. The other five last place teams are 19-32 (Tampa), 13-37 (Kansas City), 17-32 (Oakland), 18-31 (Houston), and 14-34 (Colorado). None of those teams have a 3-4-5 combo like Abreu (who is the most underrated player in baseball), Thome, and Burrell, nor do they have an ace like Brett Myers or a closer like Billy Wagner. Although the Braves and Marlins are two of the four best teams in the NL (they're #1 and #4 in baseball in fewest runs allowed), it will be hard for either of them to win the wild card, given that they don't get 18-19 gimme games like the teams in every other division do.

1a. To summarize the last point, WAAAAAAHHHHH!!!

2. Horacio looked dreadful on Saturday. He's never been much of a strikeout pitcher and his recent struggles could be confirmation of the "three true outcomes" philosophy, namely that if you aren't strong in getting strikeouts and preventing walks and homers, then you'll inevitably have problems. All of those batted balls were finding holes on Saturday and as a result, Ramirez allowed 11 of 21 batters faced to reach base. There were no big hits; it was just death by singles and occasional doubles. The bullpen looked sharp until the 9th, when Bernero was left in too long and he couldn't throw a strike. For the first time this season, I was asking for more Dan Kolb. He had a strong 7th, retiring the Phillies on nine pitches and should have gotten a crack at the 8th, as well. Unfortunately, the Phillies bullpen was even better, going four innings and allowing no runs on two hits in cleaning up for a shaky John Lieber.

3. The Braves didn't draw a single walk on Saturday. The most egregious instance of swinging too much was that of Andruw Jones (big shocker) in the 5th. With one run in, runners on the corners, and no one out in a 7-4 game, he got ahead of Lieber 2-0 and then promptly swung and missed, then grounded into a double play. Threat over. If he's going to swing in that situation, he needs to make sure he's swinging at a strike and is going to do something with it.

3. Yesterday's win was another instance of the Braves beating a very good starter. How they can touch up Brett Myers, but can't hit Victor Zambrano is beyond me.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Please, G-d, let this be the answer

From this morning's AJC:

"Kolb and Mazzone cite progress Kolb has made in the past 10 days. Kolb said Mazzone noticed something Wednesday in the bullpen they believe contributed to his erratic pitch location — swinging his front foot instead of stepping straight down in his delivery."

"'Now it’s just trying to repeat it,' said Kolb, who is also paying heed to a suggestion to use his changeup more. 'I’m going to fight, not give up. I’m going to try to get my job back, get things turned around by the All-Star break and have a great second half.'"

I promise, I'll take it all back if you start throwing competently. I'll call you "Dan Dynamo" instead of "Dan Doodie." I'll sing along whole-heartedly when you prance in to "Enter Sandman." I'll proclaim that four-letter last names are the bomb. (Right now, I feel like Stifler pleading with the two faux lesbians at the end of American Pie 2 - "I'll kiss anyone in here! Dudes, chicks, anything!")

This is not encouraging

"Boy, I'll tell you, we could be looking at some real delays!" - Federal Aviation Administration Administrator Marion Blakey

Given that the normal posture of the FAA is to reassure the public that "everything is well," a la Kevin Bacon in Animal House, I think the message for those of us traveling this summer is "grab your ankles." Time to fuel up Guderian (my car, named after the German general/tank genius from WWII) for the summer, although I have a trip to Vegas on tap for early July and I don't think that driving is a great option, although it would allow me to sample the delights of Texas Barbecue. Incidentally, that article gave me an insatiable desire for barbecue. Fat Matt's for lunch, it must be. (I saw Revenge of the Sith last night and now speaking like Yoda, I am. Oldest joke in the galaxy, this must be.)

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Terence Moore: Genius

I was originally going to title this Post "Terence Moore: Total Idiot", but upon reflection, the guy had written a piece so ineptly argued and full of ludicrous generalizations, that he must be some sort of evil genius. He's got everybody talking. Hell, I'm giving him free advertising right now by discussing his idiotic piece. Anyway, here are his arguments for why Atlanta should not get the 2009 Super Bowl:

1. "Speaking of which, James Wilson is finishing his 23rd year as a senior meteorologist at the Weather Channel, and he told me Wednesday from its national headquarters in Marietta that ice storms occur in this region 'about once every three to five years.'

"Between pauses, while checking various charts and graphs, Wilson added, 'We're due for the next one around 2009. When was Atlanta trying to get another Super Bowl?'"

Correct me if I'm wrong, but ice storms are not cyclical and even if they arrive, they can come at any point in a three-month period, which means that the odds of an ice storm on Super Bowl weekend 2009 are still minute. And given that the NFL has given Super Bowls to Detroit and New York in recent history, Atlanta does not have to apologize weather-wise. Yes, Tampa's weather is marginally better, but Tampa also lacks a hub airport, a public transport system, and Atlanta's capability to host lost of visitors.

2. "It's just that, when we're talking about bringing Super Bowls to Atlanta, we're talking about doing so for an over-stuffed city, with its vehicle-clogged streets and its strikingly provincial attitude."

Over-stuffed? Try overly spread out. And yes, there's a traffic problem here, but you list Southern California on your preferred list of Super Bowl locales. Ever drive the 405 at rush hour?

And the provincial remark? I know you're just trying to get everyone's goat, but you're from the highly-segregated upper Midwest and you're lecturing people here on being provincial? By the way, the term means "limited in perspective," which describes your columns nicely.

3. Yes, the '96 Olympics presented logistical problems, but the main criticism of those Olympics elsewhere was that they were too commercial. Atlanta/Georgia made the decision to finance the Games primarily through sponsorship, rather than taking on massive governmental debt. I'm quite happy with that decision. And don't even bother comparing the NBA All-Star Game, unless you think that Super Bowl week is going to bring a bevy of visitors whose objective is simply to cruise. Nothing like that happened at the previous Atlanta Super Bowls. And how exactly is Tampa supposed to be better, with their non-existent public transport system?

Terence, go back to arguing that the Braves don't want competitive players because they got rid of Brian Jordan. Thanks for reminding me why I rarely read your swill.

Hiram Kyle Davies is Invincible!

Ten and one-third innings pitched, no earned runs allowed. Not a bad start to young Kyle Davies' career. Davies doesn't have dominating velocity or movement, but he throws in the low 90s and his location is very good. Mark Lemke was also talking on the post-game show about how Davies' delivery is deceptive and that makes his fastball appear faster. He also has a very good change-up, which also makes the fastball tougher. I can't imagine that he won't be touched up at some point in the next few weeks now that major league teams have film on him, but he's provided the Braves with two good starts in spots that they've really needed them. The sad thought behind all the excitement is that he might just be pitching his way into being the centerpiece of a trade for a quality outfield bat (or a shortstop during next off-season if Furcal flies the coop.)

Other thoughts on the game:

1. Wifey and I sat close to first base and there was an obnoxious Red Sox fan a few seats down who was riding Doug Mientkiewicz mercilessly for the entire game for keeping the World Series ball. Aside from the fact that the heckler probably wouldn't just give up a six-figure asset if he ever had one, the vitriolic reaction from the fan annoyed me. You would think that Sox fans would be so happy to have won the Series for the first time in 86 years that everyone from that team would be untouchable for the rest of time. You'd think the fans would be happy, but no. If this loudmouth is representative of Red Sox Nation, then the Nation are a group of people who thrive off of their own unhappiness. They don't know how to handle success, so they try to find villains from the team that broke their 86-year duck. Nice.

2. Jose Reyes, one of the fastest players in baseball, hit into two double plays last night. I'm no Elias Sports Bureau, but I bet that he doesn't do that again in his career, since he had only grounded into 5 in over 700 plate appearances prior to last night. Reyes would drive me crazy if I were a Mets fan because he has neither power, nor plate discipline. Pitchers can throw him anything and know that he'll swing if the ball is close, rather than forcing the pitcher to pitch from behind. Reyes' defense is also spotty. He made an error on Monday night that allowed an insurance run to score and last night, he failed to make a play on a Langerhans liner in the Braves' three-run 5th. Speaking of balls going off of gloves...

3. As further evidence of my "Andruw is held to excessive standards" idea, a guy sat down next to me last night because he noticed that I was keeping score and wanted to know how many strikeouts Davies had. He then said that he thought that Mike Cameron's triple that chased Davies should have been an error on Andruw because he got the heel of his glove on the ball, never mind that Andruw was diving at full extension in the right-center field gap at the time.

4. Things that annoy my wife: the drop-down Cingular logos that denote strikeouts for Braves pitchers weren't working last night. Things that amuse my wife: children making farting noises with their hands.

5. Continuing with the "Mike Piazza is done" theme: the Braves stole on him at will last night. His throws have poor velocity and most of them skip in front of second base. When Furcal got on in the 5th, I told Wifey that he would be going on the first pitch because he knew that he didn't need a good jump to steal on Piazza. For once, I was right. The Mets operate from a disadvantage when any single by a semi-fast batter becomes a double or triple because of their catcher.

6. Chris Reitsma looked great last night. He completely dominated the Mets' hitters for two innings, or at least he did after Chipper made a nice play to turn a Miguel Cairo liner into the first out in the 8th. One defensive play can be the difference between a long, painful inning and a quickie. Victor Zambrano knows that this morning, as his throwing error was essentially the deciding factor in a close game. Back to Reitsma, I was concerned by the decision to leave him in to pitch a second inning, but he made it through two innings only throwing 18 pitches.

7. David Wright is the Mets' best hitter. Given that, why is he hitting 7th? Wouldn't the Mets have benefited from having him at the plate in the key situations that Piazza blew over the past two nights? Willie Randolph needs to get past Piazza's reputation and put together an order that can score some runs. If he could do so this weekend against the Marlins, that would be great.

8. John Foster, like Davies, requires some bullpen help to remain perfect on the season, but it bears mentioning that he hasn't allowed a run in seven and two-thirds innings this year.

9. Not to be a curmudgeon, but the offense produced only one earned run and one double last night. Marcus Giles had half of the team's six hits, but his only unsuccessful at-bat was a strikeout with Furcal on 3rd and one out in the 5th. Andruw and Estrada were both hitless, although they both lined balls right at outfielders. Mondesi looked completely overmatched when he pinch-hit in the 8th against Roberto Hernandez.

10. Pete Orr in left was an interesting experiment and I approve of getting him more at-bats, but there is a definite defensive trade-off there because he doesn't have good instincts in the outfield.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Lottery Thoughts

1. Typical stupid statement on sports radio this morning: "It's so unlucky that the Hawks had a 25% chance of getting the first pick, the Bucks had a 6% chance, and yet the Bucks got the first pick." No wonder casinos make so much money with that ironclad logic. Yes, the Hawks had a greater chance than the Bucks, but the relevant question is rather what the Hawks' chances were against the field. They only had a one in four chance of getting the top pick, so it's not a surprising result at all that they finished with the second pick. In fact, since their chances of getting a top two pick were only marginally better than 50/50, this is a slight victory. More importantly, this isn't a year in which the first pick is worth a lot more than the second pick and in fact, it might cause the Hawks to resist falling in love with size and taking Andrew Bogut. If Chris Paul is the guy, then it's a good thing that the Bucks have the first pick, since they spent a high pick on T.J. Ford two years ago and will therefore shy away from taking Paul.

2. If one assumes that this is a four- or five-player Draft, then Billy Knight's decision to gut the team mid-season was a smart one, even aside from the first round pick that they acquired, because the extra losses ended up being the difference between picking second and picking fourth (New Orleans) or fifth (Charlotte). That said, if the Bobcats are gung-ho on moving up to get Paul or Marvin Williams, do the Hawks entertain the idea of swapping the #2 pick for the #5 and #13? If Deron Williams is still on the board, he certainly answers a major need and if he's as good for this team as Chris Paul, then it's a good deal. The Hawks could then add a Sean May (or some foreigner or high schooler about whom we know nothing) with the #13 pick. Then again, because depth isn't a great asset in the NBA like it is in the NFL, it's probably more important to get one great player than two good ones.

3. How angry did the Utah representative look? They won't get the chance to draft local icon Andrew Bogut and not only that, but the Bucks and Jail Blazers jumped over them, so they're now drafting sixth in a 4-5 player draft.

So that's the Tim Hudson in whom we've invested the farm

After several consecutive shaky starts, it was great to see Hudson pitch a gem last night. He was Avery-esque in the early innings, allowing two runners on in each of the first three innings. I listened to the first few innings while doing a 4.2 mile run and it seemed like each top-half inning took forever and a day because Hudson was allowing the lead-off men on and was then pitching deep into counts from the stretch. After three innings, it was a miracle that the game was scoreless and it looked like Hudson was going to have a start similar to Smoltz's Sunday effort, but all of a sudden, he turned himself around. The movement on his pitches was great, even in the early innings, and once he started to locate better after the third inning, the Mets could do nothing but ground the ball to the Braves' infielders. Hudson was dominant as the game went on and could have thrown a complete game shutout if not for all of the early pitches. He still only threw 105 pitches in eight innings after throwing 53 pitches in the first three.

Other thoughts:

1. The Turner South crew did a very good job highlighting the fact that Hudson's herky-jerky delivery leaves him in poor fielding position, unlike Tom Glavine. Given that Hudson is now a groundball pitcher, this is something of a concern, although it helps to have a SS with Furcal's range behind him. Hudson with Derek Jeter behind him would be a problem. He'd be fine with weak outfielders behind him because he gives up nothing in the air. If you want a recipe for allowing baserunners without allowing runs, keeping the ball on the ground is a good start.

2. Oddly enough, Johnny Estrada, who did not play with the Braves during the Glavine era, had the best approach at the plate. He was the one guy who waited on outside pitches and then lined them to right field. Raul Mondesi, on the other hand, couldn't figure this out, although he did score the team's first run because he made the mistake to trying to pull Glavine's change-up and ended up hitting a perfect swinging bunt. And speaking of pulling the ball, why isn't Julio Franco hitting to the opposite field anymore? Are pitchers going inside on him exclusively?

3. Mike Piazza is either hurt or done. His bat isn't nearly as quick as it used to be. He terrified me more than any other hitter in baseball, but I think he's hit the wall as many catchers do in their 30s.

4. Chris Reitsma, having only thrown one inning in the past week, looked terrific in the 9th. His curve ball, in particular, was very impressive. Hopefully, his batteries have been recharged.

5. Shouldn't official scorers have discretion in awarding sacrifice hits? For instance, in the first inning last night, Jose Reyes led off with an infield single and Miguel Cairo then immediately "sacrificed" him to second. Why shouldn't he be charged with an out in that instance? He gave up a free out to a pitcher who struggled to get anyone out in the first three innings. He did so on the first pitch, which deprived Reyes of the chance to steal second and also kept Hudson from having to throw extra pitches. He did so with Franco holding Reyes on and therefore with a gap in the right side of the defense. The bunt reduced the chance of a big inning. Statistically, a team's expected scoring in an inning is lower with a runner on second and one out as compared to a runner on first and no outs. Given all of that, why shouldn't Cairo be charged with an out for his bunt? Willie Randolph moaned after the game that the Mets missed their chances early. Well, you had a hand in that, Willie.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Notice a common thread running through this list of lottery busts?

How about the fact that every single one of them were either power forwards or centers? (OK, maybe Jonathan Bender is a small forward, but he's also 6'11, so maybe the point is that they're all very tall people.) That sets up two possible explanations:

1. We remember the Pervis Ellisons of the world more than we remember the Bo Kimbles.

2. Most major Draft mistakes are caused by GMs reaching for big men.

I'm leaning with #2. Because great (or even good) big men are incredibly rare and a tremendous asset, GMs go overboard trying to find them. As a result, they take B centers over A perimeter players. Think about these examples:

1993 - Shawn Bradley is taken in between Chris Webber, Penny Hardaway, and Jamal Mashburn.

1998 - Michael Olowokandi goes ahead of Mike Bibby, Raef LaFrentz, Antawn Jamison, Vince Carter, and Paul Pierce.

2003 - Darko Mlicic is taken in between LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Dwayne Wade. (Admittedly, this is imperfect because Mlicic and Bosh play the same position.)

You think this might have any implications for the 2005 Draft? I said it before and I'm saying it again: there's nothing wrong with taking Marvin Williams. It's more important to get a great player than it is to fill a need, especially when good centers are so rare that championship teams can win with power forwards at center.

How much more of this must we take?

Nice performance by the Braves last night, including a solid start from Horacio Ramirez, who gave the team seven innings that the tired bullpen desperately needed, and a significant spark from Furcal and Giles, the engines that make the offense go. All that is forgotten in the late-inning fireworks, which included an interference call on David Wright that was obviously correct, despite Wright's protestations to the contrary, and another dreadful performance from Dan Kolb. In the realm of ludicrous statements, here are a couple regarding our apparently undeposed closer:

"Dan Kolb, getting another chance to close after being demoted last week, allowed a leadoff homer in the ninth inning to Chris Woodward, but managed to get his 11th save and possibly quiet at least a few of his critics."

Let's see, Kolb allows a home run to a no-name batter, then nearly walks the dreadful Mike DeFelice, strikes out Mike Piazza, allows a double to the gap, a walk, a stolen base moving the tying run into scoring position, and then another strikeout. He entered with a three-run lead and ended up pitching out of a jam with the tying run on second. What critics are going to be silenced by a performance like that? The guy sucks right now. He should be in a mop-up role until he figures out how to stop allowing multiple base runners every inning. And that leads us into Dan's explanation for his performance:

"Said Kolb of his struggles this season, 'I think I've got a curse or something. I need a horseshoe.'"

No, a curse would be you giving up a bunch of seeing-eye grounders and Texas leaguers. You're getting shelled. You're walking a batter an inning and you're giving up sharply-hit balls left and right. You want better luck? Stop serving up meatballs.

You'll have to forgive Arizona Cardinals fans for a little excessive euphoria

Here are the most recent rankings for NFL jersey sales:

1. Randy Moss, Oakland Raiders
2. Michael Vick, Atlanta Falcons
3. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
4. Donovan McNabb, Philadelphia Eagles
5. Ben Roesthlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
6. LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego Chargers
7. Byron Leftwich, Jacksonville Jaguars
8. Carnell Williams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
9. Jeremy Shockey, New York Giants
10. Tiki Barber, New York Giants
11. Mike Alstott, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
12. Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers
13. Braylon Edwards, Cleveland Browns
14. Daunte Culpepper, Minnesota Vikings
15. Ronnie Brown, Miami Dolphins
16. Brett Favre, Green Bay Packers
17. Jake Plummer, Denver Broncos
18. Roy Williams, Dallas Cowboys
19. Curtis Martin, New York Jets
20. Brian Urlacher, Chicago Bears
21. Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts
22. Ray Lewis, Baltimore Ravens
23. Cedric Benson, Chicago Bears
24. Kurt Warner, Arizona Cardinals
25. David Carr, Houston Texans

Most of them are pretty understandable, as they are either the best players in the league or the newest Draft picks. That said, what in G-d's name is Kurt Warner doing on the list? He's completely done as a player, as his stint in New York showed last year. He can't possibly be in Arizona for long. What are those Cardinals fans going to do with those jerseys when his stint there is remembered like Joe Namath's stint in San Diego is? Is there anything more pathetic than someone wearing the jersey of a player who had a cup of coffee with a team at the end of a fading career? What's wrong with an Anquan Boldin jersey? Passe in Tempe?

Georgia needed a story like this

As an illustration of "if it bleeds, it leads," I was unaware of this great story from the Macon Telegraph (words that I can't remember ever using before) as it has gotten little or no play in Atlanta. It's a sad commentary that every DUI and driving offense committed by a Georgia player is hyped endlessly, but a story about two Georgia players pulling a number of accident victims from their burning cars doesn't get a mention, I guess because it doesn't fit with the storyline that the media likes to tell about football players. In fact, I only became aware of the story from a national outlet, namely Bruce Feldman's college football blog.

So anyway, kudos to Dennis Roland and Russ Tanner. And remind me to never share the road with Phillip Leachman of Commerce, who was driving drunk on the wrong side of the road with a woman (his girlfriend? wife?) and 11-month old baby (his baby?). Naturally, the baby wasn't even properly restrained. Phillip sounds like a real class act.

Monday, May 23, 2005

I have very little to say

And not because I'm ignoring our beloved Braves and their dreadful week, but rather because I was in Charlottesville this weekend for my wife's hooding (that's receiving a doctorate, not something you do to the gimp, you dirty bastards) and my sports consumption consisted of 15 minutes of SportsCenter at 2 a.m. on Sunday morning and a couple innings of Braves baseball on the way back home. No Suns/Mavs, no FA Cup Final, and no Preakness. That said, I have a few random thoughts from the weekend:

1. Andruw gets so much grief from Braves fans in comparison to Chipper, who rarely gets criticized for anything. A lot of that disparity is racially driven, not in the sense that fans don't like Andruw because he's black, but rather because he's black and considered to be naturally gifted, but lazy, whereas Chipper is seen as a hard-working white guy. That said, why does Chipper not get any grief for being brittle, especially in comparison to Andruw, who gets all sorts of stick for being an "underachiever," but who also plays every day. Chipper's injured oblique was supposed to be a minor issue, but it's cost him three games, all of which the Braves lost. Meanwhile, Andruw just keeps playing every day (knock on wood) and gets no credit for being durable.

2. One of the disturbing developments from this road trip, other than Dan Doodie's demotion, two injured starting pitchers, and a sputtering offense, is the fact that Chris Reitsma, who had been the star of the pen, completely imploded. To a slightly lesser extent, Jorge Sosa, who had been the other star, also petered out, as he gave up two earned runs in 3 2/3rds innings. At this stage, Adam Bernero and John Foster are the only two reliable relievers and who knows how long that will last.

3. This quote from Jason Varitek is a classic "this is why you fail" summary for why the Braves' offense struggles so much: The Braves "gave us some early-in-the-count outs that kept [Matt Clement's] pitch total down." The Sox worked counts all weekend and were able to touch up Smoltz and Hudson as a result. (This makes me reconsider my belief that the Braves would be great in the playoffs because of Smoltz and Hudson. If this is how they get treated by a quality offense, then they aren't as great an asset as I thought.) The Braves swung at everything that moved and therefore allowed Clement and Wade Miller, two former NL pitchers with whom they are familiar, to dominate them.

4. After exams during my second year of law school, I made a one-night play for a girl I knew in school, but she said that she couldn't because she was going to the Preakness the next morning. Now, I associate that race with "I have to wash my hair and can't go out with you, Michael."

5. One of the advantages of having a wife who has a sophisticated understanding of statistics (as a result of having written a dissertation that required such analysis) is that I can bounce college football column ideas off of her and she can explain how she could analyze my data. We spent about 40 miles in South Carolina yesterday discussing how we would analyze 1) the importance of returning starters on the offensive line, as compared to other positions, and 2) whether success in close games replicates itself within seasons or from season to season. If I ever get off my ass and write these columns, I'll be sure to share them.

5a. I had a slight re-examination of my views on a college football playoff while talking with this wife on the drive. If the rankings are basically arbitrary because they are forced to compare teams that never played one another based on a limited sample size, then what's wrong with a similarly arbitrary playoff?

6. I've been driving for over 14 years. During that time, I've been in three cars pulled over for speeding. All three times were in North Carolina. I avoided such a fate yesterday, but we drove through four states and North Carolina featured, by far, the most pulled-over motorists. I received my only speeding ticket in 2000 in Salisbury, North Carolina. Not coincidentally, that same shithole had a 55-mph speed limit yesterday for "road work," even though there was barely any evidence of work being done. Moral of the story: be careful in Salisbury, but not so careful that you stop yourself from throwing your trash out the window as a show of defiance.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

"Lindsey Lohan checks into rehab"

"Family Research Council angry at Hollywood"

"New David Lynch project described as 'bizarre'"

"Dan Kolb demoted from closer role"

Does this sound like someone who is taking responsibility for an ERA north of six and a WHIP north of two:

"You've just got to respect what he says," Kolb said, looking away as he answered a reporter's questions. "He's trying to do what's best for the team."

Dan, take a lesson from Bill Clinton's biggest political mistake. A simple "I sucked and I'm sorry and I'll try to get better" goes a long, long way. Being defensive about your atrocious pitching doesn't help anyone. Gosh, and Atlanta is supposed to be a low-stress environment in which to pitch. What would this guy have done if he would have been acquired by the Cubs or Mets, both of whom were looking for closers in the off-season?

Right now, the Braves simply need to find effective relievers who can retire opposing batters. They're 3-6 on this road trip instead of 6-3 because of the pen's failures in the 8th and 9th and the final three games are in Boston against a potent lineup. This weekend isn't shaping up well, given John Thomson's injury, which sounds pretty serious, and Mike Hampton's short-term unavailability. The Kyle Davies vs. Tim Wakefield match-up on Saturday is an almost certain loss, given that Davies has been slumping in Triple-A and the Braves never hit Wakefield for shit. (Then again, I also thought that Smoltz vs. Byung Hyun-Kim or Darrell May were sure wins. Thanks, Dan Doodie and mediocre offense!) Friday night could also be tricky because Tim Hudson has a 6.67 ERA against the Red Sox over the past three seasons. I'm trying to come to grips with the possibility of Smoltz trying to halt a five-game losing streak on Sunday.

The parenthetical above highlights the fact that Kolb has been made the scapegoat for the Braves' struggles on this road trip, but that obscures some underwhelming offensive performances against mediocre pitchers. Two runs against Kim? One run against May? The Braves are getting very little offensive production from three spots - the corner outfield and shortstop - and with Chipper banged up, the offense is very weak. I'd much rather Schuerholtz acquire a solid bat for the outfield than a closer, especially since the closer market is going to be a seller's market and we really need reliable relievers regardless of whether they have a lot of saves.

Winners wear red? Really?

Maybe the English researchers are biased because the three most successful English soccer teams in recent memory (Liverpool, Manchester United, and Arsenal) are biased in their conclusion. Let's take a look at American sports:

None of the winningest teams in each of the three major pro sports (Celtics in the NBA, Cowboys in the NFL, and Yankees in baseball) wear red. Ditto for the two winningest college football programs (Michigan and Notre Dame, both of which have slightly less successful arch-rivals [Ohio State and USC] who wear red) and three winningest college basketball programs (UCLA, North Carolina, and Kentucky.) In contrast, the archetypes for losing in the NFL (Arizona/St. Louis/Chicago Cardinals) and the NBA (San Diego/L.A. Clippers) both wear red uniforms.

And no, my Michigan bias has nothing to do with this conclusion.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Great Discussion on Mayhem this Morning about Vick

I feel tremendously conflicted about Michael right now. On the one hand, it's hard to argue with the simple fact that he wins. The Falcons are 24-12-1 over the past three seasons when Vick starts and 3-12 when he doesn't. The Falcons have finished in the top eight and the top four in the NFL in his two seasons as a starter. I'm normally not a fan of attributing team success to one individual, especially in football, which is such a team game. That said, when there is a clear disparity when a player is in the lineup, that can't be dismissed.

Additionally, this Falcons team just isn't that good other than Vick. The defense was decent in '02 and '04, but nothing special. I've never been a fan of the offensive line or the receivers, although they aren't really tested properly, as we'll discuss below. I am a fan of Warrick Dunn, who's a perennially underrated running back. The best explanations I can come up with for the Falcons' success with Vick are two-fold:

1. He inspires the rest of the team because they know they have a freak under center and they play better with him in the lineup. I hate fuzzy explanations like this, but it might have some merit.

2. Vick's presence castrates opposing front sevens. Linebackers can't be aggressive in responding to the run because they're constantly worried about a bootleg. Defensive linemen cannot penetrate into the backfield because they have to stay in their rush lanes to prevent Vick from escaping. If they don't do their jobs, then Vick is fast enough and has good enough moves to turn their mistakes into marathon touchdowns. Because of this effect, the Falcons' running game is far greater than the sum of its parts and they win by outrushing their opponents. This is a novel concept in the NFL, where points come from the passing game and the running game is usually a device to keep defenses off-balance and to run out the clock at the end of a game. If the run-first approach has worked in college, then could it work in the NFL?

On the other hand, I have major reservations about Vick as a passer. Here's an anecdote: a friend of a friend was at a banquet and met Ron Jaworski. Jaws is one of the few NFL talking heads whom I respect because he watches a ton of film and his statements are always backed up by solid facts. (I would KILL for an "Edge College Football Match-Up" show that used game film heavily.) As such, his comment to the friend of a friend that Vick will be out of the NFL within three years unless he learns how to throw as a pocket passer scares me. Jaws watches a ton of film and clearly has the impression that Vick's passing problems are not solely the result of receivers who can't get open or linemen who can't block, but rather, are the result of a quarterback who doesn't do a good job of reading coverages (the most important skill for a quarterback) and then delivering the ball accurately (the second most important skill for a quarterback.) I hold out hope that he'll develop as a decision-maker, but there's a possibility that he just doesn't have this skill, in which case the Falcons' massive investment in him will be an albatross.

Speaking of which, the second concern about Vick is that Arthur Blank has a man-crush on Michael and he coddles him, as does the rest of the organization. Giving him a massive extension after a year in which he finished 13th in passer rating, although in his defense, the NFL's passer rating formula badly overrates completion percentage and Vick finished a more respectable, but still not outstanding 7th in the NFC in yards per attempt. His interception percentage of 3.7% was 14th in the NFC, so it isn't like he avoided turnovers. Anyway, getting back to the point, the organization shelters Vick from the media, they pay him like he's the best player in the league, and they spend first round picks every year to give him receivers. That sort of cocoon could destroy Vick's desire to improve. It all depends on what sort of person Vick is.

The Brady/Vick debate on Mayhem this morning was good, but so much depends on the type of team we're discussing. Brady is perfect on a talented team that is going to be playing in big games, where his "cool under pressure" skill comes to the fore. Brady benefits from playing on the best coached team in the NFL and he has a defense that keeps New England in every game. If he was on a less-talented team, would he still be that successful? We'll never know, unless it turns out that he looks average without Charlie Weis calling the shots anymore. Vick is a fine fit on a team without much talent because he can create a running game from nothing and he can survive with minimal pass protection. That said, on a team like New England with a number of good receivers, Vick would be a bit of a waste because he can't get the ball to all of them. He also doesn't have Brady's "cool under pressure" skill, so he wouldn't win every close game for a good team like Brady does.

The Brady/Vick debate, at this stage, seems to be analogous to the Montana/Randall Cunningham debate of the late 80s. Randall wasn't as good as Vick; his teams had great defenses and yet they didn't advance as far as Vick has. On the other hand, Brady isn't quite Montana yet, although he's getting close if he stays on his current career path. Brady/Vick could also be analogized to Bird/'Nique, right down to the cities involved. In both cases, there is a racial overlay that makes for a lot of irrational defenses and criticism. If Vick is the new 'Nique, then maybe we need to simply accept that he's a very good player, but not the best in the league at his position.

And in the end, it helps to remember that Vick turns 25 this June 26, so we're talking about a player who is still several years from his prime.

Am I going to be blogging the same thing all year?

Braves get a great effort from their starting pitcher, then Dan Doodie blows the game in the 9th, take four. What's most annoying is this rationalization from Dan the Man:

"Leadoff walks don't bother me," Kolb said. "I'm a ground-ball pitcher; I can get double plays. But when they're hitting them where people aren't, it's tough."

IDIOT!!! First of all, you didn't walk many batters the last two years when you didn't suck, so don't act like this isn't something new. Second, you're a groundball pitcher, which means that you are going to give up your share of hits and you can't give the opposition extra runners like a strikeout pitcher can. Third, it can't be a coincidence that roughly 40% of the balls put in play against you have gone for hits. It has to be a function of the fact that they're hit hard. Also, your leadoff walk last night lead directly to Brian Giles' follow-up single because the runner on first widened the hole on the right side.

Now, I'm worried about the bullpen. The Braves would be 6-2 instead of 3-5 on this roadtrip if they simply could have held leads in the 8th inning or later. In fairness, though, that also includes two instances when the Braves rallied late and then the bullpen gave the game away. Kolb clearly needs to be demoted from the closer role so he can get his groove back in lower-stress situations. Chris Reitsma has started his collapse a little early this year, so he isn't a candidate either. Whom does that leave? Jorge Sosa? John Foster? It would be an awfully radical move to make one of them the closer.

The good news from last night:

1. Andruw Jones continues to be absolutely torrid and I haven't said enough good things about him.

2. Wilson Betemit went 2-4 and made an absolute stunner of a defensive play that you'll never see on Web Gems because he didn't leave his feet. With one on and one out in the bottom of the 7th, he charged in on a slow roller down the third base line, fielded the ball, and in one motion unloaded a cannon shot of a throw right on the money. It was a remarkable play at an important moment in the game and precious few third basemen could have made that play. It was a reminder of what scouts saw in him that led Wilson to be viewed as one of the best prospects in baseball. Gosh, if the guy could only hit consistently.

3. Smoltz turned in another great start last night. We expect him to be dominant, so we don't give him enough credit, but the guy has been as good as ever since his rocky first start.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Bobby Bowden...Ass

I don't know where to start on Bobby's latest missive. How about with this nugget:

"'Fisher is fighting a heck of a battle over here at your academy [with] the U.S. government,' Bowden was quoted as saying in the Gazette of Colorado Springs. 'He's fighting a heck of a battle because he happens to be a Christian, and he wants his boys to be saved. I want my boys to be saved.'"

Uh, Bobby, Fisher is the coach of the United States Air Force Academy. He is PART of the U.S. Government. As such, because the government is not supposed to establish one state religion, he can't turn the Air Force Falcons into Team Jesus Christ. He's free to proselytize to his players in their free time, but that's not good enough for Bobby and his religious right persecution complex. I'm sure that Bobby carefully reviewed relevant jurisprudence on the Establishment Clause before reaching his legal conclusion...or does he not care about earthly laws?

I love the snarky little reminder from the A.P. in the next paragraph:

"Bowden's comments came as a Pentagon task force investigates claims of religious intolerance at the academy, including cases in which a Jewish cadet was told the Holocaust was revenge for the death of Jesus and another was called a Christ killer by a fellow cadet."

And then there's this:

"'We realize we have other religions with us,' Bowden said. 'The coach has a responsibility to these boys to try to influence their spiritual life, their physical life and their academic life. Â… We know we're going to get challenged on it, but that's what we believe in. I ain't gonna back down.'"

This is classic modernspeak. He makes an acknowledgment in the first sentence, then proceeds to invalidate the sentiment in that first sentence. "I realize that there might be players who aren't evangelical Christians, but I have a responsibility to persuade them to leave Judaism or Islam or Agnosticism or Atheism (or Catholicism?) to save their souls." Whatever.

This episode highlights what I've always hated about Florida State football: the uttersanctimoniousnessy of the program, juxtaposed with their tuggy nature. For instance, Chris Rix always highlighted his Christianity, lording it in every interview to make himself look better. Meanwhile, he was busy stealing handicapped parking spots (real Christian of you, Chris) and being generally reviled by his teammates. Meanwhile, Bobby has presided over a program that revels in injuring opposing quarterbacks. Maybe there's something inThessalonians commanding Bobby's host to main opposing signal-callers. I freely admit to being more familiar with the Old Testament than the New. Somehow, though, I doubt it.

I guess Bobby's use of the religious fig leaf does allow him to pretend that he's a forgiving, New Testament G-d when disciplining his players.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Why do I hate New York teams?

Exhibit 457 is linked above. Not to sound like a Republican or anything, but how can "The Paper of Record" publish this ill-reasoned, elitist dreck?

Here's a brief translation: "I live here in New York City, the center of the known universe and the city on the hill for the wretched masses in the rest of the country to ogle at jealously. (They wish they could pay $2,500 per month for 900 square feet and a view of a brick wall.) It makes me sad that I don't have anything to talk about during the NBA Playoffs, what with my non-existent knowledge of teams outside of the Northeast. I would really like to cover a local team doing well in the Playoffs because that would give me a purpose in life. NBA, please go back to rigging your system so the Knicks and Lakers will do well. I'm a whiny bitch and I demand that LeBron come to New York."

Here's why his point is so weak:

1. Of the three major pro sports leagues, the NFL gives the least benefit for major market teams because of a hard salary cap. Not surprisingly, it's also the healthiest of the three major sports leagues. Parity hasn't exactly doomed that golden goose. Additionally, Rhoden's ludicrous argument that major markets don't tolerate rebuilding is belied by the fact that the Giants and Jets have retained their fan bases despite recent rebuilding periods. Or, take the Bulls, who went through a six-year rebuilding period, but they've developed a good team now and their fans are back. I guess waiting for a winner is beneath New Yorkers.

2. If it ever came out that the NBA was rigging its Draft to help its bad teams, it would be done. There would be a mass exodus of fans. What a great business strategy that would be.

3. Remember the '94 NBA Playoffs, otherwise known as the year that basketball almost died? The Knicks did very well that year, but that didn't stop the viewing public from being revolted and running from their sets in droves.

4. The fundamental problem in New York, which Rhoden apparently refuses to confront, is that Isiah Thomas is an idiot when it comes to running anything larger than a lemonade stand (and he could probably screw that up.) Give him top Draft picks and he'll probably trade them for another mediocre combo guard or undersized power forward. Or maybe he'll take another run at Frederic Weis. Why should New York be insulated from the dreadful decisions of their GM (and by extension, their ownership, which hired and continues to employ Isiah)?

Per Rhoden's insane rhetoric, since Michigan draws more fans than any other college football program and is the biggest TV draw this side of Notre Dame, opponents should only be allowed three downs to make ten yards rather than four. After all, I shouldn't blame Michigan's bad defensive coordinator and head coach for the team's defensive struggles; I should demand that the deck be slanted in UM's favor. Right, Bill?

And as soon as I note that the Braves hit a lot of doubles and few homers...

They hit eight homers this weekend in taking two of three from the Dodgers (and with some better defense in the 8th inning on Friday night, it would have been a sweep.)

Some thoughts:

1. Assuming that the Braves, Cards, Marlins, and Dodgers are the class of the NL this year, the Braves are now 7-4 against those three teams. And far be it for me to say something nice about Dan Kolb, but he hasn't allowed a run against any of those three teams.

2. This weekend was a better offensive weekend for the Braves in the sense that they were consistent scoring runs. Rather than their pattern earlier in the year when they would score 1, 2 and 11 in a three-game series, this weekend, they scored 4, 5, and 5. With this starting pitching (and no bullpen melt-downs,) 4-5 runs should be sufficient to win most games.

3. The Braves have trouble against the oddest pitchers, with yesterday's poor showing against Scott Erickson, whom the Braves' announcers described as pitching for his career, another example. How could the Braves whiff at him for six innings before teeing off on Yhency Brazoban and his 1.88 ERA in the 9th?

4. Tim Hudson was Steve Avery-esque yesterday, allowing hits aplenty, but in the end, his line of six innings pitched and two earned runs allowed was good. He's eight starts into his Atlanta career and he's 4-2 with a 3.18 ERA, which is good. Ultimately, the major concern is whether he'll be healthy for the whole season or whether his abdominal issues will return in August, but short-term, the concern is that he's allowing opponents to hit .274, which is a high for a front-line starter (or anyone, really.) Opponents have a .736 OPS against Hudson, which would be a career high. He's kept his ERA low by pitching out of trouble and by allowing only three homers in 51 innings. It's worth remembering that 1/4 of his starts have been on this road trip, a struggle in Colorado followed by a game yesterday in which he didn't have his best stuff.

5. The time is coming when the Braves are going to have to give Adam LaRoche some at-bats against lefty pitchers. He's leading the team in RBI, which is pretty impressive for a platoon guy and could be even more impressive if they increased his at-bats. Again, there are sample-size issues because we're glimpsing his stats when he's coming off of a great weekend in LA.

6. Brian Jordan (.506 OPS) and Raul Mondesi (.664 OPS) have been weak in May. Schuerholtz has to be thinking about other options in the outfield. What's Mike Devereaux doing?

Saturday, May 14, 2005


LaRoche giveth, and LaRoche taketh away. Last night's game was a series of peaks and valleys. For the first seven innings, it looked like the Braves were going to accomplish nothing at the plate against Jeff Weaver, not unlike their performance against him on June 18, 2002, when he threw a five-hit shutout at the Braves for the 24-43 Detroit Tigers. (I was there and it was painful, especially since it was paired with another disappointing start from Jason Marquis.) Weaver's pitches were consistently sinking in the strike zone and the Braves could not make solid contact to save their lives. They had a brief threat in the 7th with two singles, but Andruw and Brian Jordan couldn't get a run home.

Then, the glorious top of the eighth. Aided by Jim Tracy's curious decision not to pull Weaver, even as he was clearly tiring and his pitch count was going over 110, the Braves loaded the bases and then LaRoche had a beautiful at-bat, fighting back from 0-2 and then finally timing one of those sinkers perfectly for a grand slam. If the Braves would have won the game, then Tracy would have been the goat. What the hell do you have a closer for if not for use in a critical situation in the bottom of their eighth with a two-run lead and a tiring pitcher? Tracy made the classic mistake of viewing his closer solely as a ninth inning pitcher, rather than the guy who should come in at the most critical late-inning moment. As a result, Weaver ended up with a pedestrian 7 2/3rds innings, four earned run line that belied how much he dominated the Braves.

Similarly, Chris Reitsma ended up with a 2/3rds of an inning, four earned runs allowed line that wasn't entirely the fault of his pitching. He stupidly kicked a sure double-play grounder and then induced another double play ball on the next hitter, only LaRoche hesitated, didn't throw to second, and then didn't throw to Reitsma covering. After all of that, Reitsma got Jeff Kent on a good 3-2 pitch, but then couldn't find the strike zone against Milton Bradley and then gave in, when a walk would have been better, given that the unintimidating Olmedo Saenz was on deck and Reitsma could have escaped the eighth with a 4-3 lead. And we all know how safe that is in Dan Doodie's capable hands.

Lost in the late inning drama is the fact that Horatio Ramirez looks more and more like Tom Glavine with every start. He followed his seven shutout innings against the Astros with seven innings of two-run ball against the Dodgers' solid lineup. Ramirez doesn't throw hard, but he lives on the outside corner and comes inside just enough to keep hitters honest. He was also economical, throwing only 84 pitches in seven innings. If he keeps pitching well, then the Braves becomes one of the only teams in baseball with five quality starters. It's almost impossible for them to not be in the hunt all year with that quality.

Recruiting Coup for Georgia

In case you missed it, Georgia signed the top high school quarterback for the 2006 recruiting class (or second best, depending on your feelings on Florida-lean Tim Tebow.) A whole bunch of thoughts on this signing:

1. After the Ryan Perriloux fiasco last year, don't assume that Stafford is 100% headed to Athens just yet. That said, there are factors that make a Stafford switch less likely, namely that Georgia wasn't competing against a homestate school whose fans are notorious for putting pressure on local players to stay at home.

2. And speaking of homestate pressure, where was Texas in the Stafford recruiting derby? They have a major need at quarterback and will be looking to fill the position in the 2007 season. Are they set on Mitch Mustain from Arkansas? If so, did they tab him because he's better than Stafford or out of necessity because Stafford liked Georgia better?

3. If Georgia inks Stafford, Florida inks Tebow, and Auburn inks Neil Caudle, then we should have a great time following their development over the next 4-5 years. Hopefully, the news will be good, although none of the three programs have produced a quality NFL starter in ages. And no, Quincy Carter doesn't count. I'm waiting to see if Rex Grossman can survive a whole season without killing himself or if Jason Campbell was a product of Al Borges' system.

4. Stafford had to be attracted to Georgia because of the potential for starting as a true freshman. After seeing Chad Henne and Eric Ainge do well for major programs, the best quarterbacks are going to be less and less likely to wait. The quarterback derby in Athens next year should be entertaining. Blake Barnes will be the favorite and if he wins the job in 2006 as a third-year sophomore, then Stafford could be waiting until 2009 to start as a fourth-year junior. If Barnes wins the job this year from D.J. Shockley and plays well, then will that cause Stafford to think about decommitting?

5. Stafford's verbal also highlights Mark Richt building upon his 2005 recruiting class, which was unique because its best parts came from outside of Georgia. He's locked up a number of good in-state offensive linemen early in this recruiting year, but Stafford marks another successful foray outside of the state. Is there a correlation between Georgia regularly being on CBS and ESPN's national broadcasts and their improved national recruiting efforts? Or how about the 2002 13-1 season putting them on the national radar for the first time in a while?

Friday, May 13, 2005

Player Ratings of College Coaches

I'm not sure who these people are and they definitely don't have a large enough sample size to draw meaningful conclusions about the coaches listed, but I found the link above fascinating nonetheless. I thought that players would just rate their coaches based on how good the coach is and whether he gets the team to win games, but that's not evidently the case, as Bill Snyder's low score indicates. Some observations:

1. It's gratifying as a Michigan grad to click on Lloyd Carr's name and see that not only does he have a very good overall score, but he got perfect marks from all nine players who responded on the question of whether he emphasizes the importance of getting a degree. Generally, the Big Ten comes off well, as Jim Tressel and Kirk Ferentz tied for the best score and Carr has a very good score as well. On the other end of the spectrum is Joe Tiller, who has a very low 5.9 score with a fairly large sample size.

2. Finally, Mack Brown beats Bob Stoops at something.

3. Good for Mark Richt, who has the highest score of any coach in the SEC. Not surprisingly, Phil Fulmer doesn't show much interest in emphasizing to his players the importance of goals outside of football. I couldn't see that one coming from a mile away.

Anyway, I'll be interested to check back on these rankings once the sample size has grown.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

The Moral of the Story: Always Listen to the Wife

The wife proclaimed that Dan "Doodie" Kolb was useless weeks ago. I allowed myself to be deceived by a couple strong performances against the Cardinals, but the bottom line right now is that he's terrible. He's allowing about two runners per inning, his ERA is over six, and he's converted 75% of his saves. Even when he converts a save, he looks shaky because he puts runners on and has to pitch out of trouble. With Reitsma and Sosa pitching well, Kolb is probably one more meltdown from being a set-up man. A friend suggested today that this might destroy his confidence, but my response is the same as my response to people who question pulling a quarterback when he's playing poorly: if a player can't handle the pressure of being demoted for legitimate reasons, then he shouldn't be in the position in the first place. Kolb should do a little better with the pressure off and I'd much rather have a reliable 7th inning guy than a shaky closer.

The good news from yesterday is that Ryan Langerhans continued his torrid play. While our closer situation looks bad, our outfield situation looks better and better. Langerhans is second on the team in homers and second among the regulars in OPS. Admittedly, we are dealing with a small sample size that has been affected greatly by Langerhans' hot streak in the past four games, but the signs are very encouraging. The question is whether pitchers will figure out how to pitch him and then whether he'll adjust. All four of his homers over the past four games have been on pitches in the low and away quarter of the strike zone, so he probably won't see anything there for the near future.

I'm a smidge worried about the Braves losing momentum and playing poorly in LA this weekend, but one of the hallmarks of Cox's teams has been their ability to bounce back from emotional losses.

Early Thoughts on College Football

The article linked above is gratifying for me because 1) it's by a gambler, someone whose livelihood is based on actually being right (unlike most college football analysts, myself included,) and 2) I agree with what he says, especially:

1. South Carolina will be overrated because Spurrier doesn't have much talent at his disposal, unlike when he was at Florida.

2. Florida, not Tennessee, is going to be the best team in the East this year.

3. Notre Dame doesn't have much talent, so Charlie Weis will have to be a miracle worker to have a good team initially. (I disagree that their academic standards are the reason for their poor performance, but a gambler wouldn't necessarily be an expert on root causes of lack of performance.)

4. Everyone who is conceding the national title to USC are underestimating the impact on the defections on their coaching staff. Pete Carroll is a defensive coach and he just lost his offensive coordinator. That can be a serious problem. (See: O'Leary, George.)

5. The Big Ten should be fairly deep next year and Michigan and Ohio State won't be shoe-ins if the former doesn't solve their defensive issues against the run-based spread and the latter can't find a running game or a consistent quarterback.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Getting political for a moment...

One of my pet peeves is the butchering of history. Our President did just that in Latvia this weekend by criticizing the Yalta Conference of February 1945 as a betrayal of Eastern Europe. (See the article linked in this post's title.)

Yalta, for those of you who had better things to do that read history books at age 10, i.e. those of you with friends, was a conference between Stalin, FDR, and Churchill in which the Allies agreed to Soviet control over Eastern Europe with the caveat that the Soviets would permit elections there. Stalin never adhered to that promise, as FDR and Churchill suspected he wouldn't, and the episode led to some Republicans alleging that FDR had sold Eastern Europe out with a secret agreement.

In ideal world, Eastern Europe wouldn't have been oppressed by the Soviet Union for the duration of the Cold War. However, the reality of the situation made that an inevitability. For one thing, the Soviets had already lost over 20 million soldiers and civilians in their conflict with the Germans. Given our strong response to losing 3,000 in the 9/11 Attacks, we can't say that we wouldn't have acted any differently than the Soviets did when they usurped Eastern Europe to ensure that they wouldn't be slaughtered in their own country again.

Additionally, the Soviets were already occupying almost all of Eastern Europe by the time of Yalta, so the only alternative would have been to root them out of Eastern Europe by turning the war against the Nazis into a war against the Russians. Maybe Bush, with his limited view of the world outside of the 50 states, doesn't know this, but in early 1945, the Soviets had more troops, more (and better) tanks, a greater willingness to take casualties, better tactics (as a result of having to face the best pieces of the Wehrmacht,) and better military leadership. In short, it's not at all clear that Eisenhower's forces could have beaten the Soviets in Eastern Europe if they wanted to, let alone the fact that victory would have required an enormous number of casualties that the English didn't have the resources or will to take.

(The irony is that Bush had to justify attacking Iraq and not Iran and North Korea, both of which are more evil and threatening to U.S. interests, on the grounds that we should do good where possible, but we can't take on every injustice in the world, especially when doing so would entail huge costs. The same rationale justifies Yalta.)

Oh, and as of February, we still had Japan as an unconquered enemy and were expecting to take six-figure casualties occupying Japan. I suppose Bush could agree with the lower estimates of casualties for the invasion of Japan advanced by liberal historians when they argue that Truman erred in dropping the Atomic bombs, but somehow, I doubt that.

In short, Bush took a gratuitous shot at FDR (and by extension, Churchill and Eisenhower,) probably to appeal to the part of his base who care enough about history to believe a distorted version of it. I hated the media's misuse of terms like "Stalingrad" and "Gulag" during the Iraq conflict, so I don't feel too partisan in ripping on Bush for the same.

Great Article on College Sports Revenue

(As always, click on the title of this post to be taken to the story.)

One argument that always gets my goat is this: "College football players are exploited; they create tremendous revenue and all it does is make the fat cats at their school rich." While it is true that college football players create a lot of revenue and don't get it back in return (although tuition, room and board, and a stipend isn't nothing,) the people that are actually exploiting them are non-revenue athletes, especially female athletes. Women's softball players aren't the archetypical exploiter of labor, though, so most leftist college football critics miss this point.

Take Georgia, for example. The football program generates $42,104,214 against $8,780,360 in expenses. The revenue generated by football constitutes over 90% of the athletic department's revenue. The women's programs lose almost $7M per year. The remaining football profits, I would presume, go to cover expenses from non-revenue male sports and athletic department overhead.

Just so we're clear, I'm in favor of Title IX and I think it's great that non-revenue sports are treated so well. I just wish that college football would get credit for making that possible, rather than being criticized as some sort of illustration of Das Kapital.

I would be interested to see how the accounting works on these numbers. For instance, the licensing fees that Georgia gets for merchandising; are those broken up based on the sport being merchandised at all or is it a flat fee in the overall revenue figure? Also, these numbers are at odds with the position of some that college football is a loser proposition economically. If temple is breaking even and Tulsa is making over $3M in profits, then it can't be that hard or uncommon.

Various Braves Thoughts

1. Is John Smoltz vs. Byung Hyun-Kim the biggest mismatch in pitching history? We'll all be a little anxious to see if Smoltz is over his coughing-induced back injury, but assuming that he's healthy, you have to assume that the Braves will do well this afternoon. By the way, didn't J.D. Drew get his infamous neck injury from swimming in a pond in Hahira about this time last year?

2. The Braves' hot streak has coincided loosely with the schedule finally leaving the NL East. The East is 34-18 against the NL Central, which apparently has one very good team and a bunch of mediocrity, and the NL West, which is similar, although the Dodgers aren't as good as the Cardinals. It's never a good idea to make bold statements about October in May (or, as the Astros proved last year, mid-August), but the Cards, Braves, and Marlins all look like the class of the NL right now. The Dodgers are the best bet to join them in the playoffs because I'm not sold on the D-Backs (or the rest of that division, for that matter.) Speaking of the D-Backs, Russ Ortiz has a 5.21 ERA, an ungodly 1.66 WHIP, and 19 walks (vs. 16 strikeouts) in 38 innings. Color me pleased that he no longer pitches for our local baseball collective.

3. Nice win for the Braves last night, although the bullpen has been predictably taxed in Coors Field. They've risen to the challenge, throwing 8 and 2/3rds scoreless innings, but they could be overworked by the end of this road trip. (Speaking of the trip, I'm guessing 7-5, 4-2 against the Padres and Rockies and 3-3 against the Dodgers and Red Sox.) The offense has only managed one home run in two games at Coors Field, but they've taken advantage of the wide open spaces in the outfield to hit 11 doubles in two games. That's consistent with the Braves' offense this year, which is 2nd in the NL in doubles, but only 8th in home runs hit. That stands to reason with line drive hitters like Chipper Jones, Marcus Giles, Johnny Estrada, and Adam LaRoche in the lineup. Unfortunately, the Braves haven't paired line-drive hitting with a patient approach, as they're next to last in the NL in pitches per plate appearance. You would think that such impatience would hurt against good pitchers, where the objective is usually to tire the starter out and then prey upon the bullpen, but the Braves' recent success against Pedro, Oswalt, Mulder, and Burnett seems to indicate that jumping on early pitches is the way to go, rather than letting those guys get ahead in the count.

4. The Raul Mondesi death watch continues. He has the lowest OBP of any of the Braves' regulars and now that Ryan Langerhans is hitting well and playing very good defense, it's only a matter of time before Mondesi goes the way of Rico Brogna and Ken Caminiti, two other players whose final stop was in Atlanta in their over-the-hill years. Langerhans has three homers and ten RBI in 44 at bats; Mondesi has three homers and 13 RBI in 108 At bats. Langerhans' stats are inflated by his enormous Sunday against the Astros, but if he continues to play well over the next couple weeks, then a change is in the cards. Mondesi has not only been unproductive, but he's taken a large number of at bats (108 - 4th on the team), so his poor hitting has had an impact. Only nine qualified players in the NL have a lower OPS. He's last on the Braves in runs created; a lineup of nine Raul Mondesis would score 2.77 runs per game. All that said, I'm sure he feels the footsteps and knows that he has a finite amount of time to turn his season around.

5. On a happier note, Chipper Jones is quietly third in the NL in OPS, showing that his sub-par 2004 was just the result of a flukish first half and not evidence of an overall decline.

Monday, May 09, 2005

One reason I'm taking Florida over Tennessee in the East

2004 record in games decided by one score:

Florida - 1-4
Tennessee - 6-1

I want to be careful about using the "L" word, but one of the best rules for making baseball picks before the season is to find teams that out-performed their record the previous year and pick them to regress to their mean and vice versa. 2002-3 Ohio State was a classic example of this phenomenon. OSU fans bristled mightily at being told that their repeated escapes in 2002 had any element of luck, but sure enough, the following season, they lost both of their close games on the road. Vol fans can bristle all they want, but the bottom line is that they won the East last year with a really bad pass defense, so expecting them to be a top five team this year requires a major leap of faith.

Conversely, aside from Florida's massive coaching upgrade, they were better than 7-5 last year. They were unlucky to lose almost every close game they played in. If that luck evens out, or if bad coaching was the cause, they should be a lot better this year, even assuming that SEC defenses aren't befuddled by Urban's offenses.

Forca Barca

Not that most of you care, but F.C. Barcelona virtually clinched the Spanish Primera title this weekend with a 2-0 victory down the coast in Valencia. Barca now need to win only one of their final three matches to win the league for the first time since 1999 and the Valencia match was their hardest remaining tie.

Ronaldinho, the reigning world player of the year and a guy with so much talent (and bizarre hair) that he could make 'necks in Moultrie like soccer for a fleeting moment, scored another highlight reel goal to lead Barca to silverware. The fact that Ronaldinho has been the talisman for Barca for the past two seasons is one of the delicious ironies that sports hands us because he was Barca's second choice in the summer of 2003. Barca originally agreed with Manchester United on a fee for David Beckham, only to be snubbed by Beckham, who wanted to play for Real Madrid because he was more likely to win trophies with them. Barca then decided to sign Ronaldinho, a talented playmaker with a reputation for loving the nightlife, from Paris Saint Germain. Real Madrid President Florentino Perez famously derided the Ronaldinho signing:

"How ugly is Ronaldinho?! There was no point buying him, it wasn't worth it. He’s so ugly that he’d sink you as a brand. Between Ronaldinho and Beckham, I’d go for Beckham a hundred times. Just look how handsome Beckham is, the class he has, the image. The whole of Asia has fallen in love with us because of Beckham. Ronaldinho is too ugly."

Perez has since watched Barca finish ahead of Real in the league for two straight years, including winning a league title that has evaded Real, while Beckham has looked completely lost in Spain because he has to play in the center rather than staying out on the right wing as he preferred in Manchester. On the bright side for Florentino, Dick's Sporting Goods at Lenox is selling Beckham/Real t-shirts, which I got to flip a bird to this weekend whilst buying running shoes. I hope that I hurt the shirts' feelings by referring to them as "fascistas."

An interesting side note: Barca is going to agree to a shirt-sponsoring deal for the first time, shilling for the Beijing Olympics, in order to increase their profile in Asia.

All Hail Billy Knight!

Remember when Knight was being excoriated for giving up Antoine Walker and only getting a first round pick in return? Anyone want to re-evaluate after Walker stunk in the playoffs?

On the other hand, Jason Terry was an ace for Dallas against Houston and Knight essentially got a first round pick and cap space in return for the Jet, so maybe we shouldn't be covering Knight with laurels just yet.

I'm really looking forward to this NBA off-season, by the way, although I'm fairly certain I'm going to be disappointed when the Hawks emerge with Andrew Bogut and little else. Grabbing Louis Williams with the first pick in the second round might be intriguing, especially because there are potential synergies between him and Josh Smith, but if the descriptions of his game are correct, he sounds like a third guard/Microwave Johnson player on the next level. From his perspective, getting tabbed by the Hawks at the start of the second round would be far preferable to being a late first round pick because he'd be in his comfort zone and, more importantly, he'd get playing time to develop his point guard skills.


scha·den·freu·de (shädn-froid)
NOUN: Pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others.

Leave it to the Germans to come up with such a useful concept. Anyway, in case you missed it, the Braves clobbered the Astros this weekend, finishing the season series 5-1 against the team that knocked the Braves out of the playoffs last year. Houston's struggles can't be surprising; they are fitting into a long line of teams that have eliminated the Braves from the playoffs and then gone in the tank the following year. Maybe that's why I've had an easier time dealing with the Braves' post-season struggles over the past few years; I know that we'll be back the following year like cockroaches after a nuclear war, while the team that beat us will not be able to duplicate their success. (Then again, maybe consistent losing in the playoffs has desensitized me and I no longer work up a serious dislike for the team that does it.) Want specifics?

2004 - Chicago - 89-73, 3rd in their division
2003 - San Francisco - 100-61, lost in first round
2002 - Arizona - 98-64, lost in first round
2001 - St. Louis - 93-69 - lost in first round

OK, so these teams did a little better than I thought they did, but the point remains that they never duplicate their post-season success the following year. At least the Braves are consistent in their post-season performances.

In terms of the Braves' performance this weekend, it was terrific, although we shouldn't get carried away from beating a team that was 1-10 on the road coming in. (Moving up to 6th in the NL in runs scored was nice.) What was encouraging was that they added Roy Oswalt and Andy Pettite to the list of quality pitchers they've beaten over the past couple weeks. In particular, tagging Oswalt with seven earned runs in five innings bodes well for the rest of the season. I'm far more impressed by that than I am by putting up 16 runs against a rookie starter and a Phillie cast-off.

The performance of a couple young players was encouraging this weekend, as well. Ryan Langerhans made his season stats look respectable in one fell swoop with his two homer, 6 RBI day yesterday. Now he needs to build on that performance so the Braves can implement a rotation at the corner outfield spots. Brian Jordan has been playing better than expected, but the Braves don't want him to break down. Raul Mondesi has been playing worse than expected, so the Braves need to de-emphasize him so they don't depend on him down the stretch. Horacio Ramirez also had a fine start on Saturday night, especially because he was able to go seven innings. He kept his pitch count low, which was critical in allowing him to get past his usual fine-inning marker. Maybe he needs 12 days rest more often.

Other thoughts from Saturday night:

1. Dan Doodie's entrance to "Enter Sandman" is beyond comical, akin to Pedrag Drobjnak entering a Hawks game to "Hey Ya." "Send in the Clowns" would be more appropriate. Pardon me for saying this, but shouldn't he have to earn the Metallica entrance? And coming after three years of watching Smoltz enter to "Thunderstruck," watching Kolb try to do the same thing is borderline painful. Senor Doodie entered with a 4-1 lead on Saturday night and proceeded to walk the leadoff man. How the fuck do you walk Morgan Ensberg with a three-run lead? Kolb ended up getting out of the inning, but not before loading the bases against the bottom of Houston's order. Kolb now has 12 walks in 13 innings. I thought we were getting an Antonio Alfonseca-type when we traded for Kolb; I had no idea that we were getting Russ Ortiz instead. I know he has nine saves and all, but he's going to kill me in October if he pitches like this. Unfortunately, the rest of baseball is also looking for closing help, so the market is going to be distorted and help will not be coming from outside.

2. The fans around us were ordering food in the late innings like citizens of Leningrad hoarding food before the Germans completed their encirclement. If you've resisted the urge for nachos for seven innings, then why give in in the eighth? And why do you need that meonade cup in the 9th inning? Do you really think there's a shortage of lemonade cups in the rest of the city? I view ballpark concessions as a necessary evil, but apparently, the rest of the world views them as a bargain to be treasured.

2a. All that said, the beer boycott ended Saturday night. That was quick.

3. Willy Tavares doesn't seem to have very good instincts in centerfield, but I can't remember seeing a faster player. He should be doing push-ups every time he hits the ball in the air. Wow.

4. My beef with the Braves on Saturday night was that they were unable to work the count all game. They let Andy Pettite sail through the game (82 pitches in seven innings,) which would have mattered more if Ramirez wasn't throwing a shutout.

5. There's nothing better than a Saturday night home game when the team is playing well, with the possible exception of a Friday night home game.

6. Raul Mondesi's Saturday night was a microcosm of his season. He got on base thanks to an error by Ensberg and then proceeded to get picked off on the very next pitch. (He was a teammate of Andy Pettite before he alienated everyone in New York; how could he not know that Pettite has a great move to first?) Raul also popped up with a runner on third and one out, but was bailed out by Adam Everett misplaying the pop-up into a "single." I'd give Raul another month, but if he hasn't turned his season around by then and if Kelly Johnson is still hitting in Richmond, then I'd cut bait.

7. The Braves played GREAT infield defense on Saturday night. Furcal and Chipper each had a gem in the field and Giles made several nice plays. It's a pleasure to watch a pitcher throw strikes and the defense convert them into outs. After growing up on Andres Thomas and Rafael Ramirez, this is a welcome treat.

8. If you want to catch a foul ball, I highly recommend sitting on the first base side when two lefties are starting. That said, I'm still 0 for my career.

Overall, a great weekend for the Braves, but in the word of the Wolf, let not start [euphemism for mutual oral sex] just yet.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Here's another good one

My brother Dan and I drove up to Atlanta to see a Braves/Pirates double-header during the magical second half of the '91 season, as the Braves were starting to put a lot of pressure on the Dodgers. The Braves took the first half of the double header 7-5, but the memorable game was the nightcap.

Because of the double-header, the Braves had to use the late Rick Mahler, a mainstay from the terrible teams of the 80s, as an emergency starter. Mahler got his 96th and final win of his career that night, which was endlessly shocking because he was completely out of gas by that point in his career. Not only did Mahler get the win on guile and an 85-mph fastball, but he beat John Smiley, who would win 20 games and finish third in the NL Cy Young voting in 1991.

Also of note in the game, the Braves broke open a 3-2 game with two solo shots in the 8th inning. Those solo shots by themselves weren't that memorable, but the fact that one of them was hit by back-up catcher Francisco Cabrera off of Stan Belinda would become more memorable in retrospect.

A Trip Down Memory Lane

When I heard there was a web site with every box score in baseball history, I realized that the Internet really does serve a purpose. I've linked about the box score to a game I went to with my father on Tuesday, June 6, 1989 that I remember as the first stirring of what would become the Braves dynasty, or at least the first time I started to think about the team as having some promise. When I went to Hawks games this year, I thought about this particular Braves game and hoped to see some signs of a future surge. (Is "surgence" a word?)

On that night, the Braves beat the defending World Champion Dodgers 3-0, on the back of a young pitcher named Tom Glavine. Glavine threw a six-hit shutout, despite not striking out a batter, (Sign of things to come?) en route to a solid 14-8, 3.68 season. No one in the lineup was playing a major role by '91, except for Jeff Blauser, who was playing third at the time.

A couple memories stand out:

1. The crowd of 7,623 was as sparse as I recall in my memory. Dad and I sat in the lower level down the first base side and as I recall, there was absolutely no one in the upper bowl.

2. Kirk Gibson popped out with the bases loaded and two outs in the 8th. That was a real "this Glavine might turn out alright" moment. It looked like he was going to blow the game and came up with a big pitch. It was fitting that he was the one on the hill six years and change later to give us a World Championship.

Piling on the Yankees

I generally don't like to indulge the Yankee/Red Sox obsession in the national media by reading about those teams, but this article from Buster Olney is very, very good. I disagree with a couple of his conclusions. First, I don't buy his argument that the Yankees' decline has been, in part, because of focus on stats rather than character. Instead, they've been focusing on the wrong stats. For instance, their dynasty teams were terrific at working counts and waiting for good pitches, the very skill that "Moneyball" touts as the most underrated in baseball. Their current teams are free-swingers, which works against bad pitching, but gets them into trouble when they play quality opposition.

Olney also overrated the Yankees' "decline" because he overrates the importance of the post-season. The Yanks were one game away from making the World Series last year and blew numerous chances to get that one win. They lost a very close World Series to a torrid pitcher in 2003. Is there really that much separating them from the teams that won four of five World Series? Do we really want to read that much into the fact that Jim F***ing Leyritz hit a homer in '96, but A-Rod couldn't hit one on Game Six last year?

All that said, Olney is right when he describes Steinbrenner's aimless spending patterns being a real cause for concern for this team. The Yankees' free agent decisions over the past few years have been nothing more than "which free agents had the best year last year and how much will it cost to sign them?" Carl Pavano? Jaret Wright? Both of them were very good in 2004 and very average (or worse) before that. Why spend so much money on them? Why sign Gary Sheffield, who had a great 2003 and a decent 2002, over Vlad Guerrero, who is consistently very good and who doesn't have Sheffield's history of post-season problems?

More and more, the Yankees' dynasty looks like the result of Steinbrenner's suspension in the early 90s, which allowed the baseball men of that organization to build a young team, rather than throwing money at every hole on the roster. If Steinbrenner would have been in charge, Jeter, Rivera, Pettite, Williams, and Posada all would have been traded for overpriced veterans and the Yankees of the late 90s would have been another old team, susceptible to injuries and poorly constructed to beat quality teams.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Random thoughts during the Braves game

Great game for LaRoche so far, other than a throwing error. Three doubles and three RBI and two of the doubles came against a very good pitcher. This team doesn't score much, but they've done fairly well against some very good pitchers (Pedro, Mulder, and Burnett) over the past week. Let the comparisons to the '99 team resume. (I still think that the Marlins are better on paper.) And back to LaRoche, ten walks in 67 ABs? Only Chipper and Andruw have drawn more free passes. That's a big improvement over last year. He'll have more days like today now that he's shown that he can wait for the pitcher to throw him a strike.

The Braves are getting what they paid for in the outfield. Lost in Mondesi's struggles is the fact that Ryan Langerhans, whom we were all hoping would grab an outfield job by the throat, is hitting a cool .148. One hopes that he pulls a LaRoche and gets better as he learns to hit major league pitching.

I would not have sent Hudson back out for the 8th inning. With a 5-0 lead and Hudson already having thrown 104 pitches, there's no reason to do so, especially with the top of the order up. Hudson has worn out in August the past couple years and the Braves need to treat him accordingly. On the other hand, Leo and Bobby know a shade more about pitching than I do. Wait, no, I know more. Hudson commits an error and then allows a double. I'm the smartest man in the world.

Marcus Giles has single-handedly negated Raffy Furcal's nice day at the plate by grounding into two double plays, each time with two runners on, and striking out twice. G-d help our enemies when Giles and Furcal have a good stretch at the same time.

And speaking of the guy upstairs, G-d help us if Dan Doodie lets Delgado and Cabrera hit again. We have a three-run lead and they're up sixth and seventh in the 9th.

Wonderful idea, Dan. Walking Mike Lowell, who's hitting .194, to start off the 9th when you have a three-run lead is a GREAT idea.

There's a nice recovery. Senor Doodie went 3-0 on Alex Gonzalez, a wild pitch included, before coming back to strike him out. I thought we were getting a pitcher who forced everyone to put the ball in play and doesn't allow walks or get strikeouts. Who knew we were trading for Mitch Williams?

Lenny Harris is still alive? Jack McKeon evidently needs company at the early bird special at Denny's, based on the fact that Harris and Mr. Marlin Jeff Conine are both on his bench as pinch-hitters. Two outs by the way, although I don't like knowing that the second out was a liner to center.

Did I ever mention that I went to John Rocker's last game as a Brave, in which he blew a 9th inning lead in a businessman's special against the Marlins, allowing a titanic shot by Derek Lee? Just thought I'd mention it.

And thankfully, Juan Pierre grounds out and the game is over. Not a tough save for Kolb, since he faced the bottom of the order with a three-run lead, but a nice recovery nonetheless. Overall, a well-pitched game from the Braves, other than the fact that they left Hudson in for a few too many batters. Nice job getting the split in the series. I figured that the Braves would win the opener, based on Leiter's terrible stats and Hampton's hot start, and then lose the finale. As usual, I know nothing.

Now, I smell winning three of four against the Astros, especially because we are missing Clemens. The Astros are 1-10 on the road and have scored 37 runs in those 11 games. They are missing Lance Berkman for all six of their dates with the Braves this year, which is nice. Up and atom.

VanGundygate: Much Ado About Nothing

My drive home from work last night was graced by listening to "J.T. the Brain" on Sporting News Radio ranting on and on about how the NBA instructing its refs to pay attention to Yao Ming damaged the integrity of the game and was a much bigger deal than anyone was giving it credit for. Shockingly enough, a sports talk host was completely overstating an issue.

What likely happened is this: Mark Cuban noticed that Yao was setting illegal screens and sent a video of said violations to the NBA. The NBA reviewed the tape and said "Gee, we think he's right. Let's tell our refs to watch this more closely." As a favor, one of the refs called Van Gundy to warn him that Yao has to set legal screens from now on. Van Gundy, enraged by this suggestion, goes to the media and bitched about Mark Cuban. In so doing, he's doing what most people do when they get caught with their pants down: deflect the issue from themselves and instead attack the messenger. The bottom line is that Cuban was right and the NBA acted appropriately by asking its refs to enforce the rules. Van Gundy has the same right to petition for relief if he can produce a video of the Mavs breaking the rules in a consistent way.

The episode reminds me of the lead-up to the '97 Sugar Bowl, when Steve Spurrier was complaining about late hits by Florida State defenders against Danny Wuerrfel, complete with a video tape contrasting the uncalled hits against Wuerrfel with penalized hits in SEC games. While the media went off on Spurrier for "whining," his substantive point was absolutely correct and it led the refs in the Sugar Bowl to actually enforce the rules as written. G-d forf***ingbid!

A frightening thought: the Marlins are a better team (right now)

I know it's only one game and it's very early in the season, but I look at this Marlins team and wonder how it won't win the division. Their starting pitching is just as good as that of the Braves, if not better, and they have Miguel Cabrera and Carlos Delgado in the middle of their lineup, whereas we have Chipper and his bum foot and Andruw and his .234 average. I try so hard to like Andruw and defend him against the regular criticism that he gets, and then he goes and fouls out with the bases loaded and one out in a 5-2 game against a pitcher struggling mightily with his control. Al thanks you for the help, 'Druw.

It also bears mentioning that former prospect Wilson Betemit has now committed three errors in 18 total chances. He might want to think about a timeshare up in Pigeon Forge with Brad Komminsk and Mike Kelly. The defense was generally poor during the Marlins' five-run outburst in the third.

The good news from last night's game:

1. The team showed enough patience at the plate to draw seven walks, which is something new and exciting.

2. Jorge Sosa threw a solid inning and continues to emerge as a reliable set-up man along with Chris Reitsma.

3. Skip Caray and Joe Simpson were absolutely KILLING C.B. Bucknor's work behind the plate.

4. If the team continues to get very little from Raul Mondesi and the Marlins get out to a lead in the division, then Schuerholtz will almost certainly make a move and right field is a fairly easy position at which to find a productive player. In fact, there's one such guy playing third for the Richmond Braves right now who might be able to play right. (In fairness, Marte's numbers have tapered off a little for Richmond and his OPS is now .782.)

We need a big effort today from Tim Hudson, because I suspect that the bats are going to be quiet, given that A.J. Burnett is pitching and it's a day game. The Braves have a .206 average and a .580 OPS in day games this year. If this was soccer, the Braves would be playing for penalties from the opening whistle, a la the 1990 Argentine team that bored its way to the Final against West Germany.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Godfather II, Star Wars, and the Bachelor

No, they're not related, but there's not much sports news to report, especially since I haven't watched any of the NBA Playoffs so far, and thus, I'm reduced to cultural criticism.

I finally convinced the wife to watch it with me on Sunday night and she, of course, loved it. (If she would just listen to me more...) As always, I learned something new from watching the movie. I had always thought that Pentangeli was involved in the assassination attempt on Michael and that that was why he was told to commit suicide at the end, but after watching the movie again, it finally dawned on me that he had nothing to do with the attempt, but he was advised to open his veins because he had decided to testify against the Corleone family. I also thought that Senator Geary was a violent sex freak and that's how the family managed to blackmail him, but now, after reading IMDB, it turns out that he was slipped a mickey and set up. This should have occurred to me before, but the lesson as always is that I'm not smart.

The final scene, where Michael is having a flashback to having dinner with his siblings, brought home to me that the first two Godfather movies are a tale about the fall of Michael Corleone, not unlike Star Wars I-III, although with better dialogue and less CGI. In the dinner scene, which takes place before Godfather I, Michael is a college-educated man who is so patriotic that he volunteers to fight on the day that the U.S. is attacked by the Japanese. By the end of Godfather II, he has alienated his wife to the point that she aborts his son and he's murdered his brother. The fact that Carlo Rizzi and Tessio are at the dinner flashback is important because they are both people who betray Michael, forcing him to off them and contributing to his disillusionment as a person.

Michael's downfall is illustrated by his statement early in Godfather II that everyone working for him is a businessman looking out for his own interest. He's a selfless guy who's happy to fight for something other than himself (his country) at the outset, but being betrayed by everyone around him, including his own family, jades him into a person who thinks selfishly.

There are some good Anakin Skywalker parallels there. Anakin's downfall isn't so much betrayal (we wouldn't want any moral ambiguities that might make us sympathetic to him; those ambiguities don't exist in the Galaxy Far Far Away) as it is his anger about being a slave, losing his mother, and then losing (or contemplating the possibility of losing) his wife. Michael's downfall is similar, but distinct in that he doesn't just lose his father and brother; he loses them because he's betrayed by his own family because they are corrupted by greed.

In juxtaposition to Sunday night's high-brown entertainment, Monday night brought another viewing of The Bachelor and more evidence of my devolution, not simply because I watch and enjoy that show, but because I'm better at picking the results of that show than I am at picking sports events. It was fun watching a contestant melt down last night and claim, in a fit of unbelievable narcissism, that her beauty was a curse because resentment of it led her to be voted off, but at this stage, I need my balls reattached. Hopefully, I'll get to the Braves game tonight and will be back tomorrow to talking about Furcal's lousy plate discipline as opposed to insane women fighting with other insane women.

Monday, May 02, 2005


Overall, I'm happy with the Braves' performance this weekend. They played three tight games with the best team in the NL and won two of them, which was a marked improvement over the Cards beating the Braves fairly easily in an August series last year. The games illustrated that a team with great pitching can get other teams to play their games, whereas last year, the Braves had a more balanced team, but they couldn't force the Cards to play tight, defensive games and the Braves' average pitching was dominated by St. Louis' lineup. It's encouraging that the Braves took a series against a very good team and I was reminded of the success of the '99 team, which didn't have a lot of offense, but did very well against quality opponents, which augured well for the playoffs.

Dan Kolb made a return to competence this weekend, as well. There's nothing cheap about getting a save with a one-run lead against Larry Walker, Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds, and Scott Rolen, so good for Dan Doodie. Let's see if he can get into a good stretch now.

The cautionary factor is that it's only a three-game series and the Braves were lucky in the sense that they won two games despite being badly outhit. The Cards had 15 hits + walks yesterday to the Braves' seven. On Saturday, the Cards won that battle 12-11. On Friday, the margin was 14-12. Plus, the Braves were lucky yesterday when Scott Rolen's potential three-run homer in the 5th died on the warning track.

And before leaving the series this weekend, nice move by Tony LaRussa complaining about the Braves complaining too much about the umpires. I hope I'm not the only one who sees irony in that: "I'm tired of the Braves trying to get an edge by working the umps...so I'm going to make this remark which itself is nothing more than working the umps."

One more nice thought: I was driving from Charlottesville to Atlanta yesterday and was able to pick up the entire game by going from station to station. The Braves are on in Greensboro, Charlotte, Spartanburg/Greenville, and Gainesville, GA. It was a nice reminder that the Braves are truly a regional team, unlike most teams in baseball.