Saturday, April 29, 2006

Liveblogging Der Draft

1:12 – I’ve worked out, I’ve downed a Doc Green’s offering, and now I’m ready to blog! The highlights so far:

Andrea saw Vernon Davis crying and got weepy herself. That’s the advantage of having a female sensibility to analyze the Draft. She also proclaimed that Matt Leinart to be a bad fit in New York because he’s already in US Weekly too much.

Thank G-d for Jaworski to slow down the Vince Young express by pointing out that he’s coming from a one-read system at Texas and is therefore a project. Everyone is acting as if Norm Chow “taking” Young is an indictment of Leinart or a compliment to Young, as opposed to evidence that Bud Adams probably overruled his coaches to sell tickets and because he’s a Horns fan.

Jets fans have really lost their fastball if they didn’t burn down Radio City Music Hall in response to their team passing on Leinart to take a left tackle.

Names that Andrea has found funny so far: Broderick Bunkley and Tom Mularkey.

1:23 – Remember when the SEC used to produce great Draftables? Right now, it’s ACC 3, SEC 0 and the crew are busy extolling Broderick Bunkley. Conversely, all this talent and none of these ACC teams are very good, so who’s squandering talent now?

1:26 – And we have our first piece of evidence that a 126-year old general manager is not a super idea. The Bills could have traded down ten spots and still taken Whitner.

1:32 – Will Ernie Sims demand to wear #20 in Detroit? By the way, his agent said yesterday that his five concussions were very minor and that he never used a mouthpiece at Florida State. There are so many things wrong with those statements, I don’t know where to begin.

-- And now the wife blogs whilst I take a bathroom break --

1:35—Cut to Leinart on the phone, ostensibly chatting with ARI….and he has just been chosen. Michael thinks that Leinart is a perfect fit for Arizona. I think that it’s probably better for Leinart to live away from Los Angeles, where he can’t get into so much trouble. Did you read US Weekly recently? He was rumored to be “canoodling” with Paris Hilton, which cannot be good for his football career. [Matt Leinart:Paris Hilton :: Tom Brady:Tara Reid?] I guess that Leinart going to Arizona means yet another year that Michigan alum John Navarre won’t be starting at QB.

1:40—okay St. Louis is on the clock now. The only thing I can think of when I think of the Rams is memories of Kurt Warner’s wife wearing that awful blue boa during the 1999 Superbowl.

I am LOVING these Under Armour commercials. Being a native Marylander, it’s always nice to see a home state company do well. And now I have this affinity for Vernon Davis, given that he got emotional about living out his dream.

-- All better. I’m back. Incidentally, last night was the first time in dozens of visits to the Ted that I ever had to take the Browns to the Super Bowl there. Never again. --

1:47 – I love how Jay Cutler is surrounded by pictures of himself in Nashville. Mao would be so proud. I’m going on record by the way that Leinart is the best of the three quarterbacks because accuracy and decision-making are the keys to the position and he’s the best in those departments. Then again, Jaws just did a good job of demonstrating Cutler’s ability to shift in the pocket.

1:54 – ESPN’s talking heads break down neatly on racial lines in terms of analyzing the three quarterbacks. Irvin and Jackson like Vince, Mel likes Leinart, and Jaws and Steve Young like Cutler.

1:56 – Andrea: “Jaworski looks like my late Aunt Fay.”

2:02 – As bad as Oregon’s yellow uniforms look, they look doubly ridiculous on a 340-pound Samoan. And has there ever been a defensive tackle who hasn’t been accused of taking plays off? I’m sure that Ray Lewis will motivate him with his special stabby manner. Is Tom Jackson aware, by the way, that he’s describing the Ray Lewis of four years ago? Jaws, please help us out here. Seriously, ESPN should designate one of their 46 analysts to solely show film clips ripping on each of these players, a designated curmudgeon. Where’s Dr. Z when we need him?

2:07 – And sure enough, Mark Schlereth unloads on Haloti Ngata using the USC tape, although the first clip shows Ngata occupying a double-team and leaving a linebacker unoccupied to make a tackle in the hole. Ask and ye shall receive.

2:15 – I’m still cynical of Florida State defensive ends going high in the Draft. Notice how many of Kamerion Wimbley’s highlights are of him lining up ridiculously wide and then outrunning an offensive tackle? No NFL team aligns their defensive ends that way.

2:27 – FSU defensive tackles, on the other hand, are a good bet. I still have nightmares of Corey Simon pooping all over the Falcons’ guards and center on a regular basis. By the way, if I were a Florida State fan, I’d be giving the Jeff Bowden voodoo doll a few extra pokes. Three picks in the top 14 from the defense and yet the Noles managed to lose five games because of that pesky “can’t get a first down” thing.

2:29 – No, I’m not getting an ESPN cell phone, no matter how many commercials you show…although that “500 is an arbitrary number” restraining order joke got a chuckle.

2:32 – Seven of the top 15 picks are from the ACC from five different schools…and none of the players are from Miami or Virginia Tech. How much talent were the coaches in that league squandering last year?

2:37 – How many people watching this Draft actually play football? And thus, how useless are the thousands of ads for Under Armour cleats?

2:39 – Maybe I’ve gone soft while I’m devouring Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer, but that RV movie looks funny. Robin Williams

2:40 – Merril Hoge’s pink striped dress shirt…if I ever wore that shirt, I’d kick my own ass. That shirt is to pink as the Bucs’ uniforms in the 70s and 80s were to orange.

2:43 – Dr. Irvin just referenced the ligament in Daunte Culpepper’s head. Put that in the University of Miami’s ads for next football season, in between the overhead shot of Coral Gables and the cellist.

2:45 – I like Jason Allen. Don’t have anything more to say than that.

2:55 – Chad Greeway, dead ringer for Barcelona defender Carles Puyol? Incidentally, I’ll go on record as saying that Demeco Ryans will be a better pro than Greenway. I just don’t trust Big Ten linebackers that run up big tackle totals because they face offenses that run the ball up the middle as homage to Bo and Woody and then test slow at the combine…OK, and the fact that he’s white has something to do with this. This analysis doesn’t apply to A.J. Hawk because he’s so fast and because he proved his worth against Texas and Notre Dame.

3:03 – I better call Andrea’s Grandpa Sid to make sure that Nick Saban didn’t mug him for that turquoise sport coat.

3:09 – In the realm of questions with only one answer, Sean Salisbury asking Shawne Merriman “Are the Chargers a playoff team in 2006?” ranks up there. “No, we’re just hoping to win six or seven games with our golden boy under center. F***ing Rivers.”

3:16 – We’re 18 picks into the Draft and every selection has been from a BCS conference team. What happened to “smaller schools have just as much talent and deserve the chance to play for the national title”?

3:20 – Antonio Cromartie’s highlights are better than anyone else’s in the Draft, other than Reggie Bush, and he looks sharper than anyone else. So naturally, Jaws, Schlereth, and Hoge are ripping on him, although Jaws’ statement that a number of NFL scouts don’t like his technique carries some weight with me. Hoge is a complete idiot, by the way. He whines about Cromartie’s highlights being the result of bad throws, but the throws aren’t that bad. Instead, Cromartie is jumping routes in the highlights. And every one of these players have highlights against crappy defenses. I didn’t hear Hoge pointing out that Vince Young was running circles against a Michigan defense that consistently lost control of their bowels against mobile quarterbacks and then against a mediocre USC defense. And Hoge is acting as if there are no bad quarterbacks or throws in the NFL. Did he not see a Bills game last year?

3:41 – I know I’m not allowed to make fun of Bill Bellichick and Scott Pioli or else Peter King is going to come to my condo and eat my liver, but Laurence Maroney? Adding to that terrific stable of Minnesota runners in the NFL? You can’t go wrong with a Big Ten running back, can you, Scott? Note to self: be sure to e-mail Fatty McButterpants as soon as DeAngelo Williams breaks his first long touchdown run.

3:47 – Josef Goebbels must be beaming with all of Steve Young’s discussion of “collective will.” (I can’t believe that it took me two and a half hours to make the first WWII reference. I’m slipping like Leinart.)

3:58 – Using the Merril Hoge corollary, I’m going to disregard the highlight of Davin Joseph clobbering a UCLA defensive end.

4:31 – All of a sudden, that 2004 Florida State-NC State game that seemingly set offensive football back by 25 years makes sense to me. And I’m no longer mystified by Ohio State, with their four first round picks (with Ashton Yobouty and Nick Mangold still on the board), coming from behind against Michigan; it’s a miracle that Michigan was leading in that game to begin with.

4:33 – Michael Irvin asked the question: all of these NC State players are going in the first round and how many wins did they get last year? Michael, you have Marcus Stone and Jay Davis on line two, do you have time to take a call?

4:35 – Remember what I was saying earlier about DeAngelo Williams being a really good running back? Uh oh.

4:40 – Personally, I would have taken Leonard Pope over Mercedes Lewis. And speaking of Pope, we’ve yet to see a Dawg come off the board. Thank goodness Max Jean Gilles isn’t in the Green Room to pull a Jumaine Jones.

4:45 – I guess I’m a little late to point out that Nick Mangold would be a perfect name for a gay porn star? Or that the ’05 Ohio State Buckeyes might have had the worst collection of hairdos on white guys since Color Me Badd?

4:47 – Joseph Addai, I’d like to be happy for you, but I’m still pissed that you were such a disappointment on my last place fantasy team. Wait a second, Joseph is on the phone right now: “That’s what you get for picking a guy running against SEC defenses, you dolt.” Point taken.

5:00 – Between LenDale White’s very public slide down the board and Jimmy Williams’ descent from being the #1 corner on the board to the second round, NFL teams seem to be taking this whole character thing seriously. The Eagles’ disastrous 2005 season has clearly had an effect on NFL GMs.

5:02 – Is there anything better than watching the fans in the audience (such as, say, emotive Giants fans) when their team has drafted a player they’ve never heard of? And Mathias Kiwanuka wasn’t exactly a below-the-radar player in college football last year.

5:08 – I’d be pretty happy if I were a Texans fan. Their defense will be significantly better with Mario Williams and DeMeco Ryans. If they can ever find blockers to protect David Carr’s internal organs from being speared, they might actually be decent.

5:19 – I’m sure Berman was going to ask Tagliabue “any regrets about not screwing Los Angeles and California to pay for a new stadium to subsidize some incredibly wealthy owner?” I’m sure it was the next question on his list.

5:20 – Andriy Shevchenko in an ESPN spot? Outstanding. Too bad the Worldwide Leader couldn’t show, you know, an actual game with Sheva playing in it. You know, like a Champions League semi-final? Speaking of soccer, Barca 1, Cadiz 0 in the 42nd minute.

5:24 – Is there footage of Jimmy Williams in the background of one of Osama bin Laden’s recruiting videos floating around the internet? How else do we explain the fact that he’s still on the board? Dare I start to dream that he’ll fall to the Falcons at 47? He was on the list of players they would have considered with the #15 pick.

5:26 – Apparently, Applebee’s is the only outfit that doesn’t know that the swing craze is over. Then again, they also fail to realize that steak is pretty great by itself without being doused in disgusting bleu cheese puree.

5:28 – Troy Williamson ran a fast 40 at the combine and climbed to #9 in the Draft as “Randy Moss’ replacement.” What’s the difference between him and Chad Jackson, other than the fact that Jackson played in passing offenses and therefore knows how to run routes and find spots in zones? Sometimes, I don’t understand how NFL guys get giddy about certain players and then ignore others with the same credentials.

5:36 – I AM A F***ING GENIUS!!!

5:37 – Stop talking about Brett Favre (again) and acknowledge that the Falcons just got one of the best corners in the Draft in the second round.

5:39 – I do feel a little queasy as a lifelong UVA fan to be rooting for an NFL team that is apparently lobbying for a MARTA stop in Blacksburg, but Jimmy Williams and DeAngelo Hall are going to be a heckuva pairing at corner. With the two of them, an excellent defensive line with Coleman, Abraham, and Kerney, and some pretty good linebackers, this team should be very good on defense…good enough to cover for an average quarterback.

5:47 – Nice demonstration by Jaws of the problems with Vince Young’s mechanics. Why was that never done by Kirk Herbstreit last year?

6:01 – This might be the first year where the Draft day hats don’t look ridiculous. I’m enjoying this post-Tagliabue era already.

6:04 – Anyone notice that the highlights of LenDale and Bush invariably feature the two of them running untouched into the secondary?

6:07 – Mike Fratello is also wearing a pink striped dress shirt. I blame you, Merril Hoge. We have American Pie on FX and American Pie 2 on USA. Good to know that we have the juvenile entertainment bases covered.

6:13 – We’re 45 picks in and the University of Michigan still has not had a defensive lineman taken in the first three rounds since 1985. Go Blue!

6:20 – I dare Mike Martz to unleash a Brandon Manumaleuna/Joe Klopfenstein double tight end set. It reminds me of Bob Costas’ best line ever: “I’ve been waiting to say this all day: Mosi Tatupu run into the arms of Manu Tuiasosopo.”

6:27 – The best highlight all day was D’Qwell Jackson’s interception return against Florida State. I had forgotten that he decided to run through tacklers instead of trying to avoid them.

6:33 – OK, I was just about to write about how it’s a travesty that the American Pie movies are on all the time, but I’ve never seen Euro Trip on network TV (possibly because about half the scenes would be cut by censors), a sure sign that it’s time to wrap up. See you next year!

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Markus Merk: the Most Popular German in Barcelona since???

A few thoughts on Barca-Milan:

1. Is there anything more unsatisfying or guilt-inducing than when your team wins as the result of a bad call? I kept trying to rationalize Marcus Merk's call on Andriy Shevchenko's goal yesterday (Barca outplayed them anyway, the ref might have seen something earlier in the play, there must have been a whistle because Valdes didn't move, Barca got screwed last year on Terry's winning goal at Stamford Bridge, etc.) and kept coming back to the fact that the tie should have been knotted on aggregate with Milan having momentum. At some point, I need to blog the top occasions when my team has benefited from crappy officiating and I felt guilty after the game. The Glavine strikezone will certainly get a mention. Georgia-Georgia Tech '97 comes to mind. There's nothing that gnaws at a sports fan's soul quite like winning on a bad call, unless you're Argentinian and you've screwed England, in which case the English red-faced indignation is double the fun. Penn State fans and their complex about Michigan and officiating is similar.

2. Victor Valdes gets better and better, but he always does one thing to scare me every game. For instance, palming a cross yesterday right into Cafu's path when he should have punched clear. Wenger will look at that tape, recognize that Gio (a former Arsenal player, IIRC) is "defending" Barca's left flank, and then attack in that direction with crosses, English style. The Hobbesian choice Barca opponents face is that if they attack Barca's defensive left, they reduce their defensive cover on Ronaldinho's side.

3. Speaking of Ronaldinho, I came to the decision yesterday that he's the best player since Maradona. I know I'm biased and all, but every game, he makes 2-3 passes that split open a defense. The "foul" on Sheva would have been an irrelevant footnote if Belletti wouldn't have whiffed on a sitter that was set up by a sublime pass from Ronaldinho that freed Giuly down the right. Compare Barca defending a 1-0 lead and creating a terrific chance for a defender with Arsenal defending a 1-0 lead and putting up an electric fence preventing their defenders from coming close to midfield. (Then again, Barca was at home, which makes risk-taking more palatable.) Anyway, back to Ronaldinho, his passing is incredible. I always loved Zidane, even though he played for teams that I didn't like, and he had similar passing talents, but was never quite the dribbler that Ronaldinho is. Ronaldinho is slumping with his shooting, especially on free kicks, so it's unlikely that he'll score an all-time goal like Zidane's winner in the Champions League Final in Glasgow in 2002, but Ronaldinho's passing and control make him extremely dangerous nonetheless. I can't wait to see what Arsene Wenger decides for defending him. Gilberto is the obvious option, but do you want the screen for your back four out that wide? And what if Messi is healthy? Does Wenger take his chances with Ashley Cole defending Messi without help or does he draw his midfield back a little?

4. Speaking of Messi, his presence makes it seem impractical to me that Barca will sign Henry, since Barca plays a three-pronged attack and if Henry, Messi, Ronaldinho, and Eto'o are all healthy, then who sits? Henry would be a perfect fit on the right side with Ronaldinho on the left and Eto'o in the middle, but he's entering the downward phase of his career, whereas Messi will keep getting better (provided that his hamstring doesn't go the way of Fred Taylor's groin). Signing Henry is a Real Madrid/New York Yankee kind of thing to do, overpaying for a Galactico's decline period. You get a couple great years from him and then you have to keep playing him in his inconsistent, injury-prone later years.

5. Brewhouse was packed yesterday. I shudder to think what it's going to be like for the Final on May 17.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Here We Go Again

The Most Popular German in London Since Rudolf Hess

In case you were wondering, Arsenal deserved to book their place in the Final as they dominated the first leg more than Villarreal dominated the second leg, but if an Italian team ever played like Arsenal did yesterday with one striker and absolutely no midfielders getting forward, the English press would murder them for a negative, out-dated approach. With slightly better finishing, Villarreal would have punished them. Good for Wenger and Henry, though. They deserve to see a Champions League Final, especially in their home country.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Complete Hawks Post-Mortem

The NBA playoffs started this weekend for the seventh straight year without the Atlanta Hawks in the fold. Worse, the Hawks finished tied with the second-year Charlotte Bobcats for the third-worst record in the league and the Bobcats had a better point differential than the Hawks and took the season series 3-1. 26-56 is nothing to be proud of, even if it is better than 13-69. The unsettling question is this: when are the Hawks actually going to make the playoffs? Similar to Red Sox fans who asked themselves "Am I going to see the team win the World Series before I die?", or Cubs fans who still ask themselves that question, I keep wondering how old I'm going to be before the Hawks actually make the playoffs. 35? 40? How many developmental milestones is my child-in-waiting going to pass before the Hawks make the playoffs? Walking? First day of school? Bar/Bat Mitzvah? These thoughts keep me awake at night. Will there be a payoff for my loyalty? There are no guarantees in the NBA. There's no hard salary cap to force better teams to pick and choose between their prominent players.

There are a few positives from this season to make me feel better:

1. The team can score. According to John Hollinger's pace-neutral stats($), the Hawks ranked a solid 12th in the NBA in points per 100 possessions. Not bad for a team without a point guard. The team did have one of the highest turnover rates in the NBA and only Orlando and New York had an inferior assist/turnover ratio, but how concerned should we really be with that if the Hawks still managed to score plenty? I don't mean to be all revisionist, but if the offense is fine, then is point guard really the biggest concern in the offseason?

2. Joe Johnson is worth a max contract. He's not a true point guard, but there aren't a lot of 20 point, seven assist guys running around. Joe shoots the ball well, he can get into the lane, he regularly draws tough defensive assignments, he plays every game and just about every minute, and he never complains. That reminds me, I should say something nice about Billy Knight...

A sight Knicks fans saw a fair amount this year.

3. A number of Billy Knight's free agent moves look wise in retrospect. For all the bitching that Hawks fans do about not taking Chris Paul, about Boris Diaw's emergence in Phoenix, about the lottery pick that we probably gave to Phoenix to get Johnson in the loaded 2007 Draft, Billy Knight deserves credit for identifying Johnson as a quality target. Last summer, the carping classes complained that the Hawks' cap space was useless because no free agent would take the money. Knight managed to find a player to take the team's cap space and that player turned out to be worth every penny. Furthermore, Knight declined to offer big dollars to a number of free agents who turned out to be significantly overpriced. Remember when Eddy Curry, Tyson Chandler, and Sam Dalembert were the big free agent targets at center? Knight signed Zaza Pachulia for significantly less money and, in Curry's case, didn't need to give up a lottery pick to acquire him. Here are Zaza's numbers compared to the other three:

Chandler - 26.8 mpg, 5.3 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 1.32 bpg, 1.56 turnovers, 56.5 fg%
Curry - 26 mpg, 13.6 ppg, 6.0 rpg, .78 bpg, 2.49 turnovers, 56.3 fg%
Dalembert - 26.7 mpg, 7.3 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 2.4 bpg, 1.62 turnovers, 53.1 fg%
Pachulia - 31.4 mpg, 11.7 ppg, 7.9 bpg, .5 bpg, 2.31 turnovers, 45.1 fg%

Where are you going, little man?

Zaza is a better scorer than Chandler or Dalembert, a far better rebounder than Curry, he's cheaper than all three, and he performed with a bunch of small forwards playing next to him in the power forward position. (Even in a paragraph in which I sing Billy Knight's praises, I still can't help myself for criticizing his roster construction.) Thanks in large part to Zaza, the Hawks got 49.9% of all available rebounds on the offensive and defensive ends, which means that they were solidly average in rebounding, not bad for a team that had no center at this time last year. The bottom line is that Knight made good decisions last summer in regards to the free agents he targeted and those he didn't. That's encouraging because it's better to have a roster missing certain parts than a roster full of players who don't justify their salaries and who will stick with the team like herpes because of untradeable contracts.

4. Josh Smith might be the truth. In January, I crapped on Smith (and by extension Mike Woodson) by pointing out that Smith had clearly regressed in his second year and that the most important measure for the team in 2006 would be how the young players progressed. I implore you to look at his splits by month and notice how his scoring, rebounding, assists, free throws attempted, and blocks all shot up from February on, culminating in a 17.5 ppg average in 11 games in April. He also finished fourth in the NBA in blocks, which is nothing to sneeze at. John Hollinger's statement this fall that Tracy McGrady was Smith's most comparable player statistically speaking seemed like a hoax through the first half of the year, but after getting shown up at the Dunk Contest, J-Smoove lived up to billing. I'm really excited to see where he goes from here.

Did Tawanna tell you to do that?

5. Josh Childress became the glue guy. Childress emerged to do several things well this year. For one, he can hit shots from behind the arc (49.2% on 65 attempts), which he couldn't do last year, even in warm-ups. He can finish at the basket consistently. (I betcha' didn't know he led the NBA in dunking percentage.) He became the Hawks' designated defensive stopper at the 2/3 positions, thus leading to a lot of minutes down the stretch. On the other hand, for a team that sucked defensively like the Hawks did, he couldn't have done a very good job at that. For another, with Joe Johnson the likely off-guard once the team gets a point and Josh Smith and Marvin Williams appearing to be the future at the three, Childress looks like the odd man out, which might explain why other teams are so interested in trading for him.

So why did this team finish 30 games below .500? Why should I be pessimistic? I'm glad you asked...

1. They can't play defense. Only Seattle, Toronto, New York, and Portland gave up more points per possession. Billy Knight said at the start of the season that the poor defense was a function of the team's youth and he did have a point. This team is plenty athletic and they play hard, but they don't know the tricks of playing defense, especially how to function as a unit and help one another. Previously, I attributed this problem to the Hawks' lack of a point guard and it's true that the team struggled mightily against opposing point guards. (Want to know why they could beat the Pacers four times? Take the Pacers' weak point guards, add in a pinch of luck to win a number of close games, and you have 4-0.) Marvin Williams was another offender. Opposing teams went after him as soon as he came off the bench and he is lost on how to play team defense right now. Maybe the team will play better defense once they grow up. Maybe Mike Woodson can't reach them on the defensive end and a new coach would be better. Maybe this group of players just can't play defense. I don't have the answers, but I am very certain that this is a bigger deal than getting a point guard, although the two subjects are related.

2. We're close to getting nothing for Al Harrington. Part of the justification for drafting Marvin Williams, given his redundancy with Al Harrington, was that Harrington could be flipped for a point guard or a big man. Ten months later and Harrington is still a lame duck on the roster. The Hawks got Harrington two years ago by flipping Stephen Jackson, who was in a similar lame duck status, so it's quite possible that Billy Knight is going to turn Harrington into something good this summer, but it's concerning that he could leave for nothing. The presumed lack of interest in Harrington demonstrates how fungible an 18 ppg small forward is in the NBA, so my expectations might be excessive that the Hawks are going to get a good part back for him, but surely he's worth a mid-range first round pick.

3. Even if we get rid of Harrington, the roster still doesn't make that much sense. The basic problem is that neither Marvin Williams, nor Josh Smith play power forward. Maybe one of them can bulk up and the Hawks can play them together at the forward spots, but the basic issue is that the team might not have room for its two most promising young players. I'd like to imagine that in three years, Johnson, Smith, and Williams can play the two, three, and four with Childress backing them up and with a good point guard and better interior depth, the Hawks will be a playoff team, but that requires Marvin or Josh to get to a place where they can bang with players like Chris Bosh or Jermaine O'Neal.

4. Zaza does not have good hands and good hands aren't something that can be developed. Just my humble opinion. He gets to the hoop a lot and doesn't finish that well. If he ever gets better, he could be a 15 ppg guy, a level at which he'd be the biggest bargain EVER!!!

5. Have I mentioned that we missed a chance to draft the next Isiah Thomas?Or that we drafted the "French Scottie Pippen," got buggerall from him for two years, and then found out that Boris Diaw is indeed the French Scottie Pippen? Incidentally, Diaw can shoot much better this year. That's either a coaching technique issue or a confidence issue. Either way, it doesn't bode well for this coaching staff.

Overall, I feel pretty good about this team. The Hawks are way ahead of where they were when Billy Knight arrived. He's off-loaded a horribly flawed roster and built a team full of promising young players, albeit players who play similar positions. Absent additions, this team will get better, but the next two off-seasons will be critical for filling in around a bunch of promising twos, threes, and fours. Building in the NBA requires patience, absent a shot from the blue like winning the lottery when LeBron James is available.

One other note: I genuinely enjoyed being a season ticket holder this year. It's easy to get to Philips Arena (especially if you know where to park), the concessions are quite good (my wife, the pretzel fanatic swears by the pretzels at the BBQ stand on the main level), the wall of TVs in between the lower and upper levels is a sight to behold (especially when the game gets boring, although there aren't enough different options on the TVs - why the hell were the Braves not on any of the hundreds of TVs last Tuesday night?), and the team does everything they can to fill the stoppages in play with KissCam, Home Depot Price Check, Sprite Jam Cam, and a host of other chances for fans to check their dignity at the door. I would certainly renew if not for the child on the way.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

And I Thought That Going To 19 Hawks Games Was Major Loyalty

RIP to Pearl Sandow, who pretty much defined loyalty to a team by attending every Braves home game from 1966 to 1989. The thought of a person in her 80s going to every Braves home game during those wretched seasons in the second half of the 1980s...words fail me to describe what that must have been like.

Great Article On Milan-Barca

Having seen nothing more of the match than the highlights on's web site thanks to ESPN's perfidy, Roberto Gotta's observations will have to replace mine. He points out that one can tell so much more about what teams are trying to accomplish in person than on TV, which is an excellent point. I wish that more post-game articles followed this format. Instead, they simply tell the reader what he/she could have gleaned from watching the game on TV, spiced in with mealy-mouthed quotes from the players and coaches. This is true for just about every sport, probably because most beat writers are either too lazy or don't understand the game well enough to analyze it with any degree of detail, or, alternatively, their editors want to dumb the produce down so someone with a 6th grade education can understand it.

Speaking of not having much to say, I did watch the tape of Arsenal-Villareal last night, but the combination of two hours of sleep the night before and the inexplicable decision to have a glass of wine after getting home from work meant that I didn't take that much from the game. I did decide that I don't like Villareal, despite the fact that they're a great story (small-town club with no history nicknamed after a Beatles song makes the Champions League semi-finals), because their "South American style" (read: Argentinian/Uruguayan) is to dive and feign injury every time an opponent comes close. I lost count of the number of times the stretcher was called out onto the field, but maybe that was the result of the somatic state I was in. The Austrian ref was clearly pro-Arsenal, but that might have been the result of being annoyed with the obvious play-acting that Villareal was engaging in. (Two straight sentences ending in a preposition. Screw you, seventh grade English!)

Arsenal played very well, creating almost all of the good chances in the game. I had forgotten that Thierry Henry can be such a good creator. He was playing the role of a link-up attacking midfielder/winger, more than a striker, and Arsenal's movement allowed him to do so because they were getting midfielders (and even defenders, hence the goal from Kolo Toure) forward. Arsenal's defense is as good as advertised; they completely shut Forlan and Riquelme down. If Arsenal and Barcelona hold their leads, then the Arsenal defense versus Ronaldinho, Eto'o, and (hopefully) Messi will make the Paris Final one of the most hyped in recent memory.

One other thought: Derek Rae kept going on and on about the match being the last European game at Highbury, but how much European history can Highbury claim to have when: (1) for a period, Arsenal played their European ties at Wembley; and (2) Arsenal had never even made the semis in the Champions League up to this year? Is there anyone who has warm, fuzzy feelings about Highbury as a European venue other than Wayne Bridge?

Sorry Tim, but I could't resist.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Oh Yeah!

My much-anticipated Barca Puyol jersey arrives in the morning and then the Blaugrana knock off tournament favorite AC Milan at the San Siro in the afternoon. Coincidence? Hardly. I'm so excited that I have to try the jersey on with the shorts. Der Wife's caption for this picture: "Biggest Dork in the World." Sadly, she's right.


No TV coverage of Barcelona-AC Milan this afternoon. I'm sure those highlights of the Bulls' first three titles, followed by the World Series of Poker, will really serve a major market niche. You might think that ESPN would want to hype the World Cup, to which they're going to devote hundreds of broadcast hours this summer, by showing more soccer, especially a game in which both sides are replete with major players for this summer, but you'd be wrong. Bastards.

Ten Thoughts on Seattle

In case you haven't noticed (and judging by the hits, you haven't [thanks, Bob Uecker]), the posting was light over the past week or so because I was busy at work, then went to Seattle for a mini-vacation with Der Wife. Here are my thoughts:

1. First off, the weather. It really isn't as bad as people make it out to be. It does rain a lot, but the rain is never very hard and, as we were told on our "Seattle is great!" harbor cruise, Seattle gets fewer inches of rain than a number of cities, including Houston (with the added benefit that Seattle doesn't have Houston's wretched summer). A light drizzle really doesn't affect most people's ability to get outside; it certainly doesn't seem to affect people in Seattle, since they were outside a lot.

2. The tradeoff with the weather is that the scenery is spectacular. It's hard to top a city with mountain views, numerous pretty lakes, and parks everywhere. Even the suburbs are appealing. Andrea and I had dinner with a friend who lives about 20 minutes outside of Seattle and he has a lake/mountain view from one side of his house and a view of an eagle preserve on the other. He actually worried that his young dog would be captured and eaten by an eagle. To quote General Gogol, problems, problems.

Just like our view of Kennesaw Mountain, right?

3. There are Starbucks everywhere. I was expecting them every block and came away from four days there thinking that I had underestimated their frequency. And apparently, every Seattlean has a home brewery in his/her basement, because the selection of microbrews was mind-blowing and they all have cool labels. How are people in that town not wired and drunk on a constant basis?

4. The Experience Music Project was cool. I can't imagine that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame could be any better (especially since it's in Cleveland), but the one unsatisfying aspect was that there was no discussion of drugs. Anywhere. A Jimi Hendrix exhibit that doesn't mention heroin? A Dylan exhibit that lauds his creative apex in the mid-60s without mentioning drugs? "Purple Haze" was inspired by Jimi's love of science fiction? "Mr. Tambourine Man" was inspired by a tambourine player in Greenwich Village?

5. We walked past Qwest Field and I was really taken aback by the architecture, which is unlike the other cookie-cutter stadiums that have been built for NFL teams in recent years. The roof covers most of the stands, which is more like an English soccer stadium and is a reason why Qwest is so much louder than any other stadium in the NFL. The architecturing of the roof is interesting, although I'm probably incapable of describing it, so here you go:

5a. When I got the hotel bill and saw $25 per day for city taxes, I liked Qwest Field a lot less. Between those taxes and the $26 per person that Der Wife and I spent to get into EMP and the Science Fiction Museum, which is attached to EMP, Paul Allen took a hunk of change from me over the four days.

6. Another thing I like about Seattle: book stores, everywhere.

7. Andrea and I took a walking tour of Fremont on Sunday. You have to hand it to a neighborhood whose landmarks are a Cold War-era rocket, a statue of Lenin that a resident lifted from Czecheslovakia (back when there was such a thing), and a granite statue of a troll eating a VW bug under an overpass. Little Five has a long way to go to achieve those levels of eccentricity.

8. We also took a walking tour of the University of Washington campus, which was neat. It reminded me of Ann Arbor in that it was a large campus with two perpendicular streets full of college-y restaurants, bars, and bong shops. The buildings all looked nice and new, with matching red brick exteriors. Still, if I were going to college, I'd want more of a college town feel than to be in the middle of massive Seattle. Plus, I would prefer not to spend four years with Ty Willingham as my coach.

9. This is not a Seattle complaint, but rather, one about our hometown airline: Delta didn't have meal service on the plane flights to and from Seattle. I know they're cutting costs, but this is their longest flight in the continental U.S. Remember when air lines used to try to make their patrons happy?

10. I'm still bitter that Der Wife's friends scheduled a wedding during Passover (and thus, my ability to consume all that Seattle had to offer was significantly limited) on a weekend when the Mariners were not in town. Bitch bitch bitch.

Brave New Thoughts

Possibly the worst title for a post in this blog's history, but I need something in that subject line.

1. I watched most of the game on Sunday (I could get used to the idea of waking up at 10:00 a.m. on a Sunday and watching a game while still in bed) and got very frustrated by Bobby. John Thomson was in complete command of the game through six innings, having allowed one baserunner through six (on a soft single) on only 74 pitches. I know the guy didn't have a full spring training, but lifting him after only 74 pitches? And instead leveraging a bullpen that has thrown a ton of innings over the first two weeks of the season? The Braves' starters have been a major weakness, with the exception of Smoltz and Thomson, so Cox needed to get as much as he could from a starter on a rare day where the Braves were getting a good start. On the other hand, Cox has always been great at making decisions that pay off over the six-month marathon and his regular season record is impeccable, so I'll defer to him on that front.

2. Mayhem in the AM had Chris Dimino on this morning from New York, which excited me because it meant that at least one person on the radio would be able to comment intelligently about the Braves. Instead, just about every question they asked him was about the Mets. For once, I was buying the criticisms of Atlanta as a sports town. I expect ESPN to fall over themselves to hype the Mets ("Wait, we can hype the Yankees, Red Sox, and Mets? All in one season? And pay lip service to the hinterlands? Outstanding!"), but when the pre-eminent morning sports talk show spends all their time fawning over the Mets two weeks into the season, we have a problem. The term "carpetbaggers" came repeatedly rolling from my mouth as if I was Nathan Bedford Forrest, and I actually like the Mayhem guys. I'm now embarrassed. Let's move on.

The Gary Carter jersey is in the sack.

(In defense of Mayhem, they followed up their love-making session with the Amazins with a great two-part interview with Michael Gearon, one of the Atlanta Spirit owners. For one thing, it was nice to hear actual discussion of the Hawks that went beyond "we should have drafted Chris Paul." The most interesting nugget that emerged from the discussion was Gearon challenging Nick Cellini on his repeated assertions that Luol Deng is better than Josh Childress. Gearon said that Billy Knight's rationale for not taking Deng was that he had body that would lead him to be injured regularly. [Deng has been healthy all year this year, so that might have been a mistake.] Gearon went on to say that Childress is the player that other teams ask for the most when approaching the Hawks with trade offers, which indicates that he has value that scouts see, but that doesn't show up in terms of points and rebounds. By the end of the interview, I was fired up about a 25-55 team. I'm embarrassed yet again. Let's move on.)

3. The objective for the Braves in April and May is to stay close so their customary summer run can vault them into the lead in the division. The Mets aren't going to play .833 ball over the course of an entire season. Xavier Nady isn't Babe Ruth and they still have Jose Reyes and Paul LoDuca at the top of their lineup. (A related point would be to say that they still have Willie Randolph as their manager and we have Bobby Cox.) The Braves' major concern right now has to be their starting pitching. Tim Hudson can't possibly be worse than he's been in his first three starts, but even assuming that he turns it around (and Wednesday would be a great day for him to do so, since he owned the Mets last year), the Braves are still weak at the four and five spots in the rotation. Jorge Sosa is proving that his peripherals were a better measure of his merit last year than his 13-3 record, Kyle Davies is still pitching like he did after his first month as a starter last year, and Horacio Ramirez...well, let's not go there. The pitching has me concerned enough that Chuck James' ten good innings in relief all of a sudden have me clamoring for him to be thrown into the starting rotation. And to think that Schuerholtz wanted to trade Thomson in spring training because we had plenty of starters. If the starting pitching can be shored up, then the Braves will stay close to the Mets, then make a run that will remind the Mets that they aren't supposed to win the division.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Not Quite the 900-Day Siege of Leningrad, but Still Annoying

I had a great time at the Braves' home opener last night, in part because of the great weather, in part because of a lively sell-out crowd (see, we can sell out!), and in part because the team won and got their first good starting performance of the season from John Thomson. Thomson then illustrated what finely-tuned athletes pitchers are by having to leave the game after the fifth inning because he had to run too hard on his two-run double in the 4th inning. (In his defense, he was hurt for much of spring training, so his pitching endurance is understandably lacking right now.) Thomson threw strikes (he walked only one of the 21 batters he faced) and only allowed one extra-base hit, a double to Jimmy Rollins who is the Phightin' Phils' best hitter right now.

The downside is that the fine folks who run the Ted were totally unprepared for the fact that the crowd wanted to eat and drink. It wasn't quite as bad as the infamous Georgia-Clemson game in 2003, which was played on a sweltering day and naturally, the concessionaires at Death Valley ran out of drinks in the upper deck in the second half, presumably to make the analogy to the actual Death Valley as tight as possible. Still, by the fifth inning when my hunger got the better of me, the lines at the concession stands were two innings long, soft drinks were no longer an option because of a CO2 shortage (I thought about cracking that I'd be happy to breathe into the tanks, but the chances of the friendly ARA employees getting that joke were slim and none), and the beer was warm. The most amusing sight was a large man in my section with his large kids who ordered food from an attendant, then, having not received his food 50 minutes later, stormed off to the concessions stands, fuming that his children had to eat. The guy then apparently blew a gasket when he found out that soft drinks were not in the picture. The kids could probably stand to skip a meal or seven and it wasn't necessary to act as if the one-hour delay in scarfing down nitrites was the equivalent of being trapped in Leningrad in 1943, eating rodents and plaster from the walls. Then again, I don't have kids yet, so I'm probably being cavalier about dealing with a whining, hungry little person.

We've been surrounded by the Fascists for two years, but there's a shipment of foot-long hot dogs coming on the Road of Life over Lake Ladoga.

Anyway, major demerits to the Braves for their apparent surprise that the home opener would draw a large crowd or that this large crowd would have pent up desires for ballpark food that would be unleashed in a frenzy of consumption. The Braves blew a chance to make some money and they caused more than a few paying patrons to leave dissatisfied, which is never good with 80 home dates remaining. I was also vexed by having to sit for an hour in the Blue Lot trying to leave at the end of the evening, but that was my own mistake for parking in the lots as opposed to parking downtown and walking, which is always faster and carries the added benefit of making me unlike the unwashed hordes of Braves fans who view walking more than 200 yards as some sort of step towards Bolshevism.

To the game:

1. Francoeur swings at a lot of crap out of the zone, especially low balls. He's making Javy Lopez circa 2002 (the "I never met a slider down and away that I couldn't wave at" Javy) look selective. Turning an Aaron Rowand single into a triple was the cherry on top of the sundae. In his defense, there was at least one instance in which a Philly runner didn't try to go first to third on a base hit because of Francoeur's arm and that sort of contribution doesn't show up in a box score, so Jeff isn't totally useless right now. He also had a base hit stolen by a great play by David Bell, who played a great defensive game at third.

2. Baseball would be so much better in person if there was a limitation on pitching changes. The game last night was crisp and well-played for the first five innings and then devolved into the March of Bataan over the final several innings as inept relievers came in and out.

3. Want a great illustration of how useless pitching wins and losses can be? John Thomson threw a very good game last night, allowing one unearned run in five innings. Oscar Villareal threw one inning, gave up a run, and got the win because he happened to blow the lead right before Marcus Giles went deep in the bottom of the 7th. If Villareal pitches a perfect inning, he doesn't get the win. Makes perfect sense to me.

4. Andruw hit a bomb to center for his third home run last night on a pitch that did not look bad at all from Brett Myers, a fastball that was tailing inside. [Ed. Note: I watched a replay on the Braves' site and the pitch was actually a fastball that tailed from the outside corner to the middle of the plate. Since Lieberthal was set up outside, it was certainly a mistake.] Is it a sign that I can never be happy that my first comment after the homer was "can you imagine if he would have widened his stance in 1999 as opposed to 2005?"

5. For all of my bad feelings about the team's start, the offense has been a sight to behold. The Braves have out-homered their opponents 14-4 and they've scored 13 more runs than anyone else in baseball (albeit in more games). I know it's early, but if I'm going to hyperventilate about the pitching, then I might as well acknowledge that the bats have been great for the first eight days of the season. If we got anything from our rightfielder, then things would be even better.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Could I Sneak a Scooter into Section 409 at the Ted?

Kudos to Mark Bechtel at for a soccer-heavy list of the best throwing incidents by fans. The article highlights something that I like about in comparison to the "Worldwide" Leader's web site: its writers acknowledge that there is a world beyond the United States. For instance, any list done by ESPN will almost invariably anger me because they don't note in the title that the list only concerns the U.S., but their lists are ignorant that sports are played beyond the Atlantic, Pacific, and Rio Grande. If they were to list the best rivalries in sports, they would certainly have a collection of exclusively American rivalries of varying degree of merit (including at least one NFL rivalry, even though NFL rivalries are almost by definition temporal, because they need to suck up to their most lucrative source of programming) before ending with the Yankees and Red Sox. would almost certainly give a nod to Barca-Real, Rangers-Celtic, and India-Pakistan (unless Peter King was doing the list).

I was initially disappointed that the pig's head lobbed at Luis Figo only came in fifth on the list, especially since it was accompanied by a fusillade that included several cell phones, which come in at #4 on the list. Still, you have to give credit to Inter Milan fans for their flying scooter. (I immediately think of the scene in For Your Eyes Only where the extremely Aryan-looking Erich Kriegler gets pissed that Bond is skiing away from him [after going off of a ski jump and then skiing through a bobsled track with a truly dated synthesizer track playing in the background] and vents by throwing his motorcycle at him.) One wonders what the ramifications would have been if Italians drove Hummers like penis-complexed Americans do instead of the sewing machine motors with two wheels on which they love to buzz around and terrify tourists like me. Also, I never knew that El Salvadorans threw Iguanas. Initially, I was going to point out that throwing bags of urine wouldn't impress Florida fans as being unusual, but throwing reptiles takes intimidation to a whole new level.

Sadly, I don't have much of a history of throwing things at sporting events. I did toss a marshmallow at Mike Miller during the '93 Michigan-Notre Dame game as he was scoring a punt return touchdown to put Notre Dame up 16-3 against heavily-favored Michigan. (And thus, four years of disappointment commenced.) My favorite throwing episode was the '98 Peach Bowl, which Georgia fans will certainly remember for two reasons. First, the Dawgs came from 21-0 behind to beat a 9-2 Virginia team that was one of George Welsh's finest. Second, the game's organizers made the mistake of putting Chic-Fil-A cow dolls in each of the seats before the game, not realizing that liquored-up SEC fans would find them to be convenient projectiles. So, when Virginia was dominating in the first half, the cows were flying in anger, probably in the direction of Jim Donnan. (Thank G-d there was no throwable giveaway at the 2000 Tech-Georgia game.) In the second half, the cows were hurled in celebration. When Georgia took the lead 28-21, the Dome was absolutely rocking and the concentration of stuffed cows in the air, like a swarm of fuzzy white locusts, was positively surreal. The Munson imitations of "There are cows falling from the sky!" were almost too obvious to make, but I made them anyway.

One other memory from the game: I drove Dan and my friend Bob to the game and they flagrantly violated the state's open container laws by pounding 40s on the way down from Northeast Atlantaland. Dan was frothy enough when we arrived that he saw a small kid in a car with a Virginia flag and proceeded the terrify the kid by flexing. This became something of a tradition, as he decided to do the same thing to a goose before the '01 Arkansas game. I love the SEC.

Always a good idea.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Never Mind

Sosa, like the rest of the staff, sucks. 6 earned runs allowed after three innings. The Braves' pitching staff is now 0/4 in terms of quality starts. McDowell raus!

Nunca Nada Cambia

Jorge Sosa's line after one inning: 1 IP, 0 ER, WHIP 3.00. He needs some sort of magician-y nickname.

By the way, for all the crap we give ESPN, their new Game Tracker for baseball games is outstanding. A major upgrade.

Feldman's Nuggets

As I've mentioned before, Bruce Feldman's blog is one of the few MSM outlets that provides useful information on a regular basis (and he's a buff Member of the Tribe, to boot, or so Orson says), but he's on a patch of thin ice in his latest entry($). Quoth the Feldman on big recruiting needs for major programs:

4. Georgia, linebackers: The good news? The Bulldogs should have one of the two best linebacking crews in the country (along with Penn State). The bad news: Most of them won't be in Athens after the '06 season. That list of soon-to-be-departing includes Tony Taylor, Jarvis Jackson and versatile Danny Verdun Wheeler. Also, highly touted strongside backer Brandon Miller will be a junior, and is talented enough to be lured out early. The Dawgs just inked four linebackers, including Hargrave star Darius Dewberry, but they probably need to make another big hit again.

Uh, did someone not stay awake for BadAnglePalooza2006 in the Sugar Bowl? Or possibly Kenny Irons' 179-yard pantsing of the Georgia linebackers in the Auburn game? Hell, even Florida ran on the Dawgs last year (153 yards and 4.1 yards per carry, despite nursing a lead the whole fourth quarter) and Urban Meyer loves his backs so much that he's threatened to cast them down with the Sodomites for being too obtuse. All that said, while the praise for the Dawgs' 'backers is misplaced, Feldman does make a good point that Georgia desperately needs replacements for 2007, since there are only two linebackers on the roster (other than incoming freshmen) after 2006 and one of them - Brandon Miller - is hopefully going to play Sonny to opposing running backs' Carlo all fall and put himself into position to go pro early. Even if he stays, Georgia needs more numbers at linebacker.

Interestingly, Feldman goes on to say the following about the Sugar Bowl:

Late last season, Pitt, South Florida and Georgia moved extra defenders up near the line to slow down Slaton and force White's passing arm. The pressure now goes on the WVU receivers -- most notably, junior wideout Darius Reynaud and senior Brandon Myles.

While doing my little spring football tour, I visited UGA D-coordinator Willie Martinez who said the biggest challenge with that Mountaineer offense is indeed the execution. They had players in position to deal with speedy White and Slaton, it's just the Mountaineers playmakers were too shifty and explosive for them. Guys just didn't get it done.

If that's true, then what does that say about Georgia's linebackers? Personally, I don't buy it because my recollection from the game is that Georgia left six in the box on most plays, not realizing that WVU kept three receivers on the field solely as decoys to create lanes for their runners. And if my view is true, then am I giving Georgia's linebackers a hard time? Were they victims of scheme issues in that game and in the Auburn game, where they seemingly weren't made aware that running backs don't have to run between the tackles by rule.

And one more beef: Feldman correctly points out that Michigan is desperate for a blue chip quarterback, but the prospects he mentions for the position are Mike Paulus (yes, the brother of spaztastic Duke guard Greg "Worse than Friedrich" Paulus) and Chris Forcier (because what makes more sense than bringing in two brothers to compete with one another for one position?) No mention of OMG, THE HOTTNESS!!! prospect Ryan Mallett, whom Lloyd and Loeffler are presumably going to get to Ann Arbor, even if they have to get him to help them load furniture into their windowless van.

Yeah, he is BelvedereBuckeye on the O-Zone, but he could be a persuasive recruiter for the Maize and Blue with the right incentives.

Incidentally, I'm not blogging about the Braves' pitching right now because I want this to be a site with material that you can print and read to the whole assembled brood at story time while having milk and cookies. I know I'm violating the first rule of blogging - KILL KILL KILL!!! - but I don't have anything nice to say and so I'm not going to say anything at all.

Movin' on up

To a deluxe semifinal against AC Milan in the sky. Barca progressed yesterday against Benfica 2-0, not without giving me a heart attack in the second half when they allowed former Barca player Simao Sabrosa a one-on-one with the keeper. Barca might be the only team that could nurse a 1-0 lead and still allow the opponent to break two-on-three and then free a striker to move in on goal unmolested because all three defenders came towards the ball. Brazil got knocked out of the 1990 World Cup by a vastly inferior Argentina side because of a similar mistake allowing Claudio Caniggia to score on Argentina's only shot of the game, but the Brazilian defenders could be excused more than Barca's yesterday because it seems more defensible to freak out when Maradona is advancing down the right channel as opposed to Fabrizio Miccoli.

My brother Dan was in love with that 1990 Argentina team, but they drove me crazy. I doubt there has ever been a more cynical, boring, undeserving team to make a World Cup Final. I hated them so much that I cheered lustily for West Germany against them in the Final. Then again, I also cheered for the Germans against England in the semi-finals because even at age 15, I had a good idea what sort of fans follow the English national team. Also, I was bitter that the English knocked Cameroon out in the quarters and that Cameroon team was the only exciting team in the whole tournament. The 1990 World Cup was so bad that even the Dutch came out ultra-defensive and scored three goals in their four games. The Irish, who combine the most exciting fans with the most boring style on a consistent basis, were right at home in a World Cup where sending more than two attackers over midfield was viewed as a Communist plot and made the quarterfinals, losing to Italy in a game that could have put Tony Montana wired on a mound of coke to sleep. I picked up a video of all the goals of World Cup 1990 at Media Play in Macon for $.99 and the producers had to show all the goals from six different angles to fill up a 70 minute tape.

I can't believe I cheered for these clowns and their puffy, Teutonic perms.

Where was I? Oh yeah, I was going to give you a blow-by-blow of the game yesterday by pasting the e-mails that I Blackberried to Dan from Brewhouse, with assorted added comments:

2:44 - Si Puyol!!! The blue and red balloons are out. If there is a good insult for Portuguese people, I'd be texting it right now.

2:51 - PENAL PENAL PENAL!!!! Saved. Fuck.

3:05 - Barca don't look very sharp. They have all the possession, but the game is choppy and their passing is not great.

3:10 - And as soon as I open my mouth, 1-0, thanks to Eto'o. He deflected a Benfica pass to Larsson, got the retun ball, beat his man to the byuline, and centered to Ronaldinho to tap in. Sam had been quiet up to that point.

3:15 - Benfica like to dive.

3:18 - Eto'o just missed a great chance to make it 2-0. He just needed to chip the keeper and shot way over. The Benfica keeper is great at stopping shots, but he makes some really stupid decisions, like getting stuck in no man's land on that last play. He's not smart.

3:47 - Halftime. Barca have dominated, but 1-0 scares me. Benfica do not have a shot to their name and haven't created anything, but it only takes one. Barca dominated Real this weekend and that ended 1-1. Van Bommel missed another great chance; his finishing is Zague-esque. Eto'o has been awesome. He's playing the Ronaldinho role of beating defenders and distributing. Ronaldinho is slumping, especially on free kicks. The penalty wasn't badly hit, but it left the keeper a chance after guessing right. Larsson is in the wrong role as a winger because he cannot beat defenders with the dribble. Barca will be more dangerous with Messi. The defense has been comfortable and Valdes has had nothing to do. I'd give Barca an 80 percent chance now, but a second goal will make me rest easy.

4:01 - Andres Iniesta looks like he's ten years old.

4:02 - If you think I'm spelling this Greek fucker's name, you are mistaken. [Ed. note: try spelling "Giorgias Karagounis" on a Blackberry some time.]

4:09 - Sweet Jesus, Barca nearly gave it away. [Ed. note: You know I've been drinking when I start invoking someone else's messiah.] Great chance for Simao and he shoots wide. Valdes did well to challenge him. Simao is lying face down, wishing that he wouldn't have been so open so he could have taken a Louganis.

4:21 - Eto'o tried a ludicrous bicycle and the ball went into row Z.

4:26 - My guy Puyol just dominated your guy Luisao on a free kick into the box. SI PUYOL!!!

4:33 - Good save from Valdes, but he left a big rebound that was cleared by Oleguer. He's not exactly Mr. Safety back there.

4:37 - Done. Eto'o deserved one and got it from Ronaldinho and Giuly. Benfica were sucked forward and Barca went left-right-center and Sam had plenty of time to settle and score.

4:48 - It's over. 2-0. Barca were mostly in control, although they gave up two good chances in the second half. The ref was pro-Barca, which is not a shock since a Slovak is going to be intimidated by 98,000 fans. I doubt he gets much experience reffing in front of crowds like that on the weekend when he's handling Artmedia Petrzalka v. Dukla Bansk√° Bystrica.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

See You at Brewhouse at 2:30, Part Dos

It just occurred to me that I never blogged my thoughts on the first leg against Benfica, or at least the half of the game that I did see after being lied to by Yahoo's TV listings and starting my tape in the 44th minute. Going into the game, I would have been thrilled with 0-0 on the road leg, since Barca was having to start an outside defender (Oleguer) and a defensive midfielder (Motta) in central defense as a result of injuries to Marquez and Edmilson and Puyol's suspension. After watching the second half, I was still happy with 0-0, as both sides created some good chances and both keepers were forced to play very well to keep the game scoreless. (It was reassuring that the inconsistent Victor Valdes came through for Barca between the sticks, as he was coming to be seen as a the weak link in a very good side.) However, after seeing highlights of the gilt-edged chances that Barca spurned in the first half, I had some queasiness. They should have been up 2-0 at the half and cantering into the semifinals. If they blow it today, they'll look back at that first half and know that that's where they lost the chance to win the Champions League.

Generally speaking, Barca is struggling to score goals right now. Their midfield is performing well, despite the fact that their injury crisis has hit them there, as well. They're routinely getting 60% of possession in their games and creating corner after corner (the corners were 9-1 in the first leg against Benfica and 8-0 this weekend against Real Madrid), but they're not finishing well. Part of this has to be blamed on Henrik Larsson, who has been playing in place of Leo Messi and has done OK, but has missed a number of good chances in the two legs. (And now you see why Barca is rumored to be after Thierry Henry.) Part of this has to be blamed on Samuel Eto'o, although I still have lots of confidence in him. )He's at least the best apostrophed athlete since Butler By'not'e.) Part of the slump has to be blamed on Ronaldinho, who has forgotten how to shoot, especially on free kicks, where he used to be lethal and now, he's not hitting the target. Anyway, the team is either due for a festival of goals or their finishing slump is going to make for a nerve-wracking afternoon. I'd give them a 70% chance of progressing today, but if they don't find their shooting shoes, they don't have a very chance of knocking off AC Milan in the semifinals.

Monday, April 03, 2006

I Love Opening Day



After the fifth: Is your oblique tender already, Hudson?

During the bottom of the 8th: FIRE MCDOWELL!!! KIDNAP LEO AND BRING HIM BACK HOME!!!


At the end: Ahhhh. 1-0. Sweet.

A few thoughts:

1. Rafael Furcal looks really weird in a Dodgers hat. He's been with the Braves since I've been working, which is a really frickin' long time.

2. Billy Beane (or at least the '00 Beane, as opposed to the '06 Beane who uses stats he gets via devices found at Area 51) would be so proud of the Braves today: they outhomered the Dodgers 3-0 and drew five walks to the Dodgers' three. Tack on the fact that Braves hitters struck out two fewer times than the Dodgers' hitters (4-6) and we had a great three true outcomes day. And if you buy the fact that anything other than the three true outcomes is a function of luck, then the Braves' pitching isn't as bad as it looked today, since they allowed a whopping 17 hits, but none of them left the yard and the pitchers only issued three walks. A whole lot of singles (14 of the Dodgers' 17 hits, to be exact) are a lot easier to deal with. Then again, Horacio hasn't pitched yet.

3. Francoeur was the only regular to go hitless. SEND HIM DOWN!!! RECALL KELLY JOHNSON!!! WHERE'S MONDESI WHEN WE NEED HIM!?!

4. Remember when the Dodgers used to have a farm system? Today, they started the season with all of one homegrown player: meager-hitting Jason Repko. (In their defense, slightly less meager-hitting Cesar Izturis would be in the lineup today if not for his exploded elbow.)

We're F***ed

Every single baseball contributor picked the Braves to either win the NL East or get the NL Wild Card. To me, this indicates two things:

1. The Braves now have an aura of complete invulnerability after winning the 14th straight divisional title with the Kiddie Corps last year. (Actually, as we noted this weekend, the team actually won in large part of Mssrs. Jones, Smoltz, Hudson, Giles, and Furcal, but those are just details.)

2. There are low expectations for most of the NL, likely as the result of the NL West being utter crap last year, combined with the fact that there is no obvious challenger to the Cardinals in the NL Central. The Braves-Mets-Cards trio are the consensus top of the League this year, with whatever detritus emerges from the West joining them. Now watch the Dodgers punk the Braves today after that last hubristic statement.

By the way, the award for "pick from the deepest recesses of the left field corner, under the chair in the bullpen where Lonnie Smith can't find them" goes to Buster Olney for taking the geriatric Giants and their Neikro-Durham-Vizquel-Feliz infield to win the NL. Honorable mention goes to John Shea, who is going to ride the scar tissue in A.J. Burnett's elbow by taking the Blue Jays to win the AL.

And just to be fair, give me the Yankees, Indians, A's, Braves, Cards, and Dodgers winning the divisions, the Mets and White Sox as the wild cards, and the Indians over the Cardinals in the World Series. It's beyond useless to pick playoff winners at this stage in the game, but since it's time for the long suffering franchises of the AL to break their ducks, I'll go with the Tribe.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Previewing the Local Baseball Collective

With Opening Day right around the corner, it's high time I stopped obsessing about the Hawks (losers of ten of 12, although they were feisty last night against New Jersey and probably would have won without the "protect our stars" officiating) and Thrashers (D-U-N Done after the miserable performance in Tampa on Thursday night) and started thinking about the six months of joy that the Braves are hopefully about to bring us. Actually, if this season is anything like the past several, it will be a mediocre April and May, a torrid streak in the summer, and then an average September as they coast to a divisional title, followed by one crappy week in October. Anyway, here are my thoughts on the upcoming season:

1. An initial caveat: if the past is any guide, then the past will be no guide. For instance, going into last season, how would we have known that the Braves were going to get 134 quality innings from Jorge Sosa, in place of Mike Hampton and John Thomson giving the team little or no help over the course of the season. It was predictable that the corner outfield pairing of Mondesi and Jordan would be a failure, but who would have guessed that the Braves would get good production from three minor leaguers (Johnson, Langerhans, and Francoeur), in addition to Wilson Betemit playing great when Chipper missed 50 games and Brian McCann giving the Braves a great boost in place of the injured Johnny Estrada? Conversely, for the Braves' primary divisional rivals, was it predictable that the Marlins would be so mediocre despite superior talent? For instance, did anyone guess that Juan Pierre and Mike Lowell would be anchors around that team's offensive neck? Or was it predictable that the Mets would get healthy, productive seasons from Pedro Martinez and Cliff Floyd, but that Carlos Beltran would play way below his standard from the past several years or that Braden Looper would turn from good reliever to terrible one? The point is that, despite all the advances in predicting how players are going to perform in a given year using statistical benchmarks, it's all just rough guesswork, even taking aside the obvious point that injuries are hard to predict.

2. Going into last season, I said that the magic number for the team was 55. If the team got 55 starts from John Smoltz and Tim Hudson, the linchpins of the rotation into whom a mid-market team had invested a significant portion of its payroll, then their prospects would be good in the upcoming season. Sure enough, Smoltz and Hudson combined for 62 starts, 33 from Smoltz and 29 from Hudson. The two combined for 28 wins (old world stat) and 101.3 VORP (fancy new world stat). Anyway, the same goes for this year. It's reasonable to expect the farm system to produce players who can replace and improve upon below-average (Jordan and Mondesi) or even average (Estrada) position players. It is not reasonable to expect the farm system to produce starting pitchers in the upper echelon at their position.

3. Also, going into last season, I said that the key to the offense was not getting Mondesi and Jordan to replace their predecessors in right and left field, but rather that the younger players on the team - Andruw, Giles, Furcal, and LaRoche - would have to step into the breach and be offensive stars. Sure enough, lost in all the excitement about the Baby Braves, the offense was carried by Andruw (OK, those 51 homers did get some attention, especially when a number of them were game-winners that make for memorable viewing on the few moments that SportsCenter shows actual highlights), Furcal (who matched his excellent 2003 offensive numbers and became a great defensive shortstop, to boot), and Giles (who stayed healthy and gave the Braves an .826 OPS at a defensive position).

LaRoche was the disappointment, as his OBP and SLG both went down and his walk rate dropped (excluding intentional walks). LaRoche's improvement is a must in light of the fact that Bobby Cox has surprised absolutely no one by awarding Brian Jordan the platoon spot with LaRoche by sending down James Jurries and his .457 Grapefruit League average. The result of Cox's decision is that the Braves are going to send a 38-year old completely devoid of power to the post at first base against left-handed pitchers. If the Braves don't get power from LaRoche, then they're going to have the worst first base production in the National League.

2006 looks similar to 2005 in terms of analyzing where the Braves are going to get get production to replace their departed free agent star. While most of the attention is focused on the new shortstop and the closer situation, the important questions are: (1) whether Andruw can stay close to the numbers he put up last year; (2) Giles can get back to his 2003 numbers (he came close last year); and (3) whether LaRoche can have an offensive flowering in his third season. I may now be more machine than man, twisted and evil, but I retain a few shreds of old world baseball thinking and I'm reluctant to give up on LaRoche since he's been a great performer for the Braves in both of their playoff losses to the Astros. The fourth key performer for this year, replacing the dearly departed Raffy, is Jeff Francoeur. This isn't the most controversial thing to say, but the most likely source for the Braves to replace Furcal's runs generated is not from Edgar Renteria, who should be decent, but won't be Furcal and that's OK since he's being paid half as much as Furcal this year. A full season from Francoeur ought to be a real treat for the Braves. His complete lack of plate discipline is a topic that's been beaten into the ground, but being a glass half-full guy, I suspect that he'll eventually start drawing a lot of walks. The reason is that pitchers initially didn't know how to pitch Francoeur and he went wild, stroking doubles and homers at a rapid rate. Then, the pitchers adjusted by throwing him more junk and he didn't adjust with them, so he ended up swinging at a bunch of pitches with which he couldn't do anything. Now, I'm assuming that he's going to make the next adjustment and stop swinging at crap, which will either lead to walks or will force pitchers to start throwing him strikes again. I'm resolute in my belief that he can be a Vlad Guerrero clone: a right fielder with a cannon for an arm and great power despite a disdain for free passes.

4. The closer issue doesn't bother me for a few reasons. First, Chris Reitsma is a good pitcher when he isn't overworked, so he might actually do better in the closer spot as opposed to the set-up man spot, a role that gets more appearances. Second, he can't possibly be worse than Dan Kolb was last year and the Braves survived that trauma, illustrating that closers are fungible. To again illustrate that pre-season wisdom is typically useless when the bullets start flying, who would have projected last year that the Braves would get their saves from their set-up man and then from Kyle Farnsworth, a guy who was a failure throughout his time in Chicago. If Reitsma gets hurt or becomes ineffective in August as a result of overuse, then the Braves can plug in other relievers or trade for whomever is getting saves for a team out of contention. It's a solvable problem, unlike, say, replacing the two aces of the staff.

5. And finally, a word on Leo Mazzone, since he's the other subject who's getting a lot of attention going into the season. I might be naively optimistic again or the victim of recency, but last year, the Braves had one of the worst bullpens in baseball. Dan Kolb went from effective reliever to less popular than William Tecumseh Sherman in a matter of two months. Horacio Ramirez regressed in his third year as a starter. The only highlights of the pitching staff were Smoltz and Hudson, both of whom are good enough pitchers that they don't need help from a pitching coach, and Jorge Sosa. Mazzone had gained the reputation as a guy who was really hard on young pitchers, which is consistent with the fact that he wasn't able to get through to youngsters like Odalis Perez and Jason Marquis, but he was effective with veteran reclamation projects like John Burkett and Jaret Wright. Given the Braves' youth movement, Mazzone wasn't the right guy for the pitching coach spot anymore. He is still a master of getting veterans to pitch better by basing everything on the down and away fastball, but if the Braves miss out on their one reclamation project this year, but get better pitching from Boyer, Davies, Devine, and McBride, then they'll come out ahead. Hopefully, Roger McDowell will be the guy to get those guys pitching well. If not, then the Kolb treatment could come down on him. We're a spoiled bunch.