Friday, October 29, 2010

An Idea for Nike's Next Commercial?

After watching the new Nike-LeBron commercial, I have an idea for their next one...

Start with a rack of basketballs in the corner, and a silhouette in mostly shadows making every three, holding up one finger after the last one and walking away.

Lights up, showing Larry Bird.

Next scene, low-lit court showing a coach throwing chest passes to an unidentified player, nailing bank shot after bank shot from the elbow.

Lights up, showing Tim Duncan.

Next scene, two players going back and forth, one player's defense so stifling that the second player kicks the ball off his foot, stumbles and loses his dribble, etc.

Lights up, showing Scottie Pippen.

Next scene, show a one-on-one where the player sweeps across the lane and floats a baby hook up and in.

Lights up, showing Magic Johnson.

Last scene, low-lit court at foot level, showing how great footwork leads to an easy fadeaway jumper.

Lights up, showing Michael Jordan.

Note - the only distinct part of any player before the lights come up? Their championship rings.

Black card at the end of the commercial - Friends can give a lot of things...
But greatness is earned

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

NBA 2010-11 Season Preview: Division Winners, Surprise Teams and Award Winners

With the NBA season about to begin, here’s your primer on everything roundball, and what to expect in the coming season!
-Don’t expect the Miami Heat to run away with league’s all-time best regular season record: Remember, this is a team that was built to win championships, not to go 82-0. They already had to absorb a major thumb injury to Mike Miller, as well as a Dwyane Wade hamstring pull. Who knows what other injuries are going to keep them from their potential. Remember, the ’96 Bulls had an incredible run of health in the year they set the record for most regular season wins – only Dennis Rodman missed significant time that year.

-Do expect the climb to the top to be harder for the Heat than most are predicting: The Lakers are still the team to beat this year, and their biggest advantage (pun not intended) is exactly the Heat’s weakness – size, and good size to boot. Chris Bosh can’t cover Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum (when healthy), and Lamar Odom would also be an iffy matchup as well. Throw in Ron Artest potentially giving LeBron James fits, and you still have to give the advantage to the Lakers in that matchup.

This, of course, assumes that Miami can get through the Celtics and the Magic, both who will also have a size advantage against the Heat. Admittedly, I see the Magic being less of an issue than the Celtics, unless Dwight Howard finally learned something from Hakeem Olajuwon during the offseason and has a much-improved post game.

-Expect the Thunder to push the Lakers to Game 7 – this time in the Western Conference Finals: Kevin Durant is ready to take that next step, and with this young team’s evolution into a tough-minded defensive outfit, they are the toughest out for the defending champs.

-Don’t expect a surprise team to make it further than the second round: This is clearly a top-heavy league, with the top eight teams – Lakers, Celtics, Heat, Magic, Thunder, Mavericks, Spurs and Bulls – being significantly better than the rest of the league. Maybe the Trail Blazers or the Rockets can shake the injury bug enough to surprise one of the top teams out West in the first round – but they are clearly inferior to healthy Lakers and Thunder squads.

Along that same thought, the Bucks and Hawks out East are not ready yet to take down any of the top 3 teams – nor should they pose too much of a threat to the Bulls, either.

-Expect the Knicks to make the playoffs – with or without Carmelo: Even if the Knicks don’t find a way to trade for Carmelo Anthony, the inside-out game between Amare Stoudemire and Danilo Gallinari should be enough to push them into the 7th or 8th seed in the East, and with a stark improvement at PG with the Raymond Felton signing, you have the makings of a couple playoff games in the Garden this year.
Speaking of which…

-Expect Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul to get traded: Anthony is not going to re-sign with the Nuggets, and while I’m not sure if he ends up a Knick or a Net, he is definitely going to be traded. I’m actually surprised that the Nuggets didn’t make the move already, since you have to expect that the packages they could demand in a trade would have to be lessened as the season goes along, and they can’t pull what Toronto did with Chris Bosh and let him leave for basically nothing.

While Anthony trade talk has certainly quieted the early offseason noise from New Orleans, I can very well see the Hornets having another mediocre year, and if they’re clearly out of playoff contention, you can expect Paul to start demanding a trade again. If the Nets strike out on Anthony, they become a co-favorite along with Portland to acquire Paul.

-Don’t expect LeBron James to win the MVP Award again: This year’s MVP will go to Kevin Durant, especially as the Heat take the second half of the season to get healthy for the playoffs. A dark-horse candidate for the MVP – Dwight Howard, but he has to show marked improvement on the offensive end.

-Expect Blake Griffin to win the Rookie of the Year Award: Simply put, the man is a beast, and if he can stay healthy after sitting out all last year with a broken kneecap, he will put up double-doubles with ease. The Clippers have enough talent to make the playoffs, and it starts with Griffin, who will edge out John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins for ROY honors.

-Don’t expect the Cavaliers to win the draft lottery: Simply put, the team with the worst record has won the lottery exactly four times since the lottery was instituted in 1985. So, in combination with losing LeBron this year, there’s a good chance that the Cavs won’t be drafting a new King this year.

-Expect the best record to come from the East again – and don’t be surprised if it’s not the Heat: Orlando and Boston could easily put together as many wins as the Heat, if not more, and I don’t see the Heat playing nearly as hard for home-court advantage as their competitors. There’s also a good chance that the best record will be the only team to crack 60 wins, like last year.

-Expect a repeat winner for Defensive Player of the Year: Dwight Howard will have this award in the bag every year he’s healthy. As for the other major award winners – Coach of the Year will be Tom Thibodeau, Executive of the Year will be Pat Riley, Most Improved Player will be Eric Gordon, and Sixth Man of the Year will be Jamal Crawford.-Don’t expect many new division winners: My picks for the division winners: Boston (Atlantic), Chicago (Central), Miami (Southeast), Oklahoma City (Northeast), LA Lakers (Pacific) and Dallas (Southwest).
-Don’t expect a rematch in the NBA Finals – but don’t be surprised either: Personally, I can’t stand the Lakers or the Heat, but I can’t predict anything else unless someone proves otherwise: Lakers-Heat, Lakers in 7.

-Expect a repeat of the 2000 lockout: This would be a horrendous move by both the owners and the players, especially with the NFL and MLB staring at contentious labor negotiations as well. However, I can’t expect the players to agree to anything the owners come up with that requires a steep drop in revenues that go to players – right now the owners want the players’ cut of revenues to decrease by $750-$800 million from the $2.1 billion they’ll take in this year.

I also don’t see the players’ union successfully breaking down the owners, many of whom probably would be better off financially during a lockout than if they had to run normal operations. If a deal gets done that keeps the 2011-12 season intact, I’d be stunned.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Zack Greinke on the Move? But Where Exactly? More Notes From Around Baseball

Newest rumors out of the mill is that Cy Young winner Zack Greinke has told the Kansas City Royals that he wants to be traded to a team that has a better chance of winning while he’s in his prime. At the same time, he’s also made it clear that he doesn’t want to be traded to a big-market team. Given his issues with social anxiety from earlier in his career, it’s no surprise, but it does severely limit the chances of him going to a winner.

Without the Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, Phillies, Cubs, White Sox, Dodgers or Angels to drive up the haul that the Royals could get in return, who’s left to make the Royals move their ace?

Given that he wants to win now, you can knock off Seattle, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Florida, Houston, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Washington and Arizona from that list. I’d also eliminate Oakland, San Diego, Toronto, San Francisco, Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Detroit, and St. Louis for a variety of reasons (low or tight budget, young pitching depth already, a stud pitcher or two in their rotation already).

Handicapping the teams left who should be in the race for Greinke:

1.       Minnesota Twins – They have the most to gain by making the deal. It would set up the rest of the rotation much better, dropping Francisco Liriano to No. 2 and allowing the promising Brian Duensing to stay as the No. 3 pitcher. Putting a Cy Young-quality strikeout ace at the front of the rotation would make them a much bigger threat in the postseason. The big question here is if they have enough to make the deal after trading for Matt Capps and Brian Fuentes at the trade deadline this year. The Capps deal especially might hurt in the long-term, given that they had to give up Wilson Ramos, a highly promising catching prospect, in the deal.

2.       Colorado Rockies – How much better would the Rockies have been with Greinke behind Ubaldo Jiminez, especially in their relatively mediocre first half? The Rockies are known as an organization that drafts well, so they should have the prospect depth to make the deal. The question then becomes whether they want to develop their prospects from within or make the move for Greinke.

3.       Cincinnati Reds – They have a ton of pitching depth, but they could absolutely use another top-line starter to help seal up their rotation. With an already potent lineup and a ton of young pitching, they could easily make this move, so like the Rockies, it depends on whether they would move their young prospects or develop from within.

4.       Texas Rangers – The bounceback move if they lose Cliff Lee in free agency to the Yankees – like everyone expects to happen, it seems – would be to trade for the best young pitcher available. Just like the Reds, they have the depth in their organization, but unlike the Reds or Rockies, they would face a huge loss in losing Lee this offseason which could immediately be remedied by picking up Greinke.

The big problem in this scenario is that Greinke’s desire to avoid a big market – while a smart idea, given that his makeup seems better for a small market – could very well keep a trade from happening. You have to believe that the Royals would have to be overwhelmed in order to trade a 26-year-old Cy Young winner who is under club control through 2012. I would expect the team to end up with Greinke to give up a Teixeira-to-the-Braves-type of package.

But given the teams I’ve eliminated from contention for various reasons, I could also easily see the remaining teams not coming up with enough to close the deal. This is going to be a story for most of the offseason, but I definitely see the Twins getting it done.

Notes from Around the League

- With all the attention being paid to Greinke all of a sudden, if you’re one of the big-market teams that needs another starter, wouldn’t you make your Greinke-level offer to the Mariners for Felix Hernandez? He’s a better pitcher right now, he’s younger, and he’s not openly available, so maybe you can give the Mariners a huge offer and get the deal done quickly. Two top pitching prospects (or an already-in-the-majors starter plus a prospect) and two position players (catcher and infielder) should get Seattle’s attention.

- Remember, the Phillies traded Cliff Lee because they felt they couldn’t afford him… then resigned Joe Blanton for what Lee was making this year. Add to that the fact that Philly didn’t even get top prospects back for him, and this could be a move that haunts the Phillies for years, especially if they never become the dynasty they had the chance to become.

- One pitch in two games in the ALCS is all the difference right now. Josh Hamilton’s HR off of Andy Pettitte in Game 3 and Bengie Molina’s bomb off AJ Burnett completely changed the complexion of both games, and even though both games had blowout-type finals, neither game really fit the bill of a blowout.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

BCS Poll Analysis: Don’t Expect Boise State or TCU in the Championship Game Without Major Help, Alabama Still in the Hunt

With the first BCS Poll results out this afternoon, here’s my thoughts on the rest of this season in college football.

-The weekend’s results ultimately hurt Boise State’s title chances the most. With Nevada’s loss and subsequent tumble out of the AP Top 25, combined with Oregon State’s 3rd loss to Washington in double overtime, the glaring weakness in overall strength of schedule just got worse for the Broncos. Whereas if Oregon State held on and ran the table in the Pac-10, and Nevada was unbeaten entering the Nov. 26th matchup, Boise State would have potentially beaten three Top-25 teams, one on neutral turf and another on the road, including two potential BCS-AQ conference champions.

Now, there’s a distinct possibility that they won’t play another ranked team this season, and only one team on their schedule for the year will end up ranked. That, plus the fact that you have Oklahoma, who only has No. 14 Oklahoma State on their schedule before the probable Big 12 Title matchup with Nebraska, and Oregon, who should run the table in the Pac-10, already ahead of them, and expect Boise State to make another BCS game – just not the one they were hoping for.

-TCU also got knocked down a peg, with Air Force losing a week before their matchup with the Horned Frogs, taking another ranked team off their schedule. Oregon State’s loss also hurts TCU, since they beat the Beavers to start the season.

I’d actually give them a better chance of making the title game than Boise State, since they still have No. 9 Utah on their schedule, and anyone who knows college football knows that impressive wins are more important at the end of the season and not the beginning.

-Ohio State’s loss to Wisconsin will probably kill off their title chances, as they took a steep drop down in the rankings from No. 1 to No. 10. It’s not impossible for them to get close, at least, if they win out and a combination of things happen:

1. Auburn, LSU and Alabama all beat each other, leaving both Auburn and LSU with a loss and Alabama with two. LSU and Alabama would be out of the title picture completely, and Auburn would probably fall behind Ohio State in the polls.

2. The winner of the TCU-Utah game already has a loss entering that game – TCU being the best-case scenario for Ohio State, as they would probably jump ahead of TCU after they lost, then would leapfrog Utah after they lost to TCU.

3. Boise State’s strength of schedule keeps them locked at No. 3, or they lose to Nevada. It really wouldn’t surprise me if Boise State doesn’t move up past No. 3 in the BCS, and if Ohio State ran the table, a one-loss Buckeye team probably would get the nod over the Broncos.

4. Either Oklahoma or Oregon take a bad loss in the upcoming weeks that puts them behind Ohio State in the polls.

5. Michigan State loses. To anyone, really. Iowa would be the best bet to pick them off if you had to ask me.

Granted, this is a lot to ask to happen, but this is college football. Weirder things have happened.

-Dark horse candidates for the BCS Title game: Missouri and Alabama. Mizzou has a big opportunity in the next two weeks, with No. 1 Oklahoma next weekend and No. 16 Nebraska the following weekend. In fact, with 3 of their next 4 games against Top-25 opponents, the Tigers could run the table and put themselves right in the title mix. As long as their defense is not a mirage (No. 2 in the country in scoring defense), they can pull it off.

Alabama, meanwhile, has Auburn and LSU still on their schedule, plus get a chance to pad their resume by winning the SEC Championship against either South Carolina or Florida. Even with the loss, their resume to play in the title game would almost be unmatched if they run the table from here on out, as they would be 7-1 against ranked teams, and have 4 wins against teams ranked in the Top 10.

-I’d include Michigan State in the conversation as a dark horse, but without playing Ohio State, their schedule is going to suffer in comparison to other teams. In fact, if Missouri upsets Oklahoma this week, I’d fully expect them to leapfrog the Spartans in the standings. I just don’t see their schedule moving them past TCU and Boise State, especially with only No. 15 Iowa remaining as a ranked opponent.

-Utah would also be a candidate to make a surprise run at the BCS Title game… except I can’t see them beating TCU. I don’t want to dismiss their chances completely, but I fully expect TCU to go unbeaten, and probably miss out on the title game.

-As it stands right now, here are my BCS Bowl projections (subject to change in the top 2 who would play in the title game):

BCS Title Game – Oregon vs. Oklahoma

Rose Bowl – Michigan State vs. Boise State

Orange Bowl – Auburn vs. TCU

Sugar Bowl – West Virginia vs. Alabama

Fiesta Bowl – Ohio State vs. Virginia Tech

Saturday, October 16, 2010

ALCS Game 1 Breakdown: CC Struggles, Yanks’ Rally and Bullpen Stops Rangers, Michael Kay Needs to Stop Talking

-If you told me that through the first 4 games of these playoffs, that CC Sabathia would have an ERA somewhere around 6 (7 ER in 10 innings) and his biggest play would be a forceout at home, I would tell you that the Yankees didn’t make it past the Twins.

That they’re 4-0 after winning Game 1 in the ALCS is a testament to their overall depth and a never-say-die attitude that befits a defending champion.

Look, it’s really simple enough: The Yankees cannot win a second straight title if Sabathia continues to pitch like it’s spring 2009. The next round will feature a team that have a huge advantage in starting pitching to the Yankees, and Sabathia will need to be able to match zeroes on the scoreboard, not give up 5 in four innings like he did last night.

-Small side note on the play at the plate in the 1st: What a great call by the home umpire Gerry Davis, who had great eyes for that play when few others saw that Nelson Cruz was out well before he touched the plate. There’s been plenty of bashing the umpires in this offseason, so when a great call is made on a play that could’ve easily been another argument for instant replay, you have to give the umps some love.

-After the play at the plate, it took 6 innings for the Yankees to get a clutch hit, but after Robinson Cano’s solo homer in the 7th got them on the scoreboard, the floodgates opened in the 8th.

Brett Gardner gets spiked on a hustling infield single, then Derek Jeter smokes a double down the line past a drawn-in Michael Young (Why he wasn’t playing back to prevent a double when up by four is still a mystery to me) to score Gardner. Darren Oliver relieves CJ Wilson – who deserved much better than what he ended up with (7 IP, 3 ER, no decision) – and walks the bases loaded on consecutive 3-2 counts.

Alex Rodriguez got his first big hit of the postseason, lacing a two-run single to left that absolutely handcuffed Young when he tried to glove it instead of knocking it down, followed by Robinson Cano lining the game-tying single to center. One broken-bat single by Marcus Thames later, and the five-run rally was complete.

-The story of the first round was opportunities squandered by the losing team, which got a new chapter for these playoffs last night. Give the Yankees a lot of credit, as they played with poise and took advantage against the Rangers’ bullpen in the 8th.

But how different is the result if Young makes either play against Jeter or A-Rod in the 8th? How different is it if Oliver doesn’t walk the only two batters he faces, on 3-2 counts no less? Or if the Rangers’ offense didn’t go to sleep against the Yanks’ bullpen (5 innings of shutout ball, and only 3 baserunners allowed)?

The biggest what-if, however, belongs to Ian Kinsler getting picked off first as the tying run in the bottom of the 8th, when Kerry Wood was struggling with his command. What could have been a game-tying rally by the bottom of the Rangers’ lineup ended up being an eventful and unusual 1-2-3 inning of sorts.

-Michael Kay is officially an idiot with a stunning lack of foresight. Why, oh why would you call out potentially the best pitcher in these playoffs for cheating?

For those who don’t know, Kay – on his radio show for the ESPN network in New York – decided it was a good idea to jump on the idea that Cliff Lee is combining resin from his cap with his sweat to get a better grip on his pitches.

He can “think that’s illegal” all he wants. He should absolutely know better than to broadcast such an idea during a playoff series, against a pitcher the Yankees are absolutely nuts about signing this offseason. First off, you never intentionally give the other team bulletin-board material, especially a team that played the Yankees to a draw this season. Second, why piss off a guy who your team wants to sign in a couple months, when no prior accusations have been made against him?

Dumb, dumb, dumb.

-One thing this postseason is showing is that the Yankees, for all their payroll, have an extraordinary issue in terms of starting pitching depth.

I say extraordinary because no team that spends $200 million should be worried about their starting pitching.

With AJ Burnett plunking two batters in a simulated game – which he described as a confidence builder! – Sabathia struggling and Phil Hughes going way above his innings limit this year, Cliff Lee can expect a Sabathia-sized offer from the Yankees this offseason.

Add to that the fact that Andy Pettitte is going to retire eventually, and maybe as soon as this offseason, they’re going to need at least two starting pitchers from somewhere next year. I’d expect to see another open competition for the 5th starter spot in spring training – which might include Burnett – and some kind of move for a No. 4-type starter, since Javier Vazquez is on his way out.

Expect an offer to either the Royals for Zack Greinke, or a good-sized offer to Matt Garza (if the Rays don’t offer him arbitration and let him go to free agency) if Pettitte retires this year.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

ALCS and NLCS Previews and Predictions: Expect a Repeat of Last Year

ALCS: New York Yankees vs. Texas Rangers

The Yankees caught a huge break when the Rangers couldn’t finish off the Tampa Bay Rays in Arlington in the ALDS, therefore having to burn Cliff Lee in a Game 5 instead of having him start Game 1 of this series. That leaves the pitching matchups almost completely in the Yankees’ favor.

I say almost because apparently AJ Burnett has to start a game in these playoffs. Maybe it’s because of the huge salary, or Joe Girardi could be forgetting that this is 2010 and not 2009. The upside to that is that CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes and Andy Pettitte have a chance to make him largely irrelevant to the results of the series by pitching well.

Personally, I think it’s a bad move to run out Burnett. Game 4’s tend to be momentum-changing games in 7 game series, and to put a pitcher who you couldn’t trust out of the bullpen against the Twins is probably not going to figure it out against a much more powerful lineup in the Rangers. In my opinion, if you have to start him at all this series, you start him in Game 3 against Cliff Lee, the only game in the first 6 that you would really favor Texas.

An even better, and bolder move, would be to keep him strapped on the bench until next year, and run out Ivan Nova for a start. He had some bright spots in the second half, and probably deserves the shot over Burnett anyway.

For the Rangers, their Game 1 starter, CJ Wilson, had a tremendous start in Game 2 against the Rays in Tampa, and Colby Lewis gave them five solid innings in Game 3 which the bullpen threw away. Tommy Hunter struggled in his start, only lasting four innings, but only allowing 2 ER. Pitching-wise, overall you have to give the Yankees the nod, if only because the series could be decided without Cliff Lee getting to pitch a second game.

Both teams are really a wash in terms of offense, as both lineups hit well in the ALDS, with only Brett Gardner and Josh Hamilton having subpar series. The Rangers will have an advantage running on Jorge Posada, so it will be key for the Yanks to limit walks and keep innings as short as possible.

Prediction: Game 5 of the ALDS will be the reason the Yankees are in the World Series again. Yankees in 6.

NLCS: Philadelphia Phillies vs. San Francisco Giants

Unlike the Rangers, the Giants took care of business in Game 4, which left their ace, Tim Lincecum, fresh to start Saturday in Game 1 against Roy Halladay. Expect another low-scoring series, as both staffs are excellent and pitched incredibly well in the NLDS (except for Roy Oswalt, who was saved a loss by the Reds’ Game 2 implosion).

I apologize for the lack of depth in terms of analysis on this series, but I just feel like the Phillies are too good offensively not to score enough runs against the Giants pitching, no matter how good Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgartner were in the opening round. In fact, Game 4 might be the only time that the Giants have a distinct advantage in the pitching matchup, provided that Halladay doesn’t come back on short rest from Game 1.

For the Giants to stand any chance at all in this series, Buster Posey is going to have to have a huge series, and Pablo Sandoval will have to remember what last year felt like and start hitting like it.

Still, I can’t see Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels struggling to get through the Giants’ lineup. Looks like the Phillies will have their shot at starting a dynasty.

Prediction: Phillies in 5

Playoff Notes:

-The weirdest stat of the postseason has to be that the home team in the first round of the playoffs were a collective 4-11 in the 15 games, with the Rangers-Rays series being the first in the wild-card era to have all the games won by the road team. Add in the fact that the Phillies won their two home games, and everyone else was 2-11. So much for home-field advantage.

-In the Year of the Pitcher, it’s fitting that the playoffs have featured starting pitching so heavily. Between Roy Halladay’s no-hitter, Cole Hamels’ complete-game shutout, and Cliff Lee’s two gems, you had the Giants’ staff showing off all their promise, and the Yankees’ Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes pitching very solidly. Runs are going to continue to be at a premium.

-Cliff Lee, barring a devastating injury, has made himself a ton of money over the past year. He went from the extension that the Phillies eventually gave Roy Halladay (3 years, $60 million with an option for a $20 million fourth) to probably getting somewhere around Sabathia money (7 years, $161 million). Besides the Yankees and Rangers, I would fully expect the Red Sox, Mets and Cubs to be in on the bidding. Dark horses who could make a big splash by signing Lee include the Nationals, Reds and Twins.

-Jayson Werth is arguably the one player who will get massively overpaid. Considering his age (he turns 32 next year), his high strikeout rate (147 K’s this year, which is not out of line from the past two years as well), and his significant home/road splits (50 point drop in BA, almost 200 points in OPS, 18 HR in Philly vs. 9 on the road), you’d figure him to be deserving of Jason Bay-type money (4 years, $66 million, vesting option for a 5th) and not the Matt Holiday money he’ll be seeking (7 years, $120 million). Granted, he is better defensively than both and plays right field, but that’s not enough of a difference for a player who made his career playing in the bandbox known as Citizens Bank Park.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

MLB Playoff Notes: Braves End Cox’s Career by Blowing Winnable Series, Phillies Still Favorites in NL; Rays-Rangers Series Plays into Yanks’ Hands

- Bobby Cox gets to end what should be a Hall of Fame managing career by watching his team do what it seemingly did best during his tenure: Lose in the playoffs.

Yeah, that’s a little bit harsh, especially considering how they rebuilt the team and stayed somewhat competitive after Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz all left or stopped starting games for them. But, with the talent they had through the 90’s and through 2005, to only come away with one World Series and two other appearances has to be disappointing.

Add to that the fact that they’re still synonymous with the Buffalo Bills in terms of success in the regular season but not in the playoffs, and Cox should really treasure that ’95 Series win.

- Give a lot of credit to the Giants for excellent starting pitching, as their starters gave up a total of 22 baserunners and 4 runs in 29 IP, and got quality starts out of all four pitchers. But also fault the Braves’ defense, with Brooks Conrad handing them Game 3 with three errors and Alex Gonzalez’ throwing error in Game 4 prolonging the 7th inning in which the Giants took the lead for good.

- Given the performances by both rotations, expect runs to be at a premium in the NLCS. While the Phillies have the better offense of the two teams, it might be the first to score one, let alone 2 runs in each game. I still like the Phillies – like I said, their offense is better, and their starting pitching is obviously excellent – but this could be 7 games of 1-0 or 2-1 games.

- Obviously, I like the Yankees’ chances to make it to the World Series now that Cliff Lee and David Price have to pitch tomorrow, which means both will probably be available to start in Game 3 at the earliest. Even playing on the road, starting off the series against CJ Wilson/Colby Lewis or Matt Garza/Wade Davis going against a rested CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte is a big bonus in the Yankees’ favor.

- So far, it looks like Curtis Granderson is having the kind of postseason that would make me eat my words on whether it was a good idea to trade for him (A Grand Move, or a Grand Mistake?). 5-11, with a double, triple and 3 RBIs is a good start. Next round will be against tougher lefties, so we’ll really see if Kevin Long has his swing fixed.

- Jason Heyward lucked out in the sense that the voting for Rookie of the Year is only for regular season performance. Because Buster Posey would’ve definitely taken the award based on their NLDS performances. Posey was 6-16 with 3 runs when runs were at a premium, while Heyward went 2-16 with 8 K’s, and both hits were empty singles in Game 4.

- Game 5 Prediction for Rays-Rangers: When in a Game 5/7 scenario, smart money is to take the best pitcher. Rangers squeak by after blowing both home games on the back of Cliff Lee, who will take the bats right back out of the Rays’ lineup after their two-game wakeup.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

MLB Playoff Notes: Rangers, Giants Blow Huge Opportunities; Yankees Sweep Away Twins, Expect the Same for Phillies

-From the late Friday game in San Francisco to the early game Saturday, the story of the playoffs looks like it will be who takes advantage of the opportunities in front of them.

The four series are in sharp contrast of each other. In the ALDS, the Twins led in the two games in Minneapolis, but couldn’t put the Yankees away for good, and the Yankees took advantage in their three-game sweep.

At this point, it’s almost sad how the Twins can’t get over the hump against the Bronx Bombers. The biggest issue is that, while their pitching sets up well in the regular season, they don’t have a real shutdown pitcher who can win you two games in a short series. Johan Santana was the closest they had, but they got the extra revenue to spend a few years too late to hang on to him.

-Next up for the Yanks in the ALCS is the winner of the Rangers-Rays series, which is now starting to swing in the Rays’ favor if their bats can stay awake for the next two games. After Ian Kinsler’s solo homer in the bottom of the 7th gave the Rangers a 2-1 lead, the Rays responded with 5 in the 8th and 9th to win 6-3 and force a Game 4.

If the Rangers don’t make it to the World Series – either from losing this series or going to 5 games with a team they had on the ropes – Game 3 will be the game that changed the AL side of the playoffs. Now they have to start Tommy Hunter, who had a great record at 13-4 but a bad second half, going 5-4 with a 5.07 ERA after an 8-0 start, against Wade Davis, who has had a great second half (7-1 with a 3.22 ERA in his last 13 starts).

Either way the series goes, it greatly improves the Yanks’ chances to make the World Series again if this series goes 5. Both teams would have to use their best starters, and neither David Price nor Cliff Lee would be ready to start until Game 3.

-The Reds, meanwhile, caught a huge break in Game 2 when Roy Oswalt was not sharp at all, but much like the Twins, could not finish off the Phillies, blowing a 4-0 lead in losing 7-4. Now they have to go home with their best pitcher, Johnny Cueto, face Cole Hamels, who has excellent career numbers pitching in Cincinnati (3-1, 1.67 ERA in four starts) and also pitched 7-2/3 innings of shutout ball in July against the Reds.

-Give the Braves a lot of credit for making it a series against the Giants by coming back from three down to win Friday in extra innings, 5-4. Now they get their ace, Tim Hudson, going in Game 3 with a chance to win the series at home.

The Giants, meanwhile, might look at this game much like the Rangers will look at Game 3: a blown opportunity for a young team to advance in the playoffs that will hurt their chances to get to the World Series.

-I’ve read some criticism over the decisions to bring in Brian Wilson and Neftali Feliz in the 8th innings of their teams’ losses. And while you’d obviously want better results than what Wilson and Feliz gave, I don’t see what’s the problem with bringing in your closer for more than 1 inning. Your closer is supposed to be your best reliever, and if you need more than 3 outs from your closer, then you go for it.

-Quick baseball question: Is it really a comeback win if you’re down but tie or take the lead before the 5th inning, should we really consider it a comeback? And maybe that could even be changed to before the 7th?

I just find it silly if you give up a run in the 1st, then take the lead in the 3rd, that it’s considered a comeback. We should save that for at least the 5th or later, in my opinion.