Saturday, May 23, 2009

My NL All-Star Ballot

Here are my votes for the National League All-Star Team:

C - Bengie Molina, San Francisco Giants (.286, 8 HR, 30 RBI)
He's once again the most important hitter in a weak lineup, and he's up to the task. He has 11 more RBI than any other NL catcher.

1B - Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals (.326, 14 HR, 38 RBI, 6 SB)
There's no one I'd rather have on my team, fantasy or real life. The guy is a hitting machine.

2B - Orlando Hudson, Los Angeles Dodgers (.345, 3 HR, 27 RBI, 4 SB)
It's entirely possible that I'm picking Hudson just to stray from my everlasting allegiance to Chase Utley in all his glory, but Hudson has been a hell of a pickup by the Dodgers. Honorable mention to Rickie Weeks who was on his way to by far his best year before a wrist injury ended his season.

3B - Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals (.353, 10 HR, 32 RBI)
It's always nice to see a local player make good, and Zimmerman has really turned it up this year. How about Mark Reynolds, though? The new power-speed combo guy on the block has 12 HR and 10 SB, nice work.

SS - Hanley Ramirez, Florida Marlins (.325, 7 HR, 21 RBI, 7 SB)
Ho hum. Another .300+, 25-25 season looks to be in the works for Hanley. How is Freddie Sanchez doing, by the way? (That's a little keeper league inside joke for you.)

OF - Raul Ibanez, Philadelphia Phillies (.349, 15 HR, 40 RBI, 4 SB)
OF - Carlos Beltran, New York Mets (.370, 6 HR, 29 RBI, 7 SB)
OF - Adam Dunn, Washington Nationals (.280, 12 HR, 33 RBI)
I think a lot of us thought Ibanez would be a fine replacement for Pat Burrell, but none of us expected this. He's currently the #1 ranked player in Yahoo's fantasy baseball. Beltran read that I thought only batting average was a weak spot for him, and he's spent all season trying to prove me wrong. Dunn was a great pickup for the Nationals, even if they're on pace to lose like 250 games this year. He's even hitting above .270, not exactly a common achievement for him.

Friday, May 22, 2009

My AL All-Star Ballot

Here are my votes for the American League All-Star Team:

C - Victor Martinez, Cleveland Indians (.400, 7 HR, 30 RBI)
I like Joe Mauer a lot, and at the end of the season, he'll probably have numbers about as good as Victor's. But I use my all star vote to select the guys who have produced at the highest level thus far this season, and Martinez is just doing fantastic.

1B - Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers (.381, 8 HR, 32 RBI)
Cabrera has cooled off considerably and is still hitting .381. That tells you how hot he started the season. A close second is Justin Morneau, but I took the 60 points of batting average over 4 HRs.

2B - Aaron Hill, Toronto Blue Jays (.351, 11 HR, 35 RBI)
As much as it hurt me to not put Kinsler here (one of my fantasy studs...wait, not like that...), there's just no question that Aaron Hill is having a better first half. Everyone keeps waiting for him to slow down, but so far, he's maintained his torrid pace (and made me look foolish for trading him).

3B - Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays (.329, 11 HR, 46 RBI)
Michael Young in Texas is also having a great first half, but Longoria has more than double Young's RBI total. News flash: this kid can hit.

SS - Jason Bartlett, Tampa Bay Rays (.376, 6 HR, 23 RBI, 12 SB)
All four of the statistics listed above lead AL shortstops. And the Rays got him and Garza for Delmon Young? Well played.

OF - Adam Jones, Baltimore Orioles (.364, 9 HR, 27 RBI)
OF - Jason Bay, Boston Red Sox (.301, 13 HR, 44 RBI, 4 SB)
OF - Carl Crawford, Tampa Bay Rays (.318, 1 HR, 19 RBI, 25 SB)
Johnny Damon is also having an outstanding first half, but I'll stick with my picks. I imagine that people will look at my Crawford pick and suggest that he's less deserving because 6 of his steals came in one game, but think about how ridiculous that sounds. A guy should be marked down because he had six steals in one game? Plus, that .318 batting average didn't hit itself. Adam Jones looks like the real deal, as both sides of the big Erik Bedard trade are looking brighter this season.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Wizards Lose Lottery Again

I guess by this point we really shouldn't be surprised, but the Washington Wizards have managed to fail in the draft lottery once again. The Sacramento Kings suffered the greatest disappointment, receiving the 4th pick despite having the league's worst record, but the Wizards' bad news was almost predictable. Even when they don't get dropped in the lottery, they manage to find a way to lose. Let's roll the video tape of the past ten years:

2004 - The Wizards have the 3rd worst record in the NBA, but the lottery pushes the Clippers ahead of them, and the expansion Bobcats take the #2 pick, dropping Washington to the #5 pick. The selection there is Devin Harris, who is traded to Dallas along with Jerry Stackhouse and Christian Laettner for Antawn Jamison. Jamison has ended up being a solid acquisition, thankfully, though it looks like Harris would've been fine as well.

2003 - Washington held the league's tenth worst record, and the draft lottery went pretty much according to plan, giving the Wizards the tenth pick. So while the earlier teams were drafting LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Chris Kaman, Kirk Hinrich, and T.J. Ford, the Wizards brought Jarvis Hayes to town. Later selections included David West (18), Boris Diaw (21), and Josh Howard (29). Oops.

2002 - Once again, the Wizards hold steady at their prescribed pick (#11). This time, though, it's as if the intriguing players disappear literally right before the Wizards' selection. The last two interesting pieces to go off the board were Amare Stoudemire at nine and Caron Butler at ten (who the Wizards thankfully acquired two trades and several years later). Washington's selection? Jared Jeffries. Try not to vomit.

2001 - Ahh, the year when everything should've fallen right. The Wizards were the third worst team in the NBA, but a couple friendly (?) bounces of the ping pong balls and Washington had the number one pick. This was, of course, a year in which there was no surefire NBA talent, with the closest thing being #6 pick Shane Battier. The eventual top four picks were three high-schoolers (the Wizards' #1 overall pick Kwame Brown, Tyson Chandler, and Eddy Curry) and a European player (Pau Gasol). The only saving grace of drafting Brown, who was a bust on multiple levels, was that we were somehow able to trade him for Caron Butler a few years later. I still don't know why the Lakers were willing to do that trade, but I guess when you have Kobe Bryant, you think everything you touch turns to gold, and Kwame was always a guy high on potential.

2000 - Though the Wizards' pick was traded, it was top three protected, but with the 6th worst record in the league, they weren't likely to hold on to it. They ended up at number seven, and the Bulls received the pick. FYI, they took Chris Mihm with that pick.

1999 - And finally, ten years ago, the Wizards had a nice turn of events on draft day. While they dropped from sixth to seventh as a result of Charlotte lucking into the #3 pick (and Baron Davis), Washington was able to nab Richard Hamilton. He was a productive scorer for the Wizards for several years, and ended up being one of three former Wizards/Bullets to be in the starting lineup for the 2003-2004 NBA Champion Detroit Pistons (Ben Wallace and Rasheed Wallace were the other two).

The early draft projections have Arizona State guard James Harden or Arizona forward Jordan Hill going to the Wizards, but I've also heard that the Wizards' cap situation has them itching to trade the pick if they can. All I can say is that the $120 million man Gilbert Arenas had better be healthy this season, or public opinion may turn in a hurry. With Arenas healthy, the Wizards are a playoff team. If he can't stay on the court again, we're probably looking at another bottom 5 finish.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

For the Capitals, 2009 is Only the Beginning

So you woke up this morning with a severe hangover, only to find out that the terrible nightmare of a blow out by the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins was actually true. Well, don’t get too down. The Caps have one of the youngest teams in the league, with a great core of young players and a bright future.

To prove that I’m not just blowing smoke, here are five reasons to get excited for 2010:

1. Player Development

Over the 2008-09 campaign many players made huge strides in development.

Mike Green added 13 goals to his ‘08 total making him the first defenseman since Kevin Hatcher in ‘93 to accomplish a 30 goal season. In addition, he improved tremendously in the defensive zone and was an impressive +24 and a legitimate Norris candidate. I know what you’re saying. “He was so terrible in the Pittsburgh series.” First, let me assure you, the regular season Mike Green is the real deal. I’ll write later on and explain why he looked so bad. Like Mike Green, Backstrom saw a spike in his point total. He ended the season as one of four Capitals to average over a point per game. The average age of these “Young Guns” (Ovi, Semin, Backstrom, Green)? Twenty-four years old. These players should only get better with more experience.

On top of the stars, Washington has several role players who have become more and more valuable to the team. Brooks Laich saw a major jump in goals and points, and Dave Steckel was among the five best Caps in these playoffs. This guy gave us tough goals, a great face-off percentage and was a very solid penalty killer. And these are just a few of many guys who I can see taking leaps forward next year. Eric Fehr, Tomas Fleischmann, and Jay Beagle could all be second line players in the near future.

2. Simeon Varlamov

When I saw this guy play during the regular season, I liked what I saw. Even so, I was as stunned as anybody at how well Varlamov played in these playoffs. Varlamov's save on Crosby during game one of the Penguins series is exhibit A. He has shown he is not shaken by hostile environments and situations. He’s also shown an unwillingness to quit on a play. I can recount several times during the Pittsburgh series in which Varlamov’s drive and determination led to spectacular saves. Jose Theodore had a goals-against average of 2.87, ranking him outside of the top 30 goalies this season, yet he was 12th in wins. If Varlamov is what he is showing us these playoffs, the effect on a team that had franchise record 108 points in 2008-2009 should be substantial. While certainly game seven was unpleasant, you trust the twelve good games he had more than the one terrible one.

3. Farm Hands

Washington has three impact players in the minors who could see substantial playing time next season, and are part of the continued youth movement that figures to carry the Caps forward.

Michal Neuvirth
While I think everyone is thinking of what is the quickest way to get Theodore out of town and anoint Varlamov as the heir, Neuvirth might have something to say about it. He’s played brilliantly for the AHL Hershey Bears over the last month of the season, including back to back shutouts against the Baby Pens in game six and seven of their Eastern Division playoff series. Some scouts like him more than Varlamov, but all scouts think that, between the two of them, the Caps are set at goaltender for a few years.

Karl Alzner
Alzner came up several times for the Capitals during the ‘09 season, and while there were games that he struggled, he has shown to be plenty talented to play in the NHL. He’s also cool and collected, makes smart plays, and rarely takes a penalty (2 PIM in 30 games). He does not have the offensive upside of other Caps prospects, but he has all-star level defensive potential. Adding him to a group that includes Morrison, Green, Poti and Erskine gives the Caps plenty of depth at a position that’s tough to fill out.

John Carlson
Another top defenseman prospect in the Capitals system is John Carlson. The Capitals front office loves this guy’s upside and talent so much that there was real discussion of him making the team out of camp. Instead, they sent him to OHL to continue to develop. Carlson did not disappoint, racking up 76 points in 59 games, and 22 points in 14 playoff games. In fact, Carlson was sometimes deployed on the wing during power plays, which speaks to how well he works in the offensive zone. He projects as a top 4 defenseman with a lot of offensive upside, and Capitals fans have to like the idea of adding another offensive weapon to the blue line.

4. Cap Space

While the Caps are weighed down by a Michael Nylander contract that reminds you of Denny Neagle’s for the Colorado Rockies (a little baseball reference for you), they actually have a pretty good cap situation. Sergei Fedorov and Viktor Kozlov come off the books this year and free up $6.5 million in cap room (some of which I think Caps fans would be happy to allocate right back to those guys, but hopefully at a discount). In addition, Theodore has just one more year on his contract, and Nylander’s drops to three million, giving us another $6.5 million in cap room. This kind of cap room could help Washington keep together the very good young core of players we have. General Manager George McPhee has also proven himself very capable of finding good veterans to mix with this young team.

5. GM GM

This point is obviously related to #4, since the decision on how to spend cap money will belong to George McPhee. In a town that has perfected terrible management and managed to frustrate two very large and loyal fan bases (Orioles and Redskins), the Capitals seem to have it right with McPhee. His trades at last year’s deadline have helped the Capitals to two Southeast Division titles. In addition, while some might look at his decision of not making a move at the deadline this year as a misstep, I see it as a smart decision. Chris Pronger was the object of Washington’s affection at the deadline. The reported asking price for Pronger was at least two of the following young players: Varlamov, Alzner and Carlson. Varlamov carried the Caps to game seven against the Penguins, and if you look up at where I talk about the team’s top prospects, you’ll find Alzner and Carlson. When you add in that Pronger has something of an albatross of a contract, the smart long-term decision was to stand pat.

I look at this Caps team and I see Pittsburgh two years ago. The team is very good, but not all of its pieces are in place just yet. They obviously didn’t have the consistency and maturity they needed to get deep into the playoffs. Longtime local hockey analyst Al Koken has said all year that this Caps team is fantastic and exciting to watch, but the best is still a year or two away. After seeing over 25 games live this year and a ton more on TV, I’m willing to make the same judgment.

Get ready Eastern Conference…these Capitals are going to be around for a while.

Game 7, Caps vs. Pens

A rare hockey post!

As some of you already knew, I attended Game 7 of the Penguins/Capitals second round playoff series on Wednesday night. You may have seen the final score (6-2), and if possible, the game was actually less competitive than the score would indicate. However, it offered an experience that I won't soon forget. Let me offer you a little run down of the evening.

My brother and I headed for the Metro straight after work. We decided that we'd head down early and eat in DC, with the hope of avoiding some of the evening rush. We accomplished that for the most part, and ate dinner at Capital City Brewing. They have a couple of microbrews, and they gave Eddie the wrong one for his first glass, so I was able to taste three of them. They were all decent, but none of them were fantastic, and I'd have preferred a Leinenkugel's Sunset Wheat over any of them. It was good enough, as was the food, and while nothing was particularly worth mentioning, we headed into the game ready to cheer on the Caps.

Unfortunately, the feeling wouldn't last. An early breakaway by Alex Ovechkin that he wasn't able to plant might've been the difference in the game, but with how out of hand things got, I have a tough time thinking that one goal would've changed the course of the game. A phantom slashing penalty was called against Shaone Morrisonn (I say phantom, but when you're at the game, you don't get replays, so it might've been totally legit), and the Penguins scored on the ensuing power play. Then they scored again, like ten seconds later, and you could see a lump in the throat of everyone in the stands.

Pittsburgh scored two more goals in the second period before coach Bruce Boudreau pulled youngster goalie Simeon Varlamov, but the blame can't really all be put on Varlamov. The goalie can only play the pucks that come his way, and with 16 shots in the first period, he was seeing way too many shots. Give credit to the Penguins for that; they found a chink in the Capitals' armor, and were able to drive a pike right through it.

My brother pointed out a specific problem with the way the Caps were playing, and logically, it sounds right. The weakest part of Varlamov's game is his ability to play the puck around the back of the net and start the offense. So, he often would just tap it to try to get the puck under control, or not play it at all. That meant that Capitals defensemen had to come down and start playing the puck from a loose position, rather than off a goalie pass. The Penguins were able to exploit this by constantly challenging the loose pucks in Washington's zone, and were often able to get scoring chances off of panicked or lazy passes this way. Hopefully that's something that the Caps will be able to work on with Varly in the offseason.

Anyways, the game went on, with the Caps decidedly out of it. They scored a couple of goals to give the fans something to cheer about, but the Penguins played a lot of keep away, and were able to tack on a fifth and sixth goal to put it away. My brother and I were disappointed, but we weren't leaving. It was the playoffs, it was game seven, and it would be the last hockey the Caps would play for five months, and we were going to get our fill.

With about three minutes to go, the crowd started to stir, and little chants started to surface around the arena. Within another minute, the whole stadium was rocking with a loud, "Let's go Caps!" cheer, and raucous applause. Washington wasn't even playing particularly well, and the chant didn't waver between offensive and defensive possessions. As the last few seconds ticked off the clock, the roar became deafening, and with the final horn, you'd have thought the game was being played in Pittsburgh.

The players collected at their respective benches, and the fans quieted down a little, but stayed in the stands, still cheering and clapping. As I looked around the stadium, and onto the ice where the players from both teams were now shaking hands, I felt something I don't know if I've ever felt before.

Pride. I was proud of my sports team, and proud of all the other fans in the arena. We had come out to support our hometown team, and even though they played their worst game of the playoffs, we were going to do our part just the same.

As a couple of Penguins players were being interviewed, the Caps collected on the ice, and the fans began to crescendo again. Ovechkin was coming across the ice slowly, visibly saddened at the Caps being eliminated, and it was as if the stadium just wanted to do our part to bring these guys up. The fans started going bonkers, and Ovechkin looked up and raised his stick. The rest of the Caps put their sticks in the air, and the Verizon Center shook with the thunderous response from the crowd. We were all sad about losing the game, but the brief connection between the players and fans was something that reminds me why people love sports.

Yes, it's fun to watch virtuosity, and with Ovechkin, Gilbert Arenas, and Sean Taylor, we've had our opportunities to see great players over the past several years. But the real benefit of sports is what we all want out of life: to be part of something bigger than ourselves. Most of us don't have that opportunity in our jobs, or in our social lives. We do what we do, and maybe we do some good here and there, but a lot of people continue to lack that sense of belonging. There are rare moments when you can get that feeling. That's why, in retrospect, even if I had known that the Caps were going to lose, I wouldn't have sold my ticket for $300, or even $400 (when you get to $500, I start to waver). That feeling is something I won't ever forget, and something I'll strive after for a long time.

So, once more, as a send off for a very good season, and a call to arms for everyone to stick around on the bandwagon through to next year...

C-A-P-S! Caps! Caps! Caps!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Super Monitor (TV?) Deal

Hey folks, here's a big time deal on a monitor that looks like it can be used as a television as long as you're not using coaxial cable as its input. It's a 42" screen for $580, and it's made by Westinghouse, not some joke brand. If I had any kind of job, I'd buy this thing. I recommend those of you with jobs check it out.

http://www.tigerdirect.com/applications/SearchTools/item-details.asp?EdpNo=4633249&Sku=W330-4210

Top 500 Songs - Dave Matthews Band

This was always going to be the hardest of my band lists, because I like so many of DMB's songs, and have liked them so differently over...