Monday, May 24, 2010

Twi-Night Doubleheader - Week 7

Fantasy Players of the Week

  • AL Hitter: Edwin Encarnacion, 3B, Blue Jays (.368, 7 R, 6 HR, 11 RBI) - Six home runs in a week is crazy, which makes you realize how much crazier it is to hit four home runs in a game. By the way, Encarnacion is only 15% owned. Food for thought.
  • NL Hitter: Joey Votto, 1B, Reds (.393, 6 R, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 2 SB) - There wasn't really an NL hitter who stood out, but Votto had the best balance among all categories.
  • AL Pitcher: Neftali Feliz (0-0, 3 SVs, 4 Ks, 0.00/0.23) - While he didn't have a great week, he was virtually flawless in his innings. Gio Gonzalez's 2 very solid wins were good, but I liked the fact that Feliz was just unhittable.
  • NL Pitcher: Edwin Jackson (2-0, 21 Ks, 2.87/0.77) - After a wholly disappointing month and a half, Jackson had one awesome game, and one not so great game in which he did manage 9 strikeouts. Chances are, though, he was not in your lineup for either.

No other commentary this week. We'll get back to the bigger postings next week.

LOST Series Finale And Beyond - Part 1

So it probably won't make much sense to you, but the Lost series finale has made me come back to my 20 for 30 list and see what I can do to revitalize my efforts.

But not revitalize my efforts towards these twenty goals, at least, not all of them. And my efforts will go towards some other goals, not outlined in my original post. And maybe that's the lesson from my whole experience here. The things that matter when you're 26 may not matter when you're 29. The things that seem important in January may seem trivial in June. Tonight is not the same as tomorrow, is not the same as two weeks from now, etc.

I'm killing the 20 for 30 list. Right now.

I'm going back to the "Real Life Achievements" concept of personal growth. It allows me to cite minimal things I do that matter to me, as well as make note of the big changes/experiences in my life.

Over the course of the week, I'll talk more about the Lost series finale, my thoughts on how the whole show came together, the concept behind the finale (specifically the "alternate reality" portion), and maybe, if I'm feeling particularly forthcoming, I'll let you in on why the series finale made me check my priorities. Stay tuned, I guess.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

With the #1 Overall Pick in the 2010 NBA Draft...

It's as if everything that Ted Leonsis touches turns to gold. He's brought the Capitals to national prominence (despite their early playoff exit this year), and now, as ownership of the Wizards is passing to him, Washington catches a break and wins the NBA draft lottery, gaining the #1 pick in this summer's draft.

The Wizards had the #1 pick once before, when they selected Kwame Brown in the 2001 draft. Among the other players taken in the first round of that draft: Tyson Chandler, Pau Gasol, Jason Richardson, Shane Battier, Joe Johnson, Richard Jefferson, Troy Murphy, Zach Randolph, Gerald Wallace, Samuel Dalembert, and Tony Parker. So, not the best job.

This time, however, it looks like the Wizards can't foul it up. Kentucky's John Wall looks like the consensus #1 overall pick, with Ohio State's Evan Turner the only other possibility. The locals, though, are all going for Wall. Less than an hour after the lottery, I saw over a dozen Facebook posts by people excited about the Wizards drafting John Wall. He's clearly the fan favorite, and while I do trust basketball people to know better who should be taken first overall, I think it's worth mentioning that, right after the NCAA season ended a couple years ago, Kevin Durant was the obvious #1 pick, only to be snubbed by Portland in favor of big man Greg Oden. How's that working out?

Take John Wall.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Pair of Signings

Two moves with starkly contrasting impacts were made by Washington area sports teams yesterday.

The Washington Redskins sign DL Vonnie Holliday.

Terms were not released, but I can't imagine there was much money involved, or more than one year. This is just another in a line of moves meant to either motivate Albert Haynesworth to maximize his effort, or provide the Redskins with enough depth to withstand a potential departure by Haynesworth. Either way, the move likely only provides the 'Skins with an additional lineman to join the rotation.

The Washington Capitals sign C Nicklas Backstrom for 10 years, $67 million.

I don't think I'm overstating it when I say that this move, along with the fact that Alexander Ovechkin is signed for 10 more years, ensures that the Capitals will be at the very least a playoff caliber team for the next decade. Backstrom is unquestionably one of the top 25 players in hockey, and there were a lot of times last year when he was the best player on the Capitals. Partnering him and Ovechkin up for the long haul means all of you (us) bandwagon Caps fans won't need to find a new ride any time soon.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Twi-Night Doubleheader - Week 6

Fantasy Players of the Week
  • AL Hitter: Jose Bautista, 3B, Blue Jays (.444, 8 R, 4 HR, 8 RBI) - Our two hitters of the week combined for zero stolen bases, but they both provided power and substantial run production. Bautista is sitting on a .241 batting average, but his power is so prolific that if he could improve just 20 points, he'd likely bring his ownership up from 35% to around 90%.
  • NL Hitter: Martin Prado, 2B, Braves (.367, 4 R, 3 HR, 11 RBI) - A giant game on Sunday wrapped up a great week for a guy with 1B, 2B, and 3B eligibility. The 2B eligibility should especially help him find a way into your lineup.
  • AL Pitcher: Jake Westbrook, SP, Indians (2-0, 10 Ks, 1.20/1.13) - Ricky Romero had one great start, and initially he was my pick, but I know how tough it is to pick up wins. The nod goes to Westbrook.
  • NL Pitcher: Chad Billingsley, SP, Dodgers (2-0, 13 Ks, 1.42/0.95) - The streaky C-Bills had one good start and one great start, lowering his ERA by a full run. Billingsley's owners are hoping it's a sign of things to come.
Who Can You Trust?

Like any season, there are always undrafted players who start off fast, and players drafted early who start off slow. We'll take a look at a couple of each, and give you a recommendation on whether we think these early anomalies are just that, or if they're indicative of how a player will play.

Hot Starts
  • Brett Gardner, OF, Yankees (.317, 28 R, 2 HR, 12 RBI, 17 SB) - I think we all sort of suspected that, with regular playing time in New York's lineup, Gardner could be a valuable fantasy commodity. He's proving that to be true, tying for 6th in runs and holding second place in stolen bases. The thing about Gardner's numbers is that they're completely repeatable for him for the rest of the season. Expect him to continue to be productive.
  • Phil Hughes, SP, Yankees (5-0, 39 Ks in 39 IP, 1.38/0.92) - The talent was always there, and Hughes had a solid spring, but nobody saw this coming. He's given up two or fewer runs in all six of his starts, including starts against the White Sox, Red Sox, and Tigers. I don't expect him to keep up his pace (obviously), but with the offense behind him and a very solid bullpen, I'd expect Hughes to finish with very good numbers.
  • Kelly Johnson, 2B, Diamondbacks (.273, 26 R, 11 HR, 23 RBI, 2 SB) - When we looked at the Diamondbacks lineup in the preseason, we all expected them to be pretty good. I don't think any of us expected Johnson to be leading the team in homers at this point in the season, though. He's also already got 12 doubles, meaning he's just making great contact right now. Nothing in his career performance suggests he's anything more than a 15-20 HR guy, so even with this torrid start, I wouldn't expect him to get more than 25 dingers this year.
  • Casey McGehee, 3B, Brewers (.311, 20 R, 8 HR, 33 RBI) - McGehee came out of nowhere to be a solid end-of-the-year producer for fantasy owners in 2009, but most people expected him to return to nowhere this season. That hasn't exactly happened. McGehee is second in the NL in RBI. His pedigree doesn't point to this kind of production, but results are results. I'd expect somewhere around 90 R, 25 HR, and 100 RBI, plenty of stats to warrant holding on to him.
  • Vernon Wells, OF, Blue Jays (.298, 27 R, 10 HR, 29 RBI, 2 SB) - The former Rider keeper has only lived up to his early career billing twice in his eight-year career. He started off red hot, slapping four home runs in his first three games. We all expected him to disappear shortly after that, but he's kept up steady production all season, and while he's in the middle of a 2/24 stretch, those kinds of slumps are part of baseball. Still, it's hard to trust a guy like Wells who's been disappointing more often than not.
  • Ty Wigginton, 2B, Orioles (.320, 20 R, 12 HR, 24 RBI) - All of us have looked at Ty Wigginton at one point or another, which should tell you a couple things. It should tell you that Wigginton has spent plenty of time on the waiver wire in fantasy leagues, and it should tell you that he's a very streaky player. That being said, he's playing every day for the first time in his career, and he's had a couple of 23+ HR seasons with fewer than 450 at-bats, so it's possible that he's actually a 30 HR guy. But I'd try to sell now.
  • Barry Zito, SP, Giants (6-1, 34 Ks in 54.1 IP, 2.15/1.09) - Zito was a guy we all wrote off after two completely unexceptional seasons in San Francisco, but it looks like he's finally settling in. Don't forget, his career ERA in Oakland was 3.55, and his career WHIP was 1.25. It's not completely unreasonable to think that it just took a year and a half for him to benefit from the AL/NL shift...not completely unreasonable. Maybe be a little careful, though.
Slow Starts
  • Chone Figgins, 2B, Mariners (.182, 15 R, 0 HR, 9 RBI, 8 SB) - Figgins is such a wild card from year to year. From 2005 to 2009, here are his batting averages chronologically: .290, .267, .330, .276, .298. He's stolen at least 30 bases in each of his full seasons, so the steals seem to be on track, partly because he's already got 25 walks, so he's still finding himself on base plenty. If his eye stays this good, I wouldn't be surprised to see his average start to climb back up towards our expected .260-.290 range. You hate to start him while he's hitting under .200, but you hate to miss out on his steals, too. You'll have to weigh that choice for yourself, based on your team's strengths and weaknesses.
  • Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Padres (.250, 16 R, 7 HR, 18 RBI) - The numbers aren't terrible, but they're not what you were hoping for out of Gonzalez. Still, I don't see any reason for concern. He's always been kind of a streaky hitter, and the power is still there. Look for him to go on one of his trademark mash-attacks soon.
  • Aaron Hill, 2B (.183, 14 R, 3 HR, 9 RBI, 1 SB) and Adam Lind, OF (.218, 18 R, 6 HR, 21 RBI), Blue Jays - The two big Blue Jay surprises for fantasy owners last year have gotten off to a rough start in 2010. They were so good last year that we sort of forgot that between them, they had one fantasy relevant season to their names (Hill's 17 HR, 78 RBI, 87 run 2007). That's not to say that we were wrong for expecting big things from either, but tempering expectations was in order. I wouldn't sell them off for nothing right now, but if you get an offer that you would have considered before the season started, it's probably time to take that offer.
  • Carlos Lee, OF, Astros (.199, 14 R, 3 HR, 12 RBI, 1 SB) - Lee actually just could be getting older. He'll be 34 in a month, and his diminishing speed has hurt his run totals over the past couple years. The hitting prowess has been there, though, so its absence this season is of concern. He's always been a slow starter, though, hitting .259 in April for his career, and hitting at least .290 in May through September. He's shown some improvement, so I say stay the course and hope he rights the ship.
  • Aramis Ramirez, 3B, Cubs (.167, 13 R, 3 HR, 17 RBI) - I have no idea what's happening with Aramis. He's only 31, so I don't think it's his age. He was injured last season, but he was supposedly healthy coming into this year. All we can see is the hitter he's become, and it's not pretty. He's already got 33 strikeouts, and he's on pace for 132 strikeouts. He's never struck out more than 100 times in any season. I can't imagine that he's done, but the numbers are heinous. Don't drop him, but for the love of god, don't play him either.
  • Grady Sizemore, OF, Indians (.211, 15 R, 0 HR, 13 RBI, 4 SB) - We're starting to see a problem with Sizemore. His batting average dropped three consecutive seasons, and right now he's in line for a fourth, but this one could be fatal. After bopping a career-high 33 homers in 2008, he's still looking for his first in 2010. He's still striking out far too much and not walking nearly enough (35 Ks and just 9 BBs in 128 ABs), and he's slugging a measly .289. Granted, it's early in the season, but everything seems to be heading in the wrong direction for Grady.
  • Mark Teixeira, 1B, Yankees (.224, 22 R, 7 HR, 29 RBI) - Teixeira, as you'll recall, started off slow last year as well, but ended up competing for the AL MVP crown at the end of the season. There's really no question that he'll turn it around, it's just a matter of when. We may have even already seen it start, as Tex has 2 hits in four of his last five games. No worries.
  • Ben Zobrist, all positions, Rays (.269, 14 R, 0 HR, 16 RBI, 6 SB) - The real concern here is a lack of home runs. The one thing we were pretty sure of was that Zobrist's power was legitimate; now we don't know. Chances are, this is just a tough stretch, but we can't be sure of that. He's thankfully running more; his five steals in April were a career-high for any month, and he hasn't been caught stealing yet.
By The Way...

David Aardsma pitched a perfect 9th with two strikeouts on Friday in relief of Doug Fister. So we can probably dismiss any merit we assigned to the concept that Aardsma has it in for Fister. It's also interesting to note that Aardsma's last three appearances were all in relief of Fister. I don't think that means anything, it was just interesting to see.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

NHL Conference Finals Picks

After the first period last night, I figured I was finally right on one of my picks. Then, of course, in a series in which the Flyers rallied back from a 3-0 series deficit, they charged back from down 3-0 in game seven to win 4-3 and head to the conference finals. Unsurprisingly, my prediction was wrong again.

Anyways, without any further delay, here are my NHL conference finals selections.

Eastern Conference Finals
#7 Philadelphia Flyers vs. #8 Montreal Canadiens

Not many (any?) people would have projected a matchup of the bottom two seeds in the Eastern Conference competing for the chance to go to the Stanley Cup Finals. I know I looked at both of these teams as "also-rans," so I have a hard time imagining either as the Eastern Conference champion. But in a couple weeks, I won't have to imagine it, because it'll be true.

The Flyers' win over the New Jersey Devils may have actually been more shocking than Montreal's upset, because it was so decisive. After splitting the first two games in New Jersey, the Flyers won three straight, including the final two games by 3 goal margins. After that, it should have hardly been shocking to see them come back from 3-0 to beat the Bruins.

Montreal, meanwhile, went through arguably the two strongest teams in the Eastern Conference. They beat the Capitals and Penguins, both in hard-fought seven game series. At this point, it's obvious that Mike Cammalleri is every bit the star that Montreal thought he was when they nabbed him from the Flames last offseason. However, they were also fortunate to play against two teams who were susceptible to their style of play. The Caps and Pens were high octane, weak defense, streaky goaltending teams, and the Habs are built to weather those kinds of teams. It'll be interesting to see how the Canadiens handle a team that plays a more similar style.

In the end, I'm going to go with the goaltender who looks like he could steal games, and that's Jaroslav Halak of the Canadiens. I'm still not 100% sold on him being elite from watching him against the Caps, but people who know more about hockey than I do say he's been phenomenal, so I'll trust their judgment.

Pick: Canadiens in seven

Western Conference Finals
#1 San Jose Sharks vs. #2 Chicago Blackhawks


The polar opposite of the Eastern Conference, the West features its top two seeds, both prolific offensive teams. The Blackhawks and Sharks ranked 3rd and 4th in the NHL in goals scored, respectively.

Chicago was the sexiest pick in the West at the outset of the playoffs (yes, even sexier than Detroit), and they've played exactly the way we all expected them to play. They play an all-or-nothing game that resulted in five of their six second-round games against Vancouver being won by 3 or more goals. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane represent two of the most explosive offensive forces in hockey, and having them on the same team means you're going to score a lot of goals. Kane is very aggressive, though, and his play sometimes allows opponents the occasional odd-man rush.

The Sharks (or as I like to call them, my new second-favorite Western Conference team) don't have quite the offensive firepower of the Blackhawks, but they've got a considerable advantage in net. Evgeni Nabokov had a fantastic season, leading the West in wins, and finishing second in saves and save percentage. The Sharks also may have an advantage in depth, with Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dany Heatley, Joe Pavelski, and Devin Setoguchi all playing at a very high level.

My pick, though is Chicago. I'll acknowledge that part of it is my instinct to pick against every team I root for, but there's another piece. The Blackhawks allowed the fewest shots on goal in hockey, over 170 fewer shots than the next-lowest team (New Jersey). This is a team that simply owns the puck. They spend the entire game in the other team's offensive zone, which prevents the opposing offense from setting up plays. I think the Sharks are going to give the Blackhawks a run for their money, but in the end, they're too similar, and the Blackhawks do what they do better.

Pick: Blackhawks in seven

We should see a lot of entertaining hockey in these conference finals, both of which start tomorrow. I really do recommend you take some time out of your day, crack open a beer, pop some popcorn, and watch some hockey.

NBA Conference Finals Picks

#2 Orlando Magic vs. #4 Boston Celtics

The Magic have steamrolled through these playoffs so far, sweeping the Bobcats and Hawks in the first and second rounds, respectively. But neither of those teams boasts anywhere near the playoff experience or defensive prowess as the Celtics, and the Magic will have their hands full.

As Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce have aged, Rajon Rondo has come into his own as one of the premier point guards in the NBA. Of course, having Garnett and Pierce around him has certainly given Rondo a great opportunity to succeed, but not every player is able to take advantage of the talent around him (see Raymond Felton).

The Magic, meanwhile, run what essentially amounts a video game team: they send one huge body down low, and surround him with guys who can hit open shots. It's inexplicably worked against professional basketball players and coaches. So do we think that the Magic simply do it better than anyone has ever done it, or do we think that maybe the clock is ticking on this strategy?

My pick is that the clock is ticking. The Celtics must be able to decipher this tack, because we've all been told they're an elite defensive team. The Magic ranked 25th in the NBA in assists during the regular season. Just as notably, they ranked 29th during the regular season and are dead last in these playoffs in free throw percentage. So what you've got is a team that isn't very good at passing the ball, and doesn't convert on free throws. Dwight Howard is an excellent player, but I think if you can body up on him and hold him to, say, 30 points, and force the perimeter players to drive to the basket, you're putting them into low percentage situations. Boston's got the personnel to do that.

Pick: Celtics in six

#1 Los Angeles Lakers vs. #3 Phoenix Suns

It's been more than two weeks since either of these teams lost a game, and both teams swept pretty solid competition in the second round (Lakers over Jazz, Suns over Spurs). So you know the confidence is going to be high on both sides.

The Lakers are of course defending champions, and conventional wisdom says it's foolish to bet against them. Their roster is certainly stacked, with all-world player Kobe Bryant leading the charge. Perhaps most notable, though, is the fact that between Bryant and Ron Artest, they've got two of the better defensive players in the league. Granted, the Suns run a wide open offense, but I'd be pretty surprised if Bryant and Artest didn't put a sizable damper on the Suns' plans.

On the flip side, the one guy that the Lakers may not have an answer for is Steve Nash. Even at 36, Nash is one of the quickest, sharpest players in the league. He deserved both of the MVP trophies he was awarded, and despite every expectation that "this is the year he slows down," he's continued to lead Phoenix into the playoffs. Amar'e Stoudemire has benefited tremendously from Nash's skills and leadership, and any team looking at acquiring Stoudemire this offseason should think long and hard about whether or not they've got a point guard who can enable him to be as productive as he's been with Nash.

In the end, though, I expect the Lakers' talent to be too much for Phoenix to overcome. Having such frontcourt depth that you can have Lamar Odom come off the bench is remarkable, and between him, Andrew Bynum, and Pau Gasol, I have a hard time seeing the Suns being able to match up.

Pick: Lakers in five

So, yes, I'm predicting a rematch of two years ago when the Celtics beat the Lakers for the NBA title. That's the nature of the NBA. It cultivates dynasties. Best of luck to the Suns and Magic on trying to prove me wrong.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Flyers vs. Bruins

With no expertise and seconds before the puck is dropped in the decisive game seven between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Boston Bruins, I offer my quick analysis and pick.

The Flyers are physical, and Simon Gagne is back from injury. Additionally, they've won three straight games to force this game seven, which would suggest that they're on a roll.

But Tuukka Rask has the ability to just flatten an opponent, where I just don't feel that way about Michael Leighton. Moreover, I still think the home ice advantage will have an impact, albeit a small one. It has to matter one of these days, right? We won't see the Penguins, Capitals, Coyotes and Bruins lose game 7's on home ice in the same playoffs, right?

Guys? Right?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

What Does This Change?

The Penguins' loss to the Canadiens last night really helped to temper my disdain for Pittsburgh and its fans. Knowing that I won't have to hear about any Pittsburgh team for at least a few months is some comfort. I'm sure I'll still encounter my share of snotty Penguins fans who'll make fun of the Capitals for losing in the first round, but at least now, with the Penguins having come up short in these playoffs as well, I can feel a little more comfortable citing the Caps' regular season sweep of the Penguins as a counter-argument.

Do I still hate Pittsburgh? Probably, though it's a question I'm trying to give more thought these days. I have a couple of good friends who are fans of all things Pittsburgh, and they're pretty reasonable folks, guys I like hanging out with. I had a Facebook friend who was just horrible in his interactions with Capitals fans, but he has since been un-friended, so that's that.

There'll always be people who are nasty about their favorite sports teams, regardless of the team you're talking about. People want to be a part of something bigger than themselves, and they want to be a part of a successful venture. Some people will react to that success with grace, and others will react with venom. It all depends on the nature of the person, not the nature of the team.

I'd like to think that I'm fairly gracious in victory, though in this town, that's not a characteristic we have to worry about too much. I do feel like I can now just sit down and watch hockey, rather than being worried about how far the Penguins will go and how much shit I'm going to have to listen to if I watch a game. And that feels good.

By the way, my new rooting interest has become the San Jose Sharks (starting in round 2, after they ousted my favorite Western Conference team, the Colorado Avalanche). I like Joe Thornton a lot, but more so I like that they had a reputation for being playoff chokers, and they're shedding that reputation before our eyes.

Also, they're freaking sharks! :)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Someone Get LaVar Arrington off My Radio

I've had very little nice to say about LaVar Arrington since about three years into his tenure as a Washington Redskin. He was a disappointing high draft pick, and perhaps served as a warning to other teams regarding early linebacker picks. Their skills don't always translate to the NFL, as they rely on being faster than college running backs, and strong enough to take them down.

But I can get past a bad draft pick. He didn't work out, that's alright, it happens. I wouldn't be talking about Arrington today if that's where it stopped. But he's got his own radio show in the DC area. It's on from 2 PM - 6 PM, afternoon drive time, which means someone decided he was one of the best options they have, and whoever that is should be fired.

LaVar is awful. He comes across as naive and foolish, and he's just about the worst interviewer I've ever heard. Some commentators will offer leading questions; LaVar outright answers his own questions, then says, "Right?" He basically instructs his interviewee to use as many cliches as possible. His radio partner, Chad Dukes, has some more sense than Arrington, but he encourages LaVar enough that he's complicit in this crime. And make no mistake; what LaVar Arrington does to his radio listeners is criminal.

The worst part of it all is that I think Arrington is just not all that familiar with today's NFL. Just yesterday, the discussion focused on DeSean Jackson's comments about being happy that Donovan McNabb was out of town. That kind of discussion, a division rival talking smack about your quarterback, that's easy radio fodder. Arrington managed to make himself look like an idiot. First, he referred to McNabb's replacement as Schaub. Three times. Matt Schaub is the starting quarterback for the Houston Texans, and is fairly accomplished. Kevin Kolb is McNabb's replacement in Philadelphia.

If that were the only mistake he made, while silly, it could be chalked up to misspeaking once, then repeating the misspeak. But just a minute later, this exchange took place between LaVar and Dukes:

L: "How many teams are in the NFL? Thirty-five?"
C: "Thirty-two."
L: "Yeah, I guess there would have to be an even number."

Congratulations, LaVar Arrington. You've established yourself as the least qualified sports commentator in the Washington, DC area. Seriously, how many teams are in the NFL? I'll give you a clue, LaVar. No teams have been added to the league since you stopped playing football less than five years ago.

I mean, come on, this is the guy's job. If there's one expectation about a former NFL player when it comes to his radio show, it's that he'll be able to speak with some expertise about the NFL. I can accept that he's not a hockey expert, and doesn't know much about baseball, but he'd better know the NFL up and down.

I don't mean for this post to make you think I dislike LaVar Arrington as a person. He seems like a fine person, fairly good-natured, and while I personally don't care, he's got a history of being very charitable. But companies shouldn't (and overwhelmingly don't) employ people because they're good people. They employ people because they're good at their job. And LaVar isn't.

Twi-Night Doubleheader - Week 5 (belated)

Apologies to everyone who was expecting this post yesterday. Most of our writing staff was in Atlantic City for the weekend, and we had a hard time getting back on track. And yes, this means that it'll take into account the last seven days from today, rather than yesterday. You'll have to stomach that.

Fantasy Players of the Week

AL Hitter: Vladimir Guerrero, DH, Rangers (.381, 4 R, 4 HR, 13 RBI, 1 SB) - Vlad is looking more and more like one of the best picks of our draft. He's forcing you to play him, even though he only qualifies at Utility.
NL Hitter: Ryan Braun, OF, Brewers (.379, 12 R, 1 HR, 8 RBI, 2 SB) - I hate giving my players of the week awards to the top Yahoo-rated guy from each league, but 12 runs and 8 RBI is just too much to ignore. Take note, though, of Carlos Ruiz, C, Phillies, who hit .632 with a pair of homers last week. Not bad from a catcher who's owned in only 15% of leagues.
AL Pitcher: Dallas Braden, SP, Athletics (1-0, 6 Ks, 0.00/0.00) - Jon Lester went 2-0 with 12 Ks and great averages, but perfect is perfect.
NL Pitcher: Tyler Clippard, RP, Nationals (3-0, 6 Ks, 1.59/1.41)/Matt Capps, RP, Nationals (0-1, 3 SVs, 2 Ks, 1.93/0.43) - Clippard probably gets the nod, but I wanted to cite both players. The Nationals' bullpen has historically been a disaster, so the fact that it's performing at such a high level was, I thought, notable.

Reach for the Rolaids
  • Clippard is available in 40% of leagues, and with 6 wins and over 1 K/IP, he's worth throwing in your lineup. The wins may not endure, but he's getting the chance to pitch in tight games, and he's pitching well.
  • Bobby Jenks is getting a few days off as the closer, which means if Matt Thornton is available, you must pick him up. And if J.J. Putz is available, you should consider picking him up, too.
  • Jose Contreras (yes, he's still in baseball) is in line to pick up a few save opportunities while Ryan Madson is on the DL and Brad Lidge is getting over elbow pain. With as horrible as Madson and Lidge have been in attempting to close games over the past year, don't you think you should do your part to put Contreras on more than 7% of rosters?
  • Octavio Dotel has proven himself more and more hittable as his career has progressed (he's 36 now), and he's been just terrible this year. Don't be surprised if Evan Meek starts stealing save opportunities from Dotel. And if he does well, don't be surprised if Meek takes the job altogether.
One Joe To Another

Joe Mandi likes to complain that David Aardsma (one of my closers) has it in for Doug Fister (one of his starters). I figured he was just being emotional, but...

In 4 games in relief of Fister, Aardsma is 0-2 with one save, two blown saves. He has two strikeouts in four innings. And his ERA in those games is 11.25, with a WHIP of 3.00.

In his 8 other games, Aardsma is 0-0 with seven saves and zero blown saves. He has nine strikeouts in eight innings. His ERA is 0.00, and his WHIP is 0.25.

Maybe Joe Mandi's on to something, maybe not...but I'm strongly considering putting Aardsma on my bench for Fister's next start.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Steroids v. Rape

Mark McGwire has been demonized for having used steroids and (until recently) not admitting so. Barry Bonds continues to be shunned from baseball because the belief is that major league fans won't tolerate their team signing him, because of the assumption, most likely correct, that he used performance-enhancing substances during his career.

Lawrence Taylor is a member of the NFL Hall of Fame, despite a fairly long rap sheet. Will he be removed from it if this most recent (and most heinous) charge sticks? Is cheating at your job more horrible than rape? It can't be, right?

I'm trying not to rush to judgment, trying not to assume that Taylor is guilty before he's been given a chance to defend himself. But if he ends up being guilty of this crime, the NFL has to step up and say, "Despite his amazing on-field performances, we refuse to be associated with Lawrence Taylor any further. While his statistics will remain in our record books, he has been removed from the NFL Hall of Fame."

And the media needs to react with similar disgust. Otherwise, keeping McGwire and Bonds out of the baseball Hall of Fame is just petulant.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Tasered

By now, I'm sure all of you have heard about the kid who ran on the field at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia and got Tasered for his transgression. On the radio and on sports websites, there's been a lot of to-do about whether the officer overstepped his authority, and whether there should be changes to stadium policies going forward. Certainly there is some level of merit on each side of this discussion.

Those who argue that the officer acted excessively would point to the 99% of field trespassers who are similar to the boy who was Tasered; non-malicious, reckless, but not violently so. Most people who run onto the field are simply foolish people making foolish decisions, the kind of foolish decisions that a few more ladies in my zip code could afford to make.

Additionally, there's the legal concept of infraction versus punishment. Does the act of trespassing on the field of play warrant the use of a Taser to subdue the trespasser? Would we be comfortable with all trespassers on the field of play being Tasered?

The other side of the argument mostly points to the two jackasses (a father and son) who stormed onto the field in Chicago and attacked the Royals' first base coach Tom Gamboa. Would the threatening of Taser use have prevented the attack? That's a difficult question to answer. The father, by the way, received 30 months of probation...for battery...on TV.

Additionally, the use of a Taser to subdue suspects who are belligerent, violent, or attempt to escape has been accepted nationwide as a viable method. It has a regulated amount of charge, which theoretically prevents incidents of excessive police force. The Taser has been approved for civilian use in 43 states. The debate about the safety of Tasers rages on, but at least for today, they're considered part of the police officer's arsenal to "protect and serve."

I have trouble staying unbiased in these situations. As many of you know, my father was a police officer, and as a result, I view the average police officer as being honorable and responsible. Extending that sentiment towards all police officers is not necessarily rational, and I accept that. But I do believe that, as long as Tasers are considered safe and legal by state and local governments, they are an option for officers to use as instructed and as necessary.

The general concept people have is, "If a guy is violent, Tase him. If not, just run him down." What if Prefontaine decided he wanted to get on the field and prevent a game from ending? The guy could outrun any police officer, and probably several police officers, for ten, twenty, maybe thirty minutes? Or what if A.J. Hawk got loose on a baseball diamond? At any point, he could go from carefree dodger to shortstop crusher.

Now, pretend instead it's A.J. Feeley...but he's got a knife in his pocket. He's running around, la di da, but his plan is to stab Joakim Soria, because he's crazy, and he thinks if he stabs Soria, his White Sox will be able to beat whatever reliever comes in to replace him? I just think that anyone who invades the field of play already knows that they're going to be arrested, possibly tackled, definitely manhandled.

The reality is that you can't judge someone's intent when they run on the field, other than that they intend to stir something up. The only reason you run onto the field is if there's something on the field that you want to touch. For a lot of people, maybe most, it's just those three minutes of quasi-fame when the people in the stands watch to see how long you can run around before getting nabbed. For a few people, it's touching the jersey of their favorite player. For the very rare psychotic, it's injury, of themselves or others.

The Taser may seem a bit extreme, but it ends the incident quickly, and, according to most accounts, is independently safe. The kid who got Tased in Philadelphia is fine, other than being clearly mentally retarded. Seriously, he apparently called his dad to ask if he could run on the field? So not only is he a delinquent, but he's got some sense that his dad might encourage his activities? His mom seems to be the only sensible person, apologizing for the kid's idiotic act, and saying this gem, similar to something I'm sure we've all heard our mothers say: "It was stupid. It was just absolutely stupid."

I say, when you go on the field, you're aware that you're breaking the law, and doing it in broad daylight. You can't be surprised when you get Tased because you evade security. And I don't fault any officer who, after giving the person a chance to yield, uses appropriate force to end an encounter.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Twi-Night Doubleheader - Week 4

Four weeks in, and all we've gotten is four weeks older.

Fantasy Players of the Week

AL Hitter: Evan Longoria, 3B, Rays (.417, 7 R, 3 HR, 5 RBI, 2 SB) - Kind of a down week for the American League, but no Longoria owner is unhappy with how his week went.
NL Hitter: Carlos Gonzalez, OF, Diamondbacks (.391, 5 R, 2 HR, 10 RBI, 3 SB) - Looks like I probably should've let my offer of Carlos Lee for Gonzalez sit up there for a bit and force the issue.
AL Pitcher: Francisco Liriano, SP, Twins (2-0, 19 Ks, 1.80/1.07) - Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke also had fantastic weeks, but neither of them pick up a pair of wins. Greinke is particularly perplexing, giving up 1 run over 15 innings and not being able to pick up a victory. The Royals apparently really are that terrible.
NL Pitcher: Josh Johnson, SP, Marlins (2-0, 20 Ks, 1.80/0.73) - Johnson gets the nod over Yovani Gallardo, who also had two wins, but couldn't match Johnson's fantastic WHIP.

Go Pick Up

AL Hitter: Brett Gardner (49%) and Alberto Callaspo (41%) are still sitting out there, just waiting for someone like you to give them a home. Seriously, don't be an idiot. If they're out there in your league, go get them.
NL Hitter: Kosuke Fukudome (41%) - After two completely uninteresting fantasy seasons, Fukudome has started off hot, particularly in the run production categories (14 runs, 17 RBI). I don't expect him to hit .342 this season, but it's possible he's finally settled in against major league pitching, and can be productive for you.
AL Pitcher: Doug Fister (31%) - I guess it's the lack of strikeouts that's keeping you away (16 Ks in 35 IP)? Everything else looks good, and Fister isn't showing any signs of slowing down yet, and now has given up 2 or fewer runs in each of his five starts this season.
NL Pitcher: Jaime Garcia (49%) - I don't want to imply that I think he's the next Chris Carpenter, but he could be the next Barry Zito. Well, without the Cy Young award, probably. But he's got good stuff and he's on a team that should put him in line for plenty of wins.

Top Five Teams Against Whom To Always Start Your SPs
  1. Houston Astros - But you already knew that. Even with Berkman returning to the lineup and Carlos Lee starting to heat up, the team is still terrible. Roy Oswalt would have to pitch out of his mind to win 15 games on this team.
  2. Seattle Mariners - So apparently this "defense first" mentality just makes you lose close games. The Mariners are tied with Houston for the fewest home runs (9) and scored 4 runs over the weekend's three games against Texas.
  3. Pittsburgh Pirates - With a team ERA of 6.79, you can usually count on Pittsburgh starters to give up enough runs to give your starter a chance at a win. Just make sure your starter isn't Clayton Kershaw; the Pirates have won both starts against him this season.
  4. Kansas City Royals - They're actually in the middle of the pack in slugging percentage, and in the top 10 in batting average, but this hasn't translated into wins or runs. And I have a hard time thinking that the Royals will end up quite so high in those two stats, meaning they're going to get worse.
  5. Baltimore Orioles - They've started to right the ship a little bit, but now it looks like Brian Roberts could be out for months. That doesn't bode well for the team with the 5th-fewest runs in baseball.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Washington Redskins Offseason

Initially I was going to just talk about the Redskins' draft, but I figured there was no harm, and in fact something to gain by expanding the topic, so I did just that.

(Not So) Sexy Rexy

Rex Grossman was brought in, and while the company line was that Jason Campbell was still the starter, talk of an "open competition" festered, and the writing was pretty much on the wall. At this point, Sam Bradford and Jimmy Clausen looked like potential draft picks for the 'Skins, so the expectation was that either Grossman or Campbell would be a placeholder while the rookie got himself up to speed.

New Running Backs

Three new halfbacks are in town, and each of them has a level of intrigue.

Larry Johnson had back-to-back 1700+ yard seasons for the Kansas City Chiefs, but that was 4 years ago. It remains to be seen if he can recapture some of that magic.

Willie Parker was a home run threat for the Steelers during both of their Super Bowl runs, setting the all-time record for longest rush in a Super Bowl in 2006. But his productivity has slid recently, and last year he was relegated to a backup role when Rashard Mendenhall burst onto the scene.

Ryan Torain has essentially played in one game as a pro, and while he did well (12 rushes for 68 yards and a TD against Cleveland in 2008 as a member of Mike Shanahan's Denver Broncos), he obviously is unproven. Shanahan must like him, though, so you could see him breaking into the rotation.

These three acquisitions point to the Redskins potentially parting ways with Clinton Portis, or at least down-sizing his role. I'm not opposed to that, as Portis has been "too big for his britches" for a year and a half now.

Mc-Nabbing a Quarterback

You see what I did there? I incorporated the concept of theft into the title of this section, which is appropriate, because I really believe that the Redskins trade of their second round pick and a mid-round pick next year for Donovan McNabb is a steal. While he's not in the first tier of quarterbacks (where Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Aaron Rodgers reside), he's right behind them, and in watching the Eagles over the past few years, I think McNabb still has the ability to make a play at any time, which is something you haven't been able to say about a quarterback in Washington for...twenty years? Maybe more?

This was obviously by far the biggest acquisition the Redskins made this offseason, and I think it immediately puts them into wild card contention.

A Name Worth Mentioning

When Adam Carriker was selected by the St. Louis Rams in the first round of the 2007 draft, I didn't know much about him, but I knew he had the kind of name you'd expect out of an elite player, so I figured he must be pretty good. It's kind of silly to admit that, but seriously, when you hear names like Peyton Manning, Golden Tate, Knowshon Moreno, and Anquan Boldin, you just know they're football players. Carriker had that kind of name.

So naturally, when he struggled early on, I was pretty surprised. The Redskins dropped back 28 picks in the 5th round to pick up the former first rounder, and I won't lie, I'm a little excited about what he could do. I mean, the talent was there for him to be an early pick in the draft. Hopefully Mike Shanahan and Jim Haslett can turn around Carriker's career, even if it's just to the point of being a starter. The price was right.

The Redskins' Brief Foray Into NFL Draft

Washington held the #4 overall pick in this year's NFL draft, and I don't think I'm the only one who was really hoping the 'Skins would be able to trade down a few slots, get some additional picks, and still acquire one of the top four offensive tackles, someone who can protect McNabb. They went 1/2, staying at the #4 slot and selecting Trent Williams out of Oklahoma. Everything I hear is that A) Williams is a great fit for Shanahan's zone-blocking scheme, and B) Williams and Rutgers tackle Anthony Davis have the highest upsides of offensive linemen in the draft. I have to trust other people on evaluating offensive linemen, so I feel pretty good about the move.

I can't speak much to the rest of the draft, because they only took players I've never heard of. The Redskins traded down a couple times in the later rounds and acquired extra picks, which I approve of as a general policy. I hope that their two late offensive linemen selections, C Erik Cook and OL Selvish Capers, are uniquely suited to the zone-blocking scheme, and will end up being shrewd moves. But that's really just blind hope.

The Campbell Era Ends

As expected, the Redskins finally traded away Jason Campbell. Somewhat surprising, though, was the marginal price that he commanded in the trade market. The Oakland Raiders acquired Campbell in exchange for a 4th round pick...in 2012. It would have been nice to trade Campbell for a commodity that helps right away, but I guess you take what you can get. If there's no market, there's no market. And really, you can't expect there to be much of a market for a QB outside of the top 20, which Campbell most certainly is.

I think a lot of local fans have a slightly misguided concept of how good Campbell was, and how good he could've been "if he had an offensive line," as the line tends to go. As a direct comparison, I offer Aaron Rodgers, superstar QB for the Green Bay Packers.
  • Rodgers - 64.7% completions, 4,434 yards, 30 TDs, 7 INTs, 50 sacks for 306 yards, 10 fumbles, 4 lost.
  • Campbell - 64.5% completions, 3,618 yards, 20 TDs, 15 INTs, 43 sacks for 285 yards, 11 fumbles, 3 lost.
Rodgers received just as much pressure as Campbell, completed about the same number of throws, and was unequivocally a better quarterback than Campbell. I can't in good conscience say that Campbell was put into a position to succeed, but I'm generally of the opinion that QB talent will bear out, and with Campbell it just never did. I never saw a game where Campbell made me think, "Holy cow, this guy is good."

I do wish the best for him this season and going forward, as I do think he was put into a tough situation and handled it with class. But I never want him to be either of my favorite teams' starting quarterbacks again.

Going Forward

So that's what we're looking at so far. I don't think the Redskins are done just yet; I could certainly see them signing former Cowboy Flozell Adams for a year or two to add some offensive line depth. And I think they'll still likely look at other opportunities to trade disgruntled defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. But even if no further changes are made, I think we're looking at a very productive offseason for the 'Skins. The addition of McNabb alone adds a couple of wins, and if Shanahan adds a couple more, we're looking at a playoff-caliber team.

And that's all we Washington fans want. We just want the opportunity to be disappointed in December and January. We want to care just enough to get slapped down by the hand of god.

And yes, I'm alluding to the Washington Capitals' crushing loss in seven games to the Montreal Canadiens. I'll try to talk about what happened at some point, but not now. I have not the heart to say. For me, the pain is still too near. But someday, when I've cooled off, we'll have a heart-to-heart about it, just you and me. Promise.

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...