Monday, July 30, 2007

Weekend provides perfect interruption

On Sunday, Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr. were inducted into the Hall of Fame. Both men, who were classy individuals throughout their careers, maintained that same level of professionalism and leadership during their induction speeches.

Gwynn: "When you sign your name on the dotted line, it's more than just playing the game of baseball. You've got to be responsible and make decisions and show people how things are supposed to be done."

Ripken: "This day shouldn't be all about us. Today is about celebrating the best that baseball has been and the best it can be. This is a symbol it's alive, popular. Whether you like it or not, as big leaguers, we are role models. The only question is, will it be positive or will it be negative?"

Though the above quotes were just a few from Sunday, they get the point across sufficiently enough -- they understood the challenges that were in front of them, and they passed them all with flying colors.

Apparently to some people, however, working hard, being responsible, and playing the game the right way have all become, more or less, undervalued or even corny. To say that an athlete played the game with everything he or she had, cared about the overall craft itself, or even valued the sport and organization enough to stay out of trouble is occasionally followed by the response, "So what? That's what professional athletes are supposed to do. They make millions of dollars." Unfortunately that's not really the case anymore in sports, which can only be emphasized further by the past few weeks' events. Michael Vick's currently in big legal trouble for allegedly participating in dogfighting, the NBA has credibility problems after an NBA referee scandal, and the suspicion surrounding Barry Bonds has captured the nation's attention, both positively and negatively, bringing thousands to the defense of Hank Aaron as being, no matter what Bonds does, the real home-run king.

Amidst all of the scandals, arrests, suspensions, suspicions, and disappointing actions in sports news, Ripken and Gwynn reminded many baseball fans, and even just sports fans in general, that not all athletes take where they're at for granted or refuse to acknowledge the ways they got to where they are today. They were blessed with some talent and natural abilities, sure, but they worked hard and put the time and effort in in order to succeed. People were given the opportunity on Sunday to observe two men who performed and acted like many fans simply wish more athletes would today.

Nobody in this world is perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but in a sports world that frequently disappoints fans of all ages, having the chance to recognize and honor real idols and role models was definitely a welcomed event. People want to see athletes work hard and show up for work to put in the time and effort just like many do everyday with their own jobs and careers. Gwynn and Ripken did that every single time they stepped onto the field -- and I thank them for it.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Wizards have potential for great season

I understand that it's currently baseball season. I also know that football season is right around the corner. And while I have high hopes for the ongoing progression of the Orioles and the Redskins 2007-2008 season, I have constantly been thinking about the upcoming Wizards season. I fully believe that Wizards GM Ernie Grunfeld and the rest of the Wiz front office have done a spectacular job over the last couple years and have completely turned the whole franchise around. The team is filled with promise for both the short and long term.

The most important part of the construction of the present Wizards roster happened about four years ago with the signing of Gilbert Arenas in 2003. Once Arenas was signed, the Wizards traded with the Mavericks in 2004 for Antawn Jamison and took on his large salary. And in 2005, the Wizards traded the extremely overmatched Kwame Brown to the Lakers and received Caron Butler in return. With these three moves, the Wizards formed a three-headed scoring machine that dramatically improved the team.

The Wizards returned to the playoffs in 2004-2005, and they even managed to get to the second round, but they were soundly defeated by the Miami Heat. The Wizards lost in the first round to the Cleveland Cavs the next two seasons. While the big three of Arenas, Jamison, and Butler is, at this very moment, as strong and as formidable as ever, the team has lacked consistent play outside of those three. It's starting to look like that time may be over.

In 2005 the Wizards lacked a first round pick, but that didn't stop them from selecting Andray Blatche out of high school in the second round. And in 2006 the Wizards drafted Oleksiy Pecherov with the 18th pick in the first round, who was unable to join the Wiz until this summer. In free agency in 2006, the Wizards signed DeShawn Stevenson and Darius Songaila, who both performed relatively well as sidekicks to the big three. Stevenson recently signed a 4 year, $15 million dollar contract to remain with the team. And in the 2007 NBA Draft, the Wizards chose Nick Young in the first round and Dominic McGuire in the second round. Both of these rookies should make the team with ease.

With players like Jarvis Hayes and Michael Ruffin probably on the way out, more playing time will be devoted to this younger group of role players for the Wizards. Blatche, who will probably be re-signed within the next couple weeks, is only 21 years old. Pecherov and McGuire are also 21, Young is 22, and Stevenson is 26. Arenas himself is only 25, surprisingly. The point is this -- the Wizards have a lot of young and promising talent that should be able to shoulder much of the load for whatever Arenas, Butler, and Jamison cannot handle.

The Wizards starting five will probably look the same as last year's:

1 Arenas
2 Stevenson
3 Butler
4 Jamison
5 Haywood

I still don't expect that much out of Brendan Haywood. He's probably just as effective as Etan Thomas, but I'm just not sure what to think of him. Sometimes he'll look great on the floor by being active on the glass and blocking shots. And at other times, he'll look like he's standing in quicksand and won't do much of anything inside the paint. And, although taking charges is a part of today's NBA, I don't know if there's a bigger player in the league who flops around the court more than Haywood does.

The big difference for this team, though, comes with the dramatic improvement to the bench. The seven guys sitting on the bench will probably be Antonio Daniels, Etan Thomas, Songaila, Blatche, Young, McGuire, and Pecherov, in no particular order. Not only does this group bring a lot of upside to usually underwhelming assortment of players on the bench, but each player seems to bring a different skill set to the table. Daniels is the backup point guard who has shown that he can lead the team and run the show without Arenas on the floor. Thomas occasionally starts at center, and even though he's undersized at the position, he seems to play harder than Haywood does and manages to split time with him during the season. Songaila brought some stability to the forward position for the Wizards by playing defense and hitting jump shots to spread out opposing defenses. Blatche has shown flashes of brilliance by snatching rebounds above the rim and blocking shots with ease. In college and during a few games of the NBA's Summer League, Young showed that he can slash and score. McGuire demonstrated that he's a versatile talent who can bring some defensive ability as well. And Pecherov could one day team with Blatche to form a very interesting combination.

I know that last paragraph was pretty long, but you need to understand one thing -- the Wizards aren't a joke anymore. They might not be the best team in the Eastern Conference, but they're a force to be reckoned with. As long as the big three stays healthy and the bench keeps developing in order to contribute rebounding, defense, and the occasional scoring punch, the Wizards could be one of the surprise teams next year.

But it's still a little too early for all this talk. So for now, maybe I'll just keep reading Arenas's blog to occupy some time -- that's always good for a few laughs.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Orioles out-think themselves when it comes to trading

Over the past few months, the Orioles have frequently been mentioned as one of the main teams interested in Rangers first baseman Mark Teixeira. Teixeira has also expressed his own interest in playing for the Orioles, mainly because he was born in Annapolis, MD. The addition of Teixeira to play first for the O's seems like a perfect and logical choice for the organization.

As of this moment, though, the Orioles would have to trade for Teixeira. He does not become a free agent until after the 2008 season. To make the situation more difficult, several other teams, mainly contenders such as the Braves, Dodgers, Angels, and Yankees, to name a few, have expressed their desire to obtain the power hitting Teixeira.

I don't believe that Teixeira will be traded this year unless one of these teams, or possibly another team, completely overwhelms the Rangers with a large package of solid prospects or young talent. The Orioles, at least for now, probably won't be one of those teams willing to part with a large amount of quality, young talent. But what if they were?

Over the past several years, the Orioles have made, obviously, some good and bad trades. For the most part, though, the O's have pulled the trigger on moves that not many baseball personnel, analysts, or fans saw coming. Some of the trades seemingly came out of left field and confused many people.

I'll break down the most notable Orioles trades over the past several years right now:

- July 1999 -- The Orioles trade P Juan Guzman to the Reds for P B.J Ryan. This trade may have been one of the O's best of all-time. They acquired their future closer for a couple years for an aging veteran pitcher with very little left in the tank. Unfortunately, the O's lost Ryan to the Blue Jays after the 2005 season via free agency. Ever since that choice, the Orioles have been unsuccessfully searching for a way to bolster the back-end of the bullpen.

- July 2000 -- The Orioles acquire Mike Kinkade, Melvin Mora, Pat Gorman, and Lesli Brea from the Mets for SS Mike Bordick. Not much, if anything, has been heard from Kinkade, Gorman, or Brea since the trade, but the bright spot for the Orioles in this deal was acquiring Mora. When first inserted into the lineup, Mora showed his versatility by being able to play essentially all of the outfield and infield positions. After Ripken's retirement, Mora filled in nicely at third base and teamed with Miguel Tejada to present a formidable one-two punch on the left side of the infield. Mora has recently regressed in his production and has presented some injury concerns, but he is 35+ years old.

- January 2002 -- The Orioles deal OF prospect Willie Harris to the White Sox for OF Chris Singleton. Looking for improvement in centerfield, the Orioles decided that Singleton was their man. Singleton went on to have a disappointing season in 2002, batting only .262 with nine home runs and 50 RBI. And while the trade happened over five years ago, Harris is currently a corner outfielder on the Braves, hitting .326 with 15 stolen bases. Not one of the Orioles finest trades, for sure.

- December 2002 -- The Orioles trade IF Ryan Minor to the Expos for P Jorge Julio. Time certainly has changed some of the perception surrounding this deal. Minor, who was supposed to be Ripken's replacement on the Orioles at one point in time, has never amounted to much in his career. Julio, though, came to the Orioles and showed a lot of promise and performed decently out of the closer's role. Julio always had a great arm, with the ability to occasionally hit triple digits on the radar gun, but he lost control at times and steadily became less and less effective. There will be more on Julio shortly.

- March 2003 -- The Rockies send OF Jack Cust to the Orioles for 1B/OF Chris Richard. By acquiring Cust, the Orioles continued their quest of trying to find a power-hitting corner outfielder to aid the middle of the lineup. Unfortunately, the O's gave up on Cust after only a few seasons of him either riding the pine or being over-looked in the minor leagues. They cut ties with Cust, and this season the Oakland A's picked him up and inserted him into their lineup during a stretch of injuries. Cust has slowed down a bit, but he's hitting .255 for the A's with 16 HR and 45 RBI while receiving steady playing time. It appears as if the O's gave up on him too soon.

- July 2003 -- The Orioles trade SP Sidney Ponson to the Giants for P Damian Moss, P Kurt Ainsworth, and P Ryan Hannaman. This trade, in my opinion, may be the most disappointing of all of these recent trades because of the lack of quality the O's received. When the O's traded Ponson to the Giants in the middle of their pennant race, Ponson was still a very solid pitcher. He helped the Giants rotation immensely. Meanwhile, neither of the three pitchers the Orioles received amounted to much of anything. Moss was overrated and was soon kicked to the curb. Ainsworth had many arm problems to deal with, and I've never even heard Hannaman's name since the trade four years ago. Instead of acquiring any young talent, the O's gave away a once-solid pitcher for next to nothing. And if that wasn't bad enough, the Orioles brought Ponson back, and he proceeded to not only beef up and become ineffective, but he also had problems with the law back home in Aruba. Good going.

- June 2004 -- The Orioles send P Denny Bautista to the Royals for P Jason Grimsley. Not much of a trade here at all; Bautista did very little for the Royals, and Grimsley was terrible for the Orioles. This trade is only notable because it was extremely random and also involved Bautista, who at one time possessed a lot of promise. And it also gave Grimsley a chance to name Miguel Tejada as one of the players who, according to him, uses or used steroids at some point during his career.

- July 2004 -- The Mets trade OF Karim Garcia to the Orioles for P Mike DeJean. I don't have much to add here, but both of these players were absolutely terrible for the O's. DeJean was signed to help out the bullpen, and he rarely seemed to get anybody out. And when Garcia came over, many fans already disliked him because of his whole role in the Yankees-Red Sox scuffle a few years back. Apparently only the Orioles could keep trading so little for even less.

- February 2005 -- The Orioles trade 2B Mike Fontenot, 2B/OF Jerry Hairston Jr., and P Dave Crouthers to the Cubs for OF Sammy Sosa. In a trade that seemed to have very little negative repercussions, the O's decided to bite the bullet and take a chance with Sosa. He managed to underwhelm even his most notable critics, and he proceeded to compile a .221 batting average while hitting only 14 home runs and driving in only 45 in 102 games. Meanwhile, Fontenot has recently been called up by the Cubs and has been absolutely killing the ball. Despite only being called up to be a short-term replacement, Fontenot has managed to hit .331 while earning himself a starting role, for the time being, at second base. He's been one of the main reasons why the Cubs have dramatically improved their play. Thanks for nothing, Sosa.

- July 2005 -- The Rockies deal OF Eric Byrnes to the O's for OF Larry Bigbie. Bigbie was a huge bust for the Orioles and is no longer on any major league roster, but Byrnes has been a huge success this year for the Diamondbacks. After Byrnes came over in the trade, he completely stunk up the joint, batting a horrible .192 in 52 games. But apparently he still had a lot left in the tank, and he's showing it this season. He's hitting .309 with 23 stolen bases. This may have been another example of the Orioles giving up on someone too soon.

- December 2005 -- The Orioles trade P Steve Kline to the Giants for P LaTroy Hawkins. After signing Kline to be the main lefty in the bullpen, the Orioles soon realized that Kline was not who they thought he was (please read Dennis Green style). Kline openly complained and was a clubhouse cancer, so the O's swapped relievers with the Giants. Hawkins came over and had a relatively decent season as a set-up man, but this situation was yet another case of an acquired player causing problems for the whole team.

- January 2006 -- The Mets send P Kris Benson to the Orioles in exchange for P John Maine and P Jorge Julio. This trade with the Mets seemed like a steal at first for the O's. Benson came in and pitched pretty well for the Orioles, even though the whole starting rotation continued to struggle. Meanwhile, Julio showed that he truly was an overrated talent, and he soon pitched his way out of New York. Unfortunately, the same can not be said for John Maine. Maine has pitched brilliantly this year. He has a 10-5 record with a 3.07 ERA and 101 strikeouts. Maine, at one point, was highly thought of in the Orioles farm system, but he repeatedly failed to impress when he was given a chance on the O's roster. But once he was dealt, he seemed to pitch with a chip on his shoulder for the Mets, and he's impressed ever since. I'm not sure if I can fault the Orioles here, but the point is.... well you get the point.

- January 2006 -- The Orioles acquire OF Corey Patterson from the Cubs for SS Nate Spears and P Carlos Perez. This turned out to be an excellent trade for the Orioles. Last year, Patterson played very well, and not much has been heard from Spears or Perez. Recently, Patterson has played much better, but he still hasn't played up to his 2006 season. I'm one of the biggest critics of Patterson, but mostly because I see all of the potential that he has. I truly believe he could be one of the most effective players in the game, simply because of his combination of power and speed. He's so fast, that if he just finds a way to get on base more, he could lead the league in stolen bases. He's faster than Brian Roberts, but he has a completely different approach to hitting. Roberts sprays the ball all over the field and finds ways to get on base. I would love to see Patterson bunt more often, but he doesn't have to; Roberts almost never bunts for base hits. If Patterson tried to hit a few less home runs and worked on his ability to cut down strikeouts, he could really fill the number two hole in the Orioles lineup and put to rest their search for a permanent center fielder. Until then, though, the search may just continue on. One other funny note I did find while searching this trade was that some random blogger stated that the O's made a stupid trade because "Patterson is no better than Luis Matos." That was probably the dumbest thing I've read for a long time.

- August 2006 -- The Orioles send C Javy Lopez to the Red Sox for OF Adam Stern. Lopez quickly became one of the least productive players on the Orioles, and the team decided to dump him as fast as they could. They managed to receive the once highly thought of Adam Stern, who seemed like a decent outfield prospect. However, in 45 games this season for the Norfolk Tides, Stern has managed to hit only .255.

- November 2006 -- The Yankees trade P Jaret Wright and cash to the Orioles for P Chris Britton. This trade, at first, made some sense for both teams. The Yankees got rid of a headache, and the O's took a gamble on reuniting Wright with pitching coach Leo Mazzone. Wright only had a chance to make a few starts before he got hurt and ended up on the DL. Currently, he's still on the DL, and he doesn't really figure into the Orioles plans anymore. Not much else to add here.

- December 2006 -- The Orioles acquire Freddie Bynum from the Cubs for some minor league player I could never find. Bynum has shown his versatility for the O's, and he could become a player on the roster for years to come. He's had some run-ins with coaches recently for some undetermined reasons, but he plays hard and doesn't seem to complain that much. I just like the way he plays, evidenced by his hard slide into second base one game where he entered as a pinch-runner. He's willing to do the little things to win, and that's important.


The whole point of looking back over some of the past trades the Orioles have made is to see the likelihood that they'll actually make a smart move in whatever they do. When breaking down these 16 trades I've mentioned, in my opinion, the Orioles only won six of them by adding BJ Ryan, Melvin Mora, Jack Cust, Eric Byrnes, Corey Patterson, and Freddie Bynum. And out of those six, the Orioles lost Ryan, Cust, and Byrnes in a short period of time. Only Mora, Patterson, and Bynum remain with the team.

On the other hand, the Orioles seemed to lose four of those trades, losing Willie Harris, Mike Fontenot, and John Maine in the process. That doesn't seem like a very bad ratio, but considering that the Orioles gave up on decent players too early, they managed to instead bring in overrated talent that completely disrupted the team's chemistry. Players like Jason Grimsley, Steve Kline, Karim Garcia, and Sammy Sosa performed very poorly and gave very little to the franchise as a whole. Most of them, such as Sosa and Kline, just brought controversy to a team simply searching for a way to regain the ability to win games.

In the end, these past trades may not have very much to do with the possibility of adding Mark Teixeira to the team. He really wants to be an Oriole, which isn't much that other players in the MLB can truly admit.

Hopefully the Orioles can add Teixeira to the roster either through a trade or through free agency after 2008.

I just hope they don't give up on some younger players too soon who haven't had a chance to show exactly what they can do for the team. But anything can happen -- this is the Orioles after all.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

When pick-up gets you down

It's Saturday afternoon. You finally have some free time, and you feel like playing some pick-up. The weather's pretty nice outside -- sunny with a light breeze. You head over to a local outside basketball court, only to find the court is completely dominated with little kids. There are no older kids or adults in sight. You remain positive that you'll find somewhere to play; it's too nice of a day not to hoop. Maybe there's some people playing inside, you figure, so checking your gym is the next logical step. You get there and see all of the people waiting on the wall and floor, but there is a five on five game going on and plenty of time to wait.

After seeing some people you know and have played with before, you finally get on the court after waiting for no less than 45 minutes. But it's the worth the wait, and you're finally about to start playing. About time.

Your game starts. You know three of the guys on your team, but the fourth is someone you've never seen play before. Shouldn't matter, you say to yourself. Right as the game begins, one of your teammates grabs a long rebound off of a missed three by the other team, and your team races down the floor on a three-on-one fast break. Should be an easy bucket, right? Your teammate that you don't know (I'll refer to him as 'mystery man') grabs the outlet pass and dribbles right at the only defender back for the other team, not even considering a pass to one of the other two teammates on the break. The mystery man completely blows an out-of-control layup attempt. You run back on defense, hoping that maybe that single play was just a one time thing and wouldn't happen again.

After several more awful shot selections, horrible turnovers on And1 pass attempts, and even more wild decisions on the court, your team loses and you wonder if today actually really wasn't such a good day for basketball after all.

Other players around the gym start leaving as the day wears on, but you're just waiting to get back on the court for at least one more game. Somehow, to your chagrin, you end up on the same team when you get back on the court with guess who -- mystery man. Your team loses again, and everyone clears out of the gym. Great.


Just another day in the world of pick-up basketball because, at some point, the above example has happened to everyone in one way or another. It may not be exactly the same for everyone, but every now and then pick-up games can be disappointing.

I love basketball, and I always will. Pick-up basketball can be one of the most enjoyable activities, but it really depends on the people you're playing with and against. There are so many different kinds of people who play basketball at your favorite outside court or gym, and no one really knows who he or she will end up playing with next.

Most of the time, hopefully, problems don't really occur, and everyone on the floor plays for a while and has a good time. But for people who regularly play pick-up, they have surely encountered some, if not most, of the following types of characters who somehow end up playing. Unfortunately, these guys usually end up on the same team as you:

- The Old Guy -- This guy is usually at least 50+ years old, and usually tries to cheat, too. He runs around the court setting illegal screens on defenders, but he always complains if things aren't going his way. Be careful when this guy is trying to box you out, because he will throw knees, elbows, and whatever else is needed to get you out of the way. He also may headbutt you "accidentally" at some point during the game. Be careful.

- Manu Ginobili, Jr. -- Ginobili Jr. usually figures that the best way to play is 100% at every single moment during the game. There's nothing wrong with that, except that he's always out of control, and he seemingly turns the ball over at every opportunity. He calls way too many fouls on the opposition, but he can't seem to ever admit that HE has actually ever committed a foul on anyone else. He always creates most of the contact when he's dribbling with his head down into three defenders.

- Only Offense -- This player, who somehow always seems to be on your team, only cares about shooting and makes no attempt to ever play a lick of defense. To put this in perspective, a mailbox could probably score two or three points on him. The other four guys on your team have to spend the whole game playing help defense to cover up his huge lack of defense as whoever he is supposed to be guarding always seems to be open. But don't let the guy you're guarding score either, or else Only Offense will say something like "Come on man, switch with me. I'll lock him down." Right...

- Stats McGee -- Stats always seem to know his box score stat-sheet after the game, even though it's just pick-up basketball and the most important stat is the win. He occasionally figures that he had close to a triple-double the last game, even though your game only went to twelve. Apparently he's either throwing the ball to himself for assists or stealing the ball from your teammates.

- Chris Berman -- Mr. Berman isn't necessarily a bad guy, but he always seems to be giving nicknames to everyone on the court since he's probably bad at remembering names. (I'm usually Steve Kerr, JJ Redick, or Steve Blake, but that's better than Jon Koncak.) If you're a big white guy who just stands under the basket, you'll probably be tagged as Greg Ostertag. If you do nothing but shoot threes and hit a few, you'll assuredly be named Peja Stojakovic or Ray Allen. And if you run around punching everyone in the face and acting like a jerk, he'll call you Ron Artest.

- SportsCenter -- SC always tries to make the most difficult play as if he's trying to make the Top 10 list on ESPN's SportsCenter. If there's a seemingly easy layup, he may try something fancy and completely blow the bucket. Try not to be surprised when this guy gets on you if you happen to miss an open jumper.

- No Conscience -- Apparently a fan of the old "nothing but net" McDonald's commercials with Michael Jordan and Larry Bird, this player has never found a place on the floor that he can't shoot from. Frequently, this guy can't really shoot that well and his defenders will play off of him, but that won't stop him from heaving threes from four feet behind the three-point line. Don't question his shot selection, though, or you may never touch the ball again.

- Steve Javie, Jr. -- Occasionally, I'll play with Javie Jr., who is a guy who probably isn't very good at basketball. Unfortunately, he's always in the middle of every argument or disagreement on the court. If someone calls a foul or anything, Javie Jr. claims to know the rule book up and down, even though he's frequently way off and is very confused.

- Ivan Drago -- There's usually some huge, Russian-looking guy in the gym who somehow gets on the floor, plays hard, and says basically nothing to anyone during the day. At any point during the game where he gets a block, you fight back the urge to yell "SOVIET BLOC" as loud as you can in your Gus Johnson voice. (OK, maybe that's just me.)

- Stephen A. -- The individual who is probably the most annoying of all the guys you play with would have to be Stephen A. He wants to complain and whine about every single call about anything and everything that takes place on the court. And if you happen to disagree with him over a call or two, be prepared for him to be enemies with you for the rest of the day. He seems to ruin more games than any awful basketball player ever could.


There are probably even more than I am missing in my above list, but these are just some of the types of guys I've played with and encountered over my years of playing basketball.

Everyone has flaws on the court, but as long as people play hard, share the ball, and are willing to hustle as much as they can while they're on the court, pick-up basketball games end up being rewarding to everyone involved.

Friday, July 13, 2007

MLB first half awards continued -- Cy Young and ROY

I haven't posted for about a week now, but I should finish my votes for the Cy Young and Rookie of the Year awards for the first half of the MLB season. I already gave my opinions for the MVP race, so here's the rest... (statistics as of 7/3/07)

Cy Young

National League:

- Jake Peavy, SP, Padres -- 9 W, 119 Ks, 2.09 ERA. Peavy's been outstanding this year, and he was rewarded for his strong performance by starting the All-Star Game for the NL. He's showing no signs of slowing down, and he should continue to dominate during the second half.

- Brad Penny, SP, Dodgers -- 10 W, 77 Ks, 2.00 ERA. Penny remains the biggest competition for Peavy in the Cy Young race this year. He doesn't have nearly as many strikeouts as Peavy, but his ERA is slightly better. He's been just as effective if not slightly more so, and as long as Penny avoids injury, he should be right next to Peavy in the running for the Cy Young this year.

- Chris Young, SP, Padres -- 8 W, 99 Ks, 2.00 ERA. I fully believe that the Cy Young race will primarily only be a two-horse race between Peavy and Penny, but I figured throwing in Young's name makes sense for two reasons. First, he's really been coming on lately and has great numbers for the first half this year. And second, it was a great moment this year when he and Derrek Lee exchanged (missing) punches earlier this year. I'm glad to see he wasn't about to throw a girly punch like Armando Benitez did after he threw at Tino Martinez in 1998. Still, I doubt he'll win the award this year over Peavy or Penny. Anything's possible, though.

My early prediction: Peavy

American League:

- Dan Haren, SP, Athletics -- 9 W, 98 Ks, 2.20 ERA. Simply put, Haren has pitched out of his mind for the first half of the season. Until one sub par start against the Yankees about a week and a half ago, Haren's ERA was under 2 runs. He's one of the main reasons that the A's are still in the running to have a shot at the playoffs this year.

- C.C. Sabathia, SP, Indians -- 12 W, 116 Ks, 3.20 ERA. For some reason, even though Sabathia is one of the larger, if not the largest, pitcher in the majors, he usually seems to fly under the radar when solid starting pitchers are mentioned. He's tremendously effective, and he's racked up plenty of wins over the years. The Indians offense definitely helps when it comes to compiling plenty of wins, but Sabathia has pitched very well and remains the ace of a team that is very much in control of their hopeful playoff future (at least at the moment).

- Josh Beckett, SP, Red Sox -- 12 W, 83 Ks, 3.38 ERA. Beckett has finally pitched up to many Red Sox fans' hopes this year after the team gave up Hanley Ramirez for him a couple years back. As long as he stays healthy, he'll keep racking up wins and lead Boston to the AL East pennant.

- Johan Santana, SP, Twins -- 9 W, 120 Ks, 2.76 ERA. Santana may not have been the best pitcher in the AL the first half of this season, but no one should count him out of the Cy Young race -- ever. Santana has been one of the best second half pitchers throughout his career, and there is no reason to believe he wouldn't perform just as well again down the final stretch this year. He's arguably the best pitcher in the entire league, and Santana will be right there at the end of the season.

- J.J. Putz, RP, Mariners -- 23 Saves, 0.92 ERA, 0.59 WHIP. Normally I don't put a lot of stock in WHIP as an important statistic, but in this case, Putz has been absolutely phenomenal. He's nailed down the ninth inning for a surprising Mariners team this year, and he has yet to blow a save. Putz probably won't be in the running for the award, but he's been one of the best pitchers in the AL this year, hands down.

My early prediction: Haren vs Santana -- too close to call...

Rookie of the Year

National League:

This race primarily comes down to two players in the NL: Hunter Pence and Ryan Braun. Pence is an OF for the Astros, and Braun is the 3b for the Brewers. Either one of these two guys are going to win the award, and the second half will determine the winner. Right now, they're both neck and neck.

My early prediction: Braun

American League:

The AL R.O.Y race consists of many more names than the NL. The AL has Jeremy Guthrie, Delmon Young, Dustin Pedroia, Dice-K, Hideki Okajima, and Reggie Willits. The main race should be between Dice-K, Pedroia, and Guthrie, with Guthrie having the slight edge right now. But if Okajima continues to dominate out of his set-up man role, it's possible that he'll get a ton of consideration for this award.

My early prediction: I think Guthrie has the lead right now, but Dice-K will probably win.


If you disagree then that's OK. The second half of the season just started today. It's always hard to predict who will win any award in the MLB with so many strange voters and weird considerations going around. Some of the races this year should be fun to watch, along with the races for playoff spots in both the AL and NL.


A few quick points about the Orioles game today:

-- Guthrie pitched very poorly today, and there's no other way to put it. He had a bad game, and he didn't really have his best stuff at any point during the game.

-- Jay Gibbons is a horrible outfielder, and I'm getting tired of seeing him in the lineup. I don't know what happened, but he's turning into one of my least favorite players on the team. And I used to think he'd be a good player. He made one error in LF while charging a ball and having it roll under his glove, and he let a slicing pop-up drop in along the line that 80% of major league left fielders could have reached. He has very little range at all; I hope he didn't break a nail out there today.

-- In the bottom of the ninth, the Orioles were down 9-2. They didn't give up, and they scored five runs to make the score 9-7. After Aubrey Huff singled to right field with two outs, the White Sox brought in Bobby Jenks to close out the game. Pinch-hitting for Brandon Fahey, Jay Payton swung at a first pitch slider and grounded out weakly to the shortstop who flipped to second for the easy out. At first I admired Payton as a player because he plays hard and seems to give everything he's got. But he routinely swings at first pitches for no reason, and he doesn't the same talent as Vladimir Guerrero to just swing like that and not try to work the count. If he wants to keep grounding out to shortstop with the game on the line, I hope he finds his way to another team.

It seems that my first impressions on players for the Orioles are routinely wrong. I wonder why...

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

MLB first half awards -- the MVP race

With the 2007 All-Star Game only about a week away, the debating of early MVP, Cy Young, and Rookie of the Year awards has already begun. Here is a look at the players that I believe should be in the running for such honors (statistics as of 7/3/07):

MVP Race

National League:

- Prince Fielder, 1B, Brewers -- .278 avg, 27 HR, 66 RBI. Not many baseball analysts predicted that the Brewers would be a first place team for the first half of the season. Fielder has been the biggest reason for their 48-35 start. Fielder is on pace to hit around 60 home runs and drive in almost 140 runs. The Brewers have lots of young talent, and if they can hold onto the NL Central lead in the second half, Fielder deserves the MVP.

- Jose Reyes, SS, Mets -- .316 avg, 57 runs, 34 RBI, 40 SB. The Mets' lineup is loaded this season with talent such as Carlos Delgado, Carlos Beltran, David Wright, and Paul Lo Duca. But Reyes is the most feared of the bunch. Reyes hasn't hit for much power, but he continues to slap the ball all over the field and disrupt the game from the basepaths. With 40 stolen bases already, Reyes has eight more than the next closest player (Juan Pierre has 32). Reyes also has started every game for the Mets this season and continue to play great defense too. He's committed only four errors this season, which is tied for the NL low for shorstops with the slick-fielding Omar Vizquel.

- Matt Holliday, OF, Rockies -- .347 avg, 14 HR, 65 RBI. Holliday has been the best player on the Rockies this season and leads the NL in batting. While the Rockies are currently in 4th place in the NL West with a record of 40-43, they possess a lot of talent and are still in the race -- seven games out of the wild card race. Though it seems unlikely that Holliday will be able to lead the Rockies to a playoff berth, he does have the talent to win a batting title this season and show off all of his skills.

- Russell Martin, C, Dodgers -- .306 avg, 9 HR, 55 RBI, 16 SB. This may be a surprising name on the list for MVP candidates, but Martin should definitely be in the mix right now. Martin continues to contribute offensively out of arguably the most physically demanding position in the game. While Martin only has nine home runs, he's helped hold the middle of the Dodgers lineup together. Surprisingly, Martin is an excellent base runner, and he's also compiled more stolen bases than Rafael Furcal and Jimmy Rollins -- not bad for a catcher, typically a position of slow runners.

- Chase Utley, 2B, Phillies -- .322 avg, 15 HR, 66 RBI. I could have put Jimmy Rollins's name in this list too, but Utley has a little better numbers. Utley will be the starting second baseman for the NL in the All-Star Game, and he's also the best at his position in the entire MLB. If they Phillies come on strong in the second half and somehow make the playoffs, Utley's name may be right in the middle of MVP consideration.

Other possible candidates: Jimmy Rollins, J.J. Hardy, Jake Peavy, Brad Penny

My early prediction: Fielder

American League:

- Torii Hunter, OF, Twins -- .299 avg, 17 HR, 63 RBI, 11 SB. Usually, the main two players that get mentioned from the Twins' lineup are Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer. Morneau, who won the MVP award last season, has played well this season too. But Hunter has been more valuable this season for the Twins because of his combination of hitting for average and power while playing solid defense and also stealing a few bases. No matter how close Hunter gets to being considered for the MVP this season, he will surely receive a big payday when he becomes a free agent after this season.

- Magglio Ordonez, OF, Tigers -- .369, 13 HR, 68 RBI. No one predicted before this season started that Ordonez would have gone on a tear like this. Ordonez leads the AL in batting and has produced in a solid lineup including Gary Sheffield, Placido Polanco, Curtis Granderson, Sean Casey, and Carlos Guillen. But Ordonez has been the most feared hitter and has taken the league by surprise. If he continue to produce like this, he presents a strong case for the MVP, for sure.

- Alex Rodriguez, 3B, Yankees -- .322 avg, 28 HR, 80 RBI. Rodriguez has the best numbers of anyone in the AL MVP race this year, but he also plays on the team with the worst record, at least so far. I have to say, though, that no one in the league continues to play so well when things off the field have been so weird. But no matter what takes place, A-Rod has continued to play well, even when many of his fans can't even stand him. Will he stay after this season or will he opt out? No one knows for sure, but he just may win another MVP award.

- Vladimir Guerrero, OF, Angels -- .328 avg, 14 HR, 73 RBI. There's not much to say here, except that Guerrero is having another solid season. The Angels have amassed a 51-31 record and are in first place in the AL West. Guerrero has been so good this season that no one seems to notice that Gary Matthews Jr. has been batting fourth on the team with one of the best records in the league. But with Guerrero's bat leading the way, it may not even matter.

- Danys Baez, RP, Orioles -- 6.52 ERA, 0-4 record, 17-16 K-per-BB ratio. JUST KIDDING....

- The Entire Oakland A's starting pitching staff -- Dan Haren (2.20 ERA), Joe Blanton (3.09 ERA), Chad Gaudin (2.92 ERA), Joe Kennedy (3.91 ERA), and Lenny DiNardo (3.04 ERA). Obviously, a group of players can't win the MVP award together, but maybe they should. This starting rotation has kept the A's right in the middle of things in the NL West. The A's have dealt with many injuries this year, but so far the A's best hitter has been either Jack Cust or Shannon Stewart -- not exactly the ingredients for success. But led by this pitching stuff and some timely hitting, the A's have managed to stay over .500 and give themselves a chance to compete for the wild card. If you even knew who Chad Gaudin and Lenny DiNardo were before the season, give yourself a pat on the back.

Other possible candidates: Gary Sheffield, Ichiro Suzuki, Justin Morneau, David Ortiz, Grady Sizemore

My early prediction: A-Rod or Ordonez. Still too close to tell, depending on where the Yankees finish.

Posts on the Cy Young and Rookie of the Year mid-season races are to follow...

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

SportsCenter's 'Who's Now' -- who cares?

If sports fans and SportsCenter viewers haven't recently noticed, ESPN has created a tournament including some of the sporting world's biggest icons called "Who's Now?". In what is essentially a made-up popularity contest, viewers get to vote and personalities such as Kirk Herbstreit and Keyshawn Johnson get to voice their opinions on certain current athletes and how popular they are in relation to other athletes. ESPN has obviously started this event to try and cover up one of the quieter sports periods of the year when basketball and football are both in their offseasons. The problem is this -- ESPN is again beating a dead horse by wasting time arguing such useless topics like which players and athletes in a variety of sports are more popular. What does it matter if Tiger Woods is more popular than Tim Duncan or whoever? Seriously, does anybody really care?

Not only is this "contest" very boring, but it isn't really sports-related at all. This type of irrelevant information is more Hollywood than anything involving sports should be, and it seems better fitted on Entertainment Tonight -- not ESPN. Undoubtedly, ESPN can't just discuss baseball and NASCAR (the most popular sports currently taking place in the U.S.) every single moment over the next few weeks, but a glorified and random popularity contest, including an endless loop of a new T.I. song, seems extremely cheesy, but it will surely drag on for at least a month.

If that's not bad enough, ESPN has also managed to bring in Michael Wilbon, AGAIN, to frequently give his opinion on the matters at hand. ESPN has been shuffling Wilbon from NBA game coverage to the over-used PTI shows with Tony Kornheiser, and even Wilbon, who I greatly respect, is starting to get on my nerves because of his constant TV exposure.

Slowly I'm losing patience with ESPN and, primarily, SportsCenter. At some point, we as sports fans have to draw the line somewhere, or else ESPN will end up being nothing but Budweiser Hot Seats, Miller Six-Packs of Questions, SportsNation Polls brought to you by Burger King, and Ultimate Highlights that really end up only highlighting how lame the shows have started to become.

Or maybe I'll just take the easy road and blame everything on Stuart Scott. Yeah, that might work... for now.


I'll have more to add about actual SPORTS in the next day or so, but I have just one other point to mention briefly. The other day, John Kruk of Baseball Tonight mentioned that Jimmy Rollins should be on the NL All-Star team. I completely agree, but not with another point by Kruk. He says that fans want to see players like Rollins because they hit with power, and fans want to see power, not guys like Reyes who can spray the ball all over the field and run faster than most people ever could.

Really -- fans don't want to see Jose Reyes? Surely baseball fans want to see Jimmy Rollins, but they only want to see him because he has power? Fans don't want to see other professional hitters like Placido Polanco, Derek Jeter, Michael Young, Ivan Rodriguez, Brian Roberts, and Carl Crawford? And they don't want to see players like Ichiro and Reyes, who hit some HRs, but aren't really power hitters?

That's interesting stuff, Mr. Kruk, because I do want to see those players just as most real baseball fans do. Hitting home runs isn't only what baseball is about.

All that NutriSystem dieting with Dan Marino, Sean Salisbury, and Mike Golic must have fried your brain.