Thursday, December 30, 2010

O's have 'definite interest' in Grant Balfour

All that seems to be happening right now with the Orioles is rumor reporting, and here's the latest one: According to MASN's Roch Kubatko, the O's are interested in reliever Grant Balfour.

Balfour would give the O's another power arm in the bullpen, but he's not a dominant reliever. His 3.81 career ERA is decent, not great, and he'll also strike out plenty of batters (10.23 career K/9). He'll give up walks too -- 4.34 career BB/9 -- though he did cut down on his number of walks last season (2.77 BB/9).

Balfour's pitch of choice is his fastball, but he has started to rely more on his slider and cutter in recent seasons. It may also be worth noting that, coincidentally, Balfour's fastball velocity has dropped from 94.7 mph in 2008 to 92.6 in 2010.

Kubatko noted another important factor in potentially signing Balfour:
The one hitch with Balfour is his Type A status. He'd cost the Orioles a second-round pick. Not sure if you consider that a steep price, but it must not be deterring the front office because there's definite interest.
Considering the O's just went through this very same thing last year when Andy MacPhail targeted and signed Mike Gonzalez to a two-year, $12 million contract, I guess Type A status relievers don't really scare the O's. Many scouts and prospect analysts have hinted that the 2011 crop of players is going to result in a deep draft, so surrendering a second-round pick just to sign an above average reliever would not make a whole lot of sense.

Maybe the O's are faking interest in Balfour to get Kevin Gregg to notice, hoping he'll want to sign first. Balfour is a better reliever than Gregg, though Gregg may end up making more money just because he racked up a lot of saves last season. I'd rather the O's didn't sign either reliever, but at least Gregg has Type B status, meaning the O's wouldn't need to relinquish their second-round pick.

Derrek Lee or Adam LaRoche? Grant Balfour or Kevin Gregg? I can't say that these are enormous choices or will improve the team that much, but they are still decisions that will undoubtedly have an effect on the team.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

O's still weighing first base options

Even though it's old news at this point, the Orioles still haven't been able to sign a first baseman. Ken Rosenthal weighed in on the matter yesterday, saying the O's would rather sign Derrek Lee than Adam LaRoche, mainly because LaRoche covets a three-year deal. Apparently the O's don't want to commit to LaRoche for three years, which is great to hear.

Rosenthal also mentions a popular suggestion/fall-back plan for the O's -- playing Luke Scott at first and signing a DH instead -- but he notes that Andy MacPhail and Co. "prefer a stronger defensive alignment." That doesn't sound like they have a whole lot of confidence in Scott's defensive skills at first base.

I have a feeling that Lee is going to sign before LaRoche, but it has to be tough to choose between the O's and Nationals (and maybe the Padres). Hopefully something happens soon.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Link: 'The other side of Gilbert Arenas'

Gilbert Arenas may not have left the Wizards on the highest of notes, but Patrick Hruby focuses on something else in his fantastic feature on Arenas's connection with Andre McAllister Jr., who lost several family members in a tragic house fire on December 20, 2004. In his piece, Hruby discusses the role Arenas has had in McAllister's life and Arenas's off-the-court legacy in Washington.

Hruby also writes about the now infamous gun incident between Arenas and Javaris Crittenton in the Wizards locker room. In one section of his feature, Hruby highlights some of the letters that were sent to D.C. Superior Court Judge Robert Morin, who was in charge of sentencing Arenas:
The letters were different.

The letters were sent to Morin, 32 in all. They came from the founder of a local anti-youth violence group, from a former special assistant to the D.C. mayor and from a federal police officer who runs a Washington summer basketball league. They vouched for Arenas. They asked for leniency.

Mostly, they told stories.

Like the time Arenas saw that Hurricane Katrina refugees were being housed at the D.C. Armory, so he drove to Costco, loaded up his SUV with $18,000 of provisions and delivered the goods himself.

Or the time he gave his entire playoff share to Wizards equipment manager Robert Suller, allowing Suller to buy a minivan to accommodate his special needs daughter, who suffers a rare genetic disorder and requires constant medical care.

Or the time Arenas invited two young boys whose father had been murdered to a Wizards practice then arranged for them to sit on the end of the team's bench for all weekend home games, where the boys became fast friends with ... Andre Jr.
The quoted section above is just one part of Hruby's work, and I strongly suggest that you read the whole piece.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Why the O's don't have to overpay for a first baseman

Let's take a look at three players' career stats:

Player A: .271/.339/.488, .351 wOBA
Player B: .282/.367/.498, .371 wOBA
Player C: .268/.354/.503, .365 wOBA

Player A doesn't get on base as much as the other two and also hits for slightly less power. Player B and Player C are pretty close, with B getting on base more and C hitting for a bit more power. Again, this comparison is just based on hitting and doesn't bring in other factors like age, fielding, etc., but if you had to choose, it would likely be in this order: B, then C, then A.

Player A is Adam LaRoche, Player B is Derrek Lee, and Player C is Luke Scott. In terms of overall production (not just hitting), they're not all on equal footing. Scott hasn't played much first base in his career and has played more left field and DH. Lee and LaRoche, meanwhile, are both exclusively first basemen. Also, Scott is 32, LaRoche is 31, and Lee is 35.

Now, obviously, the reasons why the Orioles are in the running for a first baseman are: 1) the Garrett Atkins experiment worked out horribly last season; 2) they don't really have any young first base prospects (outside of maybe Nolan Reimold, though he's never played the position at the major league level) who can fill the role; and 3) they're looking for an upgrade at the position, even if it's just for a year or two. And, really, if the O's end up signing Lee or LaRoche to a one-year deal, that's fine. But if they really did extend a three-year deal to LaRoche or are even considering it, I do have a problem with that. Lee is apparently seeking a one-year deal, which seems reasonable even if that deal ends up costing $7-$8 million -- something in that range. But what puts LaRoche in the three-year range? He's definitely an improvement over who the O's have had at first base the last few seasons, but that doesn't mean the O's should overpay for a non-elite first baseman who's already in his 30s. It would be hard to classify that type of signing as anything other than a desperate move.

Last season, Lee (2.1) and LaRoche (2.0) ranked 15th and 16th, respectively, out of all first basemen in WAR. (Ty Wigginton (0.3) ranked 22nd.) Picking either one up would make the O's better, sure, but it's not like it would greatly transform the team. Is it really worth it to sign someone like LaRoche to a multi-year deal just to gain possibly a couple of wins? Maybe, maybe not, though I'd vote no.

Buck Showalter has apparently made it known that he'd like to have a proven first baseman manning that position this year. That would mean that he'd welcome Lee or LaRoche to Baltimore -- as most fans would -- with open arms. I'm for that move, too, as long as the price is right. Why should the O's overpay when the only other two teams that seemingly are in the running are the Nationals and Padres? Baltimore and Washington seem like the two likely landing spots for Lee and LaRoche, not just because they may have the biggest needs at the position, but because they can probably spend a little more than San Diego.

At the trade deadline last year, the O's made the curious decision to not trade either Wigginton or Scott. Scott is still in Baltimore, but Wigginton bolted for Colorado. With Scott still around, the O's do have someone who can fill in at the position, if necessary. In his career, Scott has only played a total of 29 games at first, so it's not like he's completely comfortable playing the position. However, his hitting would likely make up for some subpar fielding, if he's able to improve enough to get to that level in the field.

Playing Scott at first isn't an ideal fall-back plan, but it does give the O's at least an option to go with if Lee or LaRoche decide to sign elsewhere. Signing a DH like Jim Thome or Vladimir Guerrero may even be better for the team offensively, though playing Scott at first would be a defensive risk.

So, basically, if the O's don't sign Lee or LaRoche, it may hurt the team a little, but probably not a whole lot. Remember, we're talking about a 35-year-old Derrek Lee and Adam LaRoche. It's not the end of the world if the O's don't meet either player's contract demands.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Nick Young takes charge

With John Wall still out and Gilbert Arenas now in Orlando after being traded for Rashard Lewis, Nick Young has had to shoulder more of the scoring load in the last two games. Against the Heat a few days ago, a game in which the Wizards somehow lost despite leading by five with 32 seconds left and again by four with 18 seconds left, Young perhaps had his best game of the season, scoring 30 points on 13-23 shooting and grabbing four rebounds. He also made both of his three-point attempts and both of his free throws while playing a season-high 45 minutes.

Young followed his performance against the Heat with another efficient effort last night in a blowout (108-75) win over the Bobcats. He scored a team-high 21 points in 35 minutes and shot 8-13 from the field. He also made three three-pointers and got to the line twice (making both), though he did commit five turnovers, a season-high for him.

When Wall gets healthy and returns to the lineup, it's not clear yet whether Young will move to the bench as the third guard or will instead start at shooting guard and force Kirk Hinrich to assume third guard duties. Hinrich does seem to be more comfortable playing point guard and getting his teammates involved, while there's no question that Young's best attribute is putting the ball in the hoop. In his last eight games, Young has scored at least 17 points in seven of them. In his one bad game during that stretch -- a three-point clunker against the Kings on December 8 -- Young made just one of eight shots while also turning the ball over three times.

Other than that, Young is averaging slightly more than 19 points per game in nine December games (he missed one against the Blazers because of a bruised left thigh) and shooting over 48 percent from the field. In 25 games so far this season, Young is playing more minutes (which should continue), making more of his shots (48.0 percent), and scoring more points (14.5) and grabbing slightly more rebounds (2.2). He's also taking more threes (3.6 per game) and is still making 38.9 percent of them. For someone who loves to shoot long twos, it's good that Young is shooting and making more threes. I also haven't noticed Young shooting as many fade-aways, though I'm not sure if that's completely true or not.

Young may not continue to play and shoot this well, but he's going to have every opportunity to do so since the Wizards don't exactly have a ton of other options at guard right now. But for someone who hasn't seen a whole lot of consistent minutes throughout his career, Young certainly won't complain about that.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Friedgen turned things around at Maryland

So first-year athletic director Kevin Anderson and the University of Maryland have decided to go in a different direction with the football program, asking head coach Ralph Friedgen to retire and accept a buyout. According to a few sources, Maryland is likely pursuing former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach for the head coaching position.

There's no question that Friedgen, 63, will not be leaving Maryland on his terms. Does he deserve better? Yes, definitely. But so do many underappreciated coaches. And yes, Friedgen is one of those.

Before Friedgen was hired as Terps head coach in 2001, Maryland had not been to a bowl game since 1990, when they played Louisiana Tech in the Independence Bowl (a game that, oddly enough, ended in a tie, 34-34). Under Friedgen's guidance, the Terps will have played in seven bowls (after the Terps face East Carolina in the Military Bowl next week) in the 10 seasons that he's been head coach. Also, considering the three previous coaches to Fridge -- Joe Krivak (20-34-2), Mark Duffner (20-35), and Ron Vanderlinden (15-29) -- all had losing records, Friedgen's (right now) record of 74-50 looks outstanding.

Is Friedgen Maryland's greatest head coach of all time? No. But he injected some new life into his alma mater's football program and made it something that it hadn't been since the mid-80s: relevant. Maryland never got close to a championship; it was very unlikely that Friedgen could have molded the Terps into that kind of team. And, in fact, Friedgen's best overall season was probably his first, when Maryland faced Florida in the Orange Bowl (and got blown out). Some say that the Terps were so good in the early 2000s because of Vanderlinden's recruits. And that may be true or may not be, but who cares? Friedgen was the guy to finally start winning again.

Like the Gilbert Arenas trade yesterday, I'm going to focus on the positive aspects of Friedgen's tenure at Maryland instead of the missed opportunities or disappointments. Having Arenas around made the Wizards better, as did Friedgen's 10 seasons at Maryland. He turned the program around, and he deserves an enormous amount of respect for doing so.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Wizards part ways with Arenas, ship him to Orlando for Rashard Lewis

Taking advantage of an opportunity to get rid of Gilbert Arenas's massive contract, Ernie Grunfeld and the Wizards shipped Arenas to the Orlando Magic in exchange for Rashard Lewis.

After this season, Arenas has a little over $62 million left on his contract that runs through 2013-2014. Lewis's deal, however, expires after the 2012-2013 season. Also, while Lewis is currently making $20.5 million and will make about $22.2 million next season, according to The Washington Post's Michael Lee, Lewis is only guaranteed $10 million in the final year of his contract instead of the full $23.8 million or so (if he fails to meet various performance incentives). If the Wizards end up paying Lewis $10 million in the last year of his contract, the Arenas-Lewis trade will end up saving the Wizards about $30 million. Not bad.

But besides providing some financial relief, this move is mainly about one other thing: building around John Wall. I don't necessarily believe that Arenas's presence on the team was hurting Wall's development or impairing Wall's effectiveness on the court. I also think that it was possible to keep Arenas around while also handing the proverbial keys of the future over to Wall. But, hey, the Wizards had a chance to get out from under Arenas's huge contract, and they jumped at that opportunity. It's hard to blame them for that, even if the Magic didn't throw in any cash or draft picks along with Lewis.

Honestly, I think this was a trade the Wizards needed to make, if not just to provide Arenas with a change of scenery. His time in Washington had run its course. In a poll conducted on Wizards Insider (the link at the top), only 7 percent of 3,261 voters thought that the Wizards should have kept Arenas. The rest, at the very least, believed that it was time to trade Arenas away. That should say something.

In the end, Arenas provided a lot of bad memories -- but plenty of awesome ones too. I'll do my best to focus on the good times instead of reminiscing about all of the things that went wrong while Arenas was in D.C. Here are some of those exciting moments:

Again, those are just a few of the dozens of positive moments Arenas had in a Wizards uniform. Things may not have ended well between Arenas and the Wiz, but most Wizards fans will still wish Arenas the best. Good luck in Orlando, Gil.

O's make offer to LaRoche

According to Drew Silva of Hardball Talk, via Jen Royle of MASN, the Orioles have offered Adam LaRoche a three-year deal between $16-$18 million.

LaRoche, 31, would give the O's the power-hitting first baseman they've been seeking. In seven seasons, LaRoche has hit .271/.339/.488 with 161 home runs.

The O's have also been pursuing first baseman Derrek Lee. If LaRoche doesn't sign with the O's and Lee is still available for some reason, he would make a lot of sense for the O's as well. More to come.

Week 15 picks

No write-ups this week -- just the picks.

CHARGERS (-9.5) over 49ers

Picked this one right.

Chiefs (-1) over RAMS

Texans (+1) over TITANS

Jaguars (+5) over COLTS

PANTHERS (-2.5) over Cardinals

Browns (+1) over BENGALS

Bills (+5.5) over DOLPHINS

Eagles (+3) over GIANTS

COWBOYS (-7) over Redskins

Lions (+6) over BUCCANEERS

Saints (+1) over RAVENS

Falcons (-7) over SEAHAWKS

Jets (+6) over STEELERS

RAIDERS (-6.5) over Broncos

PATRIOTS (-11) over Packers

Bears (-6) over VIKINGS

Last week: 7-9
Season: 90-112-6

Friday, December 17, 2010

Analyzing, but not overreacting to, McNabb's benching

As you've undoubtedly heard by now, Donovan McNabb has not only been benched in favor of Rex Grossman for Sunday's game against the Cowboys, but likely for the rest of the season. McNabb will not even serve as the backup in Dallas; that duty will go to John Beck. The decision, handed down by Mike Shanahan, will also presumably end McNabb's brief tenure in Washington.

McNabb may still be with the team for the next few weeks, so it's worth noting that in mid-November, McNabb signed an extension to stay with the Redskins beyond this season. But as Barry Svrluga of Redskins Insider mentions, the only guarantee in that extension was that McNabb would earn $3.5 million if the Skins decided not to bring McNabb back. And with today's events, that outcome seems extremely likely.

There are basically two points to take away from this mess:

1) The decision itself to bench McNabb is absolutely justifiable. That isn't something that I thought I'd ever write, especially considering that on October 27 I discussed this very topic when the Grossman-over-McNabb rumors were rumbling. Here's a sample of what I had to say:
Do fans really want to start someone who has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns in his career just because he's more familiar with the team's offense? Now, I understand that there are some crazy fans with irrational ideas -- mainly the types of fans who routinely call into sports talk radio shows and ramble on and on about random things -- but that type of thinking is just ridiculous.
Regardless of how bad that looks now, I still stand by that statement. At the time, the Redskins were 4-3 after a win -- an extremely ugly win -- over the Bears in Chicago. After that win, though, came arguably the toughest three weeks for Washington this season: a horrible loss in Detroit that included McNabb being benched late in the fourth quarter in favor of Grossman, a horrendously long bye week that included endless discussion of said benching, and then a 59-28 beating on Monday Night Football by the hated Eagles.

Since the Bears win, the Redskins are 1-5. In the first seven weeks, McNabb had six touchdown passes and seven interceptions. In the six games after that, he had eight touchdown passes and eight interceptions. For the season as a whole, McNabb has posted a 77.1 QB rating. So yeah, McNabb has been consistently mediocre the entire season.

That's not to say that the Redskins' poor offense and recent collapse as a team are both his fault -- of course not. He only has a couple of offensive weapons around him, the only young one being 24-year-old Ryan Torain, who has been fantastic -- when he's actually healthy enough to play. The receiving corps, outside of Santana Moss and Chris Cooley (and maybe Anthony Armstrong), isn't anything to get excited about either. And that's not even mentioning the offensive line, which is just a running joke at this point because of how often it has been neglected in the draft.

Benching McNabb in favor of Grossman does not give the Redskins a better chance to win. I think that bears repeating: Grossman starting at quarterback obviously does not present an upgrade at the position. With that being said, if the Shanahans have already decided that McNabb is a) not the quarterback they want to lead this team for the next few seasons, and b) deteriorating as an effective playmaker, then what's the point of running him out onto the field for the next three weeks? Sure, beating Dallas would be great, but with all of the major problems with this team, it's not really that big of a deal at this point. Sure, the idea to give Grossman all the reps is a little strange, considering that Grossman just isn't that good no matter what offensive system his team runs. Starting Beck would provide some intrigue, and maybe that's something that happens before the season ends. It's also entirely possible that no quarterback on this current roster ends up starting under center in Week 1 next season.

But really, if Shanahan wasn't going to bring McNabb back after this season, there's no reason to give him any more snaps. He's seemingly decided to go in another direction, and from what most people have seen this year from McNabb, that doesn't seem like a horrible choice. (That's not to suggest that McNabb won't look much better when he plays on a team next season that's able to surround him with more talent. Getting out of D.C. could be the best thing to happen to McNabb.)

2) The trade for McNabb was/is a complete disaster. In case anyone forgot, the Redskins parted with a second-round pick in the 2010 draft and either a third- or fourth-round choice in the upcoming draft. The Redskins have a ton of holes on offense and defense, and those two picks certainly would have helped. The Redskins could have selected a quarterback with that second-rounder -- who knows.

(Sidenote: Here's a quote from Brian Mitchell in the linked ESPN article above on the McNabb trade:
"In his voice I heard a lot of enthusiasm," Mitchell reported on Comcast SportsNet. "And you know, he may not be exactly like me, but I could hear he had a little revenge in that voice, too. And he wants to go to the Eagles and show them that they made a mistake."
It's nothing that's a big deal, of course, but it's still funny to read after the fact.)

As is the case with most Redskins trades, many fans focused on the veteran the team traded for instead of the value of the draft picks. The Redskins fan base's disdain for trading away draft picks is definitely growing -- and will continue to grow until these types of trades stop happening -- but there were a ton of excited fans when the news of the McNabb trade broke. And I'll be honest, my immediate thought that was I didn't like the trade, particularly because the team was again giving away more draft picks, but as the season got closer I did feel a little better about the Redskins having an established quarterback under center. But that obviously didn't change much about the team, and here we are now.

For what it's worth -- and believe me, I don't like to quote myself very often, let alone twice in the same post, but I think it's constructive in this case -- here was my reaction to the trade:
I understand why the Redskins made this move, and I think most fans can see the rationale behind it. If the Redskins are able to find a young quarterback they like in this year's draft or next year's, then McNabb isn't a bad choice to be the team's quarterback until then. However, the Redskins really need to stop trading draft picks. It's downright laughable at this point. There probably isn't another team in the NFL that values draft picks less, and it's not surprising to understand why the Redskins don't have adequate depth at most positions.

Although McNabb is a little more mobile than Campbell, he still needs an offensive line to give him time. Even if the Redskins take a left tackle at No. 4, there's still work to be done to significantly improve the line.
The move made some sense at the time; it would be a bit of revisionist history to suggest that it made no sense at all. But the Redskins didn't adequately address the offensive line woes and also didn't bring in enough offensive weapons around McNabb. Oh, and McNabb didn't turn out to be the quarterback that the Shanahans thought they were getting.

Determining the winner and loser of this trade was always going to depend on how well McNabb played in Washington. Well, he didn't play all that well, and now it looks like he's on the way out. The McNabb trade is just another failed move, and now it's back to the drawing board for Shanahan and Co.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

O's ink Jeremy Accardo

Yesterday, the Orioles made the first of a few expected moves to shore up the bullpen, or at least try to. That move was to sign reliever Jeremy Accardo to a one-year, $1.08 million deal.

Accardo turned 29 last week, but he hasn't pitched many MLB innings since 2007, which also happened to be his most effective season. Accardo, who had been with the Blue Jays since 2006, threw 67.1 innings in 2007 and posted a 2.14 ERA while striking out 7.62 batters per nine innings and walking 3.21 batters per nine. He wasn't bad the previous season either for both the Giants (before being traded) and Blue Jays, throwing 69.0 innings and posting a 7.04 K/9 and a 2.61 BB/9. His 5.35 ERA didn't reflect a strong performance, but he did pitch better than it suggests.

Unfortunately, Accardo missed much of the 2008 season because of an arm injury and only pitched 12.1 innings. He has spent time in Triple-A in both seasons since, though he did throw 24.2 innings with the Blue Jays in 2009, compiling a 2.55 ERA. Still, even in that small amount of time, his strikeouts decreased and his walks increased.

Even though Accardo is under 30 and has shown that he can be effective in the past, there's not a whole lot to suggest that Accardo can turn things around. According to PitchFx data, Accardo's velocity on his fastball has dropped in every season since 2007 -- from 94.6 then to 92.6 in 2010. Because of his 2008 injury and not throwing many innings since, those numbers don't include a whole lot of pitches, but they're worth noting.

If Accardo can regain some of that velocity and cut down on his walks, he may end up being worth the low-risk contract the O's offered. Still, it's probable that this deal is the best Accardo was offered and that no other team wanted to pay him as much. Accardo hasn't posted a WAR above zero since 2007, so there's obviously no guarantee that the O's will receive any return on their one-year investment.

With that being said, a few deals like this one would make much more sense than overpaying for a somewhat overrated reliever like Kevin Gregg. The O's have been down that road enough times, right?

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Terps are not shooting free throws well -- at all

At 7-4, the Terps are a decent basketball team. They don't have any overly impressive wins, but they don't have any horrible losses yet either. Still, their last two losses -- against Temple (neutral floor) and Boston College (at home) -- have hurt, particularly because both were winnable games. And actually, all four of Maryland's losses have been close: They lost by nine to No. 4 Pittsburgh, by four to No. 16 Illinois, by three to Temple, and most recently by four to Boston College.

Unfortunately, Maryland didn't build a strong out-of-conference resume prior to beginning conference play, meaning that they'll have to go on a strong run and finish, at the very least, above .500 in the ACC -- and probably 10-6. And because Maryland is likely to play many more close games, they absolutely must shoot better from the free throw line.

Through the first 11 games -- and remember, Maryland could still turn things around from the line -- the Terps are tied for 279th in the NCAA in free throw shooting with some school named USC Upstate at 63.4 percent. That's right, 279th. That is, um, not good. Believe it or not, in 2003-2004, Maryland actually shot worse than that from the line (62.6%), with such bricklayers as Jamar Smith (47.2%), Nik Caner-Medley (65.7%), D.J. Strawberry (52.6%), and Ekene Ibekwe (51.6%) combining to clank numerous rims.

Currently, the main culprits are Jordan Williams (54.3%), Cliff Tucker (68.4%), Pe'Shon Howard (46.2%), and James Padgett (40%). Williams's poor shooting, though, has contributed the most to the poor team percentage because, with 81 attempts from the line already, he's shot about 30 percent of the team's total free throws (268).

Right now, Williams is averaging 18.5 points and 11.9 rebounds per game -- phenomenal numbers. But if he could improve his free throw percentage just a few points, it'll make the Terps that much better. Or maybe, to take some of the load off of Williams's shoulders, some other guys could step up in late game situations and hit a few shots from the line instead. It's the least they could do.

Skins give game away with special teams mistakes

Another game, another heart-breaking loss. Here's what they're saying about the Redskins' latest embarrassing moment (both the loss and the extra point debacle, I guess), this time a 17-16 loss to the Tampa Bay Bucs.

- "On the deciding play of the game, a snap on the extra point that went through holder Hunter Smith's hands, Gano said he did not see what happened because he keeps his head down on attempts. Gano seemed to be injured trying to pick up the fumbled snap, but he said he only aggravated a rib injury suffered against the Detroit Lions earlier this season and that he was 'fine.'

Asked if he was worried about his job security, Gano said he would 'love to still be here,' and Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan did not sound as if the Redskins were immediately considering releasing the kicker - who is 22 of 32 on field goals this season and 26 of 36 for his career." [Paul Tenorio, Redskins Insider]

- "The Redskins (5-8) overcame a lot of adversity to have a shot at putting this game into overtime. But a high snap and the failure of holder Hunter Smith to catch a wet football doomed the Skins with 9 seconds left on the clock. After falling behind for the first time in the game, Redskins quarterback Donovan McNabb engineered a late scoring drive that ended with a short touchdown pass to Santana Moss. This was by far the most painful loss of the season for the Skins because of the way things ended." [Matt Mosley, NFC East Blog]

- "Brett Conway. Eddie Murray. Michael Husted. Kris Heppner. Scott Bentley. James Tuthill. Craig Jarrett. Jose Cortez. John Hall. Ola Kimrin. Jeff Chandler. Nick Novak. Shaun Suisham.

After Sunday's performance, Graham Gano seems likely to join the gentleman above in comprising the list of ex-Washington Redskins kickers of the past decade. Gano missed two chip shot field goals in the rain and was part of a unit that blew a routine extra point that would have tied the game with nine seconds remaining. He's missed the most field goals in the NFL this season (10)." [Chris Chase, Shutdown Corner]

- "Smith was a stand-up guy, fielding the same questions about the play over and over again until everyone had finished. And he was matter-of-fact about what happened, refusing to blame his teammates or the elements or anyone else. 'It's raining,' he said, shrugging. 'The ball is wet when it goes on the field, it's wet when it's put down, it's wet when Donovan throws a touchdown pass to put us in a situation to tie the game. And it's wet when I go out and have to hold the ball in a manner that we can kick the ball and tie the game up. I didn't do that.'

And, later, he summed that sentiment up even more concisely: 'The ball's catchable; the kick is makeable; put this one on me. If anybody needs to take the blame, I'm willing to take it.'" [Matt Terl, Redskins Blog]

- "Let’s count the special teams gaffes: 1. Gano’s first missed FG. 2. Gano’s second missed FG. 3. Wilson’s fumbled kickoff. 4. The holding on Brandon Banks’ long kick return. 5. The botched snap/hold on the extra point. Also, fire Danny Smith." [Jamie Mottram, Mr. Irrelevant]

- "For a while, it appeared that the league lucked out with the Redskins winning. The play-by-play at initially revealed that, the Redskins got a fifth down from the Tampa Bay six yard line, 20 years after Colorado received five downs to beat Missouri.

The play-by-play on has since been changed to show that what was believed to be second-down and one from the Tampa two was actually first and goal. So when it appeared to be fifth down for the Redskins, it actually was fourth down.

Either way, it doesn’t matter, thanks to Hunter Smith’s popcorn hands." [Mike Florio, Pro Football Talk]

- "David Akers could miss a potential game-winner and keep his job. Because he's done his job well for years. He's earned the right to make a mistake or two. Gano hasn't.

Just like every other career in the world, if you do your job well consistently and you make a mistake, your employer will understand. If you make the same mistake repeatedly, you could be out of a job. It's been nice knowing you, Graham." [Martin Shatzer, SB Nation D.C.]

- "The botched snap/hold on the decisive extra point attempt was such a Redskins play, if you know what I mean. This team just makes sloppy, boneheaded mistakes every week. They come in different forms, but the baseline is the same: They’re what losers do to lose games.

This season, alone, they’ve had a block in the back that negated a kickoff return for a touchdown against Minnesota, Houston’s 34-yard touchdown reception against them on fourth-and-10 with 1:13 to play, blocking breakdowns that resulted in two blocked punts, a missed chip-shot field goal in today’s 1-point loss, and the list goes on. Such lapses are what separate the Redskins from contenders such as New England and Pittsburgh. [Editor's Note: That and, you know, several other things.]" [Rich Campbell, Redskins Journal]

- "Go ahead, cut [Hunter Smith]. Make him turn in his playbook.

Send him to Oakland like Jason Campbell. Give more money to a millionaire malcontent before deciding way too late to get rid of him.

Hunter the Holder is just today's alibi. We'll find another martyr, another scapegoat, someone else to deflect blame from another 12-year veteran in that warm luxury suite." [Mike Wise, The Washington Post]

- "But should it really be surprising that the Redskins couldn’t close out their game against the Bucs on a victorious note? It was a bad day for the Redskins from top to bottom.

The players committed costly mistakes on the field and mental errors as well, but they weren’t the only ones. Mike Shanahan had a rough outing from a clock management standpoint. . . . The Redskins were able to overcome those last-minute mistakes and score on the pass from McNabb to Moss. But with so much confusion flying around throughout the game, it’s no wonder Washington couldn’t get things right when they really needed to on Sunday." [Mike Jones, TBD Skins]

- "Heck, I almost feel bad for Redskins fans at this point, if it wasn’t for the fact that something like this happens to them every year. Feeling bad for a Redskins fan after epic failures like Sunday is like feeling bad for a friend who keeps getting sick eating dairy but refuses to admit he’s lactose intolerant.

Wait, there’s a pill you can take for that. There’s no pill to cure the almost weekly gut-wrenching the Redskins provide." [Dan Levy, Press Coverage]

- "Unless you actually play for the Redskins, you probably had to scream, laugh or just watch slack-jawed in awe at the single most unfathomably amateurish and embarrassing blunder in the last 18 years of gaffe-, gall- and guffaw-filled Washington football.

That decisive play - a snap that wasn't terribly bad and a muffed hold that wasn't all that easy - combined the cruel and unfair, but also seemed perfect and symbolic, too. It captured everything the Redskins have promised to be but then, for almost two decades, usually have failed to deliver.

The sublime and the ridiculous, usually poles apart, occasionally collide to produce the sublimely ridiculous. The Redskins are artists in the form. Yet, somehow, they never flip the script and accidentally stumble into the ridiculously sublime." [Thomas Boswell, The Washington Post]


And after all of that, the Redskins face the Cowboys next Sunday. With a win, the Skins would sweep the season series -- not that I'm expecting something positive or non-embarrassing to happen, of course.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Week 14 picks

To put it bluntly, picking games this season has been a disaster. Losing close games is common, but it seems to be even more of a weekly occurrence this season. Twenty games under .500 is pretty terrible, especially since I finished 15 games above .500 last year in my first year actually writing out/documenting my NFL picks. Maybe things are just evening out, or maybe I'm just not that good at it to begin with (likely). But with four weeks of games left to go (and then playoff picks), my goal is to get to .500. It's improbable, and there's a better chance that my record steadily deteriorates instead, but hey, there's nothing wrong with looking for moral victories at a time like this. I'm not above that.

To the picks:

Colts (-3.5) over TITANS

Picked this one, incorrectly, on Thursday morning. Special thanks to the Titans for ruining this pick with a touchdown on the last play of the game. That was awesome.

Raiders (+4) over JAGUARS

The Colts' win really puts pressure on the Jaguars, who would like to stay a game ahead heading into next week's Jaguars-Colts showdown in Indianapolis. But the Raiders may actually be better than the Jaguars, regardless of what the Jags need to do.

Bengals (+9) over STEELERS

The Steelers will win, but nine points just seems like a lot for as many field goals as Pittsburgh has kicked the last two weeks.

Browns (PK) over BILLS

In Peyton Hillis we trust -- as long as Jake Delhomme doesn't blow it.

Giants (-3) over VIKINGS

With how gimpy Brett Favre is these days, the Giants may actually prefer that the turnover-prone quarterback played. Still, they're going to load up the box with defenders to stop Adrian Peterson, meaning that either Favre or Tarvaris Jackson is going to have to beat them. And with Percy Harvin likely to miss another game, that won't be such an easy task.

Packers (-7) over LIONS

Drew Stanton actually wasn't too bad last week against a solid Bears defense. Can he do that against one of the NFL's best defenses for the second straight week? I doubt it.

Falcons (-7.5) over PANTHERS

Isn't picking against the Panthers a given at this point?

Buccaneers (-3) over REDSKINS

Ditto for the Redskins (oh, plus injuries, no blocking, etc.).

SAINTS (-9) over Rams

The Rams get a wake-up call after a rather easy win over the Cardinals last week.

Seahawks (+5.5) over 49ERS

Alex Smith gets the start at quarterback this week for San Francisco. I don't really have anything else to add.

Patriots (-3) over BEARS

If there was a time for a let-down game for the Patriots, this game -- on the road, against a tough defense and a team that's won five straight games -- might be it. But the Patriots have won four straight of their own and have dominated teams the last few weeks. I'll side with Tom Brady over Jay Cutler.

JETS (-6) over Dolphins

The Jets were flat-out embarrassed last week against the Patriots. Rex Ryan will make sure that that kind of lackadaisical effort doesn't happen again.

Broncos (-4) over CARDINALS

It would be pretty simple to make a John Skelton joke, but the Cardinals are bad no matter who starts at quarterback. It's not your fault, Mr. Skelton.

CHARGERS (-7) over Chiefs

With Matt Cassel (23 TD, 4 INT) out this week, Brodie Croyle (career: 8 TD, 8 INT) gets the start under center for the Chiefs. Kansas City loves to run the ball, but not THAT much.

COWBOYS (+3.5) over Eagles

I don't know how it's possible, but it's Week 14 and the Cowboys and Eagles haven't played each other yet. What's that all about? Anyway, the Eagles will have their hands full against, ahem, a resurgent Cowboys team that has won three of its last four -- and could have won four straight if not for a Roy Williams fumble against the Saints. The Eagles appear to have the edge, but losing Asante Samuel and Winston Justice definitely hurts.

Ravens (-3) over TEXANS

It's a home game, but I'd be shocked if the Texans won this game -- especially since they aren't exactly adept at taking down very good teams this season. How's that for insight?


Wow, that's a lot of road picks. That can't possibly work, right?

Last week: 7-9
Season: 83-103-6

Friday, December 10, 2010

For some reason, O's re-sign Izturis

A day after acquiring a new shortstop, the Orioles decided that they'd like to have their old one back too. Surprisingly, the O's have signed Cesar Izturis to a one-year, $1.5 million contract, according to Orioles Insider's Jeff Zrebiec. The deal apparently also includes some playing time incentives.

Even though the deal will end up only costing $1-$2 million, the decision to bring back Izturis is puzzling at best. J.J. Hardy is obviously better than Izturis in just about every way, so what's the point of spending the money on a backup shortstop like Izturis when a cheaper option like Robert Andino could be used instead?

In just 16 games last year, Andino (0.5 fWAR, 0.4 brWAR) was more valuable than Izturis (-0.3 fWAR, -0.4 brWAR) was in 150 games. Meanwhile, Andino earned the league minimum in 2010 while Izturis made a little over $2.5 million.

Even if Hardy gets hurt and ends up missing time -- which has to be Andy MacPhail's main reason for re-signing Izturis -- Izturis isn't likely to produce much at all. He hit just .230/.277/.268 last season, so it's not like he's any kind of intimidating bat coming off the bench. Hardy is also a better fielder than Izturis at this point in his career, so he won't be a late-game defensive sub at shortstop, either. Izturis could take over for Mark Reynolds at third when the O's have a late lead, but then again, so can Andino, who is a fine defensive infielder himself. Even if any of those possible roles mattered a whole lot, would it make sense to spend $1.5 million for a backup who may not see much of the field?

In the end, if this is the worst decision the O's make this offseason, it's hard to get too upset about it, especially since the deal isn't for a ton of money. But still, it's unlikely that both Izturis and Andino will be on the roster if the O's decide to keep Brendan Harris around, which seems probable since he's still due about $1.75 million in 2011.

If Izturis ends up taking Andino's roster spot, it'll be a shame because not only is Andino younger and cheaper, but he's also probably a better player.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

O's bring back Uehara, are close to acquiring J.J. Hardy

After a flurry of rumors following the Mark Reynolds trade, the Orioles have apparently made two important moves. First, the O's re-signed Koji Uehara to a one-year deal with a vesting option for 2012. At the moment, other contract details haven't been disclosed yet. And second, the O's are very close to trading for J.J. Hardy of the Twins. According to Dan Connolly of The Baltimore Sun (via Orioles Insider), the O's will receive Hardy and infielder Brendan Harris in exchange for two minor leaguers, rumored to be Jim Hoey and Brett Jacobson. If the deal is completed, Hardy would become the everyday shortstop, while Harris would likely be the team's utility infielder.

In his post, Connolly also mentions both players' contract situations:
Hardy in his final year of arbitration after making $5.1 million in 2010. He will be a free agent after the 2011 season. Harris signed a two-year, $3.2 million extension with the Twins after the 2009 season. He is owed $1.75 million in 2011.
Harris (30) might not be with the O's beyond 2011, so that's not a big deal. Hardy (28), on the other hand, may be someone the O's want to keep around for more than one season. The O's probably won't do this, but they could try to work out a multi-year deal with Hardy, buying out his last arbitration year and ensuring that he stays in Baltimore for more than just one season. Or they could take the more likely option, which is to see how much Hardy makes via arbitration, pay him, and see how 2011 plays out before possibly negotiating a future contract. Since Hardy has had his fair share of injuries, neither is really a bad route to take, but the O's would risk repeating their 2010 search for a shortstop if Hardy opts to sign with another team.

With Hardy, the O's will have a shortstop who can both hold his own at the plate and in the field. Cesar Izturis was a solid shortstop for the O's in terms of fielding, but he was dreadful at the plate -- for his career, Izturis has hit .256/.296/.323 with a 4.9 BB%. Hardy, meanwhile, has a career line of .263/.323/.423 with an 8.1 BB%. Those aren't fantastic numbers, but they are better than Izturis's stats, and again, Hardy also plays strong defense. That's definitely an upgrade.

To me, there's only one negative with the two moves, and it isn't trading the often-injured Hoey or 24-year-old Jacobson, who seems like a decent prospect (though 24 is a little old to still be in Single A). Instead, it's that both Uehara and Hardy have previously missed significant time because of injury, which can happen again at any moment. Most O's fans are already familiar with Uehara's previous inability to stay healthy, but his move to the bullpen seems to have eased many of those worries. Hardy, though, dealt with a wrist injury last season that allowed him to play in just 101 games. He has dealt with several other injuries in his career, but it's worth noting that he has still played in at least 100 games for the last four seasons. Still, the O's probably don't want a shortstop who's going to miss 60 games, but it's at least possible that happens. The presence of Harris alleviates some of those worries because of his ability to play shortstop, but he is probably better suited at third base anyway. But regardless of his injury history, Hardy is easily better than Izturis.

Both moves are ones the O's needed to make. They needed a younger, competent shortstop to take over for Izturis, and they needed to at least shore up the bullpen after trading away David Hernandez to acquire Reynolds. The O's may not be done dealing -- they could still use a first baseman, another reliever, maybe another starter, etc. -- but the O's have seemingly made some clever moves so far. Having Hardy and Reynolds on the left side of the infield also presents a significant improvement over anything the O's have had the last few seasons.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Quick note on the Haynesworth saga

So the Redskins have suspended Albert Haynesworth for four games, which also happens to be the rest of the season. Claiming that Haynesworth demonstrated "conduct detrimental to the club," the Redskins are also saying that Haynesworth had stopped talking to Mike Shanahan and that he refused to play in certain defensive packages during games. Obviously there's much more behind this fiasco, and things are far from over.

It would be hard to argue that any single party in this matter handled things well. It's also possible that the only reason the Redskins didn't release or trade Haynesworth this season was to build a case against him, including all the negative things he's done in a Skins uniform (and there's a lot of them), and go after not only the rest of his salary this season, but also some of the $21 million bonus he received before the season (in April).

Lots of fans and commentators have been talking about how it's just Haynesworth's fault or that Shanahan's huge ego is to blame. Many have also blamed Dan Snyder and the departed Vinny Cerrato for signing Haynesworth to begin with; remember, Shanahan and Bruce Allen didn't bring him in, though they knew dealing with him would be part of the job. In actuality, they're all at least partly to blame. Shanahan and Haynesworth seemed to butt heads from day one, and the trouble really began with the whole conditioning test debacle that lasted way too long. If Shanahan really didn't want Haynesworth on the team anymore, Allen could have dealt Haynesworth away to the Titans at some point during the season, but they either asked for too much in return or really weren't that serious about a trade. And Cerrato and Snyder made the huge mistake of not doing their homework and making Haynesworth the highest paid defensive player in the league two seasons ago. Switching to the 3-4 defense also looks like a huge mistake, not only because the Redskins front office had to know that Haynesworth would not be happy, but because the entire defensive unit has been abysmal.

But for those people who think that Haynesworth is only playing a small part in this matter -- and believe me, there are some people out there who think that everyone is to blame except Haynesworth -- do me a favor and watch the play below.

You've likely seen that play at least a few times by now. Is that really the guy you want to defend? Does that look like someone who loves the game of football, like he says? Or is that someone who just quit on this team and his teammates when they needed him most?

Haynesworth's appeal of the suspension should be coming soon, and this situation won't go away for at least another few weeks -- and maybe not until the season is over and the Redskins officially get rid of Haynesworth. So there's always that to look forward to.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Reactions to the Mark Reynolds trade

Yesterday the Orioles acquired third baseman Mark Reynolds from the Diamondbacks in exchange for relievers David Hernandez and Kam Mickolio. Andy MacPhail said that he wanted to improve the team's offense and overall team power, and he did just that with this move.

Reynolds, 27, has lots of power and hit 121 home runs in four seasons with Arizona. After a breakout season in 2009 -- .260/.349/.543, 44 HR -- Reynolds took a big step back last season, hitting .198/.320/.433. He still hit 32 home runs, but the O's hope that they're not trading for the guy who's going to replicate that type of season in Baltimore.

With Reynolds's immense power, though, comes numerous strikeouts; he struck out more than 200 times in each of the last three seasons. The linked article above also casually mentions that those are the three highest strikeout totals in MLB history. So Reynolds will immediately upgrade the O's combined power and slugging percentage, but he will also strike out more than once per game. That's the trade-off the O's are making for Reynolds's services (besides, you know, the actual trade).

Reynolds is currently in the middle of a three-year, $14.5 million contract that he signed with Arizona. His deal also includes a 2013 team option. Last year, the first year in that deal, Reynolds made $500,000. In 2011 his salary bumps up to $5 million, and he'll earn $7.5 million in 2012. Reynolds's team option for 2013 is $11 million, with a $500,000 buyout. So the O's will be paying Reynolds a decent amount for his services, but his contract certainly seems reasonable. Also, the O's control him for at least the next two seasons for not a huge sum of money. If Reynolds fails to impress, then the O's can pay him his buyout money in 2013 and move along.

My take is that I like this move. The trade seems pretty even, especially since Hernandez (25) and Mickolio (26) are under team control and are not expensive. But they are also relievers and can be replaced; that is, if the O's handle the bullpen situation right (i.e., not overpaying for relievers). The deal will seem much better if Reynolds reverts back to his 2009 form instead of 2010's, but it's also likely that he'll finish 2011 as a combination of the two. I seriously doubt that he'll hit under .200 again, but that doesn't mean he'll slug at a .543 clip again either. But for this trade to be effective, he doesn't have to.

Other reactions:

- "Though Reynolds will head east after the first season by a qualified player of more Ks (211) than BA (.198), it's a risk the Orioles had to take. They've struggled to attract any free agents this offseason with their standing at the bottom of the AL East and Reynolds will bring the sort of over-the-wall power that only Luke Scott(notes) could provide last season. He hit 44 and 32 homers the last two seasons and he'll definitely need to record a number between those two — as well as avoid setting the single-season strikeout record again —to make himself a winning import for the O's." [Kevin Kaduk, Big League Stew]

- "Whether it’s the right move for the Orioles is open to debate. Hernandez couldn’t cut it as a starter, and if you’re going to move young talent, make it a reliever or two. Only the best relievers in the league come close to 2.5 WAR in a season, and I don’t think Hernandez or Mickolio are close to that yet, although Hernandez, at least, looks like he might do well (all those fly balls will be scary in the desert, though). There is something to be said for the Orioles just having a non-horrible presence at third (or first, if that’s what they decide to do, although Reynolds’ overall offense is much less impressive there). Unless one of the traded relievers turns into another Joakim Soria, this probably won’t hurt them too badly in the long-term (when they might be able to contend in the AL East), either, although Reynolds himself isn’t likely to be much help then. Overall, this looks like a fair trade for both sides that fills a need for the Orioles for the next couple of seasons." [Matt Klaassen, FanGraphs]

- "As for the guys Baltimore sent to the desert, losing David Hernandez is a bit of a blow. I think Hernandez will be, someday, a successful major league pitcher. However, his path is almost certainly that of a reliever at this point and you shouldn't hesitate to part with relief arms to improve the club. Hernandez did manage to increase his K rate to something close to his minor league rate in 2010 but he was still essentially a flyball pitcher and figures to do better in Arizona. I have little doubt that he may have success going forward but he won't be as valuable as Reynolds has the chance to be." [Heath, Dempsey's Army]

- "The book on Reynolds is simple: plenty of power, plenty of strikeouts, low average. He’s coming here to provide much-needed power, plain and simple. Not much else to it. It isn’t what I’d call a great acquisition, but it is appropriate. . . . Ultimately, I can’t say I love this. And if it’s the only big move they make, I’ll probably hate it. For now I suppose it suffices to say that it seems to improve the team at least somewhat. That’s a start." [Neal Shaffer, The Loss Column]

- "Andy MacPhail needs to inject some power and run production into the Orioles lineup and he came up a little short on Victor Martinez, which left him with a list of available players that all have some kind of drawback. Personally, I would have been happy to take Adam Dunn and split him between first base and DH in spite of his strikeout total, but he's got some of the same issues as Reynolds and he got $56 million from the White Sox." [Peter Schmuck, The Schmuck Stops Here]

Contract information via Cot's Baseball Contracts

Monday, December 6, 2010

Terps need upperclassmen to step up

In yesterday's 64-61 loss to Temple, which dropped Maryland to 6-3 on the season, Gary Williams did his best to send a message to his starters (other than Jordan Williams): play better or your minutes will diminish.

Williams, unquestionably the Terps' best player, had 17 points and 11 rebounds in 32 minutes. But no one really helped him out on the boards, and he was the only Terp to grab more than six rebounds. Because of that, Maryland was outrebounded by nine, including by four on the offensive end.

Still, though, Gary Williams did his best to send a message to Cliff Tucker, Adrian Bowie, and Sean Mosley. That trio played just 18, 22, and 19 minutes, respectively, and only scored a combined eight points. For Maryland to go places this season, Tucker and Bowie (seniors) and Mosley (junior) absolutely must play better than that. The Terps also could use a better effort out of Dino Gregory (senior) too -- one point (0-4 shooting), six rebounds -- but he has basically already shown what kind of player he is at this point.

Down 15 early in the second half, Gary Williams decided to give his young guys a chance, and it got Maryland back in the game. He likely won't forget that going forward. Going with a lineup of Terrell Stoglin, Pe'Shon Howard, James Padgett, Haukur Palsson, and either Williams (foul trouble) or Gregory, Maryland cut Temple's lead to four with about 12 minutes to go. Maryland kept battling and eventually tied the game on a dunk by Padgett with 1:52 left, but Temple swiftly passed the ball up court and hit an and-one layup to seize the lead for good.

For the game, Stoglin, Howard, and Palsson -- all freshmen -- and Padgett, a sophomore, all played over 12 minutes and scored a combined 35 points. Stoglin scored 16 points on 5-12 shooting, and Howard chipped in six points and six assists. Padgett had eight points and three rebounds, while Palsson had five points and two boards. Those four gave the Terps the spark they were looking for, but it wasn't quite enough for them to pull out the victory.

Other than the inconsistent play by Maryland's upperclassmen, the Terps have a few weaknesses. Here they are:

1) Three-point shooting

Other than Tucker or maybe Stoglin, Maryland doesn't really have a solid three-point shooter. As a team, the Terps are shooting just 30.4 percent from three-point range, which ranks 10th in the ACC.

2) Free throw shooting

As a team, the Terps are shooting 64.5 percent from the line, which is 11th in the ACC. That is something that absolutely will have to change if Maryland is going to win some close conference games as the season rolls along. Williams has already shot 66 free throws, and he's made just 34 of them (51.5 percent). They really need him, and some others, to make more of their free throw attempts.

3) Depth behind Williams

The Terps have done a pretty good job rebounding and defending so far, but that may change when they play against deeper, more athletic teams. Williams can hold his own against just about anyone in the country, but when he gets in foul trouble, the Terps obviously miss his presence in the paint. Padgett and Palsson both play hard, but they're not as good, or as big, as Williams.

Nevertheless, the young Terps are certainly fun to watch, and it should be interesting to see how they grow as a team and if Stoglin and Howard eventually earn starting roles if Bowie, Mosley, and Tucker continue to struggle.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Skins lose again; season over with four games to go

Because I didn't have much to do today, I've been thinking all afternoon/evening -- after the Redskins' latest disappointing performance, a 31-7 loss to the Giants -- what to write about the game.

It was obvious early on that the Redskins weren't going to win. The Giants quickly took the lead, scored twice in the first quarter, and didn't allow the Redskins to do much of anything the entire game. The Giants took a 21-0 lead going into halftime, but honestly, I decided to stop watching the game after that third touchdown. And that's not something that I offer lightly. Even during the Eagles blowout in Week 10, I kept watching. Most true and loyal fans probably did, even though it was a train wreck of a performance by Washington from the very beginning.

I really don't like writing about myself, especially in a post like this, but I'm just tired of this team. I'm tired of such a poorly run organization going for a quick fix year in and year out, regardless of the team's actual situation. I'm tired of the team overpaying for veteran players, especially ones that don't fit what the team is trying to accomplish on the field.

But more than anything else, I'm tired of the team trading away draft picks instead of working hard to identify young, valuable talent. In his tenure as the team's owner, Dan Snyder has tried just about everything. He's invested huge sums of money on countless coaches and players, and most of the moves have not worked. But the one thing that the Redskins organization refuses to do is rebuild -- yes, that dreaded word. This organization does not value draft picks, and it very rarely develops and holds on to young stars. The offensive line is absolutely terrible, and yet the Redskins have not selected more than a handful of linemen over the last few years. Sure, Trent Williams seems talented, but the line isn't made of one guy. The Redskins have more holes on their roster than most teams, and they also have no depth. That's what happens when draft picks are not properly valued.

I subscribe to the theory that draft picks are similar to lottery tickets. Yes, obviously some organizations are much better at identifying talent that fits their team's personnel and scheme, but when teams obtain more draft picks, they're more likely to draft better players. And that's essentially what I believe, or something along those lines. Anyway, the Redskins haven't given themselves much of a chance when it comes to drafting because they usually have fewer choices than every other team. And at the end of the day, that's my biggest beef with the Redskins.

After this week's debacle, many fans will take shots at the players, saying they gave up and demonstrated no heart in such an important game. Remember, if the Redskins ran the table, they could have maybe, just maybe, earned a playoff spot. It doesn't matter that the Redskins haven't won more than two games in a row and lost 59-28 just a few weeks ago. Some fans were still delusional enough to think that this team had some kind of chance to win five games in a row just because it miraculously happened in 2007 after Sean Taylor's death. It's nice to be a wishful thinker, but come on, there was just no chance of that happening.

As a team, the Redskins have no chemistry. They're just a bunch of parts haphazardly thrown together into schemes that don't fit. And that's a seasonal occurrence in D.C. The Redskins don't have the personnel or defensive talent to run a 3-4, but they're doing it anyway just because. The Redskins offense has been terrible for years, but instead of building through the draft and taking their lumps for a couple of seasons, they traded for Donovan McNabb, yet another piece that just doesn't seem like it's going to work. And that's not even counting the pain of being forced to cheer for someone like McNabb, who certainly is a nice guy, but has been an enemy of the Redskins on the field from his time in an Eagles uniform. That's the kind of thing that Redskins fans have to deal with -- not just losing, but now losing with a guy who they've been cheering against for more than a decade. Thanks for that, Redskins front office.

All of this isn't to say that the players don't deserve any blame. Of course they do. They're on the field, and they lost the game. But that doesn't mean that they're underperforming either. Maybe they're just not good enough. So yeah, I have no idea how the Redskins beat the Packers, Eagles, or Bears this season. Even bad teams get lucky, I guess. But until fans stop getting fooled into thinking that a few annual free agent acquisitions will transform the Redskins into a Super Bowl contender, things probably won't change. And it doesn't matter who's coaching or playing on Sundays. That's an organizational philosophy, and everyone needs to get on board.

If not, well, then the Redskins are likely going to keep having seasons like this, when they look competitive early on and then fade as the weather gets colder and their older players can't stay on the field.

Week 13 picks

Here are my picks for Week 13.

EAGLES (-9) over Texans

Picked this one already here.

Bills (+6) over VIKINGS

The Bills deserve a lot of credit. They're only 2-9, but they've either won or lost by just three points going all the way back to Week 7. In that stretch, they've lost to the Ravens, Chiefs, Bears, and Steelers -- all by three points each. Considering those teams have a combined record of 31-13, that's rather impressive for a two-win team. Wins are obviously most important, but there's something to be said for a below-average team battling week in and week out.

DOLPHINS (-5) over Browns

A few weeks ago I said the Dolphins were not to be trusted anymore, and maybe they're not. But Jake Delhomme is starting this game for the Browns. Enough said.

TITANS (-3) over Jaguars

The Jaguars continue to be a confusing team. Not counting the NFC West because of how much of a disaster that division has been, the Jaguars are the only division leader (via tiebreaker over the Colts) that has been outscored this season (-54). Here are the point differentials for the other division leaders: Eagles (+63), Bears (+50), Falcons (+67), Jets (+77), Ravens (+62), Chiefs (+54). Also, at 6-5, the Jaguars have beaten just one team that's currently above .500: the Colts, in a 31-28 win. Now, at 5-6, the Titans are not necessarily a bad team and have actually outscored their opponents by 39 points; unfortunately, they've lost their last four games. It's entirely possible that the Titans have shut things down and will lay down again this week. But Kerry Collins will start at quarterback, which is great for the Titans because 1) it gives them some semblance of a passing game, and 2) he's not Rusty Smith. Chris Johnson is also due for a bounce-back performance after rushing for five yards last week.

CHIEFS (-8.5) over Broncos

I'm not sure how the Broncos blew the Chiefs out (49-29) a few weeks ago. Maybe it was the mile-high air or the fact that, shockingly enough, the Broncos jumped out to a 35-0 lead in the second quarter. But the Chiefs have not lost a game yet at home this season, and they should be able to put up plenty of points against the NFL's worst-ranked defense (29.4 points per game). I'm also going to bet that the Broncos don't have 35 points by halftime again either.

GIANTS (-7) over Redskins

This game is all about the battle upfront. If the Redskins can get some pressure on Eli Manning and also give Donovan McNabb enough time to throw, the Skins have a chance to earn the upset win on the road. If not, it's going to be a long day.

Bears (-5) over LIONS

Two words: Drew Stanton.

PACKERS (-9) over 49ers
Saints (-7) over BENGALS
CHARGERS (-13) over Raiders

It's entirely possible that one of these games, or even all three, end up being close. But I just have no confidence in making any of those choices.

Falcons (-3) over BUCCANEERS

Here's another team that deserves a lot of credit: Tampa Bay. At 7-4, they're plenty alive in the battle for a playoff spot in the NFC. Still, the 9-2 Falcons are absolutely rolling and have won five straight. Division rivals always have the chance for an upset, but the Falcons' only losses this season have come against the Steelers and Eagles -- two outstanding teams.

SEAHAWKS (-4.5) over Panthers
Rams (-3.5) over CARDINALS

These two games may end up being pretty bad, and yet they have playoff implications because of how awful the NFC West is. At 5-6, a win for the Seahawks or Rams would put them at .500. So that's something.

COLTS (-5.5) over Cowboys

Tough loss for the Cowboys last week, and now they get to travel to Indianapolis to face an angry Colts team that really, really needs a win. The Colts have been proven to have flaws, particularly in the running game, but it would be difficult to argue that the Cowboys don't have just as many flaws, if not more.

Steelers (+3) over RAVENS
Jets (+4) over PATRIOTS

Sunday and Monday Night Football should be phenomenal this week, as maybe the top four teams in the AFC will be battling. All four teams are rather even, and I wouldn't be shocked to see both games go down to the wire. And actually, that's what I'm predicting: games decided by a late touchdown or field goal.

Last week: 8-8
Season: 76-94-6

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Thursday night pick

I'm in a hurry this morning, so two quick things before I make my Texans-Eagles pick: 1) nice win (62-39) for the Terps last night on the road against Penn State, even if they started out extremely sloppy and slow (they didn't score a point until about five minutes into the game); and 2) awful effort -- particularly on the defensive end -- from the Wizards last night against the Raptors (a 127-108 loss). The Wiz are also now 0-9 on the road.

On to the pick!

EAGLES (-9) over Texans

The Eagles offense is tied for second in the NFL in points per game (28.2), and after a subpar game against a tough Bears defense last week, Michael Vick and the Eagles should be able to score at will against a Texans defense that allows the fifth-most yards per game (386.4) and the seventh-most points per game (26.1). The Texans looked much better in a 20-0 win over the Titans last week, but that came against a currently dysfunctional team with a third-string quarterback named Rusty Smith starting who threw three interceptions.

Philadelphia's defense isn't phenomenal and is ranked 20th in points allowed per game (23.4), but they don't allow a ton of rushing yards, meaning that if the Texans can't run the ball effectively with Arian Foster, the Eagles should be able to create enough pressure on Matt Schaub to make him uncomfortable and more susceptible to turn the ball over.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Giants sign Tejada to one-year deal

Miguel Tejada won't be coming to play for the Orioles for a third time -- at least this season. Tejada has signed a one-year, $6.5 million contract with the Giants. After losing Juan Uribe, who recently signed a three-year deal with the Dodgers, the Giants were convinced that they needed another infield option, so they brought in Tejada, who can play both shortstop and third base if needed.

According to the MLB Trade Rumors article linked above, written by Ben Nicholson-Smith, the Giants will probably use Tejada at shortstop, but he may also see some playing time at third, especially since "[t]hird baseman Pablo Sandoval is falling out of favor with the Giants." That's not to suggest that the Giants are looking to move Sandoval, but the O's, who are looking to upgrade at both corner infield positions, would at least be intrigued if Sandoval were made available.

The Baltimore Sun's Dan Connolly, in a post on Orioles Insider, notes that Ryan Theriot won't be the O's shortstop next season either, since the Dodgers just traded him to the Cardinals. The O's are still looking to make an improvement at shortstop and may not want to bring back Cesar Izturis for another year or two.

Connolly also mentions Jason Bartlett (Rays) and J.J. Hardy (Twins) as possible trade targets, but no deal seems imminent. I'd rather the O's go after Hardy instead of Bartlett, and Connolly also hints that the O's favor Hardy as well.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Derek Anderson is not Dennis Green

Derek Anderson wants you to know that he wasn't laughing on the sidelines during last night's loss to the 49ers, even if he actually was. And then after he tells you that a few times, he won't answer more questions.

But even though it's impossible to doubt Anderson's anger and frustration, his outburst pales in comparison to Dennis Green's tirade from 2006.

Sorry, Derek, but not only did you come up short on the field yesterday, but your post-game blowup wasn't even the Cardinals' best in the last five years.

(And yes, I realize that this is neither D.C. sports nor Orioles related, but tirades and outbursts from players and coaches are always relevant here.)

Monday, November 29, 2010

Boswell thinks the Redskins are 'close'

I've already picked on Thomas Boswell once this month for a peculiar column, and it's not something that I'm going to make a habit of doing. But after watching yesterday's frustrating 17-13 loss against the Vikings, how can Boswell say that the Skins "are getting closer" to much of anything?

Granted, I'll give the team credit for playing hard. And at 5-6, they already have more wins than last season with a shot to get a couple more. But yesterday's game can be used as a precise example of why the Skins are not close.

Even though Donovan McNabb was not the reason the Redskins lost the game, he did not make enough plays to win it. Boswell is right when he blames the lack of a running game, the poor offensive line play, and a few dropped balls by the team's receivers -- and a huge block-in-the-back call on Perry Riley -- but those are also all problems that the team needs to address. They are huge team weaknesses, not just a single week's problems that can easily be corrected after just one offseason.

Keiland Williams has had a few decent games, but he's not really an explosive player and shouldn't really be viewed as NFL starting running back material. James Davis deserves some more carries to see what he can bring to the table, but he didn't do anything special yesterday either. And Ryan Torain has also had a few strong performances, but he can't stay on the field.

Then again, maybe the lack of a running game can be blamed on the offensive line, which not only failed to protect McNabb (four sacks), but didn't open up any holes in the running game either. Trent Williams, the team's most recent first-round pick, is undoubtedly the best offensive lineman on the team, but there's little else to get excited about in terms of blocking.

And yet, when the blocking gave McNabb enough time, he did make several accurate throws. For the game, he was 21-35 for 211 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. As Boswell mentions, the interception was not McNabb's fault; it was Santana Moss who dropped the pass and had the ball deflect into the air for an interception. But McNabb did finish the game with a 74.8 quarterback rating, which has been about his average this season. It would be nice to get McNabb a ton of weapons and a huge offensive line that blocks every defender in sight, but the Redskins traded for McNabb so he'd be able to win games like this. Unfortunately, he didn't get much help.

And then, Boswell writes this uplifting paragraph: "This game also underlined the area where the Redskins have made the most significant improvement: in the game-breaking speed of Banks, who had a 65-yard kickoff return, and Anthony Armstrong, who caught a 45-yard bomb and now has 545 yards receiving."

I'm not going to debate the worth or skill level of Brandon Banks, who has been phenomenal in the return game and has easily been the team's most exciting player. But Armstrong? Yes, he has caught some long passes, and he even did so in yesterday's game (two catches, 53 yards). But even though he's not an old guy, he's still 27 years old. Has he really shown enough to be relied upon week in and week out? And is he really a big part of the team's future? The Redskins also have two seemingly reliable tight end options in Chris Cooley (28) and Fred Davis (24), but Santana Moss (31) is a free agent after this season and may end up on another team next season. It sure seems like more help will be needed in the receiving game.

Also, how can Boswell use speed as a positive and fail to mention the team's lack of speed in the Eagles game just a few weeks ago? The Redskins looked like they were playing on a different level -- a much, much lower level -- while the Eagles were running up and down the field with ease.

Anyway, my point is that the Redskins have a ton of holes to fill and not enough draft picks to fill them all adequately. Free agency will likely be the team's go-to option when it comes to bringing in more talent, but the past several years have shown that that strategy is far from reliable and may only create more future headaches for Mike Shanahan and the team's coaching staff.

Right now, the Redskins don't look as bad as they did last season, but they aren't really that much better either. I'm just not sure that I understand all of the excitement.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Week 12 picks

Happy Thanksgiving! And here are my picks for Week 12.

Patriots (-7) over LIONS

This one has the chance to be a pretty high-scoring game, with the 22nd (Lions) and 23rd (Patriots) ranked defenses in terms of points allowed. But even though it's Thanksgiving and weird things can happen in games on this day, I'll side with Tom Brady and the Patriots to take care of business.

COWBOYS (+4.5) over Saints

The Saints have been laying low recently, and they quietly haven't lost since their Week 7 defeat against the Browns. This will be their first real test in a few weeks now that the Cowboys seem to be interested in actually showing up and playing harder. I understand that the Cowboys only have three wins, but they're going to do everything in their power not to get blown out and embarrassed at home. (Did you know that the Saints defense only allows 17.0 points per game? That's No. 4 in the NFL. Gregg Williams continues to do a fantastic job in New Orleans.)

JETS (-9) over Bengals

I guess it's obvious at this point that it's not really the Jets' style to blow out their opponents. But I can't side with a team that gave up 35 unanswered points to the Bills and seemed to quit in front of their home crowd like that. That was ridiculous, and it was probably the game that will get Marvin Lewis fired.

Vikings (+1) over REDSKINS

I really want to side with the Skins after that gutsy win over the Titans last week, but at some point, they're going to be missing too many players. They may be able to survive another week without LaRon Landry and another defender or two, but I'm much more worried about the injury issues on the offensive line. The line performed admirably last week as guys filled in and got the job done, but I just don't know that most of those fill-ins are talented enough to perform in consecutive weeks. The Vikings have been a disaster this year, but if the Redskins and their makeshift line don't block well enough, they won't win.

Steelers (-6.5) over BILLS

I give the Bills a lot of credit. They refused to give up on the season a few weeks ago and have actually pulled out two wins in a row. Unfortunately, they're on the tracks this week as the Steelers train comes rolling into town. Pittsburgh needs a little more fine-tuning before their huge Week 13 battle with the Ravens in Baltimore, and the Bills just aren't as good as they looked last week in that huge (and hilarious) comeback victory over the Bengals. Prediction for this game? Pain.

Titans (+6.5) over TEXANS

Rusty Smith will get the start at quarterback for Tennessee, so that's not a good thing for them at all. But that does mean the Texans will see a heavy dose of Chris Johnson. That also means Jeff Fisher can get back to what his teams usually do best: run the ball and stop opposing teams from scoring. Let's see if he can coach his team up to get the job done this week with all that's going on around him.

Jaguars (+7.5) over GIANTS

The Giants have lost two big games in a row to NFC East foes, and they appear to be folding. Oh, and they also lost Hakeem Nicks for a few weeks. But I still can't believe that the Jaguars are 6-4, especially since they've been outscored by 50 points on the season. I think the Giants will win this week and avoid losing three games in a row, but they may also be missing too many pieces to win handily over Jacksonville. I think the Giants will win, but it'll be close.

BROWNS (-10) over Panthers

That's a lot of points for a 3-7 team to be laying, but the Panthers (1-9) really are that bad. I'll side with the Browns and the Mangenius this week.

Packers (+2) over FALCONS

Huge game between arguably the two best teams in the NFC. I like the Falcons a little more as a team because of their ability to run the ball, but I think the Packers defense makes the difference this week and forces a few turnovers.

RAIDERS (PK) over Dolphins

That Bears-Dolphins game on Thursday night last week was one of the worst football games I've ever seen. Adding in the horrible NFL Network broadcast booth, it may have been the worst football game I've watched. Considering all that, I'm going to penalize the Dolphins and possibly not pick them for the rest of the season. Way to go, guys.

OK, time for the speed round.

Chiefs (-2) over SEAHAWKS

RAVENS (-7.5) over Buccaneers

Eagles (-3) over BEARS

Rams (+4) over BRONCOS

COLTS (-3) over Chargers

49ers (-1) over CARDINALS

Last week: 7-9
Season: 68-86-6

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Wizards fight back, stun 76ers against in OT

Because of work, I was unable to watch one minute of the Wizards' 116-114 win over the Sixers last night. But on the way home, I did have the opportunity to listen to the radio during the fourth quarter and overtime, and I will say this: play-by-play man Dave Johnson and color analyst Glenn Consor were shocked at the Wizards' comeback and eventual victory.

From listening to Johnson and Consor and looking at the game's box score, the Wizards were terrible in the first half. They finished the half down 14 points, and from what I could tell by glancing at the box score, no Wiz player was really competing except for JaVale McGee, who already had a double-double midway through the second quarter. (More on McGee and his monster game below.)

After scoring just 38 points in the first half, though, the Wizards turned things around in a hurry, outscoring the Sixers by 10 points (35-25) in the third quarter and scratching and clawing in the fourth to send the game to overtime.

Let's go back to the fourth quarter. With about six minutes to go, Marreese Speights hit a jumper to give the Sixers a 98-85 lead. For nearly the next five minutes, though, the Sixers failed to score any points; meanwhile, the Wizards scored 10 and cut the lead to 98-95. Both teams traded a few buckets, and then Evan Turner hit two free throws with 27 seconds left, giving the Sixers a 104-99 advantage. John Wall then got fouled and hit two free throws, making the score 104-101. Then came arguably the biggest play in the game (at the time, at least): On the ensuing inbounds pass, Trevor Booker tied up Andres Nocioni and forced a jump ball, which he eventually tipped to Gilbert Arenas. The teams traded free throws, and the Wizards got the ball back with 11 seconds to go. Flip Saunders used a timeout to advance the ball and drew up a play, but Nick Young launched a three-pointer that either was an airball or barely touched the rim, giving the ball back to the Sixers. Luckily, though, the Wizards fouled Evan Turner on the inbounds pass, and he missed both free throws.

Still down by three with eight seconds to go, Wall hurriedly drove down the floor and then made an absolutely fantastic decision. With the Sixers looking to foul instead of giving the Wizards a chance to hit a three -- a strategy that simply has not worked in two games against Washington -- Wall pulled up from about halfway between mid-court and the three-point line and was able to draw an obvious foul by Jrue Holiday. Holiday was not expecting Wall to force a shot from that far away. Wall made all three free throws and sent the game to overtime, 106-106.

Overtime was just as exciting, or even more so, than the fourth quarter, but let's skip ahead to the final seconds. Down 114-113 after a Thaddeus Young tip-in, the Wizards drew up another play and hoped for some more late-game heroics. And they got it when Nick Young (on a pass from Arenas) hit a three-point jumper in the corner to put the Wiz up two, 116-114. I'd like to say that the Wizards ran some awesome play to get Young that wide-open three, but judging from the replay, all Young did was run down the baseline, and the Sixers simply lost track of him for a moment, which was just enough time for him to nail the shot. Andre Iguodala missed his shot to tie the game, which gave the Wizards another overtime win over the Sixers.

I apologize for the long game recap, but it really was an outstanding comeback and an exciting game (at least to listen to, for me). Wall was the story in the second half and overtime after a bad first half in his first game back from injury, but the player of the game for the Wizards has to be McGee, who had the best game of his career with 24 points (9-15 shooting), 18 rebounds, and four blocks. He also had two assists and two steals. Amazingly enough, McGee still would have had a double-double without the defensive rebounds (8) he grabbed because he had 10 offensive boards. And as I discussed yesterday, McGee has now grabbed 10 or more rebounds in four straight games. Phenomenal work, JaVale.

Back to Wall: He led the Wizards with 25 points and was 7-15 from the field -- not great, but much better than he started off the game. He also had six assists, three rebounds, and just one turnover in 36 minutes.

Playing 32 minutes off the bench (partly because of an Al Thornton injury), Young scored 19 points and was also 7-15 from the field. He even grabbed three rebounds and made four three-pointers. As for the starters (other than McGee; Wall came off the bench), Arenas had 17 points and seven assists; Andray Blatche scored 17 points and snagged 12 rebounds; Kirk Hinrich chipped in seven points and six assists; and Thornton had no points and a rebound in eight minutes before departing. Neither Arenas nor Blatche shot well, though; they were a combined 14-37 from the field (ouch).

Overall, the Wizards won a game in which they were outshot (46.2% to 43.9%), outrebounded (48-45), and out-assisted (29-25). But they made four more three-pointers and shot better from the free throw line (76.9% to 71.0%), which certainly ended up mattering.

The Wizards improved to 5-8 on the season with the win, and they travel to Atlanta to face the Hawks on Thursday (on TNT). Also, in just 13 games, the Wizards have already played three overtime games.

Note: According to, since 1986-1987 only eight other players (other than McGee) have had games with at least 24 points, 10 offensive rebounds, a field-goal percentage of 60 percent (or higher), and four blocks. Those players, in descending order sorted by points, are Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Shaquille O'Neal (three times), Patrick Ewing, Elton Brand, Billy Thompson, Dikembe Mutombo, and LaMarcus Aldridge.