Thursday, September 30, 2010

Millwood shuts down Rays

Kevin Millwood pitched seven scoreless innings, and Felix Pie tripled in two runs in the seventh to give the Orioles a 2-0 win over the Rays. With the win and only four games remaining in the season, the O's will avoid 100 losses -- a somewhat impressive achievement considering how bad the team was until Buck Showalter took over as manager.

But back to the game, which was a pitchers' duel between Millwood and Jeff Niemann. Niemann (three strikeouts, one walk) was very good, allowing two runs in seven innings, but Millwood (seven strikeouts, three walks) was better. Millwood also gave up just two hits -- both singles -- and handed the ball off to the O's bullpen, which closed out the game. The win improved Millwood's record to 4-16 and lowered his ERA to 5.10. Still, in his final start with the Orioles, Millwood was extremely effective.

The O's put together six hits and drew just one walk. And not only was Pie's hit the game's deciding factor, but it was also the only extra-base hit for either team.

Jim Johnson, who first relieved Millwood in the eighth, pitched a scoreless inning, as did Koji Uehara, who also struck out two batters en route to his 11th save.


As stated above, the O's will avoid losing 100 games, but at 63-95, they still have something to play for when they return home for four games against the Tigers to close out the season. With two more wins, the O's can improve upon last season's 64-98 record. That may not be particularly noteworthy, but it's worth mentioning that the O's have avoided an even more disastrous season with a very strong showing in the last two-plus months.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Joey Galloway vs. the league

If you're a Redskins fan, you've likely heard a lot of discussion about Joey Galloway. Most of the talk hasn't been very positive and has been along the lines of, "Joey Galloway shouldn't be on an NFL roster"; "Why is Galloway starting?"; "Why don't the Redskins start Devin Thomas instead?" etc. Those seem like fair points/questions, especially since through three games, Galloway has just three receptions for 88 yards (all coming in the Houston game).

Now, obviously the Redskins' two best receivers are Santana Moss and Chris Cooley. Fred Davis, the No. 2 tight end behind Cooley, is probably the third-best receiver. Galloway isn't necessarily the fourth-best option, and he may not even be in the top five.

Anyway, I decided to take a look at how Galloway stacks up against other No. 2 wide receivers in the NFL (ranked by receiving yardage). Granted, not only have just three games been played, but several teams have solid receiving options at tight end and running back, meaning they all don't need to have great No. 2 options at wide receiver. Still, I figured it was worth a look.

Teams' No. 2 receiving leaders (WR)

1) Indianapolis Colts: Reggie Wayne: 18 catches, 260 yards
2) Houston Texans: Kevin Walter: 16, 207
3) Dallas Cowboys: Roy E. Williams: 12, 191
4) Denver Broncos: Jabar Gaffney: 17, 189
5) New York Giants: Steve Smith: 18, 181
6) San Diego Chargers: Legedu Naanee: 10, 177
7) St. Louis Rams: Danny Amendola: 16, 162
8) Cincinnati Bengals: Jordan Shipley: 13, 161
9) New Orleans Saints: Marques Colston: 14, 154
10) Arizona Cardinals: Larry Fitzgerald: 12, 152
11) Pittsburgh Steelers: Hines Ward: 10, 151
12) Miami Dolphins: Davone Bess: 13, 149
13) Philadelphia Eagles: Jeremy Maclin: 11, 147
14) Oakland Raiders: Darrius Heyward-Bey: 10, 140
15) Jacksonville Jaguars: Mike Thomas: 12, 139
16) New England Patriots: Randy Moss: 9, 139
17) Buffalo Bills: Steve Johnson: 9, 137
18) Green Bay Packers: Donald Driver: 18, 129
19) Tennessee Titans: Justin Gage: 7, 113
20) Chicago Bears: Devin Hester: 6, 110
21) Seattle Seahawks: Deion Branch: 12, 102
22) Washington Redskins: Joey Galloway: 3, 88
23) Baltimore Ravens: Derrick Mason: 7, 82
24) San Francisco 49ers: Michael Crabtree: 6, 81
25) Kansas City Chiefs: Dexter McCluster: 5, 78
26) Atlanta Falcons: Harry Douglas: 6, 71
27) Carolina Panthers: Brandon LaFell: 3, 66
28) New York Jets: Jerricho Cotchery: 8, 64
29) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Michael Spurlock: 3, 59
30) Minnesota Vikings: Greg Lewis: 5, 56
31) Cleveland Browns: Mohamed Massaquoi: 3, 55
32) Detroit Lions: Bryant Johnson: 2, 28

Some of the names on the list are No. 1s (Wayne, Moss, Colston, Fitzgerald) who are routinely doubled by opposing defenses and may not be on the list as the season progresses.

If not for a 62-yard bomb from Donovan McNabb in the Houston game, Galloway would be near the bottom with Bryant Johnson. Also, Galloway's three catches are tied with LaFell, Spurlock, and Massaquoi for second fewest.

I'm not sure why Galloway has started all three games. Maybe he's a nice guy who knows all of the plays, plays hard, and runs his routes correctly at all times. But he's not much of a threat, and when he's on the field, he makes it easier for opposing defenses to focus more on Moss and Cooley. Unless something is seriously wrong with Devin Thomas, like he's completely forgotten how to play wide receiver or catch the ball, he seems like a much better option at this point than Galloway. So does Anthony Armstrong.

Rays top O's, clinch playoff berth

David Price threw eight innings of shutout ball and led the Rays to a 5-0 victory over the Orioles last night. With the win, the Rays also clinched a playoff berth, though their race with the Yankees to win the AL East is still ongoing. Price was phenomenal, allowing just six hits while striking out eight and walking none.

Brad Bergesen, on the other hand, was not very good. He gave up all five runs in five innings, including solo home runs to Carlos Pena and Carl Crawford. This was Bergesen's worst outing since August 21, when he gave five earned runs in seven innings against the Rangers.

Again, Price was more than dominant, but is it really surprising that a lineup with Julio Lugo leading off and Robert Andino batting second got shut out? Lugo (before he got ejected in the fifth inning) and Andino each had singles, but with on-base percentages of .299 and .255, respectively, neither should ever be hitting that high in the lineup. Then again, Brian Roberts was scratched before the game, so Buck Showalter's hands may have been tied.

For what it's worth, the O's lineup featured five starters with OBPs under .300. In the Rays lineup, the lowest OBP was the No. 9 batter, Sean Rodriguez (.310).

The loss drops the O's to 62-95 with five games remaining: one more today against the Rays, and four in Baltimore against the Tigers. To avoid 100 losses, all the O's need to do is win one more game. One more win isn't much to ask for, right?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Rams 30, Redskins 16: a familiar feeling returns

In the first two weeks of the season, the Redskins gave up a lot of yards. In the Week 1 Redskins win over Dallas, the Cowboys gained 380 yards but were held to just seven points. Then in a Week 2 shootout, the Texans gained a whopping 526 yards and earned a comeback victory in a 30-27 win over the Redskins. In two weeks, that adds up to 906 yards -- way too many to give up. Still, traveling to St. Louis to play the Rams, the Redskins were supposed to blitz and confuse a rookie quarterback, Sam Bradford, starting only his third NFL game.

And that didn't happen. Instead, Bradford completed 23 of 37 passes for 235 yards and a touchdown as the Rams outplayed the Redskins and won, 30-16. Most of Bradford's passes were short ones, but that strategy worked to perfection since not only did it get the ball out of Bradford's hands quickly, but it also forced the Redskins linebackers to cover, which didn't work out very well for Washington. Failing to really pressure and frustrate Bradford -- the Redskins only had one sack, by Brian Orakpo -- the Redskins allowed 30 points and 365 yards to, at the very least, an average Rams team.

One of the main reasons that the Redskins hired Jim Haslett and switched to the 3-4 defense was to get more pressure on opposing quarterbacks and create more turnovers. Against the Rams, the Redskins got a Kareem Moore interception, but that was their only turnover besides a Rams fumble on a kickoff return. One sack and one forced turnover simply isn't enough, especially against the Rams. And with their next four games against the Eagles, Packers, Colts, and Bears, not only is the subpar defense going to be under attack, but the Redskins missed a golden opportunity to move to 2-1 with the toughest part of their schedule coming.

The defense was pretty bad; the offense wasn't much better. Donovan McNabb played just about as well as Bradford, which isn't a good thing. He finished 19-32 for 236 yards and also had one touchdown pass and one interception. He looked OK, but the offense only scored three points in the second half and couldn't get anything going. The offense also couldn't sustain many drives in the second half, and, for the game, the Rams dominated the time-of-possession margin by nearly 10 minutes.

Removing McNabb's two runs for 25 yards, the Redskins averaged over six yards per carry (15 rushes for 91 yards) in the running game. Ryan Torain, recently activated from the practice squad, had seven carries for 46 yards; Clinton Portis had seven carries for 44 yards. But even though the running game was better this week, it didn't lead to more points.

The one player who had a great game was Santana Moss -- six catches for 124 yards and a touchdown -- but even he had a horrible fumble early in the game that set the Rams up for their second touchdown. Besides the second quarter, when the Redskins outscored the Rams 13-0, just about nothing went right.

Yesterday, neither the offense nor defense were good enough to win -- a very scary thought for the rest of the season. And despite the mediocre offensive performance, the team's main focus should be to fix a broken defense, if that's possible. If it's not, the Redskins are in big trouble.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Week 3 picks

So last week didn't turn out so well. Let's see what happens this week.

Titans (+3) over GIANTS

Chris Johnson ran for only 34 yards last week against the Steelers defense. Can he be shut down in consecutive weeks? I doubt it.

PATRIOTS (-15) over Bills
RAVENS (-11) over Browns

Two home favorites against bad teams? Run it up!

BUCCANEERS (+3) over Steelers

This matchup is the week's first of two battles between 2-0 teams. The Bucs probably aren't as good as they've looked -- they've played the Browns and Panthers, after all -- but the Steelers will be starting Charlie Batch. Expect lots of field goals.

Bengals (-3.5) over PANTHERS

So Jimmy Clausen gets his first NFL start, just three games into his rookie season. He can thank Matt Moore, who has been awful. If the Panthers can't block for him and establish a running game, he's going to be under attack all day against an experienced defense. The Bengals aren't exactly a team that blows other teams out, but they should win comfortably in this game against a rookie QB and a mediocre defense.

SAINTS (-4) over Falcons

The Saints didn't cover last week against the 49ers on Monday Night Football, but they did go on the road and tough out a victory. For a team with a bullseye on its back after winning the Super Bowl, that's good enough for me. I'm rolling with them until further notice, especially when they're at home.

49ers (-3) over CHIEFS

In Week 1, Matt Cassel threw for 68 yards and a touchdown, and the Chiefs beat the Chargers, 21-14. In Week 2, Cassel threw for 176 yards, but he also had two interceptions. Still, the Chiefs slipped past the Browns, 16-14. So, yes, the Chiefs are 2-0 with a quarterback with a QB rating through two weeks of 55.8. Even if they continue to play decent defense and run the ball effectively, the Chiefs need Cassel to play better if they're going to keep winning. A win this week would allow the Chiefs to go into their Week 4 bye with a 3-0 record, but I don't think it's happening. And that's saying something, considering I have very little faith in Alex Smith.

Lions (+11) over VIKINGS

It's hard to believe, but both of these teams are 0-2. Through two weeks, the Vikings have scored 19 points. The Lions, meanwhile, have scored 46 points and have been in two close games. Are the Vikings a better team? Yes. But something seems wrong with them, and it's hard to think they can beat anyone right now, let alone win by 11 points. Adrian Peterson scares me in this game, and he'll probably have a big game. But whatever, I'm going with the Lions on the road. And no, I don't think I've ever said that before.

Cowboys (+3) over TEXANS

At 0-2, the Cowboys really, really need to win this game. The Texans, though, are riding high and sitting at 2-0 after a dominating win over the Colts and an outstanding comeback win over the Redskins. Unfortunately, they're going to be without their starting left tackle, Duane Brown, for the next four games because he violated the league's performance-enhancing drugs policy. That hurts. Expect the Cowboys to do everything they can to take advantage of that and avoid going into their Week 4 bye week with an 0-3 record.

Redskins (-4) over RAMS

The Redskins fan in me says that no matter what, this is going to be a close game. But even if the Redskins defense gives up significant chunks of yards at times, they do have the ability to force turnovers and generate sacks, meaning lots of confusion for rookie Sam Bradford. Donovan McNabb also looked great last week against the Texans defense, meaning that he'll more than likely be able to carve up the Rams as well. Of course, having said that, this will be a 9-7 game, or something. Whatever.

Eagles (-3) over JAGUARS

Who to side with: a rejuvenated Michael Vick or David Garrard, who's coming off a four-interception stink bomb against the Chargers? That's what I thought.

Colts (-6) over BRONCOS

I really don't know what to think of the Broncos, but I do believe the Colts will find a way to frustrate Kyle Orton, who has a 103.9 QB rating through two games. For what it's worth, Peyton Manning has a 121.0 QB rating and already has six touchdown passes.

SEAHAWKS (+6) over Chargers

I'm not about to pronounce the Chargers contenders again just because they blew out the Jaguars at home. Yes, they have a great offense, but now they're going to be without Ryan Mathews this week -- another tough blow for a team (willingly) missing some pretty good pieces on offense. If they dominate an average team like the Seahawks on the road, then maybe I'll change my mind.

Raiders (+4.5) over CARDINALS

The Raiders have benched Jason Campbell this week and are starting Bruce Gradkowski in his place, so that's something, I guess. Even better for him, he'll be facing the Cardinals defense.

Jets (+2.5) over DOLPHINS

The Dolphins are 2-0, so this is a big game for them. Honestly, I have no read on this game, but it should be pretty interesting to watch on Sunday night.

BEARS (+3) over Packers

This is the week's second matchup of 2-0 teams, and it should be a great game. The Packers can move the ball and score on just about anyone, but losing Ryan Grant for the season will make it harder for them to run the ball against good defenses. That puts a lot of pressure on Aaron Rodgers and the passing game. The Bears also seem to have significantly improved their offensive attack this season, with Matt Forte putting up solid numbers and Jay Cutler already throwing five touchdown passes (and just one interception). Cutler has also already thrown for 649 yards and has a fantastic 121.2 QB rating. Whether or not he'll be able to play that well against the Packers is another question, though. Still, this should be a close game.

Last week: 5-10-1
Season: 13-16-3

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Red Sox avoid sweep; O's finish .500 against them

With a chance to finish 10-8 against the Red Sox, the Orioles came up short last night, falling to Boston, 6-1. Still, by winning the three-game series, the O's evened up the season series and finished 9-9 against the Red Sox -- not bad for a team that's 30 games under .500 (61-91).

The loss was a combination of bad Kevin Millwood pitching and very little offense. Millwood allowed six runs, including two home runs, in five innings pitched. He struck out five and walked just one, but he also threw only 83 pitches as he started to labor after three scoreless innings to start the game.

For Boston, John Lackey pitched seven innings of one-run ball, allowing just five hits, while striking out four and walking none. That's right: no walks for the O's offense. The O's also only put together six combined hits. Luke Scott had the team's only multi-hit effort, going 2-4 with a double. Ty Wigginton also doubled, driving in Nick Markakis in the fourth for the team's lone run.


Buck Showalter has been playing Robert Andino a lot at third base lately, and I don't understand it. Sure, there's only 10 games left this season and Showalter may be trying to see what he has in Andino for the possibility of him being on the team next season, but Andino doesn't seem like a corner infield option. Plus, having him and Cesar Izturis in the lineup at the same time is rather unproductive.

Andino's value, if there's that much of it, comes from his fielding ability up the middle. In 2009 for the O's, he had a UZR of 5.5 at shortstop in a little over 70 games. That's pretty solid. Unfortunately, in 215 plate appearances, he hit .222/.274/.288 -- and that is not very good, at all.

After not making the team in spring training and being sent to Triple-A Norfolk, Andino hit .264/.302/.405 for the Tides this season before being called up in September. He also hit 13 home runs, but he still struck out a lot (20.1 K%) while not walking much (4.9 BB%). At 26 years old, Andino may be able to improve his approach at the plate, but it's not likely. He's an outstanding fielder, but he also doesn't get on base nearly enough or hit for enough power. If he gets a little better at the plate and plays great defense at shortstop, he would be an upgrade over Izturis, who has actually been worth -0.4 wins above replacement because of awful hitting and slightly above average defense at shortstop.

Could Andino be a cheaper alternative at shortstop next season? Sure. In the offseason, if the O's have to choose between re-signing Izturis for $2-$3 million per season for another season or two or relying on Andino and paying him the league minimum, Andino seems like the better selection. But why exactly is he playing third base? Not only does his presence there hurt the O's and not make any long-term sense, but he's also taking away at-bats from Josh Bell. Bell hasn't been very good at the plate this year -- actually he's been horrible -- but he's still a rookie and has actually shown significant improvement in his third-base defense. At 23, Bell still has time to grow and learn. Andino is essentially the same guy as before -- and he is who we thought he was, or something like that.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

O's beat Red Sox again

Trailing 1-0 going into the top of the sixth, the Orioles scored nine unanswered runs in four innings and defeated the Red Sox, 9-1. Brad Bergesen got his eighth win on the season, and while he wasn't spectacular by any stretch of the imagination -- 6.0 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 4 BB, 2 K -- he still got through six innings and only gave up one run. He then handed the ball off to the O's bullpen, who pitched three scoreless innings.

Ty Wigginton and Adam Jones, both with three hits, led the way on offense. Wigginton hit a three-run home run in the seventh inning, and Jones had a double. Wigginton also drew a walk. Nick Markakis added two hits, both singles, and Brian Roberts, Luke Scott, Matt Wieters (double), Felix Pie (triple), and Cesar Izturis each had one hit apiece. Roberts also walked twice. Altogether, the O's accumulated 13 hits and three walks.

To make matters worse (for Red Sox fans) and better (for O's fans), the O's tacked on four runs to their 5-1 lead in the ninth off of Jonathan Papelbon. Here's how that inning started, courtesy of ESPN's play-by-play:
B Roberts singled to center.
N Markakis singled to left center, B Roberts to second.
T Wigginton reached on infield single to third, B Roberts to third, N Markakis to second, B Roberts scored, N Markakis to third, T Wigginton to second on throwing error by third baseman A Beltre.
L Scott singled to left, N Markakis scored, T Wigginton to third.
T Wigginton scored, L Scott to second on wild pitch by J Papelbon.
The O's also added their ninth run in that inning on a ground out by Pie.

The O's go for the sweep tonight with Kevin Millwood on the mound; the Red Sox will counter with John Lackey. A win would give the O's a 10-8 record against the Red Sox this season.

Redskins cut Larry Johnson

On Monday, I speculated that Larry Johnson deserved to slide down the running back depth chart for his horrible running play against the Texans that lost 10 yards. Instead, the Redskins went a step further and removed him from the team.

Johnson's spot was taken by Chad Simpson, a running back out of Morgan State who played with the Colts in 2008 and 2009. In 25 games with the Colts, Simpson rushed for 147 yards and three touchdowns on 30 carries. He can also contribute on special teams if needed.

The official Redskins depth chart hasn't been updated yet, but Keiland Williams will likely move up to No. 2 behind Clinton Portis, with Simpson taking over as the third-string running back. In two games, Williams has yet to receive a carry, but he does have four receptions for 15 yards.

With Willie Parker's release before the season and now Johnson's departure, the Redskins have gotten younger in the backfield. Parker turns 30 in November, and Johnson turns 31 in November. Now, the Redskins have Portis, who recently turned 29, and two younger backs: Williams (24) and Simpson (25). Johnson and Parker obviously showed their age and have lost a step or two, and although the addition of Simpson doesn't make the Redskins much better, it's productive for the Redskins to have some younger, more flexible backs. Williams can catch the ball out of the backfield and Simpson can do that while also playing special teams. Parker and Johnson basically only carried the ball.

Still, according to the Redskins Insider post linked above, there still may be a slim chance that Johnson returns after this week:
"Asked whether the Redskins plan to re-sign Johnson after this week, [Peter] Schaffer [Johnson's agent] said, 'I don't know. There are no guarantees about anything in this league.'"
Isn't that the truth?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

O's top Dice-K, Red Sox

The Orioles scored four runs off of Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Brian Matusz and the bullpen held the Red Sox to just two runs on five hits in a 4-2 O's win. Matusz didn't get the win and only pitched five innings because of a high pitch count -- he walked three and finished with 102 pitches -- but he also struck out four and gave up only one run on three hits. That's not the most effective start, but it worked.

David Hernandez got the win, allowing one run in two innings, and Jim Johnson and Koji Uehara each threw a scoreless inning. Uehara also earned his 10th save.

Nick Markakis and Luke Scott each had two hits and a walk. Both of Markakis's hits were doubles. Brian Roberts had a single and two walks, and Felix Pie, Cesar Izturis, and Josh Bell each singled. Matt Wieters went hitless but did draw a walk.

With the win, the O's pull to 8-8 on the season against the Red Sox, a monumental accomplishment considering how poorly the O's have played against not only the Red Sox in the last few seasons, but also the entire AL East. Here are the O's records against Boston since 2005:

2005: 8-10
2006: 3-15
2007: 6-12
2008: 6-12
2009: 2-16

Sure, the Red Sox are down this year, but they're still 83-67, which would be good enough to compete in most divisions that don't also include the Yankees and the Rays -- and another .500 team, the Blue Jays (currently 75-74).

At 60-90 after last night's win, the O's have 12 games left: two more in Boston, three in Toronto, three in Tampa Bay, and four at home against the Tigers. If the O's can win just three of those, they'll avoid 100 losses, which is pretty impressive considering how awful things were going a couple months ago. By the way, the O's are now 28-17 since Buck Showalter took over.

And for what it's worth, the O's are now just two games back of the Nationals (62-88).

Monday, September 20, 2010

Texans complete comeback, stun Redskins in OT

Leading 27-10 in the third quarter after a 22-yard touchdown pass from Donovan McNabb to Chris Cooley, the Redskins allowed 20 unanswered points to the Texans, who went on to win 30-27 on a game-winning 35-yard field goal in overtime by Neil Rackers. The Redskins fought valiantly against the Texans, but they had a few opportunities to shut the door on a potential comeback, yet failed to do so. So despite the fact that McNabb threw for 426 yards, is this progress or more of the same?

I don't believe in a team "deserving to win" a game, but the Redskins had no business losing that game. They held a 17-point lead in the third quarter, and going into the fourth quarter were still winning by 10. But the Texans have a lot of weapons on offense, and they went to work in the second half. After the Redskins scored to go up 17 with about four minutes left in the third quarter, one big play seemed to give the Texans momentum back: a 50-yard screen pass to Arian Foster. It really was a fantastic play call; the Redskins had been blitzing a lot, and on 3rd and 15 from the Houston 44, they called a simple screen pass to Foster, who slipped past several blitzing defenders and followed a few blockers down the field for a huge gain. Matt Schaub then completed a short TD pass to Kevin Walter to cut the lead to 10.

That touchdown ended the third quarter, and the Redskins got the ball back with a chance to tack on some more points. Unfortunately, Larry Johnson entered the game and figured that that would be a good time to take a toss that seemed doomed from the start and, instead of losing maybe three or four yards by trying to get back to the line of scrimmage, make a U-turn and turn a bad play into a horrible one with a 10-yard loss. Thanks to that play, the Redskins went three and out and barely took any time off the clock. The Texans got the ball back and almost immediately answered with a field goal. With about 11 minutes to go, the Redskins' lead had been cut to seven.

So here's where the only-the-Redskins-do-this-kind-of-stuff part comes in. The Redskins start off at the 37 after a solid return and drive into Houston territory on passes to Anthony Armstrong (16 yards) and Joey Galloway (19 yards). The Redskins then run four straight times, and for the first time all game actually move the ball efficiently on the ground, getting the ball to the Houston 5. A false-start penalty gives the Redskins a 3rd and 6 opportunity, but McNabb throws an incomplete pass. Graham Gano comes on to try a 29-yard field goal, but the Texans block the kick. So instead of leading by 10 with about seven minutes left, the Redskins still lead by seven.

But there's still hope! On Houston's ensuing possession, London Fletcher gets a huge sack on Schaub, and the Texans punt the ball away after a three and out. After an awful Matt Turk punt, the Redskins have the ball on their own 49 -- fantastic field position -- with five minutes to go. On first down, McNabb hits Mike Sellers for a five-yard gain. And then, another confusing play: the Redskins attempt an end-around to Santana Moss, which loses eight yards. McNabb and the Redskins can't convert the 3rd and 13, so instead of icing the game by driving down the field, the Redskins have to punt the ball away.

With just over three minutes to go, the Texans drive down the field. And even though the defense made the Texans work, Schaub still hits Andre Johnson on a 34-yard touchdown on 4th and 10 to tie the game. The lead is gone, Trent Williams sprains his knee on the next possession, and the game goes to overtime.

In OT, the Redskins have a (another) chance to win with a 52-yard field goal, but Texans coach Gary Kubiak calls a timeout right before Gano nails his the kick, nullifying the play. On his next chance, Gano misses the kick wide right. So with great field position, the Texans drive down the field and get their own field goal chance, and Rackers makes his kick to win the game and give the Texans an amazing comeback victory.

So, to summarize, the Redskins had their moments but still did several Redskins-type things to lose the game. McNabb had a huge passing game, but he was overshadowed by Schaub, who threw for 497 yards and three touchdowns. The Redskins also did a decent job of stopping Foster (19 carries, 69 yards), but that's mostly because the Texans got behind and had to start passing (which still worked). Foster also caught three passes for 69 yards, including that huge screen pass.

The Redskins, though, had an awful game running the ball. Portis had 13 carries for 33 yards (and two touchdowns), and Larry Johnson had two carries for -7 yards. If that 10-yard loss play wasn't enough to move Johnson down the depth chart, I don't know what is.

Moss caught 10 passes for 89 yards, but besides that McNabb spread the ball around. Galloway (88 yards) and Cooley (64 yards) each caught three passes, and Fred Davis had a 62-yard catch.

I'll admit this: The Redskins do seem like a better team than last year. And while they could very easily be 2-0, they also could be 0-2. So 1-1 still feels pretty good. And if that seems negative, well, it's not. Consider this: A 3-8 Redskins team nearly beat an 11-0 Saints team last year in a game very similar to this one.

In that game, the Redskins led by 10 in the fourth quarter before allowing a late touchdown drive that sent the game into overtime. The Redskins got the ball first in OT, but Sellers fumbled the ball away, giving the Saints great field position. They easily moved the ball into field goal range and won, moving to 12-0.

If you'll remember, the Redskins had a chance to ice that game with a kick as well. But Shaun Suisham missed a seemingly routine 23-yard attempt to give the Saints new life. And they took advantage by driving the ball down the field for a touchdown and sending the game into OT. Another missed opportunity -- sound familiar?

Even if McNabb revitalizes the passing attack, which he did yesterday, the Redskins will be in big trouble if they can't 1) improve their rushing attack and 2) fix the defense. It's fun to play an opportunistic, bend-but-don't-break defense, but it's tough to ask a defense to do that all game while continuing to call blitzes that just don't get to the quarterback often enough. The Redskins did have five sacks -- that's pretty good. But they were also allowing big chunks of yardage in the passing game.

By the way, the Trent Williams injury is a big deal. If he's forced to miss more than a game or two, that'll spell big trouble not just for McNabb, but for the entire offense.

With the Rams on the schedule next week, the Redskins should be able to move to 2-1. Let's see how the team responds when they're actually favored in a game.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Week 2: the confusing NFC West

After an above-average record in Week 1, here are my picks for Week 2:

Chiefs (+2) over BROWNS

Do I trust the Chiefs that much, especially on the road? Not really, but I'll take my chances with them instead of a team that let Jake Delhomme throw the ball 37 times in a game that they were leading going into the fourth quarter. By the way, he threw two picks.

PACKERS (-14) over Bills

Two touchdowns might be a little high, but do you trust Trent Edwards on the road? I didn't think so. Then again, he doesn't inspire much confidence at home either.

BENGALS (+3) over Ravens

The Bengals beat the Ravens twice last year (by three in the first game and seven in the second), though that doesn't necessarily mean much this season. The Bengals were embarrassed last week by the Patriots, particularly on defense. Like the Patriots, the Ravens have a pretty good offense too, but look for the Bengals to at least improve on a few things this week and keep the game close at home. I don't think they'll pull out the win, but expect a close game that may come down to late field goal.

Steelers (+5.5) over TITANS

The Titans shouldn't have any problem shutting down the Steelers passing attack, but the Steelers defense should be able to do enough to keep this game close -- maybe because of a Vince Young interception or two. Barring a huge game from Chris Johnson, this game should be a low-scoring contest.

Eagles (-6.5) over LIONS

Shaun Hill is a decent backup quarterback, but he'll be under siege all day by a constantly attacking Eagles defense. Also, if Michael Vick plays well, or even close to how he played last week, the Eagles should win this game handily.

COWBOYS (-7.5) over Bears

Just the other day, the Cowboys were favored in this game by nine, so lots of people seem to be backing the Bears (or at least thought nine points was too high). I'm not buying it. Sure, the Cowboys didn't look all that great against the Redskins last week, but they're getting some offensive line help and more than likely won't significantly adjust their game plan that much. The Cowboys were so concerned with the Redskins getting pressure on Tony Romo that they called a ton of quick passes to get the ball out of Romo's hands and keep him out of harm's way. They also got a little pass happy despite averaging 4.7 yards on the ground. Look for a more balanced attack this week against a team that nearly lost to a Lions team that gained 168 total yards.

PANTHERS (-3.5) over Buccaneers

Matt Moore is expected to play in this game, so that's not really that great -- for the Panthers (not that they really have any better options). Still, the Panthers should be able to run the ball and force some turnovers against Josh Freeman and the Bucs.

FALCONS (-7) over Cardinals

The Cardinals almost lost in Week 1 in St. Louis to Sam Bradford, a rookie quarterback making his first NFL start. Though he threw for 253 yards and a touchdown, Bradford also threw three interceptions and was essentially outplayed by Derek Anderson (297 yards, one touchdown). That won't happen against Matt Ryan, a better and more experienced quarterback.

VIKINGS (-6) over Dolphins

The Vikings didn't give Adrian Peterson the ball enough in Week 1. They won't make that mistake again this week.

RAIDERS (-3.5) over Rams

No, I don't really know why either.

Seahawks (+3.5) over BRONCOS

I doubt that the Seahawks are as good as they looked against the 49ers, but they might be at least as good as the Broncos. I'll take the points.

Texans (-3) over REDSKINS

I don't think the Redskins will win this game; the Texans looked fantastic against the Colts, and the Redskins will have a difficult time stopping a powerful Texans attack. With that being said, let me defend the Redskins for a moment. Take a look at No. 7 in Jason Whitlock's most recent NFL Truths column. I'll agree with most of what's said in that section -- the Redskins could have easily lost the game; the Cowboys threw the ball too much; and Santana Moss and Chris Cooley are basically Donovan McNabb's only options on offense. But after reading this part -- "Washington's defense was mediocre. The 'Skins sacked Romo one time. They never mounted consistent pressure." -- I have to wonder whether Whitlock actually watched the game.

The Cowboys deliberately altered their passing attack to get the ball out of Romo's hands quicker to try to offset their weakness on the offensive line. The Redskins blitzed all night, and yes, they only sacked Romo one time and gave up 380 yards (282 through the air). But they gave up only seven points -- and even scored seven points of their own on DeAngelo Hall's 32-yard fumble recovery at the end of the first half. Even if that play should have never happened, or if the Cowboys game plan was misguided, the Redskins defense still made those plays. And even if the Cowboys were missing some linemen, Brian Orakpo still forced that holding call at the end of the game -- and the Cowboys were called for holding three other times too. That should count for something.

It's great to blow out strong teams and look awesome doing so, but it's still noteworthy to get a win over a preseason Super Bowl favorite to start the season. And without the defense's superb effort, that win would never have occurred.

Jaguars (+7) over CHARGERS

Was the Chiefs game a fluke? Or are the Chargers lacking in talent as they continue to let two solid players hold out? We'll find out soon enough.

Patriots (-3) over JETS

The Jets could be in big trouble if Revis Island isn't 100 percent. I'll take the team that can actually put points on the board.

Giants (+5.5) over COLTS

I think it's too early to panic in Indianapolis, but the Giants are a solid team. The Colts better be ready to stop the run this week.

Saints (-6) over 49ERS

I thought about picking the 49ers at home, but I can't figure the NFC West out anyway. The 49ers were supposed to be favorites in that division, and they couldn't have looked much worse in Week 1 against Seattle. Now there's a potential team mutiny against the offensive coordinator; it's only Week 2, and it's hard to believe things already appear to be this bad. I give them a chance in this game -- weird things occasionally happen on Monday Night Football -- but I'll ride with the team that continues to roll along like a well-oiled machine. Drew Brees or Alex Smith? Easy choice.

Last week: 8-6-2
Season: 8-6-2

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Bergesen propels O's to sweep

Brad Bergesen allowed just one run in a complete game, 3-1 win over the Blue Jays last night to wrap up a three-game sweep. He struck out three, walked none, and gave up only seven hits, and it took him only 95 pitches (68 of which were strikes). The complete game was Bergesen's second in a little more than a month, the other coming against the Indians on August 11.

The O's offense manufactured three runs on 10 hits (nine singles) and three walks. Oddly enough, every O's starter except for Adam Jones had a hit -- Brian Roberts and Ty Wigginton had two -- but the only runs came on a Luke Scott ground out in the first, a Corey Patterson single in the fourth, and a run scoring on a Roberts double play ball in the fourth. Still, despite the lack of extra-base hits and much run support, those three runs were more than enough for Bergesen, who simply kept pounding the strike zone against a strong lineup.

After the sweep, the O's record stands at 58-88, while the Blue Jays have dropped to .500 (73-73). Interestingly enough, the O's first hit the 30-games-under-.500 mark on June 14, and after a four-game sweep of the Rangers on July 8-11, haven't been only 30 games below until now. Considering the O's were 41 games below .500 on August 1, after which Buck Showalter took over, that's a rather impressive feat for a last-place team -- especially since the O's have been playing some pretty good teams lately.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

O's win again

Jake Arrieta pitched six scoreless innings, and the O's offense finally broke through for a bunch of runs in an 11-3 win over the Blue Jays. Leading 3-0, the O's tacked on six runs in the seventh and two more in the eighth to put the game away for good. Overall, the O's pounded out 16 hits, including three doubles and two homers, and five walks. Nick Markakis and Adam Jones had the home runs, and Robert Andino, Markakis, Ty Wigginton, Felix Pie, Matt Wieters, and Jones all had multi-hit games. Also, every Orioles starter recorded a hit.

Arrieta was more than solid enough to earn the win, allowing just four hits. He also walked only one batter while striking out five. He hasn't walked more than one batter in a start since August 26, which spans only three starts, but that's still some progress considering he has 52 strikeouts and 48 walks on the season.

The O's are now 8-5 in September and 25-15 overall under Buck Showalter. They're also 8-2 in their last 10 games and could have won all 10 if not for the bullpen blowing two leads late in games. And for whatever the reason, the O's have won a lot more and been much more enjoyable to watch under Showalter. Hopefully that doesn't end and provides a nice lead-in for next season.

A few other notes:

- Since the All-Star break, Wieters is hitting .286/.357/.474 with five home runs. He's also walked 17 times and struck out only 21 times.

- Also, since the All-Star break, Jones is hitting .301/.376/.446 with four home runs. In those 45 games, he's also three walked more times (13) than he did in 87 games before the break (10).

- Here is the O's pitching staff ERA by month:

March/April: 4.62
May: 4.68
June: 5.72
July: 5.60
August: 3.38
September (so far): 4.07

Have they gotten a little lucky? Probably. But starters are throwing more innings and giving the bullpen leads to protect -- and fewer innings to throw.

- Brian Matusz, who had to leave the game on Monday after just one inning because of a line drive that struck his left triceps, may have been robbed of a chance to improve his Rookie of the Year chances. Matusz has more than held his own in his rookie season and has thrown a lot of innings, but there's a strong chance that the O's will hold Matusz out of his next start if he's not 100 percent healthy -- as they should. Unfortunately for Matusz, Austin Jackson continues to hit and still seems like the top ROY choice in the American League.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Week 1 picks: no double-digit favorites

Here are my picks for the first week of NFL games:

Vikings (+6) over SAINTS

Already picked this one here.

Panthers (+7) over GIANTS

The Panthers have Matt Moore as their starting quarterback now, and they go on the road the first week to play a healthy Giants team playing its first regular season home game in a new stadium. Uh oh. Still, Moore has some help: the always-explosive Steve Smith and the solid running back tandem of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. The Giants defense, more than likely, will be looking to stuff the run to force Moore to make some throws. In seven games last season, Moore completed 85 of 138 passes for 1,053 yards (150.4 per game), eight touchdowns, and two interceptions -- good enough for a 98.5 QB rating. He was also sacked just nine times and didn't lose a fumble. Even if he didn't throw for a ton of yards or touchdowns, that's still an efficient job of taking care of the ball. So will the Panthers open up their passing attack under Moore, or will they be content to hand the ball off a ton to Williams and Stewart, even if the offensive line can't open up holes early in the game?

The Panthers defense will also have their hands full with Eli Manning and a receiving corps -- Steve Smith, Hakeem Nicks, and Mario Manningham -- with the potential to have an outstanding season. Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs also form a solid backfield duo, assuming Jacobs stops sulking after losing his starting job to Bradshaw.

I think the Giants will put out the W, but the Panthers will keep it close. Unless, of course, Moore starts playing like Jake Delhomme.

Dolphins (-3) over BILLS

The Bills are really bad. They'll start C.J. Spiller at running back, and he's really exciting to watch, but even with his Chris Johnson-like moves and quickness, he's still a rookie. Besides, can he really make up for Trent Edwards being their starting quarterback? I doubt it. Also, the Bills team website lists Steve Johnson as the starting wide receiver opposite No. 1 option Lee Evans. Can other people who follow the NFL closely honestly admit that they know who he is? I'm not so sure.

The Dolphins may not be world-beaters, but they're more talented than the Bills. And after all, if they can't take down a flawed Bills team in Week 1, even if the game is on the road, the potential for a great season may just not be there.

STEELERS (+1.5) over Falcons

The Steelers are going to be without Ben Roethlisberger for four games -- Dennis Dixon will get the start in Week 1 -- meaning that they're going to have to get back to their roots. That will likely mean a steady dose of Rashard Mendenhall and solid, hard-hitting defense. Mendenhall seems to be up for the challenge, and if Troy Polamalu truly is back to being 100 percent, the Steelers may be ready to boast a formidable defense again.

The Falcons, meanwhile, will have their starting quarterback ready to go to start the season, but still face the question of whether or not Matt Ryan is ready to take the leap to the next level of quarterbacks. Ryan had a fantastic rookie season and exceeded all expectations, posting a 87.7 QB rating and leading the Falcons to the playoffs. They didn't get out of the first round, but Falcons fans were confident in the team's future with Ryan under center. Then, Ryan took a bit of a step back last season, posting a lower QB rating (80.9), throwing for fewer yards per game (from 215.0 to 208.3), and throwing more interceptions (from 11 to 14). He did throw six more touchdown passes (from 16 to 22), but he also completed a lower percentage of his passes (from 61.1 to 58.3). Some of that can be contributed to Michael Turner getting hurt and playing in only 11 games, but it's at least worth noting that Ryan took at least a small step back. With Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez as receiving threats and Turner healthy, the Falcons need Ryan to step up in his third season.

Anyway, back to this game: If anyone can win a grind-it-out, ugly game, especially at home, it's the Steelers. Not having Roethlisberger definitely hurts their offense, but they still should find a way to run on the Falcons defense. And if the Steelers defense is completely healthy, even a rejuvenated Falcons attack will have trouble putting points on the board.

BEARS (-6.5) over Lions

I like what the Lions are doing. Matthew Stafford seems to be a competent quarterback, and he's still just 22 years old. The offensive line is slightly improved, and they drafted running back Jahvid Best, who will likely see a ton of work this year because of the current shape of Kevin Smith's knee. The Lions also have one of the best wideouts in the league, Calvin Johnson, and a few other decent receiving options like Nate Burleson, Brandon Pettigrew, and Tony Scheffler. They were also smart and brought in Shaun Hill, an experienced backup quarterback. And on defense, the Lions more than upgraded their defensive line, bringing in Kyle Vanden Bosch from Tennessee and drafting the monstrous Ndamukong Suh with the second pick in the 2010 draft. But how long will it take for all of these young pieces to mesh together? Stafford has a lot of promise, but he still threw 20 picks in his rookie season (also 13 touchdowns) and missed six games because of injuries. Best and Suh are also both rookies, and it'll be tough to expect too much of them out of the gate, even though they're both extremely talented.

The Bears did a little offseason work of their own, with their two biggest additions probably being defensive end Julius Peppers and offensive coordinator Mike Martz. With Peppers, the Bears hope to get more pressure on opposing quarterbacks and force more turnovers. And with Martz now calling the plays, the Bears expect to put more points on the board and make things easier for Cutler, who had the lowest QB rating of his career (76.8) last season (his first in Chicago). Cutler threw for 229.1 yards per game and had 27 touchdown passes last season, but he also threw 26 interceptions and was sacked a whopping 35 times. That'll have to change.

I'll take the Bears in this game, especially since they're at home, but I wouldn't be all that surprised if the Lions kept it close or even won -- and finished something like 5-11 or 6-10 on the season, which would be a significant improvement after their 2-14 record last season and, of course, their 0-16 2008 season.

Bengals (+5) over PATRIOTS

A few questions for the Patriots: 1) Is the real Randy Moss going to show up this season despite not having a new contract? 2) How healthy is Wes Welker, and how long will it take for him to return to form? 3) How much will Bill Belichick be able to get out of his defense, especially an unproven secondary? Still, as long as Brady stays healthy, the Patriots should be in a battle with the Jets to win the AFC East.

As for the Bengals, many people are overlooking them in the AFC North (in favor of the Ravens and Steelers) even though they were 10-6 last season and won the division. Then again, maybe that's because they won several close games and outscored their opponents by only 14 points -- by far the lowest point differential among all division winners. The Bengals decided to upgrade their receiving corps both in the draft (receiver Jordan Shipley and tight end Jermaine Gresham) and in free agency (Terrell Owens). Even if Owens has lost a step, his presence on one side of the field, with Chad Ochocinco on the other side, should give Shipley, Gresham, and any other slot receivers plenty of chances over the middle of the field. If Carson Palmer can use all of his weapons effectively and start throwing the ball down the field again, it'll do wonders for Cedric Benson and the Bengals running game, which, along with their defense, carried the team last season.

The Bengals have a knack for keeping games close, and I'd like to see how Welker looks in a real game before believing the Patriots can easily throw the ball up and down the field, let alone against a strong Bengals defense.

Browns (+3) over BUCCANEERS

The Browns boast a small dose of sleeper potential: They finished last season on a four-game winning streak, including a stunning 13-6 win over the Steelers; they found out last season that Jerome Harrison, now the unquestioned lead back after the season-ending ACL injury to Montario Hardesty, is capable of handling a full workload; and they picked up a solid backup quarterback in Seneca Wallace. But there are at least two problems: 1) Jake Delhomme is now their starting quarterback, and 2) they still play in the ultra-competitive AFC North. Delhomme may play well for a week or two, but don't be surprised if he stinks up the place and gets replaced by Wallace at some point in the first few weeks of the season.

The Bucs, likewise, don't have much of a chance of winning their division. Quarterback Josh Freeman, now in his second season, has a lot of work to do to improve on his awful rookie campaign: 59.9 QB rating, 54.6 completion percentage, 10 TD, 18 INT. Rookie receiver Mike Williams has a lot of promise, and Cadillac Williams is easy to root for and should get the majority of the team's carries, but other than tight end Kellen Winslow, the Bucs don't have many offensive threats.

The Browns are better than the Bucs and should be able to run the ball. But who really knows with these two teams.

Broncos (+3) over JAGUARS

Did either one of these teams really improve that much in the offseason? The Broncos, who started out the season hot and then faded to an 8-8 finish, traded away Brandon Marshall and currently have Brandon Lloyd listed as their No. 2 wide receiver opposite Eddie Royal. Yes, that Brandon Lloyd. Knowshon Moreno is an impressive talent and should be able to play in this game, but his main problem has been able to stay healthy. Their defense will also miss linebacker Elvis Dumervil, who's out for the year.

The Jaguars may be a little better than they were last season when they finished 7-9 but were still outscored by 90 points. Maurice Jones-Drew, as long as he's healthy, is always a big-play threat, and the defense should be improved as well. To have a chance at making the playoffs, they're going to need David Garrard to play like he did in 2007 instead of how he's looked the last two seasons. Unfortunately, while he hasn't been bad the last two seasons, he hasn't been great either -- and that just might not be enough for this team.

As long as Jones-Drew doesn't have a huge day, the Broncos should be able to contain the Jaguars offense and at the very least keep this game close. Kyle Orton may also put together a decent performance if the Jaguars can't put much pressure on him.

Colts (-2) over TEXANS

I could write a lot more about this game, especially since a lot of people believe this will be the year the Texans overtake the Colts in the AFC South, but I'll just say this: The Texans are certainly getting better and building a formidable team. But they're going to have to knock off the Colts first, at least before I believe they're taking that next big step. And they won't get a much better opportunity than playing the Colts in Week 1 in front of an excited home crowd.

TITANS (-6) over Raiders

The Raiders defense will keep them in a lot of games, but will their offense be able to put points on the board? Who knows? Jason Campbell provides an upgrade at quarterback, but he's already banged up and has certainly taken plenty of hits from his last few seasons behind Redskins' offensive lines. Darren McFadden gets the start at running back with Michael Bush out, but he hasn't necessarily showed a whole lot in his first two seasons. He's also injury-prone and has missed several games himself. Sooner or later, Campbell may be handing the ball off to Rock Cartwright again -- not necessarily the best of backfield options.

As for the Titans, their game plan hasn't changed that much: 1) get Chris Johnson plenty of carries, 2) don't ask Vince Young to do too much or force the ball down the field very often, and 3) play solid defense.

The Raiders defense is going to have their hands full with Johnson, but they still have the ability to keep the game close. I'd just like to see how well that Raiders offense performs first.

Packers (-3) over EAGLES

Another great matchup in this opening week. The Packers look like a Super Bowl contender with a high-powered offense, while the Eagles have a lot of great pieces with one giant question mark: How good is Kevin Kolb? If Kolb turns out to be a star, the Eagles may very well win the NFC East. But if he's not, he's going to have his hands full -- not just with opposing defenses, but with impatient Philly fans who will be wondering why Donovan McNabb isn't still in an Eagles uniform. Unless the Eagles defense plays a perfect game, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers are going to put up plenty of points, so Kolb should have his chances in this game and get tested from the beginning.

49ers (-3) over SEAHAWKS
Cardinals (-4) over RAMS

It's the NFC West, so sure, anything can happen. But a pretty good defense, a solid running game, and a few talented receiving options should be enough to put the 49ers on top of the rest of the division.

REDSKINS (+3.5) over Cowboys

With two offensive linemen out, the Cowboys are wounded heading into the season. Still, with Tony Romo under center and lots of talent at the skill positions, the Cowboys should still be able to score at least a couple of touchdowns against the Redskins new, (potentially) ball-hawking 3-4 defense. The Redskins weren't particularly good at stopping the run during the preseason, but the injured Dallas linemen may play a factor in how well Marion Barber and Felix Jones perform.

On offense for the Redskins, McNabb isn't 100 percent and the offensive line will be tested by the Cowboys stout front four, led by DeMarcus Ware. The Redskins have a lot of questions on offense, so who knows how well all of these new pieces will respond in a rivalry game on Sunday Night Football in the season's first week.

This may be an ugly game played by two teams who look completely different by the time they meet again in December. And that's not necessarily a good thing for either team.

Ravens (+2) over JETS

This game may be the best of Week 1, and for me, the outcome comes down to this: I'd rather roll the dice with Joe Flacco against the Jets defense than Mark Sanchez against the Ravens defense. Regardless, both teams are very good, and they may end up meeting again in the playoffs. Sure, it's Week 1, but with Rex Ryan facing his former team and plenty of other storylines, stay tuned.

CHIEFS (+5) over Chargers

This Chiefs team seems a little different than in previous years. Matt Cassel is still under center, which isn't really all that great, but he's got some talent around him: Jamaal Charles, Thomas Jones, Dwayne Bowe, Chris Chambers, and rookie Dexter McCluster. McCluster is sick and will likely miss this game, but that's still an impressive collection of skill players. Their defense may not be all that improved, but the addition of rookie safety Eric Berry certainly helps.

While the Chiefs have improved their overall talent, the Chargers may have taken a step back. The selection of running back Ryan Mathews in the draft filled a huge need with the departure of LaDainian Tomlinson, and Antonio Gates may still be the best tight end in the NFL. But with tackle Marcus McNeill holding out and wide receiver Vincent Jackson out for at least the first six games (with the possibility that he may never play in San Diego again), the Chargers will be missing two steadying forces on offense. Mathews's presence allows Darren Sproles to keep returning kicks and punts and be the third-down back, so that's one positive, at least. But without Jackson, either Malcom Floyd or Legedu Naanee needs to step up as a reliable target for Philip Rivers.

I'm a fan of what the Chargers do on offense, and as long as Rivers and Gates are both healthy and Norv Turner is in charge of calling the plays, scoring points shouldn't be a problem. But sometimes, even the best teams need more talent, and having two very good players on the sidelines will come back to hurt them.

I think the Chargers will win this game, but I expect the Chiefs to be fired up at home on Monday Night Football.

As always, enjoy the games.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The NFL is back: Vikings vs. Saints

The NFL gets underway tonight as the Vikings travel to New Orleans to take on the Super Bowl-winning Saints in a rematch of last season's NFC Championship Game.

Last season, I picked every NFL game against the spread, and my final record was 137-122-8. I guess that's not too bad, especially since that was the first time I actually did that before. Anyway, I'm going to be posting my picks again this season and keeping track of how I do. It's not the most exciting thing to post, but it's pretty fun -- and frustrating too. Sometimes I'll look closer at a game or at least give some sort of rationale for my picks, and other times I'll just quickly post them. Either way, I'll have them posted every week in one or two posts.

Vikings (+6) over SAINTS

I think this is going to be Brett Favre's last season -- and not because I listen to anything he says about his retirement. When Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams announced that he was going to do everything in his power to blitz Favre and make him uncomfortable, he provided a template for the rest of the league on how to defend the Vikings. Even if his defense couldn't prevent the Vikings from scoring every drive, Williams made a concerted effort to blitz Favre from all angles -- and when the Vikings defensive players got there, they hit Favre, and hit him hard. He's still dealing with an injured ankle that he suffered in that NFC Championship Game.

Favre is one of the best quarterbacks to ever play, but he turns 41 in October. At some point, he's going to stop bouncing up from hits and brushing minor injuries off so quickly. Basically, if the Vikings don't do everything in their power to protect Favre this season, they're in big trouble. Like many have already said, they've shown their hand about what they think about any other quarterback other than Favre starting on their roster -- they obviously have no confidence in Tarvaris Jackson. I think Favre is going to take a pounding this season, and afterwards he'll decide that maybe staying home and playing two-hand touch football with his Wrangler-wearing buddies is a lot more fun and less demanding at this stage of his career.

These teams are still two of the best in the NFC, and either could get to the Super Bowl this season. The Saints are very close to being the same team as last season -- same with the Vikings. The Saints deserve to be favorites -- not only did they win the Super Bowl, but they're also at home -- but the Vikings are still very close talent-wise. Teams are also usually rusty from the preseason in their first game, and I don't think this game will be any different.

If I had to pick a winner, I'd say the Saints, but I think it'll be a close game.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Arrieta outduels Sabathia in O's win

Jake Arrieta and CC Sabathia both pitched 6.1 innings last night, but Sabathia allowed six runs (five earned) on nine hits while Arrieta allowed just two runs on eight hits. Arrieta also walked only one batter while striking out three.

Matt Albers relieved Arrieta in the bottom of the seventh and entered the game in a tough situation -- the Yankees had runners on first and third, one out, and Alex Rodriguez at bat, pinch-hitting for Ramiro Pena. But Albers got two ground balls -- one by Rodriguez and another by Brett Gardner -- to get out of the inning unscathed. Albers, who also pitched a scoreless eighth, lowered his ERA to 4.09. He also hasn't allowed a run since August 14 -- a span of nine appearances. And with a four-run cushion, Mark Hendrickson pitched a scoreless ninth.

So, yes, the three-headed monster of Arrieta, Albers, and Hendrickson held the Yankees to two runs in September. Not a bad performance.

On the season, Arrieta has more walks (46) than strikeouts (44), but he's getting close to changing that and has walked only one batter in his last two starts.

On offense, Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis, and Ty Wigginton each had two hits. One of Wigginton's hits was a double. Nolan Reimold hit a two-run home run in the third, giving the O's a 5-1 lead at the time. Felix Pie drew the lone walk for the O's.

The O's have now won four games in a row -- two against the Rays, and two against the Yankees -- and are 4-3 in September. They'll go for the sweep in a day game today as Brad Bergesen faces 23-year-old Ivan Nova. And according to the game preview on ESPN, the O's will try for their first road sweep of the Yankees in more than 24 years.

ROY Watch: Brian Matusz won the first game of the series on Monday, pitching six innings and allowing three runs while striking out four and walking two. The outing didn't do much to lower his ERA (4.71), but he did win his fourth start in a row -- and winning in Yankee Stadium is always a good thing.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Does Matusz have a chance at AL ROY?

In Keith Law's latest chat, someone had a question about Brian Matusz:
Bub (DC)
Matusz started off great, then terrible, now he looks great again. Can he be a legitimate top of the rotation starter as soon as next season?

Klaw (2:18 PM)
I might still vote for him as AL ROY if I had that ballot. I certainly believe in his long-term value far more than I believe in Austin Jackson's, and the AL East is a brutal place to pitch, especially if you don't get to face the division's worst lineup. I'll say he's an ace in 2012 or 2013, with modest improvements next year.
Not a bad compliment at all. And as far as the Rookie of the Year award goes, there's no question that the National League race is more exciting this season than in the American League. But, as always, there are still candidates to be sorted and an award to be handed out. Catcher Carlos Santana of the Indians would have been the clear-cut winner if he had stayed healthy, but he's out for the season and hasn't played since August 2. Tigers centerfielder Austin Jackson seems to be the front-runner at this point, but with the run Matusz went on in August, he's making a push for the award.

Let's take a look at Jackson, Matusz, and some of the other ROY options in the AL.

Austin Jackson, CF, Tigers: .309/.363/.419, 3 HR, 21 SB

Just looking at overall numbers, Jackson is having a phenomenal season for a rookie. He's not hitting for much power, but he's getting on base at a pretty good clip, stealing bases (and only caught five times), and playing slightly above average defense (0.9 UZR) at a difficult position. Those numbers make Jackson worth about 3.4 wins above replacement (WAR) and nearly $13.8 million, according to FanGraphs.

However, exactly how sustainable are Jackson's numbers in the long term? Regardless of whether or not you think the ROY award should have some sort of future element linked to it, it should be noted that Jackson has an unsustainable .422 BABIP, and he also strikes out a lot (27.6 K%) while not really walking a ton (7.1 BB%). Right now, his combination of speed and hitting a lot of ground balls (48.9%) and line drives (25.7%) is working, but when his BABIP goes down, his numbers will drop as well. It's tough to suggest that he's been rather lucky for nearly an entire season, but that does seem to be the case.

With about a month left to go in the season, can Jackson keep it up? Or will his numbers start to drop before then? That may be the difference in whether or not he wins the award. (Though, position players do seem to hold an advantage to winning the award over pitchers since they play everyday.)

Brian Matusz, SP, Orioles: 4.72 ERA, 6.99 K/9, 3.23 BB/9

I've written about Matusz a few times lately, basically pointing out that he had a much-improved August and has been pitching much better. Right now, he's been worth 1.9 WAR and $7.8 million, first among AL rookie starters. He also has more strikeouts (117) and more innings pitched (150.2) than any other AL rookie.

Since I've talked about Matusz enough before, I'll mention something else: FanGraphs WAR tends to factor in defense and be slightly higher for position players, which may account for Jackson's WAR being 3.4 and Matusz's at 1.9. At Baseball-Reference, Jackson and Matusz are closer (2.5 for Jackson, 2.1 for Matusz). That's at least worth noting.

Brennan Boesch, OF, Tigers: .268/.330/.447, 14 HR

The Tigers promoted Boesch in late April, and he started out his major league career on fire. He was still mashing the ball until about early July, when his numbers started to tail off considerably. On July 9, Boesch was hitting .345/.402/.600 -- a rather impressive slash line for a rookie after a few months. But he's cooled off and isn't doing much hitting at all lately. In July, he hit .209/.311/.253, and in August he hit .185/.227/.304. Also, after hitting 11 home runs in May and June, Boesch has hit just two homers since.

It's unlikely that Boesch will turn his hitting numbers around this season; it's also possible that pitchers have found out how to pitch to him. And other than his hitting, Boesch doesn't bring a whole lot to the table -- as of right now, he has a combined UZR of -2.9 in left and right field. For the season, FanGraphs has him at 1.3 WAR, while Baseball-Reference has him at 1.7 WAR.

Danny Valencia, 3B, Twins: .343/.382/.454, 2 HR

Valencia's first game didn't come until June 3, so he's only played in 63 games. But he's been extremely valuable for the Twins -- 2.4 WAR on FanGraphs and 2.6 WAR on Baseball-Reference -- so it's certainly hard to ignore what he's done. Valencia doesn't hit for much power (only two homers), but he does have 16 doubles and a triple. He also doesn't walk much (6.4 BB%) but doesn't strike out a ton either (13.4 K%). He has hit a decent amount of line drives (19.6%) too, but mainly his offensive production is fueled by a .385 BABIP. That's not to suggest he's a bad hitter, but it's not likely that his numbers will still be this high by the end of the season.

And that's where the other valuable part of his game comes in handy: Valencia has been phenomenal defensively at third base. His UZR right now is 5.8, so even if his offensive numbers drop a bit, he'll still maintain plenty of value as long as he keeps producing with the glove.

Wade Davis, SP, Rays: 4.29 ERA, 5.69 K/9, 3.42 BB/9

Davis has put together two positive starts after coming back from the 15-day disabled list with a right shoulder strain. On August 24, he got the win against the Angels after giving up two runs in 5.1 innings, and on August 30, he held the Blue Jays to two runs over 7.2 innings to earn another win. Davis is a case in which his ERA doesn't necessarily indicate his true pitching performance -- he has a 5.10 FIP and a 4.96 xFIP -- so a pitcher like Matusz has had a better season even though Matusz has a higher ERA.

Still, Davis has held his own in his rookie season, though FanGraphs (0.3 WAR) and Baseball-Reference (1.7 WAR) differ on his value.

Reid Brignac, 2B/SS, Rays: .261/.310/.383, 6 HR

Like Ben Zobrist, Brignac can play multiple positions. This season, he's played most of his games at second base and shortstop, but he has also played a couple innings in right field, so he can likely play a few innings at a corner outfield spot and not hurt the Rays. His offensive numbers have cooled off somewhat, but then again, he doesn't receive regular playing time with guys like Zobrist, Jason Bartlett, and Sean Rodriguez all getting some time at the two middle infield positions.

While Brignac is flexible in the field, he's not really as flexible at the plate. He doesn't walk much (5.6 BB%), but he strikes out a huge amount (27.3 K%). He also hits a decent amount of line drives (20.7%), but he actually hits more fly balls (41.0%) than ground balls (38.3%).

Brignac has also been decent in the field, putting together a combined 1.6 UZR at shortstop and second. His fielding helps his value, especially since he doesn't get on base a whole lot.

Mitch Talbot, SP, Indians: 4.40 ERA, 4.95 K/9, 3.97 BB/9

This is basically just a brief mentioning of Talbot, as I don't think he has much of a chance at winning the award. In 147.1 innings pitched, he only has 81 strikeouts. He's done an effective job pitching to contact, getting lots of ground balls (48.3%) and not giving up too many line drives (17.0%). And it's not like he's been terribly lucky or anything either -- his BABIP is right around .300, at .302. FanGraphs (1.2) and Baseball-Reference (0.1) differ on his WAR, though, which is pretty interesting.

Neftali Feliz, RP, Rangers: 3.26 ERA, 34 saves, 9.16 K/9, 2.48 K/9

Feliz, the Rangers' 22-year-old flame-throwing closer, has been steady all season. He earned his first save of the season on April 12, and he hasn't looked back. In 58.0 innings pitched, he has 59 strikeouts and just 16 walks -- fantastic numbers for such a young player on a team most likely headed to the playoffs. He's also only blown three saves all season.

Because he's a reliever and hasn't pitched as many innings as some of the young starters, he probably won't receive a ton of votes. Still, he has a bright future, and the Rangers could even decide to give Feliz a chance to earn a spot in the team's rotation next spring. A solid starter is almost always worth more than an elite closer, so it would make sense to give Feliz a chance to start. Still, even if he ends up as the team's long-term closer, there's no reason why he can't shine in that role for years to come.

John Jaso, C, Rays: .281/.390/.405, 5 HR

Here's something I didn't know: Jaso was one of the Rays' September call-ups in 2008. Then, in 2009, he didn't make it to the majors at all. But he made his first start this season on April 17 and has stuck with the team since -- and he's doing a very good job. Splitting time with Dioner Navarro and Kelly Shoppach, Jaso has been the team's best option behind the plate. He's not afraid to take a walk (14.9%), and he actually walks more than he strikes out (12.0%). He hasn't hit for much power -- 15 doubles, two triples, five homers -- so most of his offensive value comes from drawing those walks and getting on base.

As a rookie, Jaso deserves credit for keeping that OBP high all season. He deserves even more credit for doing that while playing such a demanding position. If Carlos Santana were still healthy, it's not likely many people would have noticed the solid contributions of Jaso, but with Santana injured, Jaso is the AL's best rookie catcher playing right now.


So that about does it. I may have missed a rookie or two, or listed maybe a couple of guys who either have no shot at winning or maybe didn't deserve to be mentioned. If I had to give my top three right now, it would probably look like this:

1. Austin Jackson
2. Brian Matusz
3. Danny Valencia

Because I didn't list every player's WAR, here's a ranking of all nine players above based on their WARs from FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference averaged together. (Not that wins above replacement is the final word when it comes to ranking players, but it is still helpful.)

1. Austin Jackson (2.95)
2. Danny Valencia (2.50)
3. John Jaso (2.25)
4. Brian Matusz (2.00)
5. Brennan Boesch (1.50)
6. Neftali Feliz (1.35)
7. Wade Davis (1.00)
8. Reid Brignac (0.75)
9. Mitch Talbot (0.65)

So to answer the question of this post, yes, Matusz does have a chance at the AL Rookie of the Year award. But he's going to have to be fantastic in his last few starts this season, and he may even need guys like Jackson and Valencia to take a step back. Jaso might have a chance as well, but the award may just be Jackson's to lose.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Redskins' trades with Rams under investigation by NFLPA

Earlier this week, the Redskins made two separate trades with the Rams that seemed a little strange at the time. In one deal, the Redskins acquired linebacker Hall Davis, a fifth-round draft selection. In another, the Rams acquired tight end Dennis Morris, the Redskins' sixth-round pick. Each player was traded for a future conditional draft pick.

Davis, oddly enough, was cut after just one practice with the Redskins, and although Morris hasn't been cut by the Rams yet, he's not expected to remain on the roster beyond Saturday, when rosters are trimmed down to 53 players.

According to Redskins Insider via an ESPN report by Chris Mortensen, the NFL Players Association is currently investigating a potential rule violation:
In the current uncapped year, a team must pay a drafted rookie 85 percent of his first-year minimum-wage $310,000 salary if the team chooses to release the player. But by shipping the rookie to another team and allowing that new team to then release him, the original team doesn't lose any money. And that appears to be what happened this week -- twice.
Because it's an uncapped season, things are a little different and it looks like the Redskins and Rams may have been trying to save a little money. According to the ESPN report, the above rule, called the 85-percent rule, "has been in the CBA since 1993 but this is the first year it has been triggered because there is no salary cap in 2010."

By trading away Morris and allowing the Rams release him, the Redskins could potentially save $272,000. The Rams would benefit from a similar amount of savings after Davis's release from the Redskins.

Two quotes from Richard Berthelsen of the NFLPA in the ESPN report are worth noting:
"It's true that we're monitoring it but we wouldn't do anything until the end of the year when we know the proportion that is either paid out or not paid out. . . . Unless there's some hidden provision I don't know about, then these teams may not understand the rule itself but I'm sure they will now. Like I said, that's not something we would be able to verify until after the season."
Here's my take: I'm sure both teams' front offices knew about the rule; why would they make such a trade in the first place if they didn't? And how often does a team acquire a player only to cut him after a single practice? I'm sure it doesn't happen that much -- at all. Maybe the Redskins and Rams figure they can get one over on the league and save a little money. But I guess we'll have to wait until after the season to find out what really happened and if there will be any punishment.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

O's take first game against Red Sox, face tough test today

Brian Matusz allowed just two runs in six innings, striking out six and walking just one, and Luke Scott and Felix Pie both hit solo home runs in the eighth to give the Orioles a 5-2 win over the Red Sox.

The two runs scored on Matusz came on a two-run shot by Jed Lowrie in the fifth, but those were the only runs the Red Sox could muster against Matusz and the O's bullpen. But with Matusz running out of gas after 98 pitches, the well-rested bullpen went to work, and Jim Johnson, Michael Gonzalez, and Koji Uehara combined for three shutout innings to close the game out. Uehara was particularly impressive, earning a five-out save (his fifth).

The only O's hitters without a hit were Cesar Izturis and Josh Bell, and Scott and Brian Roberts each had two hits. Scott also walked. Nick Markakis went 1-4 with a double, which just happened to be a milestone hit. According to Brittany Ghiroli of, with the hit Markakis became the 19th outfielder since 1900 to record four seasons with at least 40 doubles. Congrats, Nick.

Tonight, though, the O's face a difficult obstacle in Red Sox ace Jon Lester. Lester is already having another fantastic season -- 14-8, 3.12 ERA, 176 K, 63 BB -- but he particularly thrives against the O's. In 15 career starts against Baltimore, Lester is 12-0 with a 2.00 ERA with 77 strikeouts and just 31 walks. The O's will counter with Jake Arrieta (5.10 ERA, 39 K, 46 BB), who lasted just four innings in his last start, against the White Sox. This will be Arrieta's first career start against the Red Sox.

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