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Unfortunate Reality Hits the Rockies

Posted by mizzou1028 on November 10, 2008

So apparently the Rockies have traded Matt Holliday.  I can’t really say I’m surprised frankly considering Holliday is represented by Scott Boras, who to put it kindly is extremely greedy.  Boras is notorious for getting monster deals for his clients (see Alex Rodriguez, he of the 10 year $275 million deal).  I’m sure Holliday has his reasons for not wanting to re-sign with the Rockies.  He says he wants to be somewhere where he has a consistent chance to make the World Series every year, and frankly it’s hard to argue that Colorado fits with that ideal.  There are reports of a rift with ownership considering the teams willingness to win and upgrade the roster, which is very possible considering the Monforts weren’t exactly active in the free agent market even after making the World Series.  If those are Holiday’s reasons for not accepting an extension with the Rockies and essentially forcing a trade, that’s one thing.  Of course it’s frustrating, but you can’t blame a player for not wanting to be somewhere where winning is a top priority. 

Now, if this is indeed about nothing other than money, than it impossible to keep any respect for either side.  If it is true that Holliday turned down an $85 million extension before last season, than I say good riddance.  Seriously, what can you do with $160 million that you can’t do with $85 million, short of buying a hundred cars and three extra mansions and who knows what else?  Maybe I just don’t understand it because I’ve never known what it’s like to have that kind of money, but I say if $100 million isn’t enough for you, perhaps you ought to work a real job for a year to better learn to appreciate the opportunity you have.  Maybe it’s just me.   I obviously can’t say for sure what Holliday’s motives are for not wanting to stay in Colorado, and I don’t want to throw him under the bus based on speculation, but it seems like it is with most Boras clients that it really is a money issue regardless of what else comes out of the player’s mouth.

I personally believe that the unsettled nature of the Holliday contract negotiations had to have an adverse effect on the team’s performance last season.  The ownership and players alike may say otherwise, but how could it not have had an effect?   If nothing else, there was a notable decline in Holliday’s numbers last season (.321 average down from .340 the previous year, home run decline to 25 from 36, and RBIs were down from 137 to 88).  To be fair, Holliday did miss two weeks in May due to injury, but even factoring that in, that’s a noticeable decrease in production.  Even considering his two week injury, that type of decline in production doesn’t seem to merit the $20 million offer he is seeking.  Even given all that, it is a shame that the relationship between Holliday and the Rockies went south so quickly that the Rockies felt forced to deal him even with a year to go before he hit free agency. 

It seems clear that Rockies ownership is in a pickle here because they seem to have made Holliday the best offer they could afford.  His unwillingness to accept their offer means they are now getting roughly 30 cents on the dollar in the deal.  While reports vary on what exactly the Rockies will get in return, the one consistent piece seems to be pitcher Greg Smith, he of a 7-16 record last season and a 4.16 ERA.  Smith finished third in the AL in walks allowed with 87, which is not a good stat.  The 16 losses may not be a good indicator of his ability because the A’s weren’t a good team last year, but walking guys is never a good thing.  If this is the best the Rockies can hope for in return for Holliday, than there is no way they can make a legitimate argument they are a better team for trading Holliday.  Whoever’s fault it is, it is still frustrating to know that already the Rockies are behind the eight ball in the NL West race and spring training is still three months away.

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Baseball Chaos?

Posted by mizzou1028 on October 29, 2008

As game five of the World Series gets set to resume tonight, I am definitely intrigued.  Never before have we seen a World Series game get suspended due to rain.  I think I am one of the few out there that doesn’t blame Bud Selig for starting the game as scheduled Monday night.  The rain hadn’t come yet when the first pitch was thrown, and the forecast didn’t indicate that there would be enough precipitation to cause the playing conditions to go astray so quickly.  When the rain did come, everyone tried to make the best of a bad situation for awhile, until it got to the point where play couldn’t continue.  I don’t think anyone would say it’s ideal to have a two day gap between the top and bottom halves of the sixth inning, but it is far preferable to the alternatives: handing the Phillies the title after a shortened five inning win, starting the game over, or forcing the action through unplayable conditions. 

I am intrigued to see the three and a half inning shootout of sorts tonight.  It will be a sprint to the finish so to speak, with each team going to the bullpen right away.  Philadelphia gets the “advantage” so to speak of getting three extra outs to play with, since the game will resume in the bottom of the sixth.  It will be interesting to see if the Rays keep the momentum they gained by tying the game in the top of the sixth two days ago.  It will be interesting to see if the Phillies get the same lift from their home crowd the way they have this entire series.  It is needless to say highly unusual to see a game “started” with a pinch hitter, as will be the case tonight for the Phillies, unless they wish to have Cole Hamels bat and give the Rays a free out.  It is also interesting to note that the Rays figure to have all the momentum if they can sneak away with a win, with the final two games of the series awaiting back in front of their fans at Tropicana Field.

It is interesting to note that before a very recent rule change, the Phillies would have been awarded the win even after the Rays had tied the score in the sixth inning.  I think Bud Selig seems to get a bad rap a lot of the time, for he is really being roasted here for allowing the game to start at all, and for allowing the game to be played in such conditions.  Selig certainly has had his dubious moments, but this is not one of them.  I applaud the decision to both start the game as scheduled, and the decision to stop it when they did.  Sure, a two day delay isn’t ideal, but it’s much better than seeing the champion decided by weather. 

For the record, my prediction still stands: the Rays will come back and win tonight, and they will win this series in seven.  The Phillies will feel the pressure tonight, and would not be able to recover from a loss tonight, facing the task of winning back in the Dome.

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World Series Pick

Posted by mizzou1028 on October 22, 2008

I’ve said all along from day one that I would be first to be up front about erroneous predictions on my part.  It only seems fair if I’m going to call out others for being wrong.  In light of that, let’s look back at my baseball playoff picks.  Let’s just say that i only got one series right out of seven.  In an effort to save face, I offer a revised World Series prediction below. 

ALDS: Angels over Red Sox in five: The Angels were the best team in baseball during the regular season, and had everything clinched several weeks before the end of the season.  The Red Sox are not healthy. 

The Red Sox bats ended up booming in this series and proved to be the difference.  The Angels had chances, but couldn’t get the timely hit.  A rare blown save by K-Rod in game two didn’t help matters either.   

Rays over White Sox in four: Chicago has momentum, but they will have a letdown at Tropicana Field.  Tampa Bay’s surprise story continues, thanks in part to Carl Crawford’s return.

This is the only series I got right.  Tampa Bay’s young lineup was able to get the job done in this series (particularly Evan Longoria). 

NLDS: Brewers over Phillies in five: C.C. Sabathia is the difference for Milwaukee as the Brewers bats outslug Philly in a high scoring series.

Sabathia got shelled in game two and was essentially a non-factor.  Philadelphia clearly had the better offense in this series. 

Cubs over Dodgers in four: The Dodgers benefited from the Manny Ramirez trade, but the Cubs have the pitching and the emotion of Wrigley in the first two games.

Turns out the “emotion” of Wrigley was of a different variety.  Did the Cubs feel the pressure of the Curse?  We may never know, but the Cubs imploded at the wrong time, while LA was red hot. 

ALCS: Angels over Rays in seven: The Angels are deep, have a solid lineup, a terrific rotation, and a shut down bullpen.  Their experience is the difference against the young Rays.

The series between the Rays and Red Sox proved to be terrific.  As it turned out, Boston’s experience was not enough to overcome the young Rays.  Tampa showed a lot of gusto rebounding from their game five debacle. 

NLCS: Cubs over Brewers in six: The Cubs owned the Brewers during the regular season, and that continues in the playoffs.’

Philadelphia continued to amaze in the NLCS, beating the Dodgers even though Manny Ramirez hit over .500 in the series.  The Phillies proved that their offense can get the big hit even against a bullpen as good as LA’s. 

World Series: Cubs over Angels in seven: This would be one the best World Series matchups in a number of years.  The Cubs get it done because a 100 year drought seems long enough, and why not end it on a nice round number?

So maybe Phillies-Rays isn’t as sexy as a Cubs-Angels World Series would have been, but it will still be a very entertaining series.  Both teams can swing the bat, the Phillies featuring Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley, and the Rays sporting the young guns of Evan Longoria, Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton.  Both teams stack up well with their rotation, the Phillies sporting Cole Hamels and Brett Myers, while the Rays can counter with Scott Kazmir and James Shields.  Philadelphia appears to have a slight edge in the bullpen with closer Brad Lidge, but the Rays may have found an answer for that role in David Price, who got the final four outs of the ALCS game seven against Boston.  Tampa Bay has home field advantage thanks to the American League winning the All-Star Game, and the Rays have been very tough to beat at Tropicana Field all year.  The Phillies have also been successful at home this year, and should have a raucous atmosphere for their home games, but the extra game at the Trop will ultimately be the sway factor for the Rays as they complete arguably the most surprising season in MLB history, completing their worst to first turnaround.   Keep in mind also, the Phillies have been off for a full week while the Rays just wrapped up the ALCS on Sunday.  As the Rockies proved last year, the time off isn’t always a good thing. 

The Pick: Rays in seven.

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Week Seven Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on October 17, 2008

Before we get to the NFL picks this week, I have to admit that I didn’t watch the entire ALCS game last night between the Rays and Red Sox.  I turned the game off when the Rays entered the bottom of the seventh inning with a 7-0 lead and Scott Kazmir pitching a shutout.  Imagine my surprise when, a little while later, I flipped back expecting to see postgame reaction of the Rays victory, only to find the game had only progressed to the 8th with Tampa clinging to a 7-6 lead.  “NO! What the hell happened?”, I screamed to the room at large.  If you haven’t already guessed I am rooting for the Rays for several reasons, not the least of which is a refusal to root for the team that swept my Rockies in the World Series last year, but it also has a lot to do with rooting for the underdog.  Watching the rest of the game was exactly like watching a train wreck.  The Rays gave up the tying hit on a Coco Crisp single in the 8th, then wasted an opportunity with two runners on in the top of the 9th, only to kick away the game on a throwing error by Evan Longoria and a walk-off single by J.D. Drew.  It would seem easy to blame the Rays bullpen for not holding the lead for Kazmir, but Boston does deserve credit.  Sure. David Ortiz had been in a slump, but he’s still David Ortiz, one of the best playoff clutch hitters in MLB history.  The Red Sox clearly got a tremendous lift from the Fenway Park crowd, most of whom stayed for the finish.  (Side note: How dumb would you have to be to leave ANY playoff game early?  Seriously, if you leave a playoff game early, you should receive an automatic lifetime ban from the stadium.  If you’re going to bail out, give your ticket to a real fan who cares!  Sometime I would very interested to hear from fans who leave these games early, to find out what exactly they were thinking).  The energy provided by the fans who stayed gave Boston all the momentum they needed, and to their credit they capitalized.  From a fan’s perspective it will no doubt go down as one of the great games in MLB playoff history, but did it completely turn the series around?

This is the type of loss that really has to be devastating for Tampa Bay, considering they allowed the biggest playoff comeback since 1929.  This is a Red Sox team that erased a 3 games to 1 deficit against Cleveland in the ALCS last year and came back from 3 games to 0 against the Yankees in 2004.  Boston does not know how to quit, and even though the series is headed back to Tampa, the Rays won’t be helped by the legions of Red Sox fans that will surely be able to elbow their way into Tropicana Field.  What Tampa does have going for them though is James Shields on the mound tomorrow night, going against Josh Beckett.  Shields has been dominant all year for the Rays and actually pitched very well even in defeat in game one, while Beckett got shelled in game two and is clearly not healthy.  The key for the Rays is they need to quickly forget about how close they got last night, and remember this simple fact: to make the World Series they need to win one of two at home this weekend, where they have been nothing less than stellar all season.  That doesn’t seem so bad for Tampa now does it?  The fact is the Red Sox will not die quietly, and obviously deserve a great deal of credit for their comeback win, and the question is, can the Rays kick it back up a notch? It should make for great baseball this weekend, and I guarantee I’m not the only one hoping Tampa Bay can get the job done and complete their Cinderella season.

Now on to the picks:

Last Week: 8-6 (.571)   Season: 53-35 (.602)

– Bills over Chargers: This should be a fantastic game.  The Chargers looked like the favorites they were expected to be in trashing the Patriots last week, while the Bills come off a bye and will get the benefit of Trent Edwards back in the lineup after he suffered a concussion against Arizona.  San Diego should keep it close for a majority of the game, but the Bills will be highly motivated to prove they aren’t a fluke.  The Buffalo crowd will be fired up for this one, and that combined with the early kickoff time will spell doom for San Diego.  It’s a script that never seems to fail in the NFL: west coast team playing on the east coast in an early kickoff (10 a.m. pacific) = win for the home team.  The Bills gain legitimacy with a huge win. 

– Dolphins over Ravens: Both teams are coming off losses, but the Dolphins have not only the home field edge, but also know that Joe Flacco has not played well on the road for Baltimore.  In fact, the Ravens’ offense has been practically non-existenton the road this year, while Miami’s defense has played very well at home.  Miami continues to improve and is certainly one of the surprise teams in the league.  The Dolphins also continue to fool teams with their creative formations and plays, and they should be able to come with at least one play to surprise the Ravens’ defense and pull out a win in this low scoring affair.

– Jets over Raiders: It should not have come as a surprise to anyone that the Raiders’ coaching change had no impact, and likely made things a lot worse.  Oakland did nothing right in their loss to New Orleans, and even a return home to the Black Hole will not help.  The Jets are in the midst of an easy part of the schedule and have not wasted any time taking advantage.  Brett Favre has unequivicably proven he can still play at a very high level, and he seems like he’s getting more and more comfortable in the offense each week.  The Jets win what should end up being a yawner.

– Steelers over Bengals: How bad is it in Cincinnati right now?  This should give you a pretty good idea.  This means there could well be more terrible towels in the stands at Paul Brown Stadium Sunday then there will be Bengals fans.  The Bengals once again start Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback, which gives them about a 0.10% chance to win against anyone, even at home.  Factor in Chad Johnson being unhappy as usual, and the fact that they’re playing the Steelers, and well, that chance goes down to about 0.00000000001%.  Pittsburgh has absolutely owned the Bengals for the past few years anyway, let alone when Cincinnati is a complete mess.  Even if Willie Parker can’t play, Pittsburgh should win this in their sleep.   

– Redskins over Browns: This one is certainly tricky after Cleveland’s spectacular effort on Monday night and the Redskins’ surprising loss to St. Louis.  This game will go a long way toward helping us find out a lot about both teams, as both really need the win to stay in their respective division races.  Clinton Portis should be able to continue running well for Washington, but the Browns also seem like they have finally found their offense again.  Perhaps Derek Anderson will continue to play well if he knows he’s not liable to be yanked for Brady Quinn at any time.  That being said, a hunch says that Jim Zorn and his staff will not allow Washington to drop two home games in a row, and for that reason I take the Redskins, but you might as well flip a coin here. 

– Texans over Lions: Houston finally picked up a win last week, and that should really give the Texans confidence heading into this one.  Houston is in the midst of something you never, ever see in the NFL: they are entering game three of a four game homestand, and five of six at Reliant Stadium.  This came about because of rescheduling needs due to Hurricane Ike, but with the remaining home games all winnable (the Bengals and Ravens remain on the home stretch), Houston seems likely to make a big, big move in the AFC.  Even though Houston started 0-4, and even if that proves to be too much to overcome, the Texans will be a major player in the AFC race.  As for Detroit?  This play says it all.  The countdown to next year has already begun.

– Colts over Packers: The unquestioned game of the week.  Indianapolis finally looked like themselves last week, and there was even a Marvin Harrison sighting!  Green Bay slugged their way to road win in Seattle, and will obviously benefit from a return to Lambeau Field.  The Packers have played reasonably well considering the slew of injuries they’ve been dealing with, and it stands to reason that Ryan Grant should be able to gain 100 yards against a defense that has had trouble stopping the run without Bob Sanders.  This seems to be the consensus anyway even though the Colts completely shut down Baltimore’s running game last week.  Still, a great game like this often comes down to the quarterbacks, and I’ll take a (now healthy) Peyton Manning over Aaron Rodgers 100 percent of the time.  The Colts have debunked the myth for several years now that they can’t win away from the Dome, and they get an important road win here to get back on track. 

– Titans over Chiefs: It seems as though Days of Our Lives has made its stop in Kansas City this week.  Tony Gonzalez remains with the team after they refused to honor his trade request, and Larry Johnson will not suit up for the Chiefs because he violated team rules this week.  Kansas City playing one of the best defenses in the league without any threat of a running game?  Case closed, the only question here is how much the Titans will win by.  Besides, Johnson rushed for only two yards on seven carries last week against the Panthers, so is Kansas City really missing anything anyway?  Then again, every time I say the game is a guaranteed blowout we have an upset or near upset (see the Minnesota-Detroit game last week, which the Vikings barely won).  You could make the case that Kansas City will benefit from the Arrowhead crowd, but really, do you see the Titans imploding here following a bye week? I sure don’t.

– Rams over Cowboys: MAJOR UPSET ALERT.  The Cowboys have struggled for three weeks now, getting a win only because they got the gift of a home game against the Bungles.  Dallas does not know who will start at quarterback.  Will it be Tony Romo with a broken pinkie finger, or Brad Johnson?  How will new receiver Roy Williams fit in?  His presence should make it interesting to see how Mount TO will be affected.  The Dallas secondary is also in shambles, as they will be without Pacman Jones and Terrence Newman.  I sense a huge passing day for Marc Bulger and Torry Holt, who is waiting to break out after a really slow start.  How quickly the mighty have fallen, I have a hunch that St. Louis wins this at home, being that they’re playing much harder for new coach Jim Haslett.

– Giants over 49ers.  This is not a good week for San Francisco to be making the trip east.  The same thought from the San Diego-Buffalo game about a west coast team and an early east coast kick also applies here, but a larger factor is the Niners will be facing a really angry Giants team.  The defending champs know they laid an egg in Cleveland, and they’ll be out for blood on Sunday.  The 49ers have shown some spunk offensively, mainly thanks to Frank Gore, who should really be getting the ball more, but their defense won’t have any answer for a motivated Eli Manning and company.  The Giants also know they enter the really tough part of their schedule and need to win this game.  This should be another blowout in the Meadowlands.

– Bears over Vikings: Both teams are 3-3, and both have been really up and down in the early part of the year.  This should be a really tight, low scoring, defensive game, which gives the Bears an edge, especially at Soldier Field.  Kyle Orton has actually been playing pretty well for the Bears, and I actually give him a slight edge over Gus Frerotte in the quarterback battle.  The deciding factor could very well be turnovers, and both defenses are capable of forcing mistakes from the other team.  I go with Chicago primarily because they’re playing at home, and I would probably take the Vikings if the game were in the Metrodome.  The winner of this game will have at least a share of the lead in the NFC North. 

– Panthers over Saints: This should be a very entertaining game in the NFC South.  Carolina will be highly motivated after getting blown out last week, while the Saints are on a roll coming off a blowout win.  Both offenses are capable of lighting it up, with Reggie Bush and Steve Smith usually stealing the show for their respective teams.  New Orleans should get star receiver Marques Colston back, which will clearly help their offense.  Carolina will be looking for a better effort from their running back duo of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, plus they hope Mushin Muhammad will be healthy enough to play.  The difference in this game is likely to be Carolina’s motivation factor playing at home, and Smith should be able to outshine Bush, but not by much.  Carolina wins a squeaker. 

– Buccaneers over Seahawks.  This game could very well be second fiddle in the central Florida area if the Red Sox and Rays are playing game seven at Tropicana Field Sunday night.  If that’s the case, it will be interesting to see what kind of crowd is on hand for Sunday Night Football at the pirate ship.  Tampa Bay in any case should have little trouble winning easily, with a defense that is suffocating as always under defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.  Seattle continues its musical chairs at quarterback with Seneca Wallace likely to get the nod after Charlie Frye struggled last week and Matt Hasselbeck still at least a week away from returning.  Lots of quarterbacks is never a good thing, and the Bucs defense is licking its chops in excitement.  The fact that Jeff Garcia is healthy and playing well again can’t hurt either.  If there is an ALCS game seven, Tampa sports fans at least shouldn’t have to worry about the football game after the first quarter.  Tampa Bay by at least three touchdowns in this one.

– Broncos over Patriots: The Monday night game this week is a really good matchup of two teams coming off a loss.  Denver should get some reinforcements with the return of Eddie Royal and likely Tony Scheffler, although Brandon Stokley is questionable with a concussion.  The Broncos defense has struggled against the run, but the Patriots have really struggled to run the ball in recent weeks.  Going with one of the weekend themes of looking at quarterback play, how can anyone possibly go with Matt Cassel over Jay Cutler?  Partially on that note, the Brandon Marshall has a better chance for a big game than Randy Moss because Moss will be matched against Champ Bailey.  The deciding factor here is actually history: the Broncos are the only team in the NFL with a winning record against the Patriots since 2000.  Denver has actually won five of its past six games against New England, including three in a row.  Mike Shanahan is 8-3 against the Patriots and Bill Belichick is just 2-9 against Denver.  So even in the height of the Patriots’ dynasty, they still always struggled against Shanahan.  Now that New England is clearly down without Tom Brady?  The Broncos get a much needed win entering the bye week. 

BYE: Jacksonville, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Arizona

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Days of Our Lives in the NFL, plus Baseball Playoff Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on October 1, 2008

I realize I am stating the obvious that the Oakland Raiders have been the NFL’s official soap opera for at least the last five years.  Is it possible to feel sympathy for a loathed division rival?  Is it possible the Raiders have become so bad and so embarrassing that it’s impossible to hate them anymore?  It’s certainly not possible to feel that way for Al Davis, who clearly doesn’t have the faintest clue how to run a team anymore.  As long he’s in charge, the Raiders will never again be even remotely good.  The almost comical part is how Davis deflects blame onto everyone but himself, and always has. 

Yesterday Davis dismissed Lane Kiffin, who it is very easy to feel sorry for after reading this letter Al Davis sent to him before their week two game in Kansas City.  Everyone knows Al Davis is an owner who is intimately involved in EVERY personnel decision, so it seems very hypocritical of him to pin the botched signings of Javon Walker and D’Angelo Hall on Kiffin, when everyone knows Davis pulled the trigger on the signings.  Especially in the case of Walker, it was obvious that was destined to fail.  He didn’t come to camp in shape, his personal life is a mess, and he’s coming off a second knee surgery in three years.  Yet, they guaranteed him $16 million.  How is that Kiffin’s fault?  That’s strictly on the owner.  It is equally comical that Davis is critical of Kiffin for not wanting to draft JaMarcus Russell, who has been anything but spectacular in his limited action this year and last.  (Anyone else think Davis misfired by not taking Adrian Peterson last year instead?  Yes, they got a good back in Darren McFadden this year, but that wouldn’t have been needed had they taken Peterson).  The point is, Al Davis has always made the final call on personnel decisions in Oakland, so it is very difficult to believe Davis that he has nothing to do with the organization being in the dumps. 

Why anyone would want to coach the Raiders is absolutely beyond me.  Kiffin is now the fourth coach fired by Davis since 2003.  That’s four coaches in four seasons (plus four games).  Um, anyone else think there is a pattern here that something is really wrong there besides the head coach?  The Raiders have no coaching stability since Jon Gruden left for Tampa before the 2002 season (is it coincidence his Buccaneers torched the Raiders in the Super Bowl the next year?).  Bill Callahan lasted two seasons, with the Raiders going absolutely in the tank in 2003 after the Super Bowl loss.  Norv Turner coached for two seasons before getting fired in 2005 after an awful 9-23 stretch over two seasons.  Then Art Shell lasted one year, finished a woeful 2-14, before Kiffin finished 4-12 last year and got fired after a 1-3 start this year.  The fact is Al Davis doesn’t allow his coaches to coach, despite what his letter to Kiffin may indicate.  There is a clear pattern here that his pressence is the problem in the Raiders organization. 

Now, this is not to say that game day coaching hasn’t been a factor in the Raiders’ slow start this year.  They blew a big fourth quarter lead in a loss at Buffalo, and then had a 15-0 lead against San Diego late in the first half before this sequence.  The resulting poor clock management resulted in a 76 YARD FIELD GOAL ATTEMPT.  Obviously, that’s insane that such a thing would even be attempted for several reasons, but that’s not really the point.  The point is the Raiders had a chance to extend their lead and didn’t, and ended up blowing a fourth quarter lead to the Chargers.  That being said, the pressure as head coach of the Raiders, and more specifically working for Davis, has to be stressful beyond belief.  The fact that something as crazy as a 76 yard field goal was even attempted is a reflection of the soap opera nature of the Raiders organization, and not specifically on Kiffin’s head coaching ability. 

There is some irony here, considering Davis fired Mike Shanahan as head coach four games into the 1989 season.  It is interesting to note that Shanahan lasted exactly as long as Raiders coach as Lane Kiffin: 16 games.  Davis is trying to say he fired Kiffin for cause so he doesn’t have to pay him, which is not surprising considering Davis still owes Mike Shanahan $250,000 that he has not paid to this day.  Shanahan has made Davis pay by routinely beating the Raiders during his tenure as coach of the Broncos, yet Davis has still not seemed to learn his lesson.  I am reasonably convinced that Kiffin will latch on somewhere in the league, probably not as a head coach right away, but he will get another opportunity to prove himself in the league.  It is quite clear that Kiffin being fired is not in any way a reflection of his head coaching ability.  The coach of the Raiders is essentially a yes man to Al Davis, who in spite of what he says, no doubt has his hand in the till in regards to key organization decisions, possibly right down to game plans.  As I say, why anyone would want to coach the Raiders is absolutely beyond me.  Anyone who takes that job is automatically destined to fail because Davis is running a joke of an organization.

As a side note, the Rams are not near as much of a soap opera as the Raiders, but their coaching change does not lack drama.  Scott Linehan angrily yanked Marc Bulger from the starting quarterback slot and gave it to Trent Green before the Buffalo game last week.  The Rams played hard, and actually had a lead going into the fourth quarter, but the Bills ended up pulling away.  Players said later they were upset with the Bulger benching, and it seemed like no one was on the same page.  Now, Jim Haslett has been installed as the interim head coach after Linehan was dismissed.  This despite Haslett being in charge of a defense that has surrendered 30 points every game so far this season.  Haslett has already re-instated Bulger as the starting QB, so it will be interesting to see if the drama continues in St. Louis.  Will either of these coaching changes make a difference?  Maybe, maybe not, but I am sure that Kiffin and Linehan will not be the last coaches to be fired this season. 

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

In spite of the fact that my Colorado Rockies reverted to their form prior to last year and flamed out well before September, I offer my picks for the baseball playoffs that begin today:

ALDS: Angels over Red Sox in five: The Angels were the best team in baseball during the regular season, and had everything clinched several weeks before the end of the season.  The Red Sox are not healthy. 

Rays over White Sox in four: Chicago has momentum, but they will have a letdown at Tropicana Field.  Tampa Bay’s surprise story continues, thanks in part to Carl Crawford’s return.

NLDS: Brewers over Phillies in five: C.C. Sabathia is the difference for Milwaukee as the Brewers bats outslug Philly in a high scoring series.

Cubs over Dodgers in four: The Dodgers benefited from the Manny Ramirez trade, but the Cubs have the pitching and the emotion of Wrigley in the first two games.

ALCS: Angels over Rays in seven: The Angels are deep, have a solid lineup, a terrific rotation, and a shut down bullpen.  Their experience is the difference against the young Rays.

NLCS: Cubs over Brewers in six: The Cubs owned the Brewers during the regular season, and that continues in the playoffs.

World Series: Cubs over Angels in seven: This would be one the best World Series matchups in a number of years.  The Cubs get it done because a 100 year drought seems long enough, and why not end it on a nice round number?

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Home Runs and All Stars

Posted by mizzou1028 on July 15, 2008

I have to give a tip of the cap to Josh Hamilton for his performance last night in the Home Run Derby.  I have generally thought in recent years the event has lost some of its luster compared to what it was in the late 90s, but last night Hamilton had me hooked.  It wasn’t just his 28 home runs in the first round, it wasn’t just that he set a single round record, it was the way it was happening.  Three of his blasts were over 500 feet, and as each home run was hit the event became more of the spectacle I used to remember.  The way the Yankee Stadium crowd was behind him only added to the aura. 

Watching Hamilton last night brought back memories of the Home Run Derby I was fortunate to attend at Coors Field in 1998.  At that time the big names would all participate, great home run hitters like Griffey and McGwire.  That was of course the season Mark McGwire hit 70 home runs, and while his derby performance was unimpressive overall (four home runs and a quick first round exit, although one was over 500 feet) it was the workout portion of the day that stood out for me.  I remember standing on the walkway above the left field bleachers amongst a packed crowd, watching McGwire and others hit ball after ball up onto and beyond the walkway.  I remember balls hitting off the scoreboard, flying into concession stands, one clearing the wall entirely into the parking lot beyond.  Perhaps most vividly and even comically, I remember seeing a full cup of beer fly into the air while a fan tried to catch one of the balls (he didn’t).  For a variety of seasons it seemed as though the event had started to decline in popularity and excitement.  Maybe it was because we were disgusted that steroids likely played a role in the colossal blasts of the late 90s and early 2000s, perhaps it was because more and more often the biggest stars would back out (see Alex Rodriguez last night in front of his home fans no less).  Hamilton’s effort last night reminded me of that day because for the first time in several years of Home Run Derbys there seemed to be something to get excited about.  It seemed as the participants were actually into the event and truly were enjoying being involved, actually giving the crowd their moneys worth.  Perhaps the only unfortunate thing was that Hamilton didn’t win, losing to the Twins’ Justin Morneau in the finals perhaps due to fatigue from his first round show.  It turns out this event did not need A-Rod, and maybe it was he who missed out by declining participation in his home ballpark.

The Home Run Derby is of course a prelude to the All-Star Game, which will take place tonight.  It will of course be the final one at fabled Yankee Stadium, so that adds to the lure of the game.  There is a certain amount of irony that the American League will be managed by Terry Francona of the hated Red Sox, a reward for Boston winning the World Series last year, and that three members of the hated Red Sox will be in the starting lineup for the “home” American League.  It is also somewhat ironic that the NL will be managed by the Rockies’ Clint Hurdle, by virtue of the Rockies’ World Series appearance last year.  As bad a season as the Rockies have had, it seems somewhat odd to see Hurdle managing the National League in this event.  Regardless of this, the MLB All-Star Game is clearly the best in sports.  It is the only one where the players actually seem interested in winning the game, quite the contrast to the Pro Bowl where everyone wants to be selected to the game but no one wants to play.  The players will play hard, unlike the NBA where defense is optional anyway especially in an  all-star game, and unlike the NHL where the midseason exhibition has more scoring but lacks the hitting and physical play.  While I’m not exactly a fan of the World Series being influenced by an exhibition (the league that wins tonight will have home field advantage for the World Series), it definitely adds to the event that both teams will try to win. 

As a side note, I am intrigued by tonight’s starting pitchers, the Indians’ Cliff Lee for the AL and Milwaukee’s Ben Sheets for the NL.  If I was making the pick, I think it should be the Blue Jays’ Roy Halladay for the AL and San Francisco’s Tim Lincecum for the NL.  Of course, every pitcher that has been selected to the game is worthy of being there, and it is hard to argue against Lee or Sheets.  I am just hoping the National League can actually win one of these: the AL has won every one of these since 1996, not including the infamous tie in 2002.  Regardless, the MLB All-Star Game is always a fun event and a must see.

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Rocktober is a Distant Memory

Posted by mizzou1028 on July 1, 2008

This year’s Rockies beg the following question: has a team ever hit this rock bottom the season after making a World Series?  I’m not counting the 1998 Marlins because ownership blew up the roster in the interest of saving money after they won the World Series in 1997.  The Rockies are back in last place after last night’s collapse against San Diego.  They somehow managed to turn an 8-3 sixth inning lead into a 15-8 loss that had my head spinning by the bottom of the 9th.  At 32-51 the Rockies have the worst record in not just the NL West but all of Major League Baseball, behind doormats such as Washington, Seattle and Kansas City.  A casual look at the standings shows the Rockies 10 games back of Arizona in the NL West, which team officials claim still puts them in striking distance if they can make a run.  A closer look at the picture reveals that the Rockies would be 19 games back of Tampa Bay if they were playing in the AL East, and would face similar deficits if they were in any other division but their own.  This season for all intents and purposes is over.  The Rockies were a team that caught lightning in a bottle last year and had everything go right.  This year they’ve become the official team of Murphy’s Law, where everything that can possibly go wrong has gone wrong.

It’s hard to fathom that the Rockies are 1-9 since the return of Troy Tulowitzki.  This is not to say the skid is his fault, in fact he has actually been swinging the bat better the past few games, hitting a home run in Detroit Sunday and getting a big RBI last night that gave a Rockies what turned out to be a short lived lead.  It’s very ironic the team has hit the skids since his return because they were actually picking it up prior to his arrival.  The Rockies had actually won five consecutive series without him, including two on the road.  There is no question that Tulo was in many ways the heart and soul of the team last year.  For whatever reason, it hasn’t been the case this year when he’s been in the lineup.  His numbers don’t seem correct (.161 BA, 2 HR, just 14 RBI) especially compared to last season (.291-24-99).  Again Tulo is not solely responsible for the team’s funk by any means, this is just a reflection of how different things have been for the Rockies this year.  I love Tulowitzki’s game, and I am still convinced he’ll turn it around before the end of the year. 

The pitching especially has not been the same.  While Aaron Cook has actually had a much better year than last year, and should get a nod to the All-Star Game next week, the rest of the staff has been, well less than terrific.  Jeff Francis won 17 games last year and was clearly the staff ace.  This year Francis is 3-7 with an ERA of 5.67, compared to 4.16 last year.  Manny Corpas was terrific as the closer last year, posting 19 saves after taking over the role midway through the season.  The Rockies rewarded him with a new contract over the winter, and saw him save just four games before losing the closer’s job with four straight blown saves in late April.  Corpas’ ERA has ballooned to 5.77 after it was just 2.08 last year.  Don’t even get me started on Brian Fuentes, who actually lost the closer job last year with a similar meltdown in June before settling in and doing a great job in the setup role toward the end of last year.  Fuentes reclaimed the closer job in April after Corpas lost it, and did ok for awhile, but he still lacks the resolve to consistently get the job done.  Fuentes actually has 13 saves this season, but also has an ungodly five blown saves already.  His overall numbers actually aren’t bad, but he has spectacularly blown up in his last two appearances, blowing a ninth inning lead Saturday in Detroit after the offense came back to take the lead, and giving up 5 runs in just a third of an inning in what had been a tie game last night against San Diego. 

The expectations that were placed on the Rockies prior to the season were interesting considering many just assumed they would be able to get back to the playoffs and the World Series.  It seemed as though no one noticed that other teams made an effort to get better during the offseason, while also forgetting to take into account the extraordinary circumstances that allowed the Rockies to make their run last year.  Sure they got hot, but their making the playoffs also required big time collapses by the Mets and the Padres to allow them to have a shot at the wild card.  It goes to show that every season is different.  I still think there is a lot of potential on this Rockies roster, but I’m still not convinced ownership and management are committed to consistently putting forth the effort, especially financially, to maintain a good product.  With Matt Holliday due big money, I will be curious to see if ownership steps up to the plate to retain him, rather than allowing him to cash in with a big market club.  There are rumors he could even be dealt before the trading deadline because ownership doesn’t want to lose him for nothing.  If they don’t keep Holliday, there isn’t much hope for ownership ever making the commitment to keep up with the rest of the league.

Regardless of all this, I love baseball and will continue to follow the Rockies and root for them until the day I die.  I remember what it was like to grow up in this town without Major League Baseball.  The Rockies didn’t come into extistence until I was a seventh grader, so I will always appreciate the opportunity to go see games here and to have a team to root for.  In that sense, it is important to keep that perspective.  That being said, I do expect the team to make an effort to put a good product on the field.  For them to sport MLB’s worst record the year after making the World Series is not acceptable.  There really isn’t a magic answer for this year as far back as they are, but I hope they take steps to make sure this isn’t repeated in 2009. 

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The Best Place in Sports

Posted by mizzou1028 on June 3, 2008

Over the years I have had the opportunity to witness games in a variety of stadiums around the country.  Granted, there are many that I have not been to, but I have been to quite a few.  Of all the places I have watched a game, not one of them comes even close to matching the experience at Wrigley Field.  Last weekend I had the privilege of attending my sixth game in what is known as the friendly confines, and it was every bit as special as the first one 10 years ago.  This despite the fact that my Rockies managed to lose their sixth straight and looked nothing like the NL champions from a year ago. 

Wrigley Field has been around since 1914, so that alone makes it unique on the sports landscape amidst all the luxury boxes and club level seating and suites that adorn the sports landscape today.  Among the features of this venerable park are the manual operated scoreboard above the center field bleachers.  Just the sight of this scoreboard makes me realize I am in baseball heaven.  The linescore of every game is on the board, so fans won’t miss a thing going on around baseball.  Above the scoreboard one will find a flag representing every team in the National League, arranged in order of the current standings.  After the game, these are replaced with a “W” or “L” depending on the fate of the Cubs of that day.  The outfield walls are lined with ivy, another feature unique to the park and one that makes it the most beautiful outfield in the Major Leagues.  Then there is the fact that every seat, even in the nosebleed sections, is close to the action, giving the ballpark an intimate feel, hence the name friendly confines. 

During the game fans aren’t subjected to annoying jukebox promotions, scoreboard races featuring trash trucks or who knows what, or any of the extra fluff that takes away from the fact you’re at a baseball game.  The only music comes from the organist, and particularly during a day game adds to the charm of the experience.  The place is a shrine to baseball, and there is nothing extra curricular going on to take you away from the game you’re there to see.  The seventh inning stretch rendition of Take Me Out to the Ballgame is without a doubt the best in baseball, for it is still the only place I’ve been to where 40,000 people actually join in and sing.  The fans are also always into the game, with one of the more notable behaviors being the throwing back of opposing team home run balls onto the field. 

It’s not just the inside of the ballpark that makes Wrigley special.  The old neighborhood around Wrigley adds to the ballpark’s charm.  Take a pregame walk outside and you’ll find more sports bars than you’ve ever seen in your life, many with creative signage to lend support to the Cubs or promote fan spirit.  A walk around the outside of Wrigley Field also allows fans to really take in the unique charm of the ballpark.  Fans driving by or walking on Waveland or Sheffield Avenues can easily see the manual scoreboard and peak into the ballpark.  The home plate entrance features the signature red sign “Wrigley Field Home of Chicago Cubs.”  Everything from the vendors selling t-shirts to the statues of Ernie Banks and Harry Caray screams baseball.  Throw in the fact that the Cubs are one of the most loveable teams in baseball, a team virtually everyone wants to see do well since they haven’t won a World Series since 1908, and you have a truly unique baseball gameday atmosphere. 

To be frank, my descriptions here really can’t do it justice.  If you’ve been to Wrigley, you know what I’m talking about.  If you haven’t, you need to go.  Immediately.  No sooner had i sat down in my seat on Saturday and looked around, taking in the atmosphere, did I think about when I could get back, and that was BEFORE they had even announced the starting lineups.  Wrigley Field is baseball as it should be, and that’s reason enough to rank it the top stadium in sports.  Frankly it’s not even close. 

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More Random Thoughts

Posted by mizzou1028 on May 12, 2008

Sometimes I wonder if the national networks realize there are other baseball teams we might want to watch besides the Red Sox and the Yankees.  ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball game last night featured the Red Sox and the Twins, which is fine, it’s a good matchup.  Thing is, ESPN is showing that matchup AGAIN this evening, despite several other good games on the schedule.  It is not in any way a shock that next week’s Sunday night game will feature the Yankees and Mets.  The TBS Sunday afternoon schedule has been similar so far.  Of the first eight games on their schedule in April and May, five involve either Boston or the Yankees.  It is fairly obvious why the networks like big market teams, among the chief reasons being that a game involving two large market clubs is likely to garner a larger audience and therefore more advertising dollars.  Still, it seems appalling to me that my Colorado Rockies have been shown on national TV exactly ZERO times so far this year the season following a World Series appearance.  Now, clearly their start this season hasn’t been worthy of much national air time, but a World Series appearance should guarantee at least some national exposure during the first month of the following season.  With the exception of one Saturday regional broadcast on Fox that was shown to less than a third of the country, the Rockies have not been shown any respect by the national MLB broadcast partners, while they continue to shove the same teams down our throat every week.  I realize that some teams have more sex appeal than others, and it goes without saying that certain teams will receive more exposure than others.  That being said, as a true fan of the game I want to see the best teams, not the ones with the most tradition or star power.  It might surprise you who has the best record in the National League right now.  I’ll give you a hint, it’s a franchise that’s won two World Series since 1997, but they’ve also had exactly zero national tv appearances this year and aren’t scheduled for any in the future.  Go ahead and guess, I’ll wait.

The answer would be the Florida Marlins, who are 23-14 and have a three game lead in the NL East, better than the mighty Mets, Phillies and Braves, all of whom are loaded with national TV appearances this year.  Now, as a fan of the game, I just might want to actually watch a Marlins game once in awhile if they really are that good.  Thing is, I have no idea because I haven’t had a chance to see them.  Yet I’ve been saddled with a number of games involving the Detroit Tigers, who made a big splash in terms of offseason spending and currently sit in last place in the AL Central, behind the mighty Kansas City Royals.  It might also surprise you to learn that Tampa Bay is 21-16, only a game and a half behind Boston in the AL East.  Or how about the Oakland A’s, pretty much coming out of nowhere to lead the AL West at 23-16?  Again, I don’t know much about either team except for the stats that I see because they’re never on TV either.  It was quite amusing actually to watch the national announcers embarrass themselves last October trying to announce the Rockies’ games as they made their run to the World Series.  It was clear some of them weren’t at all prepared and hadn’t watched the team play all year, even though they proved to be a legit playoff team.  It will be amusing if the networks find themselves in the same position again this year.  I just wish the networks would vary the teams they show on occasion.  I would imagine most fans would agree they don’t always want to be stuck watching the same teams every night.

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ESPN.com has released it’s NFL power rankings based on where they feel the teams currently stand after the draft and other acquisitions.  I find it inexcusable that the Giants are down to number six after they won the Super Bowl.  To me, they should be number one at least until they play a real game in September, unless they were to completely blow up the roster, which they haven’t.  It also interesting they have the Colts at number two, ahead of the Chargers at three, even though the Chargers beat the Colts on the road in the playoffs last year.  Strangely enough, I’m not that surprised they have my Broncos at 23, because on paper it does seem like there are questions regarding multiple parts of the roster.  Many national folks don’t seem to be big fans of the team’s draft, although i think they did a good job filling roster needs, even if it’s impossible to actually evaluate the draft until these guys have played multiple seasons.  Frankly, the power rankings are fun to talk about, particularly for someone like me who is constantly in football withdrawal during the offseason, but they really mean nothing.  There will be several teams that will end up better than advertised and there will be several that will be worse than advertised.  Still, it does provide for some interesting discussion, nothing more. 

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UGH!

Posted by mizzou1028 on April 28, 2008

This has been as bad a sports weekend for the teams that I follow as I can remember.  This does not take into account the Broncos draft, which I am actually fairly pleased with (more on that later – but it might have to be in a future post).  The events in the Denver sports landscape this weekend might not really stand out on an individual basis (think the Broncos’ loss to Jacksonville in the playoffs in January ’97 – none of these single events, or even as a group, come close to comparing to THAT debacle).  That being said, it cannot be argued that anything went even remotely right this weekend for the Rockies, the Nuggets or the Avalanche. 

The Rockies have not had a great April.  Of course, they had an awful April last season and made the World Series, so it’s way too early to hit the panic button.  However, this team has now lost 7 of 8 after getting swept by the Dodgers in LA this weekend.  On Friday night starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez couldn’t even make it out of the third inning in a game where the Rockies’ offense had given him four runs of support in that time frame.  The Rockies eventually lost the game in 13 innings after many failed opportunities offensively (including Matt Holliday hitting into an inning ending double play with two runners in scoring position in the 9th).  On Saturday Mark Redman got lit up for TEN runs in the first inning!  Imagine walking into a bowling alley, thinking to yourself that it’s a  nice bonus that TVs everywhere you look are showing the game while you’re going to bowl, then seeing a Dodger grand slam sail into the night sky the first time you look at the screen.  That’s a glimpse of my Saturday night.  The second time I looked at the screen I saw it was still the bottom of the 1st and the Dodgers had already put up a 10 spot.  Needless to say I wanted to throw up.  Then there was today’s game.   Jeff Francis pitched extremely well, surrendering just two runs in seven innings while striking out six, and the Rockies had chances to win.  Thing is, the offense never capitalized.  In a 2-2 game, Troy Tulowitzki continued his struggles (batting a whopping .157 – OUCH) by grounding into a double play with the bases loaded in the 8th, and then the Rockies left runners at 2nd at 3rd in the 10th.  Enter Manny Corpas, who was given a contract extension in the offseason after doing a great job in the closer role last year.  He has lost it this season after blowing four saves already.  Corpas actually pitched a scoreless ninth today after giving up two singles, so it wasn’t entirely unreasonable for Clint Hurdle to leave him in there for the 10th.  This proved to be a bad idea: a four pitch walk to Rafael Furcal, a walk to Mark Sweeney (who has exactly 0 RBIs and is batting a horrid .063 this season), then runners at 2nd and 3rd after a sac bunt.  After Hurdle elected to intentionally walk the red hot hitting Russell Martin to load the bases, Corpas could have redeemed himself with a double play groundout.  Nope, he gave up a sharp single to James Loney, and the Rockies got swept.  Now, a 10-15 record is certainly no reason to hit the panic button especially after last year, but right now they can’t even see the taillights of the division leading Diamondbacks.  It’s no coincidence Arizona made a big offseason splash in adding elite starter Dan Haren, while the Rockies made no big moves to the roster.  Granted, the Rockies did spend some money to keep their own players, including Tulowitzki (who will rebound).  Still, it seems like maybe they stood and watched while other teams around them got better.  To be fair, they’ve been on the road much more often than they’ve been at Coors Field, and that 22 inning marathon in San Diego can’t have helped.  Maybe a friendlier May schedule will be the catalyst for a turnaround.

As for the Nuggets, I feel bad saying this but I really don’t care to watch Monday night.  There were times this season where this team had really re-awakened by NBA interest.  They have the ability to compete with anyone in the league, and a 50 win season is an impressive accomplishment.  As tough and competitive as the Western Conference is, I really thought it didn’t matter where anyone was seeded because all eight teams were good.  It is clear though that this team will never win when it counts unless major changes are made.  The Nuggets have given three lackluster performances against the Lakers in this playoff series.  Check that, lackluster may be a kind way to describe game three at the Pepsi Center.  There is no reason for Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson to go 10 for 38 from the floor in a playoff game, many of the shots from point blank range.  The players’ body language says this series has been long over, right from the technical fouls  Iverson took in game one due to frustration.  From what I have seen, there are only three players who have consistently played hard in this series: Linas Kleiza, Eduardo Najera and J.R. Smith.  It is not a coincidence that Nuggets have held up best when these guys have been on the floor, even if that’s not saying much.  Anthony has given absolutely no effort whatsoever on the defensive end, and while Iverson has shown up offensively for the most part, his defense hasn’t been much better than Anthony’s.  There is a reason why Anthony’s draft class mates LeBron James and Dwayne Wade have both reached the NBA Finals while Anthony has never made it out of the first round.  They are leaders, and he is not, pure and simple.  Anthony has never understood that being a complete player means giving full effort in all areas, including the defensive end.  I’m wondering if it’s time to chuck out Anthony, let Iverson finish his career with a true contender, and try to put the team’s resources into building a true winner.  For the Nuggets to have the kind of payroll invested that they do, they need more results than an annual first round exit.  The Nuggets are missing a true veteran leader who can bring the talent together, a guy who does not constantly need the ball in his hands to succeed, someone who can lead by example.  It is clear that the Anthony-Iverson experiment isn’t working.  Both guys continually need the ball, and while they both get their points, their presence together has not led to the same results as other top duos in the league.  Or better yet, think of the Duncan-Parker-Ginobili trio in San Antonio.  The Spurs have stockpiled championships because these stars can all play together and each understands his role.  Maybe it’s time for the Nuggets to blow up the roster with the exception of Kleiza, Najera and Smith and start over.  They have way too much money tied up in Anthony, Iverson, Kenyon Martin and Marcus Camby to settle for these kind of results.  Maybe George Karl isn’t blameless either, but I’m never one to think a new coach will solve anything, especially in the NBA, where the players run the show anyway.  I remember when the Nuggets were 11-71 and a complete embarrassment, so I do appreciate a 50 win season and a playoff appearance.  I also expect some semblance of progress, and this will be the fifth consecutive first round playoff exit, with the Nuggets never winning more than one game in any series.  I know there’s another game left, but it’s clear the chance of the Nuggets winning this series is zero percent.  Let’s just say if I was a season ticket holder, there would be zero percent chance of me renewing my seats for next season unless major changes are made this offseason.

Now, surely Avalanche-Red Wings should be fun right?  For years this was the premiere rivalry in sports.  Not just the NHL, but in sports.  Every playoff series these teams squared off in during the late 90s and early 2000s was extremely intense.  The rivalry had everything: bloody fights, close games, great players on both sides, nasty trash talk and a true hatred among the fans.  In recent years as the Avalanche have faded into relative mediocrity and the NHL has faded into complete obscurity, the rivalry has died.  Despite the fact the Avalanche don’t stack up well with the Wings as a six seed this year, I still couldn’t contain my excitement for this rivalry to be renewed with another playoff meeting.  Surely an intense Avs-Wings series could at least be some small help in getting the NHL back on the mainstream sports landscape right?  How could you not get excited about Sakic, Forsberg and several of the old names squaring off against their nemesis?  Well, that too is short lived.  Forsberg has missed the first two games of the series with an apparent groin injury, and the Avs have been outscored 9-4 in losing the first two games of the series.  Jose Theodore has proved he is no Patrick Roy, having been angrily yanked from the first two games after giving up four goals in each one (all in a total of less than four periods of playing time in the two games).  The Avs look hopelessly outmanned, and while I was not at all familiar with the Wings’ Johan Franzen, I now despise him as much as I despised Darren McCarty in the old days after Franzen has lit the Avs up for five goals in the first two games.  Maybe a return to the Pepsi Center Tuesday will help the Avs, after all this is still a seven game series and the Avs have a chance to even things with a couple of wins at home.  It’s not quite like the Nuggets where the chance is zero percent.  Still, goaltending is what wins playoff series, and Theodore is shaky at best right now.  As great as he was in the first round against Minnesota (and he basically won the series for them) he has been awful in round two.  Will Peter Budaj be in net for game three?  The fact that this is even a question does not bode well for the Avalanche.  One thing in hockey though is that a playoff series can turn on a dime.  It actually happened for the Avs against Detroit in the 1999 second round.  Detroit blasted the Avs in the first two games at old McNichols Sports Arena, only to see Colorado win four straight, including three at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.  The Avalanche can only hope that history will repeat itself this week, and that they don’t end up following the Nuggets by getting unceremoniously broomed out of the playoffs. 

At least the Broncos had what appears to be a good draft.  That discussion will be saved for another time, because it doesn’t seem quite fair to lump that with a depressing weekend of bad sports all the way around.  That is, unless the rest of the weekend is an omen and these guys all prove to be busts in three years.  Hopefully that won’t prove to be the case. 

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