Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Shifting Gears

Despite popular belief, we are all still alive. I don't know about the rest of you, but I needed a break after that Miami-Dallas series. I took a few days off. Not three, not four, not five, not six...not seven. Throwing the NHL Stanley Cup Finals into the mix was almost more than I could handle, but I pushed through. I think in a daze I might have even scored a goal on Roberto Luongo, but I don't have time to look back on all the goals he allowed while everyone insisted he is the best goaltender in the Western Conference.

That's all beside the point. Realignment. In baseball. I dare say there are few people more excited about this that I am. Maybe Bud Selig reads my stuff (and is trying to steal my idea), but I doubt it. As a matter of fact, I'm still trying to figure out how he plans on having five teams from each league make the playoffs. Unless the team with the best record automatically advances to the LCS, I don't see how that would work, but hey, who am I to ask questions? I'm just a fan.

Of course, that is not going to stop me from putting my opinions out there in the unlikely event that Mr. Selig comes across our lowly corner of the blogosphere. Now, anyone who has read back far enough, knows that I hate the fact that the Brewers are in the National League, but that isn't the main issue here today. That just stems from my general dislike of Bud Selig (who chose to move the team that he owns to a different league in order to boost revenue) and the fact that the leagues are uneven. I like symmetry. Sue me.

The word on the street is that if Major League Baseball does eventually realign, the Astros will jump to the AL West in an effort to foster an in-state rivalry with the Rangers. It certainly is not the stupidest idea I have ever heard. I also read that the Marlins could be in the mix to switch leagues (more on that later). I'm all for rivalries and making the game better for the fans, I'm just not sure Dallas-Houston is the way to go. But who else could it really be? Marlins-Rays? Royals-Cardinals? Dodgers-Angels? None of those really get me excited either. Of course, the Twins and the Brewers could be a nice rivalry, but I think we all know that isn't going to happen. However it works out, I'm just glad Major League Baseball is finally going to do this. I just wish they would do it according to my plan.

It seems the new MLB plan is to break up the divisions entirely and just have two leagues. I wouldn't go that far. I'd say to keep the three divisions in each league, five teams per division. Three division winners still make the playoffs, plus one wild-card (start the debate). However, if MLB wants to place less emphasis on divisions, why not cut down on the number of games played against one's division. Realistically, each team would have to play more divisional games to justify keeping the divisions and crowning champions, but why so many? Four series, two home, two away, for a total of twelve games. So far, that's 48. Every team should also play every other team in two series. Quick math would give you a total of 198 games, but I'm shooting for less. Here's how I would do it.

As we all know, I hate interleague play because it's meaningless. And as Brewers' manager Ron Roenicke pointed out the other day, it tends to be unfair. This is starting to sound an awful lot like something I've read before. So here's what I propose: every AL team plays every NL team twice, one series at home, once on the road. The catch, however, is that each series can only be two games. If anyone is adventurous enough to attempt to make up a mock schedule for a season, more power to you, and you might even discover that what I am suggesting is impossible, though I don't think it is. So 60 more games gets us to 108. The other 60 (yes, I am adding 6 games to the current schedule) come from playing the other ten teams in your league, but outside your division, six games each.

With this schedule, teams would be playing a totally balanced schedule. No one would complain that interleague isn't fair. Roenicke can go back to being a nobody. Selig can keep his Brewers right where he wants them. We are GUARANTEED a World Series rematch, and preview, every season. Rivalries stay intact. New rivalries can actually form. And if it is the Marlins (who are changing their name to the Miami Marlins next season) switch to the American League, the hologram from Back to the Future Part II could actually be right, and we could see the Cubs defeat Miami in the 2015 World Series.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

This Guy - "OK So I Needed a Day to Chill! Back Off!" Edition

I know what some of you are thinking: That “general sports blog named after a baseball reference” (which makes no sense to be general, right? “Focus on baseball!” Yeah I get that sometimes) really sucks for not posting about the NY status in each of the NHL and NBA playoffs. Well folks, you’re in for some treat then. I needed a day to calm down, realize they are both still only sports (and one of which I didn’t care about all that much since #33 played center for them) and yes, the “This guy will not pay my rent” principle still holds fast. By the way, the "this guy" game is still on. If you don’t write here, and can figure out all of the “this guy” pictures, you win something (to be named later). Last week’s article, I got zero replies, so I don’t expect much from you idiots. Impress me!

Blogging 101 – most bloggers who have 50 readers or less (a very generous number for us because on our busiest days we are around 30-50 unique views) write purely for themselves (therapy) and a few other die hard friends (in this case other writers I already talk sports with - group therapy). I’m fine with that – this will help me center my chi. Unless of course more of you jerks post all over my facebook page about how my teams suck and yours rule. I will find, and kill you. This is therapy for me, not anger management. (Just kidding! Bring it! But not like this guy did his last fight, I mean really bring it!)

Okay, enough prequel. Dammit the NY teams completely shit the bed! As you all know, basketball is not my forte. I watched the Knicks 8 times this year (including all 4 playoff games, not in entirety). This is 8 more times than the last 5 years combined, and probably the last 10 as well. It is time to relax for Knicks fans for a change. The only thing they’ll miss from that blockbuster trade to get Melo are the draft picks. You now have 2 superstar players to put pieces around. If CP3 REALLY signs after next season, they will be a true big 3. Aside: I hate that – “big 3.” You know, in basketball we have had a big 3, a new big 3, a fab 4, the twin towers, etc… you know what they called Jordan’s bulls? Kobe’s Lakers? Nothing I can think of... except the word DYNASTY has bounced around a lot. Sorry, I digress. The front office needs to insert a few people to the team are not on the current team at all. You know the kind who have actual talent and poise (minus a select VERY few who can stay). Bottom line – the road looks better ahead. The Knicks have screwed the pooch before though, just ask the garden faithful if they like this guy anymore. So don’t completely relax, just relax a bit.

DISCLAIMER: (This next section may get long winded as this was my favorite team in awhile this year and I am sad to see them go – skip it and just look for a clue if you’re playing “this guy.” You’ve been warned if you hate hockey talk.)

I have read every NY Rangers article under the sun since their game 5 bounce a day before the Knicks’ exit. Some are way too negative, some are way too positive. I am going to tell it how it is in my eyes. Our coach John Tortorella was just reportedly given a 3 year extension. I really like this front office move. Torts is able to extract all of the talent from these kids that is possible. This is HIS team. He shows patience with them, and seems to put them in a position to succeed, only to demand perfection and settle for a hard work ethic. He knows what he is working with – in fact at the exit interviews, he simply said the words at one point: “We need more talent.” However, this is not to say the team didn’t earn all 44 of their regular season wins. Arguably, they “should have won” at least 1 other game against the Caps as well (and gotten me to game 6 at MSG!). I’m not all for “we beat ourselves” as much as I am for “we let them beat us,” but the series is over, and Ovechkin is still a piece of Russian trash - like this guy (character name is fine in the movie). This team of line 2 to line 4 forwards (with the exception of 1 and maybe 1/2) and a group of good and young defensive defenseman with a WORLD of potential in front of them, achieved more than what a lot of people pegged them for. If Gabby can right himself for next season, and everyone else progresses naturally and can stay major injury free for next season, we are looking at a 2-3 round dive into these same playoffs. There is speculation they will be (and perhaps should be) in the Brad Richards bidding war. Torts coached him to a cup with Tampa, and will want him to anchor the Gabby line at center (since no one else at center can do it). Richards can be a playmaker and put the puck in the net – he would be a great first line guy to pair with Gaborik and someone like Dubi or Callahan (if you want to break them up as a solid second line). This changes the team instantly. However, the team must also bring back Cally & Dubi, presumably on raises (be about 5-6 mil of the 16 mil total cap space), A.A. would be smart to resign as well, and guys like Boyle, Sauer and Fedotenko are FA as well. What will be interesting is who stays and goes next season. A team in surplus of middle of the pack players will ditch some of them. I'm sure someone won't be here that we all will miss (Gilroy? Christensen? Boyle?). And don’t forget Boogy’s contract that was on the IR the entire season (seemingly) after getting rocked in the head a few times in a fight. Need to clear way for that waste of money don’t we? Especially if we want to go after Richards for real. This guy should be crucified for that contract as well as many others. Long story a bit shorter: this season, while disappointing we couldn’t play upset to a true contender like I had hoped, the Rangers ended up pretty much where I expected them. Check here (http://sterlingshakers.blogspot.com/2010/09/breaking-ice.html) if you don’t believe me. Just read the last paragraph of that post. It was my first ever SS post, and it is proving that I am more of a prophet than a blogger. I am awesome and will not grant you any wishes unless you play the "this guy" game. Oh, for the record, I am very happy with the season as a whole for the NYR, and think they can honestly only better themselves from here. Watching these kids progress in their careers has been a treat and I really just hope it amounts to something in the future soon.

A short conclusion to this whole mess: Garden faithful alike, both on ice and the hard wood, have the future to look forward to for each team. Will we ever see 1994 again? I’m not sure, but in the near future, we have plenty to be hopeful for. Heck, maybe they’ll say 1994 was a joke compared to 201*. When it all boils down to it, at least we’re not this guy or his team’s fans. We’d have a lot more to bitch about.

Friday, April 15, 2011


Here's a short list of quirky things I have noticed and a few things that just get under my skin. A lot of them deal with the way things are named.

Why is it that in football, the halfback plays behind the fullback? Shouldn't he be between the fullback and the quarterback? I'm fine with the lack of a 75%-back, seeing as that role is usually played by Cedric Benson.

When a team changes cities, and the original name is meaningful to the region, there should be a new name. For example, there is no reason for the basketball team in Utah to be called the Jazz. When they were the New Orleans Jazz, it made sense. I doubt there is as big a jazz culture in Salt Lake City. I also doubt very much that most of the residents of Los Angeles have ever even seen a lake, so maybe when the team moved from Minneapolis, there should have been a name change.

The Brewers should have never switched to the National League. I'll never let that one go. See here for more.

Hockey is played on ice. That's just always seemed odd to me.

If I hear the word “adversity” on SportsCenter anymore, my head may very well explode. I've never done a word count or anything, but that has to be the most over-used term on ESPN. Everyone who has ever had a cold is praised for “fighting through adversity.” It dulls the idea for when people have real problems. Anthony Robles, the kid from Arizona State who won the wrestling championship even though he only has one leg, went through adversity. The fact that Ohio State will be without its quarterback and head coach for a few games is not adversity—it's a punishment for breaking the rules.

The ACC is the only one of the six major college conferences to not have a team nicknamed the Wildcats.

What's with the Blue Jays' pitchers wearing single-digit uniform numbers? Josh Towers wore #7 a few years ago and now Kyle Drabek (who was part of the Halladay deal) wears #4. Before these two guys, the last pitcher I can remember wearing a single-digit number was Jeff Juden (yes, I had to look up his name, but I remembered he wore #7 for the Indians). According to Wikipedia, David Wells wore #3 for the Red Sox, though I don't recall the Boomer doing so. By the way, Drabek's father Doug wore #15 for most of his career (except when he was with the Yankees since Munson's #15 is retired).

That's all for now. Enjoy the playoffs.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

This Guy - First Edition

The ball season is now in swing for 2 weeks, the NHL playoffs kicked off last night, and the NBA playoffs are about to start. I figure it is about time I cover some topics briefly that are trending. Instead of going with my allerative term "trending topics" I went with a surprise because I am in a good mood today. I think I will call this segment “this guy” and see if it catches on. If you know the names of all of “these guys” – please feel free to name them all in the comments section or on facebook/twitter. The first to do so will win something fun pertaining to Sterling Shakers. No, you can’t be a writer here and participate you jerks.

The Red Sox are awful. Not even the people who predicted they won’t win the AL East (who are rarer than perfect March Madness brackets it seems) could predict they’d start this bad. Is it really early? Yes. Does this pose a long term problem for the club? Not entirely at all. If we need to revisit this topic again in June, they have problems then. Personally, I’m also shocked at how the “AL’s Best Rotation” (as dubbed by others) is shitting the bed, and Carl Crawford hasn’t done anything noteworthy. The talent will come around if it is really there, and there is no denying that it is. Boston is probably screaming for another series against the Yankees ASAP (it always brings out the best in them). Hey Sox fans, at least this guy isn’t your manager anymore.

The Rays are (by their record) slightly less awful. I would actually take, with good odds for you, pretty much any wager you want to make that the Red Sox finish with a better record than at least the Rays. That isn't what I am here to talk about. Manny Ramirez is the most famous quitter since this guy. I could have went so many ways (there were great baseball pics of him)– but the 45 NBA jersey was like “Really man?” Anyways, let’s not pretend Manny was at his prime like the first retirement of "that guy", or like Barry Sanders in 1999 (in case you're confused as to who "that guy" is - if so please play in traffic). He had a great second half 2 or 3 years ago with LA, but that was the last anyone saw of Manny's awesome bat. The fact is that if his 50 game suspension a few years back didn’t do it, this definitely put him on a lot of people’s S-lists for the history books. And with no explanation other than “I don’t wanna be suspended, or prove them wrong (cause I can't), so I quit.” Tell me you believe Manny just wasn’t in it for the money and personal gain any more and I have a bridge for sale.

The NY Rangers (it will be brief) are down 0-1 in their series against #1 ranked Washington. Ovechkin (read as: fuckfacedouchebag) and his mates outmatched the Rangers last night but still only won by an OT goal. I love the way this Rangers team plays defense, (think kamikaze style at the puck), and if Hank can be that solid in net, we have a great chance still to play upset to Washington. We just need to wake up the sticks and put some pucks in the net. Perhaps we can talk this guy into getting us his secret recipe to wake up his bats to use on the sticks. (character name please, not his real name).

Lastly, my Yankees are doing better than I pegged them to out of the gate. AJ is 3-0 through 2 and ½ really shaky outings – but we’ll take it. Our bullpen only completely imploded once (twice perhaps - your call) so far so I’m happy about that. I will not make many specific comments to avoid going on too too long, but I am happy and extremely excited for their pen all season. I hoped Russell Martin would contribute to the offense and he has so far. Tex, Posada, and Jeter are all seemingly without a hit again for their last 200 at bats (if you listen to the media - but they're struggling a bit at the dish). The pen with Logan being useless right now and Feliciano out for a bit longer has still held up okay - but we'll be better against lefties with everyone back in form and health. They've STILL managed to win games despite the individual struggles. The team is producing as a team. When things come around and really click, you have to love the way the team will look. I’m out, like this guy. (both names please)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

What do to with rejected home run balls

While at Wrigley, I inquired with one of my neighbors about what gets done with balls thrown back from the bleachers. To my disgust (but not my suprise), it seems many of the bleacher bums bring a ball with them into the stadium to throw back instead of the one they caught. I suppose that is true some of the time, but how are we to assume this is always the case? NOTHING angers me more at a baseball game than to see a loyal fan in the outfield toss a tainted home run ball back on to the field, only to have some ball ball or umpire give it to someone sitting in the box seats. GRRRRRR. Are you kidding? First off, that thing is tainted. If you are a fan of the Cubs, why would you want it? Second of all, that ball has been rejected by a fan. It should be destroyed. Personally, I'd like to see it burned shortly thereafter, perhaps during the break between innings. Could you see the annonuncement: "To ensure that this ball will never hurt the Cubs again, we are burning it, and you all are witnesses." I can tell you that if I knew the ball I threw back would be burned in effigy, I would throw it back in a heartbeat (not a home team home run, obviously). I did get an opportuinity to witness firsthand what happens to balls thrown back. Lyle Overbay hit one into the right field stands (not sure those are bleachers - they were not packed like the other bleachers were), and the ball was soon thrown back (assuming it was the same ball). It landed near the Pirates' bullpen, where the ump picked it up and handed it to a Pirate pitcher, who gave it to someone in the stands (who could have been a Pirates fan). The fact that this is not policed is disturbing to me. Why should I care about this? Because I have never gotten near a ball in my life of going to games. I KNOW how rare it is to get an opportunity to get one. For a fan to throw one back, he is giving up a LOT. Letting someone else have the ball, even some kid, is just WRONG. A burning ceremony is the only solution. Now, about those pesky people who bring balls into the game: just don't allow them to. Of course, the fascinating thing about Wrigley is, they didn't search me. I could have had all the whiskey in the world with me. Ah well, next time.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Now I know why the Cubs never win the World Series (The Art of the Heckle)

Yours truly had the privilege of sitting fifth row behind the Pirates' dugout on Saturday at (mildly) windswept Wrigley Field. It is a tiny place, even tinier than Fenway. Yes, it IS as awesome as you think it is. I wonder if the buildings across Waveland (pronounced Wavelind, not land) Avenue have to pay anything to the Cubs for the bleachers they have on top of them.

That's Waveland there in the right picture - a lot wider than you think it would be. Just over my head there, you can locate some bleachers on the building.

From the other picture, you can see how close I was to the field. In the empty seat right next to my head in the front row, an old lady was sitting keeping score when the game started. She is apparently a regular, and she kept the crowd entertained throughout.

But where was the heckling? I mean, we are RIGHT there. You could spit on the players if you needed to. I heard NOTHING. Now true, it was the Pirates, not the Cards, but c'mon! Don't these fans want to win? Don't they know that your duty, as a fan, is to heckle the other team? To get inside their players' heads? To make them lose concentration?

I spent the majority of the game talking with my fellow game goers about this and that. Honestly, heckling the Pirates is like shooting fish in a barrel. I refrained from anything, as I figured maybe heckling was against the law or something. Then, the bottom of the 8th began, and the Pirates brought in a pitcher named "Meek." I just could not pass this up. Meek? Are you kidding? For a PITCHER? These screams for heckling. It's a heckler's dream come true!

What does Meek do? He walks the first guy he faces. "Hey Meek, don't be AFRAID to throw strikes!" "You look kind of SCARED out there, MEEK!" Two batters into this performance, I realize Meek has no chance. No one warming up yet. This is going to be too fun. Then Overbay at first makes an error, and I am really getting on Meek. "You think anyone wants to catch a ball for you, Meek?" After an out is finally recorded: "Hey Meek, maybe you WILL inherit the earth after all!"

Now Meek's got first and second for Soriano. "Don't throw him a fastball, Meek! He lives for first pitch fastballs! Better throw him that curveball!" Meek throws a curveball. Soriano swings and misses. "Come right back with that, Meek!" Soriano takes this time. Meek shows some balls and throws a fastball. Blows it by him. Throws another fastball, Soriano is late. "Well, Meek, he was late on your fastball. Usually means you throw him another until he proves he can get around on you. But this is Soriano. What do you do?!" No bull shit, Meek steps off the rubber. I am in a frenzy. Meek is mine! Next pitch is some kind of slow bull shit I don;t know what and Soriano clobbers into right. Goodbye, Meek. Welcome Resop. Resop?!?!? That's Poser spelled backwards! The Pirates - the gift that keeps on giving. Byt the time I am doen with the Pirates, they have gone from a 3-0 lead to a 5-3 deficit. The Cubs should hire me.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

My Guess

Before I make my standings prediction, let's go with the most important prediction: what will Sterling say for a Russel Martin home run? I have two possibilities: Oh, Russel, you DO the Hustle. Or, Oh Russel, you're my favorite Martin! Predictions?

The Phillies can't overcome a lack of hitting and miss the playoffs. I remind you that this is a team that was shut out by the METS 4 times last year.

The Mets show that they have a lineup and enough pitching to stay in race. In mid season, Wilpons sell team to Hank Steinbrenner, who is pissed that younger brother Hal gets all the spotlight and does all the talking for the Yankees. Yammerin' Hank makes all the right midseason moves, acquires Soriano from the Yankees, and the Mets make a push for it
- Hide quoted text -

Reds show the promise of last year was not a false one. They lose first World Series game since the 70's.

Twins get to avoid the Yankees in the playoffs and finally go some place. Win World series by winning all four home games (I guess this means I am predicting an American League victory in the All Star Game).

The Sawx discover that importing a player from San Diego, a la Ed Whitson, is ALWAYS a bad strategy for an Al East team.

Here's the National League:

Who else is in this division?

Who else is in this division?
Wild Card: Mets

Giants over Mets in 5
Reds over Braves in 5
Reds over Giants in 6


Blue Jays



Wild Card: Yanks
Rangers over Yanks in 4
Twins over Rays in 5
Twins over Rangers in 6

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Challenge Accepted

I applaud my good friend for throwing down a challenge which he must know he can't win.  The Brewers of 2011 are the Mariners of 2010 (except they won't be quite as painful to watch and won't have the Cy Young winner at year's end).  I'm hearing lots of hype, but remember that the Brew Crew finished 16 games behind the Reds a year ago.  I don't see them making up all that ground in 2011.  I'm also not ready to write off the defending champs and their rotation.  I'm not sure how the Phillies are going to be two games worse than they were last season, so I have them as the only squad to hit 100 wins.  Other than that, our numbers are pretty close, so it should be interesting.  Also, think I deserve 100 bonus points if I correctly predict the one-game playoff between Atlanta and Colorado for the NL Wild Card.

Either way, here are the correct answers (2010 final record and division finish in parentheses):

American League
1. Boston Red Sox: 97-65 (89-73, 3rd)
2. New York Yankees: 93-69 (95-76, 2nd)
3. Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays: 84-78 (96-66, 1st)
4. Toronto Blue Jays: 79-83 (85-77, 4th)
5. Baltimore Orioles: 70-92 (66-96, 5th)

1. Minnesota Twins: 93-69 (94-68, 1st)
2. Chicago White Sox: 90-72 (88-74, 2nd)
3. Detroit Tigers: 79-83 (81-81, 3rd)
4. Cleveland Indians: 64-98 (69-93, 4th)
5. Kansas City Royals: 58-104 (67-95, 5th)

1. Oakland Athletics: 87-75 (81-81, 2nd)
2. Los Angeles (nee Anaheim) Angels: 86-76 (80-82, 3rd)
3. Texas Rangers: 85-77 (90-72, 1st)
4. Seattle Mariners: 71-91 (61-101, 4th)

National League
1. Philadelphia Phillies: 101-61 (97-65, 1st)
2. Atlanta Braves: 89-74 (91-71, 2nd)
3. New York Mets: 80-82 (79-83, 4th)
4. Florida Marlins: 76-86 (80-82, 3rd)
5. Washington Nationals: 71-91 (69-93, 5th)

1. Cincinnati Reds: 93-69 (91-71, 1st)
2. Milwaukee Brewers: 84-78 (77-85, 3rd)
3. St. Louis Cardinals: 81-81 (86-76, 2nd)
4. Houston Astros: 73-89 (76-86, 4th)
5. Chicago Cubs: 70-92 (75-87, 5th)
6. Pittsburgh Pirates: 55-107 (57-105, 6th)

1. San Francisco Giants: 91-71 (92-70, 1st)
2. Colorado Rockies: 89-73 (83-79, 3rd)
3. San Diego Padres: 84-78 (90-72, 2nd)
4. Los Angeles Dodgers: 76-86 (80-82, 4th)
5. Arizona Diamondbacks: 62-100 (65-97, 5th)

Colorado Rockies over Atlanta Braves in one-game playoff

American League Division Series
Boston Red Sox over Oakland Athletics (3-0)
Minnesota Twins over New York Yankees (3-2)

National League Division Series
Philadelphia Phillies over San Francisco Giants (3-1)
Colorado Rockies over Cincinnati Reds (3-1)

American League Championship Series
Boston Red Sox over Minnesota Twins (4-1)

National League Championship Series
Philadelphia Phillies over Colorado Rockies (4-0)

World Series
Philadelphia Phillies over Boston Red Sox (4-1)

Two things: 1) I don't want to hear any nonsense from Yankee fans that I didn't pick them to win it all.  My wedding cake was an interlocking "NY", and 2) I like my steak medium-rare.

Winning, duh.

Pre Opening Day Predictions & A Challenge

I know what you all want. You want another set of predictions for the way the MLB season will play out this year. Well let me save you the time of watching all of the games. The Yankees win it in the end. However, to make it fun and see if I'm right, I challenge the newly married Starving Waiter and the same old Grau Geist to a stand off. Post your own predictions! We can do a points system to see who’s the best. Let's use a system I’m going to make up on the spot (literally). For every place you’re off (you say the Mariners will finish 4th and they finish first) – its minus 5 points. For every game you’re off, it is minus a point (you think the sox will win 100 games, and they win 99 or 101, its minus 1 for you). Then for playoffs, we’ll simply do if you pick a correct winner of a series, it’s +10. A correct AL/NL winner equals +20 and correct WS winner, +30. The man with the most points (or least negative points most likely), like in golf, will win.

Wait, you think you can do better? Challenge accepted. If anyone else not a writer for this blog wants to get in on this, you’re more than welcome to copy the following template into a really long message below (or drop me an e-mail before opening day tomorrow at MLAZanoni@gmail.com). If anyone out there beats me, I will take you to dinner. I will pick the place, but you get a free dinner on me at the end of the regular season (no fast food, real dinner). So come on! It is worth a shot!

AL East
Red Sox: 94-68
Yankees: 93-69
Rays: 88-74
Jays: 80-82
O’s: 74-88

AL Central
Twins: 85-77
Chi Sox: 83-79
Tigers: 83-79
Royals: 70-92
Indians: 67-95

AL West
A’s: 88-74
Rangers: 85-77
Angels: 82-80
M’s: 72-90

NL East
Phillies: 95-67
Braves: 90-72
Mets: 82-80
Marlins: 80-82
Nats: 69-93

NL Central
Brewers: 90-72
Reds: 86-76
Cards: 84-78
Cubs: 78-84
‘Stros: 71-91
Pirates: 62-100

NL West
Rockies: 88-74
Giants: 86-76
Padres: 82-80
Dodgers: 73-89
D-backs: 70-92

ALDS: Rex Sox over Twins, Yanks over A’s
NLDS: Phils over Rockies, Brewers over Braves

ALCS: Yanks over Sox
NLCS: Brewers over Phils

WS: Yanks over Brewers

Seriously – MLAZanoni@gmail.com with your picks. I will honor them and buy you dinner if you (while adhering to my made up points system above) beat me by the end of the season. You too writers – I would gladly eat dinner with you guys as long as you return the favor if I win. Oh and click the like button so your friends can do it too.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

4 Sport Buffet

I know it has been awhile. I have broken my new year’s resolution to you all, but for it to have lasted this long was a miracle. I simply haven’t had the time or inspiration at work to hammer one of these out. If I feel like I’m forcing something, it probably isn’t much fun to read either. I actually had an article typed about my views on the NCAA tournament, but I do realize a lot of you that follow it religiously would have laughed at my weak knowledge. So here are my four extended blurbs for the day.

NCAA hoops prove to be the most entertaining thing around for most sports fans right now. Somehow in one of my brackets I picked 12 of these sweet 16 teams, and have a pretty high potential to score a lot more points having my final 4 intact. I think my personal best before this was 9 or 10 with 3 teams in the FF left. If anyone wants to see my bracket, I will gladly send them an autographed copy. Okay fine, I know it isn’t world record winning, but for a guy who starts watching college ball in late February and ends at the end of the tourney, I bet a lot of you are jealous with your busted brackets.

Speaking of the New York Rangers (snuck that in there) – they are on a 5 game win streak after a gritty 1-0 win last night against the Florida Panthers. King Henrik pitched his NHL leading 10th shutout of the season last night and it couldn’t have come at a better time. The Rangers need these wins to assure they at least maintain a #7 ranking going into the playoffs, but ideally can move up to #6 in order to avoid the 1 and 2 seeds in the first round (Flyers and Caps as it stands now - a point away from each other). Rangers hockey isn’t pretty hockey, but the last 5 games they have really woken up and played as a team. I am excited to see if they can upset one of these higher seeds moving towards the postseason.

Baseball is right around the corner. Opening day is happier than Christmas for me and lacks the snow… okay USUALLY lacks the snow. The Yankees are limping in hurting a bit with Granderson most recently straining an oblique. Also, Cervelli broke a foot and won’t be there to start the year as backup. I can imagine Posada being the only backup on the roster to start the season unless Montero shows he can hit in these next few games. I was really looking forward to seeing what this kid Montero was going to look like at the dish only to be disappointed with a bad average and only 2 doubles and 0 HR all spring. I am not too scared as it will work itself out for the club this year. Watch out for Jeter’s game to rebound, Cano to get better as he hits his true prime, and the rotation to exceed expectations (which aren’t that high) – among other things.

Lastly, the NFL is making noise. No, we have no confirmed 2011-12 season yet, BUT we have “fixed” a few things. We will now see more touchbacks due to moving up the kickoff spot (and I’m pretty sure the guys with big legs will be making the occasional "field goal"). Nice work guys – almost got that new CBA worked out I see. The last thing I want to hear as I’m dozing off on my couch is Joshua Cribbs and Devin Hester complaining via cell phone about how they won’t get as many chances to return a kickoff anymore. They had to be C- students at best. I do agree with them, I love kickoff returns - but mostly for those brusing hits they usually take when caught with nowhere to go. Why not just let teams with big leg kickers place the ball on the 20 for the other team and save the time. Oh right, commercial time before and after the kick. Lastly, it has also been said that there is no desire for replacement players if the lockout continues into the regular season. Aw man! I was looking forward to seeing this guy under center again some day.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A New Yankees Team to be Excited For

With the beloved Andy Pettitte retiring, the aging Posada serving a DH role, Jeter hitting 37 years old this June and coming off his worst statistical season, and Rivera hitting 40 – one needs to get a little excited. Yes, I said excited. The Yankees and their 4 winning teams from 1996-2000 had a lot in common. Their names, in no particular order, were Posada, Pettitte, Jeter, Rivera & Bernie Williams. Also probably the last Yankees to ever wear 20, 46, 2, 42, and 51. Yes, Posada wasn’t the true backup catcher (only 8 games and bat .071) in 1996, but he was there. The core was in place of this young blossoming talent that was drafted or originally signed by the Yanks.

In the early 90’s, the Yankees raised a few solid players and used their funds and a few other prospects as trade bait to build completely around them. With the exception of Tino Martinez and Paul O’Neil, I think you can argue that these “home grown players” have always been the most popular with the fans. Something is just so awesome about saying that you were at the stadium during someone’s rookie season. Then you watched him win a world series - or two - or five. And now, that you are currently watching what may amount to be the last meaningful season, pitch, or at bat of that player. Every time you have seen a player make any play over their entire career – it was for your favorite ball club (let’s forget Andy went to Houston for awhile – like a divorced mother my friends just told me Andy was “away on business” for those three years). While we’re not there yet with Jeter, Posada, or Rivera just yet (knock on wood), we just watched Andy throw his last pitch in pinstripes. The good money is on him getting the biggest ovation at old timer’s day this season.

Before I continue, let me first say that I will miss these guys more than you will. I tend to talk about past games I’ve been to or seen. A lot. Nothing means more to me as a fan than showing someone I not only care now, but I have cared for as long as I can remember. I am so impressed with old timers who say they’ve watched the greats and were at games during the ’61 season where Maris hit home runs. With that said, I am excited to see these current guys go out with their rings, their hall of fame careers, and legacies that I will tell to my children like my father has told me tales of Mantle, Munson, and Jackson. Now, I will say that I am possibly more excited watching some of these kids play than I am watching the same old guys win another series. Yes, I would rather both. It would be great if the old guys and the new guys can win another series. And I know that the odds are that prospects, even when solid players in the minors, aren’t going to be your next franchise player and future hall of famer. Cano, Gardner, Hughes, Nova, Montero and even still Chamberlain look as if they can be the beginning of a new young core.

Cano you may say is not in the same category as the others. True. But neither was Bernie Williams. Bernie was the senior officer of that group. A link to the Mattingly era where a trip to the playoffs was unheard of. He was the one to show success before the other kids showed up to the party. He showed them that it could be done. You can achieve respect from fans and other players as a young player if you just keep working and getting better. Hughes is getting better as he ages and his consistency and longevity over the course of a full season will hopefully improve. We were hoping for Joba to be the next closer, but it seems the Yankees and/or his eating habits have retarded his progress. Still, he has the potential to be completely lights out for the long haul. If he can find that slider every time out and still not fall too much in love with it, he is almost unhittable. Gardner is the only one left with moderate big league success. While he is a completely different breed than anyone else we’ve seen come up in recent times. He definitely has tools the Yankees love. Only batting .280 or so this spring, his OBP is at .500. Who goes to spring training to practice taking walks? I love it. Much less is known about how Nova and even Montero (who may or may not see much action this season) our stud catching prospect will turn out. Nova can turn out to be a solid starter, and Montero could be better than Posada. They both can also fizzle as soon as they get their chances only to be known as the latest to not be able to hack it. (Side note – Nunez looks like he’ll be a fun replacement for Jeter if they don’t trade him and let him blossom. Ramiro Pena has to feel the heat behind him as the utility guy)

All I know is that I am excited to see a lot of these kids get a chance to really shine. I love World Series wins just like the next guy. The Yankees may not win a series this year, but we will definitely see some guys get their shot to show their hunger to make the future brighter. OR, knowing the history of this team, we’ll see Montero, Nova, and Hughes packaged up for another ace in the rotation. However, it seems as if (GM) Brian Cashman and the Yankees know that they can’t buy an entire team – they have to raise part of it too – or else I’m sure most of these kids would be gone. I really just think the organization has to get more realistic and stop saying every year is a goal to win the series. We had that luxary for awhile. Now it is their job to build a young enough team from our guys and some spare parts to try and repeat the success of the last decade and a half. I am not saying lose games for it, they can afford not to. Just don't go selling the future just yet.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

I Don't Care About Your Boycott

I should not be hearing about the 2012 Olympics yet. Thanks to the fine folks in Iran, however, I got to hear about a potential boycott. And for what? Because they think the logo kinda-sorta looks like the word “Zion?” You can see the logo here and decide for yourself what it looks like. If you ask me, it looks like it says “2012,” though I was never good at those Rorschach inkblot tests.

What I really want to know is why anybody cares that Iran might not play in to Olympics. If the Americans don't play, that's news. If the Australian swimmers aren't going to show up, that's news. If Usain Bolt decides he isn't going to race, that's news. Iran boycotting the Olympics because they don't like Jewish people is not news. It's crazy. And it should not affect anyone's day-to-day existence.

The Olympics are about national pride and rooting for your country. If you have a staunch hatred for an entire group of people, then you probably should not be allowed to participate. We don't need another Munich on our hands. Since the IOC apparently has no qualms about these countries competing, however, it would be nice to see them all get lumped into the American bracket—in every sport. I want to see the United States play Iran, North Korea, and Libya in everything. Hell, it's been thirty years and people still talk about the Miracle on Ice. Why not showcase a 145-30 beat-down against Kim Jong Il's boys in basketball or watch some Iranian try to do the doggy-paddle against Michael Phelps? Let us continue to beat down our enemies in sports. And let them blame their inferiority on a logo. Until then, keep the hate-mongering off ESPN.

Iran, by the way has won a grand total of 44 medals (of any kind) in its entire Olympic history. The United States won 36 golds in Beijing alone. We have almost 2300 total medals in the Summer Games. And in case anyone was wondering, the only sport Iran qualified for in 2012 is Shooting, in which the USA has taken home gold 50 times. Go figure.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Three Trending Topics (now with links to other references!)

The Melo Trade

Okay so I know you know both sides of the trade. The main argument seems to be, “how do you trade all those pieces for “’one guy’?” Here’s how I think. Felton was only signed through this season. Chandler’s contract is up too, and the Knicks couldn’t possibly afford him and pursue Melo (assuming he wasn’t traded and locked up elsewhere first). The Knicks weren’t winning this year with their current team anyway – they need more pieces. Billups is the secondary player who matters in this deal because he’ll start at PG, is a former finals MVP, and at 34 y/o brings a face to the team that has been there before. His nickname with the Pistons was “Mr. Big Shot” for a reason. He will cancel out not having Felton (who in my opinion the Knicks would have overpaid long term for – he was sold high I believe), if not add a different dynamic to the game with his experience and shooting ability behind the arc.

Anthony is a superstar capable of things that would take any 2 (at least) of the guys traded to contribute to the team on the offensive side. It takes pressure off Amare to be the lone ranger in some games where they won’t win unless he gets 40. The draft picks the Knicks gave up are hopefully not good ones as they plan to stay in contention in the East. Finally, they moved Curry and Randolph out. Assuming the Knicks signed Melo in the offseason instead, they pretty much would still only have Felton (overpaid & given he resigned), Gallo, and Mosgov. With Billups being solid for at least 2 years WITH a buyout clause after this one, you can even make the argument the Knicks traded a few draft picks, Gallo, and Mosgov, for Melo and Chauncey (thanks Danny). How do you pass up getting a player of that caliber? I know there’s much more to it with the possible curbing of the max salary over the next offseason, signing him and giving up nothing now, etc, but as a trade, it is does not put the team in a much worse supporting role position than the offseason would have if we has just signed Melo outright. We’ll miss the guys who left, but time will show, hopefully, that this proved a worthy investment.

"The Fab 4"

I am tired of hearing about how Halladay, Lee, Oswalt, and Hamels are the best rotation ever to play together. It is not even a month since pitchers reported, and ESPN is following these guys around, asking things like if they’ve had a staff dinner yet, and seeing how competitive they’ll be against each other. ESPN: I don’t care. I’m not downplaying their talent at all, but let them pitch. Remember – Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz (and a solid 4 guy for 10 years that varied), not to mention a good lineup, only got one in 1995. Prove it guys, and then you’ll be treated like champions. The under and over on number of wins they will total is set at 65. What do you think? I’ll start taking unofficial bets. I’m betting the under and an ALDS upset bouncing because I love crying Phillies fans.

Concussions /Hits to the Head

We heard it all NFL season, and the topic is hot in the NHL now as well. There are a lot of concussions happening lately. Just last night, Marc Staal of the NY Rangers got taken out on a high hit by his own brother. He visited Eric the night before to hang out with him and his family. No one wants to seriously hurt their own sibling when you’re reportedly on good terms. As much as you’d like to make it safe for everyone to play (I hate Crosby and his concussed brain but the game needs guys with his talent), and think there should be stricter penalties/fines and better equipment for everyone to do so, it is unrealistic to ask someone to think about that when their first instinct is to win the game. These guys are competitors. I was happy with the no call to Eric Staal last night – as much as it pained me to see our best defenseman and alternate captain go down hard. It was (barely) clean. I hope no fines are/have been levied. It is a contact sport on a sheet of ice – people will get hurt. I would prefer they use a case by case basis for everything from now on with no real mandatory fines from precedents – unless someone goes all Marty McSorley.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Return of New York Hoops

I have to say, it is really nice to see basketball making such a comeback in New York. And I'm not just talking about the run the Knicks are having either. Sure, they are probably going to make the playoffs as the six-seed in the East and if they get Carmelo Anthony it would really solidify them as one of the “good teams” (though you'd hate to lose a guy like Raymond Felton). The real surprise lies in Jamaica, where the St. John's Red Storm are looking more and more like a tournament team. The latest ESPN projections have the Johnnies in as a seven-seed, carried by their quality wins over ranked Big East opponents UConn, Notre Dame, and Georgetown, and the blowout of then third-ranked Duke. Road wins at Marquette and Cincinnati are impressive as well.

Often forgotten, St. John's has historically been a force in men's college basketball. They are the 7th winningest team, totalling over 1600 wins, have 27 NCAA tournament appearances, and have the most wins among teams to have never won the big dance. They have, however, won the NIT six times. Lou Carnesecca is a coaching legend. Chris Mullin, Mark Jackson, and Ron Artest have all gone on to have very good NBA careers. So what happened to St. John's?

There was a time (not long ago either) when St. John's could recruit some of the top players from New York City high schools and keep them in the city for college. As programs like Connecticut and Pittsburgh grew, however, many of these players left New York for other schools. Players like Kemba Walker, Connecticut's star guard who went to Rice High School in Manhattan, go to the programs that are now the big names, forgetting that St. John's was also once a powerhouse. Even the starting point guard of the Florida Gators, Erving Walker, went to Christ the King High School in Queens, the same as Lakers forward LaMar Odom. Speedy Claxton, Stephon Marbury, and Jayson Williams are all products of New York, a city where basketball is in the culture from school playgrounds to Rucker Park to Madison Square Garden. It's about time the Johnnies returned to prominence, and this team, coached by Steve Lavin, could be just the spark needed to do so.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Weighing in on C.C. - Let the Fat Jokes Begin!

So you may have heard C.C. “The Franchise Left Tackle” Sabathia has neither denied nor confirmed anything about his option to cancel his contract after this season, but "hinted" that opting out is on the table. This opt out clause will be talked about all damn season, especially as it nears the end. Assuming he’s healthy all year, that is at least 34 starts we get to hear SOMETHING about it from someone in the booth, the papers, the websites, etc. This article right here will be your reference for every time someone talks about it so you can simply turn the page, channel, or ear to something more interesting. I will even tell you what he will most likely do if he is at all human with a functioning brain.

The Facts:

Carston Charles is reportedly coming into this season at the range of 270-280lbs. This is about 30 pounds LEANER than last season. He will be 31 years old this summer, not a young age for any pitcher not named Nolan Ryan (doesn’t it seem like Nolan can still pitch for Texas?). Statistically speaking, an average pitcher is reaching or already at his prime now or in the next 2 years (yes, I am aware C.C. may have eaten the average pitcher for a pregame snack a year ago, but it’s all we have to go on here. There are not many 300+ pound pitchers with success in history). His prolonged out of shape body may have deducted from his ability to pitch into his late 30’s. We simply won’t know until the time comes, but the risk is higher than someone of a more normal, less rotund, shape I’m sure.

The Yankees have no rotation to speak of without him. Sabathia is THE ace. There is no argument about that. The Yankees are dying for stability in their rotation so they don’t waste one of the best offenses money can buy for the next few seasons. Come next year, I am seeing another free agent pitching class similar to this one, minus Cliff Lee. So, pretty awful. Sabathia walking away would leave Phil Hughes or AJ Burnett to anchor a rotation. I don't see that being an ideal option.

Remember A-Rod? A-Rod opted out of his monster deal when he was eligible, for ALL of these reasons. Remember how stupid Hank Steinbrenner looked? “If he opts out we won’t negotiate with him.” Then when I showed up on the depth chart to play third base and hit in the 4 hole, they panicked and threw themselves at his mercy. 30HR and 125RBI last year isn’t bad, I don’t care who says he is declining. But he is assured to be grossly overpaid into the old times in his career. He pulled this very move to perfection, despite having an agent to announce the opt out during the World Series. Real class.

The Defense:

If you disagree with these three facts, your argument is one of two things. C.C. is currently making about $23 million a season (average value, not sure of how it is structured exactly). The Yankees attempted to court Cliff Lee for about $23.3 million a season. How much can Sabathia really stand to make if he opts out just to re-sign? The other one is - where is the honor in opting out, especially when you and your family are seemingly happy in New York? Is he really as greedy as A-Rod? He can’t be, can he? He’s a big cuddly bear isn’t he? He is loved by teammates, fans, and the media. No way he'd risk his rep, right?

Prediction (assuming a healthy/productive season):

Okay, when you weigh the facts together (no fat guy pun. ok, a little fat guy pun), and then see the reasons against, you need to know that it makes 100% sense for him to opt out and try and resign a contract, even if he wants to stay put in NY. For one, he gets a new 6-7 years to play with. This puts him at 37-38 when it will expire rather than 35. Statistically, it is much smarter to negotiate for those years while you're young in your prime at 31, not when the contract is up and you can't lock up long term deals anymore at 35. Bodies fall apart. MPH come off the fastball. Sliders flatten out. Fatigue of the arm sets in. Obesity is still a disease. All of these say the longer he pitches, the better chance he catches the injury/age bug.

Secondly, he will have the market and the Yankees by the balls. He can demand the Yankees give him what they offered Lee, if not more, to continue to anchor the rotation. Either that, or risk losing him to someone who can/will. The Yanks already proved they’re soft and don’t care about this move when they dealt with A-Rod. Why would C.C. be the final straw when their pitching is thinner than their lineup was at the time of A-Rod’s thing? Here’s an idea – don’t put options in their contracts if you don’t want them to use them! (I know A-Rod’s option wasn’t the NYY doing at first, but CC was).

Is there evidence that C.C. knows all of this and is gearing up for the same thing? Glad you asked. He seems to be in the best shape he’s been in at camp as a Yankee. The man likes to eat. To (not making this up) stop eating Captain Crunch (C.C…. hmmm interesting)and get in better shape, you have two motives: either trying to prolong your career (which is also true in this case I’m sure, he loves to pitch), and/or to stay healthy and have a good season to sign a new contract. Players don’t have career years in the last year of their contract on a regular basis by a complete accident. C.C. just seems to be gearing up for his best season as a Yankee yet. Let’s embrace that instead of look any more at next season already.

I implore everyone – fans, journalists, and the wretched commentators alike – to just stay out of it because baseball has been for awhile, a business first. C.C. will ride out the year and not talk about it much at all until the season is over I’m sure. He has class. I really hope the man feels like he owes the team and especially the fans something and has a moral obligation to complete his service. However, morals and big business usually go together like peas and dog shit. I mean if he has career ending type 2 diabetic complications where his left arm has to be amputated, or relapses on the captain and gets too large to fit in hotel rooms on the road, the Yankees would just as soon kick him to the curb, paying him as little as possible to do so. It is hard to fault him if he does opt out, but people will because we sure as hell need him here and it will feel like he is turning his backs on the people that ultimately pay his salary. His fans.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A Few Things I Am Following/Commenting On

Well since we are in the “Lull” period of sports for a lot of fans, I have a few things to talk about that shouldn’t take up much of your time:

The New York Rangers are either a push away from getting over this rut, or a few more games away from losing all confidence and falling even more in the Eastern Conference. Their offense has been anemic and Henrik has been less than stellar when he’s been in the game. Shooting over 45 times last night against a solid Red Wings team should net more than 2 goals. They had so many chances. I think we lack the finishing touch that will either come with age for some of these players, or never at all for others. I just pray we don’t truly have a team full of low second to high third liners that are solid enough to plug holes and grind out a win, but not enough finesse to keep on scoring. Some of these guys need to try to fill that role. And where is Gaborik?! Speaking of goals, he's been quiet. He scored 10 in 3 games this year, and 6 in the rest of the 39 he's played in. We need him to make the playoffs and do anything. (no more hockey after this I promise)

Fact: Andy Pettitte retired and will be missed by fans and the current team alike. Fact: The Yankees have problems with their rotation. Maybe fact: Completion of a season with this rotation can still result in a winning record with their lineup and still one and a half to two and a half starters. Probable fact: They will not finish the season with Nova and Mitre both holding down the back end of the rotation unless all of the other pitchers in the world die. Relax people, they’re still a contending team.

The Super Bowl was a good game. It ended almost like I predicted and exactly how I wanted. I thought GB would get by easier, but Rodgers won MVP, played amazing, and needs receivers who don’t drop perfect passes. It is super early, but does anyone think this team can repeat? I mean, a lot of guys were hurt on this team and arguably they’re better when all healthy. I wouldn’t put money against it.

My previous comment assumes there will be a 2011-12 season and playoffs. In some capacity, there will be. There is now too much money to be made/lost in professional sports through the owners if they hold out. Hockey was able to lockout a season because they don’t have the same revenue streams and actually had many franchises operating in or near the red anyway. Football will be back after a nasty battle between players and owners. When it boils down to it, neither side will get exactly what they want but they’ll still have enough money at the end of the day to do stupid things that will get them arrested and suspended.

Quickies: I’m shocked Michael Young is requesting a trade from Texas after the Beltre signing. He seemed to have so much willingness to always be moved around. DH/Utility fielder was where he put a stop on it I guess. Christina Aguilera is a commie spy, kill her. Wake Forest baseball coach Tom Walter donated one of his kidneys to Kevin Jordan, one of his outfielders. The Cleveland Cavs miss Lebron after their 25th straight loss. Cleveland is home to the Browns, Indians, and Cavs. Ouch. Go Cleveland State Vikings? Finally, Carlos Delgado reports that he is looking for a job come April. Three surgeries in 18 months may be a lot of punishment on a 38 year old big guy, but he needs 27 HR to hit 500, so don’t be surprised if a team needing a DH or part time first baseman takes a shot if he shows up and looks not too much like a fat old man in spring.

(P.S. Do you like the new layout?)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Lull

If you are anything like the average sports fan, this Sunday is something much more than Super Bowl Sunday. Regardless of who wins, the Monday following the game begins a period of about a month where there is nothing worth watching in sports for a good percentage of people. I disagree a little bit as I am an avid hockey fan, but for the majority of the “major 2” sports fans, you cannot wait for opening day at your home baseball park. Even with hockey to watch, I do feel a little piece of myself missing during this time.

The Super Bowl is built up to be this extraordinary game. You would think each team hired a few super heroes to come play for them. The stories about who needs a game because of a tough past, a down and out story, a comeback season, beating cancer/drugs/alcoholism, death of a loved one, etc… are all on the table. Who doesn’t remember how the Saints gave New Orleans something to believe in last season? Credit the sportswriters for beating a horse dead and beating it some more. A week after last year’s game, did New Orleans really still believe a football team can fix their city? Of course not. I’m sure everyone woke up a few days later, probably on a dreaded Wednesday at work, and said “Aw man! Saints aren’t on this Sunday. And half my house is still floated away.”

What options do we have this coming Monday? I don’t particularly care for the NBA much anymore, although I will follow what ESPN tells me are the marquee matchups. If I watch a quarter of these games, it is a lot. The game isn’t good until the last few minutes or it isn’t good at all. College basketball is a bit more intriguing, but honestly not until March Madness for me. The NHL I love, but is the cancer of the major 4 sports to a lot of people who like the others. Soccer will never be what Baseball and Football are here in the states. Not until we’re taken over by, or become by ways of stupidity, a third world country. Even then, people will just go back to using milk cartons for gloves before kicking a ball around mindlessly. I am pretty sure you can catch a sweet bowling match at 2PM on a Saturday or Sunday during this stretch. Get excited!

To me, all professional sports I follow are an escape from reality. It is why I post these nonsensical paragraphs from my office. It is why I spend way too much of my discretionary income on going to see the teams live. It is why it doesn’t matter the Yankees won it all two years ago. Of course it is fun to re-live these moments in memory and conversation – but it never truly takes us back or away from anything anymore. Us as sports fans – hell – as human beings, have a nature to say “Okay, now what is next?” Well ladies and gentlemen, this coming Monday the lull will start. You can choose to fight it and watch these other options, or stick it out in the trenches. Either way, just make sure to check back here for some entertaining (as always) posts.

Monday, January 31, 2011

It seems as all I do lately is complain about the NFL... Pro Bowl Edition

Well whoever schedules All Star Games really blew it. One weekend full of two ASG’s was enough to make the avid sports fan I am cringe. Does anyone actually watch these games anymore? It was cool as a kid because I had stacked my video game teams to match about 80% of the players that were playing and 20% of the guys I liked from my home teams I followed. Not a huge ESPN fan when I was 8-12, but still a video game and sports fan, I didn’t really know how a lot of these guys looked outside of my Sega Genesis. To be honest, I heard of some of these guys mostly because I knew a 99 overall rating was better than a 60, and I wanted to 99 on my team. All-Star time was the only time I got to see some of them play for real, unless they played against a NY team in the playoffs or made their sport’s finals. Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky became real during the NHL ASG seeing them skate next to home town guys Messier and Graves. I saw guys like Ozzie Smith, Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, and Mike Piazza play for the first time. I think Ozzie the first and last in 1996. Jason Kidd, Shawn Kemp, Shaq, Glen Rice, and “Penny” Hardaway were guys I remember seeing for the first time during an NBA all star game (1996 as well?). They were pretty much all on my Sega team for whichever horrible b-ball game I owned at the time.

However, I can’t really remember the pro bowl too well. Anyone not in the super bowl those years of my youth, or on the rosters of the Giants and Jets were missed. The pro bowl? I remember offense, like watching myself play the game on the Super Nintendo or something. It was like the defense was the computer on Rookie setting and the offense was throwing to Jerry Rice or Michael Irvin the whole time. Granted the NHL AS games get pretty offensive, but there’s only 10 guys and 2 goalies to watch at a time, almost half that of the NFL. It is a lot easier to spot your favorite players. Anyway, to be honest, the actual games aren’t what I remembered most about growing up. This would explain why the football version of an All Star Game (with a cutesy name like Pro Bowl) never stuck out. You know what did? The Quarterback Challenge when they used to have them. I remember looking for guys like Young and Aikman. Moon and Cunningham. Esiason and Favre. Elway and Testaverde. Marino and O'Donnell. Before I knew the names of all of the teams, I remember watching these QBs going through their skills competitions. What happened to that?! What was the NFL thinking shutting this down? Was it because Josh McCown won the last one? (This I researched a little bit - seems to be due to legal reasons but come on, the NFL has money and lawyers). I'm sure they just said "Nah, this game with no blitzing, no motioning on offense, no press coverage, and disallowed certain formations is good enough." LOOK AT THE OTHER ONES?! The NBA: 3 point contest, slam dunk contest. NHL: Fastest shot, breakaway challenge, accuracy challenges, fastest skaters. Even MLB has the Home Run Derby that everyone seems to love (I won’t rant about how the ASG deciding home field advantage is absolutely a fucking travesty to the game in this article, it will be 30 pages long).

Why can’t the NFL take a hint? No one will care about their Pro Bowl other than the offensive players (and the defensive and lineman for getting recognized at least). Actually, the game last night had me so enthralled, I was Googling what kind of humidifier to use if I want to put vodka in it and get drunk in a room of the size of my living room (still inconclusive if it is even possible ((or safe)) for those of you playing the home game). I think it is the only sport that should not have an actual game to play. The risk of getting seriously hurt in the sport does seem to be much higher than the other 3. I get these guys are grossly overpaid, and obviously the best on their teams. I do not want to see someone’s career end because of a game played for fun. I also don’t want to see a bunch of people standing around playing catch with wide receivers and running through holes that I may be able to hit for a few yards. Announce the rosters and honor the players somehow (press release to ESPN is fine). Even better - can’t we see a skills challenge or two or three come back? They just had goalies for the first time compete in the fastest skate competition in the NHL. Don’t you want to see if Devin Hester is really the fastest in the league? How about a foot race between Logan Mankins and Vince Wilfork for the slowest Patriot? They can have a lot of fun with this. Think outside the QB box.

COME ON NFL! Did you really think moving the game before the Super Bowl will get people to care? All you did was get it out of the way earlier for us. However, you gave analysts another platform to cover some more Super Bowl stories as well. Great, just when you thought they wouldn’t have enough time a week before the game to get it all rammed down our throat, they get another few hours to mix it in. Thankfully no one else was dumb enough to watch it like I did. They showed before halftime that they were prepping both Super Bowl QBs for an interview during halftime of the pro bowl. Guess what? I didn’t watch it. I turned it back on in the middle of the third quarter during the AFC’s attempt at a comeback from a 40+ point deficit at half. Great game. After the best weekend of the conference championships, we have to put up with this? Way to get me ready for the big one!

All in all, I am rambling myself out of a conclusion here, so I will wrap it up. NFL – take some tips from your other competition. Are you that much better than the other 3 to not need a gimmick for your All Stars? Take it from me: Give the people what they want – entertainment, not a crappy football game.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Best Storylines of the Super Bowl

Yeah. Fucking. Right. Yes, I dropped an F-bomb in the first paragraph. Seriously, do you really want to read now, what the NFL and its supporting cast of idiot writers/TV personalities are going to cram down your throat for the next two weeks? No way man. I am going to briefly outline what I think you can expect of these storylines and tell you how/why it will waste your time, along with give you my own brief take on this super bowl. This will be my ONLY pregame coverage of the game. My posts from now until the game will contain at most another blurb about the absurdity of the coverage of the game. I give you my word.

First off, if this seriously is Ben Roethlisberger’s “Road to Redemption,” sign me up! If all I have to do to put an alleged rape/sexual assault accusation (and another one that to my knowledge he never faced suspension time/court time for) behind me, is do well at my job, well I am going to be the best blogger ever. Bring on the women and the rohypnol! Seriously, the guy is a dick. I don’t care if he is innocent or not – he’s a dick for even putting himself in that kind of situation. You’re rich and a celebrity. I’m sure there are plenty of consenting women who want to bang you. Big Ben also hasn’t been spectacular this post season. The win against the Jets can be chalked up to good defense and a bruising running game. Also, the Jets poor excuse for an offensive coordinator called a horrible game. Ben is a decent game manager who happens to always be surrounded by solid physical runners and a well above average defense. I’m not saying the guy can’t throw when he needs, but without those other pieces of the Steelers, Roethlisberger is simply a top 15 QB who may have squeaked out a Super Bowl in his career. I got off track. The fact is that his football play, even if it was amazing in these playoffs, cannot redeem his personality and character flaws that make him what he is: someone who doesn’t think the rules apply to him. I have no use for someone like him on this planet. Remember when it was cool to be humble and a decent human?

The other quarterback however will have his own story. Aaron Rodgers needs to PROVE himself. Really? The guy has a career 98.4 QB rating and was +100 in his last 2 seasons (granted in the era of illegal contact and secondary limiting calls). His TDs to INTs reads 87-32. He has 12,723 passing yards in just three full seasons as starter. He’s 27 years old and didn’t start for 3 years after being drafted. If he didn’t miss a game with a concussion this season, he’d likely be the first and only to go for 4,000 in his first 3 years as a full time starter (he was the only one to do it in his first 2). Can you name someone else better than him the past 3 years not named Brady, Brees, or Manning? And you can make an argument he was better over that span than any one of them depending on what you look at. What does he have to prove? Postseason record? He has a 129 QB rating in all of his starts combined. He already has his name up there with Montana, Favre, and P. Manning, trailing only them in terms of starts with 20 attempts and a rating over 120. He’s the only one of those names to do it more than once on the road (thanks Wall St. Journal for the research). Just because he doesn’t have the rings, or seems to lack what people will say “an ability to win close games” – doesn’t make him a bad QB. Leave him alone. He’ll get his, if not this year, soon enough with that defense. Not so bad for playing on a team with the numbers of almost an entire country’s army on IR either. Yes, to some extent some QBs will be judged based on their rings, but no one questions if Dan Marino was a good quarterback either.

Other minor sickening stories:

Mike Tomlin – Youngest coach to potentially win 2 super bowls. He was already the youngest to win one beating out Coach John “I need a job again because this analyst stuff isn’t for me either” Gruden. Cowher left him a stud core on defense, and seemingly a same offensive mentality. It really is as if at least half of these wins should be given to Bill. If he was white and had a brown instead of black nicely groomed beard, I may not be able to tell the two apart, including their football teams. I could take one of these teams over and win at least 8-10 games next season too. Don’t give him TOO much credit, even though I do like the guy. The youngest to do anything involves some skill, but a lot of it is being in the right place at the right time as well.

Brett Favre – You know his name will make an appearance. The only sound other than his name that makes me as disgusted with a human being is Joe Buck’s game calling. Anything Rodgers does will be compared to how Brett beat the Pats the last time Green Bay won a Super Bowl in 1996. I swear if I hear his name too much, or the fact that he finally retired (hopefully) for good and how awesome he was, I will scream. He annexed the Jets season for himself in coming out of retirement (Rodgers and Packers fans couldn’t be happier about that trade), and stole this last one in Minnesota by sticking around too long. Goodell needs to put a ban on anyone saying his name until he is put in the hall of fame in a few years. I’m sick of it.

Where are the Cowboys? - Hah, this one is funny. Remember the beginning of the season? Dallas had a chance to be the first team to play at home in Dallas for the Super Bowl? Why was that so prominent this season? Doesn’t everyone have that chance normally? I mean they always play at a pro site, right? Look what all that hype did to them. You know you’ll see a picture of Jerry Jones somewhere sitting watching two teams play not from Dallas. Does anyone care? The fact is, we haven’t heard a mention of the Cowboys since week 8ish, so why are we going to possibly have to listen to this garbage now?

Where are the Patriots? - I picked them to be here at the start of the playoffs along with the majority of the football watching world. Pats vs. Packers would have been a show. You know you’ll at least hear a few mentions of Tom Brady and his 3 rings that Ben can tie with a victory. Oh, and how Brady was so sure about winning number 4 this season. This may not get too much coverage, but I have a feeling you can’t be at the Super Bowl in this day and age and not hear the Pats or Brady’s name thrown around. This year they’re getting a better draft pick than they thought. There’s some bright side you crybabies.

The rich history of each team - The new Steel Curtain vs. Old (get a new nickname – I hate when people pull old titles out of the past – the “Giambino” for instance). Bart Starr and pre super bowl era Packers teams. Unfortunately Mean Joe will not be making a tackle and Starr not throwing touchdowns in two weeks. Granted I’d love to see a Senior Bowl one day where Ditka comes out and plays for the Bears. I think he can still do it. Regardless, spend a little less time on history of the clubs we hear EVERY time they play in the regular season (MNF is guilty of this and it drives me nuts… it’s just football on a Monday guys, relax), and you may shorten the pregame show from 14 days to 7. That will be a victory for us all. As the “Faux John Madden” said on twitter: “Just a reminder that following today's NFC Championship game (3 PM ET) FOX's Super Bowl XLV pregame show will be under way.”

Hopefully this article will spare you hours of listening about these lame stories that have nothing to do with the actual game. Big Boner will still be trash, Rodgers still a good QB, Tomlin still a young coach on an awesome team, and Farve, the Cowboys, Patriots, and past All Stars will not see one snap. It will be a defensive game with a conservative approach. I know in talking about them myself (and perhaps inventing some they won’t spend more time on than I did) I am just feeding the fire, but I need to make it known that it is too predictable. I should not be able to do this. Be original. They still need to play this damn football game regardless of all the shit going on around it. Stories are nice, but they don’t win football games. Expect Green Bay to come out throwing again and Pitt to come out running. The teams will adjust from there as any good football team seems to be able to do. It will be hard fought, but I think Rodgers arm will prevail along with their mistake causing defense.

Honorable mentions: The proposed closed roof in Dallas, Rodgers new “sore shoulder,” and a number 2 seed being the underdog to a number 6 seed.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Best Football Sunday of the Year is Nearly Upon Us

Ladies and gentlemen, I hate to be too cliché, but it is well speculated that the conference championship games are the best two games you will watch of football all season, including the Super Bowl. This year, at least on paper, it looks as if the games will back up that notion. The story lines of these teams this season, and the match ups that lie before us, are in the words of Marty McFly - pretty heavy. Let’s look at some of the storylines surrounding these games, and I’ll then give you my prediction to who we’ll see in Super Bowl XLV (45 for anyone who doesn’t speak roman).

Packers vs. Bears

The Bears seem to be the team that flew under everyone’s radar this season. With little preseason coverage as a good football team, they are definitely the sleeper still remaining. Their defense is no joke, and it looks like their linebacker core of Urlacher & Briggs are still as good, if not better, than they were when they beat the Saints in the NFC championship game a couple years ago. The addition of the amazingly talented Julius Peppers really solidified them in passing downs as a sack threat as well as a run stopping machine. Being at home at rugged Soldier Field will give their defense plenty of noise to back them up. Stopping the Packers passing and newly found ground games will prove to be a challenge, but the defense definitely has the talent to do it. They are probably the fastest unit out there of these 4 outstanding defenses. Just hope Jay Cutler doesn’t have one of those Rex Grossman impersonating games and they can be on the road to Dallas.

The Packers are a good football team all around. Okay, they’re pretty great. Aaron Rodgers is clearly the best quarterback left in the playoffs. He has the mobility to avoid the rush, the accuracy to pick apart a secondary, and the swagger to think he can win a ball game by any means necessary. They have the defensive player of the year from last season in Charles Woodson, and he may not even be the best cornerback on the team any more. Tramon Williams has made some huge picks this postseason. The defensive player of the year favorite for this season A.J. Hawk… um I mean Clay Matthews III, is a sack machine (don’t they look alike in their matching uniforms and long blonde hair?). With a QB who was knocked out against the Giants pass rush in the regular season (granted before offensive mad scientist Mike Martz revamped the protection schemes for Cutler) and is infamous for holding the ball too long at times, the Green Bay sack friendly defense may be ready to feast. Throwing under pressure for Cutler against that secondary may prove to be what decides this game.

This will also be a great game because of the pure hatred between the teams (more the fans) going back to Ditka’s playing days. No other story line necessary – two NFC North rivals, playing for a chance to go to Super Bowl XLV. The teams are familiar with each other of course, splitting the season series 1-1, winning at home. Both being cold weather teams (perhaps the coldest two in the league), this game has my expectations high for the best game I’ve seen all season. I love the Packers to win it, and as I said preseason to a select few who will back me up on this, win the Super Bowl.

Jets vs. Steelers

The Jets, easily the most hyped team in the NFL this season (due a lot to self promotion from players and T-Rex), have their shot to make the game Rex Ryan has predicted they’d win this year. I didn’t watch a second of Hard Knocks this season (different reasons than Tom Brady), but it definitely contributed to the national audience. Everyone now knows how much cockiness this team has. Now, after dynamite wins over the Colts and Pats on the road, and having beat the Steelers once already this season, you have to feel as if the Jets believe more than anyone that they are the best team left in the running. This goes a long, long way in football when talent can be so even here in the playoffs. Being that this is the team I’ve seen play the most of the four, I simply can’t get 100% behind them. Their offensive play calling is sometimes outright garbage (Wildcat run on third and 6 - kidding me?). They lack a consistent vertical arm like the other 3 QBs possess, even though they may have the most weapons. Does anyone think that Sanchez can make a throw on third and long like Ben NoMeansYesBerger did against the Ravens last weekend? If so, do you think Shotty lets him try? Sanchez definitely wins the great guy award, but it isn’t helping his long game. Then again, if the Jets can somehow run again on this Steelers defense, it can be a different breed of ball game than I expect. Their defense is one of the best in the league all around as well, and may have equal or better corners than Green Bay.

The Steelers were not without their own press, granted it is minimal in comparison. As I mentioned “Big Ben-doverthebathroomsink” had some offseason controversy to say the least. The Steelers were a favorite to win it all among seemingly the majority of sportscasters coming into the season. It is the same type of team under Mike Tomlin than it was under Bill Cowher: defensively minded and gritty. Troy Polamalu may be the best player left on the field. It really does seem that he is everywhere the ball goes. Whether he’s stopping the run, blitzing the QB, or making plays against the pass - the fact he wasn’t around to face the Jets the first time around is a bigger deal than you would think. Ben doesn’t make mistakes that hurt his team in key situations (unless the Jets sign a non-consenting drunk girl to play linebacker). He can throw all kinds of passes and even when hit is tough to put on the ground. The defense will not let the Jets run again. These teams seem built to play each other to a stand off.

Unfortunately, I do have to pick against the hometown Jets here, and say the Steelers will win this game. I am about half as sure of this prediction as my Packers one. I said the Jets would beat the Colts (but doubted myself severely and needed to pick an upset), said they’d lose to the Pats, and now still say they’re playing better than they are supposed to on offense. If you're superstitious, you want me to doubt them. If anyone watched as much of them as I did the last few weeks of the regular season, you have to be a little shocked they’re this far as well.

Well thats it today. I hope everyone enjoys their football this Sunday. I will be watching and expecting the best football played all year. I just hope each team brings it like I know they can and we see some great games.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Early Yankees Preview & Mailing List

I know the last thing on any avid sports fan around this time of year is probably baseball. However, to avoid repeating every conversation you’ve had with every Jets fan this week so far (ah man I think we’ll give the Pats a helluva game! Wouldn’t that be something to be Manning AND Brady to go win the Super Bowl?), I have written a small article to be different from the mass herds and talk about the upcoming baseball season so far. Wait! Die hard football fans, before you leave me to go find a football article, please scroll down to the bottom of the page and sign up for the new Sterling Shakers mailing list. This way when we update, you don’t need to participate in my blast facebooking campaigns to know we have done so.

Okay, so like I said, baseball. A complete aside, I got in the mood reading a book by Michael Lewis called Moneyball. I have said I was going to read it for years, and it was recently mentioned to me again by my cousin at his wedding in Mexico, and I just got a cool new smart phone with a kindle app (yes I hate book apps but it’s easier than carrying a book on the crowded subway sometimes) – so I made it my first read. I am not here to talk about the book, other than an average fan or better will enjoy it - so go read it (or wait for the movie with Brad Pitt – not joking). Actually waiting 7 years after its release to read it has almost put more of it into a cooler perspective. Anyways, I just keep thinking on what the hell the Yankees are doing this offseason? Russell Martin, an ex all star to fall from the top 5 catcher discussion the past two seasons or so, and 34 y/o lefty specialist Pedro Feliciano signing away from the Mets seem to be all I have to talk about.
Ok so really quick, you will see an opening day lineup of (and minus the bench which will be taken care of much later - we're solid):

1) Jeter, SS, 2) Swisher, RF, 3) Teixeira, 1B, 4) Rodriguez, 3B, 5) Cano, 2B, 6) Posada, DH, 7) Granderson, CF, 8) Martin, C, 9) Gardner, LF

Bench: Your pick of Pena, Nunez, Curtis, Golson, Russo, and any other kid called up last year I missed or someone who makes it out of camp.

AND you will have a rotation of something like:

1) Sabathia, 2) Hughes, 3) Burnett, 4) Nova, 5) Grau Geist – er, I mean Mitre.
With a bullpen like:

Robertson, Logan, Chamberlain, Feliciano, Rivera & another reliever to be named later – perhaps named Prior or Brackman.

Okay so two things here: Why are we talking about trading prospects for relievers in NY papers? And secondly, why are we all of a sudden “in danger of making the playoffs” among baseball circles? I would like to point out the Yankees bullpen is interchangeable with the exception of Rivera. This is a strength. No one blows your mind, but there is no real gaping hole in it. Adding someone for the price of a closer like Soriano would simply be retarded before the season starts. For once, I am satisfied with the pen going into the season.

Now for the next sentence which will lead into answering number two: WE NEED A STARTING PITCHER – this isn’t a secret. But, we don’t need it just yet. I applaud Cashman for taking his sweet time in figuring this out. Lets compare to the 2008 Yankees that missed the playoffs. Those Yankees had a staff ace that went 20-9 in Mike Mussina, and a second best in Andy Pettite that went 14-14. They started 34 and 33 games respectively. Darrell Rasner, finished 5-10, started the third most on the team with 20 games. Ian Kennedy started 9 and went 0 and 4. Joba was a mess trying to make the transition and would be great one start and awful another. Wang was 8 and 2 in 15 starts and then hurt himself running home. And Finally, our savior Sidney Ponson was 4 and 4 in 15 starts. There were a few other guys who started and made no positive impact, but do you see the quality we were dealing with? And we still won 89 games playing a great number of games against the stacked AL East.

The East isn’t what it was in 2008 anymore. The Rays are a shadow of their team from ‘08, the Sox you can make an argument are back on track, but the O’s and J’s lack any kind of talent to compete still. This Yankee team making the postseason will be very possible with 1 ace, a solid 2/3 guy in the 2 spot, and a wildcard in Burnett. It isn’t like Nova and Mitre are Rasner either. If Burnett turns out to be a 5+ ERA guy again or someone gets hurt, we can be in trouble. However, until the season plays out, don’t give up the future of an aging team to plug holes that will be much cheaper to plug in a few months.

Now go sign up for my mailing list, or at least tell me how much you disagree with this entire premise of not needed a starter yet… I’d love to hear your regurgitated responses.

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