Monthly Archives: March 2010

2010 Final Four: Unbelievable or Unfulfilling?

So the final four is about to start up on Saturday with a rag tag bunch of contenders that no one had in their brackets.  For most people, unless by some stroke of genius you had 2 of the 4 actually making it to Indy, you probably stopped checking your online brackets after Kansas and Syracuse got beat (My final four: Kansas, Kentucky, Syracuse, and Nova.  I sure know how to pick them.)

Whether your into the bracket challenges or just like teams whose primary color is blue, you have to admit that the tournament games this year don’t slack in quality.  Despite a few clunkers, every game has gone down to the wire and there has been plenty of action to get Gus Johnson riled up.  I’m pretty sure if someone pulled a Shaq and shattered the backboard, Gus would use the f word profusely.  The tournament this year has been a perfect blend of order and chaos, enough high seeds got knocked out early to give hope to the over defined, overused Cinderella teams, while the other national powers tore through to the regional rounds.  This is what college basketball gets right and where college football gets it wrong: Playoffs (cue Jim Mora Sr.).  Everyone gets the same chance: win all your games; to the victor go the spoils.  That’s the perfect system, right?

(Cliffhanger…)

Wrong (Who saw that coming??).  Let me pose a question: Will anyone be satisfied if MSU or Butler becomes the “National Champion”?  No, and no one should consider them a better team than they were a couple weeks ago after their regular season’s ended.  For me, the final four is pretty much a bust this year.  Everyone had matchups in mind when the bracket was first drawn up.  A Kansas-Kentucky showdown; Wall and Cousins vs arguably the deepest team in college.  We wanted names like Turner, Aldrich, Reynolds, or Rautins.  I would of taken any of the Big East schools verse each other as acceptable.  But no, all the big teams were disappointments this postseason, much to the fans/experts/bracketologist nerd’s dismay.  I’m disappointed, and the term “National Champion” will go to the team who got hot at the right time.  So much for the dream matchups that we had anticipated.  But hey, maybe John Wall will play this hard in the NBA?  More likely, he’ll end up on the Timberwolves, Grizzlies, or Bobcats (aka College All-Americans from the past 5 years) and you will never hear from him again.

Sidebar: Coach Calipari, in an interview with CBS, said that John Wall in addition to being a great leader and teammate was also, in his opinion, the best student.  Now, Calipari must know that he is going to get pinned with another recruiting violation sooner or later because this claim makes absolutely no sense.  There is no way that anyone on the Kentucky bball team even goes to class and if they did, they probably major in Dinosaurs.  The team’s graduation rate is 31% and you know that Calipari is doing something slimy there.  John Chaney should of kicked his ass when he had the chance.

Double Sidebar: If there was a Dinosaurs major, Dr. Alan Grant would teach two classes: an entry level on Velociraptors and a seminar on Trex vision capabilities.

But back to the madness and the teams still available:

Butler Bulldogs (32-4) Wins Over: UTEP, Murray State, Syracuse, Kansas State

Butler, although being the biggest surprise team to make it to Indy, had to go through the toughest road.  They knocked out the #1 and #2 seeds in the regional rounds and they did it pretty convincingly.  In both games, they led their opponents through out most of the game only to have them come back with a couple minutes to play and then finish them off.  Also, considering that they are only a mile away from the final four site makes them the home team and the band wagon for everyone to jump on.  Their coach also looks like a student manager which is pretty hilarious.

Michigan State Spartans (28-8) Wins Over: New Mexico State, Maryland, Northern Iowa, Tennessee

MSU shouldn’t play the regular season, because they are the quintessential tournament team.  Tom Izzo knows how to get his teams to advance, no matter how bad they look during the year.  This team even lost their best player in Lucas and has still advanced to the national semis.  They have nothing to lose and are playing like it.  And they know how to make it exciting; their win margin in there 4 tournament games is only 13 points.

West Virginia Mountaineers (31-6) Wins Over: Morgan State, Missouri, Washington, Kentucky

WVU is the only team in this final four that really makes any sense.  The Big East champions can straight up ball and have the star power that the other teams seem to be lacking.  DaSean Butler, Devin Ebanks, Kevin Jones, these guys went 13-5 in the gauntlet which is the Big East and have saved their best basketball for the end of the year.  All of the other Big East teams came up small this tournament, but the mountaineers have made up for the entire conference and look to give Huggy Bear his first national championship.

Duke Blue Devils (33-5) Wins Over: Arkansas Pine Bluff, California, Purdue, Baylor

I’m not a Duke fan to the slightest, but they have impressed me during their tournament run.  To that extent, I feel like they were in the easiest of the 4 brackets (Villanova was a weak 2 seed and Purdue and Baylor don’t have the teeth that a higher seed should).  Come to think of it, I have nothing nice to say about Duke.  The problem is that whenever I think of Duke, I think of Dick Vitale.  That man irritates me to the extent that if he is calling a game, I change the channel.  I will go as far as to say that between listening to Dick Vitale call a college basketball game or watching a whole episode of “Lopez Tonight”, I’d drown myself in a bathtub.

Predictions:

Since I was dead on about who was going to be in the final four, lets pick the winners:

Butler v. MSU

Butler wins a tight one.  MSU hasn’t played anyone higher than a 4 seed this tournament and all their games have been close.  Also, they have needed last second shots and help from the refs to advance.  I don’t think they’ll be so lucky in the national semis and Butler will take advantage.

Duke v. WVU

I like West Virginia because I don’t like Duke. WVU did look pretty sloppy when Joe Mazzula fouled out last game and that could be just the weakness that Coach K could exploit.  But I’m biased; WVU wins.  Kyle Singler remains ugly.

Butler v. WVU

WVU wins outright.  Sure, Butler will have the crowd and all of America behind them wanting an underdog, but WVU is battle tested and legit.  If they get to Butler, I don’t think they will have a problem dealing with them.  Let’s gooooo, Mountaineers!  Let’s goooooo, Drink Some Beers!

Should be a good finish; We’ll see how it all ends.

Fredex

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2010 Phillies Preview: The Bench

Baseball is upon us.

Next week is the start of the 2010 Major League Baseball season and the Phillies enter the year looking to become the first back-to-back-to-back National League Champions since before the parents of most people reading this blog were conceived. (The Cardinals did it in 1942-1944, in case you were wondering)

We will be bringing you a comprehensive look at the team as it enters the season, starting with the least relevant and smallest elements of the team, working our way up to the big picture so you’re ready for what to expect as you watch the 2010 Phillies.

First up: the Bench.

Last year, one thing that was sometimes overlooked was the fact that for much of the year, the Phillies really struggled with bench production.  It was not until the late-season acquisition of Ben Francisco that the Phillies had anyone they could really rely on to come in off the bench–a stark contrast from 2008’s World Championship team that had the league’s leading pinch hitter in Greg Dobbs, 4 somewhat productive outfielders in Pat Burrell, Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth, and Geoff Jenkins, a solid bat in Chris Coste, and a defensive specialist in So Taguchi.  Oh and then there was some beer-drinking, lumber-swinging, goatee-wearing redneck that loved nothing more than getting his ass hammered who came in at the end of the year and made a Philadelphia legend of himself with one mammoth swing.

To be fair, that redneck–Matt Stairs–was pretty good in the first half of 2009 as well, but his second half all but negated that when he hit so miserably that he dragged his average below the Mendoza line.

The team managed without much of a bench at all for most of the season, but multiple players and writers have discussed this offseason the importance of getting more rest for the starters as the year goes on this year.  Unassisted triple play notwithstanding, Eric Bruntlett (who was supposed to spell Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley) might as well have been Desi Relaford last year.  And that is not meant as a compliment.  I’m talking Phillies-era Desi Relaford who booted balls and was a double-play machine not Mariners/Royals-era Desi Relaford who started on like four fantasy teams.

And Greg Dobbs, who was thrown in at multiple positions including 1B, 2B, 3B, and OF, couldn’t touch the ball at the plate if he was Ben Roethlisberger and the ball was an intoxicated underage girl.

This year’s bench, however, shows some promise.  The Phillies have been wise enough not to bring 3 catchers out of Spring Training on the bench (I mean Bako was the backup and Coste used to hit .300 but did they really need Lou Marson there?) and by all accounts they will give these guys a chance to contribute to this year’s team.

So here they are, your 2010 Phillies projected Bench Players:

Greg Dobbs (IF/OF): We’ll give Dobbs the benefit of the doubt and say that his struggles last year were an anomaly, but Charlie needs to be ready to stop using him.  Last year, they spent most of the year trying to shove him into places where he didn’t belong based on past success, like NBC with Jerry Seinfeld on “The Marriage Ref.”  Seriously NBC, if I wanted unfunny people to crack jokes about moderately weird situations in people’s personal lives with no real structure or entertainment value, I’d go to a family party and bring up the fact that my brother pierced both of his ears when he went to college.

Ben Francisco (OF): Benny Fresh was a bright spot for the Phillies last year off the bench after coming over in the Cliff Lee deal from Cleveland, providing them with a pretty good bat with some pop, some extra speed on the basepaths (remember 3 catchers and Greg Dobbs were on the bench last year) and a solid glove to replace Raul Ibañez’s knees in LF.  He didn’t light the world on fire, but after coming over, he hit a solid .278 with 14 of his 27 hits going for extra bases.  Also, he made a ludicrous shoe-string catch in the playoffs to save a big inning in Game 4 in the Colorado Division Series.  Plus, Francisco adds to the smoothness factor of the team by a ton.  You don’t get a name like Benny Fresh by looking like Paul Bako or talking like Cole Hamels.  Just sayin’.

Brian Schneider (C): In a city that has been known to love it’s backup catchers, starting to some extent with Todd Pratt and elevating when Sal Fasano and Chris Coste came to town, Schneider will probably receive more of a Bako treatment.  No one really latched on to that guy, mostly because he was just a boring old average journeyman catcher.  Schneider is sort of similar in that he is just a solid guy without the quirkiness of Pratt (started the bleach-blonde bench club back in the day), Fasano (if you don’t know about his handlebar mustache you can just stop reading now), or Coste (the 33-year old rookie who smacked balls around like they were Tiger Woods on Thanksgiving).  Schneider does bring some upside though, having spent his whole career in the NL East and bringing his knowledge of divisional hitters and pitchers to the club and having been a historical Phillie killer.  His insights on the division should be useful and it will be nice not to have to worry about thinking “Jesus, did Brian Schneider really just start a rally?”

Ross Gload (IF/OF): Ross Goad is some dude who played for the Marlins last year.  He’s played for the Cubs, Rockies, White Sox, Royals, and Marlins in 9 Big League seasons, and appears to be a pretty good bench player.  His averages have hovered around the .280-.300 range and he doesn’t strike out a lot.  He’s a good doubles hitter, which result in pretty good RBI and SLG% numbers, but probably most important is his position in the field.  He plays 1B and has a .993 career fielding percentage (which is partially skewed by sample size and some not-so-great appearances in the OF).  He seems to be a pretty vanilla signing that could pay dividends, but let’s just remember the last time the Phillies signed a good pinch-hitting infielder from the Marlins they ended up with Wes Helms.  Ew.

Juan Castro (IF): Castro is a Hispanic utility infielder who is pretty average at everything.  No speed (only 5 stolen bases in a 15-year MLB career), no power (36 career home runs are as many as Jayson Werth hit last year), and slightly below-average fielding ability (.977 career fielding percentage at every position except P and C).  I don’t mean to be too down on him but, he reeks of Miguel Cairo, who the Phillies signed last year and only batted 45 times.  If he’s not Tomas Perez-ing people with shaving cream pies after big wins, I’m really just not sure why you would even bother to keep him on the roster.  At least he’s not Eric Bruntlett, I guess.

That concludes the Phillies bench, a group who will look to help the Phillies bring home another playoff appearance/division title/NL Championship/World Fucking Championship in 2010.  Luckily, they are backing up one of the best lineups in the sport of baseball and a team who just acquired the most sure-fire Hall of Fame pitcher of the decade (most of the great pitchers you’re thinking of are ’90s pitchers more so than 2000s pitchers).

The bench is likely to shift roles and personnel as the season goes on based on injuries and performance, but the mainstays of the team will go a lot farther in determining the team’s success than these 5 guys listed here.  And it’s a good thing, since that means the Phillies’ fate is in the hands of guys like the ever-confident Jimmy Rollins, the badass gamer Chase Utley, the Big Piece Ryan Howard, and the goofy cast of Characters around them that range from Jayson Werth (RIP Jayson Werth’s Beard) to Placido Polanco (maybe the most underrated offseason acquisition in baseball) and Carlos “Chooch” Ruiz who handles the pitching staff like a pro and is actually 31 years old despite looking a few armpit hairs away from puberty.

Season Prediction: 96-66 NL East Title, and one hell of a ride in the postseason.  Hopefully with a moment or two as awesome as this one:

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Highlight of the Week

If this was a guy, and someone cared, they would seriously hate themselves right now. How do you miss 2 potential wide open game winning layups to go to the Final Four? I’d feel bad, but, quite frankly, no one gives a shit, its women’s basketball.

Mucho Love,

Bronco

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Highlight of the Week

This one comes straight from England. Clint Dempsey advances his club, Fulham, past Juventus is UEFA Europa League play. I don’t care what buzzer beater you think was better because it wasn’t.

Bronco

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Would You Rather: The Big Piece vs. el Hombre

In what I hope will become somewhat of a recurring “View From Broad Street” segment, I would like to introduce a classic baseball would you rather scenario.  On the heels of Buster Olney reporting on ESPN.com that the Phillies have discussed the possibility of trading Ryan Howard for Albert Pujols in an epic swap of future Hall of Fame first basemen.

First of all, let it be said that this is complete BS and that Buster Olney is a hippie weirdo.  He gets some good info, and I read a lot of what he writes, but as far as dorky baseball writers go, this guy is just some strange little dude from New Hampshire or Vermont or something (who the shit knows the difference anyway?) and this story was probably more of a wet dream for him than an actual conversation with a source.

This is a Phildelphia blog, and I am a Ryan Howard fan.  If Ryan Howard and my Miller Lite were hanging off a cliff, I’d save Howard and go throw Back some Coors Originals with him.  The Banquet Beer.  Delicious.

^That is a disclaimer.

This is analysis:

Howard was the 2005 NL Rookie of the Year, the 2006 NL MVP, the 2008 league-leader in Home Runs and Runs Batted In , and who has averaged 127 RBI since coming into the league (635 total).  Compare that to Pujols’ 608 RBI in the same span, an average of 121.6.  Not a staggering difference until you consider the fact that these numbers include Howard’s 2005 season where he split time with Jim Thome and totaled 63 RBI in just 88 games.  That means in half a season less (about 350 at-bats), Howard still knocked in 27 more runs than Pujols.

Why so much emphasis on the RBIs, you ask?  Well, here’s the thing about Ryan Howard.  He’s not the best player in the league.  Albert Pujols may be.  But Ryan Howard has a role on the Phillies team as the clean-up hitter: knock in runs.  And he does that job better than anyone in baseball.

In the time since he came into the league, Howard’s closest competitor other than Pujols is Mark Tiexiera with 602 RBI over that span, an average of 120.4 per year.  A-Rod, who has missed time with injuries and a steroid suspension came in at just 509, while the next closest competitor I was able to find was Miguel Cabrera at 569, almost 70 fewer than Howard.

Comparisons between the two often come down to two things: Howard’s strikeouts and Pujols’ superior fielding.

Both fair points, but consider this: Howard made only two more errors in the field last year than did Pujols, with a fielding percentage of .990 compared to Pujols’ .992.  Combine that with a slimmed-down physique that has led to better range, and Howard is no longer a defensive liability.  He still has trouble turning double plays from first when he has to throw on the inside of the runner going to second, but he gets to way more balls and is just more nimble out there.

The strikeouts are no comparison.  Howard strikes out more than everyone except Mark Reynolds and Steve Phillips.  Howard has averaged 173 strikeouts over the last 5 years (again a number influenced by the half-season, the number should actually be more like 191.25).  Over that span, Pujols has struck out 58.2 times per year.  Just a 115 strikeout difference per year, that’s all.

Let’s move on from that one.

The next consideration that factors in here is contracts.    These are really the reason why this trade would even be considered.  That’s because Pujols is entering the final year of his contract, leaving his current team the Cardinals afraid that they’ll lose him.  However, if you’re the Phillies and you just let Cliff Lee walk after acquiring Roy Halladay because of his $9 million contract for this upcoming year, and you have Jayson Werth’s beard coming up on a contract that is going to cost a lot of money, why would you add yet another pay increase a year before you have to?  And if you thought the Phillies letting Cliff Lee walk started a commotion about them being too cheap, imagine if they let Howard and Pujols walk away within a calendar year of one another.

Maybe the most important thing here is chemistry though.  The Phillies of the late 2000s have been a very successful team, especially over the last three seasons.  As far as I can tell, this success breaks down to about 48% skill/talent, roughly 9% luck with injuries, somewhere near 12% Charlie Manuel being the perfect combination of mastermind and absolute buffoon, and the remaining 31% just straight camaraderie between teammates.  People like Aaron Rowand, Chan Ho Park, and Pat Burrell will openly admit that they wish they’d never left.  Scott Eyre said after last season that he would only play this year in the Majors for the Phillies, because going to any other team after being with the Phils would be such a letdown.  Roy Halladay and Placido Polanco are proof that people on the outside want in on the Phillies mojo, and guys like Jayson Werth and Shane Victorino will openly talk about the clubhouse atmosphere playing a huge part in their development from non-roster invitees to World (f—in’) Champion All-Stars.

The three biggest creators of this chemistry are Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Jimmy Rollins.  They’re the Jerry, George, and Elaine of the Phillies.  (NB: If I had to choose a Kramer I think It’d be Werth because he seems to have a little bit of a screw loose)  Chase is George.  He’s a openly maniacal (remember when he wouldn’t talk to reporters about his hit streak?), he has a knack for saying inappropriate things (HR Derby in NY, WFC speech), and he’s somewhat secretly the centerpiece of the whole thing (like George, who was based on the show’s creator Larry David).  Jimmy and Ryan are Jerry and Elaine.  I can’t really decide who is who, but I’m leaning towards giving it to Jimmy since we’ve seen him open up so many seasons with a sort of performance when he annually calls out the Mets.  The two even make a pretty cute couple singing their “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” remix.

Seinfeld comparisons aside, Howard is “The Big Piece.”  He’s a guy who tells his teammates “Just get me to the plate, boys” and then goes out and wins the fucking game with one swing of the bat.  He’s a straight up G, and I would venture to say 90% of this team’s swagger comes straight from the enormous shoulders of Ryan Howard.

He means more to this team than his 140 RBIs every year.  And they mean a hell of a lot.

He’s good for a +5 in the “expected September wins” department, because every year around that time he decides “that’s right, there’s a thing called left field and I don’t have to hit every single ball over the right field fence.”  And then he cranks some of Tom McCarthy’s “Oppo-Boppos,” and reminds us all why Scott Franske should be actively planning the assassination of Tom McCarthy.

The last element people mention anytime Howard comes within a sneeze of St. Louis is that Ryan Howard grew up there, and still has a soft spot for the organization and the softest most pussy-whipped fans in sports.

Well I’ve got news for you St. Lunatics, Ryan Howard is here and he is here to stay.  He just purchased a house this summer in beautiful Blue Bell (outside of which my uncle has been known to lurk in his car) right in the same development as Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth.  Jesus H. Christ is that going to be a good Little League team in 10 years.

Maybe as good as the Phillies are going to be this year, with Ryan Howard and NOT Albert Pujols.

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Highlight of the Week

Here you guys go..we have 3 highlights of the week because championship week is the 2nd best week in the year after bowl week, which is really like 3 weeks but whatever. We got Evan Turner, Da’Sean Butler, and DaMarcus Cousins. 3 buzzer beaters.

Bronco

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Guest Post: Manager of the Decade J. Kyle Sweeney

Since I was at the Maryland-Duke game last Wednesday, I was asked to write a guest report for the website. So here it is. This was one of the most hyped matchups between Maryland and Duke since the early 2000’s.  In those years (2000-2003) Duke versus Maryland was arguably the most competitive, talented, and heated contests between two schools in all of the NCAA.  If you do not believe me, ask current basketball analysts Michael Wilbon and Jay Bilas, who have both talked about the hostility that these two schools and programs have for each other.  While Duke had controlled the rivalry the past couple of years, everyone knew coming into the game that this would be an intense battle that would go down to the wire.

So many things were on the line for both teams.  For Duke, they had a chance to beat Maryland and clinch the ACC regular season Championship and the number 1 seed for the ACC Tournament.  It also would solidify their case to be a number 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament.  For Maryland, this game would mean that they would have a chance to tie Duke for a share of the ACC regular season title and also give Maryland a signature win to improve its seeding for the NCAA tournament.  It also was senior night for one of the most successful senior classes since the national championship team of 2002, guards Eric Hayes and Greivis Vasquez and forward Landon Milbourne, all of whom are 1,000 point career scorers.  Specifically, it was the senior night of Greivis Vasquez, who will go down as one the greatest players to ever wear a Maryland uniform.  Finally, this matchup featured the two main competitors for the ACC player of the year race, Vasquez and Duke’s Jon Scheyer.

The Terps came out firing right away at the 9pm tip-off. They got up 10-2 in the first four minutes until play had to be stopped because of a ripped net.  After a team manager changed the net, the Terps kept coming at the Dukies, even getting their lead up to 14 points with 6:15 left in the first half.  However, Duke closed the lead to 2 as the half ended through the play of their big three, Scheyer, Kyle Singler, and Nolan Smith.  The first half featured periods of great offense from both teams.  The first 10 minutes were all the Terps.  They were hitting their outside shots and even had a slam by freshman Jordan Williams on Scheyer that drew the foul and the Comcast Center crowd into a frenzy (you can view it here).  After Duke switched into their zone defense, Maryland was thrown off track and it allowed Duke a chance to get back into the game.

The second half featured crazy back and forth action which saw both teams take short leads throughout the whole half.  With the second half dwindling down, the Terps turned to Vasquez to carry them.  Vasquez made two running floaters to put the Terps up for good and to give them the win, 79-72.  Much has been made nationally of how Vasquez has played this year, so I am sure that you guys know all about him.  But what I do want to point out is the contributions in this game by other players on Maryland.  They are Jordan Williams, a freshman center who had a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds, senior guard Eric Hayes who had 13 points on 6-8 shooting and provides a calming influence for the Terp offense, sophomore guard Sean Mosley, who chipped in 11 points and great defense, and junior reserve guard Adrian Bowie, who came off the bench for 9 huge points.  These players do not often get talked about on a national scale, however these and the other main contributors for the Terps are very talented players and have put themselves in a great position to make a deep run into the NCAA Tournament.

When the final seconds ticked off the clock, the Maryland students stormed the court and got a final chance to celebrate with its three seniors.  This was a great moment for those seniors, who had been through a lot in their four years in College Park.  This win solidified not only their season but their legacy as a Maryland Terrapin and provided many special memories for the team and the fans.  The Comcast Center was the loudest I have ever heard it in the four years I have ever been in the school.  The fans were in to the game the whole time and definitely provided the Terps a home court advantage.  It was a fitting way to end this season and the careers of the three seniors at Comcast.

With the win over Duke and the win at Virginia on Saturday, the Terps and Blue Devils both claimed the title as regular season champions in the ACC, with their conference records being 13-3.  Duke won the number 1 seed due to ACC tiebreaker rules, therefore giving Maryland the 2 seed.  Hopefully, these teams will have a 3rd matchup this year and play each other in the ACC Championship due to the talent level of both teams and the rivalry between the two schools.

While everyone is saying the ACC is down this year (and in terms of top teams, they are right), it is arguably the toughest conference top to bottom in the country.  While other conferences have more top tier teams, the ACC offers a very competitive slate where there is no easy game.  That’s why the ACC Tournament should feature to be one of the most exciting of the conference tournaments.  Make sure you tune into watch, this week should be fun for all college basketball fans!

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