Archives for March 2008

Staff MLB Predictions I of II

By David K. & Andy Weise

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AL

 

East- Boston
How do you pick against them? The pitching is always good, the hitting is always good, everything is always good. Can Ellsbury duplicate the success from last year’s postseason? Will Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester be able to hold down rotation spots for a majority of the season? Those aren’t bad questions to have because those are damn good players.

 

Central- Detroit
The Tigers looked unstoppable at points last year, a year after they went to the World Series. Now a couple seasons removed, they’ve only upgraded on talent. While Dontrelle Willis was a solid pickup for the rotation (even though he struggled in spring training), getting Miguel Cabrera might be the best pickup of the off-season. I don’t see how anyone in the central can stick with the Tigers. Only the Tigers can beat the Tigers.

 

West- Los Angeles
Losing Escobar for the season could be rough but this is virtually the same offense adding Torii Hunter. Hunter statistically has had the best two years of his career in ’06 and ’07 so he looks to continue down that road for now. As long as Weaver and Lackey hold down their spots, I think the Angels should be fine in the west.
 
Wild Card- N.Y. Yankees
I was hoping A-Rod would land elsewhere this offseason just to make things interesting but he stayed. The Yankees are interesting pick here but I feel good with it because Joba Chamberlain will enter the rotation sooner than later and that’s a guy who could be a difference maker for the Yanks.

 

ALCS- Detroit over Boston, in six games, Verlander dominates and the Tigers offense is just too tough.

 AL ROY- Francisco Liriano… oh wait he already played and dominated in ’06. It still seems like a dream to me! See my response to the NL ROY, I just can’t pick someone right now! Does Carlos Gomez apply?

 

MVP- Miguel Cabrera – finally gets onto a team where his performance actually matters. It’ll be a monster one considering the great bats already around him.

 

Cy Young- Justin Verlander, got a feeling this guy is going to dominate even more than he has in the past.

 NL

East- New York
Are the Mets allowed to lose? Imagine the reaction from the fans and media if they don’t win? Holy crap, this is where I admit that it wasn’t worth the Twins giving Johan Santana the biggest contract to a pitcher ever. The expectations are mountain high now.

 

Central- Cubs
This is kind of a “I can’t pick the Brewers.” Soriano is one of my favorite players to follow and with Kerry Wood looking finally healthy as the closer, this could be a good year for the Cubs.

 

West- Arizona
The addition of Dan Haren makes this a scary team to face in the postseason. They’re a fun team to win that plays a lot of small ball, kind of reminds me of the Twins. Eric Byrnes is a gutsy player as well and supports my A) fun to watch and B) like the Twins. He seems like the ideal player on a hit and run team.

 

Wild Card- Atlanta
Glavine is back, Smoltz is still around, what if Maddux ended up back in Atlanta? Wouldn’t that be awesome?
 
 
NLCS- Mets over Diamondbacks. Again, the pressure of not winning is very high for the Mets but as long as they have most of their players healthy, they SHOULD win the NL.

 

World Series:  Tigers over Mets. Some of this could depend on who gets the home field advantage via the All-Star game. I think the Tigers win in seven for this one. Verlander over Santana in game seven.

 

NL ROY-Kosuke Fukudome
The Cubs will make the playoffs and Fukudome has the media behind him on this one. It’s hard to pick rookie of the year anyways because most of the time some guy joins the team in May or June and provides a boost that is unreal.

 

MVP- Alfonso Soriano

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   Cy Young-  Johan Santana – technically he probably could have won the Cy Young the last four years probably. The NL only gets easier with facing pitchers and weaker offensive players.

 
My Team: Minnesota Twins
Obviously going to be an interesting year with no Hunter in CF and no Santana every five days. Delmon Young should be able to cover Hunter’s hitting numbers eventually, maybe not this year but eventually. Young is someday going to be one of the top hitters in the league. Carlos Gomez could steal 50 bases so I’m glad we’re throwing him right into the fire. Michael Cuddyer, Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer have become the three focal points for the offense and hopefully all three are able to do some damage as they will bat 2, 3 and 4 in the lineup. The bullpen has been one of the best in baseball for a handful of years and locking up Joe Nathan was a great move. Nathan and Mariano Rivera have the most saves among any two relievers in baseball over the past three years. Starting pitching will be the biggest question mark but the Twins are lucky because starting pitching is what the Twins organization is know for. With the return of Francisco Liriano (he’ll start the season in the minors for a couple more starts but finished spring training with games of 5 k’s and 7 k’s) Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Boof Bonser and veteran Livan Hernandez: that’s not a bad rotation, but it’s also just not necessarily proven. Baker and Slowey have been highly rated prospects for a longtime, Bonser lost some weight in response to questions about his durability and Hernandez replaces Carlos Silva a.k.a. “I will give up a lot of runs but eat a lot of innings.” (I’m sure he eats pleny of other things…things loaded in Trans Fat too –Paul M. Banks) Don’t be surprised if Hernandez gets traded at some point this season and Nick Blackburn becomes a mainstay in the rotation. All in all, I think the Twins manage a third place finish this year behind the Tigers and Indians again. The offense will improve from last year but the pitching will be inconsistent. The best news of all? Two more years in the Metrodome! The beautiful new stadium is making plenty of progress in downtown Minneapolis. Can’t wait for 2010!

 

–Andy Weise 

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AL
East- Boston
Beckett and Schilling need to get healthy or the Yankees can easily take the East, even though I don’t think New York’s starting rotation is anything to get too excited about.

 

Central- Detroit
They’ve bought the right to win this division.

 

West- Los Angeles
Love the Toriiiiiiiiiiii Hunter signing.  They just need their starting pitching to get results and they should coast out West.

 

Wild Card- New York
You know they will buy someone down the stretch to get into the post-season.

 

ALCS- Detroit over Boston

NL

East- New York
Johan and Pedro… nuff said

 

Central- Cubs
I guess I’m on a starting pitching binge because I think the Cubs need to get another starter or the Brewers will be right on their heels.  This race will likely go down to the wire again.

 

West- Dodgers
The power of Joe Torre…

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Wild Card- Milwaukee
Getting it done the right way, developing players through the minors…

 

NLCS- Cubs over Crew
Total homer pick.  Deal with it.

 

World Series: Detroit over Cubs
101 years…

 

NL ROY-Kosuke Fukudome
Fukodome Fever!!!

 

MVP- Ryan Braun

 

Cy Young- Dan Haren
Just because Johan is the obvious pick

 

AL ROY- Daric Barton
(He’s the A’s first baseman for those who don’t know.)

 

MVP- Vladimir Guerrero
(btw, ESPN’s Pedro Gomez picked Nick Swisher as his AL MVP choice… Really?  I like bold, but c’mon)

 

Cy Young- Justin Verlander

 

Next steroid Bust: Andruw Jones. The new testing policies would explain why he all of a sudden sucks

 

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A Brief, Unfiltered History of the Chicago Cubs

By Paul M. Banks

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There is a reason jokes about the Cubs and their incessant losing have become a pop culture staple. References to this ineptitude have been made in many places including Friday Night Lights, The Simpsons Halloween specials, Back to the Future and country music ballads. Read on to find out why.

Remember, like Wham told us in the ‘80s, “there’s no comfort in the truth, pain is all you’ll find.”

1876 A baseball team is founded as the White Stockings. (They would also be called the Orphans and Colts before settling on the Cubs nickname in 1902) They win the first NL pennant as well as six of the first eleven titles. Talk about peaking early in life! It would soon go downhill from there.

1906 Cubbies set a record for wins in a season (116) that still stands to this day. No, I’m not kidding! As for the World Series that season, see “A brief history of the Chicago White Sox timeline to see how that one turned out.

1907-08 Cubbies become first team to repeat as World Series champions in baseball history! These were the teams of Three-Finger Brown, Orville Overall and the immortal Tinkers-Evers-Chance combination. The team’s website states: “what a decade for Cubs baseball which is exactly what it was” huh? Although this was their best decade, this redundant statement doesn’t seem to make sense. How did this get past the editors?

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1918 Until 2004, this was the date that lived in infamy for the members of Red Sox Nation. The last victim before the 86 year drought? The Cubbies of course. 
 

1929 World Series, in which the Cubs yielded 10 runs to the Philadelphia Athletics in the seventh inning. A key play in that inning was center fielder Hack Wilson losing a fly ball in the sun, resulting in a 3-run inside-the-park home run.)
stock market wasn’t the only tings that crashed and burned in October of 1929.

1932 Cubbies win the pennant than watch as Babe Ruth toys with them calling his shot in game 3 of the series at Wrigley Field. Ruth pointed to a spot he intended to hit a homer and then promptly did so off Charlie Root. Yanks sweep Cubs in four.

1938 Yankees sweep Cubs in World Series again, dropping Chicago’s record in the Fall Classic to 2-7

1945 The infamous “curse of the Billy Goat” is born when a shop keep and his goat are denied entrance to the World Series which the Cubs lose to Detroit in 7 games. Supposedly a curse is placed on the franchise and the team has not won a pennant since. Whether the curse is real or not is debatable, but one thing is certain: this story has really been over-killed by the media.

1950s The first of three consecutive decades that yield no postseason appearances.

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1969 The “Summer of Love” was two years prior, but no baseball team in Cub history is as beloved today as these chokers. They blow an 8 game division lead in August and finish 8 games out of first place. During a critical series against the New York Mets (the team which ended up winning the Cubs’ division) a black cat crosses Ron Santo’s path as he stands in the on-deck circle. The incident adds to the curse mystique.

1971-1982 Other than a 1964 trade (Cubs give greatest base stealer in history away to the rival Cardinals for Ernie Broglio), Not much of note happens here, except for lots and lots of losing.

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1983 Manager Lee Elia unleashes a profanity laced tirade directed at the fans who show up at Wrigley day games (a night game is not played at Wrigley until 1988) just to boo him and his team. Amidst all the F words and other four letter words, Elia focuses on the point that these people don’t have jobs and asks why they come to Wrigley and ridicule him at his job? Do they actually have jobs of their own? Elia ends up being about ten-fifteen years ahead of time. It is not until the mid 1990s that globalization emerges and makes thousands of Chicagoans either unemployed, work-from-home consultants, or loathable trust fund babies who “work” at Wrigley Field in the summer.

1984 George Orwell himself could not have written a scenario this tragic. Cubs finally breakthrough postseason drought, and win first two games of the NLCS by a combined score of 18-2. They travel to San Diego only needing to win one of three to advance to the World Series. They take a 3-0 lead deep into the deciding game 5 but a historic collapse ensues, highlighted by Tim Flannery’s groundball going through first baseman  Leon Durham’s legs in the late innings. The Cubs fail to win any of the three games in San Diego and Steve Garvey becomes as unloved by Cub fans as he is by all the women he never called back.

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1989 Greg Maddux leads Cubbies to 1989 NLCS before losing 4-1 to the San Francisco Giants. Maddux was not tendered an offer after the 1992 season, he signs with Atlanta then wins a World Series there in 1995.

1998 Cub fans realize that the next Roger Clemens pitches for them. Rookie Kerry Wood ties Clemens for the record of strikeouts in a game in early May. Later in the season, Two steroided up power hitters from the NL Central resurrect interest in baseball as the Cardinals’ Mark McGwire and Cubs’ Sammy Sosa both break Roger Maris record for homers in season with 70 and 66 respectively ** The double asterisk is bult upon the asterisk placed for the previous record. The Cubs ride career years from mediocre journeymen such as Gary Gaetti, Jon Lieber, and Steve Trachsel into the pennant race. On the last day, the Cubs have a chance to clinch, but outfielder Brant Brown drops a routine fly ball and the Cubs are then forced to play one game playoff with giants to determine wild card. This moment becomes iconic for Cubs announcer and former third baseman Ron Santo. They win play-in game, but then get swept by the Atlanta Braves, led by good friend and ex-Cub Greg Maddux.

2001  Cubs are in first place at the break and 16 games over .500. They collapse in the second half and don’t finish 1st, not even second, but 3rd place.

2003  How did the Cubs finally get their first victory in a postseason series since 1908? By victimizing baseball’s answer to the Buffalo Bills, the Atlanta Braves. Atlanta has 15 straight trips to the postseason, but has only one title and three pennants to show for it. This was also the season of Sammy’s corked bat making him a national disgrace for exposing him as a cheater. And of course, this October brought us the complete implosion after being just five outs from the World Series during the NLCS. Game 6 eight inning gave us the appearance of Steve Bartman, Alex Gonzalez’s error of a routine ground ball, and Kyle Farnsworth’s lack of relief. The next night, Kerry Wood and company have a chance to make amends for the previous night’s fiasco, but the Cubbies also blow another lead in game 7 and watch the Marlins take the flag and then the series from the Yankees.

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2004 Where do we begin? If ever a season encapsulated an entire century of misfortune it was this one. The Cubbies had a prolific off-season, improving the previous year’s playoff team immensely. One of the worst things in life is to have high expectations unfulfilled and this year was the paradigm. Sammy Sosa’s journey to the dark side of public opinion was made complete. The Cubs hold the wild card during the last week of the season, but somehow find a way to squander it against the lowly Reds. When Sosa decides to leave the park instead of play in the final meaningless game versus Atlanta, his infamous boom box is destroyed.

When Dusty Baker said the Cubs would no longer be “lovable losers,” he was right. This team (with a winning record) was as lovable as cold sores, traffic jams and mosquito bites combined. Along the way to their horrific collapse, members of the Cubs whine about the umpires being out to get them, broadcasters criticizing them, make retarded base running decisions, dial angry calls to the press box, injure themselves by childishly taking their frustration out on inanimate objects (Farnsy misses games after he hurts himself kicking an electric fan) and hit WAY too many of their home runs with no one on base.

2005 Exactly like the previous season in that the Cubs are expected to finish first but instead finish third, watch St. Louis take the NL Central division and the Houston Astros capture the wild card. Exactly like the previous season, ticket prices are increased by an astronomical amount and injuries keep the fans from seeing much of Nomar Garciaparra, Kerry Wood, and Mark Prior. To make things even more difficult for the fan, the Cubs policy of scalping their own tickets through their private brokerage company becomes even more profitable and therefore implemented.   Salt is poured in the ’05 wounds when their hated rivals, the Chicago White Sox, win the World Series.
 

2006 Another year with high expectations, (Playboy magazine even predicted the Cubbies to win the world series!) results in manager Dusty Baker getting canned. They start out 14-10 before Derrek Lee gets injured and the decline begins. A May meltdown and June swoon of epic proportions follows. Another year of extremely high payroll isn’t enough to keep the Cubs from losing just under 100 games. Most of GM Jim Hendry’s acquisitions under-perform, putting him on the hot seat. There were numerous losses that were magnificent in nature…even by Cub standards. My favorite of all came on  July 16, when the Cubs had a 5-2 lead over the National League leading New York Mets. The  Mets scored 11 runs in the sixth inning, 8 of which on grand slams by Cliff Floyd and Carlos Beltran, the first time the Cubs have ever given up two grand slams in a single inning. The 11 runs were the most ever scored for a single inning in Mets franchise history. Salt is poured in the ’06 wounds when their hated rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals, win the World Series 
  
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 2007. Cubs get off to God-Awful start as the last remnants of the failed Dusty regime take a while to be swept out. After the All-Star break, the Milwaukee Brewers collapse laughably, the Cubs get hot and end up winning the weakest division in the history of the Major Leagues; maybe the weakest in the entire history of Western Civilization. Cubs are favored by many to win NLDS versus Arizona Diamondbacks, but fail to even win a game.

An Unfiltered History of the Chicago White Sox

By Paul M. Banks

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Before the 2005 Chicago White Sox won the title to give Chicago its first baseball championship in 88 years, the North and South-siders were suffering together despite their division. It’s about two groups who have suffered for a long time and reading the details is not exactly the most uplifting task one could undertake.   Reading it (other than 2005 of course) reminds me of the final scene in Apocalypse Now; when that eerie and ominous voice whispers “the horror, the horror.”

1901 White Sox finish with best record in the American League’s inaugural season. Unfortunately, there is no World Series for them to play in; the World Series is not invented until 1903.

1906 This was the year pigs flew, hell froze over, and both Chicago teams appeared in the World Series. Somebody had to win it right? That somebody was the White Sox better known as the “Hitless Wonders.” (team batting average .230 with 7 whole home runs)  Somehow, they find a way to pound out 26 hits and score 16 runs in the games 5 and 6 and take the series.  
1917   Just like the Los Angeles Angels failing to tag A.J. Pierzynski twice at crucial times during the ALCS, The Sox took advantage of their opponents gaffes and misadventures on the base paths. In the decisive game 6, two New York Giants(that’s the New York baseball Giants of course) errors put runners on the corners in the 4th inning. Happy Felsch then hit a grounder to Rube Benton. (don’t you just love how everyone was referred to by their odd nicknames, never first names, back then?)   Third baseman Heine Zimmerman failed to tag Eddie Collins who was a caught up in a rundown. Collins scored, then Chick Gandil came up and his base hit scored the other Sox base runners who advanced on Collins’ elusive maneuvers. Sox takes the series; then the 88 year drought begins.

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1919 This is it, the year of the franchise’s most infamous moment. This was the time of “Say it ain’t so Joe,” Shoeless Joe Jackson, Arnold Rothstein, The Great Gatsby and the inspiration for Field of Dreams. For more on The “Black Sox” scandal, eight players tossed out of baseball for throwing the World Series (despite being acquitted in a court of law) read Eliot Asinof’s Eight Men Out. What more likely to happen (since you’re a lazy bastard, is you’ll rent the movie with John Cusack and Charlie Sheen. Losing all of these players here rendered the Sox helpless in the league races for a decade and a half. 

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1920-1958   No postseason appearances. White Sox put together a bunch of great winning seasons during the 40s and 50s, but are unfortunate enough to play in the American League during the pinnacle of the Yankee dynasty. Also divisional play, the ALCS and the wild card have not been invented yet. These two factors leave them idle in October for 40 years.  

1959 During the apex of the cold war and nuclear paranoia, a widespread panic occurs in Chicago when the doomsday alerts are sounded. The warning sirens were set off to celebrate the Sox winning the AL pennant, not because of incoming Russian nuclear missiles. The first Mayor Daley apparently overlooked the contemporary culture of fear and political climate. Oh and the Sox lose the World Series to the Dodgers in six. Four years later, legendary shortstop Luis Aparicio gets angry when the Sox trade him to Baltimore. He tells them that it will take 40 years for them to win another pennant. He was wrong, it took 46 years.

1964 Sox go 98-64 (Third biggest win total in franchise history) but Yanks finish 13-1 down the stretch at the Sox are left out as the ALCS isn’t invented until 1969. 

1970  The bottom drops out as the Sox lose a franchise record 106 games.

1977  The “Southside Hit Men” become a well celebrated and well respected team. This historical fan favorite finished third after choking down the stretch. This is the Southside’s answer to the ’69 Cubs; a very beloved also-ran that is remembered and honored despite never winning anything.

1979 The year of the infamous ‘Disco Demolition’ promotion. White Sox hold pre-game festivities that featured an opportunity for the fans to blow up a disco record of their own choosing.  The promotion ends in fans storming the field, rioting and forcing the home team to lose by forefit. This event sets the standard stereotype that unruly malcontented field storming Sox fans would live up to and exceed 23 years later.

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1983 White Sox (99-63) run away with AL West, winning division by a then record 20 games. Despite leading the majors in runs scored, they only manage to reach the plate 3 WHOLE times in 4 games (stranding 35 base runners along the way) and lose to Baltimore in the ALCS. Cy Young award winner and infamous cocaine addict Lamarr Hoyt pitches them to a 2-1 victory in game 1.

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1986 Bobby Bonilla who would make 6 All Star appearances, is traded for Jose Deleon a pitcher who promptly goes 2-19.

1990 Sox put together a very strong team that finishes 94-68 during last season in old comiskey park. Too bad they play in Oakland’s division, and its still 8 more years till the wild card is introduced and livens up the baseball postseason.

1991 Sox open New Comiskey Park with a 16-0 loss to the lowly Tigers, finish another year in second place (a.k.a. the first-place loser) After the season they trade a skinny strikeout prone kid named Sammy Sosa for George Bell.  Bell had 112 RBIs in 1992, but was out of baseball by 1994. Sosa would hit the juice and spend 12 years on the north side of town would go on to smash over 550 home runs in his career. (and also move up to number two on the career strikeout list)

1993 Sox win AL West, clinching in dramatic fashion at home on a big home run by two sport star Bo Jackson. They also take home most of the league’s season awards (Cy Young- Jack McDowell, MVP- Frank Thomas, manager of the year- Gene Lamont) However, the postseason is a completely different story. In the ALCS, the Toronto Blue Jays eliminate them in 6 as Ace McDowell chokes big time. He surrenders 13 hits in his game one loss and lasts only two innings in his second playoff defeat.

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1994 The strike causes many fans to abandon Major League baseball for a few years. Many blame Sox ownership for being an instrumental part in the hard line stance of owners whose policies induced the culture of greed that precipitated the work stoppage. When strike occurs, Sox are in first place and 22 games over .500. The postseason is never played.

1997 The year of the infamous “white flag trade” In early August, White Sox find themselves just 3.5 games back of Cleveland in the race for the AL Central. Still Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf remarks “anyone who thinks this team can catch Cleveland is crazy.” The Sox then trade two of their top starters (Wilson Alvarez and Danny Darwin) and closer Roberto Hernandez to the giants for 6 minor leaguers (on the plus side, two of those players turn out to be solid relief pitchers Bobby Howry and Keith Foulke who were instrumental in the 2000 run to the postseason) With the goal of building for the future, the Sox essentially surrendered in the midst of a very winnable pennant race. This move angered and scarred the Sox fan base for quite some time. 

2000 The Sox roll through the regular season and finish with the best record in American league breaking franchise records for runs, RBIs, hits, doubles and homers along the way. In taking the Central division title they often celebrate to the team’s unofficial fight song: BahaMen’s “Who let the dogs out?” The Seattle Mariners, who also adopted the BahaMen song for celebrating the high points of their season, promptly sweep the Sox out of the first round as the Chicago bats go dead in October. (ALDS team batting average .185)

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2002 The infamous “Tom Gamboa/William Ligue Jr. & son incident” creates a new paradigm for inaccurately stereotyping White Sox fans as shirtless, mulletted, tattooed white-trash criminals. Research studies have shown that the Sox fan base is actually just as affluent, articulate, educated and accomplished as the Cub fan base. The misnomer was born one magical Monday night in September. On “half price” night, a repulsive scumbag and his son jump on the field and bludgeon Kansas City Royals first base coach Tom Gamboa. The iconic image of a bloody Gamboa is seen all across the national sports media landscape.

2003 In the offseason, Comiskey Park became “U.S. Cellular Field!” and yet another corporate whore eradicates tradition furthering the commercialization of sports. Soon, “The Cell” becomes a new way for people (people not getting royalties from a cell phone provider) to refer to the park. The nickname becomes applicable when assault and battery is committed during a game AGAIN! Another on-the-field incident in another half-price night game versus the Royals. This time another scumbag assailant (Eric J. Dybas) attacks an umpire. Although this incident has a shorter lifespan in the news cycle, Dybas is quoted: We ain’t no white trash.” This quote has as much truth as Nixon’s “I am not a crook.”  As for the team itself, the Sox are in first in mid  September, but get a beat down from head to head matchups with the Twins who move on to the postseason in place of them

2004 The Sox are in first place at the all star break, but unfortunately the Sox’s two biggest sockers (Frank Thomas and Magglio Ordonez) get hurt in the second half. The Sox then tank down the stretch and finish a modest four games above .500

2005 We all know this year has a happy ending, but when the Sox saw their fat 15 game lead on August first slim down to a skinny game and a half in September (with still 6 games head to head with the hard-charging Indians) all the fatalists and doomsayers came out of the woodwork to lead the panic. It’s that routine pessimism of the city and their fan base that gave Sports Illustrated a legitimate reason to rank them as the worst franchise to be a fan of earlier that year. Of course, October was a wonderful and happy time. However, this is not a place for happy endings. If you’re looking for one, go rent a Disney movie.

2006 This collapse was a slow gradual death; not a choke. It was a downward spiral over a couple of months in which they never pulled away while having the wild card in hand on Labor day, but they didn’t officially die until the last week either. They kept winning and losing just enough to keep the fans unsure of where it was going. Each series down the stretch sent Sox nation mixed signals about what could happen in October, and whether they would reach the postseason or not. A late September trip to California sealed their fate. Good ‘ol Buddy Frank Thomas and the Oakland Athletics swept the Sox, closing their coffin. What should have been a huge home series against Detroit was nothing more than their last rights. The potential of a 57-31 first half went to waste because of a 33-41 second half. Why the disparity? A couple reasons include Mark Buehrle failed to show after the second half, going 3-9 during his final 16 starts and Jim Thome’s slowing down during the pennant race. Thome’s first half (30 homers, 77 RBIs) was a different half-season than his second. (12 HRs, 32 RBIs)

2007 Remember Memorial Day weekend? When the White Sox started a losing streak that felt like…I don’t know forever? And they were pretty much eliminated by Flag Day? Despite having the fourth highest payroll in the Major Leagues, the Sox gave us one of the most awful seasons of all-time slugging it out with the Royals to avoid last place and the Devil Rays to keep from being the worst team in baseball. Good times!

Chicago Baseball links galore!!

By Paul M. Banks

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In the spring of 2006, I wrote an in-depth feature on the marketing of Chicago’s two major league teams. The article features an exclusive with White Sox Vice President of marketing Brooks Boyer and 670 the Score’s Dan Bernstein

http://www.therealchicago.org/0104cubssox.htm

 

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And here’s a recent piece from the Kane County Bulletin describing my night on the field and behind the scenes with the Kane County Cougars. 

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It was doggie night at Elfstrom Stadium

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The Clinton Lumber Kings welcome home their first runner of the evening

On-Field with the Cougars Promotion Team

By Paul M. Banks

Outrageous and unorthodox ballpark promotions are one of the first things many people often associate with minor league baseball. These promotions are perfect examples of the way a minor league baseball organization attracts the consumer. Baseball is the product, the fan is the consumer, and the promotions are part of the brand: the experiences, thoughts, and emotions that the fan associates with the game. My night being both behind-the-scenes and in the public eye with the Kane County Cougars was their ‘Bark in the Park Night.’ I joined the on-field doggie parade, set to the BahaMen song ‘Who Let the Dogs Out?’ This may be the dogs’ day, but this is the home of big cats. The Cougars logo behind home plate is freshly painted every day. It is there that I received my orders to spend most of the game shadowing Shawn Touney, team media relations director. Being on the other side of an event was a unique type of experience; I didn’t really get to watch the game at all because I was more fixated on the job. I helped out with ‘Human Bowling Ball’ and the ‘Lawn Care Olympics,’ but I’ll always remember the ‘Nicor Ball Blast’ most of all. I’ve attended many games where I sat quietly and watched while others went nuts trying to catch the t-shirts and free giveaways that are thrown into the crowd. I didn’t really concentrate too much on where I was throwing, but I did follow orders in trying to spread the love around equally to all sections. The opposing team also likes to participate in this promotion. With a crowd of about 10,000 on hand, the help was definitely needed. “I think that’s one of the unique qualities of the minor league experience: the player-to-fan relationship. What makes it even more special is the fact that we not only involve our players, but the opposing team to take part in this particular promotion,” Touney proclaimed
 
The Clinton Lumber Kings, the visiting opponent that night, open the scoring drought in the fourth, with a monster inning. It coincides with us waiting in the corridor behind their dugout to take the dog contest winners onto the field. The long inning delays our field entrance and our obligations impact the schedule of later events. On game night, team employees often have to change their job duties at a moment’s notice. In the minors, assistant GMs sometimes have to scrub down tables or pour beers. Department heads often work parking or even have to be the mascot one night. Organizational hierarchy aside, employees have to wear many hats. “With our full-time staff, everyone must be prepared to handle multiple responsibilities, or even responsibilities that sometimes do not fall directly under their job description. From that, an entire staff builds a sense of camaraderie that is fairly difficult to find in other lines of work,” Touney stated.

An exclusive with C-USA player of the year Paul Smith

By Paul M. Banks 

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By the end of this interview I understood why Conference USA player of the year and Tulsa quarterback, Paul Smith won the 2007 Wuerffel Trophy, presented to the college football player who best combines exemplary community service with both athletic and academic achievement. I can say without hyperbole that he was by far the nicest and most respectful athlete out of the hundreds that I have interviewed in my young career. The Owasso, Oklahoma native established Conference USA single-season records for total offense, passing yards, and TD passes thrown. Smith also broke Tulsa program career and single-season records for passing, touchdown passes and total offense. Smith received ESPN The Magazine’s Academic All-America second team merits and was named C-USA’s Scholar Athlete of the Year for football. He was also the MVP of the 2005 Liberty Bowl and currently holds the NCAA record with 14 consecutive games passing for more than 300 yards. He recently married former TU soccer varsity letter winner Krista Barker. I spoke with him about football, faith, Lovie Smith, and just life in general.

To read the interview, go here:

http://www.nfldraftblitz.com/paulsmithinterview.htm

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The Stock Report (NCAA Tournament Edition)

The dollar may be dropping, but David K.’s NBA Draft Stock Report is increasing in value 

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An update of whose NBA Draft stock is rising and falling

Now, more so than ever, NBA scouts have their eyes glued on college basketball and the NCAA Tournament.  A good performance in the Big Dance can do wonders for a future NBA prospect’s draft stock, while bombing on the big stage can have the opposite effect.  Here is a look at who helped raise their stock after the first weekend of the tourney:

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BUY:

Stephen Curry, Sophomore, G, Davidson

College recruiters from the ACC and SEC overlooked Curry coming out of high school.  While he may look like he is twelve years old and have a skinnier frame that Calista Flockhart, the kid can flat out shoot the rock.  Curry was undoubtedly the MVP of the first two rounds, dropping 40 points on Gonzaga in the opening round while scoring 30, 25 of which in the second half, in a come-from-behind defeat of Georgetown.  I would be shocked if Curry tested the NBA waters, but if he can add some muscle and improve his ball-handling skills, it will be hard for NBA scouts to overlook him in the near future.
 

Mario Chalmers, Junior, PG, Kansas

Chalmers followed up a 30 point, 6 assist performance against Texas in the Big 12 championship with two solid tourney games.  He scored 17 and 16 points respectively in the Jayhawks’ first two rounds.  With point guards like Derrick Rose, O.J. Mayo, D.J. Augustin, Darren Collison, and Ty Lawson all likely top-20 picks; Chalmers could be the next best option for an NBA team looking for a floor general in the late first round.  He has likely secured a spot in the first round with his recent play and could see his stock rise even further as Kansas continues to stay alive.

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Kevin Love, Freshman, PF, UCLA

Love just knows how to play the game.  Period.  He may not be the athletic power forward that NBA teams crave these days, but Love has proven that he is more than ready to contribute in the NBA.  In UCLA’s opening round win, the freshman scored 20 points and grabbed nine boards in just 21 minutes.  Against Texas A&M, Love dropped 19, collected 11 rebounds, and blocked seven shots.  He is a sure-fire lottery pick if he decides to go pro, and could end up in the top ten if an NBA club is looking for a smart, well-rounded post player.
 

Joe Alexander, Junior, F, West Virginia

The versatile Alexander has led the Mountaineers to the Sweet 16.  At 6-8, Alexander has shown the versatility to put the ball on the floor and create his own shot, as well as hit outside jumpers, post-up smaller defenders, knock down free throws, and crash the boards.  He has scored 20-plus points in six of his last eight games.  If he decides to forgo his senior season which is becoming more and more possible, he would likely be a top-20 pick. 
 

Courtney Lee, Senior, SG, Western Kentucky

Playing at a mid-major school, Lee doesn’t get the national exposure that he deserves.  He scored 29 points on 4 of 5 shooting from downtown in the Hilltoppers’ second round victory over San Diego after having 15 points and nine boards in round one.  It is evident that he can shoot the ball, but he also attacks the rim and rebounds well for a two-guard.  Another impressive performance in the Sweet 16 should cement his status as a first-round pick.

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Jamont Gordon, Junior, Guard, Mississippi St.

Gordon might be the most underrated combo guard in the nation.  Questions come up about his decision-making abilities as he averages more than four turnovers a game.  What makes Gordon special is his capability to make an impact even when he is not scoring.  In the Bulldogs’ first round win, Gordon shot just 2 of 14 from the field, but dished out nine assists and grabbed 11 rebounds.  He followed that up with a 21 point, 11 rebound, 5 assist outing in Mississippi State’s second round loss to Memphis.  His versatility should be attractive to NBA teams which could get him into the first round if he gives up his final year of eligibility.
 

Charles Rhodes, Senior, PF, Mississippi State

Rhodes threw his name into the draft last season just to test the waters and get a feel for what scouts were thinking.  His 34 points and 14 boards against Oregon, and 14 & 10 versus Memphis proves that he can be a force inside.  He has the knock of being an under-sized power forward which is always a deterring factor on draft day.  But in recent years, guys like Craig Smith, Paul Millsap, Leon Powe, Glenn Davis, and Carl Landry have found success being role players as second-round picks.  Rhodes could continue that trend and be a second-round steal for a team looking for a physical presence off the bench.

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Although Drew Neitzel was not mentioned at all in this article, I had to include this picture of #11 being interviewed by Erin Andrews. And who’s going to argue against posting a picture that shows Erin Andrews from behind?  

Fantasy Baseball Preview Part one of…a few

By Paul M. Banks, The Soxman, Peter Christian 

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Banks’s questions in bold. Soxman’s answers in normal type, Christian’s answers in italics

Do you draft Roger Clemens or Barry Bonds?
 
My gut tells me that the most recent government perjury inquiry into Roger Clemens, combined with the fact that evidence (albeit circumstantial) suggests he was tainted will keep Roger out of baseball on 2008.  Therefore, I’d avoid drafting him.
 
Interestingly enough, I’ve participated in two drafts now and Barry Bonds was drafted in both of them.  If you are in extremely deep leagues (such as myself), he might be worth taking an “end of draft) flier on. In leagues where on base and slugging percentage are scoring categories, Bonds is one of the best ever, regardless of “how” he got there.  Fantasy Baseball does not have a drug test either.   
 
Roger is untouchable. Especially in leagues with only a few bench spots. Barry on the other hand might be worth keeping an eye on. Depending on how the draft plays out and if I have a solid team that I’m confident in, I may forgo depth at a certain position to take a flyer on the Homer (Drama) Queen. Whether I draft him or not, I’m definitely keeping my ear to the ground about any possibility of him joining a MLB team mid-season.

What about the other players in the Mitchell Report? They’re saying this could just be the tip of the iceberg.  What players might you avoid drafting to avoid? 
 
The Mitchell report did not have as much of a negative impact as I thought it would on any of my drafts.  I said I was going to avoid pitchers whose names appeared in the report and yet I ended up with Eric Gagne on my roster.  The allure of him regaining that 2004 magic was enough for me to bite, especially in a league where mediocre closers have as much value as solid starting pitchers.
 
As far as “the tip of the iceberg” goes, look at hitters who had a sharp decline in power numbers or batting average in the last two seasons for no apparent reason whatsoever. Even though I still drafted him, Michael Young is one of those candidates.  On a team that featured Ivan Rodriguez, John Rocker, and other alleged users, his homerun total has been cut in half from 2005-2007.
 

Chuck Knoblauch, David Segui…OK really, I think the Mitchell Report was a big joke. It is pretty obvious that the biggest suspension that MLB is ready to hand out for past transgressions is 15 days (not games). I probably wouldn’t intentionally draft more than one player who is facing suspension but a player like Jose Guillen, Mike Cameron or Andy Pettitte will find a home on someone’s roster. However, I doubt any of those players are going to make or break a team. I will shit a fire truck if I ever hear someone say, “My fantasy team would have been great this season if only I wouldn’t have been scared to draft insert player name here because he was on the Mitchell Report.”

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What player helped and hurt his projected fantasy numbers by changing teams this off-season?
 
Without a doubt, Nick Swisher likely helped his fantasy number the most.  Already a tremendous homerun hitter and on-base guy, Swisher leaves spacious Oakland, to hit in the launching pad that is U.S. Cellular Field.  He could be in for a huge year and qualifies in center field for leagues that have strict position requirements.  He was drafted in the first round in my league where on-base plus slugging percentage is the primary offensive scoring category.
 
The biggest name player who likely hurt his fantasy projections the most is Scott Linebrink. An excellent set-up man for most of his career, he leaves spacious Petco Park for the Cell.  His ERA jumped over one run after his trade to Milwaukee and his new home is not very forgiving to fly ball pitchers.
 

Helped – Torii Hunter, Miguel Cabrera

Both Torii and Miguel took their game to line ups that will allow their offense to flourish well beyond their prior performances when they were relied upon to carry the load. With better support in the line-up both are going to see even better pitches to hit. Career years should be expected and their draft stock is higher for both players. In Torii’s case he also has the added benefit of having a bit more depth around him in the outfield. He is on a team where they can afford to sit him down on occasion, which should ease fantasy owner’s worries about his injury history, not to mention he isn’t playing on the much less forgiving Metrodome surface for 80 games. With Miguel Cabrera not having the option to buy and swallow a Cuban sandwich on every street corner in Detroit, his weight should level off and keep him in good shape for the season.
 
Hurt – Johan Santana, Dontrelle Willis

Before you start freaking out at your monitor- listen up! Johan is still going to have a good season, but it isn’t going to be as awesome as everyone expects. Johan was consistently backed by a solid defense at all positions around him. The Mets have a solid infield but the defensive play in the outfield isn’t at such a high level as the Twins were. Plus, Shea Stadium is a bit more spacious than the Metrodome meaning outs as a Twin might be hits as a Met. Also, the Mets don’t necessarily have the bullpen consistency to bail Santana out if he does run into trouble. Dontrelle on the other hand seems destined to fail for the Tigers. He is going to face better hitters in the American League, he is going to be forced to pitch deeper into games and his durability is a huge question mark. There is no question he is enthusiastic, but his work ethic could become an issue on a team where he isn’t coddled. Don’t draft D-Train unless you want to be looking for a pitcher on the waiver wire in a month or two.

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Everyone talked about Barack Obama’s bracket which was published everywhere. Just slightly down the scale in importance, we have Soxman’s fantasy team roster

My dynasty league is EXTREMELY deep, 16 teams 30 players on a roster. I’ve made it to the play-offs every year of its existence and won it all twice. My team was aging, so I went young this year in the hopes of staying “in the play-off hunt” but drafting young talent. I’ll likely make a post-draft adjustment or two, but here is my team.  You likely have not even heard of half these guys…
 
Hitters
 
1B
Paul Konerko
Joey Votto
 
2B
Marcus Giles
Tadahito Iguchi
Matt Antonelli
 
SS
Michael Young
Brandon Wood
 
3B
Ryan Braun
Scott Rolen
 
Catcher
JR Towles
AJ Pierzynski
 
Center Field
Jacoby Ellisburry
Melky Cabrerra
 
OF
JD Drew
Carlos Quentin
Dewlyn Young
Travis Snider
 
SP
Justin Verlander
Carlos Zambrano
Mark Buehrle
Joe Blanton
Gil Meche
Manny Parra
Gio Gonzales
 
RP
Joe Nathan
Bobby Jenks
Mariono Rivera
Eric Gagne
Joe Borowski

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The Trees Stand Tall

By David K.

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3/22/08 

When it came down to crunch time, it was a battle of Marquette’s Jerel McNeal against Stanford’s Brook Lopez.  At stake: a trip to the Sweet Sixteen.  Both guys played unbelievable in the final minutes of their NCAA Tournament second round match-up.  Unfortunately for the blue and gold faithful, Lopez’s shoulders were able to endure more weight and pressure than his counterpart’s.

After dealing with foul trouble that caused him to sit for the final ten-plus minutes of the first half, the less goofy-haired Lopez was unstoppable.  Constantly abusing the Golden Eagles’ undersized post players, the seven-footer established himself on the block, going off for 28 points after the half, eight of which came in the extra session as Tom Crean’s crew never had an answer for the future NBA lottery pick.  With Cardinal Nation on his back, Lopez hit the dagger with 1.3 seconds left.  The Disney-loving Stanford sophomore was able to angle his upper towards the hoop as Dwight Burke practically forced him to fall out of bounds while hitting a near impossible shot, further cementing Lopez’s status as one of the top big men in the nation. Credit Burke for playing extraordinary defense on the game-winning play, but to no avail.  You knew they were going to feed Lopez in the post, and nothing could have been done to stop him from putting an abrupt end to Marquette’s season.

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McNeal was an absolute beast for the Golden Eagles, accounting for 16 of MU’s final 17 points, finishing with 23 in the second half and overtime, 30 for the game.  But when his team needed him most, McNeal was unable to answer the bell, missing two good looks in the lane that would have extended Marquette’s lead to three with under a minute to play in OT.  His shot selection at the end of regulation was also questionable when he chose to pull up for a contested three-pointer with six seconds left rather than attacking the basket and trying to draw a foul, a weapon in his arsenal that has succeeded numerous times this season.  Still, one cannot fault the Golden Eagle junior for his gutsy performance as he took the game into his hands and almost single-handedly willed his team to victory.  (For the record, McNeal averaged 23 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 53% from the field during the final six games of the season.)

The overall performance of the team can best be described by one word that both Crean and Dominic James used in their post-game press conference; character.  Several times during the game, it seemed as if Stanford was about to put things out of reach.  However, Marquette’s maturity came through as they were able to hang with the Cardinal. But as Crean put it, “never throw the knock-out punch.” 

It seemed as if that was going to be the case late in the first half when Stanford head coach Trent Johnson was ejected after picking up two technical fouls.  With Johnson watching helplessly from the locker room, the Golden Eagles put together an 11-1 run, taking an 11-point lead at one point.  When Brook returned to the floor in the second half to play alongside twin brother Robin, it just proved to be too deadly of a size advantage for the Cardinal.  (For the record, Robin Lopez has officially joined Notre Dame’s Luke Harangody on my least favorite players in college basketball list.)

I Love Stats

Jerel McNeal during the final six games of the season: 23 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 52.5 FG%.

Dominic James hit just 24.4% (10-41) from the field the last three games of the season.

David Cubillan proved worthless down the stretch, scoring just seven points in the final nine games, hitting the goose-egg six times.

Exactly one-third of Wesley Matthews’ points this season came from the free-throw line.

Looking to the Future

Three, maybe four Golden Eagles wore the Marquette uniform for the final time in their collegiate career.  Seniors Ousmanne Barro, Dan Fitzgerald, and Lawrence Blackledge have used up their four years of eligibility while it is still uncertain as to whether Dominic James will return for his senior season.  His NBA stock has not improved from the end of last season when he declared for the draft, realized he probably was not going to get picked at all, wisely pulled his name out, and returned to school.  If Dom throws his name into the draft this off-season, that is it.  He is done.  Only once can you declare for the draft and then change your mind.

Rumor has it that James is in need of some cash because of “family” issues and will hope, I repeat, hope to get drafted this off-season and catch on with an NBA team.  If not, it is possible that he can go play overseas to earn a steady paycheck. 

Putting the grapevine to rest, Crean will have to find a replacement for his starting center and sharpshooter.  Saturday’s loss to Stanford was another example of Marquette’s lack of size being too big of a liability to overcome.  The Golden Eagles will return Dwight Burke, Trevor Mbakwe, and starting power forward Lazar Hayward up-front.  It’s no secret that Hayward is not a true four and often gets into early foul trouble trying to guard bigger players.  Burke plays tough on the defensive end and in crashing the boards, but has practically no offensive skills. He’s also undersized at 6’8.  Mbakwe showed encouraging signs after returning from injury, but only stands 6’7.  MU has two post players in their recruiting class for next season; 6’7 Juco transfer Joe Fulce and 6’10 freshman Chris Otule.  So once again, the inside could be a big weakness for MU. 

By the way, I really hate Robin Lopez.

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Chicago doing its part to save the World

By Paul M. Banks

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Chicago is the flagship U.S. city for Earth Hour 2008, a global event in which cities will voluntarily turn out their lights to demonstrate concern about climate change. At a recent Navy Pier ceremony, Mayor Daley, WWF (World Wildlife Fund) chief scientist Eric Dinerstein and other civic and business leaders gathered to show the city’s support for Earth Hour, which will occur Saturday, March 29 at 8 p.m. (local time). During Earth Hour, in more than 20 cities around the world, businesses and individuals will turn off their lights in a highly symbolic gesture to demonstrate that by working together, people can make a difference in the fight against climate change. In addition to Chicago, participating cities include Bangkok, Copenhagen, Melbourne, Manila, Tel Aviv and Toronto.

“An important part of Chicago’s efforts to be the most environmentally friendly city in the nation is to help our residents understand the impact climate change has on our city,” said Mayor Daley.

For Full Article click here

http://www.therealchicago.org/0302green.htm 

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Brewers Spring Beyond ‘Hope’

By Trenni Kusnierek

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I just returned from four days in Arizona where I had the chance to take in some Brewers baseball.  In all honesty, the time was far too short for me to get a great grasp of what kind of team will take the field on March 31st against the Cubs, but I did walk away feeling cautiously optimistic that the season will finally stretch into October.  Here is a quick run down of the good, the bad, the ugly, and the intangible.

THE GOOD

I left the Phoenix area feeling pretty good about the depth of young pitching the Brewers have.  I had the chance to see Claudio Vargas, Manny Parra, and Carlos Villanueva take the hill and all of them looked solid.  Villanueva had the toughest outing of the group, giving up four earned runs, but it wasn’t terrible.  Parra was undoubtedly the most impressive.  He struck out seven batters in five innings and did not give up an earned run.  Parra has not given up an earned run since the first game; actually the first batter he faced this spring.  He also showed incredible control and poise on the mound with his off speed pitches showing a ton of improvement since last season. With the recent elbow soreness lefty Chris Capuano is suffering, Parra’s chances of making the rotation out of spring have improved.  The talk at camp is that Villanueva will be sent back to AAA Nashville despite his solid numbers.  This is because he still has a minor league option and the team wants to use him solely as a starter, not put him in the bullpen.  So, with Yovani Gallardo out until mid-April here is how I think the rotation battle will play out; Ben Sheets, Jeff Suppan, Dave Bush, Claudio Vargas, and Manny Parra.

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The other glaring positive of camp: the offense.  If you have watched, listened, or checked the box score at any point this spring you’ve noticed the Brewers are not at a loss for runs crossing the plate.  Mike Cameron, Tony Gwynn, Jason Kendall, and Ryan Braun have been hot wire to wire, but in the short time I was in Phoenix a few of the other guys came around as well.  Corey Hart was mired in one heck of a slump (at one point he had struck out nearly 15 times without a home run), but just before the team’s only off day this spring Hart began both hitting the ball out of the park and just making contact in general.  Ditto for JJ Hardy and Prince Fielder, both had been doing OK at the plate, but not where they would like to be.  Following his work on Sunday, Hardy told me that early in camp a lot of the guys are tinkering with mechanics and trying to improve situational hitting (ex: pulling the ball), but as the spring draws to a close hitters try to get in a regular season mindset.  Oh, and for those of you worried that Prince’s vegetation has zapped his power, no worries.  Fielder knocked a monster shot out of a very deep part of the park in Peoria against San Diego on Friday night.

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THE BAD

I was a little concerned with some of the defensive lapses I witnessed during our two televised games.  If there is one place the Brewers put a ton of emphasis in the off season, it was on improving in the field.  Ryan Braun looked pretty darn good in left field, but there was more than one occasion I cringed at the ball handling in the infield.  I personally witnessed errors from JJ Hardy, Rickie Weeks, and Prince Fielder over the long weekend.  According to Hardy, no one should panic.  The shortstop assured me the fields in Arizona are extremely challenging because of how dry they are and the way the ball can take a funny hop.    Another reason to not panic–the error I saw Hardy commit was his first of the spring and Fielder only has two.  Plus, Dale Sveum is putting in a lot of extra hours to help the young infielders and Ed Sedar is working just as hard in the outfield.  Both coaches are the first to greet their pupils as they exit the field to go over the little things.  Truth be told, I didn’t witness that many negatives in camp, and the few games I saw may have been an aberration. 

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THE UGLY

I am hoping to say the same thing in a few weeks about second baseman Rickie Weeks–spring was just an aberration.  To say Weeks is struggling all around this spring is an understatement.  Weeks is batting .125 with just five hits, two RBI, and TWENTY strike outs.  He is also struggling in the field where he has committed a team high five errors.  What worries me the most: even though it’s spring you can see the frustration on Weeks’ face.  He looks tense, worried, and beat down every time he comes to the dugout.  Weeks jammed his finger stealing a base over the weekend and will have a few days off to recuperate both physically and mentally.  I don’t want to get too down on Weeks for this reason.  Last spring, while covering Pirates camp, catcher Ronny Paulino was hitting anything and everything out of the ball park.  It was assumed he would be a great power hitting catcher for the Bucs.  Not quite…Paulino finished with 11 home runs in 2007 for the Pirates.  I’m not 100% sure, but he may have matched that total in March.

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THE INTANGIBLE

This team is made up of guys who are more than teammates.  After spending the last five years with a team that knew nothing but losing, it was a breath of fresh air to witness guys having fun from start to finish.  Yes, it is just spring training, but you can’t fake camaraderie.  I noticed it while working the Brewers Winter Warm Up in January and this group of players are friends as well as co-workers.  Why does that matter?  Because in August when the team or a player is in a slump, but still in the race, the last thing you need is finger pointing.  You need guys around that will pick each other up and do whatever they can to end the losing or the rough stretch at the plate.  Most importantly, you need a group of players who believe in the team and in each other.  Baseball is the most individual of all the team sports, but that doesn’t take away the fact that they still win and lose as a group.  The clear cut leaders on the Brewers are Prince Fielder and Mike Cameron.  Both of these guys have infectious personalities that clearly rub off on everyone around them.  Cameron, despite the fact that he has to sit for 25 games, has made an immediate impact on his teammates and it is obvious how much they like having him around.  It was fun to watch the dugout ‘shenanigans’ of Cameron, Prince, and the rest of the guys.  (Catcher Jason Kendall isn’t as vocal, but the guy is a work horse and that is not going unnoticed either.)

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The Essential Guide to the Princeton Offense

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By Paul M. Banks

Georgetown is showing up in brackets everywhere as a favorite to win their region. They have a perfect balance: a strong interior complementing a great perimeter game. Making their offensive firepower even more potent is the system they utilize, the Princeton offense. In their first round blowout of Villanova in the Big East tournament, you saw them work it to perfection. The Hoyas overcame a zero point outing from their star big man Roy Hibbert and set a school record for threes while shooting a ridiculously high percentage. How did they did do it? With excellent baseline passes setting up proper spacing for the release on their jump shots. They lulled the Wildcats to sleep with excessive rotation and caught their defense off guard all day. Announcer Bill Raftery (he of the “SEND IT IN JEROME” fame) accurately pointed out, “The ball was humming, Pete Carril would be proud.” Later, of course Raftery screamed “ONIONS!!!” And “Attacking the TIN!!!” This is why his enthusiasm for color commentary is a million times better than Dick Vitale’s, despite him having just a fraction of Dickie V’s popularity. This past November, I had a chat about the system with one of its gurus, Northwestern head coach Bill Carmody:
 

PMB: The famous Princeton offense, give me the gist of it…

BC: It gets a little too much attention; I think it’s basically the ball moves and the players all move. There’s no number system, you’re a one guard or a two guard; the players move as the ball moves. When it works, it’s nice to watch. I think it’s tough to scout. And a fun way to play.

PMB: So there really aren’t that many special intricacies; it’s not that complex?

BC: I don’t mind people talking like that, but two of our freshmen have come into four or five practices, and they picked it up pretty quickly. If you’re a basketball player, it’s easy for you; it’s rather intuitive.

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Yoda of the Hardwood

The founder of the system is the legendary Pete Carril. His Princeton squad defeated defending national champion UCLA in March 1996 by a score of 43-41 in what is considered one of the greatest upsets of all time. Carril, whose famous quote was “the smart take from the strong,” was an assistant coach for the Sacramento Kings for 10 years until his retirement in 2006. When Rick Adelman became Sacramento’s head coach before the 1998-1999 season, Carril helped Adelman install the Princeton offense and oversaw the Kings’ development into one of the NBA’s best offensive teams. With the help of stars like Chris Webber, Peja Stojaković, Brad Miller, Jason Williams, and Mike Bibby, Carril showed that the Princeton offense could function in the NBA. Adelman has also brought it to the Houston Rockets. You may have heard that they had a little winning streak recently! Versions of the system have been utilized by the New Orleans Hornets, Washington Wizards, and New Jersey Nets.
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When Street and Smith ranked the best collegiate programs of all time in 2005, Princeton was #19. This is elaborated on in the essay “Back cut, bounce pass, lay-up” by Daily Princetonian writer David Baumgarten. The author also described Carril as a “Yoda of a man” before summating the system thusly: “its beauty stems from a philosophy of read and react principles rather than set plays. Over the years he incorporated various elements: the high-post center, the low-post screen, the dribble handoff and, of course, the backdoor cut.” Other journalists have also called Carril the basketball Yoda.
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/30/sports/ncaabasketball/30carril.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

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If Carril is the Yoda of this “force,” then Carmody is the Obi-Wan Kenobi because Carmody succeeded the legend at Princeton after spending 14 years learning the system under him as an assistant. During his four-year tenure as head coach, Carmody guided the Tigers to an overall record of 92-25 (.786) and an Ivy League mark of 50-6 (.893), and took them to the postseason each year. In 1998, Carmody directed Princeton to a 27-2 record, a Top 10 national ranking and the second round of the NCAA Tournament. He was also the Big Ten coach of the year in 2004 at Northwestern.

Another pupil of both Carmody and Carril, John Thompson III, will prove to be the Anakin Skywalker of the Princeton offense, as he may become the most powerful Jedi master of all. JT3, a Princeton grad from ’88, produced two NCAA trips and three Ivy League titles in four years guiding the Tigers. He turned the Georgetown program around in remarkable fashion, taking a sub-.500 program to the NIT the next year, the Sweet Sixteen in his second season (this campaign also included the Hoyas’ first win over a #1 ranked team in 21 years) and the Final Four last season. How far can he go with his system this March? USC, Arizona St. Air Force, Richmond, and Vanderbilt also use this famous offense.
 

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Princeton of the Big Ten.

Of course, Carmody hasn’t been able to bring his success to Northwestern, a program that has been a de facto low Mid-Major despite their placement in the Big Ten. NU actually hosted the first Final Four in 1939 which is interesting when you consider how the Wildcats have NEVER actually made the tournament themselves. During a 10-15 minute stretch in the first half of their game at Michigan State, the Spartans did not have an answer for the Princeton Offense. NU relied on getting the Spartan defenders to focus on the ball instead of the man, then using back-door cuts and slip-screens (some system variations prefer weak-side cuts) and finally interior bounce passes to a teammate opportunistically positioned for an easy lay-up. There were about four or five Northwestern possessions in the first half of this game where this system worked beautifully. Sure, the Cats had no true scoring threat in the post (they take after their hometown NBA Bulls team!), but when the system works in a textbook fashion like it did for awhile on this night, you’ll get all the “points in the paint” that you need.

After the first meeting of the two teams in Evanston, I had an exclusive with MSU’s All-American Drew Neitzel, and I asked him about preparing to face this system:

“We were concerned. We know Northwestern runs that offense. Any time a team can hit 3s, they have a chance to stay in the game…We knew they were going to run the clock, that’s kind of their style to run that offense, spread us out. Coming in to the shot clock, we just wanted to bear down and step our defense up. It’s a killer when you play defense for 25, 30 seconds, you give up the shot and you make it. We just tightened the defense up that much more coming into the shot clock.”

In a 16 pt. win at Evanston, Neitzel and company were able to force NU into 5 shot clock violations, displaying a perfect paradigm on how to defend the system.
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Top of the Food Chain

The most intriguing offensive system in all of basketball is just another example of how this elite institution has enriched our sporting lives. The first college football game (between Princeton and Rutgers) occurred on November 6, 1869. Princeton also gave us the most popular helmet design in all of college football: the Michigan Wolverines’ helmet with its claw marks and racing stripes. Fritz Crisler brought the design with him from Princeton in 1938. Although they are irrelevant in college football today, the Tigers possess 28 national titles, more than any other school. This earned the Tigers #10 on the Street & Smith’s list. To compliment this ranking, they also ranked #19 in basketball. (Again this ranking is based on all time, not recent years) Only two other schools, Ohio State and Oklahoma, made the top 20 in both sports. No institution made the top ten in both. Former NBA player, U.S. Senator, Rhodes Scholar and Princeton alum Bill Bradley is widely regarded to be the best Ivy League player of all-time, as the only one to have averaged over 30 points a game. His 58 points in the 1964 consolation game, still stands as a Final Four single game record. Everyone thinks of academics when it comes to Princeton, but they aren’t too shabby in athletics either.

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TSB.net NCAA Tourney Predictions Part 2

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By the TSB Staff

Peter Christian

East Regional

Winner: UNC
Sleeper: St. Joe’s
Early Exit: Indiana.
I can’t decide if UNC was handed a super easy road to the Elite 8 or if they really are that good. Since I will never publicly admit the latter, the former is a much better option. UNC vs. Tennessee could be an epic battle; I just hope (Erin Andrews probably does as well) that Bruce Pearl keeps his hands to himself.
 

Midwest Regional

Winner: Wisconsin
Sleeper: Clemson
Early Exit: Gonzaga

Wisconsin has been extremely balanced all year long and their high level of play throughout the Big Ten will translate well against Georgetown. Clemson opened my eyes over the weekend and played their way from an 8 or 9 seed to a 5 seed. They will stay hot and knock off Kansas.

South Regional

Winner: Memphis
Sleeper: Pittsbugh
Early Exit: Michigan State

I don’t think I have ever picked an entire regional to go according to the seedings. Until now. I’ll admit, I feel kind of dirty doing it. Memphis will face plenty of questions about having to possibly face Texas in the Lone Star State even though they are the higher seed, but the Tigers can roll over the Longhorns.
 

West Regional

Winner: UCLA
Sleeper: Western Kentucky
Early Exit: UConn
Even though UCLA is labeled as the third #1 seed it appears they have the easiest road to the Final Four. Only a streaking (not that kind of streaking) Duke could challenge the True Blue, but I think the winner of the Purdue vs. Xavier will send them back to Durham.

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National Championship Game

UCLA over UNC… I won’t even pretend to hide the fact that I am absolutely giddy at the opportunity to see Kevin Love wipe the floor with Tyler Hansbrough’s stupid face. UCLA will stop UNC from running the floor and Ben Howland will completely out-coach Roy Williams for the Bruins to hang a 12th Championship Banner at Pauley Pavillion.

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UCLA My team’s chances (optimistically & realistically)
They are among the NCAA elite this season and have the balance to overcome the hurdle they have faced in the last two Final Fours. Instead of relying on their defense and guard play, the Bruins now have an inside-out game with a dominant low post presence in Kevin Love. Darren Collison is also one of the best pure point guards in the nation and his defensive skills will smother any opponent’s back court scoring option. UCLA also has the supporting cast (Josh Shipp, Russell Westbrook, Lorenzo Mata and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute) to adapt their play to exploit their opponent’s weaknesses. 

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Quentin’s picks

East Regional
Winner: UNC
Sleeper: Winthrop
Early Exit: Indiana

Have you heard the one about George Mason being this year’s George Mason? Oh. And that seemed so clever! (It didn’t). Did you hear about the media behemoth that hired a “legendary” coach just a few weeks after he bailed on his team mid-season? Then they trotted him out wearing what he slept in the night before so their “experts” can kiss his butt for a couple hours a “Knight.” All this despite the fact that this former coach turned analyst hasn’t been relevant for about a decade or more. Can we get CBS a lifetime contract for the NCAAs? Yeah, their studio guys try too hard, but at least they aren’t self-aggrandizing when they do it. (Unlike a certain four-lettered network). If Winthrop can beat Wazzu, it sets up an interesting rematch with Notre Dame, whom the Eagles eliminated last year.

Midwest Regional
Winner: Georgetown
Sleeper: Siena
Early Exit: Vanderbilt

Georgetown just knows how to win. Plus, I love that Jordan brand commercial they’ve got going. Gives me goosebumps. That’s not why I’m picking them though, I swear. As for sleepers, I’m just taking 13 seeds until I think of something better to do. Two weeks ago, I was taking Davidson no matter who they played. Today I heard that they’re favored
over Gonzaga…which obviously means the Zags will make the Elite 8.
South Regional
Winner: Texas
Sleeper: Marquette
Early Exit: Stanford

This was the toughest region for me to find a winner for and I’m not all that happy with the Longhorns. I really dislike Mempis because they’re too thuggy and I can’t root for them, Texas seems far from a lock (DJ Augustin gets a bit too “shooty”), I can’t cheer for Stanford (I followed Arizona as my #1 college team until I went to college), Pitt can’t stay as hot as they were during the BET, and Michigan State totally bores me. Which brings us to Marquette, whom I’ll discuss below and is maddeningly inconsistent. Other than that, I own the south like T.I.

West Regional
Winner: UCLA
Sleeper: West Virginia
Early Exit: Purdue

I’m interested to see what Xavier does. Also interested to see who comes out of the Drake-UCONN subregional. No one would surprise me there. Arizona-Duke could be a good one if they can manage to stop Joe Alexander in the first round. Of course, Arizona is stacked with those kinda guys that David K. loves to put in his mock draft lottery but who don’t seem to have any preference towards winning.

National Championship Game
UCLA over UNC… I’m not ready to live in a world where someone with the worst nickname in sports Tyler “Psycho T” Hansbrough is a national champion. And God forbid he does that thing he did after hitting that game-winner in the ACC tournament. (I’m assuming Q is referring to that “doggie paddle on land” thing he did with his hands while getting back on defense Saturday). Plus, I still think UNC can be inconsistent enough to lose somewhere along the way.
MARQUETTE
My team’s chances (optimistically)

Even though Marquette lost to Pitt in the Big East tournament quarterfinals, I found solace in the way they came back. Many times in a game like that when their shots weren’t falling and the other team seemed to be getting the breaks, this team has packed it in and gotten blown out. The fact that they didn’t do just that gives me hope that they’ve realized the urgency needed to play in March. Talent has never been a question with this team—they can play with anyone. It’s just a matter of consistency. If they’re on, even a Final Four run isn’t impossible.

MARQUETTE
My team’s chances (realistically)

Unfortunately, there’s no telling what we’ll get when Marquette plays Kentucky on Thursday afternoon. I told myself all year that I wouldn’t get caught up in the potential of this team until they proved that they could be consistent. Prior to the BET, I would’ve said that winning even one game in the NCAAs would have to be considered a success.
There’s no fun in that though and unlike everyone else, I don’t see the Lopez brothers to be that unstoppable. The past two seasons were made up of a great early run followed by a disappointing conference season and postseason, and this year has managed to be even rockier. Realistically, I have no idea what will happen. But that doesn’t mean I’m not looking forward to it.

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BILL PORT

East Regional

Winner: UNC
Sleeper: Butler
Early Exit: Notre Dame

North Carolina is the easy pick for this region.  Along with being the best team, they are playing in their home state until the Final Four.  No matter what anyone says, that is a huge deal.  Butler got screwed in getting a 7 seed.  They only have 3 losses and they are nationally ranked 10th.  South Alabama is a tough draw in the 1st round, the best 7-10 match-up in years.  Notre Dame is just overrated.  They may get beat by George Mason in the 1st round.  I would pick the Patriots as a sleeper but they’ll only win one game, while Butler will win two.
 

Midwest Regional

Winner: Kansas
Sleeper: Davidson
Early Exit: Wisconsin

Kansas will win this regional, but the elite 8 game with USC will be one for the ages.  Yes, USC will make it to the elite 8.  It will be great to see the Beasley-Mayo battle, but USC has too much talent around their Freshman.  USC will roll over Wisconsin in the 2nd round, if the Badgers actually win against Cal State Fullerton.  As for Davidson, they have played some good teams pretty tough this year.  They are a classic smaller team that will show they belong with the big teams.  I think Georgetown could be a bit overconfident and Davidson will get the upset.

South Regional

Winner: Texas
Sleeper: Kentucky
Early Exit: Memphis

Let’s start with the sleeper.  I think Marquette is just too inconsistent and Kentucky is too good for the 11 seed.  They were a team lagging at the end for a bit, but playing against big competition all season will benefit them.  Yes, Marquette played in the Big East, but they didn’t exactly plow through teams.  Memphis will suffer from the “our conference sucks, and so do we” syndrome at this point of the season.  Yes, they are good…but with the way some teams play out of their mind this time of the year, Memphis will be lucky to go to the Sweet 16.  Texas is the only logical choice for winning this region, except for maybe Stanford.
 

West Regional

Winner: UCLA
Sleeper: Purdue
Early Exit: Xavier
This regional is full of upset possible upsets.  After looking at 3 of my brackets, the only teams I have winning their 1st round games in each of them are UCLA and Duke.  Georgia could keep the magic going and beat Xavier, and I think they will.  But Purdue seems to know how to play each game (warning: horrendous cliché alert) one day at a time.  UCLA is too strong and too talented to lose before the Elite 8.  When they face Purdue in that round, it will be close, but the Bruins will prevail.

National Championship Game
UCLA over UNC.  Love vs. Hansbrough.  This will be a game for the ages.  The junior and the freshman.  I could go on and on about how great of a match-up this would be with all of the talent on the floor.  My prediction is that Kevin Love will play this game, and the entire tournament, with back spasms, and still smash his way through, becoming the best player of the season.

USC my team chance’s, both realistically and optimistically

Everyone is talking about Mayo vs. Beasley in the 1st round.  But I think Mayo will steal the attention because he has too many good players around him as well.  He has also come on as the season progressed.  When he came to USC, he wanted to make his mark and be on his way.  I think he realized that lots of talent with a ton of cockiness doesn’t get him as far as playing with the goal of making the team better.  The win over Kansas State will not be easy, but they basically have a bye in the 2nd round facing Cal State Fullerton or Wisconsin.  I think Davidson could pull off the upset over Georgetown, which would make USC vs. Davidson in the Sweet 16.  I really like Davidson, and I would love to pick them, but the combination of speed and more speed of PAC-10 play will be too much to handle.  Reality will hit Mayo in the Elite 8, and the Trojans will lose to the Jayhawks.  But the good news is, Mayo wanted to leave a bit of a legacy wherever he went to college, and he didn’t do it in just this one season.  He will return for next season, USC will be a 1 seed, win it all, and the legacy will be made.

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Trenni Kusnierek Final Four Picks:

East Regional
Winner: North Carolina
Sleeper: Louisville
Early Exit: Tennessee

I realize a three seed may not be a ‘sleeper’, but it’s easy to over look a team that started out so slow.  Ricky P is a hell of a coach.

Midwest Regional
Winner: Kansas
Sleeper: USC
Early Exit: Georgetown

Maybe I’m still bitter over Marquette’s loss to Georgetown, but I’m still not buying the Hoyas.  They’ve won a lot of close ones against teams they should have manhandled. Sooner or later the luck runs out.

South Regional
Winner: Texas
Sleeper: Marquette
Early Exit: Kentucky

Hey, every girl has the right to be a homer.  This is my moment.

West Regional
Winner: UCLA
Sleeper: Purdue
Early Exit: Connecticut

I’m going to be honest, so don’t mortgage your house to bet on these picks.  I do really like UCLA however, and Ben Howland is a great coach.  They’ve got to bring the glory back before it’s too late for the legendary John Wooden to see it happen again.

National Champion: UCLA over North Carolina

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