Phoenix

The All-Star Break

Welcome to the All-Star Break, where over 84 guys are “All-Stars”, Yankees announcers complain they didn’t get enough guys in, and the push to make the All-Star Game “mean something” has utterly failed. Yes, the All-Star Game has become the Pro Bowl. The voting is flawed (Derek Jeter starting), the players do not especially want to play (84 total All-Stars and counting), and the unique problem that the best players are not on the field in the late innings when the pressure (usually) rises. These are real issues that MLB needs to deal with because the All-Star Game, once a ritual awesome enough to be called the Mid-Summer Classic, has become a patsy of a game that only kind of resembles baseball.

The Problems

The Players Aren’t Interested. Frankly, this one is hard to solve. If you want to pay the players to play, you are not really guaranteeing anything other than their bodies being present at the game. Face it, almost no matter what you pay these guys, the starters are all filthy rich anyway and would rather be on the beach with the fam or an entourage of beautiful women than  going and playing 3 innings or so and hit the showers. Either you have to go over the top with some reward that will make the players want to win it (thus ruining the idea of letting everyone play and so on), or you make their attendance mandatory, which isn’t fair to the team of an injured player. There just is no easy solution here.

The best solution I have come up with is getting rid of the homefield advantage thing (not sure if it makes sense and the WS is rarely decided by homefield or a Game 7), throw a little incentive in there for hits, Ks  (for pitchers), and good defensive plays, and, this is the important one, accept that you cannot have a good All-Star Game in today’s game. The players’ have so many more things they would rather do that were not available to earlier players, and the game means so much less to a handful of the well-paid players that making the game is nowhere near as big a deal as getting that big contract extension. No more are the days where a player starved for national attention can finally bust out because we have non-stop sports news flooding us.  Guys like Hunter Pence have been through the overrated-underrated wringer so many times that there is no chance of a transcendent performance on this stage because we know generally what to expect from all the players in the game. The model just doesn’t work anymore and you can see it in every professional All-Star Game. The NBA All-Star Game is pure entertainment without any semblance of defense or toughness that people associate with championships. No one seems to really want to play in the Pro Bowl, and while I have never watched a NHL All-Star Game I would bet there is much less hitting and almost no team chemistry that is otherwise vital in hockey. All of which leads us to another baseball problem.

It doesn’t always resemble baseball. For the most part it does resemble baseball so I am nitpicking here, but certain parts do not at all. A starting pitcher usually goes a solid number or innings, the hitters see him a couple of times and he hands it to the bullpen. In the ASG, you get the starter going 2 innings or so, the 2nd guy going an inning or two, and by the time you get to the next starter, all the starters have been pulled from the game. Now whether the 8th and 9th innings are really “crunch-time” is certainly up for debate, the fact that the best players in the game have been replaced once by taking themselves out due to injury, and the replaced again mid-game by what is often the 3rd string guy at the position. Now that guy is still pretty good, but calling it “All-Stars” is pretty out of the question. The running or not running is on the coaches, so that is not a fixable issue, but the big issue is the pitchers being in weird roles and the best players being out of the game by the 6th.

Luckily, easy solution here: free substitution. Why not do this? No downside, easy solution. You can put guys back in if you are worried about not using guys up and running out and you can get your best players in at clutch time.

The All-Star Game doesn’t matter. This is not a problem to fix, but rather to embrace it. We all know that the game doesn’t mean anything, lets not act like it does. Accept that either Interleague record or best record is a better indicator. Embrace it and stop faking.

The Home Run Derby sucks. Let’s face it, it hasn’t been fun for a few years (minus Josh Hamilton) and it is as played out as the dunk contest or 3 point shootout. It needs spice.

  • As Bob Ryan suggested on PTI today, have a pitcher representative. Fantastic idea. CC Sabathia for the AL, Carlos Zambrano for the NL?
  • I am fine with the AL-NL setup, so with the pitcher rep, you now have 3 reps left per team. Give one to the leading HR guy in each league, one to a guy in the top 3 of each league in longest average HR so you have some wiggle room for if a “boring” guy is at the top.
  • If you are keeping with the captains idea, the captains fill out the roster, if not have the fans vote in the final guy in each league.
  • Add an extra hometown guy if he is not included.
And here are a few joke suggestions, some of which are only part-joke, part hope:
  • Hold the Derby on the moon.
  • Out of shape 40 year olds (in baseball pants) vs. the kids in the outfield. The older men will ideally be registered in a softball league so they go at it.
  • Have starting pitcher who has given up the most HRs throw out the first pitch at the Home Run Derby (not ASG
One last thing: Metal bats. I know, nothing about metal bats is acceptable at the professional level, but hey the point is putting on a show isn’t it? Does anyone ACTUALLY consider the winner of the HR Derby to be the actual Lord of the Long Ball? No. Who do you remember from the Yankee Stadium ASG, Josh Hamilton or Justin Morneau? Go with metal bats, and limit it to 5 outs so it doesn’t go on forever.
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Alright, that’s enough bitching. Time to hand out some awards.
AL MVP
Jose Bautista, RF/3B TOR
I thought a lot about Adrian Gonzalez here because he is a gold glover as well as a fantastic hitter, but it is all about Bautista as far as most valuable. Bautista is miles more valuable to an otherwise mediocre Jays team than Adrian Gonzalez is to a team filled with other All-Stars. Not to mention, Bautista’s line of .334/.468/.702 is just ludicrous. God I hope he stays clean, someone pays him trillions of dollars and he gets caught juicing. He was beyond mediocre throughout his career and now this happens? To Toronto? There is no justice.  Anyway he has slightly better numbers than Adrian Gonzalez so he gets it.
Also, he was pretty convincing against my Tribe.
Runners Up (not in order): Adrian Gonzalez, Paul Konerko, Miguel Cabrera
NL MVP
Prince Fielder, 1B MIL
This is a tricky one. I think Jose Reyes would win if he stayed healthy. I think Matt Kemp would win if his team wasn’t miserably out of it already and the sense of urgency was there. However, I think the Brewers find a way to win the Central despite their pitching issues and it helps Fielder vault from monstrous-statistical-year to MVP.
Honorable Mentions: Jose Reyes, Matt Kemp, Joey Votto
AL ROY
Michael Pineda, SP SEA
I dislike Stuart Scott, but I would like to say “Kid is ridiculous” anyway. It has been a pretty ok crop of rookies but without many standouts so far so Pineda would win by default but he has pretty clearly been the best rook of the year.
Honorable Mentions: Eric Hosmer, Lonnie Chisenhall
NL ROY
Freddie Freeman, 1B ATL
Danny Espinosa is a close second, but Freeman will be on a playoff team (which usually gets you extra points) and despite Espinosa’s  reputation as a slugger, Freeman’s Slugging Percentage is pretty much the same and Freeman’s OPS is a touch higher too. I like Espinosa but this award is Freeman’s to lose, especially with how he has been playing lately.
Honorable Mention: Danny Espinosa, Darwin Barney (though guys like him do not win awards ever)
AL Manager of the Year
Manny Acta, Cleveland Indians
Homer pick but it is hard to disagree on this one. He has helped a very young team galvanize and turn into a really solid ballclub without too many pieces. Sometimes managers get credit for having underrated players on their roster, but that’s how it works. Acta is the Manager of the Year.
Honorable Mention: Mike Scioscia
NL Manager of the Year
Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh Pirates
This is a closer one than people would like to think. Hurdle has done a wonderful job with the Buccos, but as I said earlier, sometimes coaches get too much credit for underrated players and that has been the case somewhat with Hurdle. I think Terry Collins has a good argument given how he pulled the Mets together and kept them afloat before Reyes took over as does Freddy Gonzalez for living in Bobby Cox’s shadow.
Honorable Mention: Freddy Gonzalez and Terry Collins
The Andy Dufresne Award
Asdrubal Cabrera, SS CLE
That was the longest night of Asdrubal’s life. The Andy Dufresne (Doo-frane) award goes to the breakout player and it is without a doubt Asdrubal Cabrera. I will save you the rhapsodizing for now but he has transformed himself into one of the top SS in all of baseball. Very few guys I would take over him IF ANY.
Honorable Mention: Alex Avila, Alex Gordon (about time)
The Andy Marte Award
Adam Dunn, DH CWS
Dunn has been awful. Normally I would demand a player have a bad glove too to be considered for the Andy Marte Award which is given to the worst player in baseball. However, Adam Dunn doesn’t even play defense so that gives him a little boost.  Chone Figgins’ lack of range and his subhuman OPS of .476 makes him a strong candidate but Dunn’s contract and how much he is holding his team back really puts him over the top.
Honorable Mention: Chone Figgins
The Fireman
John Lackey, SP BOS
There are plenty of bad pitchers in the majors so this is not an award for the worst pitcher, just the pitcher who gives its fans the worst feeling when he takes the mound. Just for gross number of fans he drives insane, it is John lackey.
Honorable Mention: Fausto Carmona, Mitch Talbot
The Tag-along Award
Casey McGehee, 3B MIL
This one goes to the worst player on a good team who really does not deserve to be on that team. McGehee has never been a good fielder, but this year he added a putrid offensive element to his game. His OPS is… wait for it… .594 which would be good for a slugging percentage but it is a slugging + OBP. He is terrible right now.
The Golden Defibrillator
Lance Berkman, OF/1B STL
The Big Puma had turned into the Big Pudgy. He was left for dead in Houston and even in New York with their little league fence in RF. However, he decided to mix in a salad and now he is in Arizona as a deserving All-Star. A tip of the cap to the Formerly Engorged Puma.
Honorable Mention: Bartolo Colon (speaking of weight issues)
Predictions
So we all know there is no point in making predictions before the All-Star break so why try? We will be back with predictions at the Trade Deadline. Enjoy the break, especially you, Grady Sizemore. Few hitters need to stop sucking more.
Oh, except this one: NL 4, AL 2.
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5/19/10 Phoenix Suns at LA Lakers (Game 2) Predictions

Phoenix Suns at Los Angeles Lakers- 9 ET TNT

Frye must contribute a few treys with or without giving Hill a piggyback

While I believe Game 1 was a true indicator of who will take the series, the Suns won’t go down without giving themselves a worthwhile fight back at home for games 3 and 4. Rest assured, the Suns won’t lose in such an embarrassing fashion again this series and with that being said Game 2 looks promising.

“Live or Die by the Three”- For year’s it’s been the Phoenix Suns’ motto, in Game 1 they died by it and we’re already dead before the fourth quarter started. Outside of Jason Richardson, the Suns were atrocious from downtown as Nash, Frye, Dudley, Dragic, and Barbosa shot an ugly 2-16 from long range. That folks is something that won’t happen in Game 2, expect at three of the five players I just mentioned to at the very least hit two threes tonight (my guess would be Nash/Frye/Dudley).

In the series, continue to watch how Phil Jackson decides to use Andrew Bynum, it seems to that Coach Jackson allows the Lakers the freedom to run up and down with the Suns at home. But then on the road inside the U.S. Airways Center expect Bynum to be more of a factor as the Lakers choose to play a slower paced game.

Nearly Exact Replicas

It’s almost scary to me how similar stat lines Gasol and Stoudemire have when facing each other. While the two may have their athletic differences, when it comes down to overall skill level and talents at the power forward position, they’re nearly identical. Both are very good from the foul line, very good around 15 feet, and both have a great array of post moves on the block.

As for Kobe Bryant, Suns fans will be relieved of any 40 point surges. Grant Hill and Jared Dudley have a game under their belt and from here on out, they’ll only to continue to adapt their defensive strategies towards him. Don’t get me wrong though, while there’s no stopping Kobe completely, don’t expect the Black Mamba to go off for anymore than 32 points at most.

If the Suns decide to test out their zone defense on the Lakers in Game 2, you’re guaranteed to see more of Andrew Bynum. I’m not so certain, testing the zone out is the right idea to be quite frank because I think it only attacks the Suns weaknesses down low. The more opportunities you give the Lakers to open up their high-low game with Gasol and Bynum the more foul trouble you may see from Amare Stoudemire. And without Stoudemire on the offensive end, you can kiss goodbye any good looks from the three-point arc with no real threats inside.

Game 2 shall be a good one from start to finish with the Phoenix Suns coming out on top shipping the series back to Phoenix tied 1-1.

Suns- 114 Lakers- 107

I must say being back here in Phoenix while this Suns/Lakers series is going on has been great to follow all the stories and all the hype. I’ve been told by a few Suns fans that this is the Suns fans “pump up” YouTube video before they tune into the game, ALL I CAN SAY IS ENJOY!

Bucks Mascot Bango Restores Balance & Respect…Maybe

This past Monday during Game 4 of the Atlanta Hawks at Milwaukee Bucks inside the Bradley Center, Bucks mascot, Bango, threw down one of the most risky dunk attempts I’ve ever seen. Standing on what must’ve been an 18-foot stepladder, Bango climbed to the very top. Each step higher he went, the more and more fans got up to give a standing ovation. As he finally reached the top step on the ladder, there was a mixture of cheers and breathlessness from the Bucks crowd.

After a spilt second pause on the very top step, Bango did a back flip flying directly over the rim and finishing off the stunt with a very impressive dunk on the other side of the rim on his way down. The stunt not only kept the crowd on it’s feet as the Bucks came out of the longer than normal TV timeout but it also more than made up for Bango’s embarrassing injury last season during NBA All Star Weekend in Phoenix.

Last season, Bango tore his ACL as he accidentally slipped standing on top of the back of the rim while his fellow NBA Mascots shot half court shots. Falling through the rim, Bango’s left leg got tangled up in the net causing the tear in his knee. For the rest of the Bucks 2008-2009 regular season, the Bucks decided against finding a “replacement’ Bango, instead almost comically played around with the injury. After all, it made perfect sense.

Last year Bango was added to the Bucks list of key injuries

Bango was added to all-too-famous Bucks Injury Report along with the best two Bucks players: Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut. While Redd and Bogut remained on the bench cheering on the team in suits, the Bucks mascot rolled around the arena in a wheelchair cheering the team on as well. Last year the Bucks’ team chemistry was nearly flawless in that regard.

Now let’s flashback to Game 4’s incredible dunk, unfortunately not all that much has changed as far these three Bucks figures are concerned. Michael Redd is still out, Andrew Bogut out yet again taking a gruesome fall late into the season after a very impressive all around year, and Bango…well he’s back fully healthy performing more tricks above the rim…isn’t he? Doesn’t this dunk say it all and is proof that Bango’s performance has improved just as much as this year’s playoff clinching Bucks team? Not so fast Bucks fans, I think we’ve all could have been misled.

While I’m sure it happens more often than we all would imagine, there’s a strong possibility that Bango was replaced with a stunt man for the job. The stunt man quite possibly could be the NBA mascot without a job, the Seattle Supersonics’ mascot named Sasquatch. Whether or not it was actually Sasquatch can be left up for debate, but one thing’s for certain if the NBA was a university, Bango would be expelled for plagiarism.

The set up, the dunk, and even the after dunk celebration with an array of back handsprings and cartwheels was almost the exact same. So similar, it has to make you wonder whether or not it really was Milwaukee own’s Bango that had lived up to his own team’s motto “Work Hard, Play Hard.” Did Bango put in the time and effort practicing this very risky stunt or did Bango and the Bucks simply pick up the telephone?

I’ll leave it open for you to decide. Watch the videos and let us know what you think!

NFL Week 3

There are so many places to start when talking about the NFL this week but let’s start with the end of an era. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, the end of an era of Detroit Lions football equaled by only one team in NFL history, and the era ended in shocking fashion. That’s right; the Detroit Lions won a game. Not only did they win a game, they didn’t need immense drama to do it. No game winning drive, no last minute heroics and no terrible blunders to give away the game. The Detroit Lions (gulp) were just the best team on the field and frankly had control of the entire game. Congrats Detroit, but don’t get used to it. Not to rain on your parade, but think of it this way, you will have another shot at drafting highly next year.

The Sunday Night game did not signal the end or beginning of an era as much as the continuation of one as Peyton Manning once again dominated as the Colts out-swashbuckled the Cards 31-10. The score is a bit deceiving as the Cards twice turned the ball over inside the 5 and were able to move the ball most of the game and really should have been closer to 31-21 (which may or may not have been my prediction for the game). After those turnovers and the corresponding punishing drives, the Colts put the game on ice by repeatedly beating the Arizona offensive line down and getting constant pressure on Warner, who still managed to throw for over 300 yards. Arizona did not play badly as much as the Colts took advantage of every opportunity presented to them and the Cardinals took advantage of very few. The Colts are playing very well right now and the Cards are searching for defensive help and a consistent running game and both sides showed in this blue and white romp.

The only real segue to make from “romp” is to make some sort of joke about the Browns, but I will not stoop so low as someone with Cleveland ties. I wonder if the Ravens ran away with this game faster or if Art Modell ran away with the Browns to Baltimore faster? Sorry, low blow. The story of Art Modell is a long and somewhat dull, but the moral of the story is that he wronged the city of Cleveland and they will not forget. Look him up if you really want to know.

More news out of Ohio: The Cincinnati Bengals might be alright. After narrowly losing to Denver on a miracle play, the Bengals have beat the Packers and Steelers in back to back weeks and are just one game back of the powerhouse Ravens in the AFC North. Could they be for real? It is possible, though it is always risky to call Cincinnati a contender. All joking aside, the game was outstanding to watch and featured a last minute Cincinnati drive to beat the defending World Champions. Ben Roethlisberger once again played pretty well but was simply upstaged by Carson Palmer and his band of loveable losers. Maybe this year they can go back to loveable and strike the “loser” from the name.

I am not going to spend a ton of time on the Jets if for no other reason than I have not gotten to see them play this year, but they clearly have an outstanding defense with just enough offense. I am reluctant to call them the favorites in a division with New England but they certainly have a leg up for the time being. Don’t take them lightly, or Rex Ryan will make you pay.

The Carolina-Dallas game has yet to be played but we will leave it out for the week unless something really phenomenal happens.

I really want to talk about Brandon Jacobs TD celebration. He basically put some pelvic thrusts on the ball and then tossed the ball out in front of himself. In case we have some younger readers, I will try to be subtle, but he basically just had sex with the ball and then acted like the ball was his, well you know. I personally thought it was hilarious, but good luck trying to get endorsement deals after that. That TD celebration was easily the most graphic display since Prince’s halftime show at the Super Bowl. Hilarious, but it was still a bit odd. I could not find video of it at this point, but when you watch the clip on SportsCenter, watch the replay.

Picks of the Week (Thru 9/28)

After a decent 2-2 set of picks last week and only one pick that was WAY off (Georgia Tech over Miami), we are back for another round. Let’s start with the young guns:

(9) Miami (FL) vs. (11) Virginia Tech

There is no spread on this game but from the looks of it, this should be an outstanding game. Miami vs. VT will be the High Octane Canes vs. the Beamer-Ballin’ Hokie Birds, Jacory Harris vs. Tyrod Taylor, An ACC matchup that is hopefully much closer than Miami’s ACC matchup last week with the Ramblin’ Wreck. Not to mention VT just came off an emotional win over Nebraska at home. So who do we go with? The team that has cruised so far but looked outstanding blowing out opponents? Or the team that has had it rough, but has game experience in close games? I am taking the Canes this time. Maybe it is because they burned me last week, or maybe because I deep down kind of want to believe that “The U” is back, but whatever it is, I am feeling some Miami momentum. That momentum may or may not carry over to their slugfest next week with the potentially Bradford-toting Sooners. For me, this game comes down to Jacory Harris just being better than Tyrod Taylor as an all-around QB. The book on Taylor is to make you beat him with his arm, something a QB rarely, if ever, wants said about him, whereas Harris can beat you with both but is deadly though the air. I think Virginia Tech is still in a little bit of a transition after losing so many leaders on the defensive side of the ball and Miami will cut them up like Alabama did week 1. Miami 28, VT 17.

There are two other college games I think will be worth watching, but not necessarily ideal for picking. Texas Tech travels to Houston (-1.5) and TCU traveling to Clemson as 3 point underdogs. I was planning on taking Tech to cover its spread against Houston, but with such a low spread I would essentially be picking them against Houston. I was extremely impressed with their performance on the road in Austin, and am tempted to pick them again, but I am going to take Houston to cover that spread in a shootout, something to the tune of 42-38. It will be close, but 1.5 is too slim a margin to pick a cover and not a win. I am a little surprised that Clemson is favored over a TCU team that is good every year, but the value of home field is far more pronounced in college than it is in the pros. Regardless, I am going to take the Horned Frogs to cover in this game. Not sure which way it will swing, but I am going with the Mountain West if for no other reason than they have been an outstanding conference for the last 5 years or so. These should both be outstanding games to watch too.

Alright, on to the NFL.

Atlanta travels to New England this week in what is essentially a make-or-panic-wildly game for the Patriots. There is no such thing as a make or break game in week 3 with a conference like theirs, but if they lose and fall to 1-2, Pats fans might start dumping tea, beer and short-sleeved hoodies into the harbor. As a Colts fan, and thus an enemy of the Patriots, I am scared of what I am about to do. Picking against the Patriots is like picking Brett Favre to stay retired: No matter how good your odds look, you will be wrong. But I am going where few men have successfully gone before and picking Atlanta (+4) to not only cover but win. If Wes Welker is healthy, all bets are off, but with Welker out, Atlanta has more than enough ability on offense and just enough on defense to beat the Pats at home. Every bone in my body is telling me not to pick against the Pats, but, to quote the incomparable Mr. Bob Dylan, “The times, they are a changin'”. Atlanta 23, New England 21. Of course if the Pats win by 20, I will shut up and you will forget about this pick. Deal? Deal.

My final pick of the week is a shout out to both my own hometown of Indianapolis, and my Outta Town Clown compadre Ross’ hometown of Peoria, err Phoenix. Indy travels to Phoenix for a Sunday night showdown with the reigning NFC Champs. Call it bias, but I am taking the Colts (+2.5) in what is technically an upset. Is it ever really an upset when Peyton Manning is involved? The one thing that plagues the Colts is not being able to stop the run. Conveniently, the Cardinals barely even try to run the football at times and do not really have a go-to-back who they can hand it off to and say “go get it”. The Colts allowed something like 7 TDs in the air ALL last season and while they will probably give one up through the air this week, expect fireworks, and for most of them to be blue and white. Kurt Warner will look like a Christmas tree draped with blue ornaments from the relentless Colts pass rush, and sadly, the Christmas tree analogy ends with the Colts draped on him because Kurt Warner is less mobile than a tree. Colts 31, Cardinals 21.