Tuesday, June 29, 2010

NL All-Star Ballot

I released my AL All-Star Ballot about two weeks ago on my site, and yeah, I've been thinking about doing this one for a while, but I've been lazy. Sue me. Before we go into this, I want to reassure everyone that I put my hometown Dodger bias aside for this one.

Stats: Runs/Home Runs/RBI/Steals/Average

My 2010 NL All-Star Ballot

First Base: James Loney (just kidding) Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals. 41/16/52/7/.305

Analysis: Yes, Joey Votto is keeping up with Albert in basically every category this season, maybe even surpassing him in OPS, but the fact remains that Pujols is the most feared hitter in baseball. He has been walked intentionally more times than anyone else in the major leagues, and his BB:K ratio is 55:40. He isn't having his vintage Pujols year, as he's batting a low (for him) .305 with "only" 16 home runs. Baseball fans have come to expect much more than this from him, but that doesn't mean that he's not having an MVP-Caliber year. His glove is still one of the best at first base, and he's seemingly also added a little bit of speed to his game, as evidenced by the seven stolen bases this year. This guy is a lock for another top-5 MVP spot.
Bench: Adrian Gonzalez (SD), Joey Votto (CIN)

Second Base: Martin Prado, Atlanta Braves 54/7/32/3/.331

Analysis: Normally this spot is just kind of an automatic Chase Utley position, but this year not only is he currently injured, but he also has had a bit of a down year, batting .277. Anyway, enough about him. Prado has really come out of nowhere this year to be the current NL batting leader, provide a spark at the top of the Braves' lineup, and pretty much be a swiss army knife-type of player that Bobby Cox can really put anywhere on the infield (although he has yet to play shortstop). He might not run as much as a prototypical second baseman would, but nowadays, if a team can get ANYTHING out of a second-base position, it gives them a very good chance to field a winning team.
Bench: Brandon Phillips (CIN), Rickie Weeks (MIL)

Third Base: David Wright, New York Mets 43/14/61/13/.303

Analysis: He's bounced back nicely from a weird year in which he only hit 10 home runs after averaging around 28 in his previous four years of being in the majors, much to the relief of Mets fans and Wright's fantasy owners alike. He's still striking out at an amazing clip, but it seems like strikeouts are becoming much more accepted as long as the hitter can still hit for average, and that's what he is doing. The only argument I have for him being here instead of Scott Rolen is because of the stolen bases. Rolen has pretty much identical numbers, but trails Wright in RBI and SB. He has hit three more home runs than Wright, but the gap in stolen bases is too wide for three homers to make much of a difference in this argument.
Bench: Scott Rolen (CIN), Ryan Zimmerman (WAS)

Shortstop: Hanley Ramirez, Florida Marlins 42/11/46/14/.295

Analysis: Oh, Hanley Ramirez. How you tantalize everyone with your elite talent level yet half-ass it through several games over the course of a regular season. Whenever I see professional athletes walking their way through a season, it frustrates me to no end, especially the ones that are as talented as Ramirez. Earlier this season he was seen missing a ball, kicking it, then jogging towards it, all while the play was very much alive. After seeing that laziness in the field, I can only imagine the apathy he uses when it comes to how he's doing at the plate. However apathetic that may be, he is still the top shortstop in the National League offensively even though he may be getting by on just talent alone. If this guy put forth the hard work to make himself better, he would probably achieve triple crown numbers.
Bench: Jose Reyes (NYM), Troy Tulowitzki (COL)

Catcher: Miguel Olivo, Colorado Rockies 33/11/38/4/.303

Analysis: Yes, he's on my fantasy team in my big league. No, that's not the reason he's my choice for the starting catcher position. Catching is hard to come by, especially in the National League. And although Olivo has pretty much only played every other day, he still deserves a spot on this roster. No other catcher in the NL has more than 11 home runs while hitting .300. None. At this point, the rockies would be better served throwing him at first on his catching days off and getting Todd Helton's corpse a day off. This selection isn't as much a choice as it is an obligation, really.
Bench: Brian McCann (ATL), Yadier Molina (STL); Molina was chosen solely for defensive purposes.

Outfield: Andre Ethier, Los Angeles Dodgers 36/12/47/1/.313
Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers 48/11/49/11/.303
Colby Rasmus, St. Louis Cardinals 46/16/40/8/.276

Analysis: Lots of options in the National League outfield this year, and despite Ethier missing a couple weeks with a knuckle injury, he still gets my vote. He was hitting around .390 before the injury and was red-hot while the Dodgers were killing it. He's only been serviceable since his return, but that's to be relatively expected. However, he should continue to produce, and we're not playing with future numbers anyways, so Ethier gets a spot.

My second vote went to Ryan Braun. He's a legitimate 40/20 guy who will hit for average every year, and right now his power numbers aren't as high as most would like to see, but he's still running and the average is still there, so it's completely plausible that right now his numbers will balloon up sometime in the near future. All of his talents, however, are nowhere near as awesome as his nickname "The Hebrew Hammer". To answer your next question, yes, he is Jewish.

My third vote was a difficult one; I originally had Jason Heyward in this slot, but that was before June started and he fell into his rookie slump that a lot of people were waiting for, so I present to you a little-known but well deserving player in Colby Rasmus. Rasmus currently leads all NL outfielders in OPS and is second in slugging percentage. He has done a nice job protecting Albert Pujols this season, and has had an arguably better year than the other guy in the outfield that the Cardinals just signed to a mammoth contract.
Bench: Andrew McCutchen (PIT), Corey Hart (MIL), Jayson Werth (PHI), Justin Upton (ARI)

The 2010 NL All-Star Starting Lineup

1) Hanley Ramirez SS
2) Martin Prado 2B
3) Albert Pujols 1B
4) Adrian Gonzalez DH
5) David Wright 3B
6) Andre Ethier RF
7) Ryan Braun LF
8) Colby Rasmus CF
9) Miguel Olivo C

Starting Pitcher: Josh Johnson, Florida Marlins 8-3, 1.83 ERA, 107:27 K:BB ratio, 108 IP.

Analysis: Ubaldo Jimenez has been great, no doubt about it. But before we go ahead and automatically give him the starting spot, let's take a look at this guy, who has been better than Jimenez. Right now Josh Johnson has the same ERA as Ubaldo, a higher K:BB ratio, a lower WHIP, and has given up 13 less walks while also owning a higher K/9 than Jimenez. The only thing he doesn't have is a no-hitter, and while that's impressive, should we say that Roy Halladay and Edwin Jackson are better pitchers this season because of their feats? No. The fact is that this guy can bring it day in and day out and is a legitimate ace and as long as he continues to pitch this way, he could be this year's NL Cy-Young Award winner.
Bench: Ubaldo Jimenez (COL), Roy Halladay (PHI), Adam Wainwright (STL), Chris Carpenter (STL), Tim Lincecum (SF), Stephen Strasburg (WAS), Jonathon Broxton (LAD), Luke Gregerson (SD), Billy Wagner (ATL), Carlos Marmol (CHC)

Final Tally
St. Louis Cardinals: 5
Colorado Rockies: 3
Cincinnati Reds: 3
Milwaukee Brewers: 3
Atlanta Braves: 3
New York Mets: 2
Philadelphia Phillies: 2
Washington Nationals: 2
Florida Marlins: 2
Los Angeles Dodgers: 2
San Diego Padres: 2
San Francisco Giants: 1
Arizona Diamondbacks: 1
Pittsburgh Pirates: 1
Chicago Cubs: 1
Houston Astros: 0

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The 2010 Laker Championship: What It All Means

It wasn't perfect, but hell, it was taken care of. In a game that meant so much to so many people in both Boston and Los Angeles, it was sheer motivation that turned out to be the deciding factor in a drama-filled seven game series. Last night we witnessed probably one of the ugliest Game 7's in NBA history, yet I guarantee nobody turned off their TV, not even when the Celtics were ahead of the Lakers by 13 with 8:15 left to play in the third; we all knew something great was still coming. Regardless of which side you were rooting for, I think we can all agree that this one will be shown on ESPN Classic for years to come, if not for the gritty looks that every player wore (except for Paul Pierce; he had the same "lights are on but nobody's home" look that he always has, except when he's whistled for a foul and can't believe it, or when he's being carted off the court in a wheelchair) in the fourth quarter, then for Pau Gasol's timely offensive rebound after Kobe's 543rd terrible shot, or Ron Artest's "hold-your-breath" three point shot that made it's way through the net to answer Rasheed Wallace's three pointer out of the timeout, or even Sasha Vujacic turning down his body temperature to come off the bench and hit two monumental free throws with the game on the line. Yes, the Celtics had their big moments as well, but none really in the fourth quarter; this was the Lakers' night to close out the victory, and close it they did. When the game ended, I immediately turned, high fived, and hugged my father. On an emotional level, I would have been devastated had the Lakers lost this game, especially because this game needed to be won by the Lakers to further emphasize the fact that they are the greatest franchise in the NBA, both presently and historically. If they had lost, I don't know what I would have done. I can't even fathom the amount of angst that would have come along with a loss, so thank God they won. But now there are things to be thought about, and multiple meanings for different people. So what does this mean for everyone involved on the Laker side? That's what I'm going to try to figure out...

Phil Jackson's Future With the Club

In terms of relevance, I'd say this is the biggest storyline of them all. Apparently Dr. Jerry Buss is offering him a paltry $5 million per year, down considerably from his $12 million salary that is currently due to expire. He said after the game that he has to look at some things medically before he makes a final decision, but then added that there were in fact some other non-medical related issues that he has to check out, and obviously that has to do with his contract. Yes, we ARE in a recession, but the Lakers are the most lucrative franchise in the NBA. They have the money to re-sign him to at least a $10 million per year contract, and Phil knows it. To not re-sign Phil would be throwing the 2011 championship down the drain; Kobe isn't going to listen to anyone else, and look what happened when the Lakers thought they would be fine with Rudy Tomjanovich in 2005. They need Phil more than Phil needs them, and they should be doing everything and anything in their power to keep him. The guy has ELEVEN NBA Championships and has figured out how to control the volatile temperament that exudes Kobe Bryant. He deserves a fair shake.

Derek Fisher's Impending Free Agency

This would be issue #2 that is looming over the Lakers' chances for a 2011 three-peat. Besides Phil, Fisher has been the one constant that has been with Kobe every single time he has stood on that podium at the end of the season. Not only is he the voice of reason on the floor, he is undoubtedly the captain of this Laker team. During the regular season, he was the last person Laker fans wanted to see shooting the ball; every game it seemed like there was at least one or two people crying out via their Facebook updates for Fisher to stop shooting, much like Laker fans have done with Ron Artest this entire postseason. Having said that, during the playoffs he was a different player. He came through in clutch moments (Game 3 vs. Boston, Game 7 vs. Boston, Game 3 vs. Utah) and also helped contain Deron Williams and Ray Allen, the latter of which was the most important, as it helped save Kobe's legs from the rigors of marathon sprinting that Allen routinely puts his defenders through. Fisher may have lost some speed over the years, but he more than makes up for it with his physicality and willingness to be in the moment. He is the Ron Harper of the 2000 Laker team, and he definitely needs to be resigned.

Kobe Bryant's Laker Legacy

This is probably the toughest call of all. Now that Kobe has five rings, where do we put him? Understand that Los Angeles is not your ordinary run-of-the-mill franchise. We do not retire numbers for just anyone. Playoff heroes, fan favorites, and mainstay franchise role players don't get recognized in Los Angeles. To have your number retired in Los Angeles, you need to be a basketball god. You need to be the first or second best player on at least one Laker team that won a championship. Having understood that, I think Kobe is probably the second-greatest Laker of all time, behind the one and only Magic Johnson. I think he needs one more championship to be on par with Magic, two to surpass him. Kobe said it best regarding this topic, "All this means is that now I can have dinner with Magic", and those are my sentiments exactly.
My list of all-time Laker greats:

  1. Magic Johnson

  2. Kobe Bryant

  3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

  4. Jerry West

  5. Shaquille O'Neal

I have him above Kareem despite Kareem being atop the NBA all-time leaderboard for points scored. Kobe was the clear second-best player on three championship teams, but then was the apparent best player on two more champions and an NBA Finalist, giving him five rings as a Laker, two as the best player on his team, something Kareem cannot say. He's earned NBA Finals MVP twice while Kareem only did it once. For what it's worth, Magic is pretty much responsible for the rejuvenation of Kareem's career, making the choice to put Kobe ahead of him that much easier.

Kobe vs. Shaq

Probably the easiest and the most trivial subplot of all is the feud between Kobe and Shaquille O'Neal that is all but dead, but I decided to bring it up anyways. From my point of view, it looks like Shaq worked hard one offseason and got into shape enough to be a factor on a championship team since being exiled from LA. Since then he has made stops in Phoenix and Cleveland, both of them coming with much hype upon his arrival and ending in disappointment. He was supposed to help Phoenix beat the Spurs in the playoffs, and couldn't. He was supposed to "win a ring for the king" and couldn't. The only thing he really managed to do was make a fool of himself in 2008, freestyling at a nightclub after the Lakers were eliminated from the playoffs by the Boston Celtics. His infamous "Kobe, you can't do without me" lyric was just another piece of fuel added to the fire that drove Kobe Bryant to win two more championships and get ahead of him in titles.
O'Neal was also the main reason the Lakers didn't win five titles in a row; he lacked the work ethic and couldn't handle Kobe wanting to stretch out his wings. I don't blame him as much for the alpha-dog struggle as I do for the conditioning. He was the anchor to that team, both offensively and defensively, and there was no excuse for him being out of shape. Every single offseason, Bryant has welcomed the challenge of getting into exorbitant shape for every single season, and every season it has payed off. He wants to win more badly than probably any other player in the league, and that's exactly what separates him from everyone else. Right now Kobe is head and shoulders above Shaq.

Lakers vs. Celtics

To be honest, I don't think this one is a contest either. I realize we have to take into consideration the history behind every franchise, but give me a break. Since 1980, the Lakers have made 16 Finals appearances (1980, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1991, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2008, 2009, 2010) and won 10 of them ('80, '82, '85, '87, '88, '00, '01, '02, '09, '10) with a 3-2 record against the Celtics during that span. The Celtics have made 7 Finals appearances (1981, '84, '85, 1986, '87, '08, '10), winning 4 of them ('81, '84, '86, '08). So in the past 30 years, that brings the NBA Finals appearances count to 16-7 in favor of the Lakers, NBA titles count to 10-4 in favor of the Lakers, and a 3-2 record in the NBA Finals against the Celtics, just for good measure. As far as I'm concerned, the Lakers own the Celtics in terms of NBA royalty, because at some point we have to start taking into account the longevity and frequency of a franchise's success, and the Lakers have done just that since 1980.

2008 Vanquished?

I'm not buying Doc Rivers' postgame comments about how this team never truly got a chance to defend their 2008 title because Kendrick Perkins wasn't on the floor for Games 6 and 7; Perkins was easily the worst player out there for the Celtics, and they had the chance in Game 3 to set the tone for the next two games and make true on Paul Pierce's arrogant declaration of "We ain't coming back to LA", but they didn't. They lost Game 3 to the Lakers and lost the series. Their best four players were out on the court, and they ran out of gas in the fourth quarter. What the Lakers' victory does do is expose the Celtics for the drooling, slobbering, dancing-at-the-free-throw-
line, obnoxiously profane clowns that they are.
Now that that's out of my system, I do believe that players like Gasol and Odom needed that series to happen. Maybe Gasol more than Odom; the Spaniard needed to hear that people thought he was soft. He was too European for an American-style game. Not enough muscle. Not enough pride. All of those things were said about Gasol after that dreadful 2008 series, and he put in the time in the weight room and mentally carried those words with him as motivation on his way to two NBA titles. So are the Lakers vindicated for 2008 because they beat the Celtics this year? I'm torn on this, but I'm going to have to say yes, although they couldn't have won this year without getting out-muscled in 2008.

Ron Artest, How Fortunes Change

This might be the best story out of them all. This is a guy that was part of the worst brawl in NBA history. Prior to 2010, he was always the craziest guy on the court. Nobody knew what he was going to do next, and everyone in the stands was relatively mortified because there was a slight chance of having a huge basketball player hurtle towards them in the stands and attempt to rip their eyes out. Ron (we're on a first name basis) was suspended for the entire 2005 season after he viciously attacked a fan in the stands after throwing a cup of beer on him while he was laying on the scorer's table at the Palace in Auburn Hills. Since then he has earned multiple ejections, flagrant fouls, and technicals based solely on his reputation as a thug. In 2010, however, he has re-created himself, being the defensive, physical presence that this Lakers team needed. I would even go as far as saying he was the Dennis Rodman of this Laker team. He knew he wasn't the star on the team when he accepted the contract, but he wanted to show everyone that he could control himself and be a big factor on this team. After the game he thanked his psychiatrist, all of his homies in the hood, and pretty much anyone that had any relevance to him during his change. With this championship and with the multiple times that he made plays based on pure grit and muscle, he becomes a beloved figure in LA. To me, he's like the child with a learning disorder that everyone wants to see succeed, and finally he did. It was great to see Ron-Ron on stage with the commissioner and a winning team. Congrats, dude. Shout out to your homies in Queensbridge anytime.

Friday, June 11, 2010

2010 AL All-Star Ballot

Well, we're already two and a half months into the 2010 baseball season, and after filling out my All-Star ballot, I realized that there are going to be quite a few snubs that I think should be getting spots on the roster. When I go to vote I put any Dodger-bias on the side, but only because of the ramifications of this game that were instilled by Bud Selig in an attempt to make the game more competitive. My ballot also does not follow the "at-least-one-player-from-
each-team" rule, either. If it so happens to end up that way, so be it, but in my opinion, nobody should get a free pass because their team sucks. So here we go...

Statistics for hitters: Runs/Home Runs/RBI/Steals/Batting Average

2010 AL Ballot

First Base: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers 42/18/53/2/.339

Analysis: The fact that Mark Teixeira leads the AL vote in first basemen is an atrocity. I understand the reason he's leading is because he's a popular name, he's a Yankee, and people probably still remember Cabrera from the tail end of last year when he admitted he had a drinking problem and was irrationally violent. But still, Teixeira is barely batting his weight (he recently got his average up to a whopping .226) and has two fewer home runs than Kendry Morales, he of the excessive celebration (sorry Angels fans, I had to go there). Cabrera is currently tied for the AL lead in both homers and RBI and he is fifth in the league in batting average. He is a legitimate triple crown threat, and as such should get the recognition he deserves.
Bench: Justin Morneau (MIN), Kevin Youkilis (BOS)

Second Base: Robinson Cano, New York Yankees 45/12/46/2/.376

Analysis: To say that this is a huge no-brainer would be an understatement. I understand that Dustin Pedroia was the MVP two seasons ago, but Robinson Cano has just played out-of-his-mind ridiculous this season. He leads all AL Second Basemen in runs, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and on-base plus slugging percentage. He probably won't win a gold glove, but his arm strength is incredible for someone playing his position. He also owns the highest WAR out of any other AL Second Basemen.
Bench: Orlando Hudson (MIN), Ben Zobrist (TB)

Shortstop: Elvis Andrus, Texas Rangers 41/0/19/18/.302

Analysis: I picked Andrus about a month ago for this spot, and I'm going to stick with him. His defensive metrics have a regressed a little bit and I realize he's not hitting for any power, but he brings the speed and a high batting average. He bats in the leadoff hole for the run factory in Texas and thrives in that position. He has a .385 OBP to go with everything else he brings to the table. He gets my vote to start the AL All-Star game.
Bench: Derek Jeter (NYY), Marco Scutaro (BOS)

Third Baseman: Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays 40/11/47/10/.326

Analysis: Unfortunately for me and my fantasy team, it looks like the guard has changed. This past offseason, I traded Longoria for Alex Rodriguez because I thought A-Rod would steal more bases and hit almost the same amount of home runs, but that hasn't been the case at all so far. Actually, Longoria has been everything that Rodriguez hasn't this year. He's hitting for average, power, and hell, he's even stolen ten bases! He's not taking as many walks as maybe anyone would like to see, but to criticize him for that would be nitpicking. He doesn't have someone like Robinson Cano protecting him in the lineup, but he doesn't care. He continues to rake, and hey, striking out 25% of the time is better than grounding into double plays 25% of the time. This guy looks like he's going to post some ridiculous numbers in 2010 and beyond.
Bench: Jose Bautista (TOR), Adrian Beltre (BOS),

Outfield: Vernon Wells, Toronto Blue Jays 37/15/40/2/.297
Alex Rios, Chicago White Sox 39/12/29/18/.309
Nelson Cruz, Texas Rangers 19/10/34/7/.327 (32 Games played)

Analysis: Vernon Wells is yet another no-brainer. People forget that this guy was a five-tool player in 2006. He got his huge contract, then just became victim to an array of wrist injuries. This year, though, he seems to have joined a cast of all-but-forgotten players to find their second wind and decide that 2010 is going to be the year of resurgence. The only question is whether or not he'll keep it up, but then again, I've been saying that all year and he's showed no signs of slowing down as of yet.

Another guy that has been touted as a 30-30 player but has perennially disappointed every year is Alex Rios. For years in Toronto, they waited for this guy to finally have his breakout year, and it never came. Last season he continued to look like a player that wouldn't develop even after he was traded to Chicago. This year, his BABIP has risen back to a tad over his career averages, up to .322 from last year's .273 atrocity. The eleven steals is not really telling, as he's always had speed, but he is on pace for career highs in doubles, home runs, and slugging percentage. This might be the year that Toronto had been waiting for; too bad it came in Chicago.

Nelson Cruz...what more can you say about this guy? He's the stereotypical frustrating fragile superstar. When he's playing, he's nothing short of amazing. He has half the AB as anyone who's stayed healthy and still has hit ten home runs and batted .327. Had he stayed healthy, we could be looking at a 40/25 season from someone batting around .315 on the year, and unless he can stay healthy, he's going to fall well short of those numbers in 2010.
Bench: Josh Hamilton (TEX), Nick Swisher (NYY), Ichiro Suzuki (SEA)

Catcher: Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins 32/2/27/1/.320

Analysis: This one isn't as big of a no-brainer as it might seem, especially with Victor Martinez finally showing everyone why Boston decided to keep him around; in his last 30 games he's hitting .366 with five homers and fifteen RBI. Having said that, he can't throw runners out. Earlier this year, the Texas Rangers stole NINE bases in one game off of the combination of Tim Wakefield and Victor Martinez (Vladimir Guerrero had two of them to put that into perspective), which set a Rangers franchise record.
Bench: Victor Martinez (BOS), Mike Napoli (LAA)

Designated Hitter: Vladimir Guerrero, Texas Rangers 37/13/53/2/.339

Analysis: Since the All-Star Game is in Anaheim this year, the teams will be playing with a Designated Hitter. Since this is a position that can be played all game, there should really only be one player, and there's no contest between Vlad and the rest of the field. His numbers are MVP-type numbers at an age where he was supposed to be slowing down. That ballpark in Arlington has apparently been a hot tub time machine for him, where he's hitting .381 with 10 of his 13 home runs and and OPS of 1.076. He's also nothing short of amazing against left-handers, batting .429 with 2 home runs and an OPS of 1.059. No bench needed for this position.

Starting Lineup

1) Elvis Andrus SS
2) Joe Mauer C
3) Evan Longoria 3B
4) Robinson Cano 2B
5) Miguel Cabrera 1B
6) Vladimir Guerrero DH
7) Nelson Cruz RF
8) Vernon Wells CF
9) Alex Rios LF

Starting Pitcher: Cliff Lee, Seattle Mariners 61.2 IP, 4-2, 57:4 K:BB, 2.77 ERA

Analysis: This is no contest. After missing almost the entire first month of the season due to injury, Lee has been nothing short of dominating; he's gone at least eight innings in five of his eight outings, and has given up only one home run this year. ONE! To go with that impressive resume, he also has only given up four walks this year as well. There's not much else I can say about this guy that will increase respect for him. I just hope he gets the job.
Bench: Jered Weaver (LAA), Phil Hughes (NYY), David Price (TB), Jon Lester (BOS), Ricky Romero (TOR), Rafael Soriano (TB), Mariano Rivera (NYY), Neftali Feliz (TEX), Jose Valverde (DET), Andrew Bailey (OAK)

Final tally by team:
Boston Red Sox: 5
Texas Rangers: 5
New York Yankees: 5
Tampa Bay Rays: 4
Toronto Blue Jays: 3
Minnesota Twins: 3
Seattle Mariners: 2
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: 2
Detroit Tigers: 2
Chicago White Sox: 1
Oakland Athletics: 1
Kansas City Royals: 0
Baltimore Orioles: 0
Cleveland Indians: 0

Friday, June 4, 2010

Lakers vs. Celtics, Take 12.

2-9. That's the Lakers' current record against the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals. To date, the Celtics have practically owned the Lakers when it has come down to deciding who has the right to hold up the Larry O' Brien trophy at the end of the year. Most of that damage was done by Bill Russell, but there was also considerable emotional damage done by Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish in the 1980's, and those years are the ones that really are remembered; the Magic skyhook, the McHale-Rambis clothesline, Larry Bird whipping the air with his towel. Unfortunately for me, I only remember those moments in clips of highlights shown from those memorable battles during the 1980's. The memories I DO have, however, consist of Paul Pierce sitting in a wheelchair like he's seen his final days as an NBA player and then miraculously coming out of the tunnel like he had just been cured by a witch doctor to lead the Celtics to a victory. I remember Lamar Odom shying away from driving the ball into the lane, Pau Gasol flopping all over the place, the Celtics reinforcing the "defensive thug" stereotype of the Eastern Conference teams. That's what I remember. I remember an inexperienced and (other than Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher) "happy to be here" Lakers team, and if there's one thing that will be different about this year's finals, it's that everyone on the team knows that anything less than a title would be a colossal meltdown.

Los Angeles needs this title. As of right now, it looks like both baseball teams are not going to be able to make it to the World Series unless they pull off some major trades, and we still don't have a football team. There are too many negative ramifications looming for the Lakers to lose this title. The Lakers would have lost twice to the hated Celtics in the NBA Finals over the past three years, Phil Jackson would be even more tempted to flee Los Angeles for retirement, and the Lakers would have to win five to six more NBA titles to overtake Boston for "the greatest NBA franchise in history" title if they lost, and that's something no Laker fan wants to deal with. Reliving the 1980's is something nobody really wants to deal with, not even if your name is Alf, and if the Lakers want to hang with the Celtics, they're going to have to set the tone in this series that they're not going to be pushed around. I could just see Phil Jackson bring DJ Mbenga off the bench to intentionally start a fight with Kendrick Perkins and have him miss a crucial game in this series. But really, they're going to have to defend their home court and not let their emotions towards the Boston defense aggravate them, and really, all of that starts with one man: Ron Artest.

This year the Lakers boast a tougher, more formidable squad, one that is more comfortable with the physical play that Boston brings to the table. That's not to say that the Lakers are as physical as the Celtics, but I believe that the addition of Ron Artest is going to pay dividends for the Lakers in this series. Artest won't have a problem playing up to the physical style that Pierce plays with although I don't think anyone doubted that, especially after the melee that he was involved in. To be honest, after the Lakers acquired Artest via free agency this past offseason after letting Ariza go off for greener pastures, the first thing that popped into my mind was "back-to-back", and the reason being was because every contender that the Lakers were going to see from the Eastern Conference was going to have a small forward that they were going to have to deal with; the Cavaliers had reigning MVP LeBron James, the Celtics had 2008 Finals MVP Paul Pierce, and the Magic had newly-acquired All-Star Vince Carter. So far he's made his presence felt against the league's leading scorer in Kevin Durant, and he should continue to earn his paycheck against Pierce.

People might point to the point guard position as a sore spot for the Lakers on defense, but given the Phoenix series, I think they've figured out how they're going to slow down Rajon Rondo, or at least make him do things that he doesn't want to do. Against Phoenix, the Lakers guarded Steve Nash one-on-one and used his defender as a helper on the Suns' shooters that got open off the pick-and-roll. Look for the Lakers to do the same against Rondo. They should challenge him to make 15-20 footers and guard the Celtics that are rolling off of screens. What they can't have happen is Rajon Rondo driving to the basket for all of his points, drawing fouls, or dumping the ball off to Garnett and Perkins for easy hoops. As long as the Lakers can do that, they'll have an excellent chance to win this series. Given how badly Kobe wants to win and Artest's determination to show that he was the correct choice for this team, I do believe the Lakers win, but not without someone getting a bloody nose.

Winner: Los Angeles Lakers, 4-3.
Series MVP: Kobe Bryant

Armando Galarraga, 28 up, 28 down.

You're in Detroit, Michigan. It's a moderately cool night, with a comfortable breeze. Summer is right around the corner, and with that comes many hours of America's favorite pastime. So now you've watched eight and two-thirds innings of perfect baseball pitched by 28 year old Armando Galarraga, a pitcher who had been in the minor leagues all season until May 16th. After watching a would-be double chased down and improbably caught Willie Mays-style by Austin Jackson about eight feet from the wall to start the top of the inning, you know something magical is going to happen. So you watch as Galarraga calmly and collectively goes into his windup and delivers the third pitch of the at-bat to the 27th batter of the game. The right-handed hitting batter grounds in into the first-second base hole and all of a sudden, everything is in slow motion. It looks as if the ball is going to be trouble for first baseman Miguel Cabrera, but he fields in cleanly, turns to throw to Galarraga, who is covering first, and delivers. The play is made. Galarraga beats the runner by a step, and the Tigers win. It's the 21st perfect game thrown in major league history, the third this month, and the second by a totally unlikely source this season. Everyone on the Tigers is celebrating. Club ace Justin Verlander comes out of the dugout and gets the kid in the face with a shaving cream pie on his perfect day. Bud Selig comes out of the stands and shares a celebration smoke with manager Jim Leyland and Galarraga. It's a great day to be a fan of the game (unless you're an Indians fan).

But that's not how it happened. What really happened will go down in baseball lore for the rest of eternity. What really happened was inexplicable and egregious. What really happened was a prime example that is everything wrong with sports; an umpire blew the call. Jim Joyce called Chris Donald safe at first after he was clearly out on the play, costing Armando Galarraga a chance at history. Instead of the celebrations on the field, there was nothing but consolation and disdain. Animosity towards Jim Joyce, who apparently is one of the best umpires in the game, is not out of surplus. Even though the Tigers won, the day is ruined.

After what happened today, there is absolutely NO WAY that Bud Selig can deny the sport of baseball some form of instant replay. Last season human error reared it's ugly head in Game 4 of the ALDS when Tim McClelland decided that a player doesn't have to be standing on the base to be safe. I understand that baseball games take long enough as it is, but it's not like we need replay for every play, and especially not for balls or strikes. I honestly believe that managers should have some sort of challenge flag that they can throw on the field and ask for a replay. Unlike football however, there would be no repercussion for being wrong on the challenged play; instead, each team only gets one opportunity to challenge a call, and that includes a safe-or-out play at any base, a catch-or-trap instance, or a fair-or-foul call. No more, no less. Furthermore, the challenge flag should only be able to be used in situations where one call can make or break a game (i.e. If your team is behind by six or more runs in the bottom of the ninth inning with nobody on base, the challenge flag is unusable). With this method, there is very little time wasted watching replays, and we eliminate human error to an even higher degree. Everybody wins.

Other baseball-related thoughts

After a rash of injuries to start the season, the Dodgers are back at full strength, yet their offense seems to be doing worse now than they were without Furcal and Ethier, and they won yesterday because of a wild pitch and an unexpected line drive single from Garret Anderson, who isn't even batting his weight this year. Will the shoddy offensive play continue? I doubt it; the guys who just got back from the DL are still shaking off the rust. Vicente Padilla is due back within the next week or so, and he should be no higher than fifth on the starting pitchers depth chart for the Dodgers, but that doesn't really make them any more of a contender. They still desperately need an ace-caliber starting pitcher, and they need it this season. If the Dodgers want to win a World Series, they had better do everything possible to acquire Cliff Lee or Roy Oswalt before the trading deadline. Manny Ramirez is gone after this season, so going all-in on this season seems like the smart thing to do.

After Kendry Morales broke his ankle in that freak post-game celebration last weekend, the Angels are going to need more production out of Hideki Matsui, the guy that was supposed to fill the shoes of an apparently over-the-hill Vladimir Guererro. After hitting just .184 in May, he is 4-8 with two doubles in June. I realize it's a small sample size, but with this franchise it always seems like the players always find a way to deliver. The return of Jeff Mathis should help the Angels, and hopefully Mike Scoscia finds a way to keep Mike Napoli's bat in the lineup; it's clear they need the slugging catcher's bat now more than ever with the loss of Morales. If Napoli or Mathis can't play first base, the Angels might try to make a trade if they're still in the hunt around the trade deadline. Interesting options would be Lance Berkman, Garret Jones, Adam LaRoche, or Paul Konerko.

Ken Griffey Jr. finally said goodbye to the game today. My thoughts on the matter is that this should have been done at the end of last season. I love Griffey and I truly believe that he is probably the most unlucky player this game has ever seen. He missed a total of 472 games between the ages of 24 and 34, which translated to about 1844 at-bats. From his breakout year in 1993 to his last full year with the Reds in 2007, he averaged a home run abuot every 13 at-bats. If you calculate that out, Griffey probably would have hit another 142 home runs, giving him 772 home runs for his career, which would be ten ahead of Barry Bonds. I know that's purely statistical speculation, but what if he hadn't gotten injured? This guy would be the undisputed, asterisk-free home run king and everyone outside of the bay area would sleep a little more easily at night knowing that a cheater didn't sit atop the all-time home run leaderboard.