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Saturday, July 28, 2007

I love the Royals...

I lived in KC for two years, so i can tell you that they might be an even more inept franchise than the Cardinals. That being said, nothing could beat deciding a half hour before gametime that you want to go watch some baseball, strolling up to the stadium 5 minutes before the first pitch, and landing a ten dollar, front row ticket. You could also buy a $5 Hy-Vee Section ticket (upper-deck), and go sit anywhere you wanted in the stadium. It was great. Plus they had some fantastic Hebrew National Hot Dogs, slathered in grilled peppers and onions. Man i miss those...

Anyway, for some reason i found this really funny - Click on the link below for the video.

- KC Royals Reporter shot in face with pellet-gun by Royals player.

The Resurgent Dbacks

As my brother and I love to talk about, this years' Dbacks team is an interesting one. Every time we are ready to write them off and declare them done for the season, they go and rip off 6 or 7 wins in a row, giving us hope once again that they might contend for the West title or at least the Wildcard. This last week has been no exception.

After dropping the first game of the series at Wrigley to everyone’s favorite team the Cubs, Arizona cleaned up the next two games, winning 3-2 and 3-0. Then they triumphantly returned home to Chase Field, where they spent four days whipping up on the Marlins. After a close 4-3 win on Monday, they blew out the Marlins the next two days, 9-3 and 7-0. Their last game against Florida was a nail-biter, all the way up to the point where Eric Byrnes blasted a three-run, walk-off home run into the left field seats. Last night was another up and down game, with the Dbacks staking themselves to a 7-0 lead, proceeding to blow it all away, then having Tony Clark save us with another walk-off home run, this time in the 11th.

So what do we owe this resurgence to? Well, first off, let’s look at the hitting. The Dbacks have been getting the bat on the ball, and it’s showing up in the box scores. More than anything I’ve noticed is that the Dbacks appear to be more patient at the plate. They are working the counts more, getting more ‘quality’ at bats. Add in to the mix the fact that the player we sent to AAA (Carlos Quentin) was batting .210, and the player we brought up for him (Augie Ojeda) is batting .311. Also, our big two (Byrnes and Hudson) have been bringing it, as they have been all year. Stephen Drew is finally regaining the power he had last year, getting more extra base hits, and Chris Young is really heating up.

Hitting has not been the only thing helping the Dbacks out as of late however. Brandon Webb has returned to his usual form after a rough June, and the rest of the pitching staff has been solid, with the exceptions of Micah Owings struggles. Livan Hernandez has dropped his ERA by more than two runs this month vs. June, while Doug Davis has dropped his by almost 3 runs in the same span. Yusmeiro Petit, who has replaced Randy Johnson in the rotation, is also throwing well with a 2.53 ERA.

The bullpen has also been fantastic as of late, save for Valverde's mental error and blowing the save last night. The two blow-out wins against Florida allowed us to rest our big three of Pena, Lyon, and Valverde, something which they all deserved. Edgar Gonzalez pitched two perfect innings for us last night in the 10th and 11th, and proved once again how valuable he is coming from the bullpen or starting.

But more than just pitching and hitting, the Dbacks have that look of determination they didn’t show for parts of June and the first part of this month. It is a sense of purpose almost, and they have been coming up big in spots they have struggled in throughout the year. While they have led the Majors in sacrifice fly’s most of the year, they have struggled at fundamental baseball (as my brother will attest to). And while they have hit some home runs, no one will mistake this team for a power team.

Then again, lately things have been coming together for them. As I mentioned earlier, Chris Young is really starting to see the ball, he is hitting home runs, and has the look of a 30 and 30 guy. It’s scary to think he is only a rookie. And while Mark Reynolds has a tendency to strike out too much (about a third of his at-bats), he has a lot of power. If he can continue to stay patient, he will become a great hitter I think. And the fundamentals are coming around. The Dbacks, on this winning streak, have done a great job at two things they have struggled with most of the year: The old ‘get em on, get em over, get em in’ cry, which is fundamental baseball at its roots, and two-out rallies. In the last few games alone they Dbacks have been fantastic at getting hits and scoring runs with two outs.

How does this translate into the rest of the season? Well, we have to see. But the team is finally showing some signs that it knows what it is getting into, and that it knows what it will take to get the team there. If they can cut down on some of their flaws (lead-off walks being my biggest pet-peeve, one the Dbacks have shown a particular ineptitude to avoid recently), and continue improving their pitching and hitting as they have been, I see good things in store for this team. They are only 1 games back going into today, and have been climbing. I see no reason why this team can’t compete for the division title and the playoffs.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Buyers or Sellers? Part Deux

One week ago I wrote a blog telling the world that the DBacks were sellers, meaning they were out of contention for the playoffs. One week changes many things, and with just 4 days left until the trade deadline I thought I would revisit these questions again.

The Good - winning 6 games in a row and looking like the offense is coming around. Is the O going to continue to tear it up with 7 runs a game like the past week or go back to the worst team in baseball with runners in scoring position. The Dbacks are currently leading the wildcard and only 1.5 games behind the Dodgers for first place in the division.

The Bad - Randy Johnson is done for the year with back surgery scheduled for next Friday. This is a big hit to the starting rotation, the biggest question mark for the last 2 months of the season.

BUYERS OR SELLERS? Today the Dbacks traded Scott Hairston to the Padres for a triple A closer with a broken hand. So we are already in the sellers column, but SH has been in a crowded outfield all year and has been on the trading block since Spring Training so not a big surprise or indication of things to come. Plus, the Dbacks had to bring Carlos Quinton back up for his Bobble head night on Saturday. So are we contenders or pretenders, buyers or sellers?

The Win/Loss record indicates we are in the hunt and should be buyers. In watching this team day in and day out I think we should be sellers. Here is why: RJ is out for the season. The offense is still statistically very low in most categories. Our starting rotation is full of question marks. The team has still scored less runs than they have given up for the year, very remarkable considering the record. The Dbacks win close games and lose big.

GAME BREAK AT 7:30 PM FRIDAY - 6-0 DBACKS IN THE SECOND, ON THE WAY TO THE 7TH WIN IN A ROW! Can i change my mind mid post?

The offense might very well continue its torrid pace of the past week. I think they are finally living up to the potential and Rick Shue is letting the players use their talent and not their brains to extremely positive results. My major concerns are about the starting rotation. Webb is solid but not spectacular this year. Petit (RJ's replacement from AAA) has been awesome, but can he keep a 2.45 ERA for the rest of the year? Davis has been up and down but overall solid. Hernandez has sucked for a month and then throws a great game but is way too inconsistent. Micah Owings needs to get sent down but there are no really good options to replace him. I just do not see this staff leading us to the playoffs. Even if they did make the playoffs who do you trust to win a playoff game besides Webby. It is this reason I would love to trade off Hernandez and several other veterans to get back young talent that can help us in the future.

The future is bright and I think we could put Nippert or Edgar Gonzalez in the starting rotation. Trading Livan would bring back some young talent for next year and I think Ed Gon or Nippert might actually be an upgrade. It would weaken our bullpen but only slightly and bring us future talent. Webb and Davis along with young pitchers of Petit, Micah, and Nippert or Ed Gon, creates a nice rotation while getting a great look at the future rotation. Lets find out what we have in these guys and really work toward next year. Speaking of the future, only one month until Justin Upton will come up in September call ups, I am greatly looking forward to seeing him.

So even with 7 straight wins (6 -0 in the 4th), I still believe we would benefit from trading Hernandez or O'Dog for young talent and letting Callaspo and Reynolds cover second and Nippert handle the starters role. Please leave some comments and ideas.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Barry Bonds Controversy

Sitting at just two long balls away from breaking the all time record, Barry Bonds has been mostly quiet as of late. I would guess most of this is due to what the steroids controversy has brought upon him in the last two years or so. While Barry pursues this record in almost solitude, the commissioner Bud Selig is keeping everyone on their toes with whether or not he will be on hand to watch the record be broken. Up to this week he has been rather evasive about whether or not he will attend, but this week has shown up at some of Barry’s games in Milwaukee and San Francisco.

While I think Selig has no intention of trumpeting Bond’s for this achievement when he does reach it, I also think he should be there as commissioner of the sport. It seems fairly obvious he wants nothing to do with Barry, but it is history after all. I’m also guessing that if Mr. Selig had his wish, Bonds will break the record while Selig is in Cooperstown this weekend and thus unable to attend. That way Selig can say he wanted to be there, and tried to be there, but couldn’t. It’s a win-win, in a way I guess.

As for Bonds, things don’t seem to be getting much better for him. This week the maker of an anabolic steroid called the Cream, Patrick Arnold, called out Bonds by name saying he was on ‘the program’, which was administered by BALCO founder Victor Conte. While Bonds has repeatedly denied knowingly taking steroids, the evidence against him isn’t exactly circumstantial.

Nevertheless Bonds will, sometime very soon, break the all time home run record and place his name atop one of the greatest records in modern sports history. And while you can argue it should come accompanied with an asterisk, it will not in official record books. The only solace we can take, as sports fans, is that Alex Rodriguez, who yesterday hit his 499th career home run, will eventually pass Bonds and claim the record for himself. While not exactly Mr. Congeniality himself, at least A-Rod hasn’t been accused of using steroids to help him attain that record.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The best words of the year!

Players checked into Minnesota State - Mankato on Wednesday with meetings and conditioning tests scheduled for Thursday and the first practice scheduled for 9 a.m. Friday.

Pre Season Previews: Pac-10 Conference

This is the first installment of our previews of all things football, gearing up for the start of the football season in just over a month. We will be reviewing many NFL teams, as well as major college conferences. In this preview, i take a look at the Pac-10.

The Pac-10 has always been a top-heavy conference, with usually one or two really good teams, a couple decent teams, and a while lot of cellar dwellers. While this is a fact that many people use to trumpet the superiority of the league, seeing as how they've won or shared two National Titles in the last four years, and played for a third.

Personally, I think this is a joke. While USC has indeed been good, it has been much of a cakewalk for them throughout their own league. Playing the likes of Arizona, Arizona St, Standford, Washington, and Washington St, that's half the league that is terrible year in and year out. And between Oregon and Oregon St, one of those teams is also terrible every year. Easy conference schedule.

This year looks to be no different, with USC once again being the cream of the crop and the rest of the Pac-10 looking up at the Trojans. I expect USC to run through their league once again, and challenge for another National Championship.

Team to Beat: USC
As the saying goes, the Trojans don't rebuild, they just reload. USC is back with 10 starters from last years defense, as well as returning starting quarterback John David Booty. While the loss of Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith could hurt the passing game, figure the running game to be prominent once again, even if you haven't heard of any of their running backs heading into the season.

Surprising Team: Oregon
While a lot of people are going with the trendy pick of ASU and new Head Coach Dennis Erickson, Oregon is a team who could get looked past this year. Returning quarterback Dennis Dixon, as well as back-up Brady Leaf (yes, Ryan's younger brother), will provide stability behind center. They also return running back Jonathan Stewart, as well as all their top return men, which was a strength last year. Their away schedule appears to be favorable as well, with road games against Pac-10 doormats Washington, Stanford, and Arizona.

Disappointing Team: Arizona St.
I am going the opposite direction with the Sun Devils this year. With new coach Dennis Erickson, they are once again generating pre-season buzz. The problem, however, is that they are still ASU, continual under-achievers. Rudy Carpenter was inconsistent at best last year at quarterback, and the O line doesn't look to be much better this year. Their defense lost key players from last year, and could struggle throughout the season.

League MVP: John David Booty
The leader of the best team, an easy call. Booty should come into his own this year, even with a shaky receiver corp. And because USC is USC, he will most likely be in the running for the Heisman trophy throughout the season.

Back later this week with my next preview.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Welcome To The Valley

Welcome to the Valley will be an ongoing series on draft picks and newcomers to the Valley Sports Scene. The first installment is on Alando Tucker.

With the 29th pick in the 2007 NBA Draft, the Phoenix Suns drafted a fairly well-thought of, if not slightly undersized, forward/guard from the University of Wisconsin by the name of Alando Tucker. And with that pick, I was forced to root for someone I had spent the last five years of my life rooting vehemently against. Suddenly i was forced to change my tune on this player. Welcome to the Valley, Alando Tucker.

Tucker made an immediate impact in college at Wisconsin, playing in 27 of 32 games his freshman year and averaging 12 points and 6 boards. In his second year however, the 2002-2003 season, he injured his foot and appeared in just 4 games. After applying for and receiving a medical redshirt, Tucker proved to be a valuable member of their basketball team in the next three years, culminating in his being named the Big Ten’s Player of the Year and being named a First Team All-American his senior year. He also finished as Wisconsin’s all time leading scorer, with 2,217 points scored in his career.

While this seems all well and good to most Suns fans, it was particularly painful watching him as an alumni of the University of Iowa. Tucker always seemed to come up big against Iowa, evidenced by him averaging 19.6 points against them in his final three years, going for 20+ in four of those games and going 5-1. And while he tormented the Hawkeyes for years, I always admired and respected his ability and willingness to attack the rim, despite being only 6’6’’ and listed as a generous 205lbs.

And that’s where his upside with the Suns starts to look good. With the exception of Steve Nash barreling into the lane at every conceivable angle, the Suns have lacked someone who attacks the rim with reckless abandon the last two years. Alando Tucker has this ability. In fact, after watching him for five years at Wisconsin, I believe Tucker thoroughly enjoys and relishes getting to the rim. It is where he thrives, where he wants to be.

Having just completed the Summer League, Tucker averaged 17.4 points a game in five games, the best on the team (excluding Marcus Banks’ 42 he put up in the first game, then didn’t play again), while shooting just a tic under 42%. Though he has been taking quite a few shots (more than anyone else on the team), he has also been getting in on rebounding and assists. This is what figures to get Tucker playing time in his first season as a Sun. As a rookie you never know what to expect from a player, but if that player can demonstrate he can be valuable in many different ways, not just scoring, he will find his way onto the court. And that is precisely where Alando Tucker needs to be.

I fully believe Tucker can be a valuable contributor to this year’s Suns team as it makes a push towards the Championship. He will, of course, have his struggles, but as long as he keeps up his hustle and effort, he will have a place on this team. It was those qualities that made me hate him playing against my Hawkeye’s in college, and it is those qualities I look forward to seeing from him as a Sun.

Welcome to the Valley, Alando Tucker, and good luck. I’ll be watching, as I have been for the last five years. This time, however, I’ll be rooting for you, not against you.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Quick Hits

I am still back home in Iowa until tomorrow, but wanted to put up a few things about sports this weekend, because a lot has happened while i've been on vacation.

The Dbacks took two of three from the Cubs in Wrigley. While i was only able to see the last four innings of Saturday's game, it's good to see the Dbacks take a couple from the Cubs. Chicago has been the hottest team in baseball the last month, and to go into Wrigley and win the series is impressive. Granted Chicago was without their best player, D. Lee, but still a good showing. Let's hope this propels them onto a strong 2nd half of the season, since it got off to a bit of a rocky start.

The British Open today was fantastic. Golfers were falling all over themselves to give this Championship away, whether it be A. Romero's double bogey-bogey finish, P. Harrington putting not one, but two shots in the drink on the 18 with a one-shot lead, or S. Garcia needing only a par on 18 to win and promptly putting it into a bunker and bogeying the hole, sending it to a playoff. Harrington eventually won in the playoff, carding a birdie on the first hole to Garcia's bogey. That was all he would need, playing the last three playoff holes at even par and winning by a stroke.

The NBA Referee Scandal. (Sigh). I have so much to say about this, i don't even know where to begin. I wish i had been home so i could take the time and do a proper write-up on it, but since i'm not i'll link to the best post i found about the situation. Bill Simmons, ESPN's Sport's Guy, wrote a good article here, though it will be a bit gut-wrenching to Suns fans (hint: The ref in question was working Game 3 of the Suns-Spurs series. Let's just say he made some 'curious' calls).

And finally, David Beckham's (less than) glorious arrival on the US soccer scene. Playing just 13 minutes due to an injured ankle, Beckham was largely un-spectacular, save for one perfect long ball to the feet of Quavas Kirk. He did take a rather scary looking tumble after a somewhat violent collision, causing all of the LA Galaxy, US soccer fans, and MLS officials to hold their breath. He seemed to be okay, however, and finished the match. While the game did draw many celebrities and even some paparazzi (!), it was mostly uneventful as far as Beckham was concerned. It will be interesting to see what happens as he becomes a starter and as the Galaxy return to MLS play. I for one will be watching with great interest.

That's all for now. I will be back tomorrow (hopefully), having returned from my vacation in the evening. Look for a report on new Sun's draft pick Alando Tucker. Until then, check out some of the blogs listed under 'Blogs We Like' to the right, and leave some comments!