Monthly archives: September 2005
Football Picks for this Weekend
The football picks started off dismally, but last week was the first week of redemption, going 4-1 in the colleges and 3-1 in the pros. Last week I stated that the pro games were all strong plays and while the games this week don't jump out me quite as much, there are still some good opportunities.
(4 star)Iowa (-18) vs Illinois
Pink colored visiting bathrooms have been the major story at Iowa this week, but what has went under the radar is how Coach Ferentz lost his cool with his team. First time I can recall this happening during his tenure and the Hawkeyes with their great home field advantage will be out for the kill, after 2 disappointing losses. Michigan is poorly coached, but to be getting this many points from the Spartans is too good to pass up. Speaking of poor coaches, I've never been a fan of Greg Robinson and I suspect he and Wannstadt will slow down the pro to college exodus that schools were interested on doing since Pete Carroll's success. We are seeing how aweome the backfield in Auburn was in 2004, with the great success of Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown. The Tigers win narrowly, as Spurrier starts to get the Gamecocks in gear. Much like Auburn, the Cal Bears are not the same team of 2004, but the line is still reflecting it. Go with Stoops' Wildcats to keep it close.
(3 star) San Diego (+5.5) vs New England
Add up the big win over the Steelers and the major injuries the Pats suffered and the Chargers have a chance to shock Foxboro. The Raiders have had a brutal schedule, but despite Norv Turner inferior sideline skills versus Parcells, the talent level on offense make the Silver and Black the play. Also, since neither team's defense has been very impressive, go with the over 46.5. The Chiefs are a great home team and while I don't like betting on teams off of a Monday night game, the Eagles are not as good as they've been the past couple of seasons. Look for Holmes and Johnson to run over a D-line that misses Corey Simon. The Cardinals have killed me this year, but I will give them another try, as this is a game they have to win. No homefield advantage, being in Mexico City, but then Arizona has no experience of a homefield benefit in Tempe.
This Sunday check out the Frank's Picks segment during the NFL Pregame Show on Fox. I hear good things about it.
Clinching Protocol- You Weigh In
After clinching the playoffs on Thursday, the White Sox were put in a new dilemma. Do you rest some of your starters, which would be beneficial for your team's playoff chances, despite how this would effect the AL wild card race? While this rarely happens in baseball, this circumstance happens a lot in the NFL and NBA and while these league's claim they need to uphold the integrity of the whole season, the clinched teams generally rest the starters who they think it will benefit.
It's my belief that you earn the opportunity to rest your players if you clinch early, as the manager's main responsibility is to his team's future, be it giving veterans a rest to keep them fresh and also looking at his September call-ups for next season. I would argue that a call-up is going to play harder than a veteran that has clinched, anyway. I'm guessing, your opinion will vary, depending on if you're a Yankees/Red Sox or Indians fan.
The biggest issue for the White Sox at this point is do you start Brandon McCarthy, on the last game of the season? While McCarthy has been arguably the Sox best pitcher the past month, I would not put him in my rotation for the first round of the playoffs. It's hard to question using Buehrle, Contreas, Garland, and Garcia as I would say they are the best starting 4 of all playoff teams. Considering that McCarthy has the freshest arm, plus has the best strikeout/walk ratio, I would think he would be an effective tool to use out of the bullpen, so I would use the last couple regular season games to see how he fairs pitching in relief.
Please check-in below on where you stand. Should an already clinched team rest its starters or should it play its regulars to provide for the fullest integrity of the playoff chase?
The AL Races and Who Should Be Gripping Pt. 2
On August 16, I wrote on how I saw AL races breaking down, so I thought was time to do an update on the subject.
Here is why I think the Sox fans should calm down. It's not like they are competing with the Yankees, it's the Indians. Sure they are a better team than the White Sox at this point, but the Tribe are 4.5 games behind, their current roster has no more pennant race experience than Chicago, plus, they are the Indians, another historically cursed franchise who hasn't won a World Series since 1948.
If you have forgotten, all the way back last week, most of the experts were predicting the doom of the White Sox. Considering the combination of the Sox playing teams like the Twins and Tigers, who outside of the Santana game, are below average at this point and having a 4.5 GAME lead on their competition, it was a pretty easy calculation. Actually, I never understood how so many of my sabermetrically-inclined friends, with their Rain Man-esque brains, could get so far off on their analysis. I will get into specifics of all the teams, in my playoff breakdown this upcoming Monday, but one thing should be mentioned about the White Sox, which is quite interesting: Since April 14th, the White Sox have had the best record in the American League.
In this piece I wrote that the Yankees have one more finger on the bar, than the Indians and Red Sox, despite being a game and a half down, as their experience and improved pitching made them the best team down the stretch. Now a game up in the East and Wild Card races, who would have guessed at the beginning of 2005 that the Yankees most important pitcher wouldn't be the Big Unit, but instead Small,Wang. With the White Sox clinching so early, it seems like the Indians have a large advantage, so the Red Sox have their backs to the wall, but hey, it's not like they're down 3 nothing in the AL Championship.
My guess is the absences of Rich Harden in 2005, will cost the A's a playoff berth. Neither team looks to be a serious playoff contender this season, unless they meet the White Sox, who traditionally have problems with both squads.
Once again, right on the money. (Pausing while I reach over and pat myself on the back.) The Angels should consider, now that they have clinched a playoff berth that they should lose a few games, as they match-up best against the White Sox. So the Angels and White Sox have clinched, but it shouldn't take too much away from a great weekend of baseball, as the two powerhouses, Yankees and Red Sox meet up again.
Film Review: Lord of War
The opening moments of Andrew Niccol's Lord of War (Lions Gate Films) are pure filmmaking bliss: creative, enthralling, and filled with an energy that isn't matched in the remaining two hours and change. Here, the viewer is thrown headlong into the metallic casing of a bullet manufactured in Russia, and follows it, first-person, from ship to dock to firearm and finally into the skull of a young boy. It's a virtuoso sequence set to Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth," one of the most memorable war-protest songs of the 1960s. This combination of word and image, while not exactly affecting, is nothing if not impressive: it's play No. 1A out of the Scorsese Handbook.
The problem is, like the opening sequence, the film never scratches below the surface of technical competence. It's all show and no soul. Writer/director Niccol (Gattaca, S1m0ne) tries to mask his bland characters leading unconventional lives with quick cuts, exotic locations, and catchy music (aside from Springfield, "Money" and "Cocaine" are conjured at exceedingly predictable moments throughout the film), but to no avail. This is Blow (2001)another boring film about boring people dealing illegal products across multiple continents, set to a classic rock/synth-pop soundtrackwith guns. Excuse me while I yawn.
Niccol's screenplay follows the exploits of Uri Orlov (Nicolas Cage), a composite of a number of prominent, real arms dealers who made a killing (so to speak) in Africa and eastern Europe during the '80s and '90s. Uri isn't a violent guy, but he's a capitalist, and realizes very early in life that he's a lot more likely to get rich hocking firearms than he is working in his family's Ukrainian restaurant in Little Odessa, making pot after pot of borsch with his brother Vitaly (Jared Leto). So he starts selling guns. Lots and lots of them. By the time the mid-'80s roll around, he's making regular trips to Russia to pick up mountains of used AK-47s so he can sell them to the highest bidder (and often the highest bidder's opponent in the war-of-the-moment). Wealth and fame come so easily to Uri that it's amazing that someone with a more interesting personality didn't get to it first.
That Cage does so little with Uri Orlov is just one of the problems with this film. Uri is as bland as over-cooked cabbage. Sure, he has his moments of ingenuity (the few scenes where Cage goes toe-to-toe with an Interpol agent played by Ethan Hawke are a delight), but he's just so disconnected from any type of emotion or perspective on his own work that he's just a bore to watch. Why should we care about this man? Because he sells guns? While that fact might hold an audience for a scenemaybe twoit's simply not enough to carry a film. Cage sleepwalks through this role, letting his accent slip from scene-to-scene, sounding about as Ukrainian as Whoopi Goldberg. This is a far cry from the Cage of Leaving Las Vegas (1995), Adaptation (2002), and Matchstick Men (2003) when he's at his manic, neurotic best.
Not all of the blame can be leveled at Cage, however. That the primary characters lack depth and are largely unsympathetic is Niccol's problem as a writer. Jared Leto's Vitaly is a silly messnever quite as crazy or as lovable as he needs to be. Bridget Moynahan is a non-entity as Uri's naïve trophy wife. Even the great Ian Holm is used sparingly, never called upon to do much more than act smug. Only Ethan Hawke stands out as a by-the-book Interpol agent trying to make the world a better place. And even then, his character isn't much more than a plot device with a sexy goatee.
Niccol does his best to present all of this in a Three Kings (1999) style irreverent satirea film that Lord is being compared to by some prominent criticsbut he gets only halfway there. For sure, his visuals are straight out of the David O. Russell/P.T. Anderson School of New Auteursbright, grainy, and sharply edited. His musical choices are nostalgic and just a little kitsch. And the narration he provides for Cage is droll, observant, and warranted. However, unlike Three Kings and Boogie Nights (1997) (a tragedy that actually works), Lord of War just doesn't take pleasure in its own decadence. These are unique individuals living beyond the edge of the law, dealing with unfathomable sums of money, who contribute to thousands of deaths every yearyet no one seems to notice. No one has any fun. Niccol wants the viewer to "identify with the sinner," in the words of Tim Grierson, "but has no taste for the sin" himself.
That this film is comparable to Ted Demme's Blow is interesting, given that the protagonistsCage and Johnny Depphave followed such similar career paths. Both spent the '80s and early-'90s doing a series of small, quirky films that earned them respect. Both followed with a series of bigger-budget mainstream films that gave them Hollywood clout. Both sold their souls to work with Jerry Bruckheimer. Both were nominated for Oscars while playing functional (or in Cage's case, not-so-functional) alcoholics. And both used their post-blockbuster clout to start challenging themselves agai
Oh, wait. What's that? National Treasure 2? Fahhk.
And that's where the analogy ends, because where Johnny Depp's star is on the riseand deservedly soNicolas Cage's is on the decline. Where Depp takes risks playing Willy Wonka and gets production on The Rum Diary in motion, Cage is set to star in Time Share, which has an IMDb plot outline that reads like so: "When two families are booked for the same time share, both fathers (Cage and [Will] Smith) square off against one another." And he only has himself to blame. Lord of War fits perfectly into a filmography that includes Daddy Day Care 3: Back in the Habit by 2009.
Films like Lord of War are infuriating because they house so much potential. They're slickly made, backed by major studios, and given advertising budgets that could free small countries from debt. Yet they're made with such a disregard for the basic elements of a classical storytelling and characterization they deserve the box-office failure that they often reap. Like the trajectory of Nic Cage's career, these films aren't something one wants to root against, but because the outcome seems inevitable it's hard not to smile condescendingly. Hoping for better filmsand better choices for our favorite actorsis all we can really do.
Well, that, and not paying to see Lord of War. Or Time Share, for that matter.
Clinching: Showing My Work
Several people emailed asking for this type of breakdown.
DATE TEAM PITCHER TEAM PITCHER PICK
Respect Is Due
Perhaps not wrong in that Barry Bonds may not hit 35 homers but wrong in the reasons why. I think the reason Barry might not reach Aaron's record is that he simply might not want to. Simple as that.
Claiming that Bonds' knee is likely to break down again under the load or that any other number of maladies could occur is folly. Bonds had a discreet event to a weakened part of his body with a complication. I'll wager that we had fifty athletes have their knees scoped this year and that one other had the complication that Bonds did. I'd just have to find him -- small sample sizes hurt all kinds of statistics.
Where this writer misses it is that Bonds is hitting a lot of homers. His normal career rate of 1 per 11 AB or so is down (again, small sample size) to 1 in 5 or so. This is a pattern that Clay Davenport found last year - older players that are losing speed and/or have leg problems increase their home run rate as they age. Aaron did it himself. Players that can hit homers and jog around the bases have a tendency to do so. It's efficient and I don't think anyone will argue that Bonds -- in a weakened state - isn't good enough to do this.
The other thing to note is that this is not Bonds at his best. His knee is still problematic. An offseason workout program and weight loss (yes, I know what you think, but the first advice any person gets before knee surgery is lose weight and strength the quad) should give Bonds an added boost, at least equivalent to the wear and tear.
The final worry is the at-bats themselves. Managers and pitchers might go into a stall offense, walking him and costing him time, the one commodity his talent can't affect. Given 400 ABs, Bonds is likely to test the 35 HR barrier. My guess is that PECOTA will spit out something a lot like his 99 season for 2006. He's not reversing time - it was an off year.
Once we get past the statistical racism and chemical McCarthyism that surrounds Bonds, we're left with this -- Bonds will pass Aaron if he wants.
I've spent the morning pouring over charts, stats, and schedules and while this won't be a long post, I will be a pretty clear one. Right or wrong, this should give us something to talk about.
The Red Sox will miss the playoffs.
The White Sox will win the division, clinching by winning the first game of their final series.
The Indians will mount a furious charge, finishing just one game behind the White Sox although the last two games will likely be against a skeleton crew of Pale Hose as they would have clinched and prepped for their meeting with the Angels.
The Yankees will finish just strong enough to defeat the Red Sox, killing my preseason predictions as dead as dead can be, clinching by winning the penultimate game. Randy Johnson will pitch a complete game and point to the sky as Yankees fans (and Big Stein) forgive the heartache of the 2005 season.
Which, under these calculations means the playoffs will look like:
White Sox (HF) vs Angels
The 2 Best Football Analysts Go Missing
Watching football on television has been missing a little this season and I would point to the loss of 2 people being the biggest reasons for this case. The best analyst in all sports, Cris Collinsworth is taking the year off, after signing a new deal with NBC for 2006. I would rate Cris as the brightest, brashest broadcaster in all of sports, but for this season to catch Collinsworth you have to watch Inside the NFL on HBO.
Someone who now has no television presence is former college studio analyst, Trev Alberts. I know a lot of people find him abrasive, but I feel Alberts is the most intelligent, most opinionated analyst I've heard discuss college football. What a huge drop-off it is now having Daffy Duck (Lou Holtz) plugged in for Alberts, as the great chemistry between Rece Davis, Mark May, and Alberts is gone. The first team of college gameday, with Fowler, Herbstreit, and Corso is still good, but what was formerly Team 1-A and Team 1-B is now truly an A-team and a B-team. CBS would be wise to pick up Alberts for next year, as his talents are missed.
As has been mentioned, my college picks have been really poor, so far this year. I'm hoping that this is a 2005 Cleveland Indians beginning to the season, with a similar finish.
3-star Arkansas (+15) vs. Alabama
Classify me as still a non-believer in Shula as coach, as I forsee Nutt keeping the game close. The Mean Green was demolished by Tulsa last week, which gives good value in Manhattan. I realize that the Spartans are coming off an emotional win last week, but they will still cover the points. Northwestern is a good home team, while Paterno's offense is still a question mark. I chose UTEP as my Top 25 sleeper at the beginning of the year and this might be their biggest test left for an undefeated season.
4-star San Diego (-5.5) over NY Giants
These might be the 4 best games to handicap I have seen in the NFL all year. Perfect setup for the must-win Chargers, as the Giants have had a scheduling quirk giving them an added bonus win. Arizona is in a similar situation as San Diego and while I'm not sure they're going to win the game outright, the Cardinals keep it close. Wake-up, the Bengals offense might just be the equal of the Colts and while the defense of the Bears is excellent, not enough to keep the game within 3. Oakland has had a brutal schedule to begin the season, but they will be the best 0-3 team in football, losing the game, as they fall just short of the Eagles. Moss wins the "hey look at me" battle, though, versus TO.
Jesus H. Crede
Over the past week, the number 1 parlor game among baseball experts has been, "the White Sox are falling apart in every way." Let's start with ESPN Sportscenter, which last weekend chose Curly Mullet (Jeff Brantley) and Windy City Woody Paige (Jay Mariotti) to breakdown the White Sox playoff chances. Considering that both Brantley and Mariotti have had feuds just this season with the White Sox organization, it didn't seem like a balanced point of view was an issue for ESPN. While Brantley rarely offers up anything worthwhile, it's Mariotti's comment that Kenny Williams failed at the trade deadline that I take the greatest exception to. Who was he supposed to get? Williams tried hard to get Billy Wagner and A. J. Burnett, but both of their teams smartly decided to hold on to them, as today, they still are in the NL Wild Card chase. In regards to Ken Griffey Jr., who Mariotti said the Sox should have obtained, he would have blown up future payrolls, was a large injury risk and most importantly, there is no actual confirmation that Junior would have accepted a trade to Chicago. No other playoff team made a substantial move before the trade deadline, so this notion that Williams failed just doesn't measure up.
Unlike Curly Mullet and Windy City Woody, who I generally pay little attention to, 2 of my 5 favorite baseball writers have been slamming the Sox lately, as well. I would say I get more emails than any other with the subject of "what is the deal with Joe Sheehan and his hatred of the White Sox?" I'm guessing since I discuss the White Sox on a regular basis, plus I appear on a site with Baseball Prospectus' Will Carroll, it's assumed that I have a pipeline to BP. I don't. I've never met Joe Sheehan or anyone else, besides Will and a brief conversation with Nate Silver, who works for BP. OK, now that I've got the Grand Jury testimony out of the way, I will say that I think there has been a negative tone towards the White Sox this year at my favorite baseball site. Here are a couple of quotes from pieces Sheehan wrote last week.
"87-55 is 87-55, and there's no way I can spin the White Sox except to say that I was wrong about their run prevention capabilities.
The first line of Sheehan's statement "87-55 is 87-55" and "I was wrong" are true, but the next 2 paragraphs sound like a guy desperate to explain why he was off by more than 20 games in his pre-season predicted win total. This easiest schedule argument is questionable considering the Sox played basically the same schedule as the Indians, who Sheehan seems to be struggling to find a loophole to give the AL Central to. "The weakest schedule in 3-division history" statement makes little sense to me, as the Sox play divisional rivals, the Indians, Twins, and a decent Tigers club, besides matching up with the rest of its AL opponents, which make up the far superior league. The NL West teams get the huge bonus of facing its fellow losers, in addition to a National League that outside of St. Louis, looks to be one of the worst collective groups in it's 129 year history.
Last Wednesday, Sheehan added this Sox shot.
"For those of you annoyed that I would list (6 teams fighting it out for 4 spots) the White Sox I don't care. The only thing saving them right now is regular doses of the Royals and Tigers. Since August 1, they're 7-1 against those two teams, 12-19 against everyone else. The Indians--probably the best team in the league right now--get six games against them starting with a three-game series at Jacobs Field next Monday. The White Sox haven't locked up anything yet."
This sounds like a writer who's received lots of angry White Sox fan's emails. I have received quite a few myself, but mine are the venting kind, asking what's the story with the Baseball Prospectus bias against the White Sox? Well, I'm no longer going to respond by saying that there's nothing to these fan's claims, as while I know enough about Baseball Prospectus that the staff doesn't sit as one collective group putting needles in Ozzie Guillen voodoo dolls (though that might explain some of his bizarre behavior), it would appear from the articles on the site that a majority of its writers are strongly rooting for the Sox to fail.
Besides the dislike of Kenny Williams and the manufacturing of runs-style propagated by skipper Guillen, I'm guessing many at BP would point to the White Sox exceeding their Pythagenpat, as a major cause for their negative view of the Sox. Sure the White Sox have been a lucky team, but considering all the years they have underachieved their Pythagorean formula, while the Twins consistently overachieved using the same scale, it's unfair to punish the Sox for this statistical fluke. LET ME STRONGLY STATE THAT I'M NOT CLAIMING I'm anywhere close to being the baseball writer that Joe Sheehan is. I do think, though, Sheehan's latest offerings have been somewhat unfair to the White Sox.
The final writer I want to discuss is Will Carroll. Now, there is no way I can take on Will without coming off as someone who is biting the hand that feeds, as Will was the one gracious enough to allow me to join him on the forums we have collaborated at. Man am I a dickhead. Listening yesterday to Will on a local sports radio station, he came out strongly against White Sox manager, Ozzie Guillen, stating that he's failed as a skipper down the stretch, worn out his pitching staff, and worst of all, Guillen's personal behavior should have gotten him fired long ago. And oh yeah, put Will on the list of people predicting the White Sox will be left out of the playoffs.
Considering that Under the Knife is my favorite baseball column to read and that my knowledge of pitching has been greatly supplemented by Will, not to mention that Will is my good friend and writing partner at this site, well, I have some anxiety in disagreeing with his points. While I was not a fan of the White Sox hiring Guillen and think his behavior can be inappropriate, I think his use of the pitching staff has been great this year. The White Sox current starting pitchers have an excellent past record of avoiding injury (El Duque is the exception) and Guillen has kept them from racking up Pitcher Abuse Points, by not exceeding 120 pitches, so I don't agree with the idea that he's worn out the staff. Considering he is now having to rely on a rookie with a shaky past, Bobby Jenks, to close games, Guillen's options in the bullpen are pretty challenging.
I know this diatribe against the above mentioned reads like the words of a frustrated fan, but the fact at this point is the White Sox have at least a 3.5 game lead on it's fellow division rivals and wild card challengers. The Baseball Prospectus playoff odds are right on the money. It's time to embrace the idea that the White Sox will be in the playoffs, as flawed as they are. There are 3 other spots up for grabs, so it's time to focus on those AL teams.
FOOTNOTE: I wrote the top of this piece last week and added the part about Will last night. I mention this because today, Joe Sheehan has a great piece in BP about the Sox and Indians and I can't argue with any of it. I recommend you check it out.
NFL Week 2
Went 2 and 1 on opening Sunday, with +4 on the stars basis, which hopefully will keep up to make up some ground on my dismal college beginning.
4 star- Seattle (Even) vs Atlanta
I love to go against teams who played on Monday night football the week before. Add in the Falcons are traveling across the country and they are beaten up from the physical Eagles and this is a great set-up for the Seahawks.
3 star- Arizona (-1) vs St. Louis
One of these two teams will begin the season 0-2, as I suspect the Rams will struggle in the brutal heat and grass field in Tempe.
3 star- Miami (+6.5) vs. NY Jets
The Dolphins will be close in most of the games they play this season and the linesmakers are still not quite up to speed on this, as the Jets should be more like a 4 point favorite. Same deal with the Redskins, as their defense will keep things low scoring. Parcells beats Gibbs one more time, but it's a field goal or so difference.
Cincinnnati/Minnesota (Over 47.5)
The Bengals are right behind the Colts for balance and explosiveness on the offensive side of the ball. Minnesota, as they demonstrated in week one, are much weaker because of the Moss-loss, but Cincinnati's D helps them score more than last week. The Vikings are terrible in games played outside, but couldn't quite pull the trigger on the Bengals to cover, so just playing the total.
The AL Pennant Races and Who Should be Gripping
Down the stretch they come, White Sox ahead, but fading fast, Indians coming on strong, Red Sox just a nose ahead of the Yankees, while the Angels and A's are currently a photo finish bringing up the AL Playoff chase.
The Chicago White Sox are arguably the most dismal post-season franchise of the last 85 years, as they have been in just one World Series (1959), only two League Championship Series (1983 and 1993), and just one Divisional Series. All of these playoff series have one major thing in common, the Sox lost all of them. It's this background that needs to be mentioned first to explain why so many White Sox fans are jumping off the bandwagon, despite a 4.5 game division lead. Here is why I think the Sox fans should calm down. It's not like they are competing with the Yankees, it's the Indians. Sure they are a better team than the White Sox at this point, but the Tribe are 4.5 games behind, their current roster has no more pennant race experience than Chicago, plus, they are the Indians, another historically cursed franchise who hasn't won a World Series since 1948.
Speaking of cursed franchises, just because the Red Sox won last year, doesn't mean that they shouldn't feel the stress, as any Red Sox fan I'm sure would tell you. Much like the White Sox, the Red Sox are playing their worst baseball of the year and look to be physically and mentally tired. The difference between the 2 teams is that the Pale Hose have a 4.5 game divisional lead.
While the Indians have been the hottest team down the stretch, I would say the Yankees are the best bet for success in the playoffs. Here's why. 1) Reemergence of Randy Johnson 2) Most dangerous offense in MLB 3) Greatest closer in baseball history 4) Manager with more big game success than anyone since Casey Stengel. Of course, the Yankees also are the team in the worst shape of the top 4 AL teams in the standings, so despite all the above factors leave them in a precarious position.
At this point, the AL West teams should concentrate on winning their division, as the AL Wild Card would appear out of reach. One of my two favorite A's bloggers (see also Catfish Stew), Elephants in Oakland's Zachary Manprin described the AL West best, a couple of days ago in writing: "The AL West lead is fast becoming the garter thrown at a wedding to all the single men; nobody wants to touch it or go near it, fearing of the consequences and implications." My guess is the absences of Rich Harden in 2005, will cost the A's a playoff birth. Neither team looks to be a serious playoff contender this season, unless they meet the White Sox, who traditionally have problems with both squads.
White Sox- 8 finger grip
College Football Picks
Off to a bad start, with a 4-6 spread record, losing most of my major plays.
3-star Oklahoma (+7) over UCLA- 14 point swing from what the spread would have been before the season. Stoops is too good of coach to give up a TD to an unproven Bruins club.
3-star Michigan St. (+6.5) over Notre Dame- Despite Weis completely outcoaching Carr and Henne playing brutally, the Wolverines still almost won last week. Spartans Smith is a good coach, unlike the 2 dunces Weis started his college career against and QB Stanton is top-notch.
2-star Tennessee (+7) over Florida- Tennesse is a good road dog and it's game last week is somewhat misleading, as UAB is a quality team. All three of these games I see going down to the wire, so I will take the points. Come on Doggies.
Only 2 teams, Philadelphia and Carolina, would be in the playoff hunt, if they were in the AFC. I had Carolina as my NFC Champ, before Sports Illustrated decided to put the cover jinx on them, but I still am going with the Panthers, as I love their defensive front four, plus Delhomme has really become a top-flight QB. Unless serious injuries hit the Panthers or Eagles, I just can't see any other NFC team competing with them.
Schedule is tantamount in the NFL, as road wins are so difficult. If you get to play San Fran or Cleveland on the road, this is a huge advantage, as they will be the 2 easiest places to win away from home. The Cowboys have this advantage over the Skins, as they have the Niners on the road.
Much like the AFC North, not much difference between the top 3 here. A lot has been made about the Vikings upgrading their defense and that the loss of Randy Moss will help chemistry. I think Dante Culpepper is a pretty average QB, who was bailed out often by the talents of Moss. While the talent level is slightly better in Minnesota, than in Detroit, I think Maruicci is a far superior coach to Tice, plus they get Cleveland on the road. Favre will keep the Packers in the division hunt, but they will fall just short. Hard to know what the Bears will do, with the rookie QB Orton, but their defense and running game will keep them in most games.
Another extremely balanced division, as all four teams will have a shot at the playoffs. Atlanta overachieved in 2004, riding a last place schedule, but this year they come back to earth. I'm afraid that the Saints, playing without a homefield all year, will wear down by the end of the season.
Hold your nose. I don't think any team in the West will have a record over .500. While I think the Cardinals are the most talented team in the division, they have to play Carolina and Philly at home, which will cost them a winning record. Flip a coin between Seattle and St. Louis, but I lean towards Seattle, as Hasselback is slightly better than Bulger.
NFC Wildcards: Tampa Bay and Dallas- The Bucs are not going to be pretty, but their running game and defense make them a difficult match-up. I don't really like the Cowboys roster, but the coaching of Parcells and an advantageous schedule slide them into a wild card spot.
NFC Championship- Carolina over Philadelphia
Super Bowl- Indy over Carolina
College and NFL Picks
Started off a little shaky in the colleges, going 2-3, but hopefully the second week will be better.
Ohio St. (-1) vs. Texas (4 star)
I love Ohio State, as the Big 12 is overrated, Texas stinks in big games and the Buckeyes stadium will be shaking. Clemson has a hard time bringing it 2 weeks in a row, as last week's upset gives good value to Maryland. I will give the Rainbow Warriors another shot this week. Sure Nebraska has fallen quite a bit, but for the Huskers to be only a 6 point favorite at home versus the Demon Deacons? UCLA is not 25 points better than almost anyone and include Rice on that list.
I lost my first NFL pick, because Norv Turner is only half the coach Belichek is. I have learned my lesson.
Cincinnati (-3) vs. Cleveland (3 star)
Cleveland is awful, while Minnesota and Pittsburgh are down from last year. Both win, but in close games.
Since the NFL is starting their season on Thursday night, I guess I need to at least put up my AFC picks today. If you want to find out what Mr. Carroll's picks are for 2005, go to the footballoutsiders.com. To make things more interesting, please put your playoff selections in the comment sections, as this is the best way to claim scoreboard.
New England is still one of the top 5 teams in the NFL, but with their BRUTAL schedule, they are going to have a hard time even making the playoffs. (7 of the 8 teams the Pats play on the road are potential playoff teams and outside of playing an improved Miami team twice this year and New Orleans, I would rate 13 of their 16 opponents with .500 records or better.)
Considering that I have the top 3 teams in this division all with 9-7 records, it's complete guesswork to say what order I see the North, but I think the Ravens are the best of the 3 teams. The Ravens have spent the past 3 years now going with second rate QB (Boller), which has undercut Billick's credibility and is going to leave them like the 80's Bears teams, with a great defense only playing in one Super Bowl. The Bengals, Chargers, and Texans are the 3 best young teams in the AFC, with Cincinnati's offense next best to the Colts in all the NFL. 2004 was a magical year for the Steelers and I suspect they will come back down to earth, as the Staley/Bettis battering ram is already showing splinters.
With the addition of All-Pro defensive tackle Corey Simon, the Colts have the most overall talent of anyone in the NFL, so no more excuses for Manning and Dungy. Throw in a schedule that has them playing the NFC West, this team should win at least 13 games. If the Colts don't have the home field advantage, they will have underachieved.
Not much difference between any of these 4 teams, as this is the NFL's most balanced division. Off-season additions tell the story of why I expect Kansas City to wind up on top, while Denver will sit at the bottom. The Chiefs added 2 excellent defensive free agents, Kendrick Bell and Patrick Surtain, while the Broncos "fixed" their defensive line by raiding the Browns' roster. Now who do you think had the better off-season? Oakland added the most dominant player in the NFL in Randy Moss and with the addition of Lamont Jordan, the Raiders might have the most talented offense behind the Colts. Their defense can't be any worse than last year and if they didn't have Norv Turner as head man, I would say the Raiders are a playoff team. Even with this coaching deficiency, I see them as a 9-7 squad. San Diego's schedule gets a lot more difficult in 2005, so they could be better than last year, but be lucky to get over .500.
Wild Cards: Cincinnati and Pittsburgh These 2 teams have easier schedules than Oakland, Buffalo, and Houston, who I also have with the same 9-7 records, so I'm going with them for that reason, more than any other.
AFC Championship: Indy over Kansas City
AFC Champion: Indianapolis
While there is a great wildcard pennant race going on in both leagues, most of the division titles (AL West excepted) seem pretty well in hand, so these future playoff teams are now focused on getting their pitching set up for the post-season. While the call-up of teen phenom Felix Hernandez has been taking the headlines, under the radar, the White Sox Brandon McCarthy has pitched nearly 15 shutout innings in his 2 first two starts, after being brought up from Triple A. What makes McCarthy's recent performances most special is they occured versus the American League's best offenses, Boston and Texas. His strikeout/walk ratio was 9/2, which is in large part because he's throwing a nasty changeup for strikes.
The White Sox are in a situation, where they had a doubleheader and no off-days, so they were able to go to a 6-man rotation, but now they need to figure out what to do with McCarthy and if he will be on their 25 man playoff roster. Considering that Buerhle, Garland, and Garcia are locks as the first 3 starters, the decision is basically, who out of Contreas, El Duque, and McCarthy should be the 4th starter. I would lean towards one of the first 2, as Contreas has pitched great over the past month, while Hernandez is the one Sox pitcher with a sterling playoff record. For the rest of the year, I would test McCarthy in some high stress relief situations, as he has great stuff and is the best strikeout pitcher on the team. With Hermanson's nagging back injury, this is the only potential pitching weakness for Chicago. If the rumors were true that the Reds turned down the offer of McCarthy and one of the top Sox minor league outfielders for Griffey Jr., it's just another case of Ken Williams getting lucky when a trade is voided by a dumbass owner. (see 2003 Jon Garland for Darin Erstad near debacle)
So I turn on my local news and see that Bob Denver kicked the bucket. The next story featured was about the funeral of William Rehnquist. Yeah, that seems about right, if you were watching E! Gilligan outpoints the Chief Justice of the US on local news. I think the great Russian philosopher, Yakov Smirnov said it best. "America, what a country!" Actually, I just got done watching the E! channel's coverage of the Supreme Court and according to Todd Newton, the 2 most qualified to be new chief justice are Judge Judy and Amy Brenneman. Actually, I would choose Judge Amy over Scalia and Thomas. I mean she does have a degree from Harvard and she can't be as dense as Judge Long Dong Silver or the Vice President's favorite Duck Hunter.
Will and I have both been pretty passionate in our praise of Rock Star:INXS and the show just continues to have performances that blow away anything seen on American Idol. Where Will and I disagree is on who our favorites are. Initially I thought Susie was one of the three or four Holiday Inn lounge singers that should be axed, but she has really grown over the weeks. Still not sure how she sings INXS songs, though. Will doesn't like Jordis, where I think she is the best singer on the show, but as host Dave Navarro mentioned, she does seem to have lost her passion, some, from her original, spectacular performances. J.D. generally sings in only one register, which would fit the moodier INXS songs best, but wouldn't work at all for the more energetic tunes. At this point I would say Marty is the best fit for the band, though he would change the dynamic, making the group more rock and less funky. Marty has a range somewhere between Layne Staley and Peter Murphy. He might be better suited, fronting his own band, as he seems to have the most talent as a songwriter.
Ultimately, I would watch any of these singers work their stuff, as long it isn't Mig. This Bay City Roller look-alike, annoys the steamy dump out of me, as his breathy singing style makes me want to wretch. I've got to guess his biggest influences were Peter Frampton (I'm in You) and Rex Smith (You Take My Breath Away). Mig has a huge advantage, as he is the only one on the show not from North America, so when the rest of the world votes, he is pretty much guaranteed not being in the bottom 3. And for those who slag INXS, I would state that listening once again to the wide variety of music they produced, INXS was one of the best bands of the past 20 years. There will be no replacing Michael Hutchence, as his charisma and vocal range was one of a real rock star, but it should be interesting to see how they change.
There's a lot to say about Katrina and the response after. I'll do it in bullet points and try to avoid the emotional response this demands:
* Bush is showing his typical distance. Flying over is not the dramatic, stand-with-the-troops moment he had after 9/11. No one hears you in New Orleans, Mr. Bush.
* Chertoff and Brown are simply incompetent. They'll catch more blame than they should, because they're replaceable. Still, they're in positions of massive responsibility and failed. Rebuilding FEMA and re-directing certain assets from terrorism back to disaster -- and aren't they really the same thing in the end? -- has to come but ...
* The response to this, by government and public, is likely to be absolutely wrong. Instead of more government and regulation, we should get government out of this business. The Red Cross and other similar agencies do this far better. Local government should be given more say in how they prepare. Distributing the response and the responsibility would work better. It's a Libertarian response, but ...
* Expect Rudy Giuliani's presidential aspirations to crank back up. They'll think crisis, think of Giuliani's handling versus what we've seen - a crackup that's causing even Fox News anchors to question the RNC talking points - and his law and order background and he'll look good again. Haley Barbour, former RNC Chairman and current Mississippi governor, also came out well and could be an interesting VP possibility if Katrina remains a campaign issue.
* People have said that the Red Cross and other shouldn't be allowed into New Orleans, that Gen. Honore's Mogadishuization of New Orleans is the right response. The fact that there's even a need for an armed response speaks to the utter failure of everyone, top to bottom. Add in the creation of an internal refugee class that is already causing tension in Houston and we face a major situation that will demand new solutions.
How about we use the unemployed residents of New Orleans to rebuild the levees to withstand the next hurricane, to fill and raise the level of the sub-Pontchartrain sections of the city before rebuilding, and set a WPA-type skills acquisition program to both reduce costs and give people who are among the least-educated and abjectly poor people in America a better life. (Yes, that's a big government program, but it's short-term (a few years) and has a positive effect on the community.)
*Give. And encourage giving. We all have our pet charities and I'm no one to say where your money should go. Over the past five years, Americans have given over and over - Sept 11, tsunami, Katrina, that kid selling chocolate bars at the office - but what do we get besides karma? Simple solution - make charitable giving tax deductible. More paperwork is seldom good, but with the web driving most gifts, receipts are easy and if you give five bucks or drop some change in a bucket, you don't really need a receipt, do you?
See - this can be addressed without politics entering the discussion. I'll let history take care of the rest of them.
College Spread Picks Week 1
Each week I'm going to give out 4 or 5 picks. I will rate them on on a 1-5 star scale, with 5 being the top.
3 star Penn State (-21) over South Florida
2005 College Football Preview
Here are my Pre-season Top 25 rankings. It's based on a mix of factors, but schedule plays a bigger part in college football success than in any other sport. Outside of the Pac-10, parity rules, as most major conferences in 2005 will not have outright winners. Only 2 teams do I have finishing the regular season undefeated. The Big 10 is the best it's ever been, with the SEC and Big 12 having 4 teams with very little difference between them.
1. USC- Could not find a loss for the Trojans. Maybe Rose Bowl will provide a test.
Stones, Enemies, and Death
I got my hands on some advance copies of three albums I've really been looking forward to, so while I typed up today's UTK and "Four Downs", I gave them a good listen.
The Rolling Stones "A Bigger Bang" has been coming for a while and is really the first Stones album in a while that seems to be fully engaged. I'm not a big fan of their last few albums with Don Was, who seems more focused on making them 'sound like the Stones' than challenging them. That makes for one or two good songs and a lot of filler. "Bang" isn't like that; it's as if finding the roots of their music in the blues has re-energized them somehow. There's the mix of swagger and stagger, as Material Issue once said, that makes the Stones the Stones and surprisingly relevant as they head into their fifth decade.
Okay, that bears some looking at - are the Stones relevant? Does a band that flaunts Roger Daltrey's wishes really mean anything in today's fractured market? Yes. The Stones are like Babe Ruth coming back to play and still hitting sixty home runs. They're fully capable of mailing it in, showing up to be a museum piece rather than a rock n' roll band, but don't. Keith Richards hasn't lost a step, Ron Wood takes a bigger role than he has since "Under Cover", and Mick Jagger is, well, he's still Mick Jagger.
So, is the album good? Yes. It's the best Stones album since Tattoo You, fully resonant yet fully Stones. There's nothing classic here in the way of Gimme Shelter or Satisfaction, but there's also nothing bad. 'Sweet Neo Con' has got a lot of press and it's the closest the album has to a throw away. 'Look What The Cat Dragged In' sounds a bit too much like INXS's "Need You Tonight" for my tastes.
And speaking of INXS, "Rock Star" has been my top show of the summer. "Prison Break" looks to be the new "24", but "Rock Star" has been everything "American Idol" hopes to be. Down to the bottom five now, there's absolutely no one who doesn't belong. The phenomenally annoying Ty is gone now, exiting while playing the race card and killing one of my favorite songs of all time, leaving an interesting mix of modern and classic. I still think Dave Navarro might be better suited than any of the remaining contestants, but the results of this show are solid. I'm looking forward to next season.
Back to the Stones - what's good? "Rough Justice" is nearly a classic. It's growing on me, with the growling Richards groove and great lyrics spit out by Mick. "Streets of Love" should be the next single, a moaning broken heart plea that shows just how solid this band still is. "Biggest Mistake" is another great slower piece. Overall, I'm giving this one four stars and recommending everyone give it a listen.
I'm also listening to the new Public Enemy. Again, they sound like the old Public Enemy, the one that broke down every barrier put in front of them in the 80's. Twenty years down the line, Bush is keeping them relevant and no one in rap has the dense, haunting sound that PE has. The lyrics are pretty typical PE, with Flavor Flav taking a slightly reduced profile. The epic album closer "Back In The Building" should be required listening. It's equally good whether you're turning the sound up in your car on a Friday night or angry as Anderson Cooper was last night on CNN.
Finally, the new Death Cab For Cutie album is worth a listen. "Plans" expands on the promise of "Transatlanticism" without being derivative. There's no moment that sticks out, which is my only criticism. This is a band that could be great that seems to be stuck too much in one place. It will sound great on the soundtrack of "The O.C." but it might not stick in your brain much. Worth hearing, but I expect more with their next album.
Societal Critic at Large: Scott Long
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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