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Thursday, June 28, 2007

It's that time of year again

The NBA Draft is tonight and I must say that after months of trade rumors, speculation and enough mock drafts to make even Chad Ford puke, its time to do the deed. The draft comes to us from MSG, the center of the sporting universe. I prefer the NBA draft over the NFL version since its only two rounds and there's a much higher percentage of guys I know from following them in college. The NFL one is great no doubt but after you've seen 26 offensive lineman taken, you're about ready to punch Mel Kiper in the face. Plus, so many of those guys will never sniff action in the NFL. There's still plenty of busts in the NBA but the two rounds makes it seem much more important to be drafted. Plus as people have always said, basketball players are much more marketable than football players since they're not covered up by tons of pads.I'm not going to do a straight mock draft or just who the Celtics should get (its already been done very well). Rather, I'd like to put down my thoughts on a bunch of the players that'll be drafted so I can look back and see how my prognostications stand up after years of NBA action for these guys.
Everyone knows Greg Oden and Kevin Durant will be great NBA players, that's about as safe a bet as saying Lindsay Lohan will probably relapse again after her latest rehab stint. Using as a resource, I'll look at some of the other picks they think will be made in the two rounds.I can say with some certainty that based on a couple factors (being out of college myself and thus having way more free time, no straight from high school draftees and thanks to the internet-hello YouTube) I have a broader knowledge of this draft class than ever before. This makes me no expert by any means but at least I can speak with some experience of having seen these guys play in games.

The Florida guys-Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Corey Brewer and Taureen Green. All four should be in the NBA for years with the first three having pretty good shots at being starters for years to come. I feel like Horford (based on his solid offensive game) and Brewer (sheer versatility) are the most sure-fire bets from this group and from the class as a whole. Noah as everyone knows is an energy guy, solid defender and rebounder but I really doubt that he'll be able to score much in the NBA.

Mike Conley Jr.-I was bummed he came out after his freshman year. Anyone who closely watched Ohio State during the tournament knows that he carried the team in March Madness, not Oden. If Conley can ever develop an outside shot, which you have to feel he will since he's only 19, he could be an all-star for years to come. His ability to drive to the hoop and distribute were nearly unstoppable on the college level. It'll be different in the NBA. He'll have to work on his shot or else he could become a poor man's Jason Kidd that can do everything except consistently knock down shots. You can't blame him for leaving after his buddy Oden left too. It would be awesome if the Blazers could get both of these studs.

Jeff Green-many people's biggest memory of his college career will be how bad he shit the bad vs. Ohio State in the final four and that's too bad. Green is a great all-around player, the Big East player of the year. He can do a little bit of everything and he is very polished for a three year college player. He'll have a solid pro career.

Julian Wright, Brandon Wright-both guys are pretty intriguing because of their skills. Julian is more well-rounded with the passing and dribbling ability, almost unheard of for a big guy like that. Brandon is flashy as well but his game has some serious holes. He's really skinny (200 lbs.) and has no shot whatsoever outside of 5 feet. Julian with some more bulk could be great on a run and gun team. Brandon seems like he will be Stromile Swift, a dunking sportscenter stable that can't do anything other than that. Brandon should have stayed at Carolina another year.

Al Thornton-reminds me of Ryan Gomes, with even more talent. He's a four year player from a crappy team (Florida State) that had to do everything. He's very versatile and looks like he'll be fine in the NBA where he'll have some talent around him.

Acie Law IV-either he or Conley is the top point guard. people seem to forget how clutch Law is, something you can't teach. an underrated defender and passer, he can play. should be a nice NBA player, a Chauncey Billups type.

Josh McRoberts-honestly, why did you come out? so Duke was awful last season, you didn't do anything to improve your stock last year. this was a strange move. the guy has nice skills but he is way too raw for the NBA. he'll be buried on a bench and wonder why he didn't stay at Duke for at least another year.

Jared Dudley and Sean Williams-two Boston College players that could go late in the first round. Dudley is the classic college overachiever while Williams is also a familiar archetype-the talented fuck up. Dudley stayed at BC for four years and played second fiddle to Craig Smith until his senior year when he led a pretty bad BC team to a respectable season. Williams got kicked off the team twice for smoking weed. not the worst thing in the world but I wouldn't want to invest millions in a guy, who has repeatedly messed up already. he's got amazing shot blocking abilities though so he'll have a spot somewhere.

Aaron Brooks-nobody has talked about him before the draft. he'll go in the second round but he should make a team. he's an unreal scorer, who would be a perfect backup to someone like Steve Nash or Tony Parker.

Aaron Gray-just since I went to Providence College and saw them get dominated by Pitt. the last few seasons, I had to diss this schmoe. used to be a first-round talent but that was before the scouts actually watched him in games. he sucks. he's a big goof, who lucked out by being 7 feet tall. ah genetics. he won't do anything in the NBA, you can count on that.

Herb Hill-Providence College's unknown star, who came out of nowhere his last two years at PC to become a really nice player. I actually had a class with him my freshman year so I'm pretty happy just to see him drafted. he's an excellent post-scorer, rebounder and able defender. he'd be perfect on the Suns or Warriors. I just hope he gets a chance because like Gomes two years ago, he can play, he just needs a chance.

Demetris Nichols-sharpshooter from Syracuse can play, remember I said that. As Daniel Gibson showed in the playoffs, every team needs a guy, who can consistently come off the bench and score (particularly threes). Nichols can fill it up, he was bogged down with underachieving teams at 'Cuse.

Glen "Big Baby" Davis-admit it, you hated this fat slob after LSU made the final four two years ago. he was on tv about as much as Paris Hilton when she went to jail. still, he's a great character and no joke, he can ball. he's obviously built for the NBA, whoever drafts him (which could be anywhere from mid-first round to mid-second round) will get a good player. just make sure to hide the sweets from him.

D.J. Strawberry-Daryl's son isn't a great offensive player but he will make millions on his defense. he is one of the best defenders in the nation and that ability could make him the new Bruce Bowen for years to come.

One other thing you can count on, Stephen A. Smith yelling a lot and being made at the Sixers for some dumbass move they make.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Summer is here

Yesterday marked the official start of summer and there's some symmetry with that in baseball as this is the last weekend of interleague play. I for one will miss it. Many people (old-timers and players) seem to hate it but the last time I checked the regular season is 162 games. The Yankees games are fun but how many times can you see the Devil Rays, Blue Jays or Orioles? Interleague play gets your team out there as you can see how they stack up against the other league's squads. Players always whine about how it's unbalanced but who can predict when a division will be as bad as the NL Central this season. And plus, there's a pretty big margin for error as you can still beat up on your league's crappy teams after faltering through interleague play. Everyone has ball-busting road trips, you have to figure it all evens out during such a grueling schedule. The Red Sox are 10-5 through their first 15 games against NL teams and they fittingly end it at San Diego-arguably the best team in the National League.
There's no clear-cut top team in the NL; the Mets have the lineup but plenty of pitching problems. The Brewers look pretty good but they haven't sniffed the playoffs in years. The Dodgers and Braves are decent but nothing special by any means. The Rockies have been the hottest team in baseball, 22-7 in the last month and fresh off sweeping the Yankees at Coors yesterday but will their pitching hold up? With the Padres ridiculous pitching (their team ERA is 3.05, .31 ahead of the A's and .67 ahead of the Sox, who have the third best ERA), they'll always have a chance. Even if their offense is still pretty pathetic (team batting average-.246, 2nd worst in the league), they play in a spacious pitcher's park, they have an emerging star-first baseman Adrian Gonzalez-and enough other decent positional players-the Giles', Mike Cameron, Michael Barrett-to do something.
All three pitching matchups are beautiful, well maybe not so much on Saturday: Dice-K vs. Greg Maddux tonight, Wakefield vs. Chris Young Sat. and Beckett vs. Peavy (the two front-runners for their league's Cy Young) on Sunday afternoon. The old saying goes that good pitching beats good hitting so we'll see how these games play out. The Sox know how to wear pitchers out, so they've got that going from them. Coming off back-to-back shutouts of the Braves this week, the Sox pitching is also settling down after Schilling pitched a stinker on Monday at the Braves then went back to Boston and emerged on the DL-shoulder tendinitis. If the Sox pitchers can keep them in the game's-which is not too much to ask against this anemic lineup-the Sox will have as good a chance as any to put some runs on the board. Ortiz won't play all three games as they juggle around Lowell, Youk and Ortiz at NL parks with no DH. I have a couple friends in San Diego-easily one of the best US cities-who are going to all three of these games. Definitely wish I was in their shoes as this should be a fun weekend. It's the last time we'll see AL vs. NL (besides the All-Star Game) until the World Series.

Does anybody even care anymore?

First off, let me say that I love hockey. I never played it competitively but I enjoy skating around with friends in the winter, watching college hockey and occasionally the NHL. I respect it; living in Massachusetts its all around me, its probably only bigger in Minnesota as far as the US goes. Canada still obviously sweats hockey big time, its pretty much all they have. The Raptors and Blue Jays plus the CFL barely count. Anyways, I haven't written anything about the Bruins and I felt like now was as good a time as ever.
Yesterday, the Bruins named Claude Julien as their new head coach. They had a new coach last year-Dave Lewis-who lasted just one season as the Bruins failed to make the playoffs once again. Julien has a good resume although he got dropped by the Devils last season-even though they made the playoffs. Kinda strange. Anyways, I'm not interested in his hiring so much as hockey in Boston and the NHL as a whole. After the lockout of two years ago, the NHL has pretty much been on permanent life support. The fans by and large haven't come back or simply don't care anymore. The NHL is relegated to the Versus network-a backwater station nobody knew. The Stanley Cup playoffs had abysmal ratings and yet nobody talks about hockey being dead. It's like the public has already had the funeral for it and moved on.
It's tough to say how to improve the game without getting too gimmicky or just making it something that its not. The Bruins have been pretty awful the last few seasons and it doesn't help that it traded the franchise's best player two seasons ago-Joe Thornton-to the Sharks where he went on to become the NHL MVP. Think about that. Imagine in Brady or Ortiz was traded in their prime, to a good team and continued to get better. Obviously there's different dynamics in hockey (and those guys would never be traded) but still it is pretty crazy especially considering the bums (Brad Stuart, Marco Sturm and Wayne Primeau) the Bruins got in return for Jumbo Joe. So maybe that was the last straw. Or maybe people realized that the games are so dull in person and even worse on TV. The NHL is in trouble, there's no doubt about that.
Winning cures all, that's a truism in all sports and walks of life really. Hypothetically, even if the Bruins are better-like make the playoffs-but don't make it to the Stanley Cup finals, will the crowds and interest likewise return? I'm not so sure. To paraphrase Rick Pitino during his forgettable stint as Celtics coach, "Bobby Orr, Ray Bourque and Cam Neely aren't walking through that door folks." I hear about the glory days of the 70's when the Bruins were supposedly the most popular team in town. Unfortunately, like most things that I have no recollection of, its hard to picture. I want to see professional hockey be relevant again in Boston but I lose a little more hope every day.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Will the real Boston Red Sox please stand up?

I'll make this short: the Sox are scuffling. They've lost 8 of 13 in June while the Yankees have won their last nine in a row. The 14.5 game lead has been trimmed to 7.5 games on June 15. Time to panic? Not really. The Yankees are currently playing above their heads and given time (and tougher competition) they'll come back to earth once their bullpen is counted on in a series of close games. Conversely, the Sox are doing everything badly; terrible hitting, inconsistent pitching and shaky defense. This is not the real Red Sox, version 2007.

The Red Sox lost their last two games, 12-2 and 7-1 to the Colorado Rockies at Fenway. Schilling and Beckett both got shelled which was surprising. The Rockies can hit but there's no reason why the Sox should be held to 5 runs against them in a three game series. This weekend, Barry Bonds and his accompanying circus come to town with the San Francisco Giants. I'd like to see the Sox take two out of three and get back on track so to speak. The Yankees host the Mets (who've lost nine of their last 10). Clemens is going tonight. In a perfect world, he'd get shelled while Freddie Krueger (Julian Tavarez) outduels Barry Zito-probably the most overrated pitcher of the last 10 years.

Nothing is ever easy in baseball and I guess as Red Sox fans we should know better than to count on a division title in May. The Yankees still own most of the free world so they can never be counted out. Plus, it makes it more interesting if they're in it for most of the season. I'm not losing confidence, every team goes through bad spells but the fact that we have three automatic outs in our everyday lineup-Lugo, Drew and Crisp-is pretty scary. Regardless, I'd take Schilling, Beckett, Wakefield, Dice-K and Tavarez/Lester over Petitte, Clemens, Mussina, Wang and Clippard any day of the week. And Papelbon vs. Rivera is not even close anymore.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Finding the weak links on the best team in baseball

It's time to take a closer look at the 40-22 Boston Red Sox. The team is coming off a disappointing 3-4 trip to Oakland and Arizona. They actually salvaged something from the trip after losing the first three in Oakland. Schilling was one out away from a no-hitter as the Sox won 1-0 in the last A's game then won 2 of 3 against the Diamondbacks, who had been the hottest team in baseball.
The strength of this Sox team lies in its pitching, that is abundantly clear. The offense as proven last week is good but can be shaky. There are three big reasons why the Sox haven't put up the kind of offensive numbers they're capable of (considering they have Manny and Ortiz-the greatest 3-4 punch of their generation and play in Fenway Park-a hitter's paradise): Julio Lugo, Coco Crisp and J.D. Drew. Lugo and Drew were the big free agent pickups (not named Dice-K) in the off-season and so far, these two have barely done anything. Drew had a ridiculous 2 HR, double, 7 RBI game on Friday in Arizona, who he always crushed when he was in the NL. Hopefully its the start to something for Drew. So far, all he has done consistently is ground out to second about nine times a game. Lugo like it or not has been the lead-off hitter that Francona has stuck by. Why, when he's hitting .213 with a OBP of .274 and slugging of .318? I couldn't tell you. Lugo is fast (17 steals, never caught) but as Coco proved, if you can't get on base, what does it matter if you're fast? Lugo seems like a good fit in the clubhouse (Dominican) and he hasn't spazzed out yet but he's gotta pick it up soon. Compounding things for him, he can't play defense very well either and the Sox simply let Alex Gonzalez (decent hitter, gold-glove shortstop) leave after one season. Youkilis proved last year that you don't have to be fast to be a lead-off hitter. More important in front of big sluggers like Manny and Ortiz, you just have to get on base and work pitchers-Youk's two best assets. We'll see how much longer Terry stands by and watches Lugo strike out three times a game.
Coco? What a disaster. The guy can catch a ball and run the bases but that's about it. You've heard of five tool players, well Coco is about a two tool, maybe one and a half. He is hopeless at the plate, I mean completely lost. He is better suited to trying to bunt to get on each time as the odds of him swinging and putting the ball in play are about as good as Paris Hilton going to Harvard after she gets out of jail. Everyone knows he is just playing out the string as Jacoby Ellsbury gets more seasoning at Pawtucket and ultimately takes over next season when the Sox can let Coco walk. Ellsbury is one of the big reasons the Sox were willing to part with Johnny Damon, who looks and plays like he's about 57 now.
Drew will get better, I think you can bank on that. If not, then the Sox have a lot of money tied up in that stiff. Lugo should also get better-since he can't get much worse and Coco, well he is what he is as Belichick would say. I don't think anything will change for him besides his hairstyle.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Back to your regularly scheduled program

The Sox are now 1/3rd of the way through the regular season: 37-18 with a 12.5 lead over the Yankees. I preface my post with this since I think its important to remember that and not just have a knee-jerk reaction over the Yankees taking two of three from the Sox (for the second time in less than two weeks). As I said a few weeks back, I thought it was time for the Sox to bury the Yankees. That might have been a little overly optimistic on my part but I'll stand by my original idea: the Yankees are not winning the AL East. Not a chance. It still stung when A-Rod hit that home run off Papelbon in the ninth last night and when Rivera recorded a shaky save against the heart of the Sox order (Ortiz, Manny, Youk). After 12 of 18 games, the Sox are 7-5 over the Yankees, cooling off from their 5-1 start. More importantly, the Sox won't see them again until Aug. 28-30 at the Stadium. So for now, forget about the Yankees. It's hard to do for a paranoid fan-base like the Red Sox particularly when we're in the unfamiliar position of being heavy favorites.
Sox-Yankees is the best rivalry in baseball and maybe the best rivalry in sports (with apologies to Army-Navy, Duke-UNC, Texas-Texas A-M, UCLA-USC and Colts-Pats among others). We are spoiled as Yankees or Sox fans; the last few seasons MLB has chosen to load the early season up with a bunch of these games. This is all well and good and I still find myself watching the games like they're Game 7 of the ALCS. Regardless, we have to reprogram ourselves to stop looking over our shoulders. This season, the Yankees are continually shooting themselves in the foot (A-Rod's stripper escapades, Giambi's home run celebratory injuries and the revolving door of minor league pitchers) and did I mention that Clemens still hasn't made his big return, because of his fatigued right groin (insert joke here)? For whatever reason, they've stepped up against us lately and yet against everyone else, they look like the Devil Rays.
The Sox flew out to Oakland last night and begin a three-game set with the A's tonight, followed by five interleague series' in a row (at Diamondbacks, vs. Rockies, vs. Giants, at Braves and at Padres). Before everything fell apart last season, the Sox posted an MLB best 16-2 record in interleague play. Expecting a repeat of that is unrealistic given how hot the D-Backs and Rockies have been and how good the Padres pitching staff is but the summer is just beginning.
The Sox have everything going for them. There is almost nothing to complain about. The only thing lacking is Julio Lugo-who can't hit his way out of a paper bag at the moment-and the predictable struggle and subsequent quasi-injury to J.D. Drew. Coco Crisp? He's dead to me. The money spent on Lugo and Drew looks pretty bad right now but nobody is perfect. Dice-K looks like a very nice investment, Okajima is incredible (which no one expected) while Pedroia is hitting .333 out of the number 2 slot and has already proven me wrong. The bullpen is still questionable in spots (Piniero and Romero are complete garbage) but every team is like that. With the five starting pitchers healthy and Lester very close to being back not to mention Okajima and Papelbon at the back end of the bullpen, the Sox are built for the long run. Lowell, Youk and to a lesser degree Varitek are adding more offensively than to be expected. Manny has heated up after a terrible April and Ortiz is killing the ball, just not getting the home runs you become accustomed to seeing. This isn't the Red Sox team that will lead the AL in home runs or runs but 1-9 they'll give almost every starting pitcher a tough outing since they almost all consistently have good at bats.