Tag Archives: sports

Interview with Carli Lloyd

Carli Lloyd against Japan in the 2011 Women's World Cup final. (Photo by Friedemann Vogel/Getty Images Europe)

Funny things happen when you travel.  Sometimes you board the plane and sit on the tarmac for hours. Sometimes you see the plane you are supposed to be on taxiing away from the gate just as you land. Sometimes through sheer serendipity, you encounter Carli Lloyd in the Philadelphia International Airport.

On a sweltering Wednesday afternoon in the City of Brotherly Love, that’s just what happened.  Carli, on her way back to Atlanta to continue the WPS season with the Atlanta Beat, was kind enough to speak with me for several minutes and agreed to a follow-up interview for The Rally Cap.  Check out what the star of the United State’s Women’s National Team had to say:

The Rally Cap: Your favorite players are Xavi, Lionel Messi and Cesc Fàbregas; do you model your game after any of those players? Or is there another inspiration for the way you play?

Carli Lloyd: Over the years I have grown tremendously and I have started to become a true playmaker like Xavi.  Linking passes, short passes, long passes, being tricky, taking shots etc.

RC: Who’s your favorite athlete, other than a soccer player?

CL: Michael Jordan because he was the ultimate champion.

RC: Since establishing yourself as a starter in 2007, what has been your most memorable moment with the USWNT?

CL: The final game in the 2008 Olympics and earning my 100th cap against Italy on November 27, 2010

RC: Not since 1999, has women’s soccer had such a buzz.  What is it about this team, this group of women that captured the hearts and minds of the American public?

CL: Well to start with I think soccer had grown tremendously across the world and our dramatic game against Brazil captivated millions of people.  I think that was the start of people really following us and we gave people hope and inspired young kids.  We helped the nation believe in something, believe in a team and everyone was so proud of us.  Our team showed heart and dedication to never give up.

RC: The US-Japan game was the most watched soccer game on ESPN in their history. Do you think the interest in the USWNT will translate into domestic success for the WPS?

CL: Wow, that is crazy! I knew we broke a lot of records but when I read that it makes me smile. We are already seeing instant results on the WPS side.  Ticket sales have increased across the board.  Our game today (Note: Saturday July 23 against Abby Wambach, Hope Solo and magicjack) is sold out.  The game the other night had a record crowd of 15k so it’s helping.

RC: After the emotional rollercoaster that was the World Cup, how do you and the other members of the USWNT move forward?

CL: We have to move forward.  It’s been hard to swallow but at the end of the day we accomplished so much.  We reached the final.  We have Olympic qualifying soon and have to mentally shift our focus to that.

RC: The next big event is the 2012 Olympics. What team(s) do you think will present the biggest challenge to the US defending its title?  Any dark horses (teams that didn’t make the quarters of the World Cup)?

CL: First of all we have to qualify for the Olympics.  When we do that every team will propose a challenge.  It won’t be easy as everyone can see from the World Cup.  Germany will not be in the Olympics but there are so many other strong teams. (Note: Germany did not qualify because UEFA used the 2011 Women’s World Cup as its qualifier.  As a result, France and Sweden both qualified for the 12 team tournament)

RC: You’re from New Jersey, what is it about that state that produces great soccer players (Tony Meola, Michael Bradley, Claudio Reyna, Heather O’Reilly, Giuseppe Rossi, Christie Rampone)?

CL: I am not sure what it is about NJ being a power house with soccer players.  I think because we are tough and we are fighters.  It’s in our blood. It’s great to see.

RC: You grew up outside of Philadelphia, so being a fellow Philly-area native, I have to ask – who has the best cheesesteaks in Philly?

CL: Honestly a small place by my house has the best ones! BJ’s Deli.  The Philly cheesesteaks are too much for me!

RC: Growing up, what was the best piece of advice you received, whether soccer-related or not? And do you have any words of advice for aspiring soccer players?

CL: Work hard at everything you do. Never give up. Never quit. Many people have talents but without the hard work you won’t get anywhere.

You can follow Carli on twitter at: @CarliLloyd or check out her website: http://www.carlilloyd.com/

Advertisements

Top 5: Pitching Rotations – Revisited

Inspired by a comment left on my preseason rankings, and a bit of revisionism over at good friend Black Label Tennis, I’ve decided to revisit and revise my MLB starting rotation rankings.  With the MLB season nearly halfway over, here’s my take on the top 5 starting rotations.

Even if the Four Aces have been reduced to three, the Phillies still have the best collection of starters in all of baseball.

1. Philadelphia Phillies – I had the Phillies in this spot to start the season, and at the halfway point, I don’t see a reason to change this ranking.  As of writing, the Phillies have the best ERA in the league (3.05), the most complete games (9), and the best ERA+ (126). The Phillies have had 7 pitchers start at least 5 games this season, with only Joe Blanton posting an ERA above 4.  Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels have been Cy Young worthy.  Cliff Lee has had a few ups and downs, but has a 4 game winning streak during which he has given up just 1 earned run in 33 innings.  Sure Roy Oswalt hasn’t pitched as well as many expected, but even in relatively poor form (for him), he has posted a 3.79 ERA with a 101 ERA+.  Kyle Kendrick (4-4, 3.23 ERA, 119 ERA+) and Vance Worley (2-1, 2.83 ERA, 139 ERA+) have performed well filling in for Big Joe and Oswalt.  The Phillies have the best record in baseball and the largest division lead.  The only reason the Phillies don’t have more wins is due to an offense that is impotent at times.  For a great explanation of just how good the Phillies have been, check out this post over at Crashburn Alley.

2. San Francisco Giants – This was a tough call, as San Francisco and my #3 ranked team, the Atlanta Braves, have both pitched extremely well.  In the end, I decided to keep my preseason number 2 in place.  Each of the San Francisco starters, except Barry Zito, who has started just 3 games (there’s always a black sheep), has an ERA of under 4.  Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain are studs, and pitching like it.  Journeyman, Ryan Vogelsong has been phenomenal in relief of Zito, posting a 1.86 ERA and a 200 ERA+ in 13 games (11 starts). Madison Bumgarner and Jonathan Sánchez have also pitched well. It will be interesting to see if Vogelsong can keep up his stellar performance.

Jair Jurrjens has leads a Braves pitching staff that is 2nd in MLB in ERA, behind only the Phillies.

3. Atlanta Braves – Though it pains me, as a Phillies fan, the Braves have earned this spot.  After finishing with an honorable mention in the preseason rankings, the Braves jump all the way to #3 based on the fact that they have a 3.1o ERA and a 123 ERA+.  Jair Jurrjens looks like the early Cy Young leader in the NL.  He leads the National League in ERA (2.07) and ERA+ (183) and has bounced back from a subpar 2010 in a big way.  Tommy Hanson has been nearly as good as Jurrjens, with a 2.48 ERA and 153 ERA+. Brandon Beachy has grabbed the 5th starting spot by posting a 3.22 ERA in 9 starts. Tim Hudson is having another good season, though not as good as last year.  Derek Lowe is the weakest link in the rotation.  Any team that can say that is in pretty good shape.

4. Oakland Athletics – The A’s keep their #4 spot and represent the first American League team to make the list.  The A’s staff has been as good as advertised and have gotten contributions from 9 different starters.  The worst of those 9, Graham Godfrey, has pitched 17 innings over three games with a 4.24 ERA.  The best, Gio Gonzalez (2.59 ERA, 159 ERA+), has been CY Young caliber.  Opening Day started, Trevor Cahill  has struggled as times, but is following up his stellar 2010 with a 2011 that is nearly as good.  Despite getting just three starts from Dallas Braden, he of the perfect game, the A’s have the lowest ERA in the AL.  Not bad for a patchwork starting rotation.

5. Seattle Mariners – The final spot was a tough call.  The San Diego Padres pushed hard for this spot. In the end, the Mariners (who weren’t even on my radar to begin the season) make it into the list because their rotation is the reason they sit just 1.5 games out of first place in the AL West.  Twenty-two year-old rookie, Michael Pineda has been a revelation for the Mariners.  One his way to a 2.45 ERA and 150 ERA+, Pineda has defeated the Phillies (6 innings, 1 ER) , pitched well against the Rangers and Yankees and given up more than 3 earned runs just twice in 15 starts.  Felix Hernandez has been good, though not as good as we have come to expect (3.18 ERA).  Erik Bedard seems to have found the Fountain of Youth in the Pacific Northwest, posting a 2.93 ERA in 14 starts.  The other two Mariners’ starters, Doug Fister and Jason Vargas, both have sub-4 ERAs and 2 complete games a piece.

Dropped Out:  The Boston Red Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers.  The Red Sox and Dodgers both drop out of the list because due to lack of consistency from pitchers expected to perform.

Josh Beckett has looked rejuvenated this season and leads MLB in several statistical categories.

Boston Red Sox – John Lackey has been dreadful for the Sox.  Daisuke Matsuzaka is out for season and pitched poorly before undergoing Tommy John surgery.  Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz are both pitching well, just not as well as last season. The lone bright spot for the Red Sox (at least in the starting rotation) is the return to form of Josh Beckett.  Beckett leads the majors in ERA (1.86), ERA+ (217) , is second in WHIP (.924) , and has thrown a complete game.

Los Angeles Dodgers – Who could blame them if they were distracted.  The team has been in turmoil since the offseason and just filed for bankruptcy.   Clayton Kershaw has grown into the #1 starter many expected – 2.93 ERA, 9.87 K/9, 1.029 WHIP.  He leads the league in strikeouts, and has posted back-to-back complete games in his last two starts.  Hiroki Kuroda has ably filled the role of Kershaw’s sidekick (3.10 ERA), but he looks headed out of Chavez Ravine.  The rest of the staff – Jon Garland, Ted Lilly and Chad Billingsley have all been disappointing.

Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment.

Gold Cup 2011: The Final – Mexico vs. USMNT

This is the final that everyone expected, and virtually everyone wanted to see.  While the road to the Rose Bowl hasn’t been simple for either team (see the US loss to Panama in the group stage, or Mexico’s narrow extra-time victory over Honduras in the semifinal); was their really any doubt that the continent’s two juggernauts would be vying for the regional title?  Since the Gold Cup began in 1991, either the US (4 wins, 3 runner-up finishes) or Mexico (5 wins, 1 runner-up) has won all but one of the titles – Canada won in 2000.

With the region’s two premier teams playing for the title, the game has gotten a lot of attention in the national media.  This morning, ESPN had Alexi Lalas on SportsCenter discussing the match.  The Worldwide Leader couldn’t resist mentioning that the US has lost just once to Mexico on US soil since 2000, though that one loss was a 5-0 drilling in the 2009 Gold Cup final, though this blog post by Scott French of ESPN Los Angeles should make some USMNT fans feel better.  According to French, the US has outscored El Tri 21-8 in matches outside of Estadio Azteca since 2000.  Throw the 5-0 beating out, and the difference jumps to 21-3 in 12 matches!

Player/Position Comparison: 

Tim Howard gives the USMNT the edge in goal.

Goalkeeper – The easiest comparison of the bunch.  Tim Howard, as mentioned before is one of the best in the world.  He’s at the top of his game and a true difference maker.  Take a look at this save (about 2o seconds into the video) against Jamaica to see what I’m talking about.  Alfredo Talavera, however, has Guillermo Ochoa and his failed doping test to thank for his spot in the starting XI.  Advantage: USMNT

Defense – Bob Bradley seems to have found his starting back 4 with Steve CherundoloClarence GoodsonCarlos Bocanegra and Eric Lichaj all playing well in the past 3 games.  Lichaj and Cherundolo have been dangerous moving forward, though they will have to defend much more against Mexico than they have in previous matches.  The US back line has not conceded a goal since the loss to Panama but will certainly be tested against Mexico.  El Tri’s back 4 of Rafa Marquez, Héctor Moreno, Efrain Juarez and Carlos Salcido have conceded just 2 goals the entire tournament, though they have yet to be truly tested.  Advantage: Push

Midfield – Mexico plays with a classic four man midfield.  Two central midfielders (Gerardo Torrado and Israel Castro) and two wingers (Andres Guardado and Pablo Barrera.  Barrera has played well in the Gold Cup, scoring 1 goal and assisting on 3 others.  Guardado may not start due to an ankle injury. If Guardado can’t go, Giovani Dos Santos would likely slot into his spot.  Expect Bob Bradley to start a five man midfield, as this formation has worked in the last two games.  While Landon Donovan hasn’t started the last two games, he HAS to be on the field.  He’s a big game player for the US and has played well against Mexico in the past.  Michael BradleyJermaine Jones,  Clint Dempsey and Alejandro Bedoya should keep their spots in the lineup.  Dempsey has been extremely good, and Bedoya has transferred his fine form with Örebro to the USMNT.  Though the US has played well, Mexico is better from a technical standpoint.  (slight) Advantage: Mexico

Chicharito has been on fire this year. Will the USMNT be able to keep him of the scoresheet?

Forward – Though the goalkeeper comparison is one-sided, this is the area of the field where the difference between the two teams is most apparent.  Javier Hernandez has been a revelation this season.  Chicharito scored 20 goals for Manchester United in 45 appearances and has netted another 10 goals in 8 appearances for El Tri.  Seven of those goals have come in the Gold Cup.  With Jozy Altidore out with a hamstring injury, the US will likely start 18-year-old Juan Agudelo up top.  Agudelo has shown flashes, but he’s no match for Hernandez.  Advantage: Mexico

Prediction – While Mexico holds the advantage from an individual talent perspective, the US is greater than the sum of its parts.  In addition to the team mentality that permeates the USMNT camp, the US team believes it can beat Mexico.  No matter how partisan the crowd, and in Southern California it will likely be extremely pro-Mexico, the USMNT has proven time and again that it has the mentality necessary to defeat its southern rivals.  Score: USMNT 2 – Mexico 1. 

Gold Cup 2011: Jamaica-US Preview

Thanks to this absolute laser by Jozy Altidore, the US beat Guadeloupe to advance to the knockout round of the 2011 Gold Cup.  Despite this victory, the US finished second in their group and drew Jamaica in the quarterfinals.  On current form, this could be an extremely tough game for the Yanks.  The Reggae Boyz have been one of the most impressive sides in the tournament, while the Yanks have underperformed.

Despite the uninspired performance of the USMNT, ESPN’s Five Aside Blog had this to say about the upcoming match:

The United States failed to win its group for the first time in Gold Cup history. As Group C runner-up, the United States faces Group B winner Jamaica, the only team other than Mexico to win all of its group games. USA has reached the semis in nine of the 10 previous tournaments, while Jamaica hasn’t reached the semifinals since 1998. Despite tournament form, SPI rates USA an 83.9 percent favorite to advance and extend its unbeaten (9-0-8) record against the Reggae Boyz. Jamaica has lost all four of its Gold Cup elimination games.1

Clearly, the SPI algorithm thinks the US will be able to overcome its malaise and put in the kind of performance American fans expect.

Player/Position Comparison:

Goalkeeper –  Tim Howard has been stellar for years and cannot be blamed for the loss to Panama.  He is one of the best keepers in England and arguably the world.  The US is lucky to have him guarding their goal.  Donovan Ricketts has been a rock in goal during the tournament, leading a defense that has yet to concede.  He’s also posted 6 clean sheets for the L.A. Galaxy this season.  Despite this good form, this comparison is simple.  One of the best in the MLS vs. one of the best in the EPL.   Advantage: USMNT

Defense – The Jamaican defense has yet to concede a goal, though part of that is probably thanks to the impotent competition they faced in the group stage.  Jamaica’s defense should not be discounted as three of the four starters play in MLS and they have paired well together all tournament.  Shavar ThomasJermaine TaylorDicoy Williams and Eric Vernan have all played well.  The US has struggled to find the right combination to start along the back.  Tim Ream looked out of his depth playing against Panama and Oguchi Onyewu is still lacking in form and hasn’t made an appearance.  Not without their struggles against Guadeloupe, expect the back four of  Steve CherundoloClarence GoodsonCarlos Bocanegra and Eric Lichaj to be in the Starting XI on Sunday.  On paper it would seem the US, with defenders from the Bundesliga, Ligue 1, the Premier League and the Danish League, has a better defense, but Jamaica is hot and is playing well as a unit.  Advantage: Push

While Bob Bradley stubbornly continues to deploy Clint Dempsey in the midfield, he's the USMNT's best hope at forward.

Midfield – Jamaica’s midfield has been on fire during the tournament.  Demar Phillips, who plays his club soccer with Ålesund in Norway, has scored three goals in three games. Dane Richards has been a terror on the wing.  Jason Morrison and Rodolph Austin, both of the Norwegian Tippeligaen have also put in solid efforts. The US midfield should be its strength.  With Landon Donovan on the left and Michael Bradley in the center the Yanks have two midfielders who have proven they can play at the top club level.  Who lines up on the right and in the center next to Bradley is a different story.  Jermaine Jones has not played his best during the Gold Cup, though Bob Bradley seems to be enamored with the former German under-20 international.  Clint Dempsey has lined up on the right, but as stated in a previous post, his best position for the USMNT may be up top.  Alejandro Bedoya has provided a spark off the bench and Sascha Kljestan has reignited his international career with a good showing.  Again, the US has a better midfield on paper, but the Reggae Boyz have been on fire this tournament.  Advantage: USMNT

Forwards – Another area where the USMNT has better players on paper – if you include Clint Dempsey.  As with players across the rest of the pitch, the Jamaican forwards have had a great tournament.  Led by San Jose Earthquakes striker, Ryan Johnson, the Jamaican front line has both scored goals and set up Jamaica’s lethal wingers.  Providing support for Johnson are Keammar Daley who plies his trade in the Jamaican Premier League and Luton Shelton of Norwegian side Vålerenga IF. Both have scored and assisted in Jamaica’s group games.  On the opposite side of the pitch, Jozy Altidore has looked great this tournament.  While still prone to lapses in concentration, he has provided 2 of the US’s 4 goals and assisted on another.  His wonder strike against Guadeloupe should have him feeling confident.  The rest of the US forward contingent has been less than stellar.  Chris Wondolowski has been wasteful in front of goal (see  this video) and Juan Agudelo is still learning.  With Bob Bradley seemingly unable to imagine Clint Dempsey as a forward, the US could be in trouble. Advantage: Jamaica

Coaching Staff – Let’s not even go there…

On paper, the US has better players than Jamaica.  More US players play in the top leagues around the world than the current Jamaican squad.  On form, the Jamaican squad is playing better than the USMNT, though they were in the easiest of the three groups. Is Jamaica’s form entirely due to its easy group, or are they a team to be reckoned with?  The USMNT, its fans and the rest of CONCACAF will know the answer on Sunday afternoon.

Prediction – Jamaica will make it tough, but I expect the real US team to show up for this game.  USMNT 2 – Jamaica 1.

 

Attendance in the NBA and NHL

While Cavs fans might feel betrayed by LeBron James, they have shown their support for the team despite a 19-63 record. (Mike Cardew/Akron Beacon Journal/MCT)

Beyond my interest in sports as fan, my interest in the business of sports has grown over the past several years.  One of the aspects of sports business that I find the most interesting are attendance figures for teams in the various leagues. I’m interested in the raw numbers, but also in what cause fluctuations from year to year or within seasons.  A helpful tool for my odd obsession with attendance figures is the SportsBusiness Journal’s Turnstile Tracker.  The SBJ, in its April 4-10 issue, published the latest Turnstile Tracker for the NBA and the NHL and some of the statistics were surprising.  Let’s take a look at the NBA first.

NBA – A couple of things jumped out at me as I was perusing the figures.  These numbers are through March 29, which accounts for between 35-38 of an NBA team’s 41 home games.

1. The Cleveland Cavaliers are 2nd in the NBA in overall attendance at 763,636 fans through 38 games (the Chicago Bulls are first by a wide margin – 803,874 fans through 37 games).  While the average (20,096) isn’t 100% of capacity (which is 20,562 for the Quicken Loans Arena), it’s still pretty impressive.  Cleveland wasn’t competitive this season, finishing just 19-63, and lost LeBron James to the Miami Heat in the offseason. It’s almost like the fans in Cleveland came out to support the team as a way to stick it to LeBron.  Impressively, 24 home games counted at the time of publication, were played before an arena holding 98% or more of capacity.  The only other teams – the Boston Celtics, Chicago, Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami, New York Knicks, Oklahoma City Thunder, Orlando Magic, Portland Trail Blazers, and the Utah Jazz,  to match that are in the playoffs or in Utah’s case are the only thing in town (no offense to Real Salt Lake who don’t play for most of the NBA season). Several playoff teams – the Philadelphia 76ers, Indiana Pacers, Denver Nuggets, Memphis Grizzlies, and Atlanta Hawks – couldn’t match Cleveland’s support.

2. The Philadelphia 76ers played the most games (25 out of 35) in front of crowds that were less than 75% of capacity.  This surprises me.  The 76ers got off to a rough start, but were competitive throughout the season and made the playoffs.  On average only 70.8% of the seats in the arena were filled on any given night.  It’s pretty clear that the Sixers have slipped to #4, and maybe even #5 behind the Philadelphia Union, in the pecking order of Philadelphia sports.

3. Only two teams (the New Jersey Nets and the Indiana Pacers) played before crowds of fewer than 10,000 fans.  New Jersey played a game before just 8,866 fans, and Indiana played before 9,466.  An interesting fact about the Nets – despite playing before the lowest crowd in the NBA this season, the team has enjoyed an 8.6% increase in attendance from last year.

4. Overall, the NBA has seen a 1% increase in attendance vs. last season and is playing before arenas filled to 90.1% of capacity.

It seems like a lot of fans will be missing the NBA if the current labor situation does not get resolved before the start of next season.  The current collective bargaining agreement expires on June 30 and the possibility of a lockout looks more and more likely. That said, there are clearly a couple of markets that probably wouldn’t miss the hardwood too much if the 2011-2012 season if the NBA shortens or cancels its season.

NHL – The NHL, more than the NBA, relies on putting fans in the seats to pay the bills, and is having a pretty good year overall.  The numbers cited below account for between 37-40 of the NHL’s 41 home games. Some interesting numbers:

1. The NHL is averaging only a couple hundred fewer fans per game than the NBA – 17,071 for the NHL to the NBA’s 17,262.  Not bad for a sport that is a distant 4th in the pantheon of American sports.

2. While it might have seemed sad that the Nets and Pacers played before fewer than 10,000 fans, they have nothing on the NHL.  The New York Islanders played a game at Nassau Coliseum in front of just 3,136 fans.  It is worth mentioning that this game was played during the post-Christmas blizzard that blanketed much of the Northeast in over a foot of snow, but other teams were still able to but fans in the seats.  There were 4 other teams that played before crowds of fewer than 10,000 fans – the Atlanta Thrashers (8,461), the Columbus Blue Jackets (9,128), the New Jersey Devils (5,329) and the Phoenix Coyotes (6,706).

3. Of the teams with the 10 lowest average attendance figures (click here to see the list from ESPN – this list doesn’t match the SBJ list exactly, but it is illustrative), 6 are located in the South and 1 is in California.  It’s pretty clear that the NHL’s strategy to expand into the South isn’t working and some of those teams need to be relocate to areas that will support the teams.

4. Chicago loves it NBA and NHL teams.  The Blackhawks and Bulls are the leaders in average attendance for both leagues.  While part of this can be attributed to the United Center’s ability to hold nearly 20,00o seated fans for hockey and nearly 21,000 for basketball, both teams are playing to capacities of over 100%, meaning fans are flocking to see the Blackhawks and Bulls play and are willing to stand to do it.  Impressive.

Philadelphia fans have been turning out in bunches to see the Flyers, but have abandoned the Sixers.

5.  While Philly has seemingly abandoned the playoff bound Sixers, the Flyers have seen an uptick in attendance compared to last season.  The Flyers are 3rd in the NHL in average attendance and have played before 100.9% of capacity over the course of the season.

It will be interesting to see if the NHL capitalizes on the potential NBA labor strife.  If there is a shortened or canceled NBA season, will that mean more fans going to see hockey?  Time will tell.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year…

 It’s that time of year again;  the most wonderful time of the year for college sports fans.  The NCAA Men’s basketball tournament field was just revealed and people around the country are preparing excuses for why they suddenly developed illnesses on Thursday and Friday.

Selection Sunday is one of my favorite days of the year.  I love watching the conference tournaments leading up to the selection special, and I love to watch as they reveal the teams.  Today was no different.  My alma mater, Boston University, won the America East in dramatic fashion yesterday and awaited their fate.  Barely 20 minutes into the program, Terrier Nation found out where and who our team would be playing.  The Terriers drew a 16 seed and the unpleasant task of facing the University of Kansas.  While a 16 seed has never defeated a 1 seed in since the tournament took on its current format in 1985, an alum can hope.

The Selection Committee, as usual, has given pundits, bloggers and fans alike plenty to talk about.  Did Pitt and Duke deserve #1 seeds? How did USC, Clemson and Virginia Commonwealth (VCU) make it into the field of 68, while St. Mary’s, Colorado, and Virginia Tech are on the outside?  Is Florida really a #2 seed? Why is Utah State only a #12 despite a 30-3 record? Check out my quick reaction to each region.

Who runs your office pool? It is estimated that March Madness costs employers between $1.4 billion and $3.8 billion in lost productivity per year.

East Region – Ohio State, as much as I hate to say it, deserved the top seed in the tournament.  The Buckeyes lost just two games all season, both on the road against highly ranked teams (Wisconsin and Purdue).  They easily won the Big Ten regular season and tournament titles and have played well all season.Georgia is lucky to be in the tournament and lucky to be a 10 seed. Many people thought the Bulldogs were squarely on the bubble.  ESPN’s Joe Lunardi had them as one of the first 4 teams to miss the tournament. By handing Georgia a 10 seed, the Committee tells everyone that Georgia made the tournament easily. Georgia deserved being in the tournament (they have an RPI of 46 and a strength of schedule of 43) but a 10 seed was generous.

I am surprised that University of Alabama-Birmingham and Clemson both made the tournament. Both teams were on the bubble.  Joe Lunardi had UAB as one of the first four out, and Clemson as one of the last 4 in, I think it should have been the other way around.  UAB had a very good season, going 22-8 and winning the Conference USA regular season title. The Blazers enter the tournament with an RPI of 31. Clemson finished 21-11 and had an RPI of 55.  Either or both could have easily missed the tournament.

The East is top-heavy.  The top 4 seeds (Ohio State, North Carolina, Syracuse and Kentucky) are all capable of winning this region and the tournament. The 5 seed – Xavier, could make a run.  My potential sleeper in the region is the 9 seed, Villanova.  Nova is just two seasons removed from a Final Four appearance and started this season 17-1.  While the Wildcats have disappeared in the second half of the season, they have the talent and the coaching to make some noise in the tournament.  They could just as easily lose to George Mason in the first round.

West RegionDuke deserved a number 1 seed, but being shipped to the West Region is hardly a reward for the Blue Devils.  As pointed out on the CBS selection special, Duke may have preferred a 2 seed in the East and potential games in Newark.  I think the Blue Devils earned their seed with their win over North Carolina in the ACC Tournament championship game.

Can Duke defend its national title? San Diego State, UCONN and Texas stand in their way in the West Region.

San Diego State gets the 2 seed in the West, which is a reward for the Mountain West champions.  If they make it to the Sweet Sixteen, the Aztecs will get to play in front of a virtual home crowd in Anaheim. I am happy that the Committee didn’t seed SDSU lower simply because they aren’t from one of the “Power” conferences.

There are some tough teams in the West, UCONN just won 5 games in 5 days to win the Big East. Texas was #1 earlier this season. Arizona has tons of talent and won the Pac-10, and Tennessee is more talented than their record indicates. Temple is seeded too low at 7. Michigan, Tennessee and Penn State are  seeded too highly.

Lots of pundits are picking Oakland to upset Texas but I just don’t see that happening.  I think Missouri has the best chance of the double-digit seeds to make the Sweet Sixteen.

Southwest Region – The Southwest is tough. Kansas could have easily been the #1 overall seed. Many predicted Notre Dame would be a 1 seed. Purdue finished 2nd in the Big Ten, Louisville made a run to the Big East title game.  Beyond the top 4, Georgetown has more talent than its 21-10 record indicates and Texas A&M could make a run.

Illinois got a gift with a 9 seed.  The Illini are 19-13 and finished 9-9 in the Big Ten.  How did they get a higher seed than Florida State who finished 21-10 and 11-5 in the ACC?

USC is extremely lucky to be in the tournament. USC has an RPI of 69, plays in a weak Pac-10 and finished the season 19-14. Their opponents in the First Four, VCU (23-11, RPI: 51) lost the Colonial Athletic Association title game to Old Dominion, which is probably what got them their bid. How did USC make it over Colorado or Virginia Tech? Colorado had a better record (20-13), better RPI (66) and wins over Kansas State (3 times) and  Missouri. Virginia Tech also had a better record (21-11), RPI (60) and wins over Duke and Florida State (2 times). USC being in the tournament is a surprise.

GO BU!

The 16 seed in the West are the Boston University Terriers.  Get ready to be surprised America. The first 16 over 1 upset in tournament history is about to happen.  Mark it down!

Southeast Region – The Southeast Region is the easiest region of the four. Pittsburgh has a clear path to the Final Four. The 2 seed, Florida, is overrated. Charles Barkley says it is so, and I agree. BYU earned a 2 seed but the Selection Committee snubbed the Cougars.  Many of the other teams in the Southeast are also overrated – Wisconsin at 4, Kansas State as 5 and St. John’s at 6.

While I believe Kansas State and St. John’s are overrated, both have the talent to make some noise in the tournament.  Perhaps this potential is what the Selection Committee used when assigning K State and St. John’s their seeds. Kansas State was a preseason top 5 pick, and seem to have found themselves late in the season following a midseason swoon.  St. John’s has wins over Notre Dame, Duke, UCONN and Pitt, so the Johnnies certainly have the ability to win the big game. On the flip side, St. John’s has also lost games to Fordham and St. Bonaventure.  The Red Storm are unpredictable. They could make a run to the Sweet 16 or they could lose to Gonzaga in their first game.

Gonzaga (11) and Utah State (12) are seeded lower than expected. Joe Lunardi had the Zags and the Aggies as 9 seeds.  Utah State finished the season 30-3 with an RPI of 18 yet is a 13 seed! Come on Selection Committee!

Belmont is getting a lot of press as a potential giant killer.  I could see that upset happening as Wisconsin is a weak 4 seed, and Belmont played both Tennessee and Vanderbilt close during the season. The Bruins lost to Tennessee by just 1 point back in December.

St. Mary's will be playing in the NIT, but should b in the field of 68.

Biggest snub: St. Mary’s – The Gaels finished the season ranked 48 in the RPI with a 25-8 record.  They tied Gonzaga for first place in the West Coast Conference and have a win of St. John’s and Gonzaga, as well as a 1 point loss to BYU. St. Mary’s has shown that it is capable of playing with the big boys and certainly deserved to make the field of 68 more than USC or VCU.

Mr. Holland’s Opus: BU’s Going Dancing!

Boston University will be playing in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2002!

 

So this is what it feels like. This is what it feels like to watch a meaningful basketball game in early March. This is what it feels like to stand in a crowded arena jumping up and down as your team makes a furious comeback to secure a win at the last second.  This is what it feels like to see the crowd spill from the stands onto the court to celebrate the school’s first NCAA tournament birth since 2002.

Boston University fans storm the court following BU's 56-54 win over Stony Brook.

I am a huge college basketball fan, and have been for most of my life.  I became enamored of the Duke Blue Devils when I was a kid and have cheered for them through the good times and the bad (though the times have been mostly good). Today, however, was unlike anything I have experienced in my 29 years of college fandom.  I was lucky enough to see my alma mater, Boston University, secure a bid to the NCAA tournament earlier today. To be in the arena when your alma mater is playing for an NCAA tournament bid is something special. The atmosphere was electric (even in a less than full Agganis Arena), the tension was high. While I always feel anxious when Duke is playing in a big game, my anxiety was at a new level cheering for the Terriers.  Duke makes the tournament almost every year, but to make the tournament is something special for Boston University.  The Terriers have made the tournament just 7 times in their history!

The game was not particularly well played.  Neither team shot well (31.5% for Stony Brook, 31.3% for BU). There were a total of 41 fouls (24 for Stony Brook, 17 for BU) and the final score was 56-54. Despite its obvious flaws, that game was exciting. BU stormed back from 15 point deficit (41-26) with 16:48 left in the 2nd half to tie the game at 54 with 1:03 left, and take the lead with just 2.3 seconds left.  The story of the game wasn’t that BU stormed back, it was that John Holland took the team on his back and willed the Terriers into the NCAA tournament.  After being largely anonymous in the first half, the America East player of the year exploded for 23 points in the 2nd half. As a friend put it, “John Holland decided the Terriers were going to the NCAAs. And it was so.” Holland, in the 2nd half, showed why he was the conference player of the year, and proved that he was the best player on the floor.  After the Terriers went down by 15 it was like he flipped a switch and kicked his game into a higher gear. Holland saved his best for his last game on Commonwealth Avenue and ensured that he would play at least one more game in his superlative career.

BU fans love Coach Chambers, with good reason! Coach Chambers is taking the Terriers to the NCAA Tournament in his 2nd season.

I tweeted after the game, that this was the beginning of something big, and I believe that.  Patrick Chambers has injected a new energy into the program, and has taken the Terriers into the postseason in each of his first two seasons.  Last season, the Terriers played in the College Basketball Invitational, making the semifinals and defeating Oregon State along the way.  This year, the Terriers get to go to the big dance.  With a young team (Holland is the only senior), and several new recruits coming, Boston University could be on its way to a run of postseason births.

If you’re interested, check out some pictures taken at the game in my Flikr stream.

Top 5: Pitching Rotations

These are heady days for baseball fans.  Every team is undefeated, and hope springs eternal.  With the first games of Spring Training set for Friday, it seemed like it was time to start blogging about baseball again.

A question that seems to be on every baseball fan’s mind is  – who has the best starting pitching staff in baseball?  Below is my humble attempt at answering that question.  Let me know if you agree/disagree.

The Phillies boast a rotation that would make any team jealous. (photo from the4aces.net)

1. Philadelphia Phillies – While this might seem like a homer call, the Phillies have to be considered the best collection of starting pitching in the league.  After pulling off one of the major surprises of the off-season by signing Cliff Lee, the Phillies have four legit #1 starters.  The Phillies (on paper) have the best pitching rotation since the Braves of the early 1990s (Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Steve Avery).  This is my initial reaction to the pitching staff – taken from my post Merry Cliffmas and Happy Halladays!:

Think about this, Lee, who won the Cy Young in the AL in 2008 joins a staff that includes: reigning Cy Young winner Roy Halladay; 2008 World Series MVP Cole Hamels; and 3-time All-Star Roy Oswalt. What other team can match that pitching depth?  The answer – NONE!

Just look at their numbers from last season:

I know that Lee, Hamels and Oswalt did not have great records, look at the other stats! Ridiculous. Also keep in mind that when Oswalt was with the Phillies he was 7-1 with a 1.74 ERA. The Phillies now have the best pitching staff in the league.

It doesn’t matter who takes the fifth starter spot (though I think it will be Joe Blanton), the Phillies have the most formidable starting rotation in baseball.

Tim Lincecum anchors the rotation for the defending World Series champions.

2. San Francisco Giants – As seen in last year’s NLCS, the Giants’ pitching staff can hang with the Phillies.  Tim Lincecum, who struggled at times last season, found his form in the playoffs. Matt Cain made the Phillies’ offense look pedestrian. Jonathan Sanchez looks like he is ready to take the next step toward becoming an elite lefty. Madison Bumgarner developed over the course of the season and looks set for a big year.  The only question mark is Barry Zito as the fifth starter, but if he even has an average year (10-14, 4.45 ERA in his time with the Giants) he will be a pretty decent 5th starter.

If Beckett and Lackey can bounce back, the Sox will be tough. (Image from CBS local/Credit: Dan Roche/CBS)

3. Boston Red Sox – Some might question the Red Sox being ranked this highly, especially after the poor performance last season of Josh Beckett, John Lackey and the enigma that is Daisuke Matsuzaka, but I believe that at least one of the aforementioned pitchers will rebound this year.  If more than one can return to the form all have previously exhibited, the Red Sox will have a formidable rotation.  Jon Lester (19-9, 3.25 ERA) and Clay Buchholz (17-7, 2.33 ERA), two guys I thought deserved more Cy Young consideration last season, anchor the rotation.  Even if Beckett and Lackey turn in career average years – 15-10, 3.96 ERA for Becket & 15-10, 3.89 ERA for Lackey – the rotation should be good enough to win the AL East.  Any positive contribution Dice-K can give will be an added bonus.

Trevor Cahill and the Athletics could unseat the Rangers in the AL West. The A's certainly have the pitching.

4. Oakland Athletics – This selection might surprise some, as the Athletics toil in obscurity in Oakland, but the A’s have a legit rotation.  I think this excerpt from a post on pitching rotations sums up the A’s:

Check out these stats and compare them with any pitching staff in MLB: Brett Anderson 7-6 2.80 ERA  75 K’s, Trevor Cahill 18-8  2.97 ERA  118 K’s, Gio Gonzalez 15-9 3.23 ERA  171 K’s, Dallas Braden 11-14  3.50 ERA 113 K’s and a perfect game. Average age…25!!  Oakland led the AL with a 3.56 era, 17 shutouts and held opponents to a .245 batting average.  Question mark is 5th starter but they have many young guys to choose from in the minors and they also signed Rich Harden. If they can get any hitting they could be a team no one would like to play come October.

Clayton Kershaw is my early dark horse for the NL Cy Young. This kid is for real.

5. Los Angeles Dodgers – Four of the Dodgers’ starters finished last season with ERAs under 3.60.  Not too shabby.  Clayton Kershaw led the way with a 13-10 record and an ERA of 2.91 and will be just 23 at the start of the season.  Forming the rest of the rotation behind Kershaw are Hiroki Kuroda (11-13, 3.39 ERA), Chad Billingsley (12-11, 3.57 ERA), Ted Lilly (7-4, 3.52 ERA w/ the Dodgers), and Jon Garland (14-12, 3.47 ERA w/ the San Diego Padres).

In making this list, several teams just missed the number 5 spot (I feel like the top 4 are pretty set).  The St. Louis Cardinals would likely have made the top 5, but with concerns about the health of Adam Wainwright‘s elbow, the rotation is weakened.  Some have been touting the Milwaukee Brewers with Zack Greinke joining Shaun Marcum and Yovani Gallardo at Miller Park.  I think the Brewers have the beginnings of a very good rotation, but it remains to be seen how Greinke will adjust to the NL and whether Marcum is for real.  A third team that many have in their top 5 are the Padres.  Mat Latos and Clayton Richard are two studs at the top of the rotation but after the top 2 there are more questions than answers.  Also, could Latos be in for a sophomore slump? Lastly, the Atlanta Braves are in the discussion as well, especially if Derek Lowe and Jair Jurrjens can rebound from subpar 2010 seasons.  Looks like I could have found one more team and written a top 10.

Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment.

Time to Move On

What is there to say about yesterday’s loss to the Green Bay Packers?  The Eagles cost me $5!  Any time the Eagles play the Packers or 49ers (she lives outside of San Francisco), my wife’s grandmother calls to set up a bet.  The Packers were my wife’s grandfather’s favorite team.  He grew up in Wisconsin and was a life long Packers fan.  He and I used to bet on the games, and now my wife’s grandmother has continued the tradition.

Beyond the Eagles costing me 5 dollars, this paragraph should suffice. The Birds played poorly in every facet of the game.  It’s easy to blame David Akers for the loss, his two missed field goals are the most glaring mistakes; however, this is just not accurate.  The defense was porous, giving up points at the most inopportune times.  Sean McDermott’s squad gifted the Packers points (see the offside penalty that extended Green Bay’s fist scoring drive), and the tackling was atrocious.  The other side of the ball wasn’t much better.  Michael Vick and company were unable to mount sustained drives when the team needed them most.

With that brief discussion of my thoughts on yesterday’s game out of the way, I am moving on.  While I clearly support the Eagles and Phillies the most vocally, I am a fan of both the Sixers and the Flyers.  Some might not know it, but there are other sports going on in Philly.  The Flyers sit atop the Eastern Conference with a 26-10-5 record and have played well all season.  They are fun to watch and I suggest Philly sports fans going through withdrawal should check them out. The Sixers sit 8th in the Eastern Conference, despite a 15-22 record.  Not to shabby.

With over a month until pitchers and catchers report, I will be focusing most of the blogging on the Flyers and Sixers.  I will also be looking to blog more about soccer and college basketball (Duke has started the season 15-0, and BU look like they will compete for the America East title).

Merry Cliffmas and Happy Halladays!

The Philadelphia Phillies gave their fans an early Christmas present by signing Cliff Lee!

Wow!  Just as I am trying to finish the semester (only one more day!) another can’t miss story comes along.  Like the results of the World Cup voting, how can I not comment on the Philadelphia Phillies signing one Clifton Phifer Lee for $120 million over 5 years (with a vesting option for a 6th year)?  I mean seriously!  Did this really happen!?  Things like this never happen to Philly teams.  Generally, free agents have spurned teams from Philadelphia, especially the Phillies.  I guess the winning culture developed over the last several years has started to pay dividends beyond the World Series title and 4 straight years in the playoffs.  The Phillies are now a destination for free agents.

The most interesting part of the Phillies signing Cliff Lee is that he left money on the table to sign with them.  Both the Yankees and the Rangers offered more cash and more years.  According to Phillies beat writer Randy Miller, Lee’s wife played an important role in him signing with the Phillies.  She was reportedly spit on and harassed during the ALCS.  Looks like the stupid New Yokr fans may have cost the Yankees.  All I can say is thank you Yankee fans!

I am almost too excited by Lee joining the rotation to write anything coherent! Think about this, Lee, who won the Cy Young in the AL in 2008 joins a staff that includes: reigning Cy Young winner Roy Halladay; 2008 World Series MVP Cole Hamels; and 3-time All-Star Roy Oswalt. What other team can match that pitching depth?  The answer – NONE!

Just look at their numbers from last season:


I know that Lee, Hamels and Oswalt did not have great records, look at the other stats! Ridiculous. Also keep in mind that when Oswalt was with the Phillies he was 7-1 with a 1.74 ERA. The Phillies now have the best pitching staff in the league.  The only other team that could even make an argument would be the Red Sox with Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Josh Beckett and John Lackey, but a couple of those guys have some questions marks and underperformed last season.

Assuming the Phillies can score runs for their Big Four, a problem at times last year, they have to be considered the early favorites to win the National League and the odds on favorite to win the World Series.

For more information on Lee’s signing with the Phillies check out:

Todd Zolecki with MLB – Cliff, Cliff, Cliff, Cliff, Cliff, Cliff, Cliff, Cliff, Cliff …
Bill Baer at Crashburn Alley – Cliff Lee Signs with Phillies
Jeff Fletcher at FanHouse – In Spurning Millions, Cliff Lee Shows Value
Jayson Stark at ESPN – Cliff Lee’s return simply stunning

What to Do?

This weekend was a tough one for Philadelphia sports fans.  Our beloved Phillies flamed out in the NLCS against an inferior opponent, and the Eagles forgot how to hold a lead against the Titans.   I could easily write a post full of recriminations of both the Phillies and the Eagles (hello Ryan Howard, how do you not swing at that pitch!? But don’t blame him, as set out in this post on FanGraphs) but those topics have been covered to death by both the mainstream media and in the blogosphere.  Instead of harping on that mistakes that were made (Kenny Britt and his 225 yards and 3 TDs against the Birds), I am asking – where to I turn my sporting attentions after this tough weekend?

The baseball season is over, and with the Phillies already committing $143 million to just 16 players in 2011 there will be no major signings to keep the hot stove hot during the winter.  Very little chance of entertainment or something interesting happening in that area.

The football season does not look promising either.  This Eagles team is deeply flawed, but then again so is the rest of the NFL, and looked lost in the second half against the Titans.  While Sunday’s game should settle any talk of a quarterback controversy, it didn’t provide much hope for the future.  With the Eagles facing just two teams with records currently under .500 the second half of the season could be rough.   While I haven’t given up hope yet, the NFC is a conference of parity, the Birds will need to get their act together to make some noise.  Plus, this week is a bye.

It’s much to early to care about the NHL or the NBA in a meaningful way.  Sure I will catch some games here or there, but these leagues don’t consume my attention until well into the spring (read when they get to the playoffs, with over half the teams making the postseason the regular season is rendered irrelevant).

Cameron Indoor Stadium, home of my favorite team - the Duke Blue Devils.

We are still weeks away from college basketball tipping off, but here again is another sport where I just can’t bring myself to focus more than a small amount of my attention before conference play starts in January. Sure there will be some early season marquee matchups (Duke-Michigan State on December 1 or a rematch of last year’s title game – Duke-Butler on December 4) that will draw my interest, but the season doesn’t really start until you are in conference play.

College football provides me with some distraction, but with Penn State floundering my interest is only in seeing Boise State crash the BCS title party.  What is a sports fan to do? Where do I turn for my sports distractions?

I am counting on Rhett and the Terriers to deliver me some sporting hope.

It appears college hockey, a realm where my alma mater – Boston University is a contender, and world soccer will be my areas of interest for the next several months.  While I can never quit the Eagles, I need more than just one team to fulfill my sporting needs.  So here’s to the Terriers! Here’s to Arsenal and Reading FC!  My sporting hopes lie with you, don’t let me down.

Suggestions are welcomed.

Red October: Phillies vs. Giants

Earlier this evening, as I was coming into the house after work, I noticed a card in the mail.  I could tell by the address label on the front of the envelope that the card was from my wife’s grandmother.  I expected the card to discuss the recent 49ersEagles game, as my wife’s grandmother and I have a long-standing bet when the Niners and Eagles play (same goes for the Packers, my wife’s grandfather’s favorite team).  While the card did mention the Eagles/Niners game, she devoted half of the card to the Giants vs. Phillies.  While not normally much of a baseball fan, she just couldn’t resist making a bet (our usual $5) on the series.  She’s quite enamored with Tim Lincecum, but conceded that the Phillies might “have [the Giants] for their breakfast” due to San Francisco’s lack of hitting. Leave it to her to snap me out of my funk and get me to write a blog post about the series.  It’s a good thing the card got here today and not on Monday, or I would have missed out on the opportunity to weigh in on the series before it started.

Prompted by my wife’s grandmother’s comment about San Francisco’s lack of hitting, I decided to look into the offensive stats of both teams.  While San Francisco doesn’t have the offensive talents of the Phillies’ most recent opponents, the Giants are in the upper half (check out the bottom of the table where it displays the rankings) of the National League in most major offensive categories.

Two of the biggest areas of weakness for the Giants are team speed and patience at the plate.  The Giants stole just 55 bases all season, good (or bad) enough to place them in a last place tie in the NL with the Cubs.  The Giants also hit into the most double plays (158) in the NL.  This lack of team speed could come back to haunt a team not likely to have many base runners facing the Phillies pitching staff.  Plate discipline has been another area of weakness, with the Giants ranking 13th out of 16 teams in walks, and 12th in strikeouts.  Clearly this is a team that will swing freely at pitches, which should play into the hands of the Phillies’ pitchers.  That being said, the Giants do have some pop, ranking 6th in homer runs, just behind the Phillies.  It is worth noting that the Phillies rank ahead of the Giants in every major offensive category.

For those that want to use the regular season as a guide for this series, the Phillies and Giants split the series 3-3.  The Giants won 2 of 3 in San Francisco back in April.  The Phillies won 2 of 3 at Citizens Bank Park in August, including a game I was lucky enough to attend and blog about.  In those 6 games, the Giants put up a better batting average (.290 vs. .226) and hit more home runs (8 vs. 3), but the Phillies scored more runs (29 vs. 27).  The Giants put up better pitching numbers posting a better ERA (4.00 vs. 4.50) and a better WHIP (1.204 vs. 1.333).


Will the Giants' pitcher-friendly park be a factor? Or will the Phillies' lefties put a few into McCovey Cove?

Clearly, the teams benefited from playing in their home parks, and it will be interesting to see if that continues.  While the regular season numbers can help paint a picture of what to expect, the teams are both vastly different from even the last time they played.  The Giants went through a poor run of play, but finished the season strong, going 20-10 over the last 30 games.  The Phillies, as has been well documented, were on fire for much of the 2nd half and especially in September.

This series will present some interesting pitching matchups, a point the media has beaten to death.  The first game will see defending Cy Young award winner, Lincecum take on the presumptive 2010 Cy Young winner, Roy Halladay.  As Eno Sarris points out over on Fangraphs, Lincecum has pitched well vs. the Phillies (3.17 ERA and a 0.99 WHIP in seven games) and Halladay has floundered against the Giants (7.23 ERA and 1.61 WHIP in three games), but this means little.  As Sarris writes:

Those numbers are career splits, and what do starts against other iterations of these lineups even mean? Diddly. And then, if we try to boil it down to splits in this season, we get one poor game for Halladay against the Giants (seven innings, ten hits, five runs, five strikeouts and no walks) and one excellent game for Lincecum (eight and a third innings, three hits, two runs, 11 strikeouts and one walk).

Will "The Freak" be able to shut down the potent Phillies offense?

Beyond “The Freak” vs. “Doc”, the pitching will dominate this series.  Bill Baer at Crashburn Alley previews the starting pitching staffs (Blanton and the SF starters, look here for more on H2O), and likens the matchup to the choice between “Maine lobster and filet mignon”, as opposed to Phillies vs. Reds (Maine lobster and Alpo).

Baer also previews the Giants’ starting 8 here, and the Phillies’ here.  I’m not sure that I agree with all of his breakdown of who wins each position.  Baer summarizes his previews like this (my comments in italics following each position):

  • Catcher: PushWhile I have much love for Carlos Ruiz, I think Buster Posey is the better player.  Will Chooch’s experience make this a push? Or will Posey’s superior offense win out?
  • First base: GiantsI have to argue this point, while Aubrey Huff has had a great season, Ryan Howard is still the better player.  While the Big Piece hasn’t driven in any runs and only has 3 hits in 11 at-bats this postseason, he is still a former MVP.
  • Second base: PhilliesI can’t argue this assessment, as Chase Utley is clearly the best 2B in the game, even if he was hurt for part of the season.
  • Third base: PhilliesIf Pablo Sandoval were playing like he did last year, this would be a much closer race, but he has suffered a sophomore slump.  Placido Polanco has been battling an elbow injury, but he is still better than Mike Fontenot or the artist formerly known as Kung Fu Panda.
  • Shortstop: PhilliesJimmy Rollins, who is starting to look a little healthier, is better than Edgar Renteria or Juan Uribe.  It’s just a fact.
  • Left field: GiantsFunny the difference a year makes.  Last year, Raul Ibanez would have beaten Pat Burrell hands down.  This season, Pat the Bat has seen a resurgence while Rauuuuuuuuuuul has started to show his age.  Given Burrell’s resurgence, I would have to agree with this one.
  • Center field: GiantsAndres Torres has been a bright spot for the Giants in his first full season.  I had the pleasure of seeing a game at AT&T Park earlier this season (April 24) with my wife’s cousin and uncle and I remember both her cousin and I wondering why Torres wasn’t playing.  Finally given the chance to start regularly at the beginning of May, Torres has been a revelation.  For he Phillies, Shane Victorino had an up and down year, but the Flyin’ Hawaiian has shown that he can perform on the big stage.  I would call this a push.
  • Right field: PhilliesJayson Werth vs. Cody Ross. Please!  I don’t even need to write anything else.  Plus Werth would win this for his facial hair alone.

I am excited about this series.  I have a couple friendly wagers with my wife’s family (her grandmother and her cousin), and the pitching matchups should make this a classic.  While I think the Giants will put up more of a fight than the Reds, I believe the Phillies are the better team and will win this series in 6.