Thursday, July 24, 2008

My 2008 NFL Fantasy Team: Am I Dreaming?

Last week I did my 16th annual NFL Fantasy Draft on my annual Houseboat Lowlife Weekend. I won the first year (1992) and again in 1998, but I have not won since. I seem to have lost my touch.
Last season I was in first place but then dropped my last six games (Ouch!)
The main reason for my demise was the fact that my first two picks got hurt.
(I'm referring to RB Larry Johnson and WR Marvin Harrison)
In last week's draft, I chose 7th and was surprised when Brian Westbrook (pictured) was still available.
With my second pick, I selected Terrell Owens. (If he doesn't get suspended for over celebrating or tries to committ suicide, I think he'll have a great year.)
I went with a RB with my third pick and took Lawrence Maroney (I think New England will run more in '08 and that he will get most of the carries)
I then had to go for a QB, so I took Derek Anderson from the Browns (I think Cleveland makes the playoffs this season)
Some of my other risky picks:
Trent Edwards, QB, Buffalo
Frank Taylor, RB, Jaguars
Rudi Johnson, RB, Bengals
Donte Stallworth, WR, Browns
Matt Ryan, QB, Falcons (do you think he'll get to start?)
Hines Ward, WR, Steelers
NY Giants Defense
Any fantasy gurus out there? Let me know what you think of this team.

Yo, Meathead!

Darn, I know it’s been a while between posts. There’s a lot happening in the sports world—especially my personal sports world! This sure has been a funny baseball season, hasn’t it? And even though it seems like I was blogging about the Giants’ Super Bowl win yesterday, here we are on the verge of another NFL training camp, and the 2008 season awaits. I’m looking forward to this one! As mentioned in previous posts, my awesome wife gave me a huge flatscreen HD television—as well as the NFL package—as gifts when we moved to Washington, so even though I may not have too many people to watch with this year (will miss ya, Ed and Ed!), I will be able to see my Super Bowl champ Giants every week without leaving the comfort of my own living room—the first time that’s happened since I left the East Coast in 1998.

But first, a little baseball chatter. I want to say a little bit about the Willie Randolph firing. As everyone knows, it was handled very poorly and with no class. Willie is a classy guy and deserved better, no question. I think that maybe if he hadn’t brought race into it and the team started winning, Willie could have kept his job. But by adding fuel to the fire, Willie sort of created this media specter that hung over the team, analyzing every little thing so that the pressure became unbearable. At that point, even though Willie may have been a good manager, he had to go so that the team could focus on playing baseball again.

In hindsight, it’s easy to say that it was a good move. Jerry Manuel has the team winning in ways they weren’t under Willie: a 10-game win streak; come-from-behind victories; a win after a devastating loss the night before instead of a prolonged losing streak. Heads are up, chins high in the clubhouse. Some players are really surging, such as Carlos Delgado, who seems to have dropped 10 years off his life and his swing. The Mets, who were 7 games out a month ago, are tied for first in the NL East as of right now with one more game against the Phillies that’s being played while I write (they split the first two). It ain’t over yet, but at least the Amazin’s are staring to play more to their potential, and a postseason berth is not out of the question anymore.

Now to the gridiron. Obviously, it is a big loss for the Giants on the defensive line with Michael Strahan now officially retired. And trading a disgruntled Jeremy Shockey to New Orleans costs the Giants one of their big playmakers. And I know the Giants lost a couple of linebackers to free agency.

But—despite these losses in personnel, I am blown away by how many preseason power rankings pick the Patriots first and the Giants anywhere from fourth to tenth! Only one set of rankings had the Giants where they belong, at Number One. In case everybody missed it, they won the Super Bowl last year! Do I think that automatically makes them champions of 2008? Of course not, but how about at least a little respect? The Giants defense was absolutely dominant—not just in the Super Bowl, but throughout last year’s playoffs! They crushed Tom Brady—one of my favorite parts of my Super Bowl video is the montage that is shown in the fourth quarter of all the times the Giants planted Brady in the turf. Not only that, but Eli Manning and the Giants’ offense out-Bradied Brady, topping his touchdown with less than three minutes left with one of their own—a drive of which the stuff of legends is made.

So Strahan is gone! I know! Anyone happen to notice that Osi Umenyiora has made the Pro Bowl two of the last three years? That he had six sacks in one game last season? Anyone see what a monster Justin Tuck is? I know he’s not Strahan, but in Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s attacking defense, Tuck, Umenyiora, and the rest of the D-line will be as disruptive as ever and will even be able to make up for any minor flaws in the linebacking corps this year. On offense, the Jints have already proved that they can win without Shockey—his receptions will go to Steve Smith, the third receiver, and Kevin Boss will be able to fill in just fine at Shockey’s old tight end spot.

The lack of respect is a line the Giants can use to help them stay hungry. Coach Tom Coughlin was great at keeping the Giants’ “us-against-the-world” mentality going all year long in 2007, and he’ll look to do so again with the 2008 crew.

Only five weeks until kickoff!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Who are the REAL MLB All-Stars?

I am always torn by the selection process that is used to pick the MLB All-Star teams. Since the game is in the middle of the season, a lot of times it obviously comes down to who is having the better first half. Why not take the second half of the prior season into account as well? To me, a sizzling first half does not an all-star make.
Then, you figure in the fan factor and it gets even more confusing. The fans end up picking the name players, even though they may not be having that great a year. So, between the two, you end up getting a lot of players on both squads that probably don’t deserve to be there.
One of the problems is due to the fact that there is such a glut of talent in the American League. For every superstar in the NL, there are two or more in the AL.
Another problem comes from the disparity in interest between big-market and small-market teams, illustrated by how many Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox are on this year’s rosters. Deserving players on small market teams don’t get the nod because people (including the managers who pick the players) don’t see them enough. Plus, the media would rather write about Alex Rodriguez and Madonna, as opposed to what a great year Jorge Cantu or Aubrey Huff is having, so people just don’t hear about these rising stars as much.
And finally, there is the “one player per team” rule where every MLB team has to be represented by at least one player. I think that’s dumb, because there are several teams out there right now who aren’t worthy. Thus, a guy who should be there (like Yunel Escobar from the Braves or Ryan Doumit from the Pirates) doesn’t get in.
Here are starting picks for the All-Star game, to be held Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium:

American League
Catcher: Joe Mauer, Twins
First Base: Kevin Youklis, Red Sox
Shortstop: Michael Young, Rangers
Second Base: Ian Kinsler, Rangers
Third Base: Mike Lowell, Red Sox
Outfield: Josh Hamilton, Rangers
Outfield: Grady Sizemore, Indians
Outfield: Carlos Quentin, White Sox
Starting Pitcher: Justin Duchscherer, A’s
Relief Picher: Francisco Rodriguez, Angels

National League
Catcher: Brian McCann, Braves
First Base: Lance Berkman, Astros
Shortstop: Hanley Ramirez, Marlins
Second Base: Chase Utley, Phillies
Third Base: Chipper Jones, Braves
Outfield: Ryan Braun, Brewers
Outfield: Xavier Nady, Pirates
Outfield: Matt Holliday, Rockies
Starting Pitcher: Edinson Volquez, Reds
Relief Picher: Kerry Wood, Cubs

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Yo, Meathead!

Hope everyone had a happy July 4! Sounds as if the real fireworks were in Colorado that night, when the Rockies came back from a 13–4 deficit to win 18–17 against Florida. My sister was at the game with her family, and she said she’d never seen a game like that and probably never would again. She also said that if it hadn’t been fireworks night, she would have left by the time the God Squad was 9 runs down! Of course, being a Mets fan and seeing the Marlins lose this one didn’t make me too sad, either.

Hard to imagine the All-Star break is upon us. The baseball season isn’t really going the way anyone predicted, so it will be real interesting to see how it all shakes out in September. Let’s have a look at the standings at the halfway point.

No one can say that the AL East doesn’t look different this year! While there were many that thought the Tampa Bay Rays’ hot start was just a fluke, here they are 4 games ahead of the Red Sox and 8.5 ahead of the Yankees for first in the division. As Harvey Araton of the New York Times points out, the Rays are winning with a total payroll more or less equivalent to the 2008 salaries of Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez combined. While the Yanks are 5 games over .500, it’s not nearly enough to compete with the Rays’ 55–33 record as of today. Lucky for the Bronx Bombers, A-Rod’s divorce troubles and alleged affair with Madonna don’t seem to be hurting his production any, allowing the team to at least stay in the playoff chase. Meanwhile, even though this was supposed to be a different year for Toronto, the Blue Jays are mired in last, 13.5 games behind Tampa Bay, and though they are a game over .500, the always-hapless Orioles are only 3 games better than the Jays.

In the Central, the White Sox rule, but not by much, as Minnesota is only 1.5 games back. Detroit, which has been labeled the AL’s biggest disappointment of the first half, has battled its way to a .500 record but is 7 games back--and if the playoffs began today, the Tigers would be in seventh place for the wild card, also 7 games back. Not good. Which can also be said about perennial small-market loser Kansas City, as well as Cleveland, 12 and 14 games behind respectively.

The West has the Angels solidly in front of Oakland by 6 games, but the A’s are only 3.5 back in the wild-card chase. Somehow, Billy Beane has again jettisoned stars and created a winning team. Granted, Oakland has a ways to go before it can compete for real against L.A., but the A’s have often been stellar in the second half of the season in recent years (not counting last year!), so we’ll see what kind of baseball they’ll play. Ron Washington has Texas 2 games over .500, but the Rangers are in the same boat as Detroit and Baltimore in terms of the wild card--there are too many better teams at the tops of the divisions. I almost want to just issue a “No comment” on the Mariners, my current hometown team and one of the two very worst in baseball this year. I can see the smoke rising from Safeco from my porch on sunny days.

Over on the Senior Circuit, the Phils are on top of the East, but the Fish are only 1.5 games back, and the Mets are only 2.5 back. The Mets, the NL’s biggest disappointment of the first half, are lucky their less-than-impressive start only cost them their manager’s job, not too many games in the standings, as the Marlins and Phillies fumbled hot starts to keep the three-way race close. The Amazin’s took 3 of 4 from Philly in the City of Brotherly Love over the weekend, and have gained back ground under Jerry Manuel’s stewardship so far. Atlanta lags 6 games back, and Washington is done, at 14 behind.

It was nice in the past few years to see both the Red and White Sox win it all after long, long championship droughts, so if this is indeed the Cubs’ year, as everyone keeps saying, then who am I to argue, once the Mets have dropped out? The Baby Bruins lead the Central, 3.5 ahead of St. Louis and 4 ahead of Milwaukee, which just acquired C.C. Sabathia to make a playoff push. The rest of the division is a mess, with Cinci, Pittsburgh, and Houston 10.5, 11.5, and 12.5 games back in that order--ouch!

Out West, the D-backs and Dodgers are tied for first at a game under .500--double ouch! This whole division smells, but San Fran is only 5 games off the pace, and Colorado is 6 back. The worst team in baseball as of today, the Padres, are only 9.5 games in back of the division leaders. Ugh! In this division, any win is deserving of celebration!

So baseball fans, I’m looking forward to the second half! Hope you are, too!