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Something Needs to Change About the Midsummer Classic

With the first public announcement of the leaders in this year’s MLB All-Star Game voting, the usuals are out calling for the head of Bud Selig and whichever fans voted for J.J. Hardy over Hanley Ramirez.  Some of the results are mind-boggling (Hardy over Ramirez) while others (Pujols as the top vote-getter) were expected.  My thought is that one of two things needs to be changed in order to make baseball’s All Star Game better for the fans and baseball as a whole.

1. Do Not Make the Game Count For Anything

Starting in 2003, Bud Selig and the MLB announced that the pennant winner of the league that won the All Star Game would receive Home Field Advantage in the upcoming World Series.

OK, so wait a second.  Back in 2004, the St. Louis Cardinals won 105 games in the regular season, good for best in the Major League.  They won their division by an MLB-best 13 games and torched the NL for 162 games.

Yet in Game one of the World Series there they were, sitting in a dugout in Fenway Park, opposite the home team Boston Red Sox who had gone 98-64 that year.  98 wins is a pretty special year and, had it not been for the 101-win Yankees, the Red Sox would have run away with the division.

The reason the Red Sox were able to play at home in Game One was due to a single game that occurred three months and nine days earlier.  The AL had won the All Star Game 9-4 back in July and for some reason that held precedence over the commanding season the Red Birds had.

Albert Pujols cruised the Cardinals to 105 wins in the regular season, yet didn't get home field advantage in the World Series.

Albert Pujols cruised the Cardinals to 105 wins in the regular season, yet didn't get home field advantage in the World Series.

Roger Clemens was the starting pitcher in the game, yet all he was playing for was pride.  His Astros were 10.5 games out of the division lead and had no shot at the playoffs.  Clemens pitched an inning of work and gave up six runs that put the National League in a hole they never got out of.  No sweat off Clemens’ back, but I am sure the three Cardinals starting in the game would have liked to see a little more effort out of him.

Having the game not count for anything will not only reward teams that do well in the regular season, but also justify letting the fans vote.  It seems as though 99.9% of people can not understand why fans are allowed to vote players into the All Star Game. After all, it’s called the All Star Game, so why is J.J. Hardy and his 240 points of batting average starting over Hanley Ramirez?!

The answer is because the most amount of people that care about the All Star Game want to see Hardy.  If the game were to count for nothing, letting the fans vote would be perfectly fine.  People come to the ballpark, some paying thousands to get in, to see their favorite players duke it out in the best All-Star Game of any major sport.  Shouldn’t they get to see who THEY want in the game?  If the weekend wasn’t about the fans we wouldn’t see the Home Run Derby or the Celebrity Softball Game.

If more people want to see Manny Ramirez in the game than Raul Ibanez, despite the huge difference in statistics, then let them.  People that have a problem with it should go vote and try to get whoever they think is deserving into the game.

2. Do Not Let the Fans Vote on the Game

It seems as though baseball enjoys the “This Time It Matters” slogan and are not going to rid of it for quite some time, so what that means is the fan vote needs to go.  Currently, fans vote in the starters of the game while the players vote in pitchers and back-ups at each position.

Because of this, there are not a whole lot of snubs at any position and none really stick out to me.  There has never been a case where an Albert Pujols or a Vladimir Guerrero never got into the game.  However, if the game actually means something as big as home field in the World Series, then the fans are just going to have to sit and watch.

Fans mean everything to sports because, simply put, without them there wouldn’t be anything to play for.  Loyal fans, season ticket holders, and the occasional band-wagon fan love voting their favorite players into the game.  It’s all fun and games as they go online and punch their ballots.

Unfortuantely for the players, it’s not just fun and games anymore.  Sure, players laugh it up on the field and we see antics in the field every year that give us a good chuckle.

Face it, the All Star Game is going to be good either way.

Face it, the All Star Game is going to be good either way.

Ever since 2003, it has meant a whole lot more than just a game in Mid-July where we see our favorite players.  It means playing games one and two in your own backyard instead of enemy territory.  Throw in the Designated Hitter factor into the equation and it becomes all that much more important.

If the game is going to mean something, players need to be the ones to vote in the starters, back-ups and catchers.  You think a guy like James Loney, playing for the first place Dodgers, is going to want anyone but the best player at each position?  Letting the players vote is going field the best team that each league can put out and will assure that the game is competitive.

Which One Would Work Better?

I am a proponent of letting the fans vote and seeing the players play that they wanted in.  It’s not like the fans are voting in Bobby Scales and Colby Rasmus while Ryan Braun and Chase Utley sit at home watching the game.  Every year the game features the best players in each league (more or less, minus one or two snubs) and turns out to be a great game.

The fans love it and keep coming back for more every year, so the selection process is not that tainted.  Second, I hate that the game means so much in regards to the playoffs.  I realize that the MLB wanted the game to mean more so that more people would be focused on who won, but in reality that’s more of a cheap ploy than a resolution.  Let’s let the fans see who they want in the game and let the teams decide home field advantage.

May 30, 2009 Posted by | All Star Game, Baseball, MLB | , | Leave a comment

Green Bay’s Donald Driver Asking Way Too Much

As OTA’s began for the Green Bay Packers yesterday, the biggest story was not the start of the 3-4 transition or Aaron Kampman’s refusal to talk to the media.  Rather, the absense of Donald Driver shocked the Green Bay nation as Driver looks to re-do his contract.

Driver is set to make $3.9 million next year with his signing bonus money making his cap figure set at $5.6 million.  At 34 years old, Driver’s production has not fell despite becoming the number two receiver to Greg Jennings.  Last year, Driver passed the 1,000 yard mark and found the endzone five times.

I have been thinking long and hard about how I feel regarding the situation.  On one hand you have the lovable Driver who has done more for the Packers organization since he has been here than anyone else.

He has become a fan favorite and does so much for the community that it’s hard to go against him. Ever.  When I first read the story and saw the reaction of most fans, I wanted to stick up for Driver and say that he deserves his pay raise.  I actually started a blog listing reasons why he should get whatever money he is asking for, but stopped after I realized that the NFL is a business.

It would be great for Driver to stay a Packer for his whole career, and deep down I believe he wants to be one.  However, he has signed multiple contract extensions over the last couple of years that has given him extra coin in his pocket.

For as good as Donald Driver has been, he is not being underpaid.

For as good as Donald Driver has been, he is not being underpaid.

I truly believe that you pay a player based on his performance, not the role on his team.  Just because Driver is not the number one receiver does not mean he should have to take less money than his numbers say.

But Driver isn’t getting less money compared to his numbers.

In terms of total salary last year, Driver was the 23rd highest paid wide receiver in the league at just over $5.2 million.  That was more money than Reggie Wayne, T.J. Houshmanzadeh, and Anquan Boldin.  While it doesn’t tell the whole story regarding receiver’s full contracts, Driver is hardly getting short changed.

While I do not agree with people that say Driver is washed up and that his production has gone down, the fact of the matter is he is getting up their in age at a position where the Packers are getting much younger.

James Jones enters his fourth year as a Packer and showed a lot of promise before an injury-riddled season last year.  Big things are expected from him and he has starter capabilities.

Last year’s second-round pick Jordy Nelson had a fantastic year and looks to be a steal.  He played with strength and did a great job running with the ball after the catch.  Past that, undrafted free agent Jamarko Simmons is making noise in the camps thus far.

Driver is not dispensable and if he were to leave the Packers, production at the position would take a huge hit.  He may be just a slot receiver that has lost some of his ability to make the big play, but do not doubt his importance.

The question becomes whether or not he is worth the trouble of re-doing his contract once again.  He has been treated fairly with contracts in the past and he is the one that signs them.  As was seen with Marvin Harrison last year, the “new” number one receiver Reggie Wayne needed to be paid and it was going to be too hard to give Harrison a figure he would comply with.

Seeing as Harrison was regressing with age, the Colts let him go and have focused their attention to Wayne as their go-to guy.  Many hope Jennings will have a deal done before the year begins but Driver is not making it any easier.

The one difference is that Jennings IS in camp going about his business.  The fourth year receiver out of Western Michigan is set to make $535,000 next year, which is the league minimum for a three-year veteran.

All this and we have not heard one peep from Jennings who continues to go out and get better, knowing his pay day will come soon enough.

Longevity may be an issue as well as it is almost inevitable that Driver will drop off one of these next few seasons.  Driver is signed for two more seasons, but with the up-and-comers of Jones and Nelson, Driver may fear getting the aforementioned Harrison or Torry Holt treatment.  Security is a great thing for any player to have and Driver may be looking for that.

Whatever the issue is, Driver needs to understand that he will be treated fairly for all he has done, but not now.  He has every right to ask for a new contract, but Ted Thompson has every right to say no. Jennings is a priority for the Packers and will be until a deal is done.

For all that Driver has taught Jennings on the field, it might be time that Driver takes a lesson from his student off the field.

May 29, 2009 Posted by | Football, Green Bay Packers, NFL | , , | Leave a comment

Jake Peavy to the Milwaukee Brewers Makes Sense

Rumors have been swirling the past few weeks involving the Milwaukee Brewers acquiring veteran Jake Peavy from the San Diego Padres.  While most Brewers fans are torn on the argument, there is good reason to bring the ace to the Midwest.

1. Peavy gives the Brewers a definite No. 1 pitcher

Yovani Gallardo has pitched outstanding at times this year, but a weakness of his is overthrowing and missing the strike zone. One of the reasons his control is off at times could stem from the fact that he is pressing too hard to be the Brewers ace.

Everyone in Milwaukee loves to see him step on the hill, but the fact of the matter is that he is not an ace just yet. He would be a great compliment to Peavy just as Ben Sheets was last year to midseason acquisition CC Sabathia.

Jake Peavy would give the Brewers a definite ace and make them contenders in the National League.

Jake Peavy would give the Brewers a definite ace and make them contenders in the National League.

Moving Gallardo to the second spot would also move bust Jeff Suppan out of the rotation. While his contract is most likely too big to trade away and moving him to the bullpen would be admitting a huge mistake, it might be the only option.

Dave Bush has pitched great for the Brewers this year and there is no reason to think he would leave. While Braden Looper has been nothing special, he has not pitched poorly by any means and would keep his spot.

Manny Parra has pitched outstanding lately and gives the Brewers a left-handed starter in the rotation. Also, his bullpen outings last year were a disaster (6.30 ERA) so moving him back would do no good to one of the best bullpens in the National League.

2. The Brewers’ deep farm system allows for a trade like this

The Padres are clearly trying to obtain pitching in the deal and the Brewers have just that. Jared Jeffress, the Brewers first round pick in 2006, probably has the most upside of any pitcher on the Brewers not named Yovani Gallardo.

He would more than likely be the key to the trade. Two other pitching names that would be potentially thrown in the mix are Evan Anundsen or Jake Ordiozzi.

While the Brewers do not have the strongest pitching prospects of the teams interested in Peavy, their position players may do the trick. Alcides Escobar and Mat Gamel are the top two prospects for the Brewers and one of them would more than likely be involved in trade.

While general manager Doug Melvin has stated that he does not want to part with either, getting Peavy would be very hard to pass on if the Brewers stay in the NL Central race.

The more likely of the two to go would be Escobar due to Gamel’s position. The Padres are pretty much set at first and third base, the only two positions Gamel could reasonably play, with Adrian Gonzalez and Kevin Kouzmanhoff.

Escobar has an outstanding glove in the field but his plate discipline has been questioned in the past. Still, he is a top prospect that will start at shortstop in the majors for a long time.

3. The Brewers are a young at many positions

With Mat Gamel inserted at third base, the Brewers average age in the infield with Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, J.J. Hardy, and Gamel is 25.5 years old.

Fielder is signed through 2010 and Weeks, Hardy, and Gamel should all re-sign with the team next year. With one of the youngest infields in the league, farm-system players are not the biggest necessity for the Brewers.

It is true that Milwaukee has built within the last few years, but their time to make a run is now and minor leaguers will not help right away. Weeks is the oldest infielder at 27 years of age but last year’s first round draft pick Brett Lawrie looks to be the future whenever Weeks leaves the team.

Alcides Escobar would most likely be involved in a deal for Jake Peavy.

Alcides Escobar would most likely be involved in a deal for Jake Peavy.

As for the rotation, the same can not be said as Peavy would be an all-or-nothing deal for the Brewers. Gallardo and Parra look to be Brewers for quite some time and form a good duo in the front end of the rotation, but past them the future would be uncertain if the trade were to go through.

At the beginning of next year, Dave Bush will be 30, Jeff Suppan will be 34, and Braden Looper will be 35. Losing two of the team’s top pitching prospects in the trade would be a huge risk for the Brewers, but Peavy is worth it.

4. Peavy is not CC Sabathia Part II

Last year when the Brewers traded for CC Sabathia, they knew they were trading for a pitcher that would last them half of a year at most. Sabathia’s contract was up and, even if he had not been the best pitcher on the planet in that span, his price tag still would have been too much for the Brewers to take on.

On the other hand, Peavy’s contract situation would make him a Brewer until 2012, with an option for 2013. Peavy is 28 right now, meaning he would be just 32 at the end of the contract.

There is no reason that he will not continue his dominance on the mound until that time, all while making the Brewers legitimate contenders in the National League.

The financial problems involved in dealing with Peavy’s contract gives some cause for concern, but if Melvin really wants to get the deal done he will find a way to make Peavy a Milwaukee Brewer.

May 28, 2009 Posted by | Baseball, Milwaukee Brewers, MLB, San Diego Padres | , , | Leave a comment

What Was Lou Piniella Thinking Last Night?

Last night, the Chicago Cubs fell to the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field for their eighth straight loss.  Ryan Dempster, Chicago’s starting pitcher was roughed up for six runs in just four innings of work.  In the bottom half of the inning, Bobby Scales pinch-hit for Dempster and flew out to right field.

That’s where things got interesting.

Relief pitcher Jose Ascanio came in to pitch the top of the fifth inning where he was due up fourth in the next inning. Ascanio had a rough inning, giving up three straight one out-hits before getting out of the jam.

Lou Piniella probably should have done more managing than arguing last night.

Lou Piniella probably should have done more managing than arguing last night.

In the bottom of the fifth, with the Cubs up one, Micah Hoffpauir walked to lead off the inning.  Piniella then had Ryan Freel, batting in the seven spot, sacrifice Hoffpauir over to second for the out.

What that says is Piniella had confidence in Aaron Miles and all 204 points of batting average to get the job done and drive in a run.  He was batting a survivable .263 against lefties but is just 3-for-23 with runners in scoring position this year.  Five pitches later, Miles was heading back to the bench with a big “K” next to his name in the scorebook.

Next up, relief pitcher Jose Ascanio. Wait, what?  During the game, there was a rumor that starting pitcher Carlos Zambrano was supposed to bat but for whatever reason did not.  Seriously?

With healthy players Mike Fontenot and Kosuke Fukudome on the bench, Ascanio walked up to the plate for the second at-bat of his career.  Two pitches later, Jack Wilson had a can of corn in his shopping basket and the inning was over.

But that’s not the worst part.  Coming out to pitch the top of the sixth was lefty Neal Cotts.  So let’s get this straight.  Jose Ascanio was allowed to bat with the a man on second but not the pitch the next inning.

The ONLY reason a manager with a brain would ever let a relief pitcher even hold a bat would be if they were scheduled to pitch the next inning.  I agree, Ascanio should not have pitched the sixth inning.  Cotts was the right man with four of the next five batters in the Pirates’ lineup being lefties.  Guess what?  Don’t let him hit then!

The fact that Tom Gorzelanny, a lefty, was in the game did not matter either.  Fukudome and Fontenot are both left-handed hitters but I would guess they are both better hitters than Ascanio.

Cotts wound up giving up three runs  in the top half of the inning to give the Pirates a 9-7 lead heading into the Cubs’ half of the sixth.

Fast forward to the bottom of the seventh inning with the score now 10-7 Pittsburgh.  The Cubs struck for a run after a two out-RBI single by Ryan Freel and, after an Aaron Miles hit, the pitcher’s spot was up again.

Pinch-hitting for the Cubs, pitcher Carlos Zambrano. Huh?  Let’s stop for a moment and break down Carlos Zambrano as a hitter.  He is a career .239 hitter with 17 home runs.

He also has 184 whiffs in 553 career plate appearances.  What that means is Big Z strikes out once every three times he steps to the plate.  He also has just six walks in those plate appearances, meaning there was a 92:1 chance that Zambrano would load the bases for leadoff man Alfonso Soriano.

Most of the times Zambrano comes to the plate, he is a starting pitcher batting ninth in a tough lineup.  He is going to pretty much get straight fastballs because no pitcher wants to walk the pitcher to get to the leadoff spot.  This was a situation with two men on and two men out in a two-run ballgame.  A little different, don’t you think?

In reality, Carlos Zambrano is no more than a below average pinch-hitter.

In reality, Carlos Zambrano is no more than a below average pinch-hitter.

Once again, Mike Fontenot and Kosuke Fukudome were still on the bench waiting to be used.  Hell, Koyie Hill could have been used if they wanted to roll the dice on that.

Zambrano struck out to end the seventh and the Cubs went on to lose the game two innings later.  When he comes into the game, Zambrano gets the crowd going and is fun to watch.

But when it comes to getting tallies in the win column, Lou Piniella made a couple of flat-out dumb moves last night that may have cost his team their first win in eight tries.

May 26, 2009 Posted by | Baseball, Chicago Cubs, MLB | , | 9 Comments

My Take: 25 Questions on 24 vs. 23

Earlier today, I was reading an article on ESPN.com that paneled seven experts from the website and compared LeBron James and Kobe Bryant in 25 categories.  You can read the article and results here, but here’s my take on each of the categories. (In parentheses after the question is the result of the ESPN vote).

1. Who Has Better Nicknames? (Kobe wins 4-3)

Kobe goes by “Black Mamba” while LeBron is called “The Chosen One” and “King James”.  Personally, I can not figure out why Kobe won this one.  Most reporters and analysts refer to LeBron as “King James” while the Black Mamba is much less known to most.  My Take: LeBron

2. Who Makes Better Commercials? (LeBron wins 7-0)

I have to agree with the analysts here as LeBron has put out some very good commercials recently.  “The LeBrons” are hilarious and I can not remember the last commercial that Kobe did for Nike.  My Take: LeBron

3. Who Would Win A Spelling Bee? (Kobe wins 7-0)

Kobe seems like a smarter guy than LeBron to start with, but the fact that Kobe knows Italian gives him the easy edge here.  He definitely has his languages down pat and would take the spelling bee.  My Take: Kobe

A one-on-game between the Black Mamba and King James would be one for the ages.

A one-on-game between the Black Mamba and King James would be one for the ages.

4. Whose Tell-All Twitter Feed Would You Rather Follow? (LeBron wins 5-2)

LeBron is quite the jokester and, being younger, seems to have more fun off the court.  He is very good friends with Jay-Z and I would love to see what the two of them do on a regular basis.  LeBron is definitely a fun dude.  My Take: LeBron

5. Who Will Have The More Interesting Life After Basketball? (LeBron wins 4-3)

LeBron may gain more maturity as he goes on, but right now he is all about being in the spotlight and making as much money as he can.  While there is nothing wrong with that, I can see him being in the business world (somewhat like MJ) well after he is done on the court.  My Take: LeBron

6. Who Would Win a 100-Meter Race? (LeBron wins 6-1)

Watching LeBron on the fast break leads me to believe he would take this category.  Kobe plays outstanding defense and is very quick but James’ strides would take Kobe in this one.  My Take: LeBron

7. Who Would Win A Marathon? (Kobe wins 7-0)

I have to go ahead and agree with the analysts here that Kobe would take the cake in a marathon.  The guy seems to never get tired down the stretch, regardless of how many minutes he has played.  My Take: Kobe

8. Who Would Be The Better Football Player? (LeBron wins 6-1)

This is really interesting because I don’t know what position LeBron would play.  Wide receiver makes the most sense, but at 6’8″, is he too big?  I am going to take Kobe here because I think he would play wide receiver and dominate.  He’s the perfect size (6’5″) and at this point is probably a little more agile than LeBron.  King James is a physical freak, but Kobe is no slouch. My Take: Kobe

9. Who Would Be The Better Soccer Player? (Kobe wins 7-0)

Not too fond of this question, but the agility and endurance factor that Kobe has makes me believe he would be the better soccer player.  He can also speak Italian, so yeah. My Take: Kobe

10. Who Would Win In The Octagon? (LeBron wins 6-1)

Both of these guys have the heart of a champion but LeBron’s size advantage has to give him the nod here.  He is a physical specimen and has close to 60 pounds on Kobe.  No one can stop LeBron as he goes through the lane, so I’d hate to see someone have to stop him as he does the same thing without a basketball.  My Take: LeBron

It's hard to argue with what LeBron James did on the high school hardwood.

It's hard to argue with what LeBron James did on the high school hardwood.

11. Who Had The Better High School Years? (LeBron wins 7-0)

This is a tough one for Kobe who was absolutely dominant in high school.  Unfortunately, LeBron was just as good and had ESPN in his high school every waking moment. He went undefeated his senior year and won a state title with four of his best friends.  My Take: LeBron

12. Who Was Better At Age 24? (LeBron wins 6-1)

Kobe did have a pair of rings when he was 24 years old, but having Shaquille O’Neal on his team will always make people wonder.  LeBron has done everything on his own and is poised to make a championship run this year with absolutely no help.  Tough call here but I have to go with King James.  My Take:LeBron

13. Who Has Had The Better Career So Far? (Kobe wins 7-0)

Kind of an unfair question as there is no argument for LeBron.  Kobe has been around much longer and has the three rings that LeBron does not.  At 30 years old, Kobe is still performing at such a high rate that LeBron is not even gaining that much ground on him.  My Take: Kobe

14. Who Will Finish With The Better Career? (LeBron wins 7-0)

Just because LeBron took home all seven votes does not mean it was by that much.  Stat-wise, LeBron will surpass Kobe in just about every category but the verdict is still out on whether or not LeBron will win three (or more titles).  I’ll give it to James by a hair.  My Take: LeBron

Kobe Bryant does not get enough credit for the wisdom and coaching he gives to his teammates.

Kobe Bryant does not get enough credit for the wisdom and coaching he gives to his teammates.

15. Who Is A Better Leader? (Lebron wins 6-1)

Everyone knows about how the Cavaliers bench has more fun than any team in the NBA and how LeBron can corral a team and make them all believe.  However, I am one of the few that believes Kobe gets the short end on how good of a teammate he really is.  Ballhog or not, Kobe makes everyone around him better and is great on the bench and off the court.  Give me Kobe all day.  My Take: Kobe

16. Who Has Had Better Dunks? (LeBron wins 6-1)

This was one of the easier ones for me to pick as LeBron has some of the most amazing dunks that I have ever seen.  It’s not just on the fast break that he does it, either.  He will drive to the hoop where two defenders are waiting and still throw it down.  He elevates like no one else I have seen and can get the crowd going with a slam home.  My Take: LeBron

17. Who Will Finish With More MVP Titles? (LeBron wins 7-0)

Considering that LeBron has already tied Kobe I will have to go with him in a landslide here.  Steve Nash has more MVP awards than Kobe and he has gotten hosed on a few trophies, but that is neither here nor there.  I will go out on a limb and say that LeBron will have at least five MVP’s when it is all said and done (same as MJ).  My Take: LeBron

18. Who Will Finish With More Rings? (LeBron wins 4-3)

I believe that Kobe will add another ring to his collection this year, giving him four.  I can not see LeBron ending his career with more than four so I will give this one to the Black Mamba.  A lot of people do not understand just what it takes to win a championship, let alone three.  My Take: Kobe

19. Whom Would You Rather Have On Your Pick-up Team? (LeBron wins 4-3)

ESPN analysts Henry Abbott made a great point that changed my mind on this one.  I was going to take Kobe, but his comment:

“Whom would you pick? The super intense guy who often reams out his teammates … or the freakishly big, strong guy who passes willingly and loves a good joke?”

made me change my pick to LeBron.  He knows when to laugh during a game but can also turn that switch and take over a game.  Regardless of who I pick, my team has a pretty good shot at winning this pick-up game. My Take: LeBron

20. Who Is The Truer Heir to MJ? (Kobe wins 6-1)

I fully believe that Kobe is the closest player we will ever see to MJ.  LeBron is flashy, gets the crowd involved, and has some pretty cool basketball shoes, but the way Kobe handles himself and acts on the court is very much like MJ.  I do not think either will ever be considered better than MJ, but Kobe is closer. My Take: Kobe

21. Who Would Win A One-on-One Game? (Kobe wins 5-2)

Kobe has the best mid-range jumpshot in the NBA and that would be key for him winning a game against LeBron.  Bryant does an excellent job guarding James when the two meet in games so I do not think the size factor would come into play as much as one would think. My Take: Kobe

22. One Game, One Guy: Whom Would You Pick? (LeBron wins 4-3)

Just because of what Kobe has been through in his career, I give him the nod today.  In six years, I probably go with LeBron but he just is not experienced enough.  Sure, he has been to the Finals but look how he fared in that.  Kobe is as clutch in big games as they come.  My Take: Kobe

23. 24 Seconds to Play, Down Two: Who Gets The Ball? (Kobe wins 6-1)

The way I looked at this question was who is going to give me the best chance of tying the game up for my team.  That guy is LeBron.  No one is better than A) winding down the clock and pulling up from 25 feet out and B) driving to the hole and drawing a foul.  Because of those two factors, I’ll take LeBron getting me two points at the end.  My Take: LeBron

24. Who Gets The Last Shot? (Kobe gets 5-2)

Now this question is different from the last.  For a last second shot, outside of MJ, there is no one else’s hands I would want the ball in more than Kobe.  He is as clutch as they come and has the experience to take the last shot.  It would probably go in, too.  My Take: Kobe

Kobe and LeBron should go down as the second and third best players of all-time.

Kobe and LeBron should go down as the second and third best players of all-time.

25. Who Is Better? (LeBron wins 4-3)

Ugghhh, they would ask this at the end, wouldn’t they?  At the beginning of the year, I would drop everything to watch LeBron and within about two minutes of watching, he would have my jaw on the ground with something amazing he did.  However, the more I thought about it, being flashy does not make you better.

Don’t get me wrong, LeBron is right at the top of the list and you can clearly make a case for him as the best player basketball in the world.  The point is that even though LeBron can jump out of the gym and resurrect a franchise in five years, Kobe still does it all.

He has been through SO much in his career and still perseveres through it all.  Maybe he has me fooled, but I believe he is a great teammate and even better person that has everything you look for in a superstar.  My Final Take: Kobe

*It was interesting to note that of the 25 categories, LeBron had my vote in seven of the 11 non-basketball related questions.

When it came to basketball related questions, Kobe had seven of my votes compared to six for LeBron.  The two most important questions, in my opinion, also went to Kobe (more rings and last shot).

May 26, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers, NBA | , | 9 Comments

25 Questions For The Milwaukee Brewers

The Milwaukee Brewers were not expected to repeat last year’s success that culminated in a 90-72 record and a Wild Card berth.  However, 45 games into the 2009 season, the Brewers are clicking and hold a one game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals.  I am running short on time, so in 25 questions (=25 roster players) let’s take a look at what the Brewers have done this year and what lies ahead.

Craig Counsell has filled in nicely as a utility player for Ken Macha’s squad this year, but how many good innings can he play on those knees?

After trade rumors swirled in the off-season, Mike Cameron is enjoying his best year by far with the Brewers, but will his hot start hold up?

J.J. Hardy has been stellar in the field this year, but will his bat pick up enough to keep Alcides Escobar down?

It seems as though Yovani Gallardo is quickly becoming an ace for the Brew Crew as he holds a 4-2 record with a 3.32 ERA, but will he be up to the challenge of throwing countless innings into October?

Jorge Julio has eaten good innings for the Brewers, but will he ever be good enough to be used in a non-blowout role?

When Rickie Weeks went down for the year, Casey McGehee stepped in and has played very well as a stopgap at second base, but how long will his run last?

Trevor Hoffman has been as good as he can be, but will he wear down over the course of the year?

The new-comer Jody Gerut gives the Brewers a good glove in the field and a lefty bat off the bench, but can he give Ken Macha a good start every now and then?

Prince Fielder is having an outstanding year for the Brew Crew. Can he keep it up?

Prince Fielder is having an outstanding year for the Brew Crew. Can he keep it up?

Prince Fielder has trimmed down his weight but beefed up his numbers as he is second in the National League in RBI’s and walks, but will his average be good enough all year to warrant the walks?

Braden Looper started off the year blazing hot but should we believe his April (2-0, 2.46 ERA) or May (2-3, 6.04 ERA) stats?

Last year’s All Star Corey Hart has really struggled at the plate this year, but will he regain his plate discipline he had at the beginning of the year?

Dave Bush has been the second best pitcher for the Brewers and ranks 10th in the National League with a 1.11 WHIP, but will he ever pick up his performance on the road?

No one calls a better game than Jason Kendall, but is he going to be an automatic out all year?

Mark DiFelice is one of the main reasons why the Brewers have the third best bullpen ERA in the majors (3.51) as he sports a 1.31 ERA in 20.2 innings, but can he keep it up?

Recently called up veteran Frank Catalanotto will add good veteran depth to a young Brewers ballclub, but how much use will he actually get?

Ryan Braun has done everything asked of him and more and is the main key to the Brewers’ success at the plate this year, but will his continued antics get him a fastball to the noggin?

Carlos Villanueva has a rough start to the year in the closer’s role but has settled down since, sporting a 1.63 ERA in the month of May, but will he ever pitch in the clutch?

Breaking out of a 1-28 slump with a game-winning RBI single today, Bill Hall will hopefully rebound from a terrible start thus far, but how close is Mat Gamel to starting?

Todd Coffey is still mowing down hitters with a 2.95 ERA, but did he lose most of his value when Trevor Hoffman came back?

Manny Parra‘s stats do not completely do him justice as he has had five quality starts this year, but will those bad starts go away?

Mat Gamel has the bat to be the future five-hitter for the Brewers, but will his glove always be an issue?

No one seems to be talking about Milwaukee's Mitch Stetter as a great lefty-killer.

No one seems to be talking about Milwaukee's Mitch Stetter as a great lefty-killer.

Very quietly, Mitch Stetter is killing lefties (.115 BAA), but can he control the amount of walks he gives up?

Seth McClung has given good innings for the Brewers, but will he succeed if called upon for a spot start?

Jeff Suppan has been more consistent of late, but is his age starting to catch up to him?

Dubbed Dave Bush’s personal catcher, will Mike Rivera ever be more than a back-up?

May 25, 2009 Posted by | Baseball, Milwaukee Brewers, MLB | , , , | Leave a comment

National League Power Rankings: Top Five

1. Los Angeles Dodgers: 1st Place, 30-14

The Good: The Dodgers pitching staff has been unbelievable top to bottom this year and the results have showed.  Their starters have lost just seven games compared to winning 14 and their ERA is 3.57.

Chad Billingsley has been dominant this year and is an early candidate for the Cy Young.

Chad Billingsley has been dominant this year and is an early candidate for the Cy Young.

Chad Billingsley (6-1, 2.51 ERA, 63 K) is an early Cy Young candidate and has cemented himself as a top five pitcher in the National League.  As good as their pitching has been, the offense has been just as good.

They lead the National League with a .286 batting average and have driven in an NL-high 225 runs.  Juan Pierre has stepped in very nicely for Manny Ramirez, batting .378 in the month of May.  A quarter of the way into the season, they look like the team to beat in the National League.

The Bad: Obviously the 50-game suspension of Manny Ramirez will hurt the Dodgers while he is out, but the baggage he now carries the rest of the way may affect them as well.

Rafael Furcal has struggled mightily this year from the leadoff spot but there is hope he will find his swing.  On the other side of the ball, the record wouldn’t show it but the Dodgers have blown a league high 11 saves this year.

Jonathon Broxton has filled in nicely in the bullpen, saving 11 of 13 chances with a 1.17 ERA in 23 innings, though.  Even the bad is good with the Dodgers.

2. Milwaukee Brewers: 1st Place, 26-17

The Good: The bullpen has been nearly untouchable this year, and in the month of May has led the league in all major categories.  Trevor Hoffman has been a savior to the bullpen (just ask Charlie Villanueva how easy closing is) and Mark DiFelice has given great innings.

Yovani Gallardo has become the ace for the Milwaukee Brewers.

Yovani Gallardo has become the ace for the Milwaukee Brewers.

On the offensive side, Prince Fielder is second in the NL with 40 RBI’s and Ryan Braun is quietly putting up outstanding numbers.  Yovani Gallardo has been a bright spot to the pitching staff and is an ace in the making.

The Bad: The Brew Crew have not hit well for average this year (.255) and have only stolen 11 bases.  Losing leadoff man Rickie Weeks has hurt the Brewers but are making do without him.

The other big question mark is whether or not the starting pitching can continue their solid work.  They have a 4.42 ERA which ranks 11th in the National League and have hit a league high 17 batters.  They do rank second in quality starts but they have been quite inconsistent this year.

3. St. Louis Cardinals: 2nd Place, 26-18

The Good: Albert Pujols. Last year’s NL MVP has picked up right where he left off with 14 home runs and 38 RBI’s already to go along with a .331 batting average.

Top to bottom, the lineup hits for good average and finds ways to get runs in like Tony LaRussa likes to do.  Their starters have been at the middle of the pack to start the year and, despite injuries to Ryan Ludwick, Rick Ankiel, Chris Carpenter and Troy Glaus, their hot start has kept them afloat in the NL Central race.

Their bullpen sports a 3.88 ERA, good for third in the National League and has been key in close games.  Ryan Franklin has led the way with a 1.53 ERA in 18 appearances.

The Bad: With the injuries, the Cardinals’ offense has been average at best.  Their pitching has been outstanding as of late, but if the offense can not score runs, the pitching performances will mean very little.

If they can not stay healthy, the results will be the same and they will struggle to make the playoffs.  Pujols can do a lot, but not everything.

4. Philadelphia Phillies: 1st Place, 23-18

The Good: Raul Ibanez has made everyone in Philadelphia forget about Pat Burrell.  League leading 17 home runs and 43 RBI’s will do that to a fanbase.  Chase Utley and Ryan Howard have been doing their thing as well, with 11 and 10 homers each.

The top of the order has been great and a main reason why the Phillies are atop the East.  They also have the best fielding percentage in the majors and have committed just 12 errors all year.

The Bad: Unfortuantely there are more question marks than bright spots for the Phillies.  Jimmy Rollins is batting just .233 on the year and has just three home runs on the year.

The Phillies starters have the worst ERA in the National League at 6.12 and Brad Lidge has been terrible.  They are just 8-12 at home and will need Cole Hamels to regain his ace form if the Phillies do not want to be caught by the Mets.

Johan Santana has been nearly untouchable this year.

Johan Santana has been nearly untouchable this year.

5. New York Mets: 2nd Place, 23-19

The Good: David Wright and Carlos Beltran have led the way for the Mets on offense, but the real story has been the dominance of Johan Santana.  The Mets’ ace is 6-2 with a 1.50 ERA and 75 strikeouts so far this year.

Here’s a crazy stat for you: Johan Santana has given up zero earned runs combined in his two losses this year!  Closer Francisco Rodriguez is now back and he has continued to dominate this year as he leads the best bullpen in baseball.

The Bad: Jose Reyes has been just average this year but has seen his May numbers improve in most categories.

Carlos Delgado is expected to miss all of June and some of July after his hip surgery and leaves a big hole in the Mets’ lineup.  Daniel Murphy has had an OK year but has still failed to live up to his high expectations.

Fielding has also been a concern this year as the Mets have committed 35 errors on the year.

May 24, 2009 Posted by | Baseball, Milwaukee Brewers, MLB, Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals | , , , | 2 Comments

NBA Lottery Mock Draft 3.0

1. Los Angeles Clippers: Blake Griffin, PF, Oklahoma

The Clippers were the fortunate winners of the 25th NBA Lottery and are now coasting through the draft process as they wait to officially draft Griffin.  The consensus number one pick, Griffin will step in nicely with a core of young Clippers that could make some noise in a few years.

NBA Comparison: Amare Stoudemire

Other Options: Ricky Rubio

Previous Pick: Jordan Hill at #3

2. Memphis Grizzlies: Hasheem Thabeet, C, Connecticut

The Grizzlies jumped a lucky four spots in the Lottery and have to be pleased.  I still have a lot of faith in Mike Conley and I think the Grizzlies do as well.  Marc Gasol had problems on defense last year and should form a very good duo with the defensive star Thabeet.

NBA Comparison: Sam Dalembert

Other Options: Ricky Rubio, Jordan Hill

Previous Pick: James Harden at #6

Ricky Rubio will be one of two foreign point guards slotted to be taken in the top 5.

Ricky Rubio will be one of two foreign point guards slotted to be taken in the top 5.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder: Ricky Rubio, PG, DKV Joventut

A no-brainer here for the Thunder who take the next best player on the board and address a need.  Russell Westbrook can be moved to the shooting guard position and form a great core of young players.  The Thunder showed signs of greatness last year and may be just a few years away from turning the corner.

NBA Comparison: Rafer Alston

Other Options: James Harden

Previous Pick: Hasheem Thabeet at #4

4. Sacramento Kings: Jrue Holiday, PG, UCLA

I am not too high on Holiday as of right now, but he has the biggest ceiling of any point guard in the draft and fits the biggest need for the Kings.  After losing out on the top spot in the draft, Holiday is a boom-or-bust pick with loads of potential and will get the chance to start right away.

NBA Comparison: Rodney Stuckey

Other Options: Jordan Hill, Johnny Flynn

Previous Pick: Blake Griffin at #1

5. Washington Wizards: James Harden, SG, Arizona State

No one has helped their draft stock more than Harden, and he will fit in nicely with the Wizards.  In my last mock, I had Washington drafting a point guard and shifting Gilbert Arenas to shooting guard, but now a healthy Arenas can stay at the point and have the hot shooting Harden on the wing.

NBA Comparison: Ben Gordon

Other Options: Jordan Hill

Previous Pick: Ricky Rubio at #2

6. Minnesota Timberwolves: Brandon Jennings, PG, Italy

The Timberwolves fell back a place in the NBA Lottery but still get the chance to land their point guard of the future in Jennings.  Despite a poor season overseas, Jennings still has all the talent in the world.  He will form a great backcourt with Randy Foye as the Timberwolves continue to rebuild.

NBA Comparison: Allen Iverson

Other Options: Demar DeRozan, Jordan Hill

Previous Pick: Brandon Jennings at #5

Jordan Hill's ability to block shots has been needed in Golden State for quite some time.

Jordan Hill's ability to block shots has been needed in Golden State for quite some time.

7. Golden State Warriors: Jordan Hill, PF, Arizona

A pure value pick here for the Warriors who get a steal with Hill here.  While he is rising up many draft boards, his potential is not as high as others drafted before him which may cause him to slide.  Golden State gets a very good defensive player with a developing offensive game. What better place to go to develop your offense than Golden State?

NBA Comparison: Al Jefferson

Other Options: Tyreke Evans, Johnny Flynn

Previous Pick: Tyreke Evans at #7

8. New York Knicks: Stephen Curry, PG, Davidson

The one place where Curry’s defensive struggles will not be exposed as much is in New York so the Knicks take a chance on him.  His offensive game needs no introduction and in Mike D’Antoni’s system, his numbers could be off the chart on offense.

NBA Comparison: Mike Bibby

Other Options: Tyreke Evans, Gerald Henderson, Johnny Flynn

Previous Pick: Jeff Teague at #8

9. Toronto Raptors:Tyreke Evans, PG, Memphis

Tough pick here for the Raptors as I have them going with value.  Anthony Parker is more than likely leaving the Raptors next year via free agency and Evans is a good replacement.  He can play both guard positions and has outstanding size.  He is also great value right here.

NBA Comparison: Dwyane Wade

Other Options: Earl Clark, Demark DeRozan

Previous Pick: Gerald Henderson at #9

10. Milwaukee Bucks: Johnny Flynn, PG, Syracuse

I kept this pick the same for the Bucks because I really believe he should be the pick here.  The outside shot of nabbing the overall first pick is gone, so the Bucks should look to addressing the point guard position.  With Rubio and Jennings gone, Flynn is the next best option.

NBA Comparison: Tony Parker

Other Options: Earl Clark, James Johnson

Previous Pick: Johnny Flynn at #10

11. New Jersey Nets: Demar DeRozan, SF, USC

Another value pick here as the Nets grab the best all-around athlete in the draft.  DeRozan will win many dunk contests in the future, but a championship may be another story.  He is very raw and will take a few years to develop, but could be a defensive star.

NBA Comparison: Josh Howard

Other Options: James Johnson, Earl Clark

Previous Pick: Earl Clark at #11

Gerald Henderson really turned his game up the last few months of the year.

Gerald Henderson really turned his game up the last few months of the year.

12. Charlotte Bobcats: Gerald Henderson, SG, Duke

Henderson is the best shooting guard left and is the biggest need for the Bobcats.  A good draft could push the Bobcats into the playoffs next year, and they hope Henderson is the answer.  He really came on in the second half of the year and warrants a spot in the top 15.

NBA Comparison: Joe Johnson

Other Options: Wayne Ellington, James Johnson

Previous Pick: Wayne Ellington at #12

13. Indiana Pacers: Ty Lawson, PG, North Carolina

The Pacers were hoping for a pure big man, but at this spot no one jumps out at me as warranting a pick.  Lawson will come in and share time with Indiana who loves to rotate their point guards.  He lacks ideal size but should do a nice job in the NBA as he plays solid defense and runs the break very well.

NBA Comparison: Deron Williams

Other Options: James Johnson, DeJuan Blair

Previous Pick: Stephen Curry at #13

14. Phoenix Suns: Earl Clark, SF, Louisville

Clark is big enough to play the power forward position but athletic enough to be a small forward.  Sounds a lot like Shawn Marion, doesn’t it?  Clark’s size didn’t fit in well with the college game all the time, but if he can improve his jumper and get a little quicker, he could be the steal of the draft.

NBA Comparison: Josh Smith

Other Options: James Johnson, Austin Daye

Previous Pick: Ty Lawson at #14

May 22, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, Milwaukee Bucks, NBA, NBA Draft | , , | 3 Comments

J.J. Hardy: Turning It On For the Brewers

Manager Ken Macha said that shortstop J.J. Hardy did not play the first two games of May because he wanted Hardy to take some time off and get some rest to find his stroke.

Coming off an April in which Hardy batted .156 (12-77) and struck out (19) as many times as he got on base (12 hits and seven walks), the two days off to start May must have done something to the 26-year-old Tuscon native.

In 15 May games, Hardy is batting .333 with two home runs, 16 RBI’s, a .439 on-base percentage, and the Brewers are 13-2 in games he has played in.

Hardy is enjoying his best season defensively in the field and has made his fair share of inning-saving plays on his way to a .979 fielding percentage which ranks fourth amongst starting shortstops in the National League.

Hardy has also become more accustomed to his role in the sixth spot, hitting less for power and more for average.  Just watching Hardy this year, it is evident he is looking to get on base more than he is trying to hit the ball out of the park.

After a terrible April, J.J. Hardy seems to have finally found his stride at the plate.

After a terrible April, J.J. Hardy seems to have finally found his stride at the plate.

Last year, Hardy would draw a walk every 12.1 plate appearances while this year he is walking every 9.4 plate apperances.  He is striking out at a higher rate (every 5.8 PA’s) than he did last year (every 6.4 AB’s) but a lot of that can be blamed on his horrid April.  In May, Hardy has seven strikeouts in 54 at-bats, good for a 9.4 average.

A lot of talk about rising prospect Alcides Escobar may have pushed Hardy to work a little harder or he may just have found his stride in the month of May.  Either way, Hardy has stepped up big after an extremely slow start and entrenched himself as the starting shortstop for the Brewers.

Many scenarios have Hardy being moved around the infield, either to second base with Mat Gamel moving to third and Bill Hall to shortstop or to third with Escobar moving to shortstop.  While both are unlikely because of Hardy’s excellent arm and vaccuum glove, Ken Macha can sleep easy at night knowing Hardy’s bat is finally back.

May 20, 2009 Posted by | Baseball, Milwaukee Brewers, MLB | | Leave a comment

Green Bay Packers’ Roster Breakdown: Running Backs

Last year, Ryan Grant missed a large portion of the off-season and still ran for over 1200 yards, despite a makeshift offensive line and one of the best passing offenses in the league.

He will come into the year as the starter and will look to build on last year’s success and hopefully find the endzone a few more times than he did last year (four).  Backup Brandon Jackson became much better and finally showed glimpses of the second round pick he is supposed to be.

Ryan Grant will look forward to a full off-season to get ready for the season ahead.

Ryan Grant will look forward to a full off-season to get ready for the season ahead.

He came into camp last year much faster, stronger, and had added a good amount of muscle to his frame.  He was an excellent third down running back for the Packers and will likely see an increase in carries this year despite head coach Mike McCarthy not being a fan of the two back system.

There is some question about who will win the third running back spot, but my gut tells me it will be Kregg Lumpkin.  DeShawn Wynn and Tyrell Sutton are the other potential candidates for the spot, but Wynn’s time has run out and Sutton is an undrafted rookie that seems like more of a project.  Lumpkin is tremendously talented but has never seemed to stay healthy.

If he can make it through the pre-season without any injuries, he will be on the team.  If he continues his streak of injuries, Wynn will get the nod as the third running back.

At the fullback position, everything I hear says that fifth round selection Quinn Johnson will get every chance to start.

Fifth round draft choice Quinn Johnson is an absolute bruiser at the fullback position.

Fifth round draft choice Quinn Johnson is an absolute bruiser at the fullback position.

Standing in his way will be current starter Korey Hall who did an above average job last year at the position.  The odd man out looks to be John Kuhn who produced well but is replaceable at the position.

2009 Projections

Ryan Grant: 310 rushes, 1251 yards, 3.9 ypc, 6 TD’s

Brandon Jackson: 80 rushes, 320 yards, 4.0 ypc, 2 TD’s

Kregg Lumpkin: 5 rushes, 19 yards, 3.9 ypc, 0 TD’s

May 19, 2009 Posted by | Football, Green Bay Packers, NFL | , , | Leave a comment

What The Brewers Do (Potentially) Without Rickie Weeks

Yesterday, Rickie Weeks left the game against the Cardinals with a wrist injury.  The extent of the injury is unknown but Weeks is on his way to Phoenix to meet with Dr. Don Sheridan, a wrist specialist that has already performed surgery on Weeks twice.

The injury is in Weeks’ left wrist where he felt “a little pressure, a little tug” during his at-bat in the first inning.  Weeks struck out and did not come out for the bottom half of the inning.

Luckily, the injury that Weeks suffered to his wrist in 2006 was to his right wrist, so it does not look like this is a recurring injury.

Still, it’s hard not to fear the worst when thinking about the injury.  Afterall, the Brewers have raced out to a great start, Weeks has been one of the best hitters on the team, and for the most part the Brewers have stayed healthy.

While everyone hopes the injury is not serious and that Weeks will be out minimally, it is important to think about what happens when thinking about replacing the second baseman Weeks.

Let’s say Weeks has to go on the DL, which would put him out for the next 15 days.  The Brewers are pretty stacked in their bullpen and there are not many viable options for them to bring in.

R.J. Swindle was in the bullpen when Trevor Hoffman was out, but with Weeks being a position player I doubt anyone is added to the bullpen.

The best position player in the Brewers farm system is shortstop Alcides Escobar.  Known for his unbelievable defense, it would be interesting to see what happens to him if he were inserted into the lineup.

Alcides Escobar may be called up and make a couple starts at second base if Rickie Weeks is out for a while.

Alcides Escobar may be called up and make a couple starts at second base if Rickie Weeks is out for a while.

He is capable of playing every day but moving J.J. Hardy to second base does not make much sense and his glove is not as valuable away from shortstop.  Still, if the Brewers’ organization thinks he is ready to come up, he will.

The player that this injury affects the most (other than Weeks) is Craig Counsell.  The 38-year-old has started 12 games on the year and has appeared at second base twice this year, including yesterday.  He is batting .348 as a starter this year and will more likely than not see the majority of the time at second base.

If Weeks is supposed to miss a short amount of time, it is safe to think Counsell can get the job done for the next couple of weeks.  But if Weeks misses a large chunk of time (the year), Counsell can not be an every day starter.  What that would mean is Esocbar would see starts at second base when Counsell needed a day off.

The other position this injury may affect is third base, where Counsell started seven games up to this point.

Current third baseman Bill Hall is an every day starter but the 29-year-old gets a day off every now and then.  While AAA stud Mat Gamel was called up specifically for Designated Hitting duties when the Brewers travel to Minnesota next week, he may be expected to stay up and get a couple of spot starts at the hot corner.  If Counsell were to start at third of a Hall-off day, Escobar would be inserted at second.

Newcomer Casey McGehee is another option but he is not much more than a utility man and a last resort.  More of a third basemen, he can also play second base if needed and could see a spot start here and there.

Craig Counsell will start to see a lot more at-bats for the Brewers.

Craig Counsell will start to see a lot more at-bats for the Brewers.

The last question is what happens in the batting order.  Weeks was an outstanding leadoff man for the Brewers with nine home runs and a .340 on-base percentage.

In the only game Weeks did not start this year, April 8th against the Reds, Counsell started and Corey Hart batted second.  In 2007, Hart batted in the leadoff spot 55 times, batting .284 and 14 stolen bases in those appearances.

Last year, Hart hit leadoff in seven games but batted just .188.  It is worth noting that Ned Yost was the manager those last two years and that Ken Macha may have other ideas for the Crew.

Earlier in the year, however, when Ryan Braun two games with an abdominal strain, Hart hit leadoff with Weeks batting third.  My best guess is that Counsell will hit leadoff for the time being, but if Escobar gets called up he would more than likely bat seventh, with Hart moving up to the leadoff spot.

Everyone would like for this article to mean nothing and have Weeks come back within the week, but he did not sound too upbeat about the injury so we will have to wait and see what happens.

It might very well be time for the next wave of “Baby Brewers” to grow up on the run.

May 18, 2009 Posted by | Baseball, Milwaukee Brewers, MLB | , , | Leave a comment

Donald Driver: More Than a Game

Donald Driver, entering his tenth season for the Green Bay Packers, is closing in on a few all-time records for the Green and Gold.  He has six 1,000 yard receiving years and has racked up 43 touchdowns in his storied career as a Packer.  However, what gets lost in the stats and first down shimmys is how Driver got to this point.  This is his story.

Donald Jerome Driver was born to Marvin Driver and Faye Gray on February 2nd, 1975 in Houston, Texas.   It quickly became apparent that Driver had serious speed, as at an early age he was given the nickname ‘Quickie’ by his parents who got so tired of chasing him around the house.

The youngster learned a quick lesson of humility very early on in his life.  His mother would often skip meals to continue working late through the night and, at one point, Driver and his four other siblings lived in a U-Haul truck for days and nights on end. Driver also lived in numerous hotels that his mother paid for using food stamps, as well as living in friend’s houses and not knowing what tomorrow would bring.

Laying in his bed one night, shared with his brother, Driver told his brother he would get his family out of the hell they were living in.  After his parents divorced, his father went to jail and Driver turned to drug dealing as a way to cope with the tough times.

After spending many nights without parents and multiple holidays by himself, at the age of 14, Driver moved in with his grandmother Betty Lofton.  There, his grandmother made him attend church and bible study on a weekly basis.

It was then that Driver attended Milby High School in Houston, where he excelled in sports from the day he stepped on campus.  He was a four sport athlete, lettering in track, football, basketball, and baseball all four years.

His father was an outstanding football player who could have made it in the pros, but when his father died, he needed to support his wife and had to give up his dreams.  Driver would watch highlight tapes of his father that led to his interest in football.  In high school, Driver was an honorable mention All-State player in football and excelled in track and field.

To say that Donald Driver has been through tough times would be putting it very lightly.

To say that Donald Driver has been through tough times would be putting it very lightly.

Driver’s hard work on the field paid off as he received a four-year scholarship to attend Alcorn State University.  There, he became an Olympic class high jumper, topping out at seven feet, six inches.  He won the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) Athlete of the Year Award three years in a row.  Had he not taken up football as a profession, Driver could have qualified for the 2000 Summer Olympic Games.

On the gridiron, Driver showed just as much progress and production.  In his final year at Alcorn State, the senior caught 55 balls for 1,128 yards and ten touchdowns.  Going into the 1999 NFL Draft, he was just six feet tall and weighed 174 pounds and was considered by many more of a track star than someone that compete in the NFL.  However, the Green Bay Packers gave him a look in the seventh and final round of the draft, selecting him with the 213th overall pick.

Nine years and 577 catches later, Driver is the same person that laid in the bed next to his brother, promising to help his family out.  The only difference is that Driver is now helping others.

In 2000, Driver began the Donald Driver Foundation with the goal to “help change homeless family and education issues each day with strong hands that build and strengthen instead of destroy and weaken, with strong minds that invent new ideas to achieve these goals, and with loving hears that overflow with love and compassion.”

The foundation has helped 17 families purchase homes and assist in mortgages in the Green Bay and Houston areas and also provides ten $1,000 tuitions to students in Texas, Mississippi, and Wisconsin.

Driver has hosted fundraisers for the foundation that include the annual Donald Driver Golf Classic, the Celebrity 9-Ball Shootout, and the annual Donald Driver Football Camp.

In his nine year career, Driver has become one of the biggest NFL players to help in the community.

In his nine year career, Driver has become one of the biggest NFL players to help in the community.

In 2002, Driver was given the “Walter Payton Man of the Year Award” for the Packers for his work in the community.  He has been given numerous awards for other work that he has done and received a “JB Award” in 2007, named after CBS’ James Brown, given to a select few players in the league for their contributions to their communities.

He does not have the mouth of a Terrell Owens or the ego of a Chad Johnson.  Yet, the little known track star out of a small school in Mississippi has made it big in the NFL.  At 33 years old, Driver has not let up one bit and has stayed the Packers second best option on the offensive side of the ball.

A big part of why Greg Jennings does not have the wide receiver superstar ego has to be because of Driver.  He is an excellent mentor that has been through every rough patch out there and has no doubt helped in that regard.

To put it very lightly, Donald Driver understands hard work.  He also understands that sometimes it takes a little help from others to get through tough times in his life.  The stats speak volumes about Driver’s play on the field, but his cheek-to-cheek smile speak even louder about how grateful Driver is to be where he is at.  Shimmy on, Donald.  We’re all cheering for you.

May 17, 2009 Posted by | Football, Green Bay Packers, NFL | , | 2 Comments

Green Bay Packers Roster Breakdown: Quarterbacks

No one in the NFL was under more pressure to perform last year than Aaron Rodgers, and he did so in excellent fashion.  His final stats included 4,038 yards and 28 touchdowns as he made most Packers fans forget about the Brett Favre saga earlier that summer.

He will go into the season as the obvious starter and will look to avoid the sophomore slump, despite being in his fifth year.  He made smart decisions all year and played through a very tough shoulder injury that easily could have had him miss a start, but didn’t.

He proved to be a great fit for the Packers and meshed well with his weapons on offense.  He acts well beyond his years and is a true professional that still enjoys the game.

Aaron Rodgers will now be under extra pressure to perform after such a successful 2008.

Aaron Rodgers will now be under extra pressure to perform after such a successful 2008.

Backing up Rodgers, at least to start the year, will be last year’s seventh round draft choice Matt Flynn.  Flynn was not even a lock to make the team last year, as most thought the Packers would keep second round pick Brian Brohm and sign a veteran.

However, Flynn beat out Brohm and became the back-up which prevented a free agent to come in.  Flynn was two for five in his only playing time of the year against Tampa Bay, but Rodgers played in all 16 games last year so it was not a huge issue.

Flynn does not project to be more than a backup, but another year under his belt can not hurt if he has to start a game next year.

General manager Ted Thompson took some heat when he drafted Brian Brohm in the second round in last year’s draft.

The pick seems more confusing as Brohm was the third string quarterback for all 16 games last year.  However, Brohm will be just 24 years next year and should improve in his second season.

Remember, the year before he came out for the draft, he was considered one of the top picks in the draft.

2009 Projections

Aaron Rodgers: 350-540, 31 TD, 14 INT, 4,110 yards, 235 rushing yards

May 16, 2009 Posted by | Football, Green Bay Packers, NFL | , , | Leave a comment

Cubs and Brewers: All That Different?

Alright everyone, get your payroll jokes and your “Where’s your World Series Championship trophy?” jokes out of your system before you start reading.  Yes, since the Milwaukee Brewers came to be in 1969, they have not won a World Series and have won just a single pennant in that span.  And of course, living north of Chicago, we all know the Cubs are the greatest thing since sliced bread.  “Wrigley North” is a cute little joke for Cubbies fans who drive up to Miller Park to watch the Cubs play, even though they are jealous that we have a giant “TV” in center field that most 21st century stadiums call a jumbo-tron.  But enough on that and the jokes that Brewers fans take when they talk to Cubs fans.  My question is this: are the Brewers quickly closing the gap on Chicago’s loveable losers?

The Cubs opened the 2009 season with the third highest payroll in baseball at $134,809,000, good for second in the National League behind the New York Mets.  The Brewers on the other hand, began the year with a payroll of $80,182,502, good for 8th in the National League and 16th in the Majors.  So much does does $54,626,498 buy?  Apparently not a whole lot.  I went ahead and broke down each position from both teams to see where this $54 million is being spent.

Catcher

Cubs: Geovany Soto, .188 BA, 1 HR, 9 RBI, 0-5 SB, 4.84 CERA, $575,000

Brewers: Jason Kendall, .222 BA, 0 HR, 11 RBI, 4-17 SB, 4.19 CERA, $5,000,000

Geovany Soto is by far the better catcher than Jason Kendall and comes at a cheaper price.  The reigning NL Rookie of the Year has not done much at the plate this year and has failed to throw out a baserunner, but odds say that he will come around as the season progresses.  Behind the plate, Kendall gets the easy nod.  Talked about as one of the best catchers to pitch for in the league, Kendall calls a great game and has really improved his defense.  Still, based on the belief that Soto will turn things around, he gets the easy nod over Kendall. *CERA = Catcher’s ERA

First Base

Cubs: Derek Lee, .194 BA, 3 HR, 15 RBI, 0 E, 2.948 ZR, $13, 250,000

Brewers: Prince Fielder, .273 BA, 8 HR, 32 RBI, 0 E, 2.957 ZR, $7,000,000

Prince Fielder has become a much more complete player this year.

Prince Fielder has become a much more complete player this year.

I know Cubs fans love their man Derek Lee, but the fact of the matter is Prince Fielder has overtaken him in line behind Albert Pujols for the next best first baseman in the Central.  Lee has been awful at the plate this year and, at 34 years of age, this might be a sign more than a slump.  As for Fielder, he is finally putting some batting average to add to his early season RBI total.  He ranks third in the National League in RBI’s and, surprisingly enough, has had better range than Lee in the field.  Fielder has trimmed some weight down and become much faster as well, and the results have showed. *ZR = Zone Rating, (The percentage of balls fielded by a player in his typical defensive “zone,” as measured by STATS, Inc., via ESPN.com)

Second Base

Cubs: Mike Fontenot/Bobby Scales: .252 BA, 6 HR, 22 RBI, 2 E, 4.16 RF, $430,000

Brewers: Rickie Weeks: .282, 9 HR, 24 RBI, 6 E, 4.77 RF, $2,450,000

A no-brainer here as Rickie Weeks has finally broken out this year for the Brew Crew.  After five years of mediocre play, Weeks has finally defined himself at the plate thanks to hitting coach Dale Sveum and Willie Randolph.  Fontenot has been cold as of late and Scales is more of a fill-in than anything else.  One of the two will be optioned to AAA when Aramis Ramirez comes back, but either way Weeks is the easy choice here.  His defense is still shaky at times but he has made more great plays in the field and has covered a lot more ground then he did in the past. *RF = Range Factor, ((PO + A) * 9 divided by innings)

Shortstop

Cubs: Ryan Theriot: .297 BA, 5 HR, 17 RBI, 4 E, 3,32 RF, $500,000

Brewers: J.J. Hardy: .224 BA, 5 HR, 19 RBI, 3 E, 4.02 RF, $4,650,000

Ryan Theriot might be the most important player in the Cubs' lineup.

Ryan Theriot might be the most important player in the Cubs' lineup.

Theriot is probably having a career year right now, while Hardy is breaking out of an early season slump (to put it nicely).  If Lou Piniella had a brain, Alfonso Soriano would be batting third and Theriot would be on base for him, rather than the other way around.  Theriot is a great slap hitter and while his defense is shaky and he doesn’t have a huge arm, it gets the job done.  Hardy is batting .359 in the month of May after a .156 April and has started to turn things around.  Both of these players are perfect for their lineups and I give this matchup a push due to Theriot’s numbers at the plate and Hardy’s performance in the field.

Third Base

Cubs: Aramis Ramirez: .364 BA, 4 HR, 16 RBI, 1 E, 9.279 ZR, $16,650,000

Brewers: Bill Hall: .278 BA, 4 HR, 10 RBI, 3 E, 8.0 ZR, $6,925,000

While Bill Hall is having one of the best years of his career both in the field and at the plate, it’s hard to deny the best all around player on the Cubs the win here.  Ramirez, on the DL currently, was playing great baseball for the Cubbies and was keeping them afloat in the NL Central.  The loss of his bat in the lineup has been huge, but hopefully they can regain it sooner rather than later.  Willie Randolph has worked with Bill Hall in the field and it has really paid off for him.

Left Field

Cubs: Alfonso Soriano, .271 BA, 11 HR, 23 RBI, 4 A, 13.862 ZR, $17,000,000

Brewers: Ryan Braun, .322, 8 HR, 28 RBI, 1 A, 14.228 ZR, $1,032,500

Sorry Cubs fans, Braun is becoming one of the best left fielders in the game and it has showed this year.  It’s hardly a knock on Soriano who has had a great year thus far, but it’s hard to argue the numbers against Braun.  Both are pretty good in the field, with Soriano having more assists and a better arm but Braun having better range getting to balls.

Center Field

Cubs: Kosuke Fukudome, .340 BA, 4 HR, 17 RBI, 2 A, 2.58 RF, $12,500,000

Brewers: Mike Cameron, .304 BA, 7 HR, 19 RBI, 2 A, 3.13 RF, $10,000,000

If I am going to give Geovany Soto the benefit of the doubt on improving, I have to do the opposite with Fukudome.  We have all seen this story before: Fukudome comes out on a tear and hits everything in sight.  If Fukudome keeps this up, I will retract my statements but I just don’t see it happening.  As for Cameron, he is having a career year at the plate and has played Gold Glove defense.  Cameron takes Fukudome in every stat but batting average, but Cameron’s .303 average is pretty good.  Advantage goes to Cameron here.

Mike Cameron is having a career year for the Brewers.

Mike Cameron is having a career year for the Brewers.

Right Field

Cubs: Milton Bradley, .194 BA, 4 HR, 8 RBI, 1 A, 14.594 ZR, $7,000,000

Brewers: Corey Hart, .264 BA, 3 HR, 14 RBI, 0 A, 14.293 ZR, $3,250,000

Something that wasn’t put in the stats was the fact that Hart is sixth in the National League with 27 runs scored.  Hart played 156 games last year and has only missed one game this year, due to rest.  Bradley has had a terrible start to the year and has already missed 14 games this year.  While he is currently riding a seven game hitting streak, Hart has done just fine and is playing better than Bradley.  Even if Bradley picks up his game, Hart will put up similar numbers.

Starting Pitching

Cubs: Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly, Ryan Dempster, Rich Harden, Sean Marshall, $48,200,000

Brewers: Yovani Gallardo, Jeff Suppan, Manny Parra, Dave Bush, Braden Looper, $22,340,000

Cubs: 16-8, 4.13 ERA, 188 SO, 73 BB, 1.29 WHIP

Brewers: 13-10, 4.24 ERA, 166 SO, 79 BB, 1.31 WHIP

There’s no question that the Cubs have the better starting rotation and it is the Cubs best argument to why they are better than the Brewers.  Gallardo is pitching the best of the ten starters mentioned above, but after that the Cubs probably take the next three or four starters before mentioning Dave Bush.  The Brewers lead the league in quality starts, and by no means have the Brewers starters been bad, but rather that the Cubs live and die by their starters.

Ted Lilly is enjoying an excellent start on the mound this year.

Ted Lilly is enjoying an excellent start on the mound this year.

Relief Pitching

Cubs: Neal Cotts, Carlos Marmol, David Patton, Angel Guzman, Aaron Heilman, Kevin Gregg

Brewers: Mark DiFelice, Todd Coffey, Jorge Julio, Mitch Stetter, Carlos Villanueva, Trevor Hoffman

Cubs: 4-6, 5.21 ERA, 97 SO, 67 BB, 1.58 WHIP

Brewers: 8-4, 3.87 ERA, 87 SO, 46 BB, 1.31 WHIP

As good as the Cubs starters are compared to the Brewers, the opposite can be said when it comes to relief pitching.  Part of the reason the Brewers have been so good this year has been the work of the bullpen.  Mark DiFelice has been unhittable and Trevor Hoffman has eight saves on the year with a 0.00 ERA.  On the other hand, the Cubs two main bullpen pitchers have been less than stellar.  Carlos Marmol has a 4.24 ERA and has 17 walks in as many innings.  Kevin Gregg, the team’s closer, has been average with a 3.86 ERA and just six saves.

What It All Means

As much smack talk as Cubs fans would like to talk about the Brewers and how they will never compete, the fact of the matter is that Doug Melvin has assembled a team that is full of young, talented, and experienced players that are ready for the long haul this year.  The Cubs have a shot to win the NL Central, just as the Cardinals, Reds, and Brewers do.  They are still one of the most talented teams and have one of the best rotation in the National League.  But the Brewers are putting the pieces together and seem to have finally arrived, and if they can stay healthy, a Division Championship is not out of the question.

May 15, 2009 Posted by | Baseball, Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee Brewers, MLB | , , , , , | 2 Comments

NBA Draft Player Preview: Dominic James

During the 2008-2009 college basketball season, no player endured more ups and downs than Marquette University’s Dominic James did.  The Golden Eagles were ranked 8th in the nation going into a game against Connecticut, but in the first half James came down funny and broke his foot.  He did, however, make a valient return in what would be Marquette’s final game of the year against Missouri in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

That kind of tenacity that James showed throughout the year is the same thing that any NBA team that selects the 5’11” senior from Richmond, Indiana will get.  On the year, James averaged 11 points, 3.4 assists, and five rebounds per game and averaged a team high 2.1 steals.

James’ obvious position in the NBA will be at the point guard position and, due to his lack of height but athleticism, would do a well in an up-tempo offense.  His court vision was one of the best in the nation this past year and he sported one of the best assist-to-turnover ratios in college basketball.  With such a point guard heavy draft class, it will be tough for James to find a stop on an NBA roster, but it is hard to deny his positives.

It is very tough to find a comparison in the NBA to James, but the player closest to his type of game is Nate Robinson of the New York Knicks.  Robinson is enjoying a breakout season this year, and while he is more of a jumpshooter than James, the similarities are there.

First and foremost, Robinson’s leaping ability is something everyone in the league knows about.  Winner of this year’s dunk contest, Robinson can also get up on rebounds and blocks and plays very solid defense, all things (his height) considered.  The same goes for James who became Marquette’s best defender last year.

Because of Robinson’s lack of size, the quickness that he shows in games all but made up for it.  More times than not, James was the smallest player on the court but consistently blew by defenders that opened up shots for himself as well as lanes for open teammates.

Because of his great leaping ability, Robinson does not get blocked nearly as much as one would think, and James is the exact same way.  James plays above the rim and surprises a lot of defenders with his hang time.  Neither players shoot great percentages from the field, but neither take that many shots.

In Mike D’Antoni’s system in New York, Robinson was free to run the court and play a lot of transition basketball.  When Buzz Williams came to Marquette this year, the tempo was turned way up and the Golden Eagles thrived.

Differences between Robinson and James are seen when jump shots come into play.   While Robinson always had a lower field goal percentage, his three point percentage was always very solid and had a nice mid-range game to go with it.  His speed allowed him to come off screens and take jumpers, and it has worked for him in New York.

James may struggle with finding his own shot in the NBA because he has trouble with defenders on him.  He gets good elevation on jump shots but his body is usually leaning back, causing a miss.  If James does not improve his jump shooting, his stay in the Association will be short lived.

The other area that needs a massive makeover is in the free throw shooting department.  James shot 46.1 percent from the line last year, something that was really a back breaker considering how many times James went to the line.  He is going to make his money off going to the hole, and in the NBA that means getting fouled.

He seems to fade away when he goes to the stripe and hopefully whichever team he goes to will fix the issue.  Robinson shoots 84 percent from the line for the Knicks currently, something that has slightly improved for him since his college days.

On the defense side of the ball is where James will start to get looks.  Leading your team in steals when you have a guy like Jerel McNeal in the starting lineup is quite a feat.  Two times this year James held his opposing point guard to zero points (Cincinnati and West Virginia).  James also came up with the occasional block and stepped up great in crunch times situations.

Dominic James might be just as valuable on defense as he is running the point on offense.

Dominic James might be just as valuable on defense as he is running the point on offense.

He really stepped up his game defensively when he realized he was really the fourth scoring option behind McNeal, Wesley Matthews, and Lazar Hayward.  It’s the kind of selflessness that James showed that makes him such a team player and an even better leader.

One thing that will entice many NBA scouts that may get overlooked in draft camps are the leadership qualities that James possesses.  One thing you want from a point guard is confidence, and if there is one thing James has, it’s that.  He is a great motivational leader and is very vocal with his teammates helping them out.

Teammate Wesley Matthews attributed his success in the last season to James calling him out and letting him know what he needed to do to help the team win.

When James went out with his injury, head coach Buzz Williams let James sit in his chair for the remainder of the season as a coach.  Not only did James encourage his teammates better than any fan could have (as seen in the Villanova game), but he also took on a coaching role that Williams admits helped him a ton.

James has a very high basketball IQ that translates to smart decisions in games.  He might not have had the best stats in the nation last year, but no point guard in the nation, minus Ty Lawson, meant more to his team than James did.  The value that the senior has to any team that may pull the trigger on him will be the same.

He probably is not going to start in the NBA but can be a valuable asset coming off the bench, a great practice player, and an even better attitude in the locker room.

My Prediction: 2nd Round, 57th Overall to the Phoenix Suns

May 14, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, Boston Celtics, College Basketball, Marquette Golden Eagles, NBA, NBA Draft | | Leave a comment