"Like Mike Tyson, Gary Sheffield Will Eat Your Children if He Has To": Detroit Tigers 2007 Season Preview

I'll give you one simple reason the Tigers are the team to beat in the AL Central and very possibly the whole AL this year: Gary Sheffield. This is a team that made it to the World Series last year, and only improved in the off-season, adding a guy who is so hellbent on proving something to the Yankees, baseball GMs, his mom, you name it, that I wouldn't be surprised if he hits 40 homers and drives in 120. I don't care that he's 38 and coming off a drastically injury-shortened season. Adding Sheffield to a lineup that was already formidable and to a team with a young pitching staff which only seems to be getting better makes for a scary, scary opponent. Kudos to you, Dave Dombrowski. I hate you and your resurgent Tigers.

Here's the deal: everyone and their brother is predicting a drop-off for the 2007 Tigers, pointing mainly to their mediocre second-half record last year and the inevitability of a regression to the mean for the pitching staff. I don't buy either one.

First of all, teams regularly put together wildly disparate first and second half splits. It may just be because I haven't looked hard enough (read: I haven't looked at all), but I haven't seen anything that proves to me that a bad second half one year translates into a bad year the next year. Maybe it's just the skeptic in me, but I doubt there's a significant correlation.

Second, just because the White Sox experienced a pitching staff regression from 2005 to 2006 doesn't mean it's going to happen for the Tigers. People will keep squawking about Kenny Rogers' age, Verlander's injury risk, and all that other junk, but guess what? Every pitching staff has holes, even the ones that look invincible (see also: 2006 White Sox). Sure, Kenny Rogers out until July with blood clots will test the starting rotation, but a playoff-experienced Bonderman is poised for a breakout year, and I think the Tigers staff (if Rogers can come back healthy and effective) can match up favorably with any staff in the majors.

That said, if the Tigers have problems, it'll be with pitching. They are shaping up an awful lot like the 2006 White Sox--coming out of the gate guns-a-blazin' only to finish the regular season the year before, improvement on offense through the addition of a big name slugger (Thome, Sheffield), a pitching staff prone to regression--which is not necessarily a good thing for Tigers fans.

Bottom line is this, though: the Tigers got better with the addition of Sheffield while no other team in the Central made moves to significantly improve. That fact alone should allow Leyland's squad to contend for the division and head to the playoffs for the second straight year. Heady times in Motown indeed. Forget about the Indians (they still haven't sold me--potential doesn't equate to playoffs) and Twins (they're really gonna miss Liriano and Radke), I'm worried about the Tigers.


"We Just Invested $50 Million in Gary Matthews, Jr. What of it?":Los Angeles Angels 2007 Season Preview

Whew. It's a sprint to the finish here as I close out the previews of the AL West with all of 4 days remaining until Opening Day. Come hell or high water, that killer White Sox post is going up April 2.

And come hell or high water, Gary Matthews, Jr. is going to deny that he ever used performance-enhancing drugs. I'm not saying he did or he didn't--in fact, if I had to guess, I'd say he didn't. Hell, if he did, I'd hope he'd put up bigger numbers than he did in his so-called "career year": 19 homers, 79 RBI, and a .313 average. This from a guy who, over 8 major league seasons, is a career .263 hitter with a total of 78 homers and 315 RBIs. To put that in some perspective, Pujols or Ortiz match those numbers in roughly 2 years. Yeah, Matthews plays a good defensive centerfield too, but good defense on a 32-year-old journeyman do not a 5-year, $50 million contract make. Or at least it shouldn't. While Angels fans groan at Matthews' 2007 line of 15 homers, 70 RBI, and a .280 average, they can at least take solace in their other big offseason acquisition, Shea Hillenbrand, who's happy to be in LA. Or not. Ugh. At least one person is happy to have Shea in LA.

Switching gears to the pitching staff, John Lackey is better than I imagined him to be. I guess I'm as guilty as the next guy of ignoring the West Coast. The rest of the staff isn't too shabby either, with Ervin Santana (who is poised for a breakout year--take note, fantasy team owners), Jered Weaver (I see a sophomore slump coming), and he of the tagging-with-the-empty glove Kelvim Escobar (thanks, Kelvim! White Sox fans everywhere send their love).

I'm not even going to say much about Bartolo Colon, because he is done. Cooked (insert fat joke here). If they're smart, the Angels won't count on him for anything besides eating more than his share of the spread in the clubhouse (hey, look, I did make a fat joke about Bartolo Colon! Too fun to resist. I'm so original.) If the rotation can get it to Speier, Shields, and K-Rod, the Angels will win a lot of games. Too bad I already picked the Mariners to win the West. That was probably really dumb. Oh well.

But other than Matthews and Hillenbrand, what else is going on in the Angels' lineup? Well, Garret Anderson is 34, but he might as well be 44 as brittle as he's been the past few years. I always kinda liked Anderson, but his best years are way, way behind him. Casey Kotchman and Howie Kendrick could have breakout years, but that's asking a lot.

Vladi will post his standard year, hitting his 30 homers, driving in 110, and batting over .300, but I'll just never look at Vladi the same after he choked against the ChiSox in the 2005 playoffs.
Vladi looked absolutely lost at the plate in that series. Even if the Angels manage to weasel their way into the playoffs, I just don't foresee them going to the Series--not when you've got the Yanks, Red Sox, White Sox, and Tigers to contend with. Sorry, Tom Verducci. It ain't gonna happen, not even with help from the rally monkey, which, really, should be retired already, right? That damn monkey is tied with the thunder sticks, right behind the tomohawk chop, as the most obnoxious crowd activity in baseball. End it already. We need to see more of Clutch and Scoop, mascots whose names remind us how Vladi rearranges his testicles before hacking at a pitch. Ahh, Clutch and Scoop...


A Magical Night With Minnie Minoso

I recently asked one of our best friends, frequent commenter and college roommate,the Notorious B.O.B. to write a post for us if he ever had anything to say. Bob claims to be a White Sox fan, yet recently moved to Wrigleyville. He's also got a long list of great stories. For example, this one:

The other night, two of my friends who live on the Southside - one right across from U.S. Comiskular - had to pick up some Blackhawks tickets in Wrigleyville that they bought on EBAY, so I met up with them for a drink. One of the guys, Chris, was on crutches so we went to the closest bar to where he parked. Unfortunately, this turned out to be Sluggers on Clark St. And so the story begins...

It's a Wednesday night so there are maybe 20 people in the bar and one of them is the eternally annoying Ronnie Woo-Woo. I only mention this because the whole night had a weird feel, and running into Mr. Woo-Woo only contributed to that feeling. After a beer or ten I notice this wrinkly old man come stumbling in and walk over to the closed down kitchen and make himself a sandwich. After we mention that we are all Sox fans the bartender informs us that the old guy is former White Sox Hall-of-Famer Minnie Minoso.

After finishing his sandwich, he came up to the bar and started talking to my two friends and I in his crazy broken English about God knows what and I couldn't help but ask myself "Why is Minnie Minoso at Sluggers in Wrigleyville...on a Wednesday night...making a sandwich for himself...and talking to me at the bar?"

Turns out Minnie lives down the street and knows the owner, which explains the sandwich thing, I guess. But the best part about the evening is that Minnie Minoso won't stop talking. He's got opinions on everything involving baseball. A few highlights from roughly two hours of conversation:

- Minnie Minoso feels none of the current records (HRs mostly) should count because they play more games in a season now a days. He says even Maris' record of 61 in a season shouldn't count. Which he kept referring to Maris as Mantle, but I knew what he meant.

- He then completely contradicted this stance by saying he was a better player than Jackie Robinson and Luis Apricio because he had better stats in every category except HRs and AVG. Of course, Minnie played like 45 seasons so that would probably explain why.

- He was still upset about Ozzie Smith making the all star game one year when he had a .190 avg at the break. I have no idea how this came up.

- He is really upset that Major League teams don't "call-up" their Triple-A managers when there is a vacancy at the Major League level for manager instead of hiring some other teams bench coach. I think he may have managed in the minors because he went on and on about this. Basically, he's saying that there's no motivation for the managers in the minors because they make less than the players and have no way to move up to the bigs. He made some good points but I just don't know if I'm ready for Razor Shines to take over when Ozzie leaves. He kept bringing up how the Dodgers only had 3 managers over a 60 year period (which ended with Lasorda). Not sure how that point was relevant but Minnie was kinda hard to follow. I mean, the guy is like 80 years old.

- He mentioned something I didn't realize and have never heard brought up before. He was talking about how he had a few seasons where he stole over 100 bases and then he explained that back when he played the rules for a pick-off move/balk were different and it was almost impossible to pick guys off. He also gets really pissed when he sees a guy steal third with less than two outs. I can't say I've seen it happen that often because it is pretty stupid but he accused Rickey Henderson of doing it a lot. I'll have to take his word on that but it wouldn't surprise me. Rickey is Rickey.

- He told a story about how he was at a Memorabilia show years ago and Barry Bonds was a few booths over and I guess Bonds sent over one of his people to tell Minnie that if he wanted to come meet Bonds he may have an opening in an hour. Minnie said Bonds ought to asking to meet Minnie not the other way around. Ever since then "Minnie no like Bonds". I know that a story of Bonds being a dick comes as a bit of a shock to some of you, but Minnie wouldn't lie.

- On the topic of Breaking Aaron's record Minnie once again explained that Aaron's record shouldn't count because he played in more games than The Babe. He didn't seem to care about Bonds being on steroids, only that he played in too many games for the record to count. Either way, we agreed Bonds is a worthless piece of shit (I may be paraphrasing there).

So there you go. The first athlete interview for FTG done by your correspondent in Chicago. One other note that really capped off the wacky Wednesday festivities was that at the end of the night my friend Tom went and got the car and pulled it around in front of Sluggers so Chris didn't have to go as far on his crutches. A nice gesture indeed...until he hit the "autolock" instead of "unlock" and locked the keys in the running car parked in the middle of Clark Street. We eventually found a hanger and opened the car but there is nothing more demeaning than having to explain to everyone honking that the reason you can't move the car is that the keys are locked inside.

"At Least We Have Something to Bitch About Besides Politics": Washington Nationals 2007 Season Preview

Man, I'm starting to think these season previews were a bad idea. What the hell do I know about the Nationals? Not much. I know they have at least three former Reds (Austin Kearns, Felipe Lopez and the newly acquired Dmitri Young) and the Reds' former GM (Jim Bowden). Also I know that Jim Bowden is a douchebag and likes to wear leather pants and occasionally gets arrested after drunken domestic disputes. Also, I hate him. The Nats (can I call them the Gnats?) picked up Dmitri just a few weeks ago after suddenly realizing that it was the spring and they had no first baseman after Nick Johnson (whose picture says "I will rape your dog") broke his femur. Shouldn't it be somebody's job to give a heads up on that one? Honestly, I always liked Young when he was in Cincinnati. He's a born hitter, and while the past few years have been rocky, I think the folks in the District of Columbia are pretty accustomed to forgiving a little past indiscretion.

Of course, Kearns and Lopez went over to D.C. in a trade that I'd try not to think about. But, in the Reds' blogosphere it's often still often referred to as "the trade" which basically came down swapping two serviceable major leaguers for an pitcher with a bad elbow, a prospect and Royce Clayton (don't get me started on him). The crazy thing was, it almost made sense at the time. Of course, in the long run it turned out to be a complete train-wreck. So, Nationals fans enjoy our guys. You got us this time. Oh, and any more mugshots of Jim Bowden would be greatly appreciated. Plenty of room left on the dartboard.

Got questions about the Gnats rotation? Take a look at the second paragraph of this article in the Washington Post. Apparently Washington is going to banking on Jason Simontacchi to play a large part in their rotation. What?!! He's 33 years old and hasn't pitched in a major league game since a few innings in 2004. And he's hurt. Wow. When do they sign Dave Burba? The "ace" of the rotation is John Patterson who, of course, is coming off an injury last year. But I guess we can hope for a repeat of 2005. That year he started 31 games, had a 3.13 ERA and managed only nine wins. If you're not paying attention, that means the team behind him was crap.

There's just nothing exciting about this team. They have some guy named "Nook" playing center field and a whole bunch of other mediocre talent. I guess the prospect of screaming "Got a frozen rope? Just Nook it!" is fun to me, but I enjoy really terrible jokes, it's part of my charm. Other than that, I'm at a loss. This team sucks. I hope the whole "we have a baseball team, we don't care how shitty they are" thing hasn't worn of in Washington yet, because the Nationals will finish last in the east. Or, I'll eat my hat. Or, some other antiquated saying.

"Here's Hoping We Finish Ahead of the D-Rays": Baltimore Orioles 2007 Season Preview

Here's also hoping we don't see much of these horrible, horrible orange uniforms this season from the O's. Maybe the idea was to draw attention away from the O's mediocre pitching, mediocre lineup, and their destiny to finish, at best, fourth in the AL East. Unfortunately, it probably won't work. As depressing as it must be to be a D-Rays fan, I'd take them over the O's any day.

Here's what O's fans have to look forward to: a continually disgruntled Miguel Tejada; a Corey Patterson who's infinitely more valuable in fantasy lineups than in real-life lineups; 400+ at-bats for both Jay Payton and Kevin Millar, guys who will contribute next to nothing; guys in Aubrey Huff and Melvin Mora who will most probably futilely struggle to regain their career year forms (2003 and 2004, respectively); a bullpen that can't possibly live up to their ridiculous contracts (they've committed $41.5 million over the next 3 years to Danys Baez, Jamie Walker, and Chad Bradford); a rotation consisting of erstwhile Yanks albatross Jaret Wright, oldster Steve Trachsel, youngster wildcards Adam Loewen and Daniel Cabrera, and a staff "ace" of Erik Bedard; and last, but certainly not least, 50+ games against the Yankees, Red Sox, and Blue Jays. Yikes.

The bright spots in Baltimore are considerably less numerous: Chris Ray has emerged as a potentially great closer (we all know how fleeting that kind of success can be, though); 23-year-old Nick Markakis came out of nowhere to have a pretty promising rookie effort last year; Brian Roberts may be more fully recovered from elbow surgery this year; Ramon Hernandez just may continue to be a really productive catcher; and Jay Gibbons reminds me of past fantasy baseball victories. Sadly, none of these things will fix a franchise that Peter Angelos has driven into the ground.

The bottom line is that the O's are moving in the wrong direction in the toughest division in baseball (I know Hawk Harrelson and many others will fight me on this, but I still would much rather play in the AL Central than the AL East), particularly when you consider that the Yanks, Red Sox, Blue Jays, and D-Rays are all getting better. The O's will be lucky to finish fourth this year. And that's just plain embarrassing. Where, oh where have you gone, Cal Ripken?


"In King Felix We Trust": Seattle Mariners 2007 Season Preview

First it was Randy Johnson jumping ship in 1998. Then Griffey in 2000. Then A-Rod in 2001. And now, six years later, the Mariners have to deal with the deathblow of losing Gil Meche. It must be rough to be a Mariners fan. They're probably all crying into their Starbucks' lattes right now, asking over and over again, "Why, oh why couldn't we have just offered Gil Meche $60 million over 5 years and kept him around? How foolish and cavalier of you, Bill Bavasi."

In all seriousness though, the Mariners should mostly be worried about squandering Ichiro's prime years, and pissing him off with their lackluster play in the process. It probably wouldn't be the worst thing in the world if the 33-year-old Ichiro did jump ship after this season. Even though he'll probably keep hitting into old age like Tony Gwynn, he is on the wrong side of 30 and will probably want a ton of money over a lot of years (this should perk up the ears of pretty much only Red Sox and Yankees fans). But I don't really know where that leaves the Mariners. They seem like a team without a plan. Or maybe just a team without a very good plan.

What makes me say such negative things about the Mariners, you ask? Well, partly because I have negative things to say about a lot of teams, my own White Sox included. But also because the Mariners threw a ton of money at Adrian Beltre coming off a career year a couple years ago and have followed that up this off-season by signing veteran projects like Jose Guillen and Jose Vidro.

Vidro, as you might recall, is the guy who forced Soriano into Washington's outfield last year. And now he's slated to DH for the Mariners. Maybe it's just me, but a second baseman whose career offensive year was way back in 2000 when he hit all of 24 homers and drove in 97 (he hit 7 homers each in injury-shortened 2005 and 2006 seasons) doesn't strike me as the greatest use of the DH in the world. Guillen, when he's not injured or making trouble, is a 25 homer 90 RBI guy, which isn't bad, but it's a big gamble.

As suspect as those gambles are, I still think the lineup is pretty decent in a mediocre AL West. I could be making this up, but I don't think either the Angels or the A's--the two horses in the West the past few years--did much to get better in the offseason (I could make fun of Anaheim's--yes, Anaheim, not LA--signing of Gary Matthews, but I'll hold that in abeyance for a bit). Ichiro's gonna get on base all the time, Richie Sexson will hit his 35 homers and strike out 150 times, Raul Ibanez will quietly continue to overachieve (in a career year last year, he hit 33 homers and drove in 123--who knew???), and Kenji Johjima can build on an impressive rookie season. It's a lineup that'll be passable whether or not Vidro and Guillen perform, and a little above average if they do.

Where the Mariners' season will live or die is, I think, in the rotation. How serviceable will Jarrod Washburn be? Will King Felix live up to the hype after a disappointing rookie campaign? (If his fantasy draft ranking is any indication, Yahoo! and ESPN sure think he will). Will Jeff Weaver be the sucky glove-eating Jeff Weaver we all know and love, or will he continue his playoff impersonation of a decent pitcher? What the hell can anyone expect from Miguel Batista and Horacio Ramirez?

Chances aren't that great, but I think if the Mariners want to sniff the playoffs, this year is the year--2008 and '09 don't look all that promising. So with that, I'm picking the M's to win the AL West and promptly lose in the Divisional playoffs. Go ahead an laugh. They're a dark horse to be sure, but anything can happen out West.


"Let's Go Out There And Make Ben Franklin Proud": 2007 Philadelphia Phillies Season Preview

Yo! Welcome to Philly where we love our teams until they inevitably lose every year. Then we pelt them with profanity.... Okay, I don't know this to actually be the truth. I've never been to Philly, I don't even know anybody from Philly, but I'm doing this preview anyway. Another guy not from Philly who doesn't appear to understand the plight of their fans is Jimmy Rollins. He must have not watched any Philly sports for the past twenty years or so because he claimed during the offseason that the Phillies are the "team to beat". Bold statement. It takes a man who has not been pelted with batteries to say something like that. Somehow a man with absolutely zero post-season at-bats in his career thinks it would be a good idea to run his mouth. The confidence is nice, but he needs back it up. Let's just say they better win the World Series before Rollins makes any Campbells Soup commercials with his mom.

Elsewhere, the questions (stop me if you've heard this) are basically the holes in the lineup and the starting pitching. More specifically, the problem with the Phillies lineup is the Phillies outfield. After they got rid of Abreu they're looking at Aaron Rowand, Pat Burrell and Shane Victorino. Nobody expects Rowand to hit and Victorino had a pitiful .760 OPS last year in his first real season in the bigs. Pat Burrell has the honorable distinction of being one of my "sleeper" late round picks in our fantasy draft last week. Of course ever since then all I've read is how he's complete shit. The Harball Times preview today asserted without question that he only only has "40 good swings a season". Ummm, is that possible? I feel like I need a Bull Durham speech right now. Ugh.

And, don't let me forget to mention Freddy Garcia. That's right, the big fella came over from the Chi Sox after what really was a reasonably good season. 17 wins? How do they let that go? Hopefully it wasn't for the money. For the record, Garcia will make $10 million this year while Eric Milton is making $9 million. Big sigh. Beyond that, I kind of like the Cole Hamels/Brett Myers combo and Jamie Moyer might need a walker to get out to the mound, but he will probably still give you innings (over six per start last year). Plus, I hope he gets on base occasionally. I love the idea of watching a 44 year old pitcher who spent 10 years in the AL run the bases.

Well, there you have it. Another flawed team in the National League. But, they have some young talent and some vets holding it together. Will they hit? Yeah some. Will they get pitching? Yeah, enough. So, I'm taking them to win the division. I just think they've got the tools to sustain winning throughout the season. Maybe Jimmy Rollins won't have to eat his words after all.


Gophers are Substantially Less Ferocious than Wildcats

Ohhhhhh Tubby. Tubby, Tubby, Tubby.....

I feel obligated to write a post here because I've been a UK fan my entire life. But, I have decidedly conflicted feelings about the end of the Tubby Smith era. It's certainly been a tumultuous last few years. From complaints about recruiting to a super highly rated incoming class in 2004 back to complaints and stories of player infighting and toxic personalities it's been tough to follow this team, particularly the past two years when the results have been less than stellar.

Lexington has had a buzz about it for a while. I really believe that the mood of the common man the media are distinctly different. This, of course, is based solely on my personal opinion. But I didn't talk to a single person at work today when the news came down the pike whose first reaction was "wow, that's a shame." The biggest reaction was relief.

The homers in the media always loved Tubby, and their arguments certainly hold water, particularly in terms of stats, to back it up. But, nine years with no Final Four appearances is what incited such animosity with irrational fans. It should be noted, however, that nobody disliked Tubby the man. He's a great guy; gracious and polite and never once had a disparaging thing to say about the state or the fans. Never once was he responsible for a black mark on the institution.

So why am I glad to see him go? Well, looking back, the Smith era at UK strikes me as similar to an organ transplant that just didn't take. It started off so well, but eventually was doomed to fail. Kentucky needs a big time coach with a big time personality. Tubby never had a strong enough personality or that proverbial "chip on his shoulder". And, you know what? It's hard to find guys like that. I certainly wish Tubby well and I'm sure he'll be successful with Minnesota.

Now, the real fun starts. It's like Christmas Eve around here. We get a new coach under the tree. Imagine you've asked for a G.I. Joe action figure. Who knows if you're going to get Snake Eyes or Duke? Either is completely awesome. Let's just hope your parents don't try to get you the knock-off series and try to tell you it's "just as good" or "use your imagination". It should be really fun to see what happens in the next few weeks. In the meantime, if there's one thing Wildcats fans are good at, it's rampant speculation. So far I've heard names including: Billy Donovan (Florida), Billy Gillispie (Texas A&M), Mark Few (Gonzaga), Tom Crean(Marquette) and even Pitino. Probably all great choices. Cats fans, you got what you wanted. Stay tuned.

Come on Snake Eyes.


"Who is this Masked Man?": 2007 New York Mets Season Preview

First, since this post--like every post--is all about me, let me go ahead and rehash a comment I made in a previous preview. I basically said that the Mets might be the only team in the National League without any gaping holes in their lineup. Well, for the most part it's true. Their four best hitters (in no particular order) are: Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, David Wright and Carlos Delgado (.289 BA, 124 HR total). That's nasty, no argument. But, the real question is about the other four guys: Paul LoDuca, Jose Valentin, Shawn Green and Moises Alou. Average age: 36 (aka well past their primes). I guess they're all serviceable but I'm not sure I'm real excited about a lineup with LoDuca hitting 2nd in the order for a full season again. Plus, wasn't Moises Alou supposed to have retired like three years ago?

That argument aside, the guy who's really giving me a brainfuck here is Jose Valentin. Living with Trout on the outskirts of the Chicagoland viewing area I watched my fair share of White Sox games in 2003 & 2004. He batted .237 with 114 K's one year and .216 with 139 K's the following year. Holy shit that's an awful year. I mean, just painful to watch. Seeing Valentin come up to bat in a crucial situation always induced a faint vomit taste in the back of my mouth, and it's not even my team. He had more holes in his swing than I have in my abused liver. It was an absolute train wreck.

So, what happens last year? After an injury-shortened season in LA, Jose comes out last year and hits .271 with a mere 71 strikeouts. 45 points increase in the batting average and a ridiculous drop in strikeouts. And, this is from the age of 34 to 36. Have you ever seen a player improve his play so dramatically at this age? I certainly can't think of anybody. This is unnatural and I'm calling "bullshit." Let's get that Mitchell investigation running 24-hour surveillance on his ass because there's some foul play involved here. I think we can all get on board with this one.

As for this team, two words: shitty pitching. Their starters are shit. Glavine is 41 on Sunday, El Duque claims to be 37 so he's probably at least 40. John Maine was real solid last year, but I'm not quite sure how. And, well, do you want Chan Ho Park in your rotation? I won't even mention you-know-who because there's slim to none chance that a 35 year old comes back from shoulder surgery in under a year. So, my prediction: second place in the division. And I predict that if you bet the over in every Mets' game for the first month of the season you'll make money.


"Wait Till 2010...If We're Around That Long": Tampa Bay Devil Rays 2007 Season Preview

I can't really explain it, but I really sort of like the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Generally I gleefully denounce many things associated with Florida--humidity, the 2000 election, Jeb Bush, Disney World, old people, Spring Break stupidity--but for some reason the Devil Rays, despite their consistent suckiness and their god-awful stadium, attract me.

Perhaps it's their delightfully horrible 3-16 Grapefruit League record that's endearing (It makes me feel not so bad about the White Sox going 8-13!). Perhaps it's Scott Kazmir's boyish visage and my glee at the Mets getting fleeced in trading him away for Victor Zambrano(Victor Zambrano!). Manager Joe Maddon's custom indie-rockish/Rivers Cuomo-esque glasses and his oddly uncomfortable porn-star-like way to watch batting practice (see below) don't hurt either; here's hoping the glasses take the AL East by storm and we see Joe Torre sporting a pair by the All-Star break.

For some reason, the D-Rays are so teflon-coated in my brain that the Delmon Young bat-throwing incident doesn't even bother me that much. Weird. Nick Swisher incites my ire for doing essentially nothing besides sporting odd facial hair and bedding a Playboy model, and Delmon Young gets a free pass for almost braining an umpire. There's definitely something wrong with me.

But hopefully not as much as is wrong with this still fatally flawed D-Rays club. They've got a bunch of nobodies pitching after Kazmir, who's got his own concerns, coming off season-ending shoulder surgery. Their bullpen is sure to suck, and their closer is...ummm... Seth McClung? Yikes. Isn't it time for the D-Rays to finally pull the trigger on a trade of some of this young hitting talent for some bodies that can capably throw the ball every five days? Survey says: yes.

The offense has plenty of storylines to get excited about, though, with Rocco Baldelli and Jorge Cantu poised to make comebacks of sorts, Carl Crawford continuing to mature, BJ Upton looking to corral his talent and find a home defensively, Jonny Gomes trying to put together a full season (note to fantasy owners out there: beware Jonny Gomes--do not be fooled into thinking he'll keep a 35 HR pace--I learned this the hard way last year), and Delmon Young looking to build on a solid end-of-the-season call-up. The best storyline might be two guys who came out of nowhere last year to have surprisingly decent seasons: White Sox alum Greg Norton and Mets/Pirates cast-off Ty Wigginton. I know, I'm getting excited about Greg Norton and Ty Wigginton. You don't have to tell me I'm irrational.

Well T-Bay, as much as I love you, you might be lucky to climb out of the cellar this year. Don Zimmer will have that dyspeptic look on his face for the majority of the season. Fortunately for you, though, Baltimore isn't showing much of a desire to win. I foresee your one new fan blogging about 70+ wins and a fourth place finish in the East this year. Baby steps, T-Bay, baby steps.


Fun With Open Mics, Verne Lundquist and Bill Raftery Style

Good on March Madness on Demand for re-running the live pre-game open mic audio for the Purdue-Florida game. Lundquist and Raftery talk to each other and to guys in the truck and obviously aren't aware they can be heard as they prep for the game. It's largely uninteresting, but there are a few highlights:

Verne Lundquist saying right before the National Anthem "We have what you might call a sparse crowd here today. It's really awful." Lundquist follows this later with "Aww, man, this crowd is sad. You just can't talk about it too much." Maybe the NCAA went back to New Orleans a little too soon...

Raftery rather seductively tells Lundquist "Your voice sounds great," to which Lundquist, apparently battling a cold, starts doing vocal prepping "mimimimi"s. Lundquist: a true operatic voice.

Raftery gets into the Purdue band's rendition of "Soul Man," singing "badum da da da da"

Lundquist is apparently a bit unhappy with the PA announcer down in New Orleans, calling him "about 0-for-the-season" after mispronouncing Keaton Grant's hometown of Kissimmee, Florida as "Ki-seem-ee." The mispronunciation prompted a rather lengthy exchange between Lundquist and Raftery of "Is it Ki-seem-ee?" "It's Kiss-i-me" "Ki-seem-ee?" "No, Kiss-i-me" "Kiss-i-me." Lundquist sounded genuinely peeved at the PA guy.

Sadly, I still couldn't figure out who Raftery was referring to when he effusively said "He's got a nice, live body, doesn't he?" and prompted Lundquist to respond, "Ohhh boy, does he." (my guess is Corey Brewer, though, as he was just introduced prior to the exchange). Mmmm, nice live bodies...

Purdue vs. Florida Deathmatch Live Blog: Second Half

As CBS takes me to a live look in, it appears as though Wisconsin is trying to prove everyone who thought the Big Ten was overrated right. Shouldn't they have learned something from Friday's game? Maybe they just really aren't that good...

As the second half opens, Purdue is dodging some bullets as Florida just can't seem to knock down open shots. We're gonna need that to continue if we want to hang onto this lead, I think.

Teague puts it high, high, high off the glass to put Purdue up by 4, prompting Raftery's signature "The Kiss!" (he follows it up by commentating on a replay: "And a smooch to boot!"). It just wouldn't be the tournament without Billy Raftery, I don't think...

Ohhhh... Carl Landry just had a mammoth block on Noah. Too bad it came after Joakim was fouled. Either way, the message is the same: get that shit outta here, Joakim!

Man, Florida has really clamped down on D. Purdue's just not getting many good looks at all. Carl Landry just looked like he was throwing up a prayer in his driveway there. Not good. And before you know it, Florida leads for the first time since a couple minutes into the game. Sigh... Florida is starting to look a lot more like Florida and Purdue is starting to look like... well... Purdue.

If Purdue loses this game by less than 5, they'll have no one but themselves to blame. They're now 4-10 from the line. Where's Matt Waddell when you need him?

Ouch. 5 point deficit after 2 poorly defended 3s from Florida. This one's slipping away and Matt Painter knows it; he calls a timeout.

That's at least the second shot of Joakim Noah's pops in the crowd, and I gotta say, Yannick Noah is a badass. He looks like he came straight from a Funkadelic concert. Joakim, on the other hand, looks like he came straight from an Indigo Girls concert.

Oh man, David Teague had a great series there. Had a 3 rattle out, chased down the offensive board, and then drove the lane with authority for a two. No one else touched the ball the whole time. Everyone else, including Florida, just watched.

Billy Raftery has got a ferret in his pants about a foul called on Noah as he hacked Landry. Yeah, it was probably just good D, but Purdue needed that bad. Oh wait, on the replay, Landry obviously got hacked. Raftery, supposedly looking at the same video I am, says disgustedly, "Aww, that was all ball. All ball." I call bullshit, Billy, you Noah-lover.

Carl Landry is all that is man. And the game is tied.

That's the 15th Florida turnover. And it's not so much Purdue's D as Florida's shitty passing. How many turnovers do they average on the year? This has to be an anomaly.

Now Chris Kramer is all that is man. Wow. Way to drive the lane. He's like the white Porter Roberts. Or something.

As soon as Gage and I comment on Purdue's recent lack of turnovers and fouling, they turn it over and foul. Great. And now Florida's back up by 5 in the blink of an eye. Fix it, Matt Painter, fix it.

Joakim Noah almost broke his ass after taking a hard foul--Kramer just scooted his butt into Noah as he was coming down from a board. Kinda funny.

Chris Lutz is taking lessons from Chris Kramer, driving the lane against Joakim Noah and sinking a layup.

Carl Landry just confused a Florida defender for the basket, turning it over instead of taking a shot. Now Florida can go up 6 with under 3 minutes to go. Purdue's really gotta lock down on D and get some decent shots on their offensive end or Florida's going to run away with this one at the end.

Well--one minute Purdue is down by 3, the next they're down by 7 with Florida on the line. That's pretty much the ballgame--it'll be the free throw game from her on out.

It ended up being the outcome that everyone expected, but I gotta say Purdue looked A LOT better than I thought they might. A great game for the young kids to build on for next year, and certainly not a shabby way for Landry and Teague to finish their careers. Maybe I'll be inspired to try and catch more than a handful of Purdue games next year.

Here's hoping Butler has a little more magic than Purdue and the Bulldogs are able to knock of the big dog later this week.

Purdue vs. Florida Deathmatch Live Blog: First Half

Wow. I don't know who they were talking about, but just as I tuned in to the MMOD videocast of the game, the announcer (it must have been Raftery) was saying, "Ooh, he has a live body," to which his partner (Lundquist) responded "Ohh does he" during the lineup introductions. Let the homoeroticism begin. Somewhat appropriate considering my live body just hopped out of the shower from a 6 mile run in 20 degree windchill. Thank goodness for stray audio picked up when Verne Lundquist and Billy Raftery think they're off the air.

And just like that, Purdue is down 4-0. Good thing Joakim Noah is afraid of the hole, or else it'd be 6-0.

Kramer is my daddy. He's on pace for roughly 70 points this afternoon. He has yet to score any from his knees, though.

Wow. Tarrance Crump just drove the lane and put up a good 6-foot pull-up jumper and it didn't get swatted away. This can't keep up, can it?

Apparently he can--Crump just did the same thing from four feet for another score. I haven't seen much Purdue basketball at all this season, but I find it hard to believe Tarrance Crump has been this good.

"Pick up the lingerie, Big Al!" Ummm... what? Is this a new way to say that Crump faked that Florida chump out of his shorts? If you say so, Mr. Raftery.

In any case, forget Kramer; Crump is taking over this game. Gotta feel good about a 5 point lead with no scoring from Teague or Landry.

And now Teague shows up, scoring 5 straight. He'd probably have 10 by now if he'd just let his afro out.

Quickly followed by Landry getting into the action. Keep at 'em, ye of the 50-year-old's hairline. That was a nice move, he just choked on converting the three-point play.

With a little over 8 minutes left in the first, we get the first reference to Purdue's "scrappy play" from Raftery. I look for approximately 10 more of these references throughout the game.

Noah just picked up his second. Sit his ass on the bench, Billy Donovan. The ponytailed wonder has been almost completely absent so far. Let's keep it that way. And let's start making some free throws. Christ.

My sympathies to Justin stuck in the Undergrad Library, blacked out from watching the game. You just missed some solid play under the basket by Gordon "Sock Arm" Watt.

Kramer just pulled a trout--making a nice cut into the lane, pulling up, shooting an airball. Awesome.

Everything--and I mean everything--is coming up short for Purdue. I don't know if Florida has worn them out or what, but they are putting up some weak-ass shit--airballs and little dinks off the front iron. And they're playing sloppy too, turning it over more. Gah. Florida ties it for the first time in a long, long time.

Landry comes up short on his free throw. Seriously. Everything is short. Put some leg into it, guys.

Not the way you want to end the first half, with an awful, awful well-defended three pointer from way out (surprise, it was short). I'll take a two-point lead at half any day, though. Matt Painter, here's hoping you come up with a gameplan to match up with Florida's adjustments--and maybe some energy drinks for the troops' tired legs. Because right now Florida is definitely the better-looking team out there. And I don't mean Joakim Noah's ugly mug. Whew. See you in 20.


Not That Anyone Cares...

... but I think I'll take it upon myself to liveblog the epic Purdue-Florida matchup tomorrow. So to all three of you that check out FTG regularly, join me at 2:15 tomorrow for tip-off. I'll be updating the page throughout the game, keeping tabs on Carl Landry's hairline, Joakim Noah's ponytail, and David Teague's potential afro. And wondering to myself all the while what kind of crack rock Andy Katz smoked before he wrote "If Landry and Teague didn't get hurt [...] they'd have left for NBA riches." NBA riches? Really? Hyperbole notwithstanding, it should be a good one.


"Wait, Is This One of the Years Where We Try to Win, Or Not?": 2007 Florida Marlins Season Preview

It must be exhausting to be a Marlins fan. They managed to win the 1997 championship, after five years of existence and immediately sold off the whole damn team. There were a few lean years as the organization and then they got back and won it all again in 2003, only to sell everybody off again. It's not hard to see why they have a hard time maintaining fans, but you have to respect a team that manages to get away with never signing big name free agent and still wining the occasional World Series. You know, as I was debating what to write in this post, I got to thinking about what that roster actually looked like in '97 and how they won. We all remember Gary Sheffield, but who else was there? Let's take a look...
C - Charles Johnson
1B - Jeff Conine
2B - Luis Castillo
SS - Edgar Renteria
3B - Bobby Bonilla
LF - Gary Sheffield
RF - Moises Alou
CF - Cliff Floyd/Devon White

Rotation: Kevin Brown, Al Leiter, Livan Hernandez, Alex Fernandez
Closer: Robb Nen
Wow, they certainly managed to get some guys at their peaks. Particularly Kevin Brown whose suddenly developed Scoliosis once he got out of Florida. Plus, Alex Fernandez won 17 games in 1997! Who, you ask? Well, Trout might remember because apparently he won 18 games for the southsiders in 1993. Anyway, he never came close to those numbers again and was soon sipping margaritas in Retirementville. Shit, they even had Nenn closing things out. And lest I not take advantage of mentioning the six-fingered wonder Antonio Alfonseca. Apparently, according to his Wikipedia page (the ultimate source on everything), his nickname back in the Dominican Republic is "El Pulpo" (the Octopus). So, yeah. This was a really solid team (obviously) of some up-and-comers and some players just hitting their peak.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that it seems like the Marlins have decided to use the basic rules of economics to succeed on a budget. Basically, "buy low, sell high" is all you need to know. They buy appreciating assets at then move them when the market is ripe. Contrast that with the Yankees who have gotten burned with the likes of Carl Pavano and the aforementioned Kevin Brown, guys whose stock can only go down.

Of course, the 2007 incarnation of the Marlins is no different. They have two established veterans, Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera (a legitimate superstar) and a bunch of young bucks. By the way, before I move on, did you know that Cabrera is only 23? Well, at least he claims to be only 23. The rest of the guys all have a full year under their belts and should be choping at the bit to get this one under way. Plus, I really can't help but love Hanley Ramirez' headshot. He just seems like he's thinking "Nobody will know, but I'm not wearing any pants right now." Past Willis they have this Sanchez kid who threw the no-hitter last year. Yeah, I think this will be a fun team to watch. Maybe even more fun because they appear to have nobody to close out games. Zoinks!

Now, the Marlins will be fun to watch, but where will they finish? Honestly, I think their one huge mistake was getting rid of Joe Girardi. He really pulled the team together and the young guys respected him. Will Fredi Gonzalez get the same out of the players? Who knows. Prediction: the Marlins won't win this division, but I think they'll be in the race for the Wild Card until the very end.


"Wow, So They Haven't Gotten Rid of Chief Wahoo Yet. That's Kind Of Embarrassing": Cleveland Indians 2007 Season Preview

I blame Bud Selig. Sure, there are probably a bunch of other folks more responsible for the perpetuation of Chief Wahoo's "boy do I love scalpin' those whiteys!" toothy grin, but I blame Bud Selig because he's Bud Selig. He's everyone's favorite scapegoat, and not without good reason (way to go on that whole DirecTV deal, Bud!).

I'm not going to dwell on the politics of why it's unconscionable to keep using athletic symbols like Chief Wahoo, Chief Illini, and the Washington Redskins, no matter if the majority of people--even those people portrayed--don't seem to care (there are any number of websites out there that address this). I'll just say that it's akin to using Cletus the slack-jawed yokel to represent the entirety of the white race. Except, you know, there's that small issue of Native American genocide. So it's probably more like using Aunt Jemima or Sambo. Enough already. Even the Atlanta Braves, despite the continued mildly offensive and incredibly annoying tomohawk chop, have jettisoned all organizational reference to ridiculous Indian images (see Gage's Atlanta preview for a lovely racist Brave depiction), adopting the incredibly benign Homer as their mascot. Anyway, on to baseball.

The Cleveland Indians win my award for the most disappointing team in all of baseball in 2006. After an up-and-down 93 win season in 2005 when they gave the White Sox a huge scare at the end of the regular season with their lights-out play, they absolutely tanked in 2006, finishing with a record of 78-84. Not surprisingly, a lot of folks are picking the Indians as their sleeper team this year, sure to rebound with all their young talent after a disappointing hiccup last year. But are they really going to give the Tigers, White Sox, and Twins something to worry about this year? I'm not so sure...

That skepticism has little to do with the lineup, though. Somehow Travis "Pronk" Hafner remains one of the best kept secrets in baseball--as much of a secret as a guy who hits 42 homers and drives in 117 can be. It's absolutely absurd that Hafner, who has finished in the top 10 in the MVP voting the past two years, has yet to get to an All-Star game. He really got screwed last year by the White Sox bias--after David Ortiz, Thome and Konerko were the reserve first basemen/DHs. And the fans stuffed the ballot box for AJ Pierzynski to get the last spot over a much more deserving Hafner. Hey, maybe Hafner will hit 50 homers and drive in 140 this year just to prove that, behind Ortiz, he should be the most feared lefty in the AL. That would not bode well for the White Sox and the rest of the AL Central.

And Hafner's only a fraction of Cleveland's offensive firepower--Victor Martinez, Grady Sizemore, and Casey Blake are no slouches. I'm going to be really interested to see how the oft-traded, highly touted Andy Marte performs this year, in what is essentially his rookie season (he was the main prospect in the deal that sent Edgar Renteria to Atlanta in 2005, then Coco Crisp to Boston last year). Jhonny Peralta isn't much of an offensive threat, but he does have a mysteriously placed "h" in his name which could easily confuse opponents. But it's not the offense that's got me thinking the Indians might not see a resurgence this year. It's that pesky pitching staff.

CC Sabathia is good, and Jake Westbrook and Cliff Lee are competent starters behind him. But after that is Paul Byrd--quite possibly the ugliest man in baseball--and a rookie, Jeremy Sowers. Yeah, you might skate by with those guys, sure... but when your closer is Joe Borowski, regardless of his 36 saves last year, you can't feel too comfortable. Can you? I wouldn't, anyway. As scary as the thought is, I'd rather have Bob Wickman closing games. That, and 42-year-old Roberto Hernandez was their big set-up bullpen pick-up to help out the magnificent self-destructing Fausto Carmona. It's been exactly a decade since Roberto last played for the ChiSox. Wow.

So, maybe that's not the most convincing argument in the world, but I just have a feeling about the Indians. And that feeling is that they're just not as good as people would like to believe--they'll be fighting with the Twinkies for third in the AL Central this year instead of competing for a division title.


"I'll Trade You A Clean-Shaven 38-Year-Old DH For a Bearded One": Oakland Athletics 2007 Season Preview

Moving from Frank Thomas's 2007 team to his 2006 club, FTG's 2007 MLB season preview odyssey takes a look at the Oakland A's, who signed Mike Piazza this offseason to fill Big Frank's shoes.

I really don't know what to make of this team. They did give me one of the more entertaining baseball games I attended last year, with Huston Street blowing Frank Thomas's 2 homer return to US Comiscular (ahhh, that was when it still looked like the ChiSox were on their way to repeating, sporting that vintage 2005 pixie dust).

That loss was just a bump in the road, though, as the A's went on to take the mediocre AL West last year with 93 wins despite losing two of their best players--Rich Harden (he's one tough-looking Canadian, ain't he?) and Bobby Crosby (I guess Crosby is still more potential and hype than actual production at this point, but whatever...)--for significant portions of the year. Getting these guys back and only downgrading slightly in swapping Thomas for Piazza would lead one to believe that the chances of division title repeat are high. Anything's possible in the mediocre AL West, but I just don't get the feeling that this team is built for success.

Now that Zito's gone, the A's are counting on Harden and Haren to anchor the rotation in front of guys like Esteban Loaiza, whose performance after his career year in 2003 with the White Sox has cemented that season as a complete anomaly. My gut feeling is that the rotation is going to give up a lot of runs--many too many to be erased by an offense sporting two catchers whose better years were in the late '90s, a third baseman whose production has fallen pretty steadily every year since 2002 (note to self: do NOT, under any circumstances, draft Eric Chavez in fantasy leagues--this man is not even a top 10 3B anymore), a guy trying to come back from excruciating foot problems (and no, his name is not Frank Thomas this year), a guy who's such a perennial problem child that his Wikipedia article has a section titled "Controversial Moments" (he's also only had one complete season in the majors--2004), and a guy who, for no apparent reason, I mildly disdain for coming off like a self-absorbed, overrated prick (again, I really don't know what I'm basing this on).

So there you have it, an uninspired preview for a largely uninspiring team whose most inspiring offseason moves were to gamble on two bargain-basement veterans (Piazza and Stewart--woohoo!). I wouldn't be surprised if the A's finished last this year. At the same time, I wouldn't be all that surprised if they finished first. So goes the AL West. If I was an A's fan, I'd give 2007 a shrug of the shoulders and a "meh." I'd be more excited about the prospects of spotting Danielle Gamba in the crowd than seeing Mike Piazza's swan song.