4.27.2007

Hey! What's Happening In Soccer? Or: Yet Another Self-Indulgent Post

What's happening? I'll tell you what, it's getting exciting. With apologies to MLS (I swear I'm giving it a chance), the game over in Europe has been really heating up. Look, there's even yelling. For those of you who actually recall reading old posts, I've been diligently following the English Premiership all season and we're really hitting the home stretch now. Keeping up with Liverpool has been fairly easy this season because they have been towards the top of the table (standings) in the EPL for most of the season. However, with the play of Manchester United and Chelsea (combined payroll $4 kajillion) the Reds have been mostly outsiders looking in, even from third place. The good news/bad news of the season is that we're coming down to the wire and there's going to be some important games for those top two teams but on the flip side there's no playoffs like in American sports and Liverpool is basically out of the running. In the place of these playoffs is the Champions League (tournament for the best teams from every league in Europe).

As a useless side note, I'm a little confused by all of this because in the good ole USA, there one champion and that's that. So, I find myself wondering what is more important to an English team, winning the league or the Champions League title? It seems like a toss-up. I know one thing, Liverpool are firmly focused on winning the CL because they have not other options.

In case you don't follow the game, we're in the semifinals now, with the top three English sides and AC Milan (ummm.. Italian, right?). The format includes each team getting a home game and the aggregate score determining the winner, with away goals as the tiebreaker. This last part is a rule that I've decided I hate. The notion that certain goals are worth more than others bothers me and leads to some questionable (if not downright boring) strategies.

This week was the first leg of the semis with the second legs on Tuesday and Wednesday (2:30 pm, set your DVR). Currently, Chelsea leads Liverpool 1-0 and ManU leads AC Milan 3-2, with both of the home teams winning. What's it all mean? Well, both Liverpool and Milan both need to score at home, but the Liverpool is in a bit rougher shape. For example, if Milan wins 2-1 at home they advance (aggregate 4-4, away goals 2-1) but if Liverpool wins by the same score, then they would lose on away goals. So, interestingly Chelsea wants a high scoring game (that they don't lose by more than one) and ManU wants a low scoring game (ditto). I guess what I'm saying is be prepared for a snoozefest in Milan and the possibility of fireworks at Anfield. But, if that doesn't happen, remind yourself that I don't know what the hell I'm talking about.

Some other notes:
Please god of soccer (Pele?) don't let ManU and Chelsea play in the final. I'm tired of that so-called "rivalry" of the extremely wealthy. It's only interesting to their respective fans.

Kaka is awesome. Go look up his goals on YouTube. I think Brazil got too caught up on all the Ronaldinho hype during the World Cup and forgot that this guy is one of the top strikers in the entire world. Poor Brazil.

In other Brazilians with four letter names, if the AC Milan keeper Dida lets a couple of goals slide past him in the second leg, he might just be lynched. Eye on the ball homie.

Chelsea's coach Jose Mourinho is a self-proclaimed genius tactician, but what kind of strategy was he using in the second half Wednesday? Basically let Liverpool posses the ball, play stingy defense, then have Peter Cech crack a deep ball for Drogba 3/4 down the field. Yeah, who could have ever dreamt up that plan? Yawn.

It's fun that Arsenal is at home watching, isn't it? How's fourth place fellas?

And finally, Liverpool has got to find a way to score some goals. I honestly don't care what the lineup looks like, but Steven Gerrard was crap this week and so was Xabi Alonso.

4.25.2007

A Memo to the White Sox:

Try not sucking when I actually get to watch a game. Oh, and try not sucking when John Danks starts a game. He's gotten a whopping three runs of support in games he's started. Sure, Danks was pretty mediocre tonight, but you know something's wrong when you hand Chad Durbin his first win since 2004, only manage three hits, strikeout NINE times, and draw no walks against the guy. I'd be tempted to pass it off as Thome and Dye being absent from the lineup tonight, but it was just an awful approach at the plate from all the Sox hitters (and, strangely enough, Steve Phillips and the ESPN crew actually pointed this out, albeit gently). Sigh... there goes that opportunity for a two game sweep.


P.S. I want to root for BA, but he needs to go down to Charlotte. Soon. Because he looks awful. And he should not have been hitting with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth and a chance to tie it. I guess Ozzie's just letting him hang himself...

Does a Two-Game Series Victory Constitute a Sweep?


It just doesn't feel right for some reason. Sure, the White Sox "swept" the Royals Monday and Tuesday, but I couldn't help but feeling that there was something dishonest about calling a two-game winning streak--against the Royals, at that--a "sweep". Somehow it just cheapens the thrill of a sweep. And I think the pitiful Royals deserve the opportunity to "salvage" a series after two losses. After all, their whole season is something akin to a salvage job--an opportunity to say, "Hey, we won one out of three! Sure, it's not a good winning percentage, but .333 might win the batting title!"

In other sweep news, the Oakland swept Baltimore in a two game series no one in Baltimore even cared about (total attendance both nights: 28,000) and the BoSox were swept (in a two-game series, natch. That's right, natch) by Toronto after sweeping the Yankees in a three game series. Even disregarding opponents, you get the sense that Boston couldn't care less about dropping two to Toronto (with the back end of their rotation, Wakefield and Tavarez) after coming from behind to beat up on New York's craptastic pitching in three straight.

Maybe it's just because two games can't constitute a streak, while if three doesn't constitute a small streak, I don't know what does. But while I'm at it, I'll just go ahead and say that I'm not a fan of 4 game series either. Call me an idiot. I don't care.

I'm just happy because my Sox are on ESPN against the Tigers tonight and I get my first look at John Danks. Time to sit back, relax, strap it down, and shun some schoolwork.

4.24.2007

Scandal in the Heartland!

I just noticed that there may be some impact on my fantasy team because Torii Hunter promised the Royals some expensive champagne if they swept the Tigers at the end of last year. I guess bribery is still not allowed in in professional sports, assuming you get caught that is. Frankly, I'm shocked by these revelations. Outraged, even! This is really only one small step away from gambling on games and I demand that Torii Hunter be given a lifetime ban from baseball. He has besmirched the very essence of the game and can no longer be trusted to compete. (Side note to Torii: Next time, just buy them each one of those "special" lap dances from your favorite gentleman's club. It's how business is done in the modern workplace.)

As a result of this besmirchment, rumors are flying around indicating that Bud Selig will be pulling George Mitchell off the steroid investigation (that one's a dead end anyway) and he will be re-tasked with policing any suspicious transactions taking place around the league. Possible investigation items include:
  • David Eckstein offering up his virginity to the first female to wear his jersey to a game
  • Jose Conseco bribing anyone who reads his book with free HGH
  • Barry Bonds extorting thousands of dollars of "lunch money" from teammates in what is being called the "upside down ankle holding shake-out of 2007"
  • George Steinbrenner enticing Roger Clemens to join the Yankees with the gift of his first born child
  • Jeff Weaver receiving 2006 post-season success from Satan in exchange for his soul
  • Kerry Wood offering anyone who strikes out on his 82 MPH fastball a jar of his tears

4.23.2007

My Top 5 Favorite Things About Baseball Being Back

5. There's always something on TV - The Reds have upped their number of games broadcast on FSN Ohio to something in the 140s, even showing a select few in HD. That means 5-6 days a week, I can put aside my MTV reality shows and watch the Reds. Mmmm. Plus, you've got your Sunday, Monday and Wednesday night games on ESPN and the occasional Braves game on TBS. Do I really care to watch the Nationals playing in Atlanta? Any sane person would surely say "no," but the truth is, I can spend a whole inning wondering about alternate spellings of Andruw. It's constant entertainment.

4. A blessed break from basketball - Not that I don't love college basketball, I do. But, after I give up hope on my teams in the tournament, I generally contemplate relocating to Florida or slipping into an alcohol induced coma until opening day. Finally on that early April day, the floodgates open and we're awash in baseball. It's like an enema. Now, I can even tolerate some NBA when I switch over between innings.

3. Joe Morgan - I know he's collectively loathed by a whole sect of baseball fans, but I really can't understand why. Sure, he wears a goofy grin and occasionally stumbles over his words, but I really do think he understands the game. And he at least attempts to add baseball analysis as opposed to your Tim McCarvers of the world. Plus, it's nice to have such an obvious Reds' homer in the national media. For some reason, he always seems exceedingly jolly. By that, I mean he's in the same mood I would be if I got paid to watch baseball every day. Can't hate a guy for that.

2. Fantasy drafts - I love fantasy baseball. But, for some reason, I'm way better at fantasy football, which I can't explain. Every year, I think I've got a draft "system" worked out and nobody will be able to crack my code. I do a few practice drafts and jot down notes. I've got a list of sleepers and "stay away" guys. We're talking about a month-long system here. My added motivation lately has been my complete lack of any ability to prevent Trout from winning. He's won at least four years running now. It's pathetic. Of course, as soon as the draft starts, I'm a complete mess and everything falls apart. It's really a delicate house of cards. This year actually went okay, and I'm ahead of Trout in the standings so far. However, what this really means is I'm so insecure about it that I spend multiple hours every day doing research. I might win this league, but I'll probably get fired in the process.

1. Bemoaning the fates of our respective teams - It's amazing how often I can say the following things (more or less):
"Man, the Reds fucking blew another one"

"Seriously, how hard is it to find a reliever who's as good at pitching as he is at spitting sunflower seeds?

"Why is that guy smiling? Don't smile, asshole, you're still losing."

"Well, at least we're better than the Cubs."
Somehow, it really doesn't get old. I can call Trout on any given night when either of our teams are losing and it's the same thing. I think it's therapeutic to bitch about something besides my real life. And, like my life, it seems to be something different every day.

Man, I love baseball.

4.22.2007

A Sweep Squandered


(Disclaimer: what follows are ramblings probably only of interest to a White Sox fan. Sorry, but that's all I've got right now.)

As much as it sucks to be one out away from a series sweep on the road and a five game winning streak, I can't say that I'm all that displeased with taking two of three from the Tigers. Yes, it's a golden opportunity lost. Yes, it may come back to bite the Sox in the ass in September. But I'm going to will myself to have a positive outlook on this season; there's enough negativity out there on the internets to go around without me chiming in.

What I take from the weekend is that the Sox are starting to win series, and winning series is what it takes to make the playoffs. You don't have to be dominant, you just have to be consistently better than the other guy. And I feel like the Sox are moving towards that, having taken 3 of the last 4 series.

So far, Kenny Williams is looking pretty decent as far as the whole McCarthy-to-Texas trade. McCarthy is 1-3 and sporting a robust 10.20 ERA after getting absolutely shelled in his last two starts (6 ER in 1 IP against the A's, 6 ER in 2 IP against the Mariners, of all teams).

Meanwhile, John Danks has looked like a passable 5th starter, and has at least made it into the 5th inning of all his starts (which is more than you can say for, oh, I dunno, Jose Contreras). Sure, he's no Rich Hill, but you know what? I have a feeling Rich Hill is no Rich Hill either. If that makes any sense. Which it should.

Anyway, add Nick Masset's great long relief performances (I'll forgive him today's loss--he still pitched 2 innings of shutout ball before the Tigers made him pay for his leadoff walk to Pudge), and Kenny is getting closer and closer to being able to tell people "I told you so."

In other retrospective trade musings, Chris Young, who, of course, can still develop into a really great centerfielder, is playing at an Erstad/BA level right now (hitting .189 with a .254 OBP), so we're not missing out on anything there. Javy Vazquez, meanwhile, is sporting a 2.50 ERA heading into his start against the Royals on Tuesday. Don't make me the fool by sucking on Tuesday, Javy.

Now if only Paulie could wake up out of his funk... maybe the Royals will be just what the doctor ordered.

4.21.2007

With the Cubbies in the cellar and Lou Piniella on the verge of blowing up Charlie Manuel style...


... it seemed like an appropriate time to dig up this little gem of a Cubs manager rant from yesteryear (Lee Elia, 1983). This year's Cubs are better than the 1983 5-14 start, but hey, if they lose their next 4, they'll be 6-14. Close enough. How long until Piniella jumps on the fanbase, I wonder? Soon, I hope. Enjoy (NSFW).

4.20.2007

"The Reds Are Decidedly Not Terrible": Cincinnati Reds Early Season Review

Last year's collapse by the Reds was a tough one. They were in first place in a decidedly mediocre Wild Card race for what seemed like two months. And then, the dreaded two-week west coast road trip came about. It started August 24th in San Fransisco and ended September 3rd in San Diego. Before that trip I remember thinking "well, if they go .500 on this trip, they'll still be in the race." Of course, they went 2-8 and came home to fresh sheets and no playoff chances. There's nothing like staying up until 1:30 am (and on a weeknight! ....gah, I'm getting old) just to watch your team choke away the season.

Did I really think the Reds had a chance to make some noise in the playoffs? No, not really. But, neither did Cards fans, either, I'd say. Do I think they have a chance this year? Actually, I do. Up until the Wednesday and Thursday games, the pitching staff had been lights-out. Of course, I should have written this post two days ago, before they squashed my argument when the bullpen blew consecutive games to the Astros. That said, the starting pitching has been tough. Bronson Arroyo has a 3.25 ERA through four starts. Sadly, I'm pretty sure he's going to have to join a support group for as well as he's been pitching to still have zero wins. Just bad luck though, really. The real story is the back end of the rotation where Kyle Lohse and Matt Belisle have left nothing to be desired. Did you see Lohse's 12 strikeout game the other night? And, against the Cubs even.

Maybe it's just me, but I don't like to worry too much about bullpens or #5 starters. Sure, it's great to have a stud closer, and you really do have to have someone to turn to at the end of the season when you need an out. But, I guess what I'm saying is that these are the sort of things that get sorted out over the course of the year with guys getting called up and sent down, or the well-timed trade. And, I think there's some talent in Louisville for the Reds. Just you wait. Some guy named Johnny Fifteenminutes will record 9 saves in September and all the problems are solved.


In a strange twist of fate, the offense was the big question mark for me coming into the season. And, there's still some issues to sort out. The bad news: David Ross has decided to do his best Jason LaRue impression with 14 K's in his 35 plate appearances. Note to Dave: Adam Dunn - Power = .121 BA. However, the good news is Josh Hamilton (aka Roy Hobbs) has come back from years of drug addiction to be one of the best players (pardon the limited sample size) I've ever seen. He's a smart, strong hitter and his swing makes Adam Dunn look like a windmill by comparison. He's got me so excited, I already pulled my annual fantasy "ill-advised Reds' player pickup." I guess there's always time for two.

Anyway, before the season started, I had the Reds at 3rd of 4th in the division. Right now I'm not ruling out anything. There's just not a really good team in the division. I know, 8-8 isn't winning the pennant, but .500 keeps you in the Wild Card race. If they get a couple of relievers from nowhere and the offense plays the way it should, they could win the division. Not that I'm predicting it or anything.

4.19.2007

What, Oh What Could Be the Source of A-Rod's 2007 Heroics?

Easy: the high socks. Coincidence? Probably, but my money's on the socks and not just A-Rod's boundless talent finally penetrating the New York malaise. That malaise is only penetrable by the sort of karma meaningless wardrobe changes can bring.

Yeah, I'm probably way behind everyone else in mentioning this. But it bears repeating that A-Rod hit his 10th homer of the season today in high socks (boy am I glad I passed him up for Ryan Howard in my fantasy league). Apparently sometimes all a guy needs to get over the bad vibes in a city is a change in his wardrobe. Look good, feel good is what I say to anyone who will listen. And boy, does A-Rod look good right now. And I say that in the least homoerotic way possible. If that's possible. Which it's probably not.

The 2006 sad, pants-down-to-the ankles, error-committing A-Rod:



The 2007 jubilant, jacked-up-pants, walk-off-homer-hitting A-Rod:


Case closed.

No. Freakin'. Hitter.


First game I haven't caught at least a piece of on the radio or TV and this is what happens. Maybe I need to tune out more often.

This is the kind of thing that can set the tone for a season. Erase those first twelve games from your memory. This is now a team that can throw no-hitters, field the freaking baseball, and hit home runs with two out and the bases loaded. I couldn't be happier for Mark Buehrle. He's maybe the last guy in the rotation I'd expect; the first guy I'd like to see do it.

Javy, don't let this team come crashing back to reality tomorrow. Let's beat the headhunter and take the series at home, rolling into Detroit like the best team in the AL (maybe Garland knew something all along, eh?).

4.18.2007

The White Sox Suck Right Now


They've managed two runs in the last 3 games. They lost a game in which the pitching staff one-hit the Indians. They keep finding ways to lose. It's times like these I'm glad I can't watch the Sox on TV this year. Wait, what's that you say? It's only been three games? OK, fine. Three games doesn't warrant reaching for the panic button.

In fact, there are more than a few bright spots:
1. The bullpen has looked only slightly less than stellar--David Aardsma leads the team with 15 strikeouts. Wait... is that a bad thing?
2. John Danks has looked like a more than serviceable fifth starter. Unfortunately, he looks better than Jose Contreras has (10 walks in 12 innings).
3. Now that Pods has landed on the DL with the same old groin/adductor injury, at least Ozzie won't be able to pinch-hit him for Uribe (currently leading the team in RBIs and HRs from the seven-hole) in the last half-inning of a 2-1 loss to the Indians. And Ozzie won't be able to refuse defensively replacing Pods and his noodle-arm/comic ineptness for late-inning situations, leading to a ball bouncing off his head in left field to lose a game in the ninth (seriously). And maybe Brian Anderson will see more playing time. But probably not.
4. Iguchi is now back in the #2 spot in the order, where he should've been all along. And Erstad is leading off. Wait, you don't want someone with a .262 on-base percentage leading off? Too bad. Because that's what you've got.
5. If the Sox keep losing by more than 4 runs, I won't have to listen to Ed Farmer tell me that a homerun will tie the game or put the Sox in the lead. If you thought Hawk and DJ's announcing was asinine, at least it's entertainingly/endearingly asinine and not infuriatingly asinine. Believe me, Ed, when there's a runner on and the Sox are down by 2, I can figure out for myself that a homer will tie it. As enlightening as that observation is, I'd rather not hear it five times a game.
6. The boys have still got some (delusional?) swag. Jon Garland: "I think we have the best team in the American League, bar none."

Pennants aren't won in April, but you can sure as hell lose them. So here's hoping you stop digging that hole soon, guys.

4.13.2007

No Beer for Failure, No Beer for Success; or, God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut


Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Indianapolis native and cantankerous humanist author, died this past Wednesday after 84 years on this planet he prophesized that we'd be "too damn cheap and lazy" to save from our own destructive behavior (from fossil fuel consumption to horribly violent wars, you name it, Vonnegut pointed out and lamented the darker side of humanity).

Sure, this is a sports blog, and the most Kurt really had to do with sports was his short stint as a writer for Sports Illustrated way, way back. But it's also my blog, and with Gage's blessing, the only venue I've really got for rambling on about the man who meant so much to me that I sat here and cried when I heard about his death, that I'm sitting here crying now when I thought I'd gotten over it. Damn it, Kurt.

I won't waste space writing an obit that countless people have already written. There's a good one over at the New York Times, if you're interested. Dave Eggers wrote up a pithy survey of Vonnegut's published works over at Salon (which also has nice snippets on Vonnegut culled from other celebrities' published works) if that floats your boat. You should also check out one of Kurt's many interviews online; perhaps the last one before his death was conducted at the end of February and broadcast on Northeast Public Radio.

Along with Mark Twain (to whom Vonnegut is relentlessly compared), Kurt Vonnegut was--and is--easily the most influential literary presence in my own worldview and writing. So, really, FTG readers, every time you see a trout (itself an homage to Vonnegut's character Kilgore Trout) post, what you're getting, whether consciously or unconsciously, is writing that aspires to be derivative Vonnegut and Twain, mashed through a sports filter.

Although I never had the pleasure of meeting or even seeing Kurt, I still feel positively giddy to have gotten as close as I did. Nearly 8 years ago now, having just graduated from high school, I came home and saw, sitting along with the day's junk mail, a letter addressed to me with a Long Island postmark and an asterisk for a return address. Instantly it was like the universe had become unhinged. It was like when I got a Big Wheel for my birthday when I was a kid and I was convinced that the neighbor kid had forgotten and left his in our driveway; having a Big Wheel of my own was a bit too unimaginable for my mind to handle. Well, an asshole for a return address and a New York postmark meant Kurt Vonnegut. It had to. A letter from Kurt fucking Vonnegut was sitting in my parents' kitchen. From Kurt's brain to Kurt's hand to Kurt's paper to the post office to a suburban mailbox in Indiana to my parents' freaking kitchen. It was a bit too unimaginable for my mind to handle.

Of course, my mom made me wait to open it until my dad got home from work. I can't remember a potential situation of delayed gratification my parents didn't like. As it turned out, the only reason I had a letter from Kurt in the first place was due to my dad, who had sent Kurt a clipping of my last high school newspaper column--again, derivative Vonnegut, in which I had urged my readers to, among other things, read Vonnegut--and kindly asked him to write back to his son, a huge Vonnegut fan, and son of a Vonnegut fan dating from the '60s.

Not only did Kurt kindly comply with my dad's request, Kurt wrote to me thus: "I thank you for your support of my work, and congratulate you on the auspicious beginnings you yourself have made as a first rate writer. Cheers!" and signed with his standard self-portrait, Age 76 and an all-caps signature inscribed below the messy script (just in case I couldn't decipher just who, exactly, was writing me from Long Island, I guess). Talk about too unimaginable for my mind to handle.

That's as close as I ever got to Kurt, unable to catch him deliver a speech on two separate occasions, foiled first by illness and now by death. So it goes, Kurt, so it goes indeed. I suppose I should feel privileged enough to have gotten a letter from him, fortunate enough to have had the pleasure of discovering and reading his books, lucky enough to have imbibed some of his wisdom--all without feeling cheated by being denied the opportunity to genuflect in his presence. And, really, I do. Revisiting my ragged copy of Breakfast of Champions, smoking a couple Pall Malls, and drinking until I reek of mustard gas and roses will just have to do. God bless you, Mr. Vonnegut.

But as monumental as Vonnegut is in my life, his life wasn't the only thing worthy of memorializing this week (OK, it's crass to compare one baseball series to the passing of my literary hero, but there you have it. Transition made). Thanks to a free MLB Extra Innings preview, I was able to catch the two White Sox victories in Oakland (my first two opportunities to see the Sox in action this season). The Sox won a series out there for the first time in seven years despite being denied the opportunity to celebrate (or drown sorrows after game 2) with a few beers (apparently this is something that really sticks in Ozzie's craw).

I was going to write more about the series--Black Jack McDowell (of Stick Figure fame) subbing in for Hawk Harrelson and doing a great job (I later caught Hawk with Jerry Remy on the Red Sox broadcast, in town to be honored as a member of the '67 BoSox--Hawk just stroked Yaz the whole time he was in the booth), how Jose Contreras looks like he has no control, blowing game 2 on a Pods blunder coming back in game 3 on a Dye blast, the idiocy of batting Brian Anderson 2nd and Iguchi 7th when Ozzie apparently refuses to play BA in the first place because he can't hit (where do you bat a guy you only see as a bench-warming, no-hit, defensive specialist? 2nd, of course!)--but most of this was covered, and covered well, over at South Side Sox and Sox Machine. I'll just keep it short by saying that getting out of Oakland with a series victory and getting back to .500 is more than anyone could've really hoped for. And being able to watch it made it all the sweeter.

As Kurt was fond of quoting his Uncle Alex, "If this isn't nice, I don't know what is."

4.09.2007

"Wait for What Year?": Chicago Cubs 2007 Season Preview

Well, I couldn't quite bring myself to write a real Cubs season preview. Primarily, because I actually think they'll win the division and that makes me a little sick to my stomach. Instead, here's an old post that I finally finished, a running diary of watching HBO's Cubs movie. Strap in, it's a beast.

Recently, HBO aired an hour long “documentary” about the Chicago Cubs entitled “Wait For Next Year.” Apparently someone thought it would be a good idea to document the drunken naivete of an entire fan base. For the sake of the blog I sat my ass down and watched this piece of cinematic history and even took some notes. My thoughts:

0:01 We start with an image of opening day, any Cubs fan’s favorite day of the year. It’s really hard to let your favorite team break your heart before they’ve even played a game. Unless you root for the Royals, that is. Next we’re greeted by a crowd of Cubs fans who have somehow managed to be drunk out of their gourds by 10am. Surprise! Cubs fans are alcoholics! Who knew? We also meet our token 85 year old man who represents the four generations of fans who haven’t seen an championship. Didn’t see that one coming. By the way, our narrator for the evening, Dennis Franz. He will fuck you up, then show you his ass.

0:05 Quick recap of the early Cubs days, Bill Veeck, the ivy and the four World Series the franchise lost in the 20s and the 30s. Frankly, this whole history is a lot more information than I would have ever wanted to know. My favorite tidbit, however: Hack Wilson hit 56 HR in 1930. Jesus, that’s a lot of homers for a guy who came to work hungover five days a week. My research also shows that there were no steroids available in 1930. Just booze, loose women and mescaline (unconfirmed).

0:10 Back to opening day. Jeff Garlin (who despite being a Cubs fan tempers my scorn by being great on CYE) is headed to the game looking ready to eat his body weight in chi-dogs. Don’t put ketchup on those or they will castrate you, just a heads-up. Garlin gives us a quick summary of the story behind the curse of the goat. He loses points just for knowing the whole story. Then we’re on to Jack “The Original Drunkard Announcer” Brickhouse whose “hey hey!” home run call might just be even less creative than Chris Berman’s “back back back, gone!”

0:12 Just learned that P.K. Wrigley decided to go with a rotating 8-man coaching staff of managers in 1961. I'd like to see someone run this idea past Lou Pinella. As it turns out, that same year they brought in a former Army colonel with no baseball experience to be the “Athletic Director.” Banner year for incompetent management.

0:15 The brilliant moves continue in June of 1964, as the Cubs trade away Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio. What ever happened to that Brock Guy anyway? Broglio had ERAs over 6.00 in both 1965 and 1966, and then retired. Totally worth it.

0:18 And we’re back to modern day. We’re lucky enough to meet a delusional cardiologist who’s ponied up a few thousand dollars to go pretend to relive some glory days that he never had. Well, at least it’s warm in Florida. Now, we’re back to talking about opening day. I’m picking up on a theme.

0:22 Strangely, things are looking up. It turns out the ’69 team had an 8 game lead over the Cardinals and everything was rosy. The bleacher bums were drunker than ever, people were inexplicably wearing hardhats and some dude insisted on playing a bugle. Not sure what that’s about.

0:25 Annnnd… heartbreak. The Cubs blow big series with the Mets (3rd place in the NL) and get absolutely shut down by Tom Seaver in the process. Plus, this series gave the psychotic fanbase one more thing to obsess over as a black cat gets released onto the field at Shea Stadium. Oooga booga! We get interviews of fans still discussing this cat. Seriously? Meanwhile, the Cubs predictably blow said lead and miss the playoffs. Fans are too busy discussing the fate of a stupid cat to notice.

0:28 Quotes including “I hate the Mets”, “They will never be forgiven” and “sour grapes” are thrown around by our interviewees. Is this where I'm supposed to remind everyone "it’s only a game"?

0:32 Right on time: the predictable lovefest for Harry Caray. I guess I get that he became synonymous with the team and all that. But really, do we need to canonize an old drunk who couldn't even stay sober on the job? There's even a statue. If he weren't the Cubs announcer I'm fairly sure he fit right in as town drunk of Anytown, USA.

0:39 Note to self: Bryant Gumbel is killing me with his melodramatic bullshit. Sweet jesus. If he cries on camera, I'm out. He brings up how the Cubs went up two games to none in the 1984 NLCS against the Padres. They lose game three, blow game four thanks to a 9th inning walk-off dinger by Steve Garvey and choke away a lead in game five flushing away all World Series hopes. For the record: some Cubs fans still hate the Padres. I know I always get geeked up for that fierce Chicago/San Diego rivalry.

0:43 It's time for some group fellatio as we gather at the feet of Ron Santo. Come on, there's room for everybody! I don't have much to say about Santo. It's usually confined to jokes about the handicapped, and those hardly seem appropriate in this forum (that's right, oral sex = acceptable, handicapped = won't go there). Anyway, it is cool (despite questionable inspiration) that this Bill Holden guy walked across the country to raise money for diabetes.

0:47 Uh oh, we've come to the time in the program to discuss the 2003 playoffs, possibly the single period of time that most cemented my Cubs scorn. We meet a film maker who cashed in his entire savings to make a documentary about the 2003 season. We also get our first Sammy Sosa sighting. No footage of him taking anabolic steroids. Apparently, the bitterness has not worn off for any of our commenters. There is shit talking about the Marlins in general and Jack McKeon specifically. Nice, guys. Go after an old man.

There's a lot to talk about this series from the very presence of Paul Bako to the whole Bartman thing and Moises Alou's complete meltdown. Call me crazy, but blowing up like a madman while you're still winning the game doesn't seem like the best strategy.

0:55 Finally, the real reason the Marlins won: Alex Gonzalez (the shitty one) boots a ball at shortstop and Derrek Lee doubles in a run (small hint of irony there) and the Cubs lose. Of course, this was only game six, but in game seven Kerry Wood completely imploded (sound familiar?) and the Marlins cruise. Next, we learn that the kid making the movie's entire deal was contingent upon the Cubs making the World Series. Wow, talk about a punch in the gut. I almost feel bad.

0:58 In our closing montage we learn that people "still have faith" and are just "happy to be alive." Not sure how this relates to any talk of curses and harbored feelings of scorn for particular teams and players, but whatever. Credits roll. Special thanks to Dennis Franz for leading me on this journey. And, cut. Cubs fans, you can return to drinking yourself into a coma.

4.08.2007

"Can We Tell You About Freddy Sanchez Again?": 2007 Pittsburgh Pirates Season Preview

I really don't remember the Pirates ever being good. Apparently, though, they actually were good once upon a time. They actually won the NL East three straight years, 1990-1992. Coincidentally (or not), 1993 was the first year Barry Bonds played out on the west coast. Since then, the Pirates have been perennial bottom dwellers of the now NL Central, finishing in second place only once, while finishing in the bottom two teams a whopping seven times. Well, at least they have the Steelers. My own personal enmity with playing the Pirates manifests itself mostly in the guise of George Grande. For those of you not regular FSN Ohio viewers, Grande insists not only on saying ridiculous bullshit, and then repeating it over and over. When the Reds play the Pirates, Grande repeatedly refers to them as the "Buck-O's". Get it? Pirates -> Buccaneers -> Bucks -> Buck-O's (cue sarcastic laugh). It's as if he refuses to even say the actual team name, or he is convinced that he is utterly hilarious. This is infuriating to me and makes me dread Pittsburgh games.

I'm actually watching the Reds/Buck-O's game as I type this and trying to feel some empathy for everyone in the sub-freezing temperatures. It sucks out there. I was there Wednesday night and it was fucking snowing. The Pirates aren't really instilling any confidence in me. I don't get this lineup. Is anybody supposed to drive in runs? I like Jason Bay despite his looking like a 12 year old, but I'm not completely sold on Freddy Sanchez. Sure he won the batting title last year, hitting .344, but his OBP was only .378 and he only walked 31 times and only stole 3 bases. Not exactly your prototypical leadoff hitter*. As a point of reference, Adam Dunn hit only .264 last year but his OBP was .365 and he did have those 40 HR to soften the blow.

With all due respec to Zach Duke, the pitching staff is crummy too. I don't have the energy to go into why, I think you know why. They don't have good players. Get over it. So, without anything more to say about this team, I'm picking them to finish last in the division in 2007.

*This thought was inspired by Chris Welsch on the FSN broadcast, who is far less loathesome than George Grande

"Hey, Did You Hear We Won The World Series?": 2007 St. Louis Cardinals Cardinals Season Preview

Oh Dear God! The Cardinals started the season 0-3. Bring out the brooms, I'm calling for the season oh-fer. I'm pretty sure 162 consecutive losses would be a record for a team coming off a World Championship. Remember, you heard it here first..... What's that? The Cards have already won a game since getting swept to open the series? Well shit, there goes my whole post. (Okay, Gage, think for a minute how to spin this.... annnnd I've got it). Exactly. This just proves my point. It's still early in the season to get upset over one game or one series, and thus not too late for a season preview. It's only too late for me to predict zero-game winners, and of course I would never do that.

That paragraph sucks. Sorry. Moving on...

I have a hard time mustering up emotions towards the Cardinals. I know they're good and they constantly beat up on the Reds, but I don't hate them. Pujols is the best player in the league, but doesn't seem like an asshole. I've never even heard a Chris Carpenter quote. Plus, I've got this whole "enemy's enemy is my friend" complex in reference to the Cubs. Apparently the two teams are hated rivals. There's no reported evidence of Cards on Cubs fan violence, or vice versa, but I'll take their words for it. What I do know is that I personally hate the Cubs (and by extension their fan base in general) so I always appreciate when the Cardinals demoralize them.

But, I just don't know what kind of job they'll do this year at that one. The year after winning a World Series is always an awkward one. Just ask the 2006 White Sox. They lost Jason Marquis, Jeff Suppan and Jeff Weaver (who admittedly shouldn't even be on on a MLB roster). Those first two guys combined for 26 wins last year. That's a lot to give up. Interestingly, they both went to NL Central teams. If either has a big year it could really come back to bite St. Louis on the ass. But, I guess the bigger question is: who's left? Well, besides Carpenter there's Kip Wells, who I think is better than his reputation. I mean, he's not terrible but nobody seems to want him very badly. Not sure he's a #2 though. Behind him I see some cause for concern.
Both Adam Wainwright and Braden Looper just got their first career starts. Looper is a career reliever with a career 103 saves (and one glorious blown save on opening day 2005 in the 'Nati). When was the last time you heard about a reliever successfully moving to starter late in a career? Nobody comes to my mind.

So, Chris Carpenter and his merry band of rejects are hoping that the lineup can score some runs. But, where is it going to come from? Pujols, of course. And, Rolen probably. This is where I'd like to claim that you can't win with Adam Kennedy and David Eckstein up the middle but of course that would be silly (see Anaheim). But, really there's not much here to work with. When it comes down to it, this team doesn't have enough studs to get over the hump again. I'm saying they finish 3rd in the division.

4.07.2007

You see, it would be this mat that you would put on the floor...

and would have different CONCLUSIONS written on it that you could JUMP TO." Obviously, Jay Mariotti has been taking notes from Office Space numbnut Tom Smykowski. As much as I hate to validate anything that spews forth from the Sun-Times resident Heiney bird and ghhhhhh...how I hate this show... Around the Horn talking head (because we all know it's just the attention he craves), the sheer idiocy of his most recent Sox-bashing column is pretty difficult to ignore.

Now, Boise Wants Jay does a better and more consistent job of bashing Jay than I could ever or would want to do, and even Deadspin does a pretty admirable job of following his idiocy. And while Jay the Joke essentially beat me to the punch on this one, I'd like to expand a little bit more on precisely how nonsensical this sky-is-falling numbnuttery really is.

Says Mariotti, "Well, swallow this: The starting rotation stinks. I can say that smirkily after watching a raggedy Jose Contreras [...] I can say that snarkily after watching a wild Jon Garland." I suppose at least Mariotti has a semblance of a grasp on the one register in which he writes columns--smirk and snark. But that's about all he has a firm grasp on.

He goes on to say "I realize these are only two games," but it's not clear that he really does. I guess now that the Sox are 2-2 following good performances from Nick Masset and Javy Vazquez, we can expect a bold Mariotti column prognosticating a .500 finish, calling for Masset to replace Contreras in the rotation, and begging Kenny to throw more money at Vazquez so the Sox can lock him up beyond his current 3-year contract.

But that's not even the most baffling element of the column. Mariotti seems to indicate that the White Sox (his ire is directed at Ozzie, Kenny, and Jerry) run the club in a egotistical, spendthrift fashion--not spending enough on the open market and not getting enough in return for trades. Nevermind Freddy Garcia's arm is ready to fall off. No matter that the talent in return for McCarthy is already starting to pay off. Nevermind the fact that there was no talent on the market better, for the price, than what the Sox already had in house.

I guess he missed the memo that the South Siders have the 5th highest payroll in baseball, nearly $10 million more than even the Soriano/Lilly/Marquis buying Cubs (oh, that's right, he doesn't bother to do any research). Despite the high payroll, I guess the Sox really should have gone out and spent money on guys like Gil Meche and Ted Lilly this offseason--they won their first starts, after all. Check back at the All-Star break, Jay, and we'll see how the Sox rotation stacks up against these chumps.

It's really a wonder to me that Mariotti is still employed by the Sun-Times, particularly considering the legions of sports bloggers out there who regularly write more informed, thoughtful, and well-written posts than virtually any Mariotti column. Sure, controversy sells... to a point. But doesn't it seem like there should be some sort of law of diminishing returns here? Maybe that just makes me some sort of naive idealist, but how many people must Mariotti make want to go all Office Space copier on his ass before the Sun-Times realizes that this guy doesn't incite rage because he writes anything worthwhile? Rather, he's proven consistently that he's merely a petulant, juvenile, ignorant, self-absorbed little man with a penchant for writing and reasoning on a sixth grade level. Ladies and gentlemen, the face of the Chicago Sun-Times sports section!

I'll let Jay himself close out this post, because, well, he's better at making himself look stupid than I am, as he's clearly and delightfully unfamiliar with the concept of "the pot calling the kettle black." The coup de grace, boys and girls: "It might help if Ozzie, Kenny and Jerry would just shut up. All these people do is yap, and by comparison, the women on 'The View' are pleasing to the ears." Yeah, Jay, riiiiight...

*thanks to reader Dave for the heads-up on this one


4.06.2007

Baseball is not a 30-degree game

I'm sure there have been columns aplenty written about this year after year after year (I think I remember a Bring the Crazy, nee Planet Killer, post about this awhile ago), but I'm going to write about how stupid it is for baseball to play games in 30 degree weather to start the season.

Let me just say to start that I'm all for cutting the regular season to 150 games--or even shorter. I'm just skeptical that MLB and Bud Selig, in his infinite wisdom, are even entertaining the idea of giving up the revenue from those 12+ games. So what are our other options? The best one, it seems to me, is to force cold weather teams on the road for the first week and a half of the season.

Today the White Sox-Twins game was postponed due to cold weather. Why weren't they playing in Minnesota's cozy Hefty-bag dome? The Indians-Mariners game was postponed due to snow (Update: this is even more ridiculous when you consider what happened in this game, called in the 5th inning). Why weren't they playing in Seattle, where the weather is milder and there's a partially retractable roof? Yesterday, the Tigers-Blue Jays game was postponed due to cold weather. Why weren't they playing up in Toronto's dome? And that's not even counting games that were played despite the brutally cold weather in Philadelphia and New York. Because it's not really just about the postponements; the games actually played in inclement weather are almost worse. Pitchers can't grip the ball, hitters can't feel their bats, fielders can't feel their hands, and the fans are miserable. It's just not the way baseball should be played.

Breaking the teams in each league down geographically, it's nearly mind boggling why this continues to be a problem. To wit:

Warm weather/ domed/roofed AL teams (7)-LA Angels, Oakland A's, Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers, Minnesota Twins, Toronto Blue Jays, Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Cold weather/ open air AL teams (7)-Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals

Warm weather/ domed/roofed NL teams (8)-Atlanta Braves, Florida Marlins, Houston Astros, Milwaukee Brewers, Arizona Diamondbacks, LA Dodgers, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants
Cold weather/ open air NL teams (8)-New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies, Washington Nationals, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals, Colorado Rockies

Yeah, a lot of teams from the East and Central would have to open on the road in the West. Yeah, Seattle won't necessarily be warmer than Baltimore or San Fran warmer than Washington, D.C. But when you see games, as you have this week, with the Twins visiting the White Sox, the DRays visiting the Yankees, and the Mariners visiting the Indians, it just makes so little sense to have those games in the colder cities. Stadium snowglobes should be more novelty than reality.

No, this doesn't have to be a hard and fast rule. You wouldn't want the White Sox to open on the road in perpetuity. God forbid the almighty Yankees have to open in Tampa. And you wouldn't want to see Cincinnati's precious parade tradition be ended. But maybe the cold weather teams should open at home only once every 3 or 4 years--and then promptly head out West after a quick 2 or 3 game set. I don't really know. But I do know that I don't want to see Ozzie Guillen wearing a sock hat over his baseball cap. Because that's just dumb.

4.04.2007

"Ben Sheets is Finally Really Good, Maybe": Milwaukee Brewers 2007 Season Preview

One game does not an ace make, but apparently Ben Sheets is the shit. Assuming this is true, if he can pitch like he did in 2002, he might just win 17 to 20 games. This bodes well for all those folks who made the Brewers the en vogue pick to win the division this year. This got me thinking: "why?" Deep, I know. Well, the first thing that jumps out at me from their depth chart is a certain degree of veteran depth all over the field. If, say, Rickie Weeks or Corey Hart doesn't pan out you've got Craig Counsell, Kevin Mench and Laynce Nix on the bench. Don't get me wrong, I'm not looking to win a world series with Those three guys as my anchors, but they are certainly good hole-pluggers in a loooong baseball season. Of course, I can't help but notice that the starters on this team aren't really going to blow any wind up your skirt (assuming you want wind blown up your skirt). Bill Hall did hit 35 HR last year, but they traded away Carlos Lee and now don't appear to have anybody in the everyday lineup who can even sniff hitting .300. Doesn't every team need at least one guy who gets on base regularly? Maybe Rickie Weeks keeps getting hits .300 and scores 100 runs, and maybe Prince Fielder and Bill Hall both break the 30 HR barrier, but I'm not sure how confident I am that any of those things happen. That said, far be it for me to criticize this young talent. They should certainly be fun to watch.

Heading to the mound is a slightly different story. Sheets is nasty, but has shown to be injury prone the past two years. Chris Capuano is basically a just-above-average type pitcher. And, of course there's Jeff Suppan who parlayed a World Series victory into a $42 million contract for a career 4.61 ERA pitcher. Congratulations, Jeff, you just hit the lottery. Which raises a big question for a few teams this year: what do you expect out of your wildly overpriced aging free-agent pitcher? It's a total crapshoot when you look at guys like Suppan, Gil Meche, Ted Lilly and Jason Schmidt. However, resting on their laurels, trying not to get hurt and coasting through the season appears like the most likely option. Maybe I'm wrong, but it seemed like every one of these contracts made most baseball fans who are paying attention look like they just sucked the juice out of a lemon. I hope I'm wrong, because there's nothing more disheartening than seeing a highly-paid athlete taking plays/games/seasons off. But, what Suppan brings to the table remains to be seen. Maybe we'll get some indication tonight in his first start.

This Brewers team is full of questions with a young lineup and a pitching staff that could really go any number of ways. I think this is why people are picking them so often. Every writer wants to be the guy who says "See? I knew Bill Hall would hit 40 homers this year. I'm a genius and you're an idiot." Thus, I'm not picking them. I'm going to say that they'll stay in the Wild Card chase until the last week of the season but eventually fall short of the playoffs. Still, lots of hope for the future with this team.

4.03.2007

"Tell Roger We'll Pay Him Whatever He Wants": 2007 Houston Astronomicals Season Preview

As I write this, Houston is playing Pittsburgh in their second game of the season. What that means is that I'm running dreadfully late on my season previews. Fortunately for all concerned, it really doesn't matter. I do have the advantage of telling you that apparently Brad Lidge still sucks and blows saves. Okay, maybe he doesn't completely suck, but you have to think the Astros' fans hold their collective breath whenever he comes into the game. Of course the Astros are far from the only team in the league with what I'm going to call the "Armando Benitez Effect" (n) - a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach when your favorite team's closer du jour enters the game and you just know he's due to melt down at any moment. Other players inducing this ailment include: David Weathers, Ryan Dempster, Fransisco Cordero, Jason Isringhausen and Huston Street. If you like, take a gander at last year's blown save leaders. The weird thing about this discussion is that I don't necessarily think you NEED a good closer to win. Last year the Cardinals only got one save in the World Series and that came from Adam Wainright who has three regular-season saves in his entire career! The White Sox had Bobby Jenks in '05 who came out of nowhere and the Red Sox revived Keith Foulke for one solid season the year before.

As for the rest of the 'Stros, I just can't see how their management expects them to be any better than last year when they just barely finished above even-money at 82-80. You have to love Berkman and Carlos Lee, but Adam Everett and Morgan Ensburg hit a whopping .239 and .235 last season, respectively. Roy Oswalt could potentially win the Cy Young, but there's no real number two unless you're getting fired up about 40 year old Woody Williams. What this all points to is another July run at winning the Roger Clemens lottery. But, he keeps getting older and the Astros are going to have to be in the hunt when Rocket season rolls around. They better not get off to a slow start or this season could turn into the Hunt for Red October before they know it.

None of this is to take away from my favorite thing all-time about the Astros, the retro uniforms. I can still remember somehow lucking into lower-deck (ahhh the "blue seats" in Riverfront) Reds/Astros tickets as a kid while they were still wearing this ridiculous garb. You have to think they're due a good 5-10 wins on MLB throwback days every year just by distracting their opponents. Of course, I have no proof of this. Somebody put the Hardball Times on this one.

At the end of the year with this team, I think it comes down to what I said earlier. They just aren't any better. What about this team makes you think they will win more games than they did before? Yes, the NL Central is weak, but it was last year too. These guys will tease you occasionally, but end up middle of the pack in the division this year. And I'm not just saying that because they're 0-1.

7 Things trout Learned After One Day of Baseball

1. Mark Buehrle has the power to severely fuck over anyone who crosses him. You want to break his streak of five straight Opening Day starts? Fine. Go ahead. But you'll embarrass yourself to the tune of 7 earned runs in one inning.

2. This may be the year for promising pitchers to finally realize their promise. Tittle500 had to be please to see his boy Ben Sheets, who's threatened to be a fantasy star since 2001 but only turned in one dominating season (2004), pitch lights out. Similarly, King Felix, who was disappointing last year, is on pace for roughly 350 strikeouts this year. Just hand the Mariners the Divisional title already, and crown me King of the Prognosticators.

3. Gil Meche is better than Curt Schilling. This means that Mr. Meche deserves about a $2.5 million raise. Pay up, Royals.

4. Baltimore and Tampa Bay continue to find ways to lose. It's gonna be a heated battle for the cellar this year.

5. Adam Dunn is "country strong." Whatever that means. Carlos Zambrano may be simultaneously underrated and overrated. Whatever that means.

6. My disdain for Joe Morgan has softened. Am I going soft in my old age?

7. I'd rather watch the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim play the Texas Rangers than the Ohio State Buckeyes play the Florida Gators.

4.02.2007

One Half-Inning and My Cautious Optimism Is Gone.

I hate you and all your Indian friends, Grady Sizemore. And while I'm griping, I'm kinda pissed Mark Buehrle isn't starting today. Damn you, Contreras. Letting the Indians bat around and put a 5 spot on the board is not the way to start 2007. Dammit Dammit Dammit.

"Was 2005 a Fluke? The Pundits Seem to Think So": Chicago White Sox 2007 Season Preview

Well I don't. None of the ESPN.com prognosticators have the ChiSox finishing above 3rd in the division. The PECOTA projection for the ChiSox has them finishing with 72 wins, 9 games below .500. Everyone in the blogger world is squawking about the idiocy of having Podsednik and Erstad at the top of the lineup. Seemingly it's all gloom and doom on the South Side. Well, fuck that.

I'm choosing to be cautiously optimistic this year. Maybe that'll work out better than the unbridled optimism I had last year. Yes, Podsednik kinda sucked last year, both in left and at the plate. But I tend to agree with Foul Balls' guarded optimism on the Podsednik front; really all I want from him is to be smarter about stealing bases and not look lost in left field. I think this is certainly doable. He doesn't have to be Jose Reyes at the plate for the Sox to win, he just needs to get his head right.

No, I don't agree with starting Erstad instead of Brian Anderson in center, either from a defensive or offensive perspective. I think BA was unjustly relegated to Ozzie's doghouse, and it's continued on into this season. But I think Erstad will be a passable defender. I just hope he doesn't sabotage this team because he's still pissed that AJ gamed the umpires in the 2005 ALCS (remember that, B.O.B.? What a freaking game...)

Besides, offense is not where this team needs to worry. I'm not saying the 2007 squad will equal the production of last year's team, but the production will be there: Thome, Konerko, Dye, Crede, and the rest of the crew will produce runs no matter if Pods and Erstad sport OBPs in the .330 range. The World Series champs scored 127 less runs and won 9 more games than the 2006 playoff-less vintage.

The problem is that the 2006 pitching staff gave up 149 more runs than the 2005 staff. Garland's ERA jumped a full run from 3.50 to 4.51. Contreras's jumped from 3.61 to 4.27. Worst of all by far, Buehrle's jumped from 3.12 to an astronomical 4.99. I don't have to tell you that this year is Buehrle's walk year and his affinity for the Cardinals has been swirling around the rumor mill for years now. Now, I don't put a whole lot of stock in guys putting up career years in their contract years (although it'd be nice, considering Jermaine Dye is in his walk year too), but I do put some stock in a career 3.83 ERA pitcher being able to post an ERA a hell of a lot closer to 4. I haven't seen him pitch this Spring, but the pessimists over at SSS see some reason for optimism. And if Garland and Contreras can pull their heads out of their asses and do the same, the Sox are in business even if Vazquez and Danks post mediocre 4.50-5 ERAs. Do your magic, Coop.

I'm not saying a return to the Series is in store, but I do think the Sox are flying under the radar again this year. Which is right where they were in 2005. They've certainly got enough talent to put together a playoff run in a division which, I think, is a bit weaker than people admit anymore. I'm gonna miss watching this 95-win, playoff-bound club with Hawk and DJ this year... after thirteen years of getting to see this team everyday, it's just not going to be the same following them from RedSoxNationLand.