Jays Resign To Another Year Of Losing, Bring Back Gaston

October 31, 2009

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by Jeremy Visser… More horrible news for reeling Toronto sports fans: Cito Gaston is officially back as manager next season, signing a deal last night that will have him on the bench for one more season before “retiring” into a four-year consulting role, which will give him plenty more time to sit on his hands. As frustrating as it is to have the old man back, this move was expected after Paul Beeston signed on as president earlier in the week.

Along with Cito’s deal, there was plenty of shakeup on the Jays coaching staff: Out is pitching coach Brad Ansberg, who’s heading home to Houston to fill the same role for the Astros, who hired former Red Sox bench coach Brad Mills as manager earlier in the week. Shifting from bullpen to pitching coach is Bruce Walton, while Rick Langford, who previously served as pitching coach with the Jays in 2002, returns to work the bullpen. Nick Leyva replaces Brian Butterfield as bench coach while Butterfield heads back to third base, and Dwayne Murphy takes Gene Tenace’s hitting coach spot with Tenace retiring.

So, a whole lot of nothing. We lose our most valuable coach (Arnsberg), with the rest of the crew shifting around and a guy that wasn’t capable of sticking around in the first place coming back (Langford). Then again, our entire coaching staff was already been let go once in 1997, so it only makes sense.

SEC - Is Kentucky Ready to Shine?

October 31, 2009

by Mike Henderson…  With much anticipation (drooling), the rabid inventors of all things basketball in the free world await the national championship that new coach John Calipari will deliver. As he dodged his way to Lexington from Memphis, just ahead of the posse, Calipari assembled what could be the best recruiting class in college hoops history. Problem is, several of these recruits may not be around longer than one year and at least one of them (John Wall) may not be eligible to play. The plot thickens.

Predicted order of finish:

East West

Tennessee Mississippi State

Kentucky Mississippi

Vanderbilt LSU

South Carolina Alabama

Florida Arkansas

Georgia Auburn

IN

Tennessee - The Vols are bolstered by the return of top scorer and top player Tyler Smith. Wayne Chism anchors the frontline along with Smith, with Bobby Maze and J. P. Prince leading the backcourt. The production and overall improvement of Scotty Hopson is the key to a deep run the tourney. Coach Bruce Pearl knows what he will get from Smith and Chism but a third consistent scorer, along with their overall depth could make for a storybook season.

Mississippi State - Could boast one of the best frontcourts in all of the NCAA. Could. Jarvis Varnado led the country in blocks last year and has improved his offensive game. John Riek, at 7′2″, will join the team after 9 games to give them another defensive presence, albeit a raw one. The big question mark is the status of top recruit Renaldo Sidney, which is currently still up in the air. Point guard Dee Bost and wings Barry Stewart and Ravern Johnson are back as well. This team could be scary. Could be.

Kentucky - With all the talent at his disposal, anything less than contending for a national title would be a disappointment for the Wildcats. John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Jon Hood and Daniel Orton lead an unprecedented freshman class. Add outstanding post player Patrick Patterson into the mix and you have a ready-made contender - on paper. Alas, the games are always played on the hardwood and this group will have to mesh quickly. The unknown status of John Wall is also a concern although even without him the ‘Cats are very solid.

MAYBE

Mississippi - The Rebels were decimated by injuries last year and still were very competitive in the SEC. The league is decidedly improved this year, at least at the top so the task doesn’t get any easier. However, with the return of Chris Warren and Eniel Polynice, plus the emergence of Terrico White, Mississippi has one of the most athletic backcourts in the country. They are not huge up front though, and this may cause some problems in conference play. Their soft schedule doesn’t help either, as their only real test before conference play starts is a road game at West Virginia.

Vanderbilt - The Commodores are extremely optimistic about a return to NCAA tournament. Returning big man A.J. Ogilvy anchors the frontcourt while senior Jermaine Beal (12.5 ppg last year) is joined in the backcourt by freshman John Jenkins, one of the country’s top recruits. Add in the contributions of Lance Goulbourne and Steve Tchiengang and the crazy home court advantage they have and things could be looking good in March.

South Carolina - Probably one of the “bubble” teams that were left out of last year’s tournament, the Gamecocks return a veteran lineup led by potential All-American Devan Downey. Dominique Archie is a valuable contributor and coach Darrin Horn last year made a successful transition from the Sun Belt to the SEC. Though their schedule is not overwhelming, they do play at Clemson and at home to Baylor and three interesting mid-major teams in Richmond, LaSalle and Western Kentucky.

OUT

Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Auburn, Arkansas and LSU all have work to do. Anthony Grant will do a great job at Alabama but may have some growing pains this season. Billy Donovan is discovering once again, despite consecutive national championships, that playing in Florida generally means football.

Costume Ideas for Maple Leaf Players: A Haunted Halloween in Toronto

October 31, 2009

by Jon Neely…  It’s been a scary beginning of the season for the Toronto Maple Leafs to say the least.

Their record is something out of a nightmare. They now have a monster in the crease, and plenty of people in the Air Canada Center have been saying “boo.” Yes, it’s beginning to feel a lot like Halloween in Leaf Nation.

Dressing up for this sacred holiday is always great fun, and sometimes a costume can tell you a lot about a person.

Take Leafs fans, for example, who lately have been appearing at home games with the always fashionable paper bags covering their face to hide their distraught looks after the dreadful record to start the new season.

The costumes of the Leafs bagged believers tell you all you need to know about the fans, but what about the players on this team of terror? No doubt they have a few good ideas of their own, but a costume says a lot about a person.

Here are some great suggestions of devilish disguises the players should wear to the Maple Leafs Halloween Bash 2009.

Luke Schenn

The young defenseman has become the next victim of the classic sophomore jinx that can affect even the best players in their second year.

As Luke Schenn has struggled through his first three weeks of the season, there is one thing that has become a common theme in his play. He is sure in a giving mood right now.

Since this is the case, it is only fitting that he show up to the party dressed as the Maple Leafs mascot, Carlton the Bear, who is guilty of free give-a-ways consistently.

As each game passes, Schenn gives more and more pucks away to the opposition in his own end, and it looks like the end is nowhere in sight.

If he’s going to be in such a giving mood, he might as well throw on the white bear outfit and toss in a back flip, or the always entertaining jump through a fire-lit hoop.

Replace his stick with t-shirt cannon, load up some of the latest Leafs attire, and let them fly to the adoring fans above.

The longtime Leafs teddy bear better watch out if the second-year defender keeps it up, he might be looking for other work in the ACC.

Mike Komisarek

Next through the doors of the Leafs Halloween bash is Mike Komisarek, one of the new additions to the team who is going through his fair share of struggles as well.

His costume may confuse at first, but soon those around will realize just who he is trying to be come Hallows Eve.

The red shirt may suggest that he’s come as a member of his old team, the Montreal Canadiens, but that’s not it at all.

Along with a black hat and pants, golf bag slung on his back, and Nike ‘swooshes’ spread out accordingly, this Leafs blue liner will come as none other than the billionaire himself, Tiger Woods, on the final day of a tournament.

Due to each man’s unbelievable ability to register the best minus score in the heat of competition, it is only fitting that Komisarek play best golfer in the world for a night.

And if he continues to subtract from his already plummeting plus/minus, you can expect the Leafs coaching staff to put a putter in his hands, and send him on his way.

Jason Blake

This speedy forward’s costume will take some serious work and creativity to pull off, but if done right it could stand out as one of the best at the gathering.

Jason Blake needs to come dressed fully, from head to toe, as a convertible of his choice. That’s right, he needs to arrive dressed as a car. The reasoning is quite simple.

Like a convertible in Toronto, Blake is fast and flashy, but very expensive and a terrible underperformer during hockey season.

Yes, he occasionally will have a great game and add his name to the score sheet. For the amount the Leafs are paying him annually, however, he ought to be bulging the twine at a much higher pace than he currently is.

And like that flamboyant ride you’re unable to drive in the snow, Blake has Leaf fans frequently wondering what the point of him being here was.

Francois Beauchemin

Yet another Leafs blue liner who’s had a frequent case of the “oopsies.” Francois Beauchemin’s costume might have some cringing, but will no doubt get a laugh from his teammates.

You know that aunt of yours that lives far away and you hardly ever see, but when you do she just can’t help but pinch your cheeks, even when you’re far too old and it’s completely unnecessary? Well, Beauchemin and your aunt happen to have a lot in common.

He too has the disturbing habit of pinching, even when it’s completely unnecessary.

Therefore he needs to arrive dressed in an old dress and pantyhose while carrying a cigarette and talking in a raspy voice. Yes, that aunt.

Until he learns not to, he can remain in this costume since he all too often sees an opportunity to make a play, and then lets that opportunity pass before deciding to slide in ever so slowly to the opposition’s zone, lose the battle, and look back to witness the two-on-one taking place towards his own net.

And the fans, just like the little boy greeting his aunt, can usually see the pinch coming. Unfortunately, the only option one has is to cringe and wait for the pain to subside.

Ian White

Not much negative to say about his play this season, as he’s been a pleasant surprise—one of the few—on the team this season. His costume is inspired because of an impressive skill the budding defender has, and it will surprise no one when a cheer erupts from the crowd when he enters the room.

Since Ian White has facial hair that rivals that of the Geico caveman, it would only be natural that he shows up dressed in a retro Leafs jersey, old-fashioned helmet, and a massive grin on his face.

Oh, and we can’t forget the gigantic moustache bustling out from under his nose.

That’s right, for one night this defenseman will throw back to the old days and come to the party dressed as the one and only Lanny McDonald. The preparation wouldn’t be difficult for White either, who is rumored to be able to grow a full-blown moustache in mere hours.

He could even sling a Stanley Cup over his head in jubilation, but to be historically correct, he’d have to be wearing a Calgary Flames jersey. That costume may not be as appreciated.

Not much of a change for White, though, since he and the Leafs legend not only share the ability to grow a beautiful duster, but they even wear the same number.

Some things are just meant to be.

Nikolai Kulemin

The 23-year-old Russian is a quiet, soft-spoken player who prefers to let his play do the talking rather than his mouth. Not the type of person you’d expect to go all out on a Halloween costume, but he might surprise some on this night.

I may be the only person on this fine planet who thinks this way, but there is only one natural costume Nikolai Kulemin can possibly wear. You guessed it, dressed as a member of the Jamaican Bobsled Team from the classic 1993 film Cool Runnings.

Now, before you question my sanity, let me explain why this would make perfect sense. His name is pronounced Kool-Uh-Mon, and as citizens of North America we are used to hearing that name in a North-American accent.

If you slightly change the tone in your voice when you pronounce it, however, you’ll notice something quite enjoyable.

If you simply speak in the lowest possible tone you can dive down to, while articulating Nikolai’s last name, you’ll see where the Jamaican idea comes from.

Say it with me now, deepest voice you got.

Kulemin.

See what I mean?

And if you don’t, and I’m merely insane, then picture the silent sniper walking into the room, donning green and yellow tights, with a helmet in hand, reciting popular quotes from the hit film. It would get a laugh.

Wayne Primeau

The veteran winger born in Scarborough, Ontario, 33 years ago finally got a chance to play for his hometown team this season, and win or lose, you’ve got to imagine he’s enjoying every second of it.

He probably won’t enjoy the night of the Oct. 31 though. The veteran winger will carefully put together his giant sign reading, “Finally, Wayne comes to Toronto!” to proudly display at the Toronto event, but won’t ever show up.

You see, Wayne Primeau has had some injury problems in his career, mainly concussions, or in NHL playoff talk, “upper-body injuries.” Between him and his brother, Keith, they’ve had their fair share of bumps to the head.

If concussions were goals, then these two combined would lead the league this season…until March.

So needless to say, because of the repeated head trauma this poor man has faced in his career, he will forget where his destination is that night, and spend it on his couch, rocking back-and-forth, sucking his thumb.

Vesa Toskala

Vesa Toskala will have the easiest costume to make compared to the rest of his teammates, because all he will have to wear is his goalie equipment.

The only change would be replacing his mask for a baseball cap, and bringing a bench to the party to sit on off to the side.

Thanks to his ghastly play early on, and the emergence of Jonas Gustavsson, Toskala will be wearing that baseball cap on the bench an awful lot this season, as the backup net minder.

There you have it, a night filled with ghouls, ghosts, and awkward karaoke moments for the Toronto Maple Leafs. From the costumes alone, it sounds like it’s going to be a rocking good time this Halloween after the Leafs take on the Montreal Canadiens Saturday night.

Oh, and of course we can’t forget about the candy, which will be handed out at the front door by GM Brian Burke himself, dressed in his usual suit and tie.

Fun is not a word in the man’s vocabulary, and getting a smile out of him on the joyous night will be hard enough, let alone getting him into a costume.

But you can bet that when the media scrum comes a knocking, begging for details on the night’s events, Burke will step out and address them like he always does.

He will completely avoid the question and mumble something about truculence, pugnacity, or the Sedin twins.

In what has been a terrifying October for the Toronto Maple Leafs, you can bet that the entire team will be overjoyed on Halloween night.

Not only because they’ll get to see Ron Wilson do the limbo, but because as the night turns to morning, and the month turns to November, the team can forget about their poor play in the first month of the season, and look forward to the improved ones to come.

It’s been a scary season so far, but the collective hope of Leaf Nation is that after the night is done and the costumes have been put away, the only fear that is felt around this team from now on is by the opposing team as they look down the ice and stare into the eyes of a real monster.

Happy Halloween.

Raps Rear Ugly Head, Fall to Grizzlies

October 31, 2009

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by Jeremy Visser… A win at home against Cleveland and a loss on the road to arguably the worst team in the NBA in front of a crowd of about 1,492. Welcome to the life of a Raptor fan. Toronto, fresh off a 101-91 win in the opener against the LeBrons, went out and did what I secretly knew they would do — they lost to the Grizzlies. Memphis finished with a 35-18 run to grab a 115-108 win.

My question for Jose Calderon: What exactly did you spend your off-season doing? Calderon had a horrible preseason, an uninspiring opener and one of the worst games I’ve ever seen him start tonight. Calderon finished with 15 points and three assists tonight, hitting one shot outside of 15 feet — an inconsequential three in the final two minutes. Jose added five fouls and three turnovers, the last of which led directly to a Memphis fast break hoop in the midst of the fourth quarter swing.

Chris Bosh had a monstrous first half and finished with 37 points and 12 rebounds, but he and Andrea Bargnani had a hellish time dealing with pudgy big man Zachary Randolph, who had 30 and seven of his own. Bargnani, who went off in the opener, finished with 12 points, all of which came in the third quarter.

This one makes me want to bang my head against the wall. Making it worse is the fact Memphis lost by more than 20 at home against Detroit, another Eastern Conference team that had a big makeover in the off-season, in their opener Wednesday. But like I said, when you cheer for a team like Toronto, you learn to expect things like this. It just doesn’t make them any easier to stomach.

Vesa Toskala Back with Toronto Maple Leafs, Phil Kessel Close To Joining Him

October 30, 2009

by Mark “The Hard Hitter” Ritter… The offseason saw Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke make plenty of changes. Amongst the biggest moves were Burke’s acquisitions of Francois Beauchemin, Mike Komisarek, Jonas “The Monster” Gustavsson, and, last but not least, high-flying forward Phil Kessel.

With so many changes, it has been difficult for Leaf players to find the chemistry needed to compete in today’s NHL. The defense has looked out of sorts all season and the forwards have been out of sync as well.

In net, a couple injuries have limited the play of both Gustavsson and Vesa Toskala. Losing one of your starting goaltenders is hard enough for a team to bounce back from, never mind your top two.

Lack of chemistry, poor defensive coverage, an inability to make the first pass, and a tough October schedule have all conspired to lead the Leafs to a 1-7-2 record through 10 games. Let’s call it what it is, shall we? The Leafs have been pooping the bed!

For the Leafs and their fans, all they want is something to believe in. In the past two games, Gustavsson has been solid in net and the offense that was absent for most of October has scored nine goals.

Admittedly, two games do not make a season, but it is something to build on, which, at this point, is all the Leafs and their fans can ask for.

Now, with the Leafs seemingly on their way out of the early season slump, TSN is reporting that Leafs netminder Vesa Toskala will suit up this Saturday when the Leafs travel to Buffalo to take on the Sabres.

Toskala, who has been sidelined with a knee injury, will serve as a backup to Gustavsson, once again solidifying the Leafs goaltending…or so Brian Burke hopes!

And, just when you thought things couldn’t get better, TSN is also reporting that Phil Kessel, Burke’s prized pony, will likely play his first game of the season next Tuesday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The news couldn’t come at a better time. Despite the Leafs’ recent success, they could use a shot in the arm.

Averaging just 2.40 goals per game, the Leafs rank 25th amongst all NHL teams. Clearly, coming off a successful 2008-’09 season with the Boston Bruins in which Kessel scored 36 goals and registered 232 shots, Kessel’s offensive skills should be the prescription that cures what ails the Leafs.

The addition of Toskala is icing on the cake. The Leafs still hope Toskala can emerge as the Leafs No. 1 goaltender, but, given the recent success of the Monster, the Leafs can afford to be patient and play the hot hand.

Some say, “No news is good news,” in this case, the Leafs welcome the news with open arms. Hopefully, it brings with it additional positive headlines.

Until next time,

Peace!

Dan Henderson’s New Interview Video Sheds Light on UFC Contract Stalemate

October 30, 2009

by Stoker MacIntosh… The following is a new YouTube.com video posted today concerning the recent high-priced contract stalemate negotiations between the the Ultimate Fighting Championship and one of the greatest 185-to-205-pound cage-fighters to ever lace up the gloves, Dan “Hollywood” Henderson.

For my related article regarding the subject, click here.

For the sake of his many fans, let’s hope Hendo reneges on these high-priced demands and looks to move into 2010 by accepting UFC’s latest or highest offer, before it’s too late.

Toronto Raptors On Their Way To A 50 Win Season

October 30, 2009

by Brad Norton… Okay, so, if you haven’t guessed by now. What I am going to start is right now a hope or some may call a “dream”. As, I wrote before about the Raptors winning 50 games , remember that?

While now it’s time to do the once unthinkable and set that goal/”dream” into progression. So, I’m aiming for the Raptors to achieve 50 wins this season and so far they have one and need 49 more.

But, there are obstacles in the way as that means the Raptors can only lose 32 games, if that. If it goes over that while then I will never again…(come up with some things and then I will put them in a poll in my next article and we’ll see which one I’ll never do again if the Raptors lose more than 32 games)capiche(cap-eesh).

Every time the Raptors lose, however. I will put down “one gone, 31 more to afford” or something like that. So, now that that is over with I have already seen about five articles on the game wrap up against Cleveland.

I’m a Raptors fan, but, c’ mon do we need to suck the shit out of the Raptors beating the Cavs? No. Some will call it a fluke (Americans), some will say it’s a taste of what’s to come (Canadians).

But, the smart ones will say “big freakin’ deal it’s one game, we started 3-0 last season and some seasons before that.” It’s not that big of an accomplishment considering The Meltdown (last season) started 3-0.

Although, props to Jay (Triano) for basically saying that same thing and saying “ok, good we got a win now let’s focus on next game.” I hate to discriminate, but, if you ask me I think that is the characteristic of a Canadian coaching a Canadian team.

Or…

It might just be what the average coach does, but, what makes him smart is that he doesn’t let it show that he’s happy with the win, even though he is. He shows that he wants more.

Anyways, enough of Jay. It was a well played game on both sides and I’m curious to see how emotionally stable Anthony Parker was before, during, and after that game. I mean, the team that gave you your recognition and for the first time. You are on the other side, tough.

I hate to say it, but I am unimpressed with the performance of Superman 1.0, The Diesel, Shaq his performance in both games although a bit better in Toronto were both looking like he was just being ruthless and not playing the game like it meant something.

Although, I wouldn’t be too worried Cleveland fans. I’m sure the cavalry will pick it’s self up soon enough. Hey, I know it’s only the first game, but I was very impressed with Mr. Young Buck DeRozan . The plot for ROY honors thickens, watch out for this guy I’m tellin’ ya.

Well, if you want a recap of the game there is about 50 million of them across the internet and to be honest I couldn’t tell you a good one or above average. But, hey what do you want it’s a game recap.

Anyways, one down, 49 to go see you on Saturday for the next installment. Also, could use a name for this series hit me up from wherever if you got one. Peace

The 2009 MLB Playoffs: So Far So Bad

October 30, 2009

by Jeremy Gibson… The 105th World Series began on Wednesday with the defending champion Philadelphia Phillies defeating the powerful (and highly paid) New York Yankees 6 – 1 in a cold and wet Yankee Stadium. The Yankees were an absolute beast of a team during the regular season and had little trouble advancing past Minnesota and Los Angeles, but were thoroughly dominated by mid-season acquisition Cliff Lee. Regardless of how one-sided Game 1 appeared, this series has all of the ingredients to be a classic. New York boasts a ferocious lineup, with AL HR and RBI leader Mark Teixeira, AL Wins leader CC Sabathia, the always dangerous Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and Johnny Damon, along with the greatest closer of all time in Mariano Rivera. Philadelphia is also rich in talent, with stars Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins leading the way, not to mention Raul Ibanez and Jayson Werth. On paper it looks like a dream series for Major League Baseball: two evenly matched teams, two passionate fan bases, two proud, historical franchises, and two large markets.

MLB now must hope that it lives up to its classic potential, because to this point the 2009 postseason has been terrible. There are times when the 162-game regular season seems to drag into eternity, but the entire point of the long schedule is to set the tone for the crown jewel event of the season – the playoffs. Regular season play is an appetizer to the main course, a Caesar salad to the postseason’s steak and potatoes. Unfortunately this year the salad tastes better than the meat. All six playoff matchups have been brutal, failing to deliver much drama or excitement. The baseball itself has been dreadful, and is not helped by cold, wet weather and long, drawn out games. Despite some wonderful storylines, such as Alex Rodriguez exorcising his playoff demons, and Brad Lidge shaking off a disastrous regular season, 2009 is shaping up to be the worst edition of the playoffs in recent memory. Here’s why:

Closers

A team’s most dominant reliever is the closer, the man responsible for shutting the door on close games and keeping ninth inning leads safe. Usually, a huge difference between playoff and non-playoff teams is that playoff teams have dominant closers. This year is no exception. But what we have seen is a dreadful display of finishing. Below is a comparison between regular season and playoff stats for the six closers who have been eliminated:

Regular Season

Playoffs

Name

Team

Saves/Opps

ERA

Saves/Opps

ERA

Joe Nathan

MIN

47 / 52

2.10

0 / 1

9.00

Jonathan Papelbon

BOS

38 / 41

1.85

0 / 1

13.50

Brian Fuentes

LAA

48 / 55

3.93

3 / 4

1.93

Huston Street

COL

35 / 37

3.06

1 / 2

13.50

Ryan Franklin

STL

38 / 43

1.92

0 / 1

0.00

Jonathan Broxton

LAD

36 / 42

2.61

2 / 3

4.05

Five of those six closers were All Stars this season, but none of them pitched like an all star when the games mattered most. Each and every one of them blew a postseason save, and in the playoffs, when every loss is crushing, that is unacceptable. Nathan was called upon to protect a two run lead in the bottom of the ninth of Game 2 against the Yankees, a chance for the massive underdog Twins to steal a road victory, but he blew it. Papelbon imploded in the eight and ninth innings of Game 3 to hand a series sweep to the Angels. Street was just plain awful against the Phillies, including single-handedly blowing the clinching game, and Broxton couldn’t hold a lead in the hugely important Game 4 of the NLCS. Only Fuentes and Franklin had lower ERA’s in the playoffs, but did they really pitch better? Fuentes unraveled in the 11th inning of ALCS Game 2, blowing the lead for the Angels, and came dangerously close to collapsing again in Game 5. He was so ineffective that manager Mike Scoscia skipped over him entirely in key situations. Franklin blew Game 2 against the Dodgers, and while it was Matt Holliday’s egregious error that started the downfall, it was Franklin’s inability to get anybody else out that ended it. Only two closers in the 2009 playoffs have not blown a save, and fittingly they are the two left standing – Mariano Rivera and Brad Lidge.

Errors

If defense wins championships, then nobody in this year’s playoffs wants to win. From Chase Utley suddenly turning into Chuck Knoblauch and not being able to throw the ball to first, to the Angels morphing into a little league team, failing to properly field a sacrifice bunt (twice in a row!), the fielding has been downright comedic. Of the eight playoff qualifiers, only the Cardinals were ranked in the bottom half in errors committed during the regular season. The other seven teams were ranked in the top ten. Fielding should be a strong point for these clubs. In the playoffs, however, every team but the Dodgers has committed multiple errors, lead by the Angles with an unsightly nine! Overall the number of errors per game in the playoffs for these teams has increased almost 10% over the regular season average.

But those numbers only include errors that make it into the boxscore. There have also been an absurd number of mental errors on the basepaths. Minnesota’s Carlos Gomez overran second base costing the Twins a run, and teammate Nick Punto did the very same thing in the very next game. The Angels were even worse: Bobby Abreu was caught between second and third, Erick Aybar forgot to touch second base while turning a double play, and Vladimir Guerrero was inexplicably doubled off first base on a shallow fly ball to the outfield. Without those mistakes, who knows if the Angels could have turned the series around?

It’s bad enough that a large number of errors are being committed in the first place, but worse is that these errors are occurring at critical junctures in games. Think of Matt Holliday dropping a fly ball that would have ended Game 2 and given the Cardinals a series tie heading to St. Louis. The Angels gave away two games in the ALCS, when Maicer Izturis threw a ground ball into the outfield in extra innings of Game 2, and Scott Kazmir and Howie Kendrick botched back-to-back sacrifice bunts in the eighth inning of Game 6. Fans are supposed to be seeing the best baseball of the year at playoff time, not mistakes reserved for spring training.

Umpiring

The issue with umpiring in this year’s playoffs has been well documented but is worth mentioning again: the umpires have been atrocious. Baseball umpires take a lot of heat in the best of times, and normally do a very good job. Missing a bang-bang play at first or the location of a 98 mile-per-hour fastball are forgivable offenses. But their performance in the playoffs is an entirely different story. Standing fifteen-feet from a ball landing 15-inches in fair territory yet calling it foul? Calling a baserunner safe when he is tagged with the ball while standing 18-inches off the base? Inexcusable.

By the count of Sports Illustrated, there have been at least six blatantly incorrect calls to this point. MLB supposedly reserves the biggest games for the best umpires, those who have performed the best over the course of the season, but they might have missed the boat this year. What’s worse is that the umpires are escaping punishment from the league for their incompetence. The poor decision making is threatening both the quality and integrity of the postseason, and it’s only a matter of time before a bad call decides the outcome of a game. The umpiring crew did a good job in Game 1 of the World Series, including correctly awarding Jimmy Rollins a double play. Let’s hope the good work continues.

Lack of Drama

For some, the notion of saying that the 2009 MLB Playoffs have lacked drama is ludicrous. They will point to the following stats:

  • 11 one-run games
  • 3 games decided in extra innings
  • 6 ninth inning rallies to tie or take the lead
  • 14 lead changes in the 7th inning or later

It is true that numbers like that make for exciting games, but one or two exciting games do not make a postseason – exciting series make a postseason. To this point the playoffs have offered six fairly dull series. The Division series round resulted in three sweeps and a four game set, while the NLCS and ALCS ended in five and six games respectively. Teams facing elimination were a combined 1 – 6. Not a lot of magic or drama.

In order for a postseason to be special or memorable it absolutely must contain either one or two 7-game series, or at the very least a few intensely fought 6-game battles. The 1975 World Series between Cincinnati and Boston is widely considered to be the greatest ever played – seven dramatic, nail-biting, and close games. But if that series had been decided by four dramatic, nail-biting, and close games, would it still be considered a classic? In 1986, if that weak ground ball to first would have trickled through Bill Buckner’s legs in the fourth game of a five game blowout, would we still remember it as one of the craziest moments of all time? Doubtful.

So to this point, the playoffs have been a bust. But thankfully there is still hope, one more chance to salvage the conclusion of what has been a wonderful baseball season. It’s time to sit back and see if the Phillies and Yankees can deliver.

Olympic Hopes Dwindling: Which NHL Stars Need To Pick It Up?

October 29, 2009

by Mark “The Hard Hitter” Ritter… To be fair, it’s very early in the NHL season. That said, today’s NHL stars have huge expectations thrust upon them, and, to date, there is a long list of “stars” that are not shining right now, which may jeopardize their spot with their respective Olympic teams.

In Anaheim, Ryan Getzlaf, a favorite to represent Canada at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, has just one goal through 10 games. Conversely, Anaheim forward Bobby Ryan, who many expect will represent the United States at the Olympics, has a paltry two goals and two assists through 10 games.

For Anaheim, the bloodletting does not end there. Veteran All-Star defenseman Scott Niedermayer, who is another Olympic hopeful, has one goal and seven points through 10 games but is also an alarming minus-7.

Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas, who is expected to occupy one of Team USA’s three goaltending spots, is off to a tough start, posting a 4-3 record with a 2.97 goals-against average and a .902 save percentage—good numbers but well off his All-Star numbers of 2008-09.

In Calgary, Canadians Jarome Iginla, Dion Phaneuf, and Jay Bouwmeester are getting it done. Finnish forward Olli Jokinen has just one goal and four assists through 10 games and, with a 5.9 percent shooting percentage, clearly needs to step it up.

The Carolina Hurricanes have struggled out of the gate; much of the blame has fallen on the shoulders of Eric Staal. Staal, who is known for his quick starts, has just three goals and one assist through 10 games—simply not good enough.

Even more alarming is the fact that Staal has 34 penalty minutes. If Team Canada is looking to take disciplined players to the Olympics, it’s safe to say Staal is not impressing Steve Yzerman and Co. at the moment.

In his rookie season, Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Steve Mason lit the NHL on fire with his sparkling 33-20-7 record, 2.29 goals-against average, and tremendous .916 save percentage.

The 2009-10 season hasn’t been as kind to Mason. Through eight games, Mason has a 5-3 record, which on the surface is adequate. But his 3.51 goals-against average and
.883 save percentage makes him a long shot to crack Team Canada’s lineup.

In Detroit, Henrik Zetterberg is a lock to make Team Sweden, but with just one goal in 10 games, there must be some concern about his level of play thus far. The same can be said for Zetterberg’s Russian teammate, Pavel Datsyuk, who has just two goals through eight games.

Clearly, Zetterberg and Datsyuk have tremendous NHL resumes and, by all accounts, should rebound to have a solid 2009-10 campaign, but, to date, they have been underachievers.

Admittedly, the Minnesota Wild have played some horrendous hockey thus far, but with just one goal, four assists, and a minus-10 rating through nine games, Martin Havlat must be giving members of the Czech Republic Team fits.

In Montreal, Carey Price remains consistently inconsistent. His 2-4 record, bloated 3.36 GAA, and terrible .886 save percentage make his selection to Team Canada a pipe dream (not that it already wasn’t).

In Nashville, Finland’s Pekka Rinne has been equally terrible in goal, posting a 1-3 record, 3.79 GAA, and .882 save percentage. The sophomore jinx is alive and well, my friends!

New York Rangers centre Chris Drury is having another lackluster year, posting two goals and three assists through 12 games with the high-flying Rangers. With competition sure to be fierce to make Team USA, Drury may make the team, but his role is likely to be reduced unless he can raise his level of play.

In Ottawa, two players stand out as underachievers—Alex Kovalev and, to a lesser degree, Jason Spezza. With a reputation for only playing when he feels like it, the Russian native Kovalev has three goals and one assist through nine games and a minus-4 rating to boot.

In Spezza’s case, with eight assists through eight games, he is getting it done in the assists department. Trouble is, Spezza is yet to register a goal and, with Canada looking for players that can get it done in all aspects of the game, Spezza may find himself watching the Olympics on TV if he doesn’t light the lamp soon.

Another Olympic hopeful for the United States is T.J. Oshie of the St. Louis Blues. Through eight games, Oshie has one goal, two assists, and a minus-1 rating. Three points in eight games will get you noticed for all the wrong reasons; clearly, if he wasn’t before, Oshie is on the bubble.

Vincent Lecavalier will need to do better than one goal, seven assists, and a minus-4 rating through nine games with the Tampa Bay Lightning. The competition will be stiff to make Team Canada, especially down the middle. Lecavalier needs to pick it up.

Thought to be Canada’s No. 1 or 1A goalie, Roberto Luongo has had an up and down season with the Vancouver Canucks. Through 12 games, Luongo has a record of 6-6 with a 2.79 GAA, and a .902 SV percentage. Nobody is suggesting Luongo will not be there when everything is all said and done, but his starting assignment is in jeopardy, especially after suffering a hairline rib fracture this week.

With so many other NHL players having great starts, collectively they are serving notice to the so-called “favorites” to make their respective Olympic Teams, that there will be plenty of options for their Country’s hockey minds to pick from.

In the end, an Olympic selection will be based on a combination of factors, including, but not limited to, a player’s history, ability to play out of position, chemistry with linemates, ability to play in all zones, leadership qualities, and past Olympic experience.

That said, many Olympic GMs are on record as saying they want to bring the players that are playing their best hockey at the time of the games. If that rings true, then one has to figure that one or more of the above noted players may end up on the sidelines when the Olympics roll around.

Fortunately for these underachievers, the NHL season is in its infancy, and there is plenty of time for these players to impress. Fortunate, indeed!

Until next time,

Peace!

Bargnani, Bosh Lead Raps To Opening Win

October 29, 2009

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by Jeremy Visser… Step aside, LeBron — there’s a new king in town. Andrea Bargnani led Toronto with 28 points and the Raptors weathered a second-half Cavs run to take the season opener 101-91.

I’ve watched thousands of basketball games in my life but still haven’t comprehended that it’s a game of runs. Not that I counted Cleveland out after the Raps built a 20-point first half lead, but I was about ready to write the season off after a third quarter three-point barrage pulled the Cavs even. I started getting flashbacks to that hellish night in Boston last November when the Celtics overcame a big deficit and ended up pounding us, aka the Kevin Garnett “Bring It On” game. Toronto bounced back tonight though, re-extending the lead to 13 in the fourth to put it away.

Chris Bosh had 21 points and 16 boards but struggled from the field, shooting 6-of-17. Still, he stayed aggressive in the second half, getting to the line 12 times in total. Bosh, Bargnani and Rasho Nesterovic kept Shaq in check too, limiting him to 12 points and seven rebounds. The Big Diesel, actually, was brutal — his six missed shots were from a combined two feet and he spent much of the fourth quarter on the bench. In total, Shaq was a Kevin Durant-esque -25.

Other notables for the Raptors: Jose Calderon scored just five points but had 11 assists, Marco Belinelli had 10 in 19 minutes off the bench and Hedo Turkoglu had 12 points, seven rebounds and three blocks in his debut. DeMar DeRozan looked comfortable in his first NBA game, scoring eight points in 24 minutes.

Anyway, a fine start to the season. I’ll check back in tomorrow with some more analysis on the win.

That’s what I’m saying, guy…

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