Wednesday, April 21, 2010

49ers NFL Draft Preview

Who really knows how any NFL Draft will end up? It's such a commotion on Draft Day that there is really no way to predict who is going where. I mean, Michael Crabtree ended up with the 49ers last year and no one thought that was possible. It just takes one or two teams to go a different way with their picks, and another team gets rich.

For the 49ers, there are too many ways this team can go, and they are not giving out information on who they have their eye on and what position they would really like filled. Plus, ex-GM Scot McCloughan has left the team, and interim Trent Baalke is forced to take over.

The 49ers hold the 13th and 17th picks, and for me, there are two positions that the 49ers must draft somewhere between April 22-24, an OL and a CB/S. Good news for the 49ers, this year's Draft is full of them.

Let's start with the Offensive Tackles. Russell Okung, Brian Bulaga, and Trent Williams are the big boys for this position. Although I would love to see Trent Williams, who sports a 6'5" 310 pound frame, fall to the 49ers, I don't think we are going to see that. But I will say that the #4 best OT, Anthony Davis, will be there if the 49ers want him. It depends for the 49ers, are they going to go with the best available player? Or with the position that they need most?

Anthony Davis is a junior OT out of Rutgers. He is 6'6" 325 pounds, but questions about his weight and love of the game is what has buried him so far down the Draft Board. Do the 49ers need someone like that? No, but if he turns out to show no problems at all, then a 6'6" 325 pound frame could bolster that 49ers offensive line, most definitely.

Again, this is all depending on if these players are still there come the 49ers turn at #13, but S Earl Thomas out of Texas is projected to go #14 to the Seahawks. I don't see how the 49ers can pass up on as promising a Safety as Thomas. But the 49ers sole goal is to get an OL, and if a worthy one is there, they will go with that.

If the 49ers plan on going with the best available player at #13, you will probably see Jason Pierre-Paul go, assuming he is still there. I think he will, but again, you never know. Todd McShay has him going to the Jaguars at #10 but all other experts have him going somewhere above that. Pierre-Paul is the DE out of South Florida.

But if you're looking for the sleeper pick, I have one for you. After having Michael Crabtree fall in their laps last year, the 49ers will be looking for that same thing in Jimmy Clausen. Clausen can go anywhere from 7-17 in the Draft. If the 49ers want him, he will have to hurdle some teams.

First up, what will the Browns do at #7? They picked up Jake Delhomme during the offseason and traded away Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson. Is Jake Delhomme their QB? Or will they give another Notre Dame QB a try? The Browns would be fools to pass up Clausen here, but if they are set on Delhomme as their QB, who is scheduled to make $7M this season, then Clausen will fall at least till #8.

The #8 pick belongs to the Raiders. With Jamarcus Russell and Bruce Gradkowski fighting it out for the QB position, I doubt they take a QB here, even one that makes as much sense as Clausen. The Raiders have far other priorities they need to fill instead of a QB, and the OL is one of them. I just don't see it happening here.

But if Clausen gets past the Raiders at #8, and possibly the Bils at #9 (no telling if Trent Edwards is their man), I see the 49ers having a legitimate shot at him. Every other team between the Raiders and 49ers already have solid starting QB's. The 49ers don't even need to draft Clausen at #13 because every team between them and their next pick at #17 already has a starting QB as well. So if they don't draft him at #13, don't panic.

Will the 49ers do it? I'm not sure. But there is a logic to be believe that Clausen will be there if they want him. It is a matter of Clausen getting past the #7,8, and 9 picks, which I predict he will. What's better? Todd McShay realizes this as well and has Clausen going to the 49ers as the #17 pick.

My Predictions: 49ers

#13- There is some who beleive that CJ Spiller would be drafted here. I see the best OL available for this spot. To me, it's going to be between OT Anthony Davis and OG Mike Iupati from Idaho. The 49ers need help at OG. My pick: Mike Iupati

#17- If Jimmy Clausen is there, then it's Clausen. If not, look for CB Joe Haden from Florida to sneak down, or even DE Jason Pierre-Paul. My Pick: Jimmy Clausen

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Sharks Get Huge Win in OT

How nerve-racking was that? Knowing that the Sharks were down 2-1 in the series, knowing that rarely do teams come back from a 3-1 deficit, and knowing how well Avalanche goalie Craig Anderson was playing, how could you not?

The San Jose Sharks beat the Avalanche in overtime in Game 4 last night, evening the series and heading back to the Bay Area with a sigh of relief. Joe Pavelski scored top shelf on the goalie Anderson in overtime, the only puck that had got past Anderson since the first minute of the 1st period.

Seeing how well the Sharks have played in these last three games, it is about time they come out with a win, and this one is a big one.

But the big story was Dan Boyle. 48 hours after his blunder in Game 3, which after further video review was not his blunder at all, Boyle scored in the first minute of the 1st period to put the Sharks up 1-0. Sweet relief for Boyle who was visibly down on himself for the past 48 hours. Also, sweet relief for the Sharks as they went 0-6 on the power play in Game 3, but scored on the power play in the first minute.

Boyle's goal would fuel the Sharks for the rest of the period as they were no doubt the better team in the 1st period. They were playing like they had played during the games before, except this time they got some points for their effort. The Sharks were scrappy on defense, they got to every puck, and the Avs had no chance on any of their shots taken on Evgeni Nabokov.

The 2nd period was a different story. The Avs came out firing on all cylinders and the Sharks were put on the defensive. Avalanche center Paul Stastny scored on the power play at 3:27 and the game was tied.

The Sharks looked tired walking into the dressing room after the 2nd period and to top it off, Anderson looked like he was at the top of his game yet again. But it felt like equal momentum for both sides as they went into the 3rd period.

Dany Heatley, who sat out Game 3, was visibly tired and not 100% throughout the game, and it showed in the 3rd period. Anderson for the Avs continued to stop everything in sight and the Avs were quicker than the Sharks who seemed to be praying for the dressing room down the stretch of the 3rd.

The game went to overtime and after brilliant saves by both goaltenders throughout the first half of the period, Pavelski finally scored on a lightning fast wrister that sailed top-shelf on Anderson giving the Sharks the win.

You can argue that the Sharks got away with one here, but after all this team has been through in this series, the Sharks will take whatever they can get. In my opinion, the Avs won 2 of the 3 periods, with the overtime period going to the Sharks. Anderson played the way he has played since the start of Game 3 and grabbed 43 saves, some standing on his head. Nabby grabbed 33 saves as well and he continues to be reliable in these playoffs for the Sharks.

This win was much needed for the Sharks and now they return back to San Jose with the home-ice advantage and will be welcomed with open arms in the HP Pavilion.

A couple things need to happen for the Sharks. Heatley needs to get healthy. Even though he played no part on the power play last night, he is a key part to the success of the Sharks getting the puck in the back of the net. Had they had him on the ice in Game 3, we'd be talking about a 3-1 lead for the Sharks. Also, where is Patrick Marleau and the rest of the Canadian National Team's 1st line? They've disappeared. Maybe the rest of the Sharks team is good enough to pull them through, but the 1st line is supposed to be the cornerstone of this team, and they have not shown up in this series.

Game 5 in San Jose at the HP Pavilion on Thursday, 7:30p.m.

The Giants Have 2 Predicaments...

The San Francisco Giants are coming off a 2-game losing streak for the first time this season, both in late-inning fashion. But up until then, the Giants were and are playing very good baseball. They are hitting surprisingly well and 4 of the 5 pitchers in their rotation have pitched near lights out. But, as far as I'm concerned, there are 2 problems that this team will face in the coming future, and Giants management will have to find which side of the spectrum gives them the better chance to win.

Sanchez or Uribe

The first problem is more of a predicament. Freddy Sanchez is the team's starting 2nd baseman, or at least that is what he was expected to be when they obtained him last season and what he was expected to be when he comes back from injury. But when is that? Reports say early-May, but other reports say end of May possibly early-June. Sanchez has missed Spring Training as well as the first 13 games of the season, and he will most certainly need to get back into real baseball shape in order to get back onto the field. To be safe, I would predict an early-June return for Sanchez.

Meanwhile, the Giants aren't missing him much, which is where the predicament for the Giants comes in. Juan UUUUU-Ribe has taken the 2010 season by storm after getting a 1 yr./$3.25 million contract in the offseason. This has turned out to be a great move for the Giants as Uribe is no doubt the team's best hitter this season, including clutch hit after clutch hit. Through the first 13 games, Uribe is batting .348 with 16 hits (tied for the team lead) and has 11 RBI's, which almost doubles Pablo Sandoval's RBI total, who is in 2nd place on the team.

So what happens when Sanchez comes back? There the predicament lies. There's no room for Sanchez. Edgar Renteria is having a fantastic start to his season, so you can't move Uribe to shortstop. Sandoval and Aubrey Huff are really the only legitimate power-threats next to Uribe, so they aren't going anywhere. So where do you put him? How about the trading block?

Sure, Sanchez is an ex-batting champ, but his recent injuries have done nothing to justify his 2 yr./$12 million deal that he signed with the Giants last season. Plus, who knows how he will come back from this injury. Trading Sanchez would only work if the Giants re-signed Uribe, and also pending Uribe continues on this tear. Bottom line is there is nowhere to put Sanchez other than the bench, and who wants a $12 million player on their bench? The Giants will have to figure out something quick, but the worst thing to do would be to put their best hitter (Uribe) on the bench just get their money's worth for Sanchez. It will cost them games, and the Giants will need every win this year if they hope to contend for a division title.

No doubt, the Giants will have some thinking to do in the coming months regarding this issue, but it will make this predicament even harder to decide upon if Uribe continue to swing the bat like he has. It will boost their win total, though.

Wellemeyer or Bumgarner?

The only thing wrong with the Giants pitching staff so far is its #5 starter Todd Wellemeyer who has been the only "if" in the Giants rotation this season. Wellemeyer signed a minor-league contract with the team in the offseason and won the #5 spot in the rotation in Spring Training over young phenom Madison Bumgarner. But with the struggles so far this season for Wellemeyer, when is a good time to try something new? Maybe call-up Bumgarner.

Sure, Bumgarner is only 20 years old and needs to get some routine starts under his belt in AAA this season, but he pitched surprisingly well in however many starts he had last season in the Majors. Plus, whatever he brings to the table is better than what Wellemeyer has brought so far. Unless Wellemeyer's start to the season is just a fluke, there is no doubt someone like Bumgarner, or even Kevin Pucetas, will get called up to replace him for a few starts.

The Giants, of course, will wait this one out and see how Wellemeyer does in his next several starts, but if he continues to be the only hole in a very solid rotation, something needs to change. It is not right for the other 4 starters to go out and have solid outings, but when its Wellemeyer's turn its an automatic 4-5 runs given up. And with the Giants offense, although good so far, that is hard to come back from.

The only thing holding the Giants from pulling the trigger in the foreseeable future is Bumgarner's first 3 outings in AAA-Fresno this season. In 3 starts, he is 0-1 with an 8.31 ERA, and only made it through the 4th inning once.

So expect to see Wellemeyer for a little while longer as long as Bumgarner is pitching like that in AAA, but know that it has got to be on the minds of Giants management to replace Wellemeyer sooner than later if this keeps up. If Wellemeyer continues to be the only hole in that pretty rotation, then expect Bumgarner sooner, no matter how he is pitching in AAA.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sharks Give Avs 2-1 Lead

Still trying to pick your jaw up after watching that game last night? Yeah me too. The San Jose Sharks lost last night in overtime after The Play We Shall Not Speak Of occurred just 51 seconds into overtime.

It was an absolute heartbreaker for the Sharks who were in absolute control of the game from the start of the 2nd period on, and yet no "W."

The news of Dany Heatley sitting out the game had already put the Sharks behind the 8-ball, and wow could they have used his powerplay skills last night. The final tally of the Sharks on the powerplay was 0-6. But the Heater absence was negated, at least a little, with the loss of Avalanche Milan Hejduk who left the game after colliding with his teammate at center ice in the 1st period.

Still, the Sharks played well, in fact, they played great, they just could not find the back of the net, not once, which happens to be the most important part (And by back of the net, I mean the opposing team's net). The Sharks outshot the Avs 51-17, and 43-8 from the 2nd period on. There is no way to relate those stats to the final score.

It was an absolute grudge match that pinned Evgeni Nabokov against Craig Anderson, with Anderson playing the role of a brick wall in front of the net. There wasn't much Nabby could do. He had a couple of huge saves early, and given the opportunity, probably would have been just as hot as Anderson.

Craig Anderson, win or lose, was terrific. It was a performance in net that not many will forget, and could potentially mark this series and maybe his career. He stopped 51 shots, which is unheard of given that these are his first playoffs. The only way to describe his play last night was that he was in the zone. And the Sharks ran into another hot goalie.

How do the Sharks move on from this? They just do. They have to. They need to go back to the fact that they are playing very good hockey right now. They are aggressive, quick, playing solid defense, and getting shots to the net. Getting the puck in the net like they did in Game 2 was not going to happen last night. Anderson was too good, and the Sharks didn't capitalize on the opportunities in front of the net when they needed to, and that may have been the result of no Heater.

If the Sharks score in overtime and win the game, then there is huge momentum going into Game 4 knowing that they just played excellent hockey for the past 2 games. Up until 51 seconds into overtime, they did. In fact, they ARE playing great hockey, but somehow the series is 2-1 in favor of the #8 seeded Avalanche, and the Sharks will have to try to find someway to put The Play We Shall Not Speak Of out of their minds. Someway.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Avalanche Take an Early Bite Out of the Sharks

I could have sworn I was watching a Ducks/Sharks game from the first round of the 2009 NHL Playoffs last night. That's how it felt. The San Jose Sharks lost last night to the Colorado Avalanche 2-1 when Avalanche winger Chris Stewart scored off of Rob Blake's skate with a little less than 50 seconds left in the game.

Is this 2009 and before all over again? Probably not, at least I'm not going to say that out loud. Bottom line was the Avalanche defense came to play last night, and the Sharks offense couldn't put the puck in the net. That's it, don't overthink it. In the playoffs, every team brings it every night. That is why it is called the 2nd season. Teams like the Avalanche, who many predicted would not be in this position, have nothing to lose, so they play their hearts out. The Sharks were a victim of that last night.

Sharks fans should be bummed about this, though. After all, the Sharks are the #1 seed playing a team that could not be a more better match-up for them. The Sharks are stronger, bigger, quicker, and more experienced. Then how come they lost so convincingly last night? Sure, the Sharks lost by just one goal, all be it a goal that was scored with 50 seconds left. But the Sharks were a Ryan Clowe "excuse me" goal away from being shut-out.

Credit Evgeni Nabokov with continuing his hot play and stopping 28 shots. But credit Avalanche goalie Craig Anderson even more for stopping all of the weak shots sent his way by the Sharks' offense. The Sharks couldn't get a good opportunity at the goal, and when they did, they couldn't execute it.

The Sharks had 26 shots on net and that is unacceptable for a team that boasts Heatley-Marleau-Thornton. Where were they? They got shots to the net with 8 shots altogether, but none went in, and that seems to be what counts.

Maybe this was a case of a little playoff jitters, or maybe it wasn't, but the the Sharks played last night like they belonged there, when in fact the scoreboard would say otherwise. The Sharks need to play like they are not the #1 seed, because in the playoffs it doesn't matter. As the Sharks franchise knows all too well.

The only thing you can say is tomorrow is another day. I'm not going to call the game on Friday a "must-win," but it would be highly advised.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

This Is Sharks Playoff Territory

What makes this season different? Another #1 seed, another trip to the playoffs, and yet this team is not a favorite by any means to win the Stanley Cup.

With their playoff track-record, who would pick them to win it all? Year after year, we see this team go into the playoffs and come out with nothing. Last year was a new low, even for a franchise that has had as little success as the Sharks in the playoffs.

But this year will be different, right? At least, that's what we have told ourselves for the last 5 seasons. What makes this year different, then?

For one, the Sharks parted ways with 11 guys from last year's team and replaced them with a nice mix of young players and veterans with experience in the game. Torrey Mitchell, Jamie McGinn, Manny Malhotra, and Scott Nichol will all play key roles in these playoffs to help out the front-line guys.

Two, usually the Sharks are crawling into the playoffs with injuries or end-of-season bad play. This year, there are no injuries to speak of and they went 8-1-1 in their last 10 games. Joe Thornton scared us for awhile with his injury, but I think that was more of a lengthy rest that Coach Todd McLellan used for him. Marc-Edouard Vlasic is one that is key to the success of the defense, but he is back from his injury and back to his normal defensive self.

Three, Evgeni Nabokov usually struggles in the last few games of the season and brings that with him into the playoffs. But this year, some could argue that Nabby is playing his best since before the Olympic break. Nabby is who determines how far the Sharks will go in the playoffs. If he can take his play from the final games of the regular season and use it in the playoffs, the Sharks may have something.

Four, the Sharks offense is usually fire in the regular season, but tends to slow down in the playoffs. The Sharks addressed that to the fullest extent during the offseason, picking up scorer Dany Heatley in a deal. If that won't fix the problem, nothing will. Plus, Joe Pavelski is peaking at just the right time for the Sharks.

So what makes you think the Sharks won't make a run for the Stanley Cup? Nothing. But if you look closer, things have changed in San Jose. The pieces are there for the first time in a long time for the Sharks to win the Stanley Cup. It is just up to the them to put it all together.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Woods: "Not a Big Deal"

How perfect was "family man" Phil Mickelson winning The Masters over the "less than family man" Tiger Woods on Sunday? It fit, and it was too bad the media didn't realize it until Mickelson started to pull away on the back 9, because that should have been a "What If" story that could have been all over ESPN family of networks in the previous week.

"What if Phil Mickelson, who's mom and wife are both diagnosed with breast cancer, wins The Masters over the the biggest story in the world, Tiger Woods'return after having affairs with Pancake-House waitresses?"

But I'm not going to talk about Mickelson's touching win for his family and the way he torched the competition down the stretch making "big boy" shot after "big boy" shot, while everyone else was missing putts and greens on the back 9.

What irks me as a fan of golf is the criticism that Woods is taking for his less than professional on-course behavior, which he said he would clean up. As the final round of The Masters got more down to business, so did Woods, and so did his attitude. He wasn't chucking clubs by any means, but him shouting after a bad shot and letting go of clubs after a miss-hit has caused him to receive some heat for those actions, which he had previously promised to improve.

"People are making way too much of a big deal of this," Woods said. "I was not feeling good. I hit a big snipe off the first tee and I don't know how people think I should be happy about that. I hit a wedge from 45 yards and basically bladed it over the third green. These are not things I normally do. So I'm not going to be smiling and happy. And I hit one of the worst, low quack-hooks on No. 5. So I'm not going to be walking around with a lot of pep in my step because I hadn't hit a good shot yet."

Perfectly said. The only thing I wish he had not done was tell everyone he was going to clean-up his actions on the golf course previous to The Masters because he obviously didn't mean it, as we see by this quote.

Should he have said that? Probably not in the heat of the moment like he did right after the final round because this came across as too strong. But should people be making a big deal of this? No. Anyone who has ever played golf in their lives knows how aggravating the game can get. Woods just happens to have hundreds of microphones around him mixed with a great passion for the game. The camera is always on him, but it is also on everyone else, adn why aren't they shouting at themselves like he does?

Now, should Woods have been thinking about his pubic appearance while committing this on-course behavior? Yeah, he should of, especially since this was his first week back from his obliterated public image. But if he had thought of his image during his rounds, he would have never been in the position he was in on the leaderboard.

It shouldn't be this big of a deal to the media, of course, Woods can only blame himself for it. The Masters was his chance to clean up his image, and show that he was a changed man. But maybe cleaning up his image and trying to win a golf tournament was too much for him...for anybody.

His public image may be worse now than it was at the start of The Masters because of the comment after the final round because it really sounded like he didn't care about his image and his on-course behavior like everyone thought he did.

Of course, this is probably not the case, but who am I to judge? Woods fate lies in the media's hands, and if they choose to make a big deal of his on-course behavior even more, they will. Then Woods' image may be worse than before.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

G-Men's First Week in Review

How to rank the San Francisco Giants' first week of the season? How about the last team to be undefeated in the Majors? The Giants finished their first week going 5-1, while sweeping the first series of the year from the Houston Astros and taking 2 of 3 from the Atlanta Braves this weekend.

The headline for this first week for the Giants, "Pitching, pitching, pitching." And you can say that at least 4 times, maybe even 5 if you want to get greedy. The Giants first 4 starting pitchers threw lights out games in their first starts of the year. None more impressive, or surprising, as Barry Zito's gem in the 2nd game of the year in Houston. Tim Lincecum was impressive in his first start, and Cain was excellent as well, but you can make an argument that Zito had the most impressive start thus far for the Giants. He threw 6 innings giving up just 3 hits and allowing 0 runs, and here's the kicker: 1 walk, something that Zito has had problems with in the past, but not recently, a great sign for the Giants.

Don't overlook Todd Wellemeyer's first start as a Giant either. Wellemeyer is a pitch-for-contact pitcher, so he relies mostly on his defense for help. In the 2nd game of the Braves series, Wellemeyer didn't get much of that as the Giants made 2 crucial errors that turned into runs that the Giants could have used. Wellemeyer would give up 4 runs in the game, but not a bad first start for him considering that is a very good Braves team.

Another surprising occurence was the Giants' offense. They managed to put up 5 runs against Roy Oswalt in Houston, and then they went crazy (in Giants terms) going for 10 runs against Brett Myers in the series finale. Aubrey Huff and Mark DeRosa have fit in nicely in the 4 and 5 spots in the line-up so far and have started a few rallies for the Giants just in this first week. Whether they are taking pitches and getting walks, or putting the bat on the ball, stuff happens when they are at the plate. Veterans can do that for a team that lacks big hitters.

But the Player of the Week for the Giants was no doubt, Edgar Renteria. He may be in the running for POW for the MLB, as well. Renteria hit .524 with 11 hits and 5 RBI this week and seems to have a presence at the plate that we have not seen since he joined the Giants. His wrist is finally 100% healthy and it seems that the Giants may have the Renteria that they were looking for when they picked him up in 2008 for 2 yrs./$18.5 million. It smells like a break-out season for Renteria who is in the last year of his contract for the Giants.

The Giants are playing well early, which is more than you can say for the rest of the NL West, minus the D-Backs who are off to a 4-2 start and have looked impressive as well in this first week.

Pablo Sandoval is one guy we have not seen or heard much of in this first week, which is unlikely for such a high-impact player on the Giants. Although he had his first breakout game of the season in the finale against the Braves, expect him to step his game up this next week.

The Giants have a three-game set at home against the Pirates starting on Monday, then travel to Los Angeles where the 2010 Giants/Dodgers rivalry begins for a 3-game weekender.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Nastiest Pitch in Baseball

How did Tim Lincecum's filthy start against the Astros on Opening Day not get shown until half-way through Sportscenter? When will this kid get some respect for his back-to-back Cy Young Awards?

Lincecum's Opening Day start in Houston revealed one thing about Tim that the public may not know- he is bored with Spring Training. He must be, right? Maybe he likes to watch his fans worry at the thought of him not performing like he has, then watch them take a big sigh of relief as he throws 7 innings of shut-out ball on Opening Day. Either way, "The Freak" is lights out. And these days, it is his one pitch that may be the secret, yet not-so-secret ingredient to his success.

No, it is not his mid-90's fastball, although that may be the 6th or 7th best pitch in baseball. No, it is not his knee-buckling 12-6 curveball, although that is also a top 10 pitch. It is his change-up, and the one that thrives and inherits most of Lincecum's strike-outs because of all the other nasty pitches he delivers. Batters are so worried about looking dopey at the 12-6 curve, or getting gas-faced at the 97 MPH fastball, that they forget about how befuddled they are going to look when Lincecum fires an.....84 MPH change-up that falls off the table like no other.

I think that Lincecum's change-up may be the best pitch in baseball. It was Mariano Rivera's cutter, the one that everyone knows is coming, yet still can't hit. But the way Lincecum uses his change-up in a variety of ways and how crafty he gets with it may be the extra push to get his pitch to the top of the charts.

Here are the 5 nastiest and best pitches in all of baseball, in my opinion.

5. Brandon Webb's Sinker

Not that the pitch is unhittable, but he throws it with such a consistency that he constantly gets people to ground out. The sinker is a pitch where you go into a start and either you have it or you don't for that particular day. Webb has it on a regular basis, and that is what separates his sinker from any others. He throws it about 85% of the time during his start, and he is so accurate with it that once he is on, it is hard to stop. He can throw it where it starts at the plate and dives down to a right-handed hitter, or he can back-door the right-handed batter and have them not think twice. Either way, prepare for a groundout.

4. Roy Halladay's Cutter

Maybe he learned it from Mariano Rivera, or maybe he didn't. One thing is for sure, it is quickly becoming one of the wickedest pitches in all of baseball. He does have other pitches in his arsenal that baffle the hitter, but the cutter may be his best. The pitch comes in on right-handers and tails away from lefties at such a whippy look that it is hard not to get caught up in it. He can throw it anywhere from 88-93 MPH. His name isn't Doc Halladay for nothing. He is constantly sawing off batter's knuckles with his cutter that seems to never find the barrel of the bat. That's good news for Phillies fans.

3. Jonathan Papelbon's Splitter

Jonathan Papelbon's electric excitement after striking out the last batter of the game is usually preceded by a diving splitter in the dirt that has come to be one of the most dirtiest pitches in the game. What sets it up is his 4-seam fastball nearing triple digits that he dares batters to hit, which may take credit for the success of the splitter. No doubt, when he has 2 strikes on a batter, he goes to the splitter that is thrown just a few MPH under the fastball and in the same location, until it dives off the plate and into the dirt, proceeded by the batter being tagged out by catcher Jason Varitek, and then the signature Papelbon pandemonium.

2. Mariano Rivera's Cutter

They know it is coming, yet still can't hit it. That is the motto for Mariano Rivera's cutter that has dared hitters for years. He dares them to hit because he throws it 90% of the time. The ball goes into left-handers and away from right-handers at around 95 MPH with such a, well, late "cut" that the batter simply has no chance of making contact. And if they do, it's not going very far. Rarely is Rivera's cutter struck on the barrel of the bat. Mostly, you will find, for a right-hander at least, the ball connecting off the end of the bat. That may be the only way of connecting with the ball, and that is why Rivera is the greatest closer of all-time.

1. Tim Lincecum's Change-Up

Okay, it's maybe not his change-up alone, more like the way he uses it to make the batter look silly and why he is a 2-time Cy Yound winner at age 25. I already said he sets the pitch up with his mid-90's screaming fastball and 12-6 curveball, but the change-up itself is not bad either, or why would we be talking about it as the best picth in the game today. It dips, it dives, it is much slower than any other pitch he throws, and it dances straight down with a sort of movement that I have heard as can only be described if you are at-bat against him. The best pitch from the best pitcher in the game.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Opening Day "W"

If there was a game that showed off what the San Francisco Giants could potentially bring to the field this year, it was this game. The Giants defeated the Houston Astros on the Opening Day of baseball today, 5-2, behind the stellar pitching of 2-time Cy Young Award winner, Tim Lincecum.

Lincecum threw straight filth in the game for 7 complete innings. He finished with 7 strikeouts, while surrendering 0 runs on no walks. That seemed about the norm for Lincecum. He struggled for the most part in spring training, but somehow the kid does it when it matters. He was perfect. He really only got into trouble once, in the 6th, but was able to get out of it with a sense of ease. Bottom line, he was in control.

As for that improved line-up we hear so much of, it sure looked like something had changed during that offseason in that 2nd inning when the Giants put up 3 runs, started by the Giants' two offseason pick-ups, Aubrey Huff and Mark DeRosa. Huff led off with a hit, followed by a walk to DeRosa, and then the flood gates opened with a base-hit by Benjie Molina and then a long single off the short porch in left field by John Bowker.

Bowker, who had won the starting job in right field over Nate Shierholtz a couple days ago after having one of the best spring trainings of any player, finished 1-4 with a run scored, but was a presence at the plate.

Edgar Renteria would later have a clutch single in the 7th inning into the left-field gap to score a run, and DeRosa homered in the 8th to give the Giants a total of 5 runs.

Sergio Romo, Brandon Medders, and Brian Wilson finished off the game out of the bullpen, with Medders allowing the only two runs for the Astros.

All in all, it was the right way to start off the season for the Giants. Then again, whenever you have "The Freak" on the mound, your chances are pretty good to win. Another plus, the L.A. Dodgers lost in their first game of the season today, so chalk it up as a 1 game lead on the Dodgers in the NL West.

Tomorrow's game is at 5:05pm, Barry Zito vs. Wandy Rodriguez.

The Greatness of the Raiders- McNabb a No-Go

It sounds just about right that Donovan McNabb landed with the Washington Redskins and not the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders were the front-runner and were sounding like the only serious team willing to make the deal for him. There was even a bogus trade in the works that would have sent Nnamdi Asomugha to the Eagles in exchange for McNabb.

But this probable mishap in front-office management cannot be blamed on Al Davis or any other personnel, at least not this time. There was no way this was going to happen. There was no chance because there was no way McNabb would go to Oakland...willingly. What was attracting him there?

The media tends to go crazy with the rumors, but this one seemed far fetched even after the "proposed" trade containing Asomugha.

There is one thing that strikes a cord with me though. McNabb could have changed that Raider team around. They would have instantly been a 7 or 8 win team this coming season. It would have made Raider fans forget all about the pathetic and embarassing moves they have made in the past (most recent-Darrius Heyward-Bay drafted #7 overall).

Then why not pull out all the stops for McNabb? He is a franchise changer. Al Davis should have made McNabb an offer he couldn't refuse or promised him things where he felt that this could be a successful franchise.

Turns out, there may have been nothing the Raiders could do to woo McNabb under Center for their team. Reports say if McNabb was traded to the Raiders, he would have retired on the spot and maybe pulled a Brett Favre on them and sign with a different team, sooner or later. Only to the Raiders would that happen.

But Raider fans had hope, even if it was for just a couple weeks. Their team was on the front page of sports, and the attention was on them. But alas, they came out of it with nothing but broken hearts and disappointment, yet again. And instead of dreams of having McNabb leading the Raiders down the field, they'll have Bruce Gradkowski leading them...into a ditch. The same one the Raiders have been in for the last decade.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

SF Giants Season Preview

It has arrived. Opening Day is on Monday and Giants fans cannot be more excited for this year's team. Is it the solid pitching staff getting these fans going? Or is it the so-called upgrade in offense? One thing is for sure, the Giants have a shot to win the NL West for the first time in a long time. Granted, it is just a "shot" at winning the division, but for a franchise that has gone through its ups-n-downs, and a fan-base that has gone with it, this season couldn't look any better.

Several story lines dominate the start of this season. Will Tim Lincecum three-peat as Cy Young winner? Will Madison Bumgarner crack the rotation this season? How will the Giants handle Buster Posey once he is done obliterating the Minor League this season? And will the upgrade in offense pay off for the stretch run? These are the questions that dominate the speculation this season, and I'm sure there are a handfull more.

But let's cover the obvious. The Giants pitching staff, although they lost Brad Penny, is still solid. They might have the best 1-2 in the League, as well as the best 4-5 in the League. What worries me is the #3 pitcher, Barry Zito. We saw glimpses of brilliance during the second-half of last season. How will that carry over into this one. By the looks of Thursday nights game, not so much. Zito is the "if." Zito is the difference.

Todd Wellemeyer and Jonathan Sanchez are going to give you a .500 season, more or less. And Lincecum and Matt Cain are going to get you 15 wins, more or less, depending on the offense. But I have no idea what to expect from Zito. This we will find out soon. My advice, the Giants are one pitcher away from making a run for this division. Whether that pitcher is already in the organization in the form of Bumgarner or a surprise with Wellemeyer, or they have to go pick one up at the trade deadline, we will find out. They may miss Brad Penny.

As for the hitting, I was pleased this offseason to find that for once in long time a Bay Area Sports team, whose name is not the Sharks, went out and upgraded the part of their team that they needed to upgrade. The Giants needed to upgrade the offense, and they brought in Aubrey Huff and Mark DeRosa. These aren't high-profile names by any means, but it is better than what they had last year, right? I'm still trying to convince myself. The Giants will score more runs this season than last, and if they overcome all expectations hitting-wise, then they will win the West, plain and simple.

Their pitching is moderately strong, their bullpen is just about flawless (knock on wood), and the only thing left is their offense. Which they now have, just not a lot of.

They have a good line-up...until you look at the every other line-up in the NL West.

But there is one thing that the Giants have and will need to resist this season if they want any success. Health is the key. With a pitching rotation and line-up that is as fragile as this team's, pray for good health. They have already lost Freddy Sanchez, who is starting the year on the DL, but Juan Uribe can pick up the slack while he's gone. They're lucky.

If the Giants lose someone like Pablo Sandoval, or Cain or Lincecum, during the season, you can start panicking. Because in this division, there is not much room for error. For any team.

I see good things for the Giants this season, maybe somewhere around 85 wins, more or less. Bottom line, the Dodgers will not be as good this season, and the Rockies will be better. That's all you need to know. And if the Giants can fit somewhere in between those two teams, they may find themselves with a Wildcard birth to playoffs.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

NL West Season Preview

The 2010 NL West Division looks promising yet again. After a surprising, yet competitive 2009 in which the Giants, Rockies, and Dodgers all fought it out for the division crown, as well as a Wildcard birth. This year may be more intriguing than ever. 4 of the 5 teams have legitimate chances of coming away with the division.

5. San Diego Padres
This would be the only team with no chance at the division. Aside from Adrian Gonzalez, the Padres don't have much talent on the offensive side of the ball. Really, who knows how long Gonzalez will be a Padre until some big-pocket team like the Yankees or Red Sox comes by and scoops him up for a playoff run. Do not expect to see him in that Padre line-up for too long.

Their pitching is definitely the worst in the division. Jon Garland is their opening day starter and Chris Young seems to be the #2, then the drop-off.

The key for the team is their young guys. Chase Headley has shown promise, but has not had significant success. Now with Kevin Kouzmanoff escaping to Oakland, the future is now for Headley who must produce in order for this team to have success.

New Faces: Jon Garland, Yorvit Torrealba, Hairston Brothers.
Departures: Kevin Kouzmanoff
Predictions: 5th in the West, 70-92

4. Arizona Diamondbacks
This seems to be the up-and-coming team in the division, and some have even picked them to win the division. They are led by Justin Upton, the young talent who struck it rich this offseason with a promising contract. But the key to a D-Back turnaround from last season is the offseason acquisitions. They let go of some stud players, but may have got back a lot more.

Their rotation is up there in a division that oozes talent. Anytime Dan Haren and Brandon Webb make-up the top of your rotation, that's a plus. In fact, some can argue that they have the best 1-2 pitchers in the game. It is the offense that is the problem, and hopefully Upton's raw ability, along with break-out years from Adam LaRoche, Mark Reynolds, and Chris Young can help out that issue.

The key for this team is health. They cannot afford for someone to go down with an injury in a division like this one. If they are to have any success this year, it will be because they stayed healthy.

New Faces: Adam LaRoche and Edwin Jackson
Key Departures: Eric Byrnes, Doug Davis, Maz Sherzer
Predictions: 4th in the West, 79-83

3. Los Angeles Dodgers
Here is where it gets good, and why this may be the most competitive division in the League. The Dodgers finished last year by winning the NL West and holding off the surging Colorado Rockies. But the recent comments from Manny Ramirez have thrown stones at how this team will perform this season.

We know they can hit, they've established that. Kemp, Loney, Ethier, Ramirez, Furcal, that's all you need to know. The key for them is the pitching. Vicente Padilla is their opening day starter, that does not seem to reflect their great young hitting that well. Their young pitching is what needs to come alive for this team. Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw are the guys that I'm talking about. If they improve, the Dodgers will win the West yet again. If they don't, there are plenty of teams in this division who will take advantage.

The key for this team- keep Manny Ramirez happy. It is a contract year for Man-Ram, and history would show he likes to quit on teams mid-season. In this division, that's the last thing this team needs.

New Faces: Reed Johnson and Brian Giles
Key Departures: Juan Pierre, Randy Wolf, Orlando Hudson
Predictions: 3rd in the West, 88-74

2. San Francisco Giants
I'm going to start this one the same way I started the Dodgers, the Giants have the pitching, they've established that. Lincecum, Cain, and sometimes Zito are straight filthy. The offense is where the team lacks. And the team addressed that this offseason, for the most part. They acquired Aubrey Huff and Mark DeRosa. Although these aren't big power hitters, it is better than what the Giants were putting in their line-up last year, and look how far that got them. They surprised many last year, but don't expect many teams to be surprised this year.

There are two keys to this team: Health and back of the rotation pitching. Freddy Sanchez will start the year on the DL, and that already is not a good start. As for the pitching, I feel that with the departure of Brad Penny, this team is still one good pitcher away from making a run for this division.

New Faces: Aubrey Huff and Mark DeRosa
Key Departures: Brad Penny, Randy Winn
Predictions: 2nd in the West, 89-73 (Wildcard)

1. Colorado Rockies
The Rockies late-season surge throughout the division last season is one that should scare the rest of the division this season. There is a great mix of young talent with skilled veterans. Add that to a descent pitching staff and you might have something here.

Carlos Gonzalez is a stud in the making, and Dexter Fowler is the next big thing in Colorado. Those two go 1-2 in that line-up that can go 6 or 7 deep with guys who can put the bat on the ball at every at-bat.

The thing they were missing last season was depth in pitching. Ubaldo Jimenez is the ace of this team and will be for some time. Hopefully, a healthy Jeff Francis will return better than ever this season and contribute highly to this rotation. And don't forget about Aaron Cook and Jorge De La Rosa.

The key for this team is getting off to a good start. Last season, it took a 2nd-half run for the ages to get by San Francisco and take the Wildcard. In a competitive division like this, it will take a full season of committment to take this division.

New Faces: Melvin Mora
Key Departures: Garrett Atkins, Jason Marquis, Yorvit Torrealba
Predictions: 1st in the West, 92-70

So those are my predictions, it should be an entertaining season in the ultra-competitive NL West.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The McCloughan Mystery

The mystery that is Scot McCloughan's departure from the San Francisco 49ers is one that has baffled the Bay Area sports community.

How can an accomplished General Manager leave a team with a month left before the NFL Draft, the one thing that a GM has prepared for since last season ended, and probably before?

It all seems pretty fishy to me. Was he fired? Is this a leave of absense? One thing is for sure, his office in Santa Clara is cleared out with no sign of him returning.

But what happened? We don't know, and we may never know. The way the story was just sprung upon the public so abrupty, I doubt if we ever hear the real reason for the 49ers and him parting ways.

The ordeal must have been huge in order to cause the split of someone as accomplished in the 49ers organization as McCloughan was. He was trusted by the 49ers and had come on several radio programs the previous week talking about his mindset going into the NFL Draft. It seemed like this one blind-sided everyone.

A speculation broke yesterday that could possibly give us insight into why the two sides split. There was the rumor of McCloughan having a drinking problem. Word is, he showed up drunk to several team meetings and organized events, which caused embarrassment to the organization. And the two sides decided to mutually split ways.

Again, this is just speculation, but it seems reasonable. McCloughan has an extremely tough job, as do all General Managers of sports teams. He must bring good players to the 49ers, and draft good players in the NFL Draft. And if he doesn't, he is criticized. Extremely stressful, I would say.

But whatever the issue is, it is personal. Personal to McCloughan, and personal to the 49ers, and probably something that will not be a topic of conversation at any time forward.

For now, meet your new man in charge of the 2010 NFL Draft for the 49ers. His name is Trent Baalke and he has been friends with McCloughan for 15 years. Some are calling him a McClone, and for 49er fans that's as good of news as you can get. McCloughan had a pretty good track record for drafting players, and if that carries over to Baalke, who has worked hand-in-hand with McCloughan over the years, we should see no difference.

But people will still want to know about McCloughan and what happened. The 49ers are going to keep this one close to the vest. And if it is something as serious as a drinking problem, the 49ers and McCloughan should be given that space.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Sharks' Losing Streak a Sign?

The San Jose Sharks finally snapped their 6-game losing streak the other night against the Minnesota Wild, a streak spanning 10 days and resulting in the Sharks being out-scored 27-12.

It has since sparked speculation of what to make of the Sharks breakdown with the upcoming playoffs just around the corner.

So what do we make of the losing streak? There were several things that clearly stood out. The first being the defense. The word to describe it was 'slow.' They were slow to react, slow on the penalty kill, and extremely laxidasical throughout the whole losing streak. There was no flow to the defense and they seemed plain awkward on the ice.

The other thing that stood out, and this isn't a secret, was Evgeni Nabokov not seeing the puck. I've said this before, and many others before me, the Sharks go as far as Nabby takes them. During the losing streak, Nabby could stop nothing. He went 0-5 on the losing streak that ended in 6 games, with Thomas Greiss losing one of the games. From what I saw, most of the goals scored against the Sharks were shots that should have been stopped by Nabby. But the Nabby we have seen since the Olympic break is not the same one we saw before. Specifically, ever since his his meltdown against Canada.

But is the losing streak just a post-Olympic hangover for the Sharks? Or is this a sign of things to come in the playoffs? I think it's got to be a mix of all the above. The veterans are tired, or they are playing tired, and the younger guys feed off of that. And Nabby seems to be affected by his Olympic play and it has carried over into the NHL season where they are coming down the stretch and need him more than ever.

Honestly, I hope this losing streak is not a sign of things to come, and the true Sharks team was not revealed over this losing streak. They were just going through the motions, and I think this losing streak is a wake-up call for this team. They have been on top of the Western Conference for so long that they were just, like I said, going through the motions. Now they have Marc-Edouard Vlasic back, and the defensive lines are now complete. Hopefully, they can build from being fully healthy, because there is no other excuse now.

As of today, the Sharks are 1 point back of the Chicago Blackhawks for 1st place in the Western Conference, which is shocking considering the Sharks have tallied 3 points in the last 7 games. But taking the 2nd seed or even 3rd seed in the playoffs would not be the worst thing, it might be the best thing for this team.

Now is where it begins. There are 9 games left in the regular season, with big games coming against playoff-bound teams that the Sharks could possibly face in the first round of the playoffs (Canucks and Avalanche). Down the stretch is where they will earn the fans' trust going into the playoffs, and prove this is not just another fluke year of crawling into the playoffs and making an early exit. And for the fans' sake, I hope that is not the case.

Monday, March 22, 2010

FOR SALE: Golden State Warriors

Anyone want to buy an NBA team? It's a little bit of a fixer-upper, but it should pay out in the end.

The Golden State Warriors announced Monday that their disappointing franchise is up for sale. Larry Ellison, who has shown extreme interest in buying the suffering franchise, is in the clubhouse as the favorite to succeed Chris Cohan as owner. And why shouldn't it be Ellison? He would be the owner of the team whose arena bears his company's name. Oracle Arena. It sounds just about right.

For the Warriors fans who have waited forever for a contending team, you can start paying attention now. Many thought that the "WE BELIEVE" year was the turnaround for this franchise and that they would never go back to being a bad franchise ever again. Hang on. This was because they had a core group of players with Baron Davis, Stephen Jackson, and Al Harrington. But they forgot one thing, Chris Cohan was still the owner, and his track record would suggest that the success they were having would not last long.

Of course, a few years later they let Davis go, then traded a disgruntled Harrington, and then recently an even more disgruntled Jackson, and there they were again, back at square one.

A couple years ago, they tried the rebuilding process after all hopes of winning with the team they had was out the window. But it was never going to work. This franchise was never going to work. That is until there was new ownership. The Warriors were never committed to rebuilding because the main issue that needed to be rebuilded was the ownership.

It needed to start at the top, and finally Cohan has succumbed to the jeers wanting him out of Oakland and has let this franchise at least have a chance at succeeding, which was never going to happen with him at the helm.

So here we stand, the Warriors finally agreeing to sell the team, and Warriors fans could not be happier. Will this be enough to turn this historically disappointing franchise around? Not sure quite yet, there is a long way to go. But naming Larry Ellison as the owner should be the first move. And maybe we look back and say that this was the start of something great, or maybe we don't. But this franchise, and most of all its fans, need a different path entirely, because the path Chris Cohan was leading the Warriors down has been one that has gone in circles for the last 15 years with no results. Change will come. Here's to the next 15 years.