Monday, October 30, 2006

Dead and Buried

---R.I.P. 2006 STEELERS---

Oh, 2005 NFL Champions, we hardly knew you.

Many, myself included, had you pegged to retake the AFC North and make a run to defend your hard-earned Title. However, your record was never better than 1-0 after being fortunate enough to defeat a Miami Dolphins team who was a dark horse pick for many before the season, but has only won one game since.

You gave the Heinz Field faithful a chance to see what they expected all year long with a 45-7 drubbing of the Kansas City Chiefs. This lucid moment, however, has given way to that same fan base now throwing dirt over your casket. We watched you hold the Oakland Raiders to under 100 net yards on the road, but surrender 14 points to them when your offense was on the field.

Between motorcycle injuries, appendectomies, and degenerate pit bulls, you also acquired a talent for opening your own avenues for defeat. Benjamin Roethlisberger has found receivers wearing other uniforms 11 times, at least four of these in the end zone. Receivers and running backs alike keep misplacing the handle on the pigskin, allowing others to find it.

'Twas said best during the Steelers Locker Room Show with Craig Wolfley on the radio yesterday by one member of the organization: The difference between this year and last year is that last year we didn't beat ourselves. If we lost, you came in and beat us.

A frightful end to the season two days shy of All Hallows Eve.

It will now take a Halloween-esque resurrection to still be around in January: it won't be pretty, but we'll sure be glad to see you.

---R.I.P. 2006 FLYERS---

Your passing will not be grieved so much in Pittsburgh, yet when a franchise that has not missed the playoffs since 1993-1994, notice must be served. While the season is still young, the Philadelphia Flyers have shown some signs that the postseason is already out of reach. There has already been a shakeup in the front office and the coaching staff. Despite a favorable advantage in shots on goal (3 more per game on average), you trail the league in goals scored (19) and in save percentage (.856) through 10 games.

Perhaps the most obvious sign that the 2006-2007 Flyers have passed on at a young age is that they've lost twice to their cross-state archrivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins, including an 8-2 blowout loss at home. This game featured a rare moment of ineptitude featuring a 1st Period collision between hockey's dirtiest player and Simon Gagne at the Penguins blue line (during a power play) that resulted in a shorthanded Penguin goal.

Perhaps a new coach can play Dr. Frankenstein and turn this lumbering dolt of a team into a monster, but the turnaround time will have to be quick.


---R.I.P. 2006 DETROIT TIGERS---

There were signs of failing health down the stretch of the regular season wherein the Tigers lost a division title most had assumed they had won by August to the Minnesota Twins. They backed into the playoffs and were able to overcome two opponents with home field advantage before having that HFA to themselves (no doubt thanking Michael Young for a largely-forgotten performance in July) in the Fall Classic.

For all the good it did.

The Tigers forged a 1-1 tie with the St. Louis Cardinals, but did not win again. St. Louis won all three games at New Busch without hitting a single home run. The Cardinals won game five without an extra-base hit.

Yes, it will be argued that the lowest-rated world series (to date) was lost by Detroit more than won by St. Louis.

The Tigers did not play one error-free game.

Placido Polanco did not have a hit in 17AB (1 BB).

The other three players who began the series between lead-off and clean-up went a combined 7-for-60 with 3 walks and two solo home runs (Craig Monroe had both of these).

Former Pirate Sean Casey did all he could to keep the Tigers from going quietly into the night be recording highs for the 2006 World Series in:

Batting Average: .529 (2nd - Rolen: .421)

Slugging %: 1.000 (2nd - Rolen: .737)

OBP: .556 (2nd - Molina: .500)

RBI: 5 (2nd - Eckstein: 4)

HR: 2 (tied w/ Monroe)

Incidently, he did all this after going 0-for-3 in the Series opener.

If you don't grieve for the Tigers, at least doff your cap in a moment of silence for Sean Casey, whose efforts were among the best in (especially recent) World Series history.

Jim Edmonds...consoles?...Jeff Weaver--------------------------------Congratulations, Darth LaRussa

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

New Sheriffs in Town?


That's right, ladies and gentlemen. After tonight's 4-2 win over the New Jersey Devils, the Pittsburgh Penguins are looking down on everyone in the Atlantic Division.

Evgeni Malkin looks more and more like the real thing, after making a habit of putting one behind the netminder in each game, and first round pick Jordan Staal is tied for the team lead in goals scored (4) with Malkin and Michel Ouellet. Heck, through 8 games, Mark Recchi is +3! Last year, after 63 games with the Penguins, his +/- was -28, a team worst. (He managed to be -8 in Carolina in the 20 games he played with the 'Canes after he was traded and -5 in the playoffs).

I've made the assertion that the Penguins will not succeed in the long term if they cannot improve on their Shots-on-Goal differential, which is still among the league's worst. But I can't complain too much about the last three games as it's been reasonably close. And Marc-Andre Fleury, while not playing out of his mind, has been playing well enough to keep the Penguins in games.

at New York Islanders - Pens outshot 37-36 (lost faceoffs 29-32)

vs Columbus Blue Jackets - Pens outshot 39-34 (won faceoffs 39-34...weird)

vs New Jersey Devils - outshot Devils 25-22 (won faceoffs 25-24)

These are signs of a team on the rise. Their performance against contenders like Carolina (L, 1-5) as the season goes on will, naturally, be the measuring stick.

Date to remember: November 17. At Buffalo Sabres. This is the team that many feel will represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals. We'll see how the lines have gelled.

In the meantime, only one more game this month, and that's this Saturday at Philadelphia. Can they kick their hated rivals while they're down?


If someone told you that a football team generated 473 yards of total offense, you'd probably think they won semi-handily.

The Steelers should have learned two valuable lessons this week.

One: Surrendering 399 yards of total offense to the home team is not even close to acceptable, nor is allowing 4.4 yards per rushing attempt.

Two: If you give a good opponent possession at midfield (or closer) semi-regularly, you're going to pay for it.

Forget that Ben Roethlisberger suffered a concussion on a play that should have seen: a) Hines Ward catch the pass anyway, and b) a 15-yard personal foul for a blow to the head. Charlie Batch warmed up fairly quickly and fit the bill more than adequately.

Forget that Nate Washington was flagged for a false start on what was to be a spike. In a comment by "old galoot" at Mondesi's House, "why wasn't he "stand like a statue", knowing a spike was coming? But seriously, should the game really have come down to that? No guarantee that Reed was going to make the FG the way the game was going, anyway.

If you want a scapegoat, look at the two consecutive drives in the 2nd quarter by Atlanta. Getting to start at the Pittsburgh 25 after a Roethlisberger fumble, then the surprise onside kick (Kudos to Tyrone Carter for getting his hands on that ball, but with no one around him, a couple of Atlanta players saw to it that he wouldn't be able to hang on) that resulted in more defensive lapses.

Make no mistake the defense is the primary culprit. The offense wasn't perfect, nor were the special teams, but when your offense scores you almost 38 points, that should be a win.

And, as thejim commented in my last post, a lot of people are eating their words over their assertions that the Falcons can't pass. I guess I'm joining them at that table as I didn't disagree.


In each of the first three games, we've seen some pitcher's clinics, starting with rookie Anthony Reyes, going 8+, surrendering 2 runs on 4 hits.

Then Kenny Rogers, "poop" or "no poop" (future game show on NBC? Well, whatever, thanks to DJ at "The Derek Bell Yacht Co." for finding the image), throws 8 innings of 2-hit, shutout ball, only to watch Todd Jones, who reminds me a bit of Jose Mesa in the closer's role, flirt with giving the Cardinals the tie or the lead. Then tonight, Chris Carpenter gives up only 3 hits in 8 full innings.

No doubt Tony Larussa, as much as I dislike him, is a happy dude. He was more emotional tonight than I've ever seen him.

Meanwhile, ex-Bucco Sean Casey continues to do ok. 3-for-9 with 1 RBI. Considering the Tigers have scored only 5 runs in three games, having 20% of the RBI's can't be considered choking.

Random, crazy thought: Suppose this series goes to the 7th game with the Tigers tied or trailing in the bottom of the 9th, and The Mayor comes to the plate representing the winning run. If Casey would go yard to win the series, will anyone remember in that instant that he and the only other man to win a World Series with a walk-off dinger were filmed together for a Pittsburgh Pirate 30-second promo prior to the start of the season?

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Blogging for Blogging's Sake


And wouldn't you know it, it's for the 2nd week in a row. Vinnie Iyer of TheSportingNews has them winning by ten. Six out of the eight ESPN experts (minus Eric Allen and Joe Theismann) are picking them. My buddy Dutch from said on a WMBS broadcast yesterday that the Steelers are going to roll, citing that the Steelers can stop the run and the Falcons can't pass.

And I can't disagree. Atlanta is just as banged up on defense as the Steelers. And that banged up Steeler "D" kept Larry Johnson from busting anything major in the midst of a much better passing offense. The only thing that worries me is that Kendall Simmons will start the game and Big Ben will see less time if the Falcons can draw up some creative blitzing packages to exploit Simmons' presence.

Otherwise, contain the 3-headed monster that is Vick/Dunn/Norwood and no special teams gaffes, and the game should be won handily by the black and gold. Of course, if the Falcons score, I hope it's only Dunn, because he's on my fantasy team, and I'm playing Raul Mondesi's team this week...


Looking back to last year, the Penguins didn't get their first win of the season until game #10. They go into game #7 tonight with 3 wins already in the books. Evgeni Malkin enters game #3 with 3 points (2G, 1A). This situation can only make the Penguins better. They still need to play more hockey outside of their own zone. They've only outshot the competition once this year (in the 2-1 loss to the Devils) because, like Penguin teams of the past, they seem content to cycle the puck and try to create the perfect shot.

Sometimes, you just have to throw the puck at the net, and sometimes good things happen. Maybe a fluky goal, maybe a fortuitous rebound. But they cycle so much sometimes, that the other team can intercept a pass and clear out of the zone or come back with a 3-on-2.

Columbus is a team that hasn't scored much in its 5 games (14GF, 2.8 avg), but it also hasn't allowed a huge amount (17GA, 3.4 avg). The Pens, through 6, have scored 16 (2.67 avg) and allowed 17 (2.83 avg). Where these teams are the most similar, is that each has only had the advantage in face-offs won only once (PIT against Carolina...a game in which they were routed 5-1, oddly enough, COL in their season opener against Vancouver, where they lost 3-2 in OT).

Marc-Andre Fleury is playing well, for the most part, considering the number of shots he's been seeing come his way. Of the 17 goals allowed, 15 are with MAF in net. If my calculations are correct, Fleury has seen 199 shots and allowed 15 behind him. That 199 shots is sixth most in the league, but the 5 ahead of him have all played 7 games (221 being tops right now).

And that magic stat (Shots On Goal differential) that I referenced in my last post paints a picture of a team that's gotten breaks early, especially by better-than-average play in goal overall). Pens differential is now worst in the league at -9.5 on the average. Considering that they outshot New Jersey by four and were only one shot on goal behind the New York Islanders over their last two games, that number may actually continue to shrink to an acceptable deviation.

Quick hit: Evgeni Malkin has scored 2 goals, one in each of his first two games (most people know this). These goals have come on 4 total shots. Colby Armstrong does not yet have a goal and has 14 SOG. And Sid the Kid has 2 goals on 19 shots. I am very anxious to see what happens once all three of these guys get untracked at the same time.


I'll admit, while listening to the 9th inning of NLCS Game 7 in the car, I nearly made myself deaf with my cheers when Yadier Molina went yard. Yes, I was pulling for St. Louis (mainly because my girlfriend is from near Springfield, IL, and I converted her into a Steelers fan, and in a smaller way because the Redbirds were my preseason pick to win it all). I also realize that the Mets probably would have won in 6 or so if El Duque and Pedro Martinez had been healthy.

Well, what's done is done. The Cardinals play their third series in a row where home field advantage does not belong to them, and they are heavy underdogs for the third straight series (Detroit enters as the favorite at -220, less than 1-to-2...5-to-11 if you want to be race-track specific. St. Louis is at +180...not quite 2-to-1).

It seems as though everyone's got Detroit in 4, maybe 5, because of their season low team ERA of 3.84, .7 runs-per-game better than St. Louis' 4.54. (Did you know that the Pittsburgh Pirates' team ERA was 4.52?)

St. Louis' post-season experience the past 2 years gives them an intangible edge that draws them almost close-to-even with a team that finished 12 games better than them and holds a statistical advantage in just about every split and situation you can conceive. Oh, yeah, and Detroit swept St. Louis in a 3-game interleague series at Comerica Park in June. Oh, and the American League owns the National League.

St. Louis' pitching gamble begins in Game 1, where shaky Anthony Reyes takes on a rested Tigers line-up in an atmosphere that will be beyond anything the young man has ever seen. He'll be facing fellow rookie Justin Verlander, who may also be dealing with a case of nerves. We'll see who blinks first. Jeff Weaver for the Cards has been more than serviceable since some adjustments were made to his delivery from his days in Anaheim, but Kenny Rogers has been absolutely lights out.

Final word: the longer the series goes, the more it will favor St. Louis.

I said the Cards would beat the Yankees. While it's not the Yankees, they wear pinstripes, too. Gut says Cards in 6. Why the hell not?

One good thing will come out of this, regardless of who wins: we won't have to see A.J. Pierzynski's "O-face" on anymore mainstream World Series Champion photos.

Sunday, October 08, 2006



After finally getting to watch an entire game front to back (been working at various radio stations during the first three), the issues that face the 2006 Steelers are deep.

After dropping a 23-13 decision to the San Diego Chargers to fall to 1-3, a bold prediction in July by thejim at seems almost optimistic.

The more obvious things: Ben Roethlisberger, the Savior Living, continues to have trouble throwing to a Steeler in the end zone whilst trying to set his mind straight after his horrific motorcycle accident. But watching the Steelers offensive line get whipped at Jacksonville (on what I was able to see) and in San Diego, Big Ben may not be much better by season's end. Ben has been acceptable at worst when he's had time to throw, but watching the San Diego game in particular, either Russ Grimm drank himself to death during the offseason, or major kudos go the way of Wade Phillips.

Defensively, who put it in the minds of the personnel that the way to attack a ball carrier is with body shots? Tailbacks, fullbacks, and all forms of receivers just seem to glide around these hits for added yardage, often the difference between a first down and a few yards short. The precious little football I've played taught me that if you don't get arms involved, you seriously reduce your chances of stopping your opponent sooner rather than later.

Maybe it's just me, but I'm not seeing the Steelers make many adjustments during halftime, either. Maybe some of you "veterans" can confirm or deny it?

Intangibly: No fire. It's very odd to see Coach Cowher passive on the sidelines when things aren't going well. I don't see many of the players with the "spark", either. Roethlisberger, Ward, and Parker included. Defensive End Brett Keisel is one of the few I see on the field giving it all play after play.

Fifty points in four games. That's on pace for an even 200 on the year. The worst scoring offense in the league last year (Cleveland) produced 232.

Do we blame Cowher for not keeping his banged-up starters in long enough during the preseason? Do we blame the players for not keeping themselves in the same form in the off-season, celebrating a Superbowl win that was by no means dominant (to the point where they're ebay-ing t-shirts that tell a different tale)?

It's not over. The Steelers still have the Browns twice and the Ravens twice (I'm not overly impressed with the Ravens, despite their unbeaten record), the battered Chiefs and the hapless Raiders. They have the Saints and the Bucs at home, neither are going to be cakewalks, but the Chargers are shaping up to be a contender again this year. If they can steal one from either Atlanta or Carolina on the road, there could still be a wild card in the future. Even the fans of teams who question the legitimacy of last year's Superbowl title know that Pittsburgh still has the weapons to be a dangerous team.

It's past time that they show it.

---Good Signs, Bad Signs---

The Penguins got off to an encouraging start by scoring 4 goals on their first 11 shots against the Philadelphia Flyers and goaltender Shane Esche. They ended up with a total of 21 shots that game (to Philly's 40). Some contend that if they hadn't had to survive what amounted to an entire period's worth of penalties, the SOG statistic may have been more even. Could have happened, I suppose.

I submit the box score from the most recent game against the Red Wings. This team was supposedly far weaker with the retired Steve Yzerman, the departure of Brendan Shanahan to the Big Apple, and the Aging Enigma in goal (aka Dominik Hasek). The penalty differential (if you remove the off-setting fighting majors) was to the Penguins advantage. Four more minutes with the man-advantage.

I don't believe the Penguins managed a shot on goal during their power plays. They only had one SOG in the entire 2nd period. Detroit not only won the game 2-0, they also lead by a 2-1 advantage in shots on goal (26-13).

If the Penguins are to be significantly better, they have to take advantage of the pretty solid play they've been getting from netminder Marc-Andre Fleury, who has stopped 64 of 66 shots through two games. Last year, the Penguins were 3rd worst in the NHL in SOG differential with -5.2 per game. The two teams with worse? The Washington Capitals (-5.3) and the Columbus Blue Jackets (-6.2). Neither of these teams were close to postseason action, either.

Look back to the season before ('03-'04), the Penguins were absolute worst in the differential with a mark of -8.4 (Washington next-worst with -7.8). The last time the Penguins were in the playoffs (after the '00-'01 season...yes, it's been that long), their differential was even. And they were the 6th seed.

I'm not sure what head coach Michel Therrien has to do to keep pressure on in the offensive zone, but he can't rest until he finds the answer. Once familiar patterns start to develop, regardless of personnel, the script will look the same.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

MLB postseason

Per my 2006 Pirate preview (at the end of which, I took a stab at predicting the final standings of the league and the postseason results), here's what I had:

NL Divisional Series: Cardinals over Mets, Dodgers over Braves

AL Divisional Series: Yankees over Indians, White Sox over Angels

NL Championship Series: Cardinals over Dodgers

AL Championship Series: Yankees over White Sox

World Series: Cardinals over Yankees

Well, I got half the postseason participants right, and successfully predicted that the AL Central would send 2 teams (two completely different teams, but still...). Ok, that's not really so impressive. That's what I get for taking the safe route with the Braves and figuring the White Sox were built to last.

Regardless, in the interest of not being that guy who changes his answers halfway through the test only to find he was right the first time, I'm going to hold to Cardinals over Yankees, even though my mind screams, "It's not logical! St. Louis barely had a winning record this year! They don't have the pitching! They can't possibly outlast the Mets!"

That's getting ahead of oneself. I think the Dodgers are going to give the Mets a run, and I give it good odds of going the distance, especially with El Duque out for the series. And, of course, a 1-0 lead for the Cardinals does not automatically mean they'll advance to the NLDS.

I had been thinking a couple of days ago, if I were Bruce Bochy, would I start Jake Peavy in Game 1, or would I have kept Chris Young on the shelf so that the rookie could start? At least this way, the series is at 0-0 and there's no added pressure. Young has also had enough poise all season long to lead me to believe he'd be able to convince himself that this game was just the first of a normal series without feeling the pressure of facing a deficit. Oh, yeah, and he'd be pitching in front of the home crowd. As it is, Young is scheduled to start Game 3 in St. Louis. Best case scenario for him is that the Padres win tomorrow so as to alleviate the pressure of not only winning on the road, in the postseason, but also to avoid elimination in three straight.

In Bochy's defense, it's not like he had the division title wrapped up like the Mets, and could therefore afford to put me in the starting rotation to play out the string so that he could align his playoff starters the way he wanted.

Meanwhile, in New York, it looks like the Tigers hit that, "We probably shouldn't be doing this well this quickly" wall a couple weeks too early. After all, it was the refusal to think these thoughts that allowed a rag-tag Florida Marlins bunch to erase a 3-1 deficit to the Cubs, and eventually conquer the heavily favored Yankees in six games in 2003. It was only after Josh Beckett completed the last out that they all thought, "Holy moley! We shouldn't have been able to do this."

My favorite moment in baseball from 2003.

The Yankees look poised to sweep the divisional series.

Psst! Wake up, Randy! You start Friday!

The battle of the two small market AL teams may go the distance, too. Watch out for the decisive Game 5. I'll take Santana over Zito should that rematch come to pass.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

All Hail the King of Clubs

Freddy Sanchez: 2006 National League Batting Champion