Monday, April 30, 2007

Monday, April 30, 2007

-- Steelers have better draft in 2007.

-- Bucs still sending mixed signals.

-- Randoms.

---Steelers Do Better in '07---

I'll be the first to admit that I don't watch college football religiously. Many of the names that fly as the draft approaches are foreign to me, including JaMarcus Russell, who is apparently, a stud. Once again, some names that I do know, go very late. I remember being incensed when former Miami Hurricanes quarterback Ken Dorsey went dead last in the 7th round. This was the quarterback of a National Champion who I felt was the glue. He didn't have the rocket arm of Rex Grossman, but played smart football. This team might have beaten Ohio State the following year if a questionable pass interference call had gone the other way.

Unfortunately, we'll never know. Dorsey was also surrounded by some standout players. From Wikipedia:

Among the numerous stars on the 2001 Miami squad were: Dorsey; running backs Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee, Najeh Davenport, and Frank Gore; tight end Jeremy Shockey; wide receiver Andre Johnson; tackles Bryant McKinnie and Joaquin Gonzalez; defensive linemen Jerome McDougle, William Joseph, and Vince Wilfork; linebackers Jonathan Vilma and D.J. Williams; and defensive backs Ed Reed, Mike Rumph, and Phillip Buchanon. Additional contributors included future stars Kellen Winslow II, Sean Taylor, Antrel Rolle, Vernon Carey, and Eric Winston.

Troy Smith's hiccup in the National Championship game this year cost him quite a bit, too. He went late in the 5th round as a compensatory pick to the Baltimore Ravens. I thought he was a late 2nd, early 3rd rounder. Hell, Yahoo! calls him a "gamble" in the 5th round! Is it just the Heisman curse?

Again, I don't watch enough college ball to be any kind of psychic, but it seems like some of these quarterbacks get the shaft based on where they led their respective teams.

I know there are readers of this blog who don't comment who are more in-the-know of college ball than I. What is the deal? Brady Quinn was runner-up for the Heisman and everyone was flabbergasted that he fell to 22nd. Smith won the award, goes late 5th, and no one bats an eye. Inform me. Inform us all.

Now to the Steelers. Last year, I scratched my head as to why 2 of their first 3 picks were wide receivers. Receivers are fairly easy to come by in the offseason. Eventually, I figured they thought the front seven had enough gas in them to go one more season, and the offensive line was about the same.

The first two picks of the Tomlin Administration did two things: 1) They confirmed that Mike Tomlin is trying to convert to a 4-3 base as soon as possible, and 2) that Sean Mahan is the temporary stop-gap to the offensive line problems.

The third pick initially made me double-take. A tight end? I specifically mentioned in my last post that wide receiver was clearly not a need in this draft. A tight end is sort of the same thing.

I'm still not thrilled about this pick, mind you, but I came to realize a couple of things: this will not be a Cowher-led offense that rarely utilized that position. New offensive coordinator Bruce Arians used to be a tight ends coach with New Orleans and was to have had a budding TE in Kellen "The Soldier" Winslow in Cleveland.

The draftee in question, Matt Spaeth, is 6'7" and has been heralded as being an excellent blocker. Of course, having a tall guy to run a short route over the middle on third and short-to-medium isn't a bad tool to have. It will probably be the demise of Jerame Tuman. I would think some Steeler fans would have to be happy about that.

Day 2, the Steelers continue to show that they hate Mike Barr by drafting a punter out of Baylor by the name of Daniel Sepulveda. By some accounts, Sepulveda can absolutely kill the ball, which is something current punter Chris Gardocki does not do well.

The rest of the draft, you are usually looking at practice squad material, so they got a smorgasbord of players: a defensive back, an offensive lineman, a cornerback, and a wide receiver. Can't really complain too much. I guess any of these guys have an outside chance to make the 53-man roster, perhaps as special teamers, but probably not.

When you've got more than a couple of holes in your squad and have filled at least one of them, you can't complain too much.

On the other hand, you consider the case in New England: Tom Brady + Randy Moss with Laurence Maroney in the backfield = uh-oh.

---Winning Despite Themselves---

Statistically speaking, the Pirates haven't been abysmal in the errors column, with 13 in their first 24 games. That's not stellar, either, mind you, and a couple of those errors, if erased, might have been the difference between a loss and a win.

Anyway, April ends with a come-from-behind win against the Chicago Cubs that they probably didn't deserve, and after one month, their record stands at 12-12, their first non-losing April in 5 years. More importantly, they are six games better than they were at this juncture last year (5 more wins, 7 fewer losses).

And they've done it largely without the heavy bat that Adam LaRoche was expected to bring.

Actually, they've done it without too much in the way of heavy bats, period. Jason Bay's 8th-inning homer this evening made it 18 dingers for the month of April. Of course, four of those came in the first 12 innings of the season.

The offense has scored more than 5 runs only 3 times. They won all 3.

They have scored 5 runs 6 times and have gone 2-4 in those contests.

Despite the offensive woes, they've only been shut out once.

And we, as Pirate fans, can't really complain.

It's up the players to decide that they're good enough to compete for a playoff spot and expect nothing less. That's the "first-person" point of view.

We, as observers, can only root for 70 more wins. Everything else is icing on the cake. We know that the team has some shaky parts. The bench is not deep, our closer is borderline reliable, and our catchers area a liability in at least one phase of the game.

All told, watching the Pirates this season, you know the season can go one of three ways:

1) The optimist: the bats will wake up, now that LaRoche and his Mendoza-like career batting average in April is behind him, Freddy Sanchez has seen enough Major League pitching that he missed with his spring training injury, and Ronny Paulino will get off the snide when the rest of the team picks up. Snell and Gorzelanny will be the rocks of the rotation, Duke will get back in line, and Maholm will hold his own. Capps will still be a stud and will eventually replace Torres after one more blown save.

2) The pessimist: The fundamental plays that the Bucs have been screwing up on a semi-regular basis are going to catch up with them and cost them games that an average team would be able to win. There isn't enough consistent firepower in the middle of the lineup to make opposing pitchers think any harder than they have in years past. Jim Tracy will refuse to make personnel changes until injury forces his hand. The league will figure Snell out to the point where they'll be getting a couple of extra runs per game that will change a 1-run Pirates win into a 1-run Pirates loss, and Jose Bautista's admittedly-stellar play at third will end, either by injury or fatigue. And we really don't have anyone ready for immediate promotion.

3) The neutral: Let's give it another month. But I am watching more closely.

T-minus 72 wins.


Not too much to go around tonight, but I did find a couple of things and have a couple of thoughts.

The New Jersey Devils were shutout tonight by the Ottawa Senators and now trail the series 2-games to 1. They faced the same hole after three games in the first round. Ottawa's offense isn't quite as explosive, but they've been getting better goaltending than the Lightning got.

Regardless, the Devils will win the next three games, just like the last series. Sit back and marvel as veteran leadership and the best goalie in the game take over.


Only one picture I've come across in my limited computer time since last Wednesday has made me perk up my eyebrows.

The position of the bat is the one that continually confirms to me that Yahoo! puts these specific images and headlines up on purpose. The baseball portion takes me back to 6th grade. The second image is taken from the old late-80's show, "Hard Time on Planet Earth." I don't blame you if you don't get it. I think I was the only one who watched that show.



And, finally, my new buddy Greg Brown. I knew this picture would come in handy. During Wednesday's 16-inning marathon against Houston, Brad Eldred, in "regulation" went yard. Greg proved to me that he was a crooner. Not a good one, mind you, but a crooner. This makes me chuckle every time.

Right click to download, if you wish...

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

-- Pirates probably about this good.

-- Draft draft draft, blah blah blah.

-- Penguins bow to Senators.

-- Randoms.

---A Wash---

After tonight's contest against the Houston Astros, the Pittsburgh Pirates own an 8-10 record. Many would agree that 8 wins, the way that the Pirates have played a good many of the games, is an amazing number. It's equal to the number of wins that the St. Louis Cardinals have, and even the homer-happy-A-Rod-led New York Yankees have.

The Yankees have a vastly superior batting average (.281 vs. .242), but their ERA is considerably worse (4.76 vs 4.24). St. Louis is the opposite case, though not as disparate. Their team BA is slightly worse (.241) but their team ERA is better (3.86).

And despite banging ones head when unintelligent plays are made by the Bucs, both the Yankees and Cardinals have committed more errors (16 for New York, 12 for St. Louis, 9 for Pittsburgh).

The Pirates bane (and if you haven't already answered this in your head, you haven't been watching them much this season) is their inability to capitalize on prime scoring opportunities. The Pirates have had chances to win most of the games they've lost, but they've left entirely too many men on base.

Case in point was last week when I was posting my last entry. The Pirates loaded the bases with none out against the Brewers, and followed that up with three-straight strikeouts. Against Claudio Vargas.

Last season, the Pirates managed the same feat in the bottom of the 9th inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks. That game, despite all the failures that had come before, was where I placed my final nail in the Pirates 2006 coffin. Strange coincidence: Claudio Vargas started that game for the D'backs (he was not on the mound, however, at the time). The Bucs then promptly got swept by the Kansas City Royals.

There's been talk in the papers and the blogs about being "clutch" and if there is such a thing. Charlie at BucsDugout hits on a point that honest Pirate fans have been aware of since roughly 1995 - lack of offensive talent has been a shortfall of the franchise. Read him here.

While I agree in principle, he still indicates that he'd like to see Jack Wilson batting 10th in the order. Right now, I have to disagree. He's been acquitting himself well in the 2-hole. However, he's probably right on that if Wilson reverts to 2006 form, Tracy will keep him hitting second until he "works through it".

That's always the downside to 'partial reinforcement'.

Of course, you don't even need 'partial' reinforcement when you're heading this franchise. Jeromy Burnitz played entirely too long before he was offered a seat on the bench. Folks watching the struggles of Adam LaRoche are probably fearing that we're looking at a repeat, albeit a much younger version.

But based on the results of the season so far, I stand by statements I made (somewhere, that I frustratingly can't find) that it is most important for the pitching to be strong than for the offense to be full of guys named Pujols, Edmonds, et al. That's the one thing the Pirates have going for them so far this year, especially when compared to last season.

---Do you Feel a Draft?---

I might be into the draft more if I followed the NCAA more attentively. I obviously understand the importance of the draft. I am very curious to see who the Steelers select and will delight in analyzing who they take.

I just don't understand getting immersed in mock drafts if your name isn't Mel Kiper. It's not even like the NCAA brackets. It just takes a couple of unexpected trades, and everything gets all wonky. I've seen several mock drafts, and very few of them have the Steelers taking the same player.

I'm perfectly fine saying that the Steelers need to take the most versatile defensive player available, preferably between a linebacker and a corner. Someone who can play either a 3-4 or 4-3. Few things are more nerve-wracking than watching a linebacker who's mainly noted for pass-rushing dropping back into coverage. You just pray the opposing quarterback doesn't see the mismatch. The Steelers also need to take a heralded offensive lineman as a good deal of Big Ben's protection package is either aging, inferior, or not reliably healthy.

What they don't need is a wide receiver, a quarterback, or a safety. At least not until the last round. Maybe.

What do you think they need? Why am I wrong to not care about the full draft?

---Season Finale---

Game 5: Senators 3, Penguins 0

Not the way anyone wants their season to end. But, it was what it was. The Senators had the extra gas, the extra experience, the extra bounces. Perhaps that last one was created by the first two. It just wasn't meant to be.

Congratulations to Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, Marc-Andre Fleury, and all the youngsters who defied expectations and played well enough to help sway the arena talks in the Penguins favor. I'd have rather seen the Penguins get locked up for another 30 years in the 'Burgh than watching the Pens win a "going-away" Stanley Cup. So, it's a successful season by anyone's standards (who isn't on the team).

The rest of the NHL...I went 5-for-8 in the first round picking the winners. The Stars very nearly made me 6-for-8. But my "final four" is still in.

Of course, I'm surprised it's that good. All of my predictions have been mud this year.



Since WPGB has taken over as the flagship station of Pirates baseball, there's one noticable difference: they do not, during their broadcasts, play the instrumental version of "A New Pirate Generation". Apparently, good ol' 104.7 doesn't like that song, or otherwise thought it was ubiquitous enough in the "We Will" commercials.

I just can't help but think what J.C. Carter, the writer of the song (and Greg Daniels, co-lyricist) are thinking, especially if they weren't paid a lumpsum to use the tune.

I like their tune better than the one it replaced. I don't remember what it was called, but it brings back memories of a poorly-animated Pirate on the Three Rivers Stadium jumbotron waving a sword in a ridiculous crossing pattern while player intros were going on. Ah, well.


A couple of pics I found on another computer that I forgot I saved. Again, these may amuse only me:

This was on Yahoo! today.
I don't think I need to say anything else.

Yahoo! does this stuff on purpose.
This was from the NCAA tournament.

Who's the idiot who left out
the "none of the above" option?
It's 3-card Monte, MySpace style.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

---Random Thoughts---

I don't have enough coherent thoughts to break down my blog like I usually do.

Game 4: Senators 2, Penguins 1

Can't really blame the lack of defensive effort, at least insofar as I heard on the radio and what I was getting through the Penguins chat at (my new favorite website...I hope more folks decided to join me during Pirates games).

There have been only 2 shutouts in about 35 games played so far in these NHL playoffs, so you're going to need at least two goals to win in the playoffs. The offense didn't play well in stretches and was denied by the "soft" Ray Emery when it did. From what I've seen and heard, it does seem as if critical members of the team who played well early on are just flat-out tired.

Therrien needs to put the people who still have life on the same lines, even if that only makes the team one-line deep, at least it's a complete line that will score, and you won't hear Mike Lange say things like, "A great scoring chance, but the pass just didn't quite connect."

Frustrating. Even though I said that losing game 4 would mean the crushing blow in Game 5, I'm still rooting against that (of course). It just seems that Ottawa has had that extra step when they've needed it.


Bucs level their season at 6-6 by completeing a 2-game sweep at New Busch. Pretty sweet. They're currently losing 3-2. Ah, well. They've spotted themselves leads before. Let's see if they can come back from an early deficit.

Non-baseball thoughts about this season:

- As much as my respect for Greg Brown has grown over the past year, he's never allowed to say the word "sexy" on the air again as he did tonight right before the game. He referred to the Brewers as the "sexy pick" to win the division. *shudder*

- The 'We Will' commercials where they interview Pirates fans...I really can do without those. The one guy who went to the game with his grandfather is pretty sweet, but "Paul Wright", I believe, and his son, his dad, and his father-in-law, I can do without. Not that he, nor his son, his dad, and his father-in-law are detestable in anyway. I just think half of that commercial about him, his son, his dad, and his father-in-law, is simply him saying the words, "my son, my dad, and my father-in-law". The other half, is the 'We Will' logo. And the guy from Pittsburgh who says something like, " those boys playin' like they're tryin'..." is just painful. It might have been better if he said, "Leaving it all out on the field" or something like that.

- I like the idea of having a recording of the players read the lineup card on the TV. Some have more fun with it than others, but I like the idea.

- Radio side: John Wehner is a million times better this year.

- I can't believe they're still airing the #1 Cochran commercial with the announcer who couldn't sound less like a play-by-play guy and the crowd that doesn't react to the ball being hit. Maybe that just bothers me because that's what I do for a living, but I think it's because it hasn't been redone or replaced by something better. If Cochran's sales are indeed up from last season, I seriously doubt it was that spot.

- I read somewhere that with yesterday's win over the Cardinals, Jim Tracy earned his 500th win as a manager, and that he was "just" the 12th active manager to reach that benchmark. Attention: there are 30 teams in Major League baseball. That just puts Tracy in the top half. The word "just" does not belong in that sentence.


Random pictures.

I download pictures that I find amusing sometimes, hoping I'll find a place to use them. The problem with this is that I download them to my computer at home, and I do most of my blogging at the radio station. Now, I'm actually at home. Most of these pictures are now irrelevant, so, I'll put them here. If I can use them again, fantastic.

I should add that I may be the only one who finds this pictures funny and/or ironic.

Sidney Crosby looks apologetic in this shot.

Main picture, Crosby is a flightless bird...who just scored.
Inset: Jordan Staal and Gary Roberts laugh at Ray Emery.

Sean Avery says: "Hyuh, hyuh! That was fun, Brendan!"

How strange is it that Philadelphia-area-based "The BloodHound Gang"
(worst. band. ever.) has a pic on their website with a member
wearing a Penguins Jersey?

The fan in the background wasn't told about the dress code.
Then again, this game was in New Jersey.

Marty Straka thanks long-time teammate Jaromir Jagr for the new
helmet and for riding with him on the short bus.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Monday, April 16, 2007

-- Penguins have yet to submit a complete effort.

-- Bucs go on Spring (winter?) Break.

-- Shout-outs.

---Getting It Together---

Game 2: Penguins 4, Senators 3
Game 3: Senators 4, Penguins 2

Of the three games so far in the series, the one I felt the most certain Pittsburgh would win (on the day of the game) was Game 3.

Fresh off a come-from-behind win the day before. Younger legs. Better conditioned from a season full of high-speed hockey, stuffed with overtime contests.

It appears I didn't consider fatigue. I no longer consider the Penguins in "shock-and-awe" mode for being in the playoffs. Their shellacking in Game 1 took care of that. They're matching the Senators in intensity now (thank you, Mr. Roberts), but they're still a step behind most of the time.

The officiating hasn't been quite as suspect as some have said. It's just been largely uneven. Sidney Crosby getting punched in the face in Game 2 was the only truly flagrant one they didn't call that I saw with the official looking right at it. I mean uneven insofar as Crosby's "kicking" goal in Game One was disallowed. Ottawa's first goal in Game 3, while Fleury was being hooked by some Senator crashing the net, stood. The thing I find truly suspicious is this:

Ottawa coach's name: Bryan Murray
Linesman from game 3: Brian Murphy


Game 4 tomorrow. Considering how the Penguins have not put together a three-period effort against the Senators, the Penguins must win this one, or it's all over on Thursday.

Even if it's not a complete effort, there can be no dumb hockey or lazy hockey.

No getting out-hustled to every puck dumped into your own zone. No getting owned on the boards, then retaliating, resulting in dumb penalties. No getting outshot by 10-15 goals.

And, of course, no giving up more goals than you get.

In breaking news, my projected Stanley Cup Champions (New Jersey...sorry, karri) are down 2-games-to-1 to the Tampa Bay Lightning. I said NJ would win that series in 6. That means New Jersey will win the next three games. Take it to the bank.

---Early Brrrreak---

The Bucs have played only one game (in theory) in the three-and-a-half days since last blogged. They got smacked around by Barry Bonds and fans had to sit through the chilly weather wire to wire to see the fireworks that they wanted to see.

Seriously. What would the McNutting group do without Zambelli?

The Pirate offense matched the game-time temperatures, failing to score more than two (relevant) runs in all four games at PNC Park. I speculated on WHYGAVS's message board that if the score Friday night had been 4-2 Giants in the bottom of the 9th, no way does Chris Duffy smack a 3-run home run.

Incidently, that is the only dinger hit by a Pirate this year that brought in more than two runs.

I hope that lights a fire under the guys who are supposed to be doing that.

Then again, if Chris Duffy is going to be afraid of stealing bases now that pitchers realize how quickly they have to deliver the ball to the plate, maybe he should start thinking about the fences more often.

Getting two days off and moving to warmer/dryer locales may help.

Oh, and not dressing in those obnoxious red uniforms. No wonder the Giants beat up the Bucs and stole their lunch money.


Speaking of bullying, loyal reader/commenter karri wanted to go kick Bob Walk's tokus after laying into Jason Bay during the telecast of the game last Tuesday. For those who missed it, during the top of the 9th inning and the Bucs nursing a 2-0 lead against the Cardinals and runners at first and second, Albert Pujols flies out to Bay for the first out. David Eckstein, at second, breaks for 3rd. Bay throws toward 3rd, allowing Chris Duncan, at first, to go to 2nd.

Needless to say, both runners are safe. Had Bay thrown toward 2nd, there might have been a double-play ball still in effect, or, at the very least, a single would not have driven in the tying run. Before Scott Spezio does, in fact, tie the game with a single, Walk is laying into Jason Bay...pretty much for the rest of the inning. Merciless.

Karri did not like the ragging. I agree with her to a point. Jack Wilson had as much to do with it as Bay, as Wilson was the cutoff man and positioned himself for a throw toward 3rd. I'm sure Walk was echoing the sentiment of just about every Pirate fan who understands where the ball is supposed to go in that situation.

Although, I appreciate her stance on being respectful (pretty much my mission statement), I think for a franchise trying to pull out of a 14-year nosedive, watching a 4-3 team that night blow a legitimate chance to stay above .500, even this early in the year, is almost a back-breaker. Notice they haven't had much success since.

When your offense isn't going to have a lot of games where they're scoring more than 5 runs, those plays are absolutely critical. Now, if they threw to 2nd and Duncan made it anyway, at least the play was the correct one and you can blame Torres.


Speaking of Torres, King Salomon just barely escaped St. Louis tonight with a save. The Pirates are 5-2 on the road.

It took the Pirates 16 games to get their 5th win last year (vs. 11 this year). It took the Pirates until June 5th at Colorado to get their 5th road win.

Now they just have to win at home.

Glad Snell could get his first win of the year after pitching quality baseball in three consecutive starts.


Side note. I'm going to try to be on as often as I can during Pirate games. I will either be at the radio station running the game, or I will be at home trying to pay attention.

Regardless, this site is pretty neat, and I'm surprised more folks haven't discovered it yet.

Quick link to Pirates Chat.

Bookmark it, and I hope to see some of you there soon.

---Hello! Hello! (HOLA!)---

1) As always, thanks to my loyal female fan base, Karri, Nicole, and Tiffany (alphabetical...cuz I love you all the same). I honestly think your attention keeps me updating this thing more than I might normally.

2) Welcome to Tim and Matt (chronologically). Feel free to drop by any time and let me know what you think, and let me know when I'm slacking.

3) Matt, thank you for reminding me of the Steelers @ Patriots game to open the 2002 season. As soon as you mentioned it, the repressed memories returned to the fore. I think I forgot that game on purpose. And now I think I hate you.

4) A final thank you to all my visitors this past week. For the first time in Steeltown Sports history, I have had four-digit visits in a week's span. I have a long way to go to be among the ranks of my friends at ThePensBlog and Mondesi's House (admittedly superior, funnier, and more involved), but it's nice to see a spark after almost a year's time.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Friday, April 13th, 2007

-- Pens resiliency immediately tested.

-- Pirates should feel fortunate.

-- Steelers draw difficult schedule.

---Learning Curve---

Game One: Senators 6, Penguins 3.

Ugliest game of the year, bar none. Through 2 periods, Ottawa had outshot Pittsburgh by a 29-12 margin. They still somehow only had a 2 goal lead at that point. If anything, you'd have expected the Senators to have fallen behind a step after playing 2 periods of their most intense hockey of the season.

It was, in fact, the Penguins who began to show lapses in the 3rd. Ottawa won the opening faceoff and planted one in the back of the net nine seconds into the final frame for a three goal advantage. Not 30 seconds later, Sidney Crosby appeared to have scored, but Toronto said "no goal" due to a "distinct kicking motion", which may have been the correct call, but it wasn't intentionally done.

It's ok. Practically nothing went right for the Penguins that night. A defensive brain fart led to a Chris Neil breakaway and subsequent goal. In the flow of the game, I don't know if I've ever seen Marc-Andre Fleury stop a breakaway. In the shootouts, yes, because he's prepared for it, but when it happens unexpectedly, he always seems to bite on the first move. Ugly.

The only Penguin goal to come 5-on-5 was an ugly little garbage goal by Jordan Staal, only slightly prettier than the one Mario had to put behind Dominik Hasek in 2001 to extend Game 6 of their series against the Sabres into overtime. The other two were power play goals (one on a 5-on-3) when the contest was already out of reach.

Ottawa must have outhit the Penguins 92-8 all game long. It was to the point where the sound of Penguins getting hit into the boards came off like a rhythmic cadence.

Twenty-two total penalties in the game. And the whistle was blowing every 5 seconds due to an off-sides or icing call. I don't know if the officials are supposed to be tightening up for the playoffs, but I counted 3 instances where icing was called where I didn't think it should have been (and I only watched about half of the game off and on as I was visiting my parents, helping them with their computer).

And, of course, a meaningless semi-brawl toward the end of the game. As much as I detest most fighting in hockey, I will say it's the first time I've ever seen the Penguins get the better of another in a fight as a team. It was almost like a caricature in which the Ottawa players looked half-assed grabbing a Pittsburgh jersey, but each Penguin had a fist ready to land on an undefended portion of their respective Senators' head.

No one said the Penguins were going to sweep Ottawa. The last three games of the regular season between these two teams were closely contested. They finished the season tied for the most points. I've got the Penguins in 7.

Actually, here's my whole prediction that I submitted to ThePensBlog for the contest they're hosting. I've got my eye on a "Weekend at Bernie's" DVD. I had to move teams that won in the first round to face the correct opponents in the 2nd round. The number to three digit number to the right is the Goals-Against-Average for the winning team in the series.

It's gonna be a red June.

Speaking of ThePensBlog, the guys over there were magnanimous enough to label me "The Hardest-working Man in the Business". While I thank them for their generous comment and plug, I guess they proved their own point about how their analysis doesn't mean anything. I mean, if I were the hardest-working man in the business, you'd think you wouldn't see more than a day or so pass between entries.

Just kidding. Thank you very much, guys. I feel I am in very good company.

Anyway, back to hockey...

The sheer number of overtime games the Penguins have played, in addition to having a significantly younger roster top to bottom, will see the young pups outlast the older guard. Conditioning is that thing you see come through toward the end, not so much the beginning.

But the young pups have to have assimilated the information from Wednesday to be successful in a game that, while is not a must-win, is important to keep their morale up. And they have to win at least one in Ottawa, anyway, to take the series. No time like the present.

---Lucky Bucs---

"Mike, you're an idiot. Have you watched the last 6 games?"

Yes, and that's what I'm talking about. After 9 games, the Pirates are 4-5. It's only 2 games better than where they were last year, but they had a chance to win each of those 5 games, except their 6-1 loss to the Reds. In only one of their wins (Sunday at Cincinnati) did they never trail at any point in the game.

The offense, through 9 games, has hit a pathetic .225 (clearly indicating their inability to string hits together) and an On-Base Percentage of .291 (not acceptable in the Major Leagues). They're tied for the sixth-most strikeouts and have drawn the sixth-fewest walks. Bad recipe there.

Despite all this, they're only one game out of first place. They've had the good fortune of facing the Houston Astros offense, who are batting .226 so far, with an OBP of .290 (about the same). They managed to take one from a Cincinnati team that's batting 24 points higher and on base 43 points better. They hung with a St. Louis team infamous for its instant offensive capabilities in all three games.

Of course, some of that luck comes from some part of your team being good. Zach Duke, Ian Snell, and Tom Gorzelanny have all pitched wonderfully in their first two games. Their ERAs are under 3.50 (Gorzo has a 1.50), and more importantly, none has a WHIP currently above 1.15 (Duke). Keeping that number down throughout the season is going to generate wins.

Select portions of the bullpen have been spot-on, too. Matt Capps, no walks, no runs and only two hits in six-and-a-third innings. Jonah Bayliss is unscored upon in 5 innings with four strikeouts. Shawn Chacon has been reasonably strong, as well, giving up 1 run in 6 innings of relief work.

Meanwhile, John Wasdin makes you yearn for Dan Kolb, and Salomon Torres seems better suited for the setup role when facing a dangerous lineup like St. Louis. Damaso Marte is a man who's lost his touch from his 2005 form when he won a World Series ring with the Chicago White Sox. He makes you hope John Grabow is on the fast track to recovery.

Youngster Juan Perez, while he is unscored upon, has that drama factor when he pitches. He's on the brink of establishing some true confidence, or getting shattered. Watch him carefully.

Bottom line, the team ERA is 3.25. If not for this, the Pirates would potentially be looking at another 2-7 start, or worse.

My greatest fear is that the pitchers will have bad games at about the same time that the Pirate bats decide they want to wake up, and instead of losing 3-2, they'll be losing 11-10.

It's better to be lucky than good, and so far, it looks like it's been mostly the former.

---Tough Road Back---

At first glance, it doesn't look terribly daunting. You see the Browns and the 49ers and the Cardinals and say, "Aw, how cute..." Then again, you can't really take any road games for granted, and Mike Nolan may have the 49ers dangerous again.

The Steelers have, of course, defending AFC North Champion Baltimore twice, the second time for the last game of the season IN Baltimore which may have all kinds of playoff implications for both teams, perhaps a division title. Cincinnati has given the Steelers fits at home of late, and they have the AFC East this year.

And they have to visit the two AFC East teams that made the playoffs last year. It's only fair. I don't think the Steelers have played in New England since 1997, a game featuring a last-minute interception from New England's Drew Bledsoe that led to a tying TD and two-point conversion to force overtime. Then Pittsburgh won on a Norm Johnson FG. The Jets' last two meetings with Pittsburgh have come at Heinz Field, both close losses (one of them closer than many care to remember).

The Bills and the Dolphins each have something to prove to the league, so they're not to be overlooked, either.

The Seahawks get to come to Pittsburgh as part of the NFC West package in a Superbowl XL rematch. You know that no matter what the outcome of that game, ignoramuses across the country will still stamp about and say the fix was in in Detroit in February '06 (see the end of my last entry).

Visits to the Broncos and Rams are also on tap.

What worries me the most is how these games are laid out. Three consecutive games against the NFC West. Then a bye week. Then two road games against quality opponents. The Broncos are also fortunate enough to be coming off their bye week, and the Bengals will be coming off a home game against the Jets.

And, best of all, the Steelers have a short week between games 14 and 15. They host Jacksonville on Sunday, December 16, then play an NFL Network game on Thursday the 20th. AT St. Louis. This was the kind of scheduling that would get Cowher up in arms. We'll see how the new regime handles it.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Monday, April 9, 2007

-- Penguins back in the playoffs.

-- Still not much offense, but Pirate arms aren't looking bad.

-- Second teams, whiners, plugs

---The Second Season Begins---

And the Penguins are finally a part of it for the first time in 6 years.

Despite winning 3 of the 4 games in the regular season against the Senators (including both games in Canada, eh?), the Penguins are the underdogs in the series. (where I've done most of my sports gambling in the past) has the Senators as just "better" than a 1-to-2 favorite in the series (-210), the Pens at +185.

For those unfamiliar with sports betting on a money line, it's based on $100 dollar wagers. For the Senators, you'd have to put down $210 to win $100 (with a Sens victory in the series, you would get your $210 plus the $100, so it's not like you lose $110). With the Penguins at +185, you'd put down $100 to win $185. That's just the ratio, of course, you can put down $20 on the Penguins to win $37 if you're a nickel-and-dimer.

The odds at Yahoo! have the Senators at -170 and the Pens at +150 (slightly better).

And I'm still overjoyed. Odds mean nothing. The Penguins just had a monster season. The season is mentioned in the same sentence as a certain underachieving squad from the 1992-1993 season. When that happens, you know anything can happen.

I don't think this will be the Penguins year to hoist Lord Stanley's Cup, but I certainly will be rooting for it (that whole "head vs. heart" thing).

The past couple of seasons has suggested that the first round is the most likely to see upsets based on a statistic I've been watching all season long: Shots-on-Goal Differential (SOGD). In the later rounds, the team with the better SOGD has been the successful club in advancing to and winning the Stanley Cup Finals.

A couple of posts on the message board at elucidate what I'm trying to determine.

First post from November.

Today's thoughts.

Regardless of Ottawa being almost 4 SOGs better per game than the Penguins during the regular season, and their season save percentage being higher, I think the Penguins will score a 7-game upset before succumbing to a rested Buffalo Sabres squad in a valiant 6.

And while I'll be disappointed at the time, I know that this season has already been highly successful. Arena deal. Turnaround season. Sweeping the Flyers. Art Ross Trophy. Probably Calder Trophy. Possible Hart Trophy.

Add some playoff success and some playoff failure and you've got yourself a team that will be listed as a legitimate Cup contender in 2007-2008.

And did yinz notice that there is a possibility (though not likely), that the Eastern Conference Semifinals could be an all-Atlantic Division party? (The Devils would take on the Islanders and the Pens would draw the Rangers in a best-of-seven rematch of each team's season finale).

Don't bank on it, though. The Sabres are -550. While I don't put much stock in odds, as previously mentioned, there's a reason they're trying to deter too much money going on the Sabres.

Let's get it on...

---Mixed Signals---

It must just be the cold weather now.

The Pirate bats were a bit cold in Houston due to some good pitching from the Astro starters. They were a bit frigid in Cincinnati because it was frigid. That must have been the case today against the Cardinals. And when they could get good wood on the ball, they were at-em balls. The bats didn't hold up so well, either. I counted 4 broken bats unofficially. I missed the first inning.

Did I miss much in the way of crowds going nuts for any particular players/personnel? Did Don Kelly get a screaming, standing ovation? If for no othe reason than for the crowd to make noise and warm themselves up? What about LaRoche? Freddy? Lanny?

Why didn't I see this? It was one or more of these:

1) I was taking advantage of the fact that my girlfriend works from home.

2) I was off giving the Angels heavenly foot massages.

3) I was getting home from an early morning inventory (that's my 2nd job besides radio).

So, please, fill me in.

Other observations:

Duke and Snell are exhibiting some consistency through their first couple of starts. Both went at least through the 6th inning in both starts and allowed 3 runs or fewer. Duke has only walked 1 in 2 starts, while Snell has issued 2 free passes. One of those was intentional. Both have pitched well enough to be 2-0 each. As it is, their combined record is 1-1. Next up to prove some consistency, Tom Gorzelanny.

Maholm and Armas did not have very good debuts. Armas' performance was more disburbing as he gave up 8 hits and 5 walks in just 4 innings. That won't do. Maholm's loss was more due to making two bad pitches. He got no run support, anyway. I think it's also important to note that neither of Maholm's two walks came back to haunt him.

Damaso Marte and John Wasdin are the weak links in the bullpen. I don't think I said anything earth-shattering there.

Having a 4-3 record with a team BA under .250 is a fortunate thing.

Tomorrow, Randy Keisler gets the start in favor of injured Chris Carpenter. That's a good thing, right? Keisler owns a 6.82 career ERA and 1.74 WHIP and hasn't started a game since 2005. Another good thing. Of course, against the Pirates, he has a 2.35 ERA in 7.2 innings.

Does anyone else agree that the top of the 1st inning may be the most important 3 outs Gorzelanny needs to get? The Bucs can ill-afford to give a spot starter any breathing room, especially early. As it is, they have a propensity to make rookie starters or otherwise no-name pitchers look like Cy Young candidates.

It's almost a must-win game.

Sad, isn't it?

---Enlightening the Clueless---

My mission in starting down the path of being a sports talk radio host and sports columnist was to be one who respects the opinions of others. To make people feel welcome in submitting their thoughts, feelings and analyses of happenings (or non-happenings) in the sports world while they continue to learn about the intricacies of whichever sport or sports they're interested in.

It's an uphill battle, of course. The top-rated sports talk radio personality in the 'Burgh thrives on insulting his listenership for whatever reason he can find. I'm not sure that even if there were an alternative that everyone were made aware of that they'd switch away from him.

At the risk of taking a step back, there are some things I've read on other blogs or in the comments that I've got to address, even if those folks don't visit this site.

1) At least one commenter in one blog said, essentially, that you can't have a 2nd team. Not only is this incorrect, it's very simple to do.

- Baseball. Chicago White Sox. I lived in the 'burbs of the Windy City for 6 years. The only team I "adopted" out there was the White Sox. I didn't mind the Blackhawks or the Bears. Not even the Bulls, now that they were without Michael Jordan. The Cubs...after meeting so many members of their fan disdain for Cubbie Blue actually grew. I rooted for the White Sox through their 2005 playoff run as if they were the Pirates, going so far as to listen to them on WMVP (AM 1000) that I could pick up in the evening so that I could hear the local announcers explode in joy. But when the Sox play the Bucs, I root for the Pirates to slaughter them (last year, there was no slaughtering, but at least there was one memorable win (thanks, Freddy).

- Hockey. Detroit Red Wings. Part of this affinity came from the Stanley Cup Finals when they played the Flyers. Seriously. Another was that they would regularly play my least favorite team in Hockeydom, the Colorado Avalanche on a regular basis. But, again, when the Pens and Wings would face off, the Wings were just as bad as the 'lanche.

- Football. None set. I like to jump on a team's bandwagon when they're on the rebound (i.e. last year's Saints, the 1997 Arizona Cardinals). Just as long as they're not the Raiders or Cowboys. I found myself rooting on the Colts and the Bears last year. This year, I won't be pulling for the Colts so much.

Having a 2nd team, even if that team changes from year to year, is perfectly fine. And it's likely to make you a greater fan of the game overall.

2) Another comment recently posted to a blog "anonymously", of course, said that the Steelers were handed XL.

Seriously. Learn the damn game.

a) Darrell Jackson's push off Chris Hope probably wasn't necessary to keep Hope from making a play on the ball, but the ref was right. There. It's going to look worse than what you saw on the TV when you're 3 feet from them. And the ref actually whiffed on throwing his flag before Hope even turned to plead for the flag.

b) Roethlisberger's TD. The ref came in to mark him down, running in with one arm upraised and the other pointing to the spot. Then the ref realizes he's pointing at the chalk line. The other arm goes up. Simple as that. The camera is also not exactly on the line. It's a little inside the goal line. If that camera is at the back of the endzone, it's going to look like he's a yard and a half short. if it's at the 10 yard line looking in, he's a yard and a half over. Moving the camera 2 inches toward the opposite end zone, that ball will graze the goal line. It's enough. Worth review, of course. Right call.

c) Sean Locklear ended up having his right hand clinging to Haggans' jersey on the "phantom" holding call. Conventional football wisdom has told us for years that you can get away with holding if your hands are inside. Just not when the rest of you is on the outside. Best picture of the hold. As for the offsides, that was close. Same thing with the Roethlisberger TD, the camera was not aligned with the hashmarks. Not to say that everything would have played out the same way, but at the very least, it's 1st and 10 again if the penalties offset. The ball is certainly not on the 1.

d) Hasselbeck's penalty for a chop-block. Bad call. It was called because one of the defenders coming up to escort Taylor on his INT return was also tripped up. Bad angle from the ref who threw the flag. Still, their field position doesn't rule out that they would have thrown the reverse-option pass.

These are the prime four complaints from the Seattle-faithful. Or those who claim to be "objective". Or those folks who were 3rd-string clappers on their high school football teams. The same folks who don't bring up non-calls on Big Ben getting blocked from behind during a key Seattle INT return. Nor Jeramy Stevens' fumble that was ruled incomplete. Or the fact that Darrell Jackson's penalty would have only given the 'Hawks 4 more points as they ended up scoring a field goal on that drive anyway. Or just the ineptitude of Seattle's 2-minute drill.

I understand what it is to be frustrated. Seattle held Pittsburgh without a first down until the 2nd quarter. A phenomenal defensive effort against a team who had been on fire early in playoff games in Indy and Denver.

If it makes people feel better to beat this dead horse (another Superbowl has come and gone, folks), I'd suggest they move to Oakland and join those who still think the Immaculate Reception pass touched Frenchy Fuqua first. Or, if you prefer, to Buffalo who still whine that the Music City Miracle wasn't a legitimate lateral.

=====end=====for now=====


If you haven't been there yet, for some reason, ThePensBlog is in playoff form, with photoshop expos that make my little "Quest Begins" graphic above look like a kindergartener's work.

One of Steeltown's Angels, Tiffany, has her own blog now. So far, so awesome. Go there now.

And, finally, I know from my weekly traffic report that more people than the Angels visit the page. I'm hoping you join in the commenting action on this blog. Suggestions, comments, questions, agreements, disagreements, anything. In the meantime, I'll just see it as being in a cyber-jacuzzi with three ladies.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Thursday, April 5, 2007 (quickie)

Two pics I had to share:

Best Pirates photo ever.

Yahoo!'s caption says "Collision Course."
Picture looks like a screen test for an alternative porn flick.