The Book of Mike

"This is no junior college. This is the notorious University of Miami.” -- Marlins starter Dontrelle Willis, after getting knocked around for six runs in 2 1/3 innings by the Canes.

Friday, October 29, 2004

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Offseason Plans

If you don’t know it by now, but I’m guessing that you do since you’re here reading this blog, the baseball season has ended. Last night was the saddest of all nights in the 2004 baseball season, because there was no baseball played and no hope that it would be played tonight or tomorrow or anytime until pitchers and catchers report in February (or at least until the college season starts back up).

Since it’s the offseason now, I think the that The Book is going to go into a minor hibernation mode. Depending on how newsworthy things are, we’ll probably only be posting here once per week – possibly twice. Right now the plan is to post a weekly update on Wednesdays and if we go to a twice per week schedule, it will most likely be Tuesdays and Thursdays.

We have a lot of cool features planned for the offseason, including: Official Book of Mike 2004 Awards – both for players and for blogs, Book Reviews, Miami Hurricanes Football Coverage, Miami Hurricanes Baseball Preview and Coverage, Hot Stove Analysis, and much, much more.

Enjoy the weekend! Enjoy the offseason! And make sure to get out and vote on Tuesday!

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Other Sox Left to Dream Up Own Curse

Well the day has finally come. A little more than a week ago, it seemed nearly impossible, but the Boston Red Sox have done it. For the first time in eighty-six years, they are the World Champions.

I can only hope that the next time the Chicago White Sox make a run similar to the one the Red Sox made this year that they will find the support in Chicago and around the country that the Red Sox did this October. Granted, the Red Sox earned all the accolades and praise that they received, but it seems unlikely that the White Sox will receive anything close to the same if and when they reach another LCS or World Series. Lost in all the hype of championship droughts and curses (which, by the way, the Red Sox never suffered from) is that the White Sox haven’t won a World Series since 1917 – or one year before the Red Sox last title prior to last night. Sure, that’s a full ten years more recent than the Cubs last title, but it’s most definitely second in line – and now there aren’t any real challengers to that crown.

I guess my perspective on things was a little different from most last night. Yes, the Red Sox story is a great one and their comeback will quickly become one of the greatest sports stories of all time. But it also made me think of the baseball futility that has gone on in Chicago over the past century. There have been some (ok, a few) great teams on both the North and the South side, but they have been few and far between. Even those select few teams that have won their league’s pennant have lost out – and now we’re approaching the half-century mark (we’ll be there in 2009) for the time that’s elapsed since the last Chicago team reached the post-season.

Somehow the legend surrounding the Cubs and their billy goat has persisted. Even the Red Sox made up a curse in the mid-80s to explain their plight (something needed to be concocted to draw attention away from the reality that the Red Sox had been overly slow to integrate). The White Sox have had none of that though. And to me, they’re the most logical team to have some sort of a curse legend associated with them. It’s eighty-seven years and counting for the White Sox (with no real reason to believe that the end is in sight).

The White Sox last World Series title came in 1917. In 1918, the Sox likely would have made a run at it too, but many players were lost to the war and the war effort. In 1919, the Sox had most of their team back, or at least enough of it to establish themselves as the clear cut champions of the American League. Then the Black Sox scandal happened. Think what you will of it and blame who you must, but it’s inarguable that the White Sox haven’t been the same since then. Sure, they reached the World Series in 1959 and won division titles in 1983, 1993, and 2000, but they haven’t ever really seriously contended for a World Series crown (I suppose you could argue that they did in 1994 – at least until their owner led the owner’s crusade during the player’s strike).

So why is there no curse of Joe Jackson, or Chick Gandil, or Eddie Cicotte, Buck Weaver or the others? Since these curses are all about made up phrases, why didn’t some allege way back when that Joe Jackson’s response to the little boy who implored “Say it ain’t so, Joe” was “It ain’t so, and the Sox won’t ever win again until they make it right”? Jackson wasn’t ever asked to say it wasn’t so, even though legend says he was, and thus he never had an opportunity to say anything of the sort though. Maybe he did though in his own private way and maybe that’s why the fate of White Sox fans seems to be doomed.

Maybe no one talks about it because there just aren’t enough White Sox fans and it wouldn’t sell t-shirts or magazines. I sure know the Sox don’t generate as many hits on this website as a quick blurb about the Yankees, Barry Bonds, or even Nelson de la Rosa.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Pedro Ups the Ante

Well, contrary to my post earlier this week, the World Series may officially be on now that a home team (the Cardinals last night) has lost a game. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, the series may have started after it effectively ended for them. The Cards now trail the Red Sox three games to none and each game from here on out will be a potential elimination game for them.

In other news, Pedro Martinez likely upped his asking price with his strong outing last night. As we all know, Pedro, like many of his Red Sox teammates is eligible for free agency after the end of the World Series. Coming into the year, Pedro and former teammate Nomar Garciaparra were locks to compete for the largest free agent contracts this offseason. However, Nomar was traded and ruined the chemistry in another clubhouse (while his departure from the Red Sox simultaneously caused them to gell) and likely cost himself millions. Pedro, on the other hand, because of durability and age questions, may have cost himself some money earlier on in the year. But last night’s strong performance on the game’s biggest stage may have earned him a few extra dollars. Or at least it likely caused George Steinbrenner to be willing to bid up Martinez a million or two more in hopes of making him more expensive for the Red Sox to retain.

Am I the only one waiting for Joe Buck to comment on the “Slam-a-lam-a-ding-dong” signs that seem to be everywhere in Busch Stadium?

Monday, October 25, 2004

Things Learned This Weekend

World Series
Enjoy Curt Schilling while you can. Sunday night's win made him the first pitcher ever to win a World Series game for three different teams. However, the stress he's putting on his body makes it unlikely he'll be able to take the hill for a second game, no matter how desperately the Sox may need him. One has to wonder if Curt is putting his career in jeopardy by pushing himself as hard as he is.

Oh, and for those of you who think the Red Sox have this Series locked up, heed some wisdom from NBA coaching legend Pat Riley - "A playoff series never really starts until the home team loses." Things could get really interesting in St. Louis.

Florida Football
While the Gators made great leaps into solidifying themselves as the best three loss team in the country, refrains of "if we'd only beaten Mississippi State" won't wear well for the Gators. If it hasn't happened already, expect Ron Zook to be fired and the blame to be laid at the feet of his actions at an on campus fraternity fight last week. If the university is able to play it that way, they may even be able to get out of paying the remainder of Zook's contract.

Florida State Football
After a dominating performance against Wake Forest, Florida State clearly proved that they should be ranked ahead of Miami and have first rights to any bowl invitation that Miami receives this year (or in any other year) - even if no one would pick Florida State to beat Miami if the teams met head to head again.

Miami Football
The Canes offense looked solid against what was the nation's top defense. I'm still shocked that NC State allowed Devin Hester to touch the ball. It's likely the last time that Hester will be allowed to touch the ball on special teams all year. Miami's defense was exposed early though - although they did adjust by halftime. Hopefully the coaches will figure out some answers before too much longer, otherwise we're likely to see some spread and unconventional offenses for the rest of the season.

The Canes suffered injuries though on their offensive and defensive lines. It's hard to think that they really have enough depth on the lines to continue to sustain such injuries and run the table. I hope they do though.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

ALCS Fallout: Yankees Done; Red Sox Delay Inevitable Disappointment

Some of today’s content is real and some is made up. You are on your own to determine what is what:
Reliable sources have told me that this year’s World Series will be played, despite the fact that the Yankees were eliminated last night (the link is worth the click just for the title of the article). As soon as last night’s game ended rumors began to circulate that the World Series would be called off this year, for the second time ever and the second time during Bud Selig’s tenure, as George Steinbrenner had offered to make a substantial increase to his revenue sharing payments if the Series could be called off until he was able to field a more competitive team until next year.

Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and the World Series will go on as planned – well, after the National League determines a champion. Steinbrenner and Selig, allegedly, will continue to discuss a plan whereby which a team that loses the 7th game of a League Championship Series or a World Series can make a “significant” contribution to the league’s general fund and in turn have the series extended to a best of nine format, with the final two games being played at the donor’s home park.

Other fallout and expected fallout from last night’s Yankees debacle:
The Yankees are filing a protest to the league regarding the outcome of last night’s game. Their contention is that Red Sox manager Terry Francona was not really at the helm last night, and instead, team mascot and friend of Pedro Martinez, Pedro de la Rosa was making the call on pitching changes for the Red Sox. The Yankees grievance is that de la Rosa is not a member of the Yankees coaching staff and is thus not allowed to make such decisions. Former slugger Jason Giambi allegedly first came to this realization when no other logical explanation could be made for Pedro Martinez being brought into the seventh inning of last night’s game. Giambi, as you of course remember, is well aware of the rules regarding who is allowed in the clubhouse and who is not, as he had to break the unfortunate bad news to his long time personal stretcher that he was no longer allowed to accompany Giambi to the stadium.

George Steinbrenner’s expected offseason moves:

  1. Carlos Beltran is signed to at least the second biggest contract in the history of baseball. His deal will be rivaled only by Alex Rodriguez’s, and it is not out of the realm of possibility that Beltran’s deal could out value’s.
  2. If the Red Sox go on to win the World Series, they will be less likely to be able to sign Pedro Martinez. However, if the Sox fail to win the title, expect to see Pedro Martinez in pinstripes next year. As part of his Yankees contract, Martinez gives up all rights to “Who’s your Daddy?” merchandise, and Nelson de la Rosa also agrees to become the team’s official mascot and bat boy for the duration of Martinez’s tenure in New York.
  3. Carl Pavano is probably on his way to the Bronx already.
  4. The Yankees trade for Marlins All-Star third baseman Mike Lowell. The domino effect moves to his natural position of shortstop and forces Derek Jeter to second base. As a result of the emotional trauma stemming from his move to second base, Jeter admits that despite his long list of celebrity girlfriends, it’s all been a front to hide his long standing relationship with Mets catcher Mike Piazza. Off color rumors about Jeter's objections to the Mets moving Piazza to a position other than catcher ensue.
  5. The Yankees trade a lump of cash to the Texas Rangers in exchange for regaining the services of Alfonso Soriano. While the Yankees don’t have a regular position for Soriano to play, he is converted into an uber-utility player (spelling Jeter,, Lowell, and even Beltran) and pinch-runner extraordinaire.
  6. Soon after the Lowell trade is made, Steinbrenner issues a press release explaining the situation. He states that Rodriguez is a perennial loser and this move is an attempt to shake things up. He goes on to say that the trade is intended to be a wake-up call to Jeter, who has been at the center of the Yankees failures since 2001. Steinbrenner also asks that fans and media cease referring to Jeter as “clutch” until he actually contributes to the Yankees winning a World Series.
  7. is sent to a running coach during the offseason so that the Yankees can avoid any future embarrassments from’s “natural running motion.”
    Bubba Crosby is unceremoniously given his outright release. When asked for a comment on the decision, George Steinbrenner replies, “Name me the last World Championship team that had a guy named ‘Bubba’ on it’s roster.”
  8. Steinbrenner establishes a shell company that attempts to buy the Montreal Expos/Washington Senators franchise. The ruse is discovered only because the bid put in for the team is so exorbitantly high that it merits a thorough investigation. After being caught, Steinbrenner explains that he felt it was his only choice, as the Yankees farm system is depleted (blame laid at the feet of Brian Cashman) and there aren’t enough quality free agents on the market to allow the Yankees to reload. By buying the Expos, Steinbrenner would have acquired enough quality prospects to make the moves necessary to build his team into a winner.
  9. Yankee Stadium Announcer Bob Sheppard is admitted to a hospital on December 15th to be treated for sleep depravation. Friends and family state that for nearly two months he has only uttered two phrases – “Ttttttttttthhhhhhhhhhhhheeeeeeeeee Yankees lose” and “Tttttttttttttttttttthhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhheeeeeeeeeeee Red Sox win.” His incessant raving is only interrupted by uncontrollable sobbing.

Special guest commentary from White Sox announcer Hawk Harrelson:
Mike: So Hawk, what do you think will happen to some of the Yankees? Who’s going to be back next year?
Joe Torre – he gone.
Brian Cashman – he gone.
Mel Stottlemyre – he gone.
Miguel Cairo – he gone.
Stevie Loiaza – he gone. The Esteban thing – that gone too.
Javier Vazquez, 2004 American League All-Star – he gone.
Kenny Lofton – he gone.
John Olerud – he gone.
Jason Giambi – he gone.
Kevin Brown – he gone.
Potentially injuring inducing dugout and clubhouse equipment – it gone.

World Series Prediction
In case you haven’t been watching closely at home, all of this is clearly scripted. The Red Sox lose the first three games and do not look good at all. Then they pull out some nailbiters and cap it off with a blowout win in Game Seven at Yankee Stadium. Puh-lease.

This series can only end one way – the National League team, whether it’s the Astros or the Cardinals will win. The series will go seven games. I cannot predict how the series will end (a Fisk quality walk off home run in game six of 1975 and a Buckner moment in game six of 1986 are already taken), but it will be spectacular. I suspect that some of the most creative writer’s on Fox’s Hollywood movie staff are working on the finale, and all the other twists and turns right now.

While there is no curse, the curse will live. In the offseason, Red Sox GM Theo Epstein’s biggest acquisition will be a team psychologist, who will not only help the team, but its fans. The psychologist will make everyone aware of the psychosomatic ramifications of the curse. Theo will try to convince everyone that it’s all in their heads. We won’t know until next October though if anyone is buying it.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Atonement for Players I Hate

Less so on this blog and more so in real life, I have been highly critical over the years of Curt Schilling and Jeff Kent. Granted, both are great players and both will merit serious consideration for the Hall of Fame once they hang up their cleats. Still though, I have not been a big fan of either player over the years for a number of reasons.

Curt Schilling normally portrays himself as a fan like you and I. I don’t believe this though. Schilling is quick to voice his opinion and to tell you what you should think, but only when it’s convenient for him. If you don’t believe me, search around a little bit – you can even read through some threads on Sons of Sam Horn. Better yet – you probably recall ESPN highlights of Schilling’s angry phone calls to Boston radio stations regarding his relationship with Pedro Martinez (regarding whether they get along amicably or not). My point is that Schilling is a wind bag who is willing to rant and rave about his opinions to anyone who will listen, particularly if they have a microphone, tape recorder, or video camera, regardless of whether he really knows what he’s talking about or not. That has always turned me off of him.

However, last night’s performance, with a bloody ankle from the outset, was nothing short of amazing. Should the Red Sox go on to win the Series tonight, Schilling’s performance last night will likely go down in baseball lore like Willis Reed’s hobbled performance did for the Knicks in game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals. Granted, Reed’s feat was performed in the ultimate game of the ultimate series at the NBA level, while Schilling’s took place in the penultimate game of the ALCS – one full round plus a game in front of the ultimate final. Still, Schilling’s outing likely carried as much meaning. It forced a deciding game against the Yankees, and if the Red Sox defeat the Yankees in the ALCS it will carry nearly as much weight as if they are able to win their first World Series title since 1918 (although I find it hard to believe that the Red Sox won’t win the title if they overcome the Yankees tonight).

On a completely different note, Jeff Kent has also drawn much of my ire over the years. Yes, he was a great player for the Giants, and even arguably deserved the MVP award that he stole from Barry Bonds. My gripe with Kent is the talk that he’s done in the media over the years about how he’d prefer to be on his farm instead of playing baseball and that he doesn’t appreciate or know much of the history of the game. Yes, I know that most ballplayers don’t love and care about the game as much as I do. That’s fine. But since my interest in the game, and the interest of millions of other people, allows these ballplayers to earn millions of dollars per year (or about $90,000 per game, like Sammy Sosa), they should at least put up the illusion that they care about the game (or just avoid the subject all together). Actually, I think that should be a part of the standard player’s contract – they should be obligated to keep the fans believing that they care about the game as much as the fans do.

Kent’s celebration Monday night after he hit his walk off home run to win Game Five for the Astros helped me to change my mind though. He actually seemed jubilant and he most definitely seemed to care. His helmet flip as he came around third base looked eerily like David Ortiz’s from the night before, but it was still a fun scene to watch. I just hope that we see more scenes like that out of Kent – and all the others – and fewer interviews expressing wishes that “I’d rather be on the farm.”

Yankees – Red Sox Game 7 Prediction
Honestly, I have no idea what is going to happen tonight. If the Red Sox win, it will certainly be historic. The Red Sox have never knocked the Yankees out of the playoffs, and doing so will likely give them a lift that will carry them to a World Series title, or will take so much out of them that they will fall apart in the Series. If the Yankees lose, we’re likely to see an implosion of some sort from the Bronx/Tampa this offseason. A lineup shake-up is a lock and a change in leadership (Torre, Cashman, etc) is not out of the question. A loss tonight almost certainly cements Carlos Beltran’s matriculation to the Yankees. It might also lock up Pedro Martinez and/or Carl Pavano.

If the Red Sox don’t win tonight though, I may give up hope that they’ll ever defeat the Yankees or win the World Series in my lifetime.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

LCS Mayhem

As recently as Saturday night I thought that by now the Yankees would be sitting at home on their couches (much like me) watching the conclusion of the NLCS to see who they’d be facing in the World Series. Improbably though, the Red Sox have taken the past two games and have made this into something of a series. With Curt Schilling taking the hill for the Red Sox tonight, almost anything could happen.

Literally. Schilling could be lights out and pitch a shutout. Or, and what seems more likely, given how things went down – Schilling could be highly ineffective, and put the Red Sox in a big hole early on. He could even cause himself a career ending injury tonight. I’m definitely not wishing for any of that later stuff to happen, but it could and that will only add to the drama and intrigue surrounding this series.

At this point, it’s shaping up to either be the same old story for the Red Sox, or the greatest comeback story in American League playoff history. Sure, other teams have come back from the brink of elimination to win the series, but none had the weight behind them like this Red Sox – Yankees series. None had the history behind them, or the media coverage, or the 19-run, 22-hit blowout put down on the Red Sox by the Yankees in Game 3. If the Red Sox come back and win this series, it will be the greatest come back in playoff history. The only question will be if the Red Sox have enough left in them to win the World Series. But after knocking off the Yankees, they might not care.

Oh wait, yes, of course they would.

And I’ll admit that I’m more than a little disappointed that the NLCS didn’t end quickly. I was hoping that either the Cardinals or the Astros would win the series in four or five games so that they’d have some time between series to rest their pitchers and get their rotation in order for the World Series. There’s still a possibility that that could happen – particularly if the Astros rest Roger Clemens tonight and somehow find a way to win.

That would allow Clemens to start game 1 of the World Series, and possibly two more games. It would also allow Roy Oswalt to be in position to start up to two games (assuming the series went long). But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. To make that happen, the Astros would have to win tomorrow night in St. Louis, against the team that had the best record in baseball during the regular season. Sure, the Astros took the season series, and even played well there at home, but many of those games (including the last four) took place at the end of the year when the Cardinals had the division and top seed in the playoffs locked up, and little else to play for.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Beltran Plays Himself into the Yankee Lineup

Great players retire and go on to the Hall of Fame. It is only a select subset of modern players who are deemed great enough to be recongized during their playing career as the greatest amongst the currents of the greats. They become Yankees. George Steinbrenner opens up his checkbook and adds another All-Star to his star studded lineup. While the Yankees may not be locks for this year's World Series title, the only question that remains for the Yankees 2005 campaign is whether or not the Yankees will have more former All-Stars as reserves than any other American League team has on their roster (starters and reserves included).

The following is a completely unfounded rumor that I’m starting:

Unfounded rumors swept through Minute Maid Park during yesterday’s ballgame that speculated that superstar slugger and free agent to be Carlos Beltran’s agent, Scott Boras, has been ordered by his doctor to cease attending and otherwise watching Beltran’s remaining playoff games. Apparently Boras becomes so giddy while watching Beltran that he has made himself susceptible to a heart attack. Additionally, his incessant drooling makes being in the same area as Boras more than a little bit uncomfortable for those around him, particularly those wearing open toed shoes.

For those of you who haven’t been paying close enough attention, Beltran has hit eight home runs in the Astros nine post-season games to date. He’s hitting nearly .500 (.486 to be more precise) and is reaching base at a Bonds like clip of .571. Since he’s expected to be the most highly sought free agent this off-season, his asking price was already expected to be high. His postseason performance though has been so outstanding, that it’s likely to only have sent the bidding war into the stratosphere (meaning that it’s only a matter of time before Beltran inks a deal to play in the Bronx).

Friday, October 15, 2004

Canes Win - Miraculously

I get tired just thinking about it. Last night’s Miami – Louisville football game was the most offense (special teams too) that I’ve seen in a very long time – and quite possibly ever. The two offenses combined for nearly 1,000 total yards (plus you could add nearly 200 more from Devin Hester’s special teams yards alone). There were 79 points scored in the game.

Coming in, everyone knew that Louisville’s offense was for real. They have four quality running backs who each receive regular playing time. Unlike any other team that I can think of, they have two real quarterbacks. Normally, as the saying goes, when your team has two quarterbacks, you really have none. That’s not the case for Louisville. They have two quarterbacks who you’d be comfortable having under center with the game on the line.

Speaking of which, Brock Berlin really proved himself again last night. I’m not the biggest Berlin fan (that’s an understatement) and I did boo last night (not Berlin, but the playcalling). But after he came out for injury (reported as a chest bruise but what looked like something affecting his shoulder or arm), Berlin came back and looked better than ever. While Brock most likely wouldn’t start at Louisville, or even at his original school – Florida, this year, Berlin would almost have to be the guy that more than 100 of the 117 Division I football teams would want under center for a fourth-quarter comeback drive. His leadership on the sidelines – rallying the offense together about the importance of scoring when the game is on the line – is vintage Ken Dorsey. If Berlin keeps up his performance over the remainder of the season, his record in his two year’s as a starter will be nearly as good as Dorsey’s in his first two years as a starter.

That’s not to compare Dorsey and Berlin. Both were good college quarterbacks, but Dorsey executed more consistently when the game was on the line. My point here is that Berlin just isn’t as bad as folks normally make him out to be.

One Hurricane who is probably better than people make him out to be – and people talk about how good he is already – is return specialist and backup defensive back Devin Hester. Hester returned his third punt of the year for a touchdown last night and had a kickoff return for a touchdown (which was called back for a holding penalty). Larry Coker put it best after the game last night when he said, “What can you say about Devin Hester? Devin Hester is certainly one of the most exciting players I've ever seen. He makes fast players look slow.”

That’s certainly true. What’s amazing though is that the Canes haven’t found a way to fit Hester in on offense. He’s been converted (apparently at his request) to defensive back. That sure seems to be a waste of his talents because he’s so elusive with the ball. I suspect we’ll see that change, but probably not this year. My best guess is that by this point next year, Hester will be a two (actually three) way standout for the Hurricanes.

Question of the Game
Miami used fullback Talib Humphrey quite a bit more frequently last night than they have in the past. This is likely due, at least in part, to the injury to Kyle Cobia. What’s interesting though is that Humphrey seems to only participate in running plays (as a blocker of course). While he’s sometimes in for non-obvious running situations, the playcall is (seemingly) always a run. If anyone’s seen Humphrey on the field this year for a pass play, let me know. Hopefully that predictable play calling will change for upcoming games.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Football: Canes - Cardinals

Well, at the risk of turning you baseball readers off (but let’s be honest, it sure looks like most of you are finding your way here for Pedro Martinez and the midget or for a link to a story about Mariano Rivera and the tragedy that struck his family), today I’m going to talk about tonight’s big football game. I’m pretty sure there’s only one today, and I’m going to be at it.

Third ranked Miami faces off against seventeenth ranked Louisville tonight at the Orange Bowl. If you’re not in Miami, you can catch the game on ESPN. If you are in Miami and need tickets, drop me a line – I have a few extra.

Here’s what I think will happen – or at least what will be answered tonight:

Louisville comes into the game with a strong offense. That’s an understatement. They’re averaging more than five hundred yards of offense to date this year. This isn’t even your conventional, high-powered college offense. Usually those offenses, like Steve Spurrier’s old fun-and-gun, or even Louisiana Tech’s ground game this year heavily favor either the run or the pass. Louisville is very balanced. They have three starting quality running backs and two quality quarterbacks – who they rotate (one of whom is a true freshman).

What we don’t know about Louisville so far, is how they’ll fare against a top defense. It’s becoming cliché, but Miami’s defense lost four starters last year as NFL first round draft picks. Somehow though, they’re as good or better than last year’s team – or so it seems. They, like the Louisville offense, haven’t faced an offense like the one they’ll see tonight.

What’s most likely to decide the game though is Miami’s offense versus Louisville’s defense. Miami’s offense has been, at best, inconsistent this season. Complicating matters further is that the Canes lost, if not their top offensive player, certainly their top offensive lineman in Eric Winston late in their last game against Georgia Tech. Winston, a projected top five or top ten pick in next spring’s NFL draft will be replaced by Rashad Butler, who before an injury was expected to be this year’s starter at right tackle. Butler is most definitely talented, but he will be tested early and often by the strong Cardinal defense.

This game feels like it will come down to whoever wins the turnover battle and whoever makes a big play or two on special teams. If only because we’ve all seen Miami do that so many times before – including in three games so far this year (with a blocked field goal late against Florida State, two punt returns for touchdown against Lousiana Tech, and with a blocked punt returned for a touchdown against Houston), you have to give the edge to Miami there. Louisville’s special teams look solid though – at least on paper. Don’t be surprised to see a wrinkle or two thrown in as well. Although Louisville has a solid punter, their starting quarterback did punt one ball this year – and he punted it well.

Initially my take was that this game wouldn’t be as close as it seems like it could be on paper. One team or the other is likely to blow the other out somehow or another. One team will likely be exposed as a fraud – and it will most likely be the offense of one club that’s exposed. But after looking at it (a little) more thoroughly, I think we really could see a dogfight tonight, with the winner having an inside track to a BCS game (particularly if Louisville comes out on top – their road the rest of the way is likely easier, as Miami still has to travel to NC State, North Carolina, and Virginia, as well as facing off against Clemson, and Virginia Tech at home).

Prediction: Miami 24, Louisville 17

In other college football news, Ron Zook is apparently on a food and sleep strike since last week’s loss. One has to wonder if this is more a result of Zook’s role in a fraternity fight a few weeks back coming to light than his actual disappointment over losing to LSU (coming into the season one would have to think that Zook chalked that one up as a loss). Interestingly, Zook’s food strike is similar to that of a man in the Virgin Islands who is existing only on pudding until the NFL and DirecTV offer him the Sunday ticket package.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

What Kind of Yankee Fan are You?

So the Yankees took round one, but not in a manner in which anyone expected. If anything, it should have started the other way around. Nearly everyone expected Curt Schilling to be dominant and to give the Red Sox the early lead in the series. Apparently the injury to his ankle is more serious than the Red Sox and Schilling let on. He consistently missed his location last night and he simply wasn’t fooling anyone.

Mike Mussina, the Yankees starter, clearly was. While dominance from Mussina isn’t unexpected, sitting down nineteen Red Sox (they of the most potent regular season lineup in the game) in a row is more than impressive.

Adding salt to the wound of the game one loss is the fact that the Red Sox rallied back and had the tying run as close as 90 feet away as late as the eighth inning. Schilling’s poor (and injured induced) performance and Manny Ramirez’s poor outfield play may have sucked the hope out of Beantown fans that the Red Sox might actually win this series this year.

But that doesn’t mean that you should start rooting for the Yankees at this point. ESPN’s Bill Simmons put it best when he said that there are three ways someone becomes a Yankees fan. They are: "A.) they grew up within two hours of Yankee Stadium; B.) they jumped on the bandwagon as a kid because they wanted to be associated with a winner; or C.) they have no soul."

Many of you, particularly those of you who came to the team later in life or simply cannot use either A or B for the reasons of your Yankee love will say that there must be a choice “D” after “C” – which you likely find greatly unappealing. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. “C” is really a catch-all and the real reason that you are a Yankees fan. It’s sad but true.

Do you cheer for Goliath versus David? Do you cheer for tax cuts for the rich? When two teams that you aren’t partial to play each other, do you cheer for the underdog or the overwhelming favorite? Cheering for the Yankees is like rooting for the house in blackjack. The Yankees are Goliath, they are the rich. They are the unquestioned, all-time, overwhelming favorite. If you cheer for them and didn’t grow up within a short train ride of the Stadium or if you didn’t grow fond of them as a kid, you have no soul.

Go Red Sox! It’s futile, but you’ve got to root for someone until you have a new team to cheer for against the Yankees in the World Series.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

No One Wants to Be in My Pants Right Now

No ladies, that’s not an invitation or a solicitation for emails from you asking me out on a date. Actually, it’s what Juan Rincon had to say about what he was feeling after the Twins were eliminated by the Yankees and Rincon was the pitcher of record (some of you who are far too familiar with Batgirl, may only recognize Rincon by his nickname of Boo Berry).

This my friends is an example of what is wrong in sports today. Sure, now everyone’s attention is focused on the Yankees and Red Sox. The buildup for this series has been so monumental that what took place during last night’s Astros – Braves game (the constant studio cut-ins about tomorrow night’s game; memo to Fox – if there aren’t other games going on, we don’t need updates) would make you think that even folks in Houston and St. Louis will be favoring the ALCS over the series featuring their home town teams.

Because of this, we’re left to dig through articles in miscellaneous Minnesota newspapers to find the quote of the year (you’ll have to read all the way to the bottom). Yes, that’s right, I said it. This quote is even better than Marquis Weeks’ from a few weeks back after he had his touchdown return and “running from the cops” description. No one wanting to be in your pants is simply funny – on a lot of levels. That this quote isn’t receiving more attention is truly a shame.

And this wouldn’t be the case if the tables were turned. Can you imagine the headlines if the Twins had knocked out the Yankees and in his post-game interview Yankees reliever Tom Gordon summarized his feelings about the situation by saying that “No one wants to be in my pants right now.” That clip would be played more regularly than the (edited – Pedro cursed when he said it) version of Pedro Martinez saying that he should just “tip my cap and call the Yankees my daddies.” Better yet can you imagine if Pedro had uttered Rincon’s line after his last loss to the Yankees? The fallout would be unimaginable. Instead of having to pull “Who’s Your Daddy” Red Sox shirts from the shelves everyone would be talking about the “No one wants to be in the pants of a Red Sox fan” shirt craze that would be sweeping the nation.

But we’re not, because it was said by a Twin. And that’s a shame.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Larry King Style

I’m assuming by now that if you’re actually reading this that you know what happened in the games this weekend, or at least you know where else to look to find out about the games (if not, check out the links on the right). So, in the interest of being brief today, I’ll give you my Larry King style rants (there will be no bulletpoints):

Am I the only person who is disturbed by Larry Walker’s batting helmet? He’s new to the Cardinals, but his navy batting helmet is as faded and worn out as anyone’s on the team. Did he inherit someone else’s when he joined the club? Can’t the Cards spring for a new helmet for the guy? It’s not like he wears it every game even – the Cards wear red helmets at home.

During last night’s broadcast, the announcers mentioned that this Cardinals club is the tenth that Tony LaRussa has taken to the post-season. For managers not named Cox and for folks who didn’t manage the Yankees back in the day, that’s a pretty heady total. If I ever had the chance, I’d like to ask LaRussa who would be on his all-time team of players he’s managed. Some obvious names like McGwire, Eckersley, Baines, and Pujols come to mind, but I’d have to ask Tony if he’d rather have the late-80s version of McGwire in his dugout – the version where you knew the potential was there and you could play a role in developing it – or the late-90s version of McGwire – when everything had come together and you were simply witnessing greatness. LaRussa – in Oakland and St. Louis – was fortunate enough to see both sides of McGwire’s Hall of Fame career.

The Red Sox have their pitching rotation set – assuming Schilling is healthy – as well as it possibly could be. If there’s ever a year when the Red Sox can take down the Yankees in the ALCS, this is the year. We’ll see…

Ron Gardenhire has done tremendous things with his Twins team. They simply win in the regular season and the team’s three consecutive division titles only prove that. However, questionable decisions – most notably pulling Johan Santana from Saturday night’s game after five innings – could cost him his job this offseason. If Santana was capable of starting Saturday’s game on three-days rest, he should have been capable of 6 or 7 innings or 100 pitches – totals he did not reach. Instead he was removed after five innings and less than 90 pitches. Although he left with a lead, the Twins lost the game and thus their season ended. If that was all Gardenhire thought he could have gotten out of Santana, he would have been better of saving him for game five, if the Twins had been able to pull the game out on Sunday. The Twins needed two long, strong outings from Santana to win that series, and Gardenhire robbed the team of Johan’s ability to provide that. Gardenhire did not put his club in the best possible position to win the series.

Jose Lima – it was fun while it lasted, but your fifteen minutes of fun, fame, and song are up. Enjoy the offseason.

I’m still trying to piece together the truth about the tragedy that struck Mariano Rivera’s family this weekend, but if some published reports are to be believed, it’s difficult to imagine that Mariano’s head will be completely on the ALCS when he returns to New York for the series. Not only did two family members – including one child – die at his home in Panama this weekend, but the circumstances surrounding the death appear to be bizarre and, likely, preventable. In no way am I asserting that the deaths are Mariano’s fault or that he is in anyway to blame, but these types of horrible things have to weigh on a person.

Printed reports (that I can find) aren’t discussing it like what I heard on the radio this morning, but it sounds as-if the rod that may have caused the electrocution was kept in the pool to keep dogs out of the pool. It isn’t clear if Mariano knew of this and/or if the folks who were in the pool knew that there was an electrical source in the pool.

If the Astros lose today’s game against the Braves we’ll have to start hearing talk that the ‘Stros are cursed much like the Red Sox and Cubs. Not that there’s any truth to it, but if there ever was a winnable playoff series for the Astros, this was it. It’s probably all for naught though. Despite the tear they were on coming into the playoffs, the difficult tests they’ve come up against in the LDS will likely make it difficult to overcome the clicking Cardinals in the LCS should they advance today.

Since I know think my predictions from last week were way off, I’ll reforecast my World Series teams even before the LCS match-ups are completely set: Cardinals versus Red Sox, with the Red Sox winning the Series in seven games. Both teams bring great offenses to the table, but the Red Sox have a little more starting pitching. We’ll likely hear a little bit too much about the importance of having two starting pitchers like Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez for the rest of October, but this year it could really turn out to be a difference maker.

Friday Night Lights is a great movie. It's not just a sports movie either. If you see it twice, try to catch the things that just didn't exist in 1988 (like the Oakley visors that many players wear on their helmets). Well, no I sound old - so I'm signing off. Until tomorrow...

Friday, October 08, 2004

Pathetic Post

I know it’s the playoffs and I know it’s the biggest weekend in college football to date this year, but I don’t have time to even get a halfway decent post up. I’ll be back on Monday with something interesting – hopefully. In the meantime, don’t get suckered into believing whatever you hear Tim McCarver, Joe Morgan, or Buck Martinez saying this weekend.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Random Links and Interesting Baseball Things

Twins Lose - Non Yankee Fans Mourn
Aaron Gleeman recaps last night’s Twins loss. The Twins have come far, and may still win this series, but last night’s game was a prime example of what an extra $100 million in payroll can do for a ball club. With that kind of money the Twins would have been able to afford an extra premium arm in their bullpen, which likely would have preserved the win for them. Instead they may have lost not only the game, but also have done damage to Joe Nathan’s psyche.

Batgirl provides a less analytical (but far more humourous) recap of the same game.

Barry Bonds is not a bad baseball player
In case you missed it, Barry Bonds had a pretty good year, again. This was a complete surprise to me. I figured he was just old and on the down-side of his career. Who knew?

The lack of talent that has surrounded Barry Bonds over his career is amazing. Peter Gammons, though, thinks that Jeff Kent is hall-of-fame bound. This will most definitely be true if Kent can manage to spend a few seasons in Beantown before he hangs it up. Regardless, that Bonds has elevated the game of enough of his teammates to make as many playoff runs as his Giants have, is simply amazing.

Gary Sheffield May Know Something, But Has issues of His Own
Gary Sheffield does not have very much positive to say about Bonds. Methinks Gary needs to talk to someone about how adult men who are capable of financially supporting themselves conduct relationships with other adult men. Apparently Gary is not familiar with this and thus has had an unusual relationship with Barry Bonds, the old dude mentioned above.

Playoff Predictions
An unusual summation of predictions made by some other folks (not all from ESPN even).

Moneyball is not a Disaster
Despite the fact that the Athletics once again had one of the lowest payrolls in major league baseball, folks are jumping all over them for failing to make the playoffs. Most teams would be happy to have reached the playoffs in four of the past five years, but apparently that’s not a good enough total for the A’s – at least in the minds of observers. I’m sure Billy Beane is not happy to be watching the games on television this October, but it does nothing to diminish what he and his ballclub have been able to accomplish.

Joe Morgan seems to be lapsing in and out of his form on the television broadcasts this post-season. That’s not something we’re used to hearing. Usually Jon Miller keeps him in line. Still though, he’s no Tim McCarver, and that’s a good thing. More on Morgan and McCarver another day. I’m afraid to let all of that anger and frustration out today.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

The Red Sox aren't Cursed, Just Inept

In yesterday’s action, the Boston Red Sox, backed by an outstanding outing by starting pitcher Curt Schilling, took the lead in their series against the Anaheim Angels. The going does not get any easier for the Angels today, as Pedro Martinez will take the hill for the Red Sox today in an important game for the team from Bean Town. In any year other than this one, having Pedro on the hill would be a great thing - and probably a sure win – for the Red Sox, because he has historically been nothing other than dominant.

But as of late, Pedro hasn't been Pedro. Pedro's been hittable on the mound, and off the mound, he's been just plain weird. After losing to the Yankees recently, Pedro went off to reporters with this: "What can I say? I just tip my hat and call the Yankees my daddies. I can't find a way to beat them at this point. ... I wish they would fucking disappear and never come back. I'd like to face any other team right now. To pitch a good game, make good pitches and still can't beat them. It's frustrating."

Um... great!

Sounds like he's ready to go out there and win some playoff games. But it gets better... this is taken directly from The Black Table: "In the best move of all, he brought an emaciated Latin midget named Nelson de la Rosa, dressed in a Red Sox uniform (de la Rosa is actually an actor who starred in -- of course -- The Island of Dr. Moreau with Marlon Brando). Why did he do this? No one is quite sure, but Martinez did request that de la Rosa meet with manager Terry Francona and general manager Theo Epstein. That's not a joke. Francona even did meet with him and admitted ‘looking behind de la Rosa to see if he had batteries.’"

At first I didn't believe the de la Rosa part of this. But there's photo evidence of the whole thing that you can read here. When you get to the Dirt Dogs site just keep scrolling down. It gets weirder and weirder farther down the page.

And for those of you who think this is even further evidence that the Red Sox truly are cursed, I hate to break it to you, but you're simply wrong. This article is a little lengthy, but it is very thorough and supports many arguments that I've been reading elsewhere lately. There is also some new (to me at least) evidence that the Red Sox are much less victims of a curse and more so victims of their own mismanagement and sloppy research by the media.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Happy Anniversary to Me!

Oh my gooseness… I almost didn’t realize it, but today is the first anniversary of the launch of The Book of Mike. It was one year ago today, inspired by the Marlins playoff run and the lack of Marlins coverage, that I decided to start this blog up.

So, as tradition calls for, I will be giving my blog a traditional first anniversary gift of paper – well, virtual paper – so consider this entry a poem or something else sentimental like that. For the rest of you, who are neither me or the blog itself, please spend some extra time today in the archives or in our Café store (check out the link to the store near the top right of this page.

In our first year of existence, the blog has churned out about 150,000 words. That’s a lot – or at least it seems like it to me – especially since I only posted twice in November, took December and January off, and only found the time to post one note at the end of February. Since March though we’ve pretty much been up and running full-time (well, on the weekdays at least).

Thank you to all of you who read regularly! I’ll even drop a “thanks” on those of you who only stop by occasionally or who are finding your way here for the first time today.

Also, this is the third entry of the day today, so make sure to keep scrolling down to read all of the other amazing things I’ve written today.

Playoff Predictions

I can’t resist. Here are my playoff predictions. After each round I’ll come back and adjust my picks – assuming of course that I’m off on a series or two. In the interest of time, I’ll be brief. In the order of when the series begin (teams with home-field advantage listed second)…

Dodgers vs. Cardinals – Cardinals in four games
The Cardinals lineup is just too deep and the Dodgers starting pitching is just too shaky. Paul DePodesta realized this during the summer, but an injury to Brad Penny and an inability to land Randy Johnson from the Diamondbacks prevented him from filling this gap.

Red Sox vs. Angels – Angels in five games
Most people are discounting the Angels because they know the Red Sox better. This can hardly be helped. It’s as if the Red Sox and Yankees are the only two teams in the baseball universe at times. The Angels have put things together of late and this may be the first time all year that the team is close to healthy.

In 2002 the world was introduced to Garrett Anderson and David Eckstein. They’re both still major parts of this team in 2004, but this year the world will be formally introduced to Vladimir Guerrero and Chone Figgins.

Twins vs. Yankees – Twins in four games
Most everyone is saying that the Twins must win tonight’s first game, otherwise they have no hope of winning. Everyone’s getting on the Johan Santana train, as well they should. However, it seems that folks haven’t realized that Brad Radke, the Twins number two starter, has easily been the third best starter in the American League this year – if not the second best. Sure, there’s a drop-off between the Twins number one starter and their number two, but Radke may be having a better year this year than the Red Sox’s ace – Curt Schilling. Don’t be surprised if the Twins lose tonight and still come back to win this series.

Yes, it’s true that the Yankees have essentially owned the Twins in recent years – winning twenty of the last twenty-three ballgames between the two clubs, but that’s simply history. What’s in the past is in the past. We’ll all start to see that tonight.

Astros vs. Braves – Astros in four games
It’s hard not to compare the Astros to last year’s Marlins. For much of the season they were left for dead. Both teams fired their manager mid-way through the year. However, it’s probably fair to say that all around, the Astros are a better ballclub than the 2003 Marlins – or at least they’re more experienced and better known.

There’s veteran leadership from Biggio, Bagwell, and Clemens, young superstars in Oswalt, Berkman, and Beltran, an ace in the bullpen in Brad Lidge. This is a very good ballclub. Plus, they’re playing dominating baseball of late. They’ve been in pressure packed games everyday at the end of the season.

On the one hand, it’s fortunate for the Braves that they were not in that position. The Braves essentially were able to coast through the last two months of the season, as there never was a real threat to their stranglehold on the division lead. Now the question will be if they can turn it up a notch and play at the level the Astros have for the last month or two. I doubt they’ll be able to do it. These aren’t the Braves you remember folks. That’s Jaret Wright taking the hill to start game one of the LDS – not Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, or Tom Glavine.

(Side note: Depending on how these series turn out, you can almost count on a rant about how the 2-2-1 format of the best of five (let alone the 2-3-2 format of the last two rounds) series doesn’t really give either team a home field advantage and how the short series is conducive to letting the better team win. I think I’d even prefer if the playoffs were set up College World Series-style, with a double elimination tournament for the AL and NL to determine a champion, followed by a best-of –seven series between the two league champions. You could host it at a neutral site each year, with multiple games each day between the AL combatants and the NL combatants. Then when the league champions had been decided we could revert back to the traditional World Series format. It would never happen, but it’s fun (at least for me) to think about.)

NLCS: Astros over Cardinals in six games
Hosting games three, four, and five is a big advantage in this series – in my mind – for Houston. If they’re able to take one of the first two games from the Cardinals in St. Louis, they should be able to win two of three more back at home. Then they’ll just need another split in St. Louis to advance to their first World Series of all-time.

Much like with the Braves, the Cardinals have been on cruise control for some time – actually, they’ve been here for even longer than the Braves, as I think the Cards clinched the division title on April 15th. Sure, the Cards played at a high level for the entire season, but the Astros are just clicking on all cylinders right now, and as we’ve seen in the past few post-seasons, particularly with the Wild Card Marlins and Angels the past two years winning it all, it’s hard to pick against the hot team.

ALCS: Angels over Twins in seven games
Flip a coin here. I really don’t know. In my mind, the Angels, like the Astros are charmed. Going into last weekend, or for sure the weekend before, the Angels were on the outside looking in at this whole playoff party. Now that they’ve been invited to the dance, I’m not exactly sure how anyone’s going to get them to leave.

Sure, Santana and Radke have dominated for the Twins this year. Hackers like Guerrero simply don’t care. It’s see-ball, hit-ball for many of these Angels and that just may work. Plus, the Angels are getting strong outings of late from their starters and their bullpen is not only lights out but deep.

World Series: Angels over Astros in seven
Flip a coin here again. I’m just making a guess to make a guess. You could replace these two teams with any of the other six and I’d probably call it a seven game series at this point anyway. The American League has home field advantage again this year, so I suppose in a seven game set you have to give it to the AL (but I still think the 2-3-2 home formate is not favorable to the team with the first and last two home games – if anything the team with the middle three home games may have an edge).

Star who emerges: Chone Figgins – Anaheim Angels. He’s the perfect player for post-season television story lines. He’s not the best player on the field at any given time, but he’s a jack-of-all-trades and that sort of thing will go over well on FOX.

We’re likely to learn a lot more about Vladimir Guerrero and Johan Santana anyway. Figgins is more likely to pop into America’s consciousness this year like David Eckstein did two years ago.

Star who fails: Jeff Kent – Houston Astros. Personally, I have a hard time cheering for a baseball player who openly admits to not being a fan of the game. Sure, you’re probably not as big of a fan of the game as I am, but at least be respectful of the game, it’s records, and the stars that have come before you. They’ve all laid the path for you to make a pretty nice living for yourself. Granted, Kent isn’t the most likely goat of the playoffs, but I’m hoping that he is.

Mike's 2004 Awards Show

Contrary to what your calendar might tell you, today is really the beginning of October. Three of the four playoff series begin today. I’m not going to go into details about them here. Others have done a superb job of covering that. For the best non-mainstream coverage that I’ve found, check out Aaron Gleeman’s articles over at The Hardball Times.

Today I thought I’d go back into my pre-season awards predictions to see how I fared.

American League MVP
Pre-season pick: Vladimir Guerrero; Current pick: Vladimir Guerrero
This was a tight race and there are a handful of guys that you could make legitimate arguments for. Vlad will see two of them beginning this afternoon, when the Angels face off against the Red Sox and Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz. Gary Sheffield of the Yankees also deserves serious consideration, and other players – like Ichiro Suzuki (he of the single season hit record) and Carlos Guillen (who more deserves the Most Improved Player award or the “Hey – Congrats on realizing your potential finally” award) – who will steal votes away from others, but can’t really win the whole thing.

Having two Red Sox in the mix for the award will only serve to help Guerrero’s chances, as they will steal votes away from each other. More than anything though, Guerrero’s final week – including six home runs, gunning down a runner at the plate, and doing pretty much everything and anything to help his team win, is what will stick in the minds of the voters. Going into the final week, Vlad had a legitimate claim to the award. In the final week, he stepped up his game to another level and separated himself from the crowd. This will count for more than it should with the voters, who are likely heavily influenced by what they’ve seen most recently – more so than what has actually occurred over the duration of the season.

National League MVP
Pre-season pick: Barry Bonds; Current pick: Barry Bonds
This is unfair. For one, Bonds should be made ineligible for the award. The NL MVP Award should be renamed for Bonds. That Bonds wins the award annually is a dis-service to other outstanding National Leaguers like Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen, and Adrian Beltre. Second, it’s not like any of these guys are really giving Bonds serious competition.

Yes, by historical standards Pujols (for the fourth year in a row), Rolen, and Beltre had MVP caliber seasons. It’s just that Bonds had another season that’s (without his own comparables) without historical peer.

Next year I will try to predict who will finish second to Bonds in the MVP race – kind of like how I’m not going to pick against the Braves as division champs anymore until they actually don’t win the division one year.

American League Cy Young Award
Pre-season pick: Barry Zito; Current pick: Johan Santana
I was just way off. Had the A’s gotten a Cy worthy performance from Zito, they’d probably be preparing to face the Red Sox today instead of making tee times. But they didn’t, so they’re not.

And it’s not like Santana backed his way into this award either. I’m sure you know all about him by now, but if you don’t, he essentially had a Bob Gibson circa-1968 second half (and his first half was pretty great too).

National League Cy Young Award
Pre-season pick: Josh Beckett; Current pick: Randy Johnson
I made my NL Cy Young pick just after Beckett’s opening day outing, where he looked dominant. That was about the last time Beckett looked like post-season 2003 Josh Beckett. Since then he’s been back to the blister-plagued version of himself. Definitely not Cy Young material this year – and more likely the front-runner for the “Realizing his Potential” award that Carlos Guillen will take this year.

As much as Randy Johnson deserves the award this year, he won’t win it. Because of Arizona’s anemic offense and all around bad play, Johnson (according to Baseball Prospectus’s support neutral statistics) was cheated out of six wins this year. Had Johnson racked up those six additional wins, it would be a foregone conclusion that Johnson would be taking home another Cy. He didn’t, so he’s not. That’s unfortunate.

It will likely go to Roger Clemens though, as he’ll add another award to his already overstocked trophy case. He pitched well this year, just not as well as Johnson.

American League Rookie of the Year
Pre-season pick: Bobby Crosby; Current pick: Bobby Crosby
This was a tough pick. Crosby had a solid year, although he did fade late – hitting less than .200 in September. In the American League this year though there really weren’t any breakout players a la Albert Pujols a few years back.

As a White Sox fan I’m tempted to give the award (the mythical one at least) to Shingo Takatsu, but it’s likely that his long term impact on the game will be considerably less than Crosby’s. Normally I wouldn’t discount an experienced Japanese pro from wininng this award, but overall it’s so close that I’ll give the tie to Crosby since he’s younger, an everyday player, and was on a team that was in the race until the very end.

Yikes, I’m starting to sound like an old-mainstream writer.

National League Rookie of the Year
Pre-season pick: Khalil Greene; Current pick: Khalil Greene
I’m really torn here. My vote – and the actually award almost definitely – could easily go to Jason Bay of the Pirates. Bay hit .284 with a .359 onbase percentage and a slugging average of .554 – that slugging mark is the third best all-time for a rookie. He also added twenty-six home runs and eighty-two RBI. However, he also had more than 120 strikeouts in just over 400 at bats. Should he keep that up, he’ll challenge Bobby Bonds and Adam Dunn for the single season strikeout record. Bay is also 26, which is relatively old for a major league rookie.

I’m sticking with Greene because his offense was more than adequate, and he’s a premium defender at shortstop. Much like last year, when I chose Dontrelle Willis as my rookie of the year, I’m throwing out the sabermetrics and statistics in favor of heart, defensive wizardry, and how much fun a player is to watch. Also, like with Crosby, Greene’s team was in the playoff hunt until the end of the year. Bay’s team was pretty much out of it since mid-April.

Well, that’s all of my fun and excitement for the day. Get yourself in front of a television, or at least a computer, to watch today’s playoff action.

Go Angels!

Monday, October 04, 2004

Backe-ing to the Playoffs

  • Well, the Astros really did anything but that, and their win yesterday was no exception. It was just that when everyone – or at least I’m assuming nearly everyone – heard that Roger Clemens wouldn’t be making his scheduled start yesterday against the Rockies, suspicion immediately arose that the Astros were really just saving Clemens for Game One of the NLDS or for the one-game playoff that was still a possibility at the time against the Giants. On the surface, this immediate reaction seemed to make sense, but as soon as it was revealed that Clemens was in the training room attached to an IV, suspicions about his health turned into genuine concern for his well being.

    After the performance that the Astros received from Backe, it may have turned out to be the best thing for the Astros that Clemens was unable to perform yesterday. Now the ‘Stros will be able to start Clemens in either game one or game two of their matchup with the Braves.

  • Predictions – like I mentioned last week, I’m not going to put myself out on a limb and make any predictions about which team will emerge as their league’s champion or as the World Series winner. You could make a good claim for why each of the teams that’s in the playoffs will win the whole thing just as you could make a good case for why each team that’s left in the mix will likely fall by the wayside.

    Further complicating matters is that three of the last four World Series participants, including the last two champions, were Wild Card entries into the playoffs. The Angels (after defeating the NL Wild Card Giants) and the Marlins both won crowns after finishing in second place during the regular season. Some have suspected that this is the case because Wild Card winners are often peaking at the right time, while other teams (possibly this year’s Cardinals or Yankees) have essentially coasted through the schedule for most of the last few months. The thinking goes that the Wild Card teams are likely hot and have played in a bunch of meaningful late season games, while the runaway division winners have been resting their stars and giving experience to role players and rookies and that it’s hard to turn it back up to the pace that the Wild Card winners are playing at. It seems like a logical argument, and if there’s much merit to it, you’d have to make the Astros your National League favorite. They have the history of the last two National League World Series berths coming from the wild card berth, plus a 20 – 7 September record and an 18-game home winning streak backing them up as they enter the playoffs.

    Still though, I’m not saying that I think the Astros are going to win it, but I think they’ll make a run. I’d probably do better picking names out of a hat at this point. I also enjoyed ESPN’s Bill Simmons’ comment about his beloved Red Sox: “If the Red Sox can’t win it this year with Jesus playing centerfield, I’m going to have to give up all hope that they’ll ever win the World Series in my lifetime.” He was, of course, referring to Johnny Damon’s ragged appearance.

  • How were my preseason predictions? At the outset of the year, I picked the Red Sox, White Sox, and Angels to win their division and the A’s as my American League Wild Card. In the National League I took the Phillies, Astros, and Padres as division champs and the Marlins as the Wild Card. So, I ended up getting 3 of 8 of those teams right. Some of them were big misses.

    I didn’t see the Cardinals putting the season together that they did. I also clearly over-estimated the Phillies (and violated my since created rule of picking the Braves to win their division every year until they finally don’t). I was wrong about the Marlins and Padres, but both teams stayed in the race until the end. My misses with the White Sox and Yankees were decisions made with the heart and not with my head – I was hoping to see the White Sox in it and the Yankees not, but that’s just not something that happens very often. And since my projections were so brutal overall, I will take a second to pat myself on the back for picking the Devil Rays to finish in 4th place. This year is the first in their existence that they did not finish in the cellar. I don’t think a lot of people saw that coming – or that the Rays would be a legitimate playoff contender as late as June, like they were.

    Back in April I picked the Angels to win the World Series over the Marlins. At this point I could still get half of that right, but I’m not putting any money on it. I will be cheering for the Angels though – for those of you who care about such things. I’m very happy for the team, their new owner, Arte Moreno, and for Vladimir Guerrero. The bright spotlight and the big stage of the playoffs should help to acquaint fans with Guerrero, who is really one of the game’s biggest stars.

  • Speaking of never picking against the Braves, there was a story (on the cover no less) of the Atlanta Journal Constitutional yesterday about the new generation of Braves fans who have never experienced a losing season, or anything less than a division crown. This is something mind-boggling to think about. Yes, all the time we hear about how the Braves have been to the post-season every year it’s been played since 1991. For those of us who are adults, that sounds like a long time, but it may be hard to put perspective on it. As the article pointed out, if you think about it from a child’s perspective, that means there are little boys and girls who are now in 8th grade in Atlanta who know no other kind of Braves season other than ones that end in division crowns. You’d also have to think that most of the high schoolers in metro-Atlanta don’t remember the pre-1991 losing seasons, and it’s still likely a majority of college-age folks from Atlanta who only remember the Braves as winners. That’s a streak. It will be interesting to see what type of fans these folks grow up to be. They’ll sure be used to winning. It will be interesting to see how they handle it if the Braves ever fail to win the division title.

  • As you might have guessed, since I was reading the Atlanta newspaper this weekend, I was in Atlanta. I made the trip to the Dirty South for the Canes football game against Georgia Tech. While my trip (although it lasted only about twenty-four hours in total) deserves much more of a review than this, it was a great time and a good game. While the Hurricanes lost star left tackle Eric Winston (ranked by Scouts Inc going into the weekend as the #3 draft prospect in the entire nation – behind teammate Antrel Rolle and someone else), the Canes offense looked better than normal for much of the game and the Canes defense looked like its usual stout self.

    Canes fans were largely disappointed by the performance of redshirt freshman quarterback Kyle Wright. After enrolling at UM in the Spring of 2003, expectations for Wright were high. He entered college with the Gatorade High School America award – meaning that Wright was deemed a better high school player than Chris Leak and everyone else in the country that year. Thus, the expectations were enormously high for Wright at Miami. He entered with a better pedigree than Ken Dorsey or anyone else in recent memory, and when Brock Berlin continued to struggle, everyone clamored for Wright. Saturday’s game was Wright’s second where he saw live action, and as he did against Louisiana Tech, he struggled. I’m not sure what to make of it – it’s almost as if the line plays worse when Wright plays than when Berlin plays. I don’t think it’s that though – Wright must be giving the snap count away with some quirky movement before the snap or via a poor cadence or something similar. He seems to be on a pace for the highest percentage of sacks per dropback – and it isn’t because he’s taking too long to find an open receiver. He just doesn’t have enough time to even get back and survey the field.

    Hopefully in the next week and a half that the Canes have to prepare for Louisville, they’ll diagnose the issue with Wright and find a left tackle to fill the huge void left by Winston’s injury. Otherwise, and unless Berlin continues to play better, like he did on Saturday against Georgia Tech, it could be a long second half of the season.There was one interesting article in the Atlanta paper on Saturday, where they talked about the special teams issues for the game. The author of the article (sorry, can’t find a link) wrote – in jest, I think – that the Yellow Jackets should consider just taking a knee or going for it on fourth down instead of risking punting the ball to the Hurricanes or attempting a field goal. The author mentioned that not only has Miami returned two punts for touchdowns, blocked another for a TD, and blocked a field goal this year, but that much of Tech’s special teams players are relative newcomers – most notably their long snapper. While Tech didn’t simply take a knee at any point in the game, they did seem to be happy to settle for 25-yard punts out of bounds rather than risk the prospects of a punt being returned to the end zone.

    Overall it was a ho-hum 27-3 win. The offense looked decent overall and spectacular at times. The defense was a little bit better. Special teams for the Canes were also solid, but had few opportunities to be spectacular (Georgia Tech even knocked one of their two kick-offs out of bounds in order to eliminate the possibility of a return). The Canes next game, on October 14th against undefeated Louisville, might be the biggest test of the season to date.

  • As expected, the Cubs collapsed in September and will be watching the playoffs on television. It’s interesting that the Red Sox rise coincided with Nomar Garciaparra leaving their clubhouse and heading to the North Side of Chicago, where the Cubs collapse began when Nomar moved in. What will be even more interesting is to see what impact – negatively – that he had on two franchises – apparently – this year does on his free agent marketability. The latest rumor that I heard was that the Cubs would go after former Expos and current Red Sox shortstop Orlando Cabrera this off-season. What a trip that would be for Cabrera – going from Baseball Siberia to the American and National League capitals for baseball reverence.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Weekend Ramblings: D-Train, Playoff Chase, and College Football

I’ll go off semi-Larry King style here today with some random thoughts:

  • Apparently no one told Dontrelle Willis that the Marlins are out of the playoff hunt. The D-Train played with his usual reckless abandon last night, earning himself two spots in ESPN’s Top 10 Plays of the Day list. Unfortunately his second spectacular play – involving a bare handed catch of the ball as he went to cover first base – ended with Dontrelle injuring his ankle. Luckily Dontrelle will now have the entire offseason to recover.

    Last night’s loss – despite a solid outing from Willis – eliminated the notion that the Marlins own the Phillies. Things seem to have evened out over the course of the season, which was only inevitable, as both clubs are very solid. Hopefully this won’t have any lingering psychological effects on the Marlins as they head into 2005. Winning the final three games of the season could help to overcome some of that, as that would give the Marlins a one game lead over the Phils in the final standings. Another loss by the Marlins ensures that the Phillies will finish with a better record.

  • Marquis Weeks hysteria seems to be dying down – finally. I’m still seeing quite a few hits though for people wanting to know what he said (see the quote at the top of the page). We’ve also gotten a few hits for people looking for “Mike Tyson” and “confusciusly.” I just like to keep typing those things because it will probably generate a few more hits.

    I’ll give you one new quote though. The source isn’t the greatest, but the line itself is. Even if it’s a concocted line, it’s something you could hear one of these politicians – or someone else trying to sell you something – saying one day: "If I had to describe this book in one word, it would be 'simply amazing.'” As those men in the Guinness commercials say, “Brilliant!” I’m going to have to start mixing that into my routine.

  • I’ll be in Atlanta this weekend for the Miami – Georgia Tech game. Somehow the Canes are favored by two full touchdowns in this game. Fortunately I don’t gamble on sports, because if I did I’d sure be tempted to lay some money on Georgia Tech. I’m fairly confident the Canes will win this game, but based on how their offense has looked this year, I can’t see them winning an ACC road game by two touchdowns. They most definitely have the talent to do it, but we just haven’t seen it all come together yet.

  • Next week, once the playoffs are ready to go and the teams are set, I’ll give some insight and observations into why you might want to cheer for one team over another. I’m not going to come right out and predict who will win though. I agree with much of this post, over at Management by Baseball, which essentially says that trying to predict who will win a playoff series in baseball is kind of like trying to predict if the next coin you flip will come up heads or tails. Over the long haul of a one hundred sixty-two game season, you can perform some solid analysis and make a reasonable prediction. However, over a five or a seven game set, it’s just too short of a series to predict with any certainty. That doesn’t take away from the drama or the intrigue at all though. Major League Baseball’s playoffs are still the best in sports.

And now, please join me in sharing a weekend of web-silence as we remember the Montreal Expos…