Thursday, April 30, 2009

A-Rod is a bad, bad man

Believe it or not, Alex Rodriguez is back in the news for bad reasons. This time, allegations surfaced that he used performance-enhancing drugs in high school and during his time with the New York Yankees as well as that he would tip pitches to opposing hitters he was friends with in blowouts so that they would return the favor in similar situations.

Because of the report, ESPN's morning poll asked which was worse: using PEDs or tipping pitches to opponents. And really, the fact that it wasn't 100% one way is alarming, because one is clearly worse than the other.

That one is tipping pitches in blowouts. Heck, that's worse than betting on your own team to win a baseball game and Pete Rose is being banned from the Hall of Fame because of that.

It doesn't matter if the score is 15-0 0r 150-0 with two outs in the ninth inning. Giving opponents an unfair advantage is sickening for several reasons.

First, it violates the purpose of sports. Say what you want about using steroids and HGH, but the players who use them are ultimately doing so to help their team win, even if they're only doing so as a byproduct of getting themselves into the record books. Barry Bonds may have wanted Jeff Kent's head on numerous occasions in San Francisco (and sure, if he had killed him, you could raise the "roid rage" argument to contradict this entire paragraph), but when Bonds was at the plate and in the field, he was helping the Giants win those games. And if Kent was on base when Bonds went yard, that's one more run scored in Kent's career.

But when someone is tipping pitches to their opponents, blowout or not, that player is not just hurting his team, but he's also throwing his pitcher under the bus. How many times did Ryan Drese enter a 10-1 game in the ninth and see his ERA inflated because Player X was sitting on an 0-1 slider?

Second, (I know it's far-fetched to think about, but...) baseball is the only one of the four major sports (yes, I'm including hockey) which isn't timed. It's not like in the NBA, where if a team is down 25 with a minute to play, it's over. In baseball, if a team is down 10-1 in the ninth, there's still a slight, slight possibility that they could rally. It's slight, but it's possible.

The 10-1 thing is just an example, obviously, but teams score nine runs in an inning from time to time. Heck, if you get a guy on the hill who can be rattled by a few baserunners, who knows what could happen? The Cleveland Indians scored 14 in an inning about a week and a half ago. So to tip pitches to an opposing player, especially when you're doing it in a blowout, so they'll return the favor to you in a similar situation (which might be the most selfish act of all time - putting your teammates stats at risk for a chance to increase your own later on) is the lowest of low. Unlike Rose, Rodriguez wanted his team to win, but only if the game was close. If the game was thought to be in hand, A-Rod apparently couldn't care less what happened.

Finally, going forward, how do you trust him as a member of the Yankees? Sure, he's now the third baseman, so the chances of him tipping pitches when he can't see what's being called isn't great, but if he's willing to sacrifice the other 24 guys on the team for his own benefit, what else is he capable of? Would he be a guy to bet on an opposing team, then botch an easy double play ball and give away four plate appearances when New York has been eliminated from postseason contention in mid-September? Why not ... nothing matters at that point in the season anyway. And here's a hypothetical that may never happen, but is definitely a point to ponder regarding his character: Say the Yanks needed a win to get into the playoffs in the final regular season game of 2010. A-Rod comes to the plate with the bases loaded and nobody out in the bottom of the ninth of a tie game. And say Rodriguez needs just one more home run to tie Bonds' record of 73. Is Rodriguez swinging for the fences instead of trying to put the ball in play to secure a win? Figuring there are two hitters behind him to pick up the slack if he fails, what are the chances A-Rod is taking three vicious hacks at history? Judging by his track record, it's somewhere between 175% and 550%.

So nobody should be comparing his PED use to him tipping pitches. Yeah, steroids are unethical and violate the sanctity of sports, but they don't compromise what professional sports are all about, which is to see which player (individual sports) or team ( sports) is the best. Taking steroids gives someone an advantage(fair or unfair), but playing 26 on 24 is a whole new ballgame.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Hit, check. Throw, check. Catch...uh...

I'm not going to blame tonight's 9-8 loss strictly on Javier Lopez, though when you botch a play that an 8-year-old could make, you're somewhat to blame. But Boston had several chances to win tonight and failed, snapping their 11-game winning streak.

Brad Penny, who I dropped from my fantasy team during tonight's game, allowed the Cleveland Indians to score in the first, second and third innings immediately after the Sox scored in the first, second and third innings, before Terry Francona mercifully yanked him after giving up seven runs and getting just eight outs.

Mike Lowell threw a ball away, allowing a run to score and another runner to get to third, which led to a sacrifice fly and another run.

Julio Lugo screwed up a double play by attempting to transfer the throw from Dustin Pedroia too quickly, leaving Penny out longer than he should have been. The next batter, Ben Francisco bombed a 3-run shot to left to tie the game.

Takashi Saito, staked to a one-run lead in the seventh, took eight pitches to give that lead back up.

Nick Green, who should have been saved as a defensive replacement for Lopez instead of Lugo, struck out on three pitches with one out and runners on the corners in the ninth inning before Jacoby Ellsbury lined out to leave both runners stranded.

That led to Lopez, who PITCHED well, allowing a bloop single before getting an out via sacrifice bunt and strikeout. But with two outs, Asdrubal Cabrera bounced a ball to Kevin Youkilis' right. Youk did his job, fielding the ball. Lopez, however, dropped the simple flip from his first baseman and instead of going to extra innings, Cleveland prevailed.

Now, I'm not getting paid $1,350,000 and can't pitch as well as Lopez (even though I can probably throw as hard), but if the Sox need someone to teach the guys how to watch the ball into their glove, I think I'm qualified to give lessons.

I mean, I did play tee ball...

Monday, April 27, 2009

Glad I'm not a New Orleans Hornets fan!

It's not too often that Jason Bay hits another dramatic 9th-inning home run to help the Boston Red Sox win their 11th game in a row and it isn't what I want to talk about most, but what Carmelo Anthony and the Denver Nuggets did to the New Orleans Hornets tonight warrants top billing at Unforgivable.

In the first two games of their opening round series, Denver cruised, winning in the Mile High City by 29 and 15, respectively.

In Game 3, the Hornets responded, squeaking out a two-point win to cut the series gap to 2-1.

But in Game 4, the Nuggets could have spotted the Hornets 57 points and still won. No, I'm not kidding.

The Nuggets 121-63 statement win should count as two and this series should be over, because there is NO WAY New Orleans is coming back from that loss.

The jokes (albeit bad ones) are endless. The Hornets could have had Chris Paul cloned twice, played Denver 7-on-5 and not won tonight. The Nuggets could have been shut out in the second and third quarters and still won 69-63. New Orleans played like they were coached by Byron Scott. Like in hockey, every foul against the Nuggets should have resulted in a 2-minute score-at-will power play for the Hornets and it wouldn't have mattered. Our Hoopfest team could have thrown on Nuggets jerseys for the fourth and still won by double digits.

The embarrassing blowout tied the largest playoff win in NBA history, which happened in the pre-shot clock era. New Orleans had 25 turnovers and 17 field goals. If it weren't for the Hornets going 27-32 from the stripe, who knows if they would have made it to 50 points.

I hate the NBA. But I love novelty. What a spectacular beatdown. If only it would have happened to the Utah Jazz...

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Just kidding

There was no actual commentary from the game at all. It was an inning by inning recap of the game. Oops.

Busting out the brooms?

For the series finale between the Sox and Yanks, Just South of North's Brandon Hansen, his friend Colin and myself are going to be throwing our two cents about the game on here as it progresses. Hopefully, a lot of cheers follow instead of a lot of curse words.

Boston's top three relievers are unavailable tonight, so hopefully Sox starter Justin Masterson can go deep into the game.

End Game, 4-1 Sox: Sox have now won 10 straight after SWEEPING the Yankees. Saito made it a bit interesting, giving up a 2-out single and falling behind Johnny Damon 2-0, but Saito rallied to induce the fly out and secure the 9-0 homestand.

End 8th: Hopefully the bottom of the 8th doesn't come back to bite Boston. They loaded the bases with nobody out, but Lowell, Varitek and Green all failed to knock in the runs and the score remains the same with Takashi Saito coming out for the save. 4-1 Sox after eight innings.

Middle 8th: Bowden has been awesome in his appearance tonight, getting Teixeira to fly out, Swisher to ground out and Cano, New York's hottest hitter, to strike out. Now, Boston's 4-5-6 hitters will come up looking to add a couple insurance runs before the 9th.

End 7th: I'd make this as short as the Sox's 7th, but it's already too late. Ellsbury, Pedroia and Ortiz went down on about five pitches. Teixeira, Swisher and Cano coming up in the 8th. 4-1 Sox after seven innings.

Middle 7th: What started off ominously for Michael Bowden in his 2009 debut ended splendidly. Bowden fell behind 3-0 to Berroa before coming back to retire him. Brett Gardner suffered a similar fate, as Bowden fell behind 3-1, but induced a fly out. Finally, Bowden struck Jeter out on a fastball at the knees to keep the three-run lead intact. Top of the order coming up for the Red Sox.

End 6th: Quick inning for Boston, as Lowell and Varitek went down on two pitches apiece. Green laced a single to left, but was picked off by Pettitte, leaving Ellsbury at the plate. Might be for the best as far as Ellsbury making history. He needs to steal third to steal every base possible in the same game. Stay tuned. 4-1 Sox after six innings.

Middle 6th: Well I spent the last five minutes not breathing. After Masterson allowed a pair of baserunners, Francona brought in Hunter Jones for the second time in his career to face two Yankee hitters who represented the tying run. Hideki Matsui hit a laser off Jones, but right at Drew for the second out. Then Jones sat down a hot Melky Cabrera on three pitches to escape the jam. Bottom third of the order due up for Boston.

End 5th: Wow, what an inning. The Sox had one in on an RBI double by Ortiz and the bags loaded with two down for Drew. On the third pitch of the AB, Ellsbury took off and stole home, sending Fenway into pandemonium. A few pitches later, Drew drove a pitch down the right field line for a ground rule double and another RBI before Bay struck out looking to end the inning. 4-1 Sox after five innings.

Middle 5th: Masterson survives a scare from Teixeira who drives the ball to right with two outs and Jeter on first, but Drew made the catch on the warning track to keep the game tied at 1 halfway through (hopefully). Varitek, Green and Ellsbury due up for the Sawx in the home half of the fifth.

End 4th: Pettitte strikes out the side with a walk and stolen base to Bay in between. I don't know how Drew is hitting over .300 against Pettitte in his career, but he's seen six pitches and struck out twice, so... 1-1 after three innings.

Middle 4th: For the second straight inning, New York mounted a threat against Masterson, but with runners on the corners and two outs, Melky Cabrera grounded the first pitch of his at-bat to Pedroia to end the inning. Sox have the middle of the order coming up, which got some runners on against Pettitte in the second.

End 3rd: Sox return the favor, as Ellsbury gets on via fielder's choice, steals second, reaches third on Angel Berroa's second error of the inning and scores on a David Ortiz sac fly before Pedroia is picked off to end the inning. 1-1 after three innings.

Middle 3rd: Yanks took a lead after a clean single, a bad hop, a sacrifice bunt and a sac fly. After a Lowell error, Masterson escaped further trouble by getting the only automatic out not named Angel Berroa in the New York lineup, Mark Teixeira, to fly out on the first pitch. 1-0 Yanks after two and a half.

End 2nd: I thought Varitek made it 3-0 and just about jumped out of my seat. Instead, the ball failed to reach the monster and ended the inning, leaving Bay and Lowell on after they reached with 2-out singles. Pettitte is still getting hit pretty hard by the Sox who swing the bat (hint hint, J.D. Drew). 0-0 after two innings.

Middle 2nd: Another 1-2-3 inning for Masterson, including a strikeout, groundout and flyout. The way this is going, it could be the first Boston-New York game since 1947 which was finished in under three hours.

End 1st: A great start for Boston turns into nothing, as Pedroia follows up an Ellsbury single with a fly out and Ortiz lines into an inning-ending double play. Sox got much better swings off of Pettitte than the Yanks did off Masterson. O-O after an inning.

Middle 1st: Great first inning for Masterson with two ground balls and a strikeout of Mark Teixeira. Time for the Sox to come out swinging against Andy Pettitte in their half of the first.

Friday, April 24, 2009

This is the scene at the new Yankee Stadium

And they're not even out of the playoff race yet.

Going into the 2009 season, the New York Yankees were coming off their worst season in 16 years. It hadn't been since 1993 (not including the strike-shortened '94 year) that the Bronx Bombers didn't play in October.

But with a new roster, including AJ Burnett, CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira, the Yankees were $400 million closer to another playoff appearance. Teixeira, in particular, was a big acquisition not just because of his track record with the Angels, Braves and Rangers, but also because New York was moving to the new Yankee Stadium. The writing on the outfield walls claims it's only 318 feet to the left field fence and 314 to right, but after just a few games, clearly, the new Yankee Stadium plays much shorter than that and for a strong switch-hitter like Tex, he could hit 40 by the All-Star Break. Heck, a drunk Joba Chamberlain could go for 20 and would celebrate by carrying Yogi Berra around the clubhouse like Pedro Martinez did with Nelson de la Rosa.

But despite spending nearly a half a billion dollars on the free agent trio and a staggering $1.5 billion on the new ballpark, the Legends Suite seats pictured above are pretty empty. And no, that isn't the Florida Marlins section of Yankee Stadium.

We are the better part of a month into the 2009 baseball season and the Yankees are leading baseball in home attendance, averaging 44,502 people per contest. The only problem with that number is that the Stadium seats 52,325. So six games in, New York is sitting at about 85 percent capacity.

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that those empty seats in the photo above range from $500-$2,625 apiece. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that opponents have scored 50 runs in six games (though to be fair, 32 of those runs came in two games). Either way, when you have 1,895 seats to fill and you're not close to that, something has to change. Doing quick math, the average of the seats (assuming it works out that way, but this is an estimation, so stay with me) is $1,600 and if they sold out, the Yanks would make $3,032,000 per game from those seats. If they were able to sell out every game, that's $245,592,000, or almost what they owe Teixeira, Sabathia and Burnett over the next several seasons.

Instead, according to the picture anyway, they aren't selling half of those. Apparently, it's not as enjoyable for New Yorkers to hurl insults at Cody Ransom with A-Rod shelved to begin the season. But there are factors to blame beyond just the price and quality of the team.

Smart fans (fans of the visiting team most likely) sit in the section behind those field seats for $375 a crack. Sure, it doesn't come with all the amenities that the expensive ones do (cushioned seats with teak arms (whatever those are), in-seat wait service, concierge service, private restrooms (and you though that extra $2k was going to waste) and all-inclusive food and beverages), but it's virtually the SAME EXACT VIEW OF THE GAME.

And here's the kicker: "Exclusive access to the bi-level Legends Suite Club and two Legends Suite Dugout Lounges, helps make the Legends Suite the most coveted ticket in sports."

Yeah, that's directly from the site to purchase these tickets.

Most coveted ticket in sports? It's not even the most coveted ticket in its own place!

Talking with Brandon Hansen at Just South of North, he brought up a good point: People are more apt to buy tickets if they think they're exclusive. Seeing hundreds of empty seats isn't going to want to make people pony up thousands of dollars. However, if the seats were constantly sold out, spectators would be more willing to pay more, thinking they were getting in on something great (even though those thoughts would be wrong, since in the end, it's still a Yankees game).

New York management is realizing the same thing and is considering lowering the prices in the section, which would be...sane. Judging by the picture, the Yanks would be lucky if half those seats were filled. Playing ball in a city with so much "mystique" (gag me), you're going to sell out the place unless tickets are so outrageously priced, people can't justify sitting, or can't afford to sit, in the front row.

Not that I want the Stadium to attract fans, because seeing the Yanks fail when it should be so easy to succeed is always nice, but they should have butts in every seat 81 times a year with that roster and that new facility. When they don't, they're doing something very wrong.

Listen: at this point, you could go to Fenway Park, Safeco Field or just about any other park in the country (Toronto included, especially considering the exchange rate) and sit in similar seats for a few hundred bucks, as opposed to New York's $2,625. This means that, while you don't get your own restroom or wait service, you can spring for all the beer and food you want and still walk out with hundreds of dollars more than you would at Yankee Stadium.

And, like at the Stadium, there's a decent chance you're walking out after seeing New York lose.

So after watching the league beat the Yankees 73 times last year and another six to kick things off in 2009, it's a different kind of nice to see them beating themselves, which is exactly what they're doing in their so-called "premium seats."

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Is this guy baseball's next .400 hitter?

Maybe, maybe not. But Kevin Youkilis is off to one of the hottest starts in baseball, hitting .469 with three dingers and 10 RBIs through the Red Sox's first 13 games. Sure, that's not that much time, but here are five very good reasons why he could make this happen.

1) He's well on his way. Remember last season when everybody in baseball was beside themselves with anticipation about Chipper Jones hitting .400? After 13 games in 2008, he was at .415, or 54 points lower than Youk. Sure, Jones ended April still on pace (.410) and ended May even better (.417) before finally falling to .394 on June 19 and never recovering, but Youk isn't there yet, so we don't know. All we know is that even with David Ortiz struggling and the rest of the offense either all or nothing, the Sox cleanup hitter is simply stroking (he's got 8 multi-hit games versus 2 no-hit games) and hasn't given anyone a reason, to this point, why it isn't within the realm of possibility.

2) He is an incredibly patient hitter with an even better set of eyes. For you people not obsessed with Boston baseball (I'm sorry're missing out), when Youkilis came up through the farm system, he was heralded for his good eye. In the book "Moneyball" (which I haven't read, but am intrigued by, especially since it has failed spectacularly for Oakland A's GM Billy Beane), Youkilis is referred to as "The Greek God of Walks." In the long run, what this means is that he swings at good pitches to hit. Rarely does #20 stray from the strike zone to chase a bad pitch. Nine years ago, the Sox had a hitter who had the who's who in baseball saying he was the next to hit .400 (Nomah). His problem was that he was a first pitch fastball hitter, so smart pitchers could get ahead of him in the count or get him to put a bad pitch in play. Make no mistake, Garciaparra turned many of these into base hits, but he finished at .372 and walked just 61 times (many of which were, undoubtedly intentional and even that number is a career high). Now, while Youk walked just once more than that in 2008, he is just three years removed from 91 free passes and 77 more in 2007. It's one thing to be a great hitter, but it's another to be a great hitter and work pitchers into throwing what you want.

3) Youk's average has gone up every year he's been in the league. At 30, Youkilis is most likely entering his prime now after not breaking into the majors until he was 25. Now a veteran, he has seen his average climb for half a decade:

2004: .260
2005: .278
2006: .279
2007: .288
2008: .312

Now, .312 isn't .400, or even in the same ballpark (pun intended), but if he continues to get better, who knows what could happen?

4) He's got great hitting behind him. J.D. "If I'm not looking at strike three, I'm raking" Drew and Jason "Manny who?" Bay are good, professional hitters who, when hot, can strike fear into opposing pitchers. If they're at the top of their game, Youk is going to get pitches to hit in front of them and he's shown that he knows what to do with those pitches, especially with the monster just 310 feet away. And even if Drew and Bay aren't producing as much, Youkilis is still a solid enough hitter to the point where he can maintain a great average, especially in the pitching starved AL East (where three staffs, Baltimore, Tampa Bay and, oh joy, New York, are among the nine worst in baseball).

5) He's already smacking pitching from clubs against which he has traditionally struggled. From 2006-2008, Youk hit .297 against the Orioles, .281 versus the Angels, .264 against the A's and .244 versus the Rays. Through one series against each of those teams (hey, I know it's a small sample size, but stay with me) he hit .455 against Baltimore, .364 versus the Halos, .385 against Oakland and .667 versus Tampa Bay. Sure, his averages against Anaheim and Oakland don't meet the .400 benchmark, but he doesn't play them 19 times like he does the other two teams. Against the other two AL East squads from 2006-2008, he hit just .231 against Toronto, but .313 versus the Skankees (third highest of all AL teams, trailing Detroit (.333) and the Indians (.368)).

Will he make it? That, obviously, remains to be seen. But Just South of North's Brandon Hansen and myself have made a pact that our goatees will remain unshaven, in honor of Youkilis, until he falls below that cherished number. I don't think I can grow mine to look like Youk's between now and the end of September, but, like with Kevin Youkilis, we'll just see what happens in that time.

Subway, you know this isn't fair...

You know the old saying that something is like a train wreck that you couldn't look away from? Well this is like that, except if the train was carrying a delicious variety of sub sandwiches and you couldn't stop indulging.

The "5....5 dollar....5 dollar footlong" commercials were bad enough when they first came out. They got worse as they continued to be produced like the sandwiches they endorse. Recently, Subway just introduced a new advertisement with a montage of different people singing about $5 footlongs. It is, without a shadow of a doubt, the worst of anything Subway has ever done. It's just a matter of time before my mute button is broken from wear and tear, especially considering the frequency of these commercials.

Yet, despite me being overjoyed to see Jay Glazer endorsing Subway (and I really don't care much for him) rather than yet another obnoxious minute of people dancing across from a used car lot because they can buy a sandwich for five bucks, I continue to submit to the temptation. I wish I could boycott the place strictly because of their commercials. But I can't. They're so good. And cheap.

And don't think for a second that Subway doesn't realize this. It's almost like they're upping the degree of difficulty with their commercials to see what they can get away with and still lure saps like me back. So far, so good, Subway. So far, so good...

Monday, April 20, 2009

Taking a page from the Seahawks' playbook

In an effort to abandon their losing ways and intimidate the powerhouses of the NFC North, the Detroit Lions have altered their logo to make their Lion more fierce. The Seattle Seahawks were the last team to change their logo, doing so in 2002 after moving to the NFC West. In 2001, the Hawks were coming off a 9-7 season. With the new logo, Seattle went 7-9 in 2002.

Now, it might be tough for Detroit to follow in the same footsteps since, mathematically, they can't be worse in 2009 than their 0-16 2008 campaign. But if you're a Lions fan, you shouldn't be comforted by the new image.

There are probably about 34 million bloggers around the country saying, "Remember, they're still the Detroit Lions!" But guess what? The Lions might be turning things around sooner rather than later, even beyond the logo.

This offseason has been one of drastic improvement in the Motor City. Matt Millen is gone. Julian Peterson is signed, along with Philip Buchanan and Anthony Henry. Dan Orlovsky (better known as the QB who ran out of the back of the end zone without realizing it) is outta town and if Detroit wants, they can draft his replacement, or give Daunte "I'm still only 32 years old, guys" Culpepper the job. It was just four years ago that Culpepper lit up the league for 4,717 yards, 39 TDs and just 11 interceptions. Since then, in 23 games, he's thrown for just 4,610 yards, 17 TDs and 26 INTs, but that can be attributed to several aspects, such as injuries and playing for both Matt Millen and Freddy Krueger's twin brother.

Sure, Calvin Johnson is no Randy Moss and he had four receivers with at least 47 catches that year, while Detroit had one with 40 in 2008, but it doesn't mean he can't somewhat return to form. Detroit nabbed Bryant Johnson from San Francisco and can possibly yoink a sleeper in the draft. If they get Johnson any help, Culpepper could be a surprise in the league next season.

I'm not saying Detroit is headed for 16-0 or even 8-8, but their new look, both on and off the field, could sneak up on the league this season.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Moving on in the hockey world...

Well, with the Spokane Chiefs done for the 2008-09 season, I can only get my hockey fix at the top level these days, unless I feel like torturing myself by watching Kelowna take on Vancouver and thinking "This should be us still playing" for the next two weeks. No thanks.

So now, my attention turns to the National Hockey League, which started their postseason last night. Since I don't have a team yet (stay season, I'm adopting a franchise, but even I don't know which one it will be) I'm pulling for the Boston Bruins in the East (shocking) and the Vancouver Canucks in the West (because of Luke Van). Yeah, I used parentheses three times in one sentence. I will not be using this piece as a clip for my future journalistic endeavors.

I figure that since my WHL Predictions have been fairly solid through two rounds, I'll take a stab with a league I followed considerably less. I spotted myself four opening games just to try to even things out.

Eastern Conference:

Bruins over Canadiens 4-1
Capitals over Rangers 4-3
Devils over Hurricanes 4-2
Penguins over Flyers 4-1

Penguins over Bruins 4-3
Devils over Capitals 4-2

Penguins over Devils 4-2

Reasoning: Ever since the Pens jettisoned their coach during the regular season, they have been on a ridiculous tear, going from a bubble playoff team to the 4 seed. They won 18 of their final 24 games and ripped Philadelphia in Game 1. Pittsburgh split four regular-season contests with the East's top seed, Boston, and also split in six games versus New Jersey, but defeated both in their season-ending surge, scoring six goals in each contest.

Western Conference:

Sharks over Ducks 4-1
Blue Jackets over Red Wings 4-3
Canucks over Blues 4-2
Blackhawks over Flames 4-2

Sharks over Blue Jackets 4-1
Blackhawks over Canucks 4-1

Sharks over Blackhawks 4-2

Reasoning: San Jose was the NHL's top regular season team, so it would be no surprise to see them advance to the Stanley Cup Finals, especially if Columbus knocks off the Wings (the teams each won three of six meetings). The West is filled with really good teams, but the Sharks are the class of the conference and if they manage to avoid having to face last year's Stanley Cup Champions, should have little resistance in their playoff run.

Stanley Cup Finals:

Sharks over Penguins 4-2

Familiar territory for Pittsburgh as, once again, they just don't have enough to seal the deal. In their only meeting during the season, the Penguins were outshot 34-11 during a 2-1 loss, though in fairness, that game took place prior to the coaching change. There's no denying that the Pens can score, but whether they can limit opponents offensively (12th of 16 playoff teams) remains to be seen.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Sox Wake Up

After an unforgivable 12-inning loss to the Oakland A's last night, including April appearances by Chris Carter and Gil Velazquez, the Boston Red Sox fell to 2-6. Yes, this is almost the exact same team that was 27 outs away from the World Series six months ago.

Now, being the self-proclaimed biggest BoSox fan in the Pacific Northwest, I'm here to tell the fans of the Sox and the rest of the American League that it isn't quite time to panic and Boston is fine. And I'm not just saying that because Tim Wakefield brought a no-no into the 8th inning this afternoon in an 8-2 blowout, salvaging the final game of the series in the Bay Area.

Boston certainly has their fair share of obstacles to overcome early. Josh Beckett will miss a start due to suspension for throwing a heater in the general direction of Bobby Abreu's head. Daisuke Matsuzaka was placed on the disabled list because of arm fatigue (I don't understand the necessity of the World Baseball Classic at all, but I don't want to place all the blame on the event for injuries. Can't we figure out a way to incorporate the pros into the Olympics and call it good?). Julio Lugo is out for about a month and John Smoltz is still recovering from surgery

As far as players who aren't suspended or injured are concerned, Jon Lester hasn't been effective at all in two starts (though last season, his April ERA was his second worst month). David Ortiz is another notoriously slow starter, who hasn't hit for a higher average in April than his end-of-the-year total since I was a sophomore in high school. The reigning MVP hit .182 in April of 2007 but finished at .317 in his Rookie of the Year campaign.

Finally, don't forget that Terry Francona still runs this team. No, I don't like this.

So why panic? The bullpen has been awesome, save for Javier Lopez, who elicits more "Well this isn't going to end well" reactions from me than the Heathcliff Slocumb era did, and Hideki Okajima, who is still a solid lefty when used correctly. Ramon Ramirez, the return for dealing Coco Crisp, has been lights out, Jonathan Papelbon is money and Delcarmen is quickly turning the Manny being Manny moniker into a much more welcome saying. Yeah, Takashi Saito and Justin Masterson have been shaky, but both will be clutch relievers for the Sox.

In the lineup, Mike Lowell has been healthy in his return from hip surgery and is leading the team in RBI. Jason Varitek has shown signs of rebounding from the worst offensive season by a catcher since 1844, despite hitting just .200 thus far. Jason Bay is better than Manny Ramirez (yeah, I said it) and Kevin Youkilis is off to a scorching start (.472 average). Sure, he can't keep that up, but in the meantime, he's helped keep the stalling Sox offense produce.

Finally, the rotation is still one of the League's best, as Brad Penny impressed in his AL debut, Wakefield has looked as good as he has in the last several years and the top three will be there by season's end, barring any lengthy setbacks. Even if one was to go down (yeah, Dice, I'm looking at you), Clay Buchholz, the youngster who threw a no-hitter two years ago, is waiting in the wings.

Boston is fine. With the Baltimore Orioles down 10 to the future AL West champion Texas Rangers (and by future, I mean closer to 2020 than 2010), the Sox will only be down three games in the division. Big deal.

So relax, don't freak out on a day-to-day basis like Boston Dirt Dogs and prepare yourselves for an exciting AL East race between the Sox and their bitter divisional rivals.

And no, I'm not talking about the Yankees.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

What do you say?

ESPN's Bill Simmons has written about the grace period before, but for those of you who don't read the greatest columnist on the planet on a twice-daily basis like Just South of North's Brandon Hansen and myself, the theory is simple: If your team has won a championship within the last five years, you can't complain about, be bitter toward or question that team. They delivered when it counted during a time you followed that team day in and day out, so no matter what happens, they gain exemption from any ridicule or hate you might send their way.

But no grace period can spare a fan from disappointment and heartbreak.

As I've written about a time or two on this site, the Spokane Chiefs improbably captured the 2008 WHL and Memorial Cup Championships even though the team was built for 2009. And if it wasn't for a mid-season injury to top defenseman Jared Cowen, who knows what might have happened. No, I'm not making excuses, but it would have been nice to have had him.

To be perfectly honest, I wasn't expecting the series between the Chiefs and the Vancouver Giants to go seven games. I predicted six and even that was the optimist in me making that guess. Spokane got stomped twice during the regular season against the Giants, so when they won Game 3 of the series, I was incredibly excited that the series was heading back to Vancouver ... I honestly didn't expect it. Then when the Chiefs captured a 1-0 win in Game 4, thanks to a 41-save shutout by the unofficial WHL Goaltender of the Year Dustin Tokarski, my hopes were up, even though they had to still come up with a way to win on the road.

Well, on Friday night and Saturday morning, the Chiefs spent over six full periods of hockey trying desperately to take a 3-2 series lead and sure enough, in the fourth overtime, Blake Gal/Mike Berube beat Tyson Sexsmith and, with Game 6 coming in the States, Spokane was just 60 minutes of hockey away from improbably advancing to the Western Conference Finals.

By 8:00 on Sunday, the Chiefs were 40 minutes away, leading 1-0 after one. By 8:45, they were 20 minutes away, holding that same lead entering the third. And even when Vancouver responded with two goals in the final stanza's first 11 minutes, Spokane found a way to prolong the contest, thanks to Stefan Ulmer's tally with just under 90 seconds left in regulation and they were one goal away from sending the West's best team home for the year.

Sure, they came out with a loss in double OT when the Giants executed a beautiful 2-on-1 break, but there was always Game 7. They were still just 60 minutes away. Then 40. Then 20. They didn't enter the third with a lead this time, but knotted at zero, they were just as close as they had been Sunday night.

Like in Games 5 and 6, three periods weren't enough to decide a winner. But the suspense didn't last long. Less than two minutes in, a Giants rush paid off when a shot from the top of the slot took a Vancouver bounce and eluded Tokarski. Vancouver- 1, Spokane- 0. Final.

The loss, for lack of a better term, sucked, considering that they were so close. The Chiefs had their chances in Game 6 and 7 and, to an extent, blew some of those. But the finish to the series could have happened to either team. Sure, it was more likely to happen to Spokane, considering the shot total, but it didn't have to.

I'm not mad or bitter. I wouldn't be even if I didn't have the grace period to fall back on. Spokane played an amazing series and put on a show which rivaled last year's tussle with Tri-City in terms of entertainment and excitement. Unfortunately, the grace period doesn't make the loss feel any better.

At least camp is only four months away though, eh?

Best of One

Just an hour and 20 minutes from now, the Spokane Chiefs and Vancouver Giants drop the puck on the biggest game of the season for each team. Game 7 is tonight and one team will celebrate; the other will be done until camp begins in August.

Spokane had their chance to close the series out at home, but couldn't seal the deal in Game 6, falling in double overtime after Trevor Glass abandoned the defense-first mindset to try to move the puck up the boards. All is forgiven though - Glass is one of our top two defensemen and will have to be huge if Spokane is to advance.

The Chiefs' mindset has to be the same as Vancouver's was entering Game 6. Never mind what happened the game prior to this. Game 7 is a second chance to get the job done. Spokane is a veteran team who has been through this before (Kruise Reddick's Game 6 goal in overtime a season ago knotted that best-of-seven series at 3 and forced the Chiefs to win the deciding game on the road ... which they did) so they won't be dwelling on what could have been. Instead, it's what they can do.

Games 2 and 3 were the only contests in this series in which either team hit the 4-goal mark. Higher scoring games should favor the Giants, who like to little the net with shots, while lower scoring contests will give Spokane the advantage, as the Chiefs pride themselves on shutting down their opponents and taking advantage of their mistakes.

Other than that, there isn't much to say at this point. Spokane knows they have to stay out of the box, bring a physical forecheck and have a great game from Dustin Tokarski to win. Vancouver has to dominate puck possession, utilize having the last line change well and shoot a lot to come out on top.

If the game comes down to coaching, believe it or not, I like Spokane. Hardy Sauter has done a much better job than the Mike Krzyzewski of the WHL, Don Hay, in adjusting to what the other team has done, as the series has progressed. A furious third period rally and the bad play by Glass bailed the Giants out in Game 6. But after losing twice to open the series, Spokane has been able to play their style of hockey, save for the Game 4 victory. The Chiefs have frustrated Casey Pierro-Zabotel and Evander Kane, locked down Jonathon Blum since the first two games of the series and has limited one of the league's highest scoring clubs to just six goals in the last 18 periods of hockey (six of which were overtimes).

What struck me as odd was how flat the Giants came out on the road in the opening stanza of Game 6. The Chiefs outskated and outscored them in setting the tone early. If Spokane comes out that flat, they'll be down two or three after 20 minutes. If Vancouver comes out like that again, they'll be lucky to be down just one.

For Spokane and their fans, it sucks to have to go back to a hostile Canadian environment when they could be focusing on the Kelowna Rockets right now. But if they have to make the trip, they might as well come out fired up and ready to play.

At this point, it comes down to experience and who wants it more. Considering the latter will likely be a push, the experience edge goes to the Chiefs.

Spokane- 3, Vancouver- 1.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Streak (4/13)

It's too soon for me to go into depth about last night's Chiefs game and what could have been, so tomorrow, I'll break the silence and preview Game 7. In the meantime, I'm eight wins away from a "Streak for the Cash" T-shirt. For the first time, I'm trying not to just pick a game I'm kinda sure of and instead going with games I like to think I know.

However, since I didn't like any other game on the board and I'm too impatient to wait until tomorrow to try to extend my streak, I'm picking the Arizona Diamondbacks to beat the St. Louis Cardinals tonight.

Arizona has Doug Davis on the mound, while the Cards are countering with Todd Wellemeyer. I'm not entirely crazy about the matchup, but the game is in Arizona, Wellemeyer historically struggles in April and against the D'Backs and Davis only struggles with one St. Louis hitter (I know it doesn't sound right, but Albert Pujols hits him well).

A win here extends the streak to 6. Almost halfway there if 'Zona can pull it off.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The win of the year

One big complaint I have with the WHL web site is that their game recaps are nothing more than that. Scroll down on this link if you want to read a basic overview of the game. Not just that, but the four-overtime thriller wasn't even the top game of Friday's contests, because the Brandon Wheat Kings completed a four-game sweep of the Medicine Hat Tigers that everyone saw coming anyway.

Meanwhile, I didn't sleep well at all last night, partly because I was so excited about the second-longest game in WHL history and partly because my cat never lets me sleep.

The Vancouver Giants and Spokane Chiefs entered Game 5 both desperate to take a 3-2 series lead. Vancouver was coming off two consecutive defeats in Spokane to cough up a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven set, while the Chiefs had to have one at some point at Pacific Coliseum and having to win a Game 7 against the Western Conference's top team in their own barn was not the ideal way to do that. Thus, Game 5 was huge.

The Giants came out strong, converting on their first two power plays, which sandwiched a Chiefs power play marker to take an early 2-1 lead. Spokane ended the period with a furious rally, including several scoring chances, but couldn't convert and trailed by one after the first 20 minutes.

Neither team scored in the second stanza, but the Chiefs kept the pressure on, outshooting Vancouver 14-11 in the period.

But 4:25 into the third, that oh-ffensive effort paid off as Drayson Bowman netted his eighth postseason goal from the left circle to tie it at 2. The period ended with Spokane having the momentum, once again outshooting the Giants and holding a 35-31 advantage on the shot clock after regulation.

Little did anyone know that the game wasn't yet half over.

The Chiefs were forced to kill the first penalty of overtime when Ryan Letts served two minutes for a very questionable kneeing call. Letts and Vancouver forward Evander Kane collided near Spokane's blue line and while it looked incidental, the penalty was given to Letts, but nothing came out of it as Vancouver outshot Spokane 14-5 in the first overtime, but couldn't tally.

In the second OT, it was Vancouver's turn to play a man down when Kane hit Bowman along the boards with a high stick. Spokane came close to ending the game multiple times, but couldn't quite hit the tape with passes in front of the net and, despite being outshot 11-7 in the fifth period, seemed to be gaining momentum.

The Chiefs appeared to be the fresher team entering the third overtime, continuing to make Vancouver netminder Tyson Sexsmith come up big, which he did repeatedly. Spokane outshot the Giants 9-6 in OT3 to bring the total shots to 62-56 Vancouver.

The Giants wouldn't get another shot on goal, but the collective hearts of Chiefs fans were racing early in the fourth overtime when Vancouver gained control of the puck in the Spokane zone versus the Chiefs' fourth line. A Vancouver pass from the point found the stick of Kane in the right circle, who lost it thanks to a diving poke check by Kenton Miller. The puck deflected out to Blake Gal who had nothing but ice in front of him. As Gal raced down the boards, Giants defenseman Mike Berube closed in on him before Gal could make a move on Sexsmith. Gal lost the puck in front of the net, but Berube's stick found the puck and he inadvertently slid it into his own net to give the Chiefs a mesmerizing 3-2 road victory.

Both goaltenders were spectacular, with Sexsmith stopping 54 of 57 Spokane shots for second star honors, while Spokane's Dustin Tokarski was huge, making 60 saves on 62 shots in being named the game's first star.

In his last two contests in the series, Tokarski has carried Spokane, allowing just two goals on 103 shots. Overall in the series, Tokarski has given up 10 goals on 208 shots and he hasn't allowed the Giants to score after the first period since Vancouver scored twice in the second in Game 2.

Up 3-2 in the series, Spokane, like the last three contests, virtually faces a must-win situation. Sure, if the Chiefs go back for Game 7, they know they can win on the road against Vancouver, but being at home, where they are 4-1 in the 2009 playoffs, they will have their best opportunity to close out this series.

If they win, it will be the second consecutive year the Chiefs won games 5 and 6 against the Giants to close out the series at the Spokane Arena and move on to the Western Conference Finals. And everyone knows what happened in 2008.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Still some fight left in 'em

The Spokane Chiefs played, unquestionably, their best period of hockey of their second-round series with the Vancouver Giants in the opening stanza of Game 3.

They still went into the locker room down 2-1.

The Giants are a team which thrives on sustained offensive pressure and the mistakes of their opponents. By outshooting the Chiefs 10-9 and drawing an unnecessary elbowing penalty on Ryan Letts, Vancouver was able to escape the Chiefs initial push with a lead.

After Letts ended up in the box again for a slash prior to a face-off, he got an earful from Change and I before apparently receiving another one from Mitch Wahl and coach Hardy Sauter. The message got through because he skated the rest of the game collected and wanting to play hockey. Even when prodded by the Giants (once when a Vancouver player on the bench grabbed and held Letts' stick while he was in a play), Letts remained calm and focused on trying to help his team win.

That play rubbed off on his teammates, as the Chiefs thoroughly dominated the final two periods, outshooting Vancouver 19-8 and outscoring them 4-0 en route to a 5-2 victory.

With each line outhustling and outplaying their counterparts, Spokane got goals from Levko Koper, Jared Spurgeon, Drayson Bowman, Justin McCrae and Mike Reddington in closing the gap in the series to 2-1.

Unfortunately, this series is very reminiscent of the 2007 playoff series Spokane played versus the Everett Silvertips. After a more talented Everett team won twice on the west side of the state, the Chiefs came home and, clearly wanting the wins more, took Games 3 and 4, but ultimately lost in six.

Fortunately, however, many of the players from that series - Bowman, Koper, Spurgeon, Roman, Wahl, Reddington and Tokarski - have that experience, along with a Memorial Cup ring, under their belts and are better prepared this time around.

As they enter Game 4, which is virtually another must-win game, the Chiefs have the confidence that they can skate with and defeat the team widely considered to be the best in the Western Hockey League. If they play as hard and as smart as they did for most of last night, Spokane is going to give the Giants a major problem going forward in this series.

Monday, April 6, 2009

CC Sabathia's Opening Day Line

4.1 IP, 8 H, 6 ER, 5 BB, 0 K, 4 CB, 2 BG, 1 SP

IP- Innings Pitched
H- Hits
ER- Earned Runs
BB- Walks
K- Strikeouts
CB- Cheeseburgers
BG- Big Gulps
SP- Supreme Pizzas

Rain, rain, go away

In about 8 minutes, I was supposed to be watching Josh Beckett and the Boston Red Sox crush James Shields and the Tampa Bay Rays (copyright: WHL) in the season opener for both teams. Instead, Mother Nature had other ideas and I'm stuck here watching the Mets and Reds, waiting for tomorrow.

But I guess this gives me an extra day to preview the Sox (as if I haven't already) as well as the entire American League. After all, ESPN's initial Power Rankings had Boston as MLB's top dog, just a spot ahead of the Rays and two spots ahead of some century-long rivals from New York. But are the Sox really the team to beat in their own division, much less the entire league?

Sox Rotation:

Last season, only the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (LAAA, 47) and, surprise, the Toronto Blue Jays (51), had more wins from their top three pitchers than Boston did (46) of American League teams. With Matsuzaka entering his third season in the States, Lester looking to make some noise in the Cy Young race and Beckett being healthy all spring for the first time since he was 7, the rotation should be even better. Whether that number of wins goes up or down in 2009 hinges on the run production of a lineup which has more boom or bust potential than Seth Rogen's next movie.

Rotation to watch out for:

Now I understand why Bill Simmons is drinking the Kansas City Royals Kool-Aid. Four Royals starters combined for45 wins last season and the fifth (Luke Hochevar) is expected by some to have his breakout year. With an improved lineup which includes former Sox centerfielder Covelli Crisp and minor league stud Ryan Shealy, this rotation could lead the Royals to the top of a fairly weak AL Central.

Sox Lineup:

Like I said earlier, who knows with this lineup? Boston could lead the league in runs and I wouldn't be surprised. They could be in the bottom half of the majors and I wouldn't be surprised. In my eyes, it's simple: Jacoby Ellsbury will make or break the batting order. He needs to get on base, utilize his speed and get pitchers thinking while he's on the basepaths. With the reigning AL MVP Dustin Pedroia, Big Papi and Kevin Youkilis behind him, he will score more often than not when he reaches.

As with other teams, obviously, health is also a big issue. David Ortiz and Mike Lowell are coming back from injuries, Julio Lugo is already shelved, Rocco Baldelli is always a mystery and if anyone else goes down (if I had to bet on the first being either J.D. Drew or everybody else on the roster, I'd probably take J.D.), the Sox might be in trouble.

Lineup to watch out for:

If I asked you to name one of the top four hitters for the A's last season of players who played in 100 games, could you? (Answers: Ryan Sweeney, Kurt Suzuki, Rajai Davis and Emil Brown.) Heck, if I asked you to name three Oakland hitters, could you? It'd be tough, I know.
Their collective .242 batting average from 2008 is gone, however, thanks to a plethora of offseason acquisitions. New faces include Matt Holliday, Jason Giambi, Orlando Cabrera and NOMAH! And they still have Eric Chavez, who, when healthy, is a 20-homer guy. Like Boston, if the A's get anything from their table setters, they could be a sleeper in the AL.

Sox Bullpen:

I absolutely love the way the pen is setting up in Beantown. In the Crisp trade, Boston acquired setup man Ramon Ramirez, who can bring heat. They took a low-risk flyer on Takashi Saito, who is getting old, but in his three years in the majors, has compiled a 1.95 ERA and nearly a 5:1 K:BB ratio. Manny Delcarmen is due (I keep telling myself this...though he was fairly solid last season), Hideki Okajima is very reliable, Javier Lopez is OK in the right situations (which means Terry Francona will probably use him against lefties, which shelled him in 2008), Mike Timlin is gone and Paps will be Paps. Also lurking are Justin Masterson (ONIONS!) and Junichi Tazawa, who might not make an immediate impact, but will be heard from by season's end. Boston's bullpen, on paper, is the best in the bigs and if they perform like they should, will carry the team in the late innings.

Bullpen to watch out for:

The Detroit Tigers have a rotation which many teams would love to have, with more young arms than a daycare. Jeremy Bonderman, Justin Verlander, Nate Robertson, Dontrelle Willis, Rick Porcello, Armando Galarraga and Edwin Jackson all could record 15 wins and a sub-4.00 ERA this season if given the chance. But those who were given a chance, aside from Jackson in Tampa, struggled, while Porcello hasn't proven himself yet. This means that the bullpen must be a strength if the Tigers want to compete in the AL Central.

During the offseason, Detroit nabbed Brandon Lyon from Arizona, who has a successful campaign in 2008, but struggled as a member of the Red Sox the last time he pitched for an AL club. Lyon definitely has the stuff to be one of the league's best closers, but whether he can succeed against better hitting remains to be seen. The Tigers also will benefit from the return of Joel Zumaya, who was injured for the better part of last year, the signing of Juan Rincon and the lively arms of Freddy Dolsi and Fernando Rodney. Finally, they have Zach Miner back there as well, who struggled with control at times, but still compiled a respectable 4.27 ERA last season.

AL Predictions:

AL East:

1. Boston Red Sox
2. New York Yankees (Wild Card)
3. Tampa Bay Rays
4. Toronto Blue Jays
5. Baltimore Orioles

AL Central:

1. Minnesota Twins
2. Kansas City Royals
3. Chicago White Sox
4. Cleveland Indians
5. Detroit Tigers

AL West:

1. Oakland A's
2. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
3. Texas Rangers
4. Seattle Mariners

Thursday, April 2, 2009

How the Zags are spending the last weekend of college basketball season

Tonight, both Jeremy Pargo and Micah Downs participated in the collegiate slam dunk contest, broadcast on ESPN. For some reason, Downs was in the slam dunk contest instead of the 3-point shootout. Apparently, Mark Few was in charge of what his seniors did at the event and yet again, failed to utilize their strengths.

He was also in charge of the dunks the guys performed, as neither Downs nor Pargo made it into the finals. Downs was looking good early until he failed on all three semifinal throw downs, while Pargo did the same after he made the top four. Had I been in charge of the Gonzaga players in the contest, I would have nabbed that Akron guard whom (is that even correct?) Pargo posterized and just had him stand in the lane. Hey, if Nate Robinson can unjustly win the NBA Slam Dunk Contest twice by jumping over people, Pargo can do it by hopping over some 6' white guy, right?

As for Downs, well, he had no business in the contest to begin with. I love the guy, but come on. Nobody can tell me there aren't eight more exciting players in the nation when it comes to eye-popping slams. However, I would take him in a perimeter shooting contest against eventual 3-point champion Jack McClinton.

Then again, I'd have taken me against McClinton. And I don't care if he scored 22 of a possible 30 in the championship round. I'm the reigning EWU intermural 3-point champion, so...

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Link of the Day

Well I know it's April Fools' Day and I thought it was a joke myself when I heard it, but it appears Mark Few could be on his way out of Gonzaga and on his way to the Pac-10 to fill the vacancy at the University of Arizona.

Now, if you're close to Gonzaga University and don't know me, I know you'll be crying yourself to sleep tonight, thinking the best thing to happen to the Zags since John Stockton is leaving. Gonzaga has been to the Dance every year since Few took the reins and his departure raises several questions about the Bulldogs' future.

However, those who do know me know that in my eyes, this news is too good to be true. I'll commend Few for his job here and thank him for the memories, but if he leaves, Gonzaga will be better off for a few reasons.

First, Gonzaga isn't going anywhere under Few's leadership. If you are vehemently pro-Few, you must be satisfied with early-season wins against big-name opponents and winning about 95 percent of games against the rest of the WCC. You must also be satisfied with being knocked out early in the NCAA Tournament year in and year out. I'll admit, this season was different in that North Carolina was just a much better team than Gonzaga, so despite having their best squad, they didn't have their best chance of going deep. That was in 2006, when the Zags squandered a 17-point lead en route to Adam Morrison shedding tears in a loss to UCLA. Other notable Gonzaga losses in March under Few include a first-round loss to #11 seed Wyoming in Dan Dickau's senior season and a second-round rout as the #2 seed Zags fell to #10 seed Nevada in 2004 by 19 in a game which they weren't within eight points in the last 32 and a half minutes.

Second, Gonzaga hasn't been able to play defense with Few at the helm until this season and even that abandoned them in the Tournament. The Bulldogs were second nationally during the regular season in defensive field goal percentage (and because I hate Google more than Few, I can't find the exact number, but it was well below 40 percent) and allowed 61.3 points per game. But in games against Akron, Western Kentucky and North Carolina, Gonzaga allowed an average of 81 ppg and 48 percent shooting. And in regards to 3-point defense, where Few is notoriously awful in his defense, the Bulldogs nearly allowed their opponents to shoot 50 percent in three games (33 for 67), capped by the Tar Heels shooting 11 for 19 in the Sweet 16 shellacking. Ouch.

Third, Few's in-game management of his players contradicts what a coach looking to win games would want to do. I remember my dad mocking Few for removing players who got hot. On the contrary, he remained loyal to struggling stars Josh Heytvelt, Jeremy Pargo and Austin Daye while limiting minutes for dynamic freshman Demetri Goodson and the vastly underrated Micah Downs (though to be fair, Heytvelt was either awesome or awful, while Pargo busted out of his slump, at least somewhat, toward the end of the season). And their tallest player in, oh, I dunno, history, 7'5" Will Foster has spent so much time riding the pine, his seat on the bench comes with a nameplate. In one game against Memphis, Foster got zero minutes, even though the Tigers thrive with slashing guards attacking the rim. No way a 7'5" guy could help stop that, right? His press also has failed to work against any team higher than D-III, but he sticks with it for no real reason. Maybe I'm bitter.

Anyway, if Few goes, the future of the program is up in the air. Whoever takes over probably won't have the big-name status that Few had and recruiting may suffer because of that. If the hire is in-house, the system will likely remain the same, but hopefully the change in coaching doesn't just tweak that system, but reinvigorates the program as well. If the hiring comes from elsewhere, it will be a breath of fresh air for a team which could use one after a decade of mediocrity. The talking heads may say that Arizona is getting a steal by prying Few away from the comfort of Spokane and they'll never admit that the change is good for Gonzaga.

But after watching this team for 10 years with high hopes and, come March, being at least a bit disappointed, I wouldn't be opposed to becoming underdogs again and hoping for a run of upsets like in 1999. And I wouldn't be opposed to becoming a better team because a weak link bolted for sunnier skies.

The Streak (4/1)

The Streak is back and better than ever!

I have to be honest. I got way more excited than I probably should have when ESPN announced the new rules for the most recent edition of "Streak for the Cash." The game has changed in multiple ways.

First, instead of needing to reach a set number to win a $1 million, you just want to get the longest streak you can before December 6. The top seven longest streaks by that time will win $10k and a trip to Bristol (ESPN Headquarters) to compete in a pickoff. The winner of the pickoff then wins the $1 million.

The first 10,000 people to reach a streak of 13 or longer win $15 toward prizes at ESPN's Winner's Circle. One of these prizes is a "Streak for the Cash" T-shirt. I would really like this.

Finally, ESPN sponsors will be running more prop bets throughout the contest, which pay $5k.

With the new rules set, let me give you my picks, so you can bet against them and be successful.

I picked Spain in the first game of the morning to win outright. Needless to say, Turkey is leading 1-0 early. Awesome.

Tonight, I like the Atlanta Thrashers to knock off the Buffalo Sabres at home. Atlanta is going for the season sweep and even though Ryan Miller is back for Buffalo, he hasn't been great, allowing three goals in both appearances. The Thrashers aren't a good home team, the Sabres aren't a good road team. C'mon Kovalchuk!

In the nightcap, I'm going with the Houston Rockets to defeat the Phoenix Suns. The Rockets beat the teams they should beat and with Yao Ming down low to neutralize Shaq and Houston's ability to limit teams offensively, I like their chances of coming out with a win.