Wednesday, June 07, 2006

 

The Beautiful Game

This is it. The greatest sporting event there is. March Madness is my favorite yearly spectacle, and the Olympics are the best chance for a Canadian to see his coutry compete against the world's best. But the World Cup, there's just nothing that can compare. 20,000 Trinidad and Tobago fans took over a small corner of Germany to watch their team in a tune-up against a German division 3 side! For smaller countries, this is a month to cherish that will forever be etched in the national history books... for the powerhouses, this is another rare chance at being forever entrenched in the history of the sport. Let's get to it...

GROUP A

Germany, Poland, Ecuador, Costa Rica

Going with the favorites in Group A. Germany isn't carrying itself with much swagger so far considering they're always good and are playing at home. Ecuador was great at home in qualifying, but it will be different in Germany, particularly against the hosts. Costa Rica has links with my home club of OFI Crete, but none are currently there, so the team is now dead to me.

GROUP B

England, Sweden, Paraguay, T&T

With or without Rooney this should be England's group. Sweden and Paraguay on the 15th should decide the runner-up, while T&T enjoys their 3 games in the sun.

GROUP C (Group of Death, part 1)

Netherlands, Argentina, Ivory Coast, S&M

The dutch will falter as always at some point, just not this early. Argentina could be Brazil's biggest threat, or they could pull a France and crash out early. The Ivory Coast may well be the most talented African team, and Serbia/Montenegro is certainly no pushover. The plan is for the two favorites to notch 2 wins each before meeting, leaving them to play for position in the finale.

Group D

Mexico, Portugal, Angola, Iran

I see the underrated Mexicans taking the group ahead of the underachieving Portugese. However this is by no means a walk for either side, as Iran is far more talented then most realize, and an unknown quantity like Angola could spice things up. This group is one where an upset could happen easily.

Group E (Group of Death, part 2)

Italy, Czechs, USA, Ghana

Ouch. Everyone is jumping on Group C as the "Group of Death," but this group has the #2 and #5 teams in the world, neither of which is Italy (#13). To top it off, Ghana may be the most skilled African team in the tournament. Too close to call, we could see the big three finish at 2-1, or we could see all four at 1-1-1...
I see Italy clamping down defensively to take the group, and the Czechs squeaking through. No matter what happens, there will be two very good teams being dropped from the tourney from this group.

Group F

Brazil, Croatia, Australia, Japan

The favorites won't cruise, but they'll do enough. The three way dogfight for runner-up will keep the group interesting. Japan is ranked the highest but hasn't been convincing in recent games, Croatia has had big wins but tapered off of late, and Australia is the longshot but could grind past the other two.

Group G

France, Switzerland, Korea, Togo

The top three have the pleasure of grouping with the lowest-ranked team in the tournament (Togo), which makes the Togolese my new favorite team. However, France will be primed to make up for their 2002 debacle, the Swiss are one of my darkhorse picks, and Korea wants to show the world that they don't need to be at home to beat the world's best.

Group H

Spain, Ukraine,
Tunisia, Saudi Arabia

Last but not least, the favoured Spaniards and the Ukraine should get through here (though I will forever hate the Ukraine for knocking out Greece). It won't be easy as Tunisia is the most complete African team in the tournament, and the Saudis have been here before.

ROUND OF 16 (First vs. Second, A/B, C/D, E/F, G/H)

Germany - Sweden
Netherlands - Portugal
Italy - Croatia
France - Ukraine
England - Poland
Mexico - Argentina
Brazil - Czechs
Spain - Switzerland

QUARTER-FINALS (Talk about premier matchups)

Germany - Netherlands
Italy - France
England - Argentina
Brazil - Switzerland

SEMI-FINALS

Germany - France
England - Brazil

3RD PLACE

France - England

FINALS

Germany - Brazil

AWARDS

Best Young Player - Cristiano Ronaldo (POR), Wayne "if healthy" Rooney (ENG), Lionel Messi (ARG). Darkhorses: Phillipe Senderos (SWI), Johan Vonlanthen (SWI), Cesc Fabergas (SPA), Asamoah Gyan (GHA)

Golden Shoe - Ronaldo (BRA), Miroslav Klose (GER), Thierry Henry (FRA).

Golden Ball - Ronaldinho (BRA), Thierry Henry (FRA), Steven Gerrard (ENG).

So I have the finals repeat... the Germans will be tough to beat at home, and Brazil is the best team in the world until proven otherwise. Of the teams I had missing the second round, the Ivory Coast, US, Australia and Tunisia have the best shot at screwing up my picks. Of those, if the US gets through, they could have a good run. No matter what, it's going to be very, very fun to watch. Enjoy the show on Friday...


Thursday, May 11, 2006

 

Four more days of freedom...

So I actually went out and played a little sports myself yesterday... tennis to be exact. Let's just say I'm glad no one was around to see me. On the bright side I did take the match against my roommate 6-4 (after trailing 4-1), 6-3. On the not so bright side, the entire match was one unforced error after another. Tennis players are ridiculous. I will always believe that soccer players are the fittest in the world (and among the most talented), but I definitely believe that tennis players would give them a pretty good run. By the end of two sets I could barely lift my arms (and I realize how in-shape that makes me sound), I couldn't imagine playing 5-setters one after the other. The athletes in the worst shape? Well everyone picks on baseball players, and though they're getting better (at least appearance wise), they definitely do the least amount of work.

Speaking of those out-of-shapers, if you're reading this you probably know a fair bit at least about sports in general and baseball in specific. However, just in case you have been living under a rock for the past few days, Phillies phenom Cole Hamels is set to make his debut tomorrow (Friday). I am putting a big fat BUY recommendation on this guy, like everyone else in the world. His first start will be in Cincinatti to face the surprising Reds, but the minor league numbers speak for themselves. Before this year, Hamels started 28 games between A and AA, going 11-3 with a 1.54 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 208 K(!) in 152 IP. Ridonkulous. Starting the year at A-ball, Hamels posted a 1.77 ERA in 4 starts, with 29 K in 20.1 IP. The Phils pushed him up to AAA, where he obviously wasn't ready. Not ready to the tune of a 0.39 ERA in 3 starts, a 0.48 WHIP and a whopping 36 K in 23 IP... including one complete game shutout. Now, it's not a large body of work to use as an indicator, but the guy is obviously supremely talented. When asked about how he'd evaluate Hamels progress, Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel said, "I'll tell him to throw about 10 shutouts, and then from there I'll evaluate him." Do I expect him to destroy MLB hitters? No. Do I expect him to be better than most of the guys you can find on the waiver wire, and a bunch of guys that are probably still sitting on your roster? Definitely. I drafted Justin Verlander repeatedly this year, and Hamels could well be better.

Has anyone seen that Sidney Crosby Gatorade commercial? Now, I'm a connoiseur of bad TV and bad commercials. Believe me, there are plenty of bad ones out there. This one has to be up there at the top, just for how poorly it was thrown together. To recap (in case you don't want to watch it), it's the one where Crosby joins a pickup street hockey game, and people start flocking to the game, and everyone (including the Hanson Brothers) throws their stick on the pile until the pile is 10-feet high. Then inexplicably, it shows Crosby on the ice skating towards the camera, stopping to show Gatorade dripping down his face, and flash to the "Is it in you" tagline. Which has nothing to do with anything! It's as if Gatorade was pitched the pile of sticks idea as a commercial... after the pitch they asked, "OK that's a great commercial, but where's the tie in to Gatorade?"... to which the ad firm replies, "I dunno, we'll have him skating around with Gatorade on his face at the end or something"... which seals the deal. I now have a career goal of working in an ad agency... not because I think I could do better (which I could), but just to be able to sit in meetings where so many horrible ideas are pitched, and so many are actually approved! If the crap you see is what was approved, imagine the pitches that get turned down!

Well that was a few minutes of your life that neither you nor I will ever get back. So without furter ado, The Daily Tatis: Ottawa fell 2-1 to Scranton, and I know why. Fernando Tatis was given the night off. He struck out in his one appearance as a pinch hitter in the 9th. Why you keep someone so talented on the bench is beyond me, but with the loss maybe the Lynx will see the error in their ways. You can't expect a guy like Fernando Tatis to come off the bench cold, he needs to be in the groove, seeing pitches and watching ground balls roll by at third base... then he's at his best. LET FERNANDO PLAY... we still love you.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

 

Mr. Baseball

In honour of my favorite Japanese baseball-related movie (which was on TBS yesterday morning), let's talk a little more hardball.

Dallas McPherson - The Angels prospect is back with the big club, getting a chance in place of Casey Kotchman. Power, power and more power... his career minor league OPS before this year was .970 (nice). However, he has a slight penchant for striking out, to the tune of 49 K's in 102 AB's this year at AAA Salt Lake. I don't get to see a lot of the PCL (and it's a little dead to me without the Vancouver Canadians), but I'm guessing that the pitchers in the American League will be a little better than the ones he's been striking out against half the time. His first game back, facing Freddy Garcia (decent) and Cliff Politte (6.17 ERA) he went 0-3 with 3 K's. He should be able to hit .250 with some power, but be wary of jumping on him if your league counts strikeouts.

Fransisco Liriano - The electrifying lefty started 78 minor league games in his career, and AVERAGED 10.31 K/9. So far this season for the Twinkies, he has a 28/4 K/BB ratio in 20 IP. Last night the Twins let him go for a three-inning save in a blowout win over the Rangers, leading many to believe that they're stretching him out to be bumped into the rotation, possibly at the expense of Kyle Lohse. If you throw out one bad outing in the 18-1 shellacking at the hands of Detroit, Liriano has given up 3 ER and 18 H in 17 IP. I already have him on any team with a remotely deep pitching staff, and I suggest you do the same.

J.J. Putz - As I mentioned yesterday, Easy Eddie has been out of the closer's role for a little while. After contemplating a closer by committee, the M's are going with Putz as their new full-time closer. It's not a guarantee that he'll always pitch the 9th, nor is it known how long he'll have the job. However, he's a guaranteed pickup in any league where you need relief help (2.04 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 25 K, 5 BB in 17.2 IP) and some cheap saves (4 so far) for the time being. If you're in a very deep league, picking up Rafael Soriano isn't the worst idea in the world either, since if Putz isn't doing the job it'll be Soriano (like his 4-batter save last night).

Josh Towers - He looked decent for a few innings last night, then gave up a HR to Bobby Crosby (thank you Josh), walked the anemic Jay Payton with two outs and then gave up another blast to Adam Melhuse. He was yanked after the 4th, but the 3 ER in 4 IP actually dropped his ERA from 10.59 to 10.09. He had a decent year lin '05, but his seven straight losses this year means it might be time for the Jays to cut bait. At the very least, any fantasy owners who had been hanging on in hopes of a renaissance, give it up. He might not even get another start.

The Daily Tatis - Fernando went 3-4 with his 10th RBI of the year in a 4-3 win over Scranton, raising his average to .305. That's why he's the 3-hitter in the Lynx lineup, folks.

Shin-Soo Choo - No I didn't sneeze. One of my favorite M's prospects is off to a good start in AAA. The numbers are good (.310-5-15 in 116 AB's), and the speed (9 SB's) is coming back after a down year in '05. He's not walking a ton (12 BB), but with his strikeout total (16 K) he looks pretty good on paper. But since the M's have a glut of useless OF's, don't expect to see him anytime soon (not that I mind him getting a bit more seasoning first, I just wish the M's had better hitters - the HR Carl Everett hit last night was their first since May 1... ridiculous).

Jack Cust - A quick mention of the former Lynx, currently with San Diego's AAA team in Portland, who's having a great start himself: a 1.061 OPS and a 33/20 BB/K ratio, to go with a .277-8-24 line. Too old (27) to be a "prospect" anymore, if the former first-rounder can keep the K's down and the BB's up, he's always had the power to play in the big leagues.

That's all for now, time to waste another day away! If anyone else has MLB 2K6, try playing with the Blue Jays. For some reason, Eric Hinske is just unstoppable... in designing the game they must have forgotten he sucks.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

 

The Recap

I told you all that you shouldn't have listened to me. Don't I always tell you not to listen to me!

NHL PLAYOFFS (5-3, with one right on games)

So I was right about the goaltending battle in the Calgary-Anaheim series, I just got the wrong guy... Colorado and Milan Hejduk showed that they were better than I thought (7 points in the 5-game shellacking)... Nobody picked Edmonton... I went 4-0 in the East, nailing the Ottawa-Tampa series, except it was "Johnny" Grahame getting most of the blame... I picked Marty Gerber as the MVP in the Montreal-Carolina matchup, little did I know my favorite backup goalie Cam Ward would get a chance to prove himself... Lindy Ruff really is good, I still don't know any of the Sabres.

NBA PLAYOFFS (7-1, hitting the games on three)

I'll say that Detroit really did want another home game... VC did it again, though eventually in this playoff he will revert to his late-Raptors form and bring the whole Nets team down with him (why in the world doesn't anyone just foul him hard... do it early and often, you won't need to worry about him for the rest of the series)... King James lived up to the billing, again... The only Western series I didn't nail was thanks to Bonzi Wells, who just made himself an extra $25 million... Boris Diaw (18-6-6) in the 1st round was pretty bang on, another whoops from the Hawks (maybe they'll draft Rudy Gay so him and Marvin Williams can sit on the bench together)... Kenyon Martin is the new definition of goat, I hope he likes New York... And finally allow me a small chuckle at the expense of Memphis, as the playoff curse we Vancouverites put on it continues.


Some other stuff to chew on while I have your attention...

I'd love to see a Phoenix-Dallas Western Final, so that'll be my call. It'll be tough for both to get there, but it would be a fantastic series. In the East, despite New Jersey's Game 1 romp, I still think Detroit and Miami are on a collision course so long as Miami stops taking 20 minutes off here and there.

As for the great frozen game, every series is at 2-0 so it's pretty tough to bet against any of the series leaders right now. I think San Jose is too much for Edmonton to battle back from... The Ducks are a fantastic looking team, even if Ilya Bryzgalov goes from "Otherworldly" to "Pretty Good," they should still advance... Jersey's heartbreaking loss last night would cripple just about any team, but they've been there before and you never, ever count out the Devils with Marty Brodeur in net... Finally, Ottawa is down two going to Buffalo (who are even better than I could have imagined, especially with Ryan Miller playing so well). Normally that would be the kiss of death, but this team is way too talented to be counted out yet, one big win could make the Sabres think twice.

Jeff Francis is starting to turn it around. My favorite pitcher is still walking too many batters, but he's helped the Rockies to a 20-13 mark and first place in the NL West. Over the past 4 games, he's started to look more like the guy who won Minor League Player of the Year a couple years back (26.2 IP, 17 H, 3 ER, 11 BB, 16 K, 1.03 ERA, 1.05 WHIP). For the year, he's now 2-2 with a 3.16 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP. If he can keep cutting back on the walks, the Rockies will have their ace.

One of the talented lefties Francis watched as a kid, Tom Glavine, is off to a fantastic start. I throw harder than he does, but he's got 41 K's in 46.1 IP to go with a 1.94 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP. The Mets are establishing themselves as the team to beat in the NL East, and word is they might make a move for a guy like Barry Zito. Being in the anti-Zito camp, I think handing over Lastings Milledge (and more) would be a mistake. Not a Kazmir-for-Zambrano type mistake, but a mistake nonetheless. I don't think Zito is a bad pitcher by any means, I just see the Mets having to give up too much for a guy who WAS a Cy-Young winner, but now pitches like a #2. Speaking of Oakland, the famous Nick Swisher is really starting to turn into what Oakland hoped for (.327-10-28). Now if Bobby Crosby can do the same, maybe my Rance Mulliniks fantasy team can stop sucking.

The Mariners are torturing me. 14-20, last in the AL West. Eddie Guardado (0-2, 6.94 ERA, 1.97 WHIP) is out as closer. King Felix (1-4, 5.40, 1.64) has struggled, and may be tipping his pitches. The two big-splash free agents from two years ago are horrible busts... Adrian Beltre (.221-1-9, 9 SB's) is running at least and hitting .313 in May (no power still), while Richie Sexson (.190-3-17) is pretty much stinking all around (.111-1-2 in May). Joel Pineiro finally looks like a real pitcher again (4-2, 3.72, 1.22), but it's of little consolation to me right now. Maybe I'll put on the classic Vin Baker Sonics jersey I picked up on friday and go drown my sorrows somewhere.

Finally, the Ottawa Lynx are still struggling at 14-17, good for the basement in the IL North. There's nothing blatently wrong, they're mostly middle of the pack in every category... but that's not a recipe for success. The third-worst team WHIP but reasonably low ERA tells me that things could get worse. On the bright side, we still have Fernando Tatis (.287-3-9 in 28 games... he even stole a base!). We love you Fernando, don't ever leave Canada again.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

 

Gone for the week...

I'm off for a little well deserved vacation time (including hopefully a Jays game Saturday afternoon)... be back by monday to look back on the NBA/NHL first round.