The Wild Card Race

We haven't really handicapped the NL Wild Card because, well, it's a giant crapshoot. It's really just a matter of who gets hot in these last two weeks, overall team quality doesn't have a damned thing to do with it. Heck, in a two-week span, even the Diamondbacks can look good.

Despite all of the Boston-New York hype, that isn't much of a race. All of the action is in the NL. The Twins have already clinched, and it would take a 1964 Phillies-like collapse to prevent the same cast of characters in the AL: New York, Minnesota, and Oakland as your division winners with Boston getting the wild card. All right, Oakland's only got a 2.5 game lead over Anaheim, so that's kind of exciting, but I'm not holding my breath.

The action is all in the NL. The Dodgers are trying out their 1964 Phillies impression, slowly imploding down the stretch while San Fran and San Diego pick up ground seemingly every night. And while the Padres pretty much need to go as close to perfect as possible to even think about winning this thing, they at least get to take it to the Dodgers on the field.

So the Giants taking batting practice against the Astros was the lead story, the Padres big win over the Dodgers was just as big. The Cubs got to keep pace by beating a pretty mediocre Pirates team, one of those series you have to win to keep pace. A quick rundown of our contenders closing schedules...

Los Angeles (86-64). After they finish playing in Petco, LA travels to PacBell to face down the Giants. Then, they get a closing homestand against the rockies and then the Giants again. In case you have never heard of baseball, the Dodgers and Giants absolutely hate one another.

San Franciscio (85-66). Obviously, this home series against the Astros is huge. Winning game one opens up the possibility of a sweep, which would essentially eliminate Houston, but just splitting the next two days keeps the lead in the wild card. Sandwiched between the two Dodger series is a road trip to San Diego. Sure, it's a brutal road, but they control their own fate.

San Diego (81-70). They are four games down to San Fran and five and a half to LA. We're officially in Miracle Time. They need to pull out some sweeps. The only reason I mention them is because they play both teams they trail, as well as six games against the D-backs. Even if they win all 11 games, that gives them 92 wins, LA would have to go worse than 6-6 and SF worse than 7-4. That's lots of help. And not even considering the Central teams.

Chicago (84-66). Once they finish up in Pittsburgh, they visit the disfunctional Mets. Then they return to Wrigley to close against the Reds and then the Braves, who hopefully will spend the weekend setting their rotation and resting starters. No one's got an easier schedule.

Houston (83-68). Somebody needs to win two in a row. After the Giants, they get the Brewers, and then close at home against the Cardinals and then Colorado. So the next two nights are the 'Stros last chance to pick up ground against the teams they are chasing. They don't need as much help as San Diego, but they do need it.

Just for the hell of it, here's the pick. The Dodgers continue to collapse and the Giants win the division. The Cubs take the wild card. Really, I'm just guessing.

posted by Poseur 9/22/2004 08:56:00 AM

Gut punch

"I am accused of taking someone else's blood, but anybody who knows me would accept that I would never do such a thing," he said. "I know what I put into my body and what I don't. Cycling is very important for me but not everything. If was to think I had to do something like that I would rather put my bike away."

Dick Pound, head of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), declared himself satisfied with the news.

"If it stays positive, then it will the first ever case of this form of doping being detected," he said in Montreal where he was attending WADA's executive committee meeting.

I'm pretty cynical about athletes in general. I don't think they are better human beings than the rest of us and I do everything I can to avoid putting them on a pedestal. They are people, too, and capable of the same stupid things we do on a daily basis. I'm rarely crushed when an athlete cheats, whines, or just acts like a jackass because, well, people do that sometimes. And they should get punished accordingly and we move on. Good people do bad things, and bad people do good things. Heck, most people aren't good or bad, they are just people.

That's a pretty long qualifier for me to say this: Tyler Hamilton is not just my favorite cyclist, he may be my favorite athlete in all sports. To me, he's always represented everything good about sports. This is a guy who dropped out of the Tour so he could mourn the death of his dog, Tugboat, even going so far as dedicating his Olympic gold to his former best friend. He's tough in competition (he rode the Tour with a broken collarbone, people) but friendly to the press, fans, and even his fellow cyclists. I feel like I know him.

So the announcement that Hamilton failed a drug test really hit me in the gut. I really want to believe him. He is my favorite, after all. And hopefully, the second blood test will come back negative and this will just be a misunderstanding. But that's just me hoping that it is so. What to do if he is a cheater, which I must admit, is a real possibility?

Does blood doping then invalidate all of the good things he has done? His Tour de France last year really was inspiring, even if he was doped. Doping doesn't take away that kind of pain he must have rode with. He really has been great to the fans, myself included. Do I turn him away if his tests come back positive? Do I lump him in with an unapologetic scumbag like Richard Virenque? Or do I forgive him and keep rooting for him?

This is a terrible time for Hamilton, but it's also a terrible time for fans of cycling. We simply don't need another doping scandal, particularly not one involving such a well-liked rider. For me, this hurts more than a positive test from Armstrong. As an unabashed fan of Tyler Hamilton, this is a real "say it ain't so, Joe" moment. I've never been as horribly letdown by an athlete as I am right now.

Anyone need a slightly used pedestal? I don't think I'm going to need it anymore.

posted by Poseur 9/22/2004 08:33:00 AM


NFL Week Two

The theme of the week is injuries. Kellen Winslow has a broken leg and may be out for the year, Tommy Maddox injured his elbow and is out for at least six weeks, Deuce McAllister is out 4-6 weeks with an ankle injury, and even Mike Brown is lost for the season as well. It was a rash of really bad luck. So let’s make all-too general assumptions about the games, led off with the stat of the game.

Roethlisberger 12/20, 176 yds, 2 TD-2 INT. Pressed into emergency duty, Big Ben started off lousy (0 for 2 and a pick), but settled down and gave the Steelers their first offensive spark of the game. Right now, I think Roethlisberger is already a better QB than Maddox, which isn’t saying much. He looked pretty good back there, facing perhaps the toughest D in the league.

5 sacks by Detroit. The Texans outgained the Lions, possessed the ball more, and even converted more third downs. However, Detroit’s D made the big plays to neutralize a really huge day by Carr and Davis. The Texans are showing signs of life, but they have to win games like this.

Rushing totals: Smith 13-31, Dillon 32-158. Yes, the Cardinals pretty much abandoned the run in the second half, but Emmitt didn’t exactly set the house on fire in the first. And Dillon was spectacular throughout. Brady had a pretty miserable day, but he chose a good week to do so, seeing as it was Arizona. The Cards did make this close, but they were thoroughly outclassed.

Cleveland had 66 yards net passing. Garcia went 8/27 for 71 yards and 3 picks. It doesn’t take much to outdo that, but Vinny actually had a good game by any standard. The Dallas defense is really good, but they aren’t this good. I’m not sure the loss of Winslow is as big as people think it is.

KC had 281 yards of offense. That just won’t do it. The Chiefs need to put up points, lots of them, but they’ve been unable to move the football with any consistency in their first two games. The AFC West stinks, so the Chiefs can bounce back from their 0-2 hole, but they need to get some production from the offense.

7 Redskins turnovers. Seven. I still don’t believe the Giants are any good, as they needed a complete self-destruction of the Skins to win this game, and even then, Washington had plenty of chances to win this game in the fourth. Heck, if Gardner doesn’t drop a touchdown catch, we’re talking about how the skins overcame all of those mistakes.

Thomas Jones ran for 23-152 and a TD. Mike Brown’s 95 yard fumble return keyed the win, but it’s been a long time since the Bears had an effective running game. I’m willing to bet this game is a flash in the pan, but it was nice to see an actual ground attack in Chicago. As to the Packers, bad games happen.

The teams combined for 20 punts, 10 apiece. Easily the worst game of the day. ESPN sure can pick ‘em, eh?

The Colts scored 21 4th quarter points. And the first two touchdown drives were both 80 yards. With their backs against the wall, the Colts came through huge. By all rights, the titans should have won, but give credit to Indy. Manning and James earned those big paychecks.

Vick ran for 109 yards, leading all rushers. He even had a nice day passing (14/19 for 179 and 0 INT’s). We pound the “Vick is Overrated” theme quite a bit, but it’s games like this that get him his reputation. But let’s add it up as one big line, counting rushes as pass attempts: 26/31 for 288 yards. That’s a great day passing, but Vinny Testeverte threw for 322 yards on 35 attempts. Carr went for 313 in 34. So it’s not like he’s outside the realm of “regular” QB’s. But Vick’s yards were more fun.

Time of possession: Jets 36:47, Chargers 23:13. Folks, that ain’t close. The Chargers actually look like a decent team, maybe not playoff caliber, but certainly better than their preseason reputation. Despite the close score though, this game was dominated by the Jets. San Diego got the unofficial “make it close” score, but did I underestimate this team or what? And the real difference is Chad Pennington, who mat be the best QB in the NFL right now.

The Broncos outgained the Jaguars 356-176. That’s a two to one margin. Quentin Griffin is the goat for fumbling late, but come on. You gain 356 yards and can only manage two field goals? How on earth did the Broncos lose this game? They are better than this.

Seattle was 1-14 on 3rd down. Tampa wasn’t much better (4 of 15). This is the second ugly game both teams have played, Seattle winning two and the Bucs losing two. However, I think the reason is different. I think both teams have excellent defenses, but the Bucs have terrible offense while Seattle’s just got an inconsistent one. Tampa needs to find a way to score points.

Oakland was 8-15 on 3rd down. We go from a team that couldn’t convert to a team that couldn’t gain yards except on third down. 273 total yards, but eight times the Raiders managed to keep drives going. However, neither team looks any good.

The Vikes were 37-47 (79%) passing and the Eagles 19 of 28 (68%). That’s an aerial display right there. And it didn’t mean diddly, as the running backs for both teams combined for 98 yards. I mean, run it just a little bit guys.

posted by Poseur 9/21/2004 10:24:00 AM


College Football -- Week Three

Just a strange weekend for kickers in the SEC. And a strange weekend period for the ACC.

UNC beat Georgia Tech. and not by a little bit, but 34-13. Sometimes we lose sight of the middle of the pack games because we're so busy focusing on the top dogs beating Directional City State, but this was a huge conference game. UNC showed a pulse, and GT, one week after looking like an upper-level team, looked downright awful. And the team they beat? Clemson got smoked by Texas A&M. Tommy Bowden needs to start working on his resume.

Those FSU, Miami, and Virginia pastings mean absolutely nothing. And Maryland had no business taking WVU to overtime, turning the ball over so frequently even they were shocked to still be in the game. So the Terps recent run of domination over WVU is over, but the Terps look like every other Terp team: brutal defense backed by a just-good-enough offense.

Big East
WVU's win is absolutely huge, but it also reveals huge holes in the Mountaineer team. They simply aren't a great team. Not only did Maryland turn the ball over five times, Novak missed a big kick, and that doesn't happen. WVU needed a horrible game from Maryland to just win in OT.

Pitt played Nebraska suprisingly tough, which i think says more about the Huskers than the Panthers. But break up Boston College! After looking so bad in ekeing out a win over Ball State, BC's looked great two straight weeks. They are the only team capable of beating WVU in-conference. not much of a chance, but a chance.

Big Ten
Northwestern won! So did Illinois! This is not a terribly good conference, so let's take happiness when something goes well. Nobody has played a conference game yet, and everyone has picked up at least one win. And Ohio state keeps winning super-duper ugly games. Exactly which deity has Tressel sold his soul to?

Still, it wasn't all smiles. What the hell happened to Iowa? Arizona State made them look like a JV team. And Michigan just looks terrible. Beating SDSU by three impresses nobody. Nobody. They are making me look stupid.

Big Twelve
A pretty nothing week. Nebraska had trouble with Pitt (yawn) and Oklahoma had no trouble with Oregon. I'm completely underwhelmed. the only real surprise was that A&M sprang to life to blow out Clemson. so now no one has any idea if the Aggies are any good or not.

How often do games end with the potential game-tying touchdown denied just two yards from the end zone? Washington and UCLA lit up the scoreboard, and given their early results, means neither team can play a lick of defense. Still, the 37-31 shootout was perhaps the day's most entertaining game.

Arizona is still in a place where they can take moral victories. Yeah, Wisconsin took them 9-7, but at least it a hard-fought game. And for the love of God, can USC play a team with a pulse?


I cannot rationally discuss the LSU-Auburn game. I've long derided Jason Campbell, but he came through huge on Saturday, which I never thought he would be able to do. He earned the win and has every right to tell his critics, like me, to shove it. Really, he desrves tons of praise for his performance. OK, am I done being nice? What the hell kind of call was that? Let's put it like this, the CBS announcers kept saying personal foul because it was obvious THEY didn't know what the hell the penalty was either. And if you knew a player couldn't jump from one side of the line of scrimmage to the other during a field goal or PAT attempt, you're one of ten people in the nation. It was like losing on a technicality. It sucked.

There's broken furniture to prove it.

posted by Poseur 9/20/2004 10:49:00 AM


College football review

Game of the week:

#13. Tennessee 30
#11. Florida 28
I can’t believe Florida and Tennessee played an exciting game. It was back & forth from wire to wire. There were 6 drives of 80 yards or longer. Chris Leak was great, and Erik Ainge was so good that Phil Fulmer stopped playing musical quarterbacks. Following the theme of the SEC, Tennessee missed a game-tying extra point with 3:40 remaining. They forced the punt, then James Wilhoit redeemed himself by hitting a 50 yard field goal to win the game.

Honorable mention:
#7 West Virginia 19
#21 Maryland 16

The Terps have had West Virginia’s number in recent years. Kay-Jay Harris had another big game. Maryland shot themselves in the foot with so many turnovers. A blocked FG attempt forced overtime, and WVA responded to Maryland’s FG with a game-winning touchdown.

Upset of the week:

#14 Auburn 10
#5 LSU 9

When the defending champs go down it’s big news. Now, everyone is making a big deal about the poetic justice of LSU losing because of a missed extra point, but it’s more than that. LSU’s offense still doesn’t know how to finish a drive, and credit Auburn’s really good defense. Jason Campbell was efficient and didn’t turn the ball over, and that was the difference in the game.

Honorable mention:

Arizona St. 44
#16. Iowa 7

It could just as easily be the beat down of the week. It seems like ASU was waiting all year for a rematch. This was a total slaughter. Iowa gained only 100 yards, compare that to 511 for Arizona St. Baker was wondering if ASU would rebound this year. Well…

Beat down of the week:

#2 Oklahoma 31
Oregon 7

I flipped to this game just when Oregon was showing some sign of life. It didn’t last long. Oregon isn’t as good as they were a few years ago, but they aren’t chumps. Well, they looked like it on Saturday.

Honorable mention:

#12. Virginia 51
Akron 0

OK, we were wondering how good UVa is. We can’t really say until they play some decent teams, but I’ll take notice any time a team outgains another 522-84 yards en route to a 51-0 shutout. Yeah, they’ve got skills.

Honor Roll

Andrew Walter, Arizona St. 31 of 43, 428 yards, 5 TD.
Chris Leak, Florida. 22 of 31. 286 yards, 3 TD, INT.
Jared Zabransky, Boise St. 26 of 37, 392 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT. Yeah, he threw 2 picks to UTEP, but I’ve got to hype BSU. If you see them on TV just cancel your plans and watch ‘em move the ball.

Maurice Drew, UCLA. 26 carries, 322 yards 5 TD. Yeah, all in one game.
Wali Lundy, Virginia. 22 carries, 142 yards, 3 TD.
Marion Barber, Minnesota. 31 carries, 201 yards, 2 TD.

Braylon Edwards, Michigan. 8 catches 130 yards, 2 TD. Without him, Michigan gets upset at home by San Diego St.
Dustin Osborne, Colorado St. 6 catches, 122 yards, TD.
Troy Williamson, South Carolina. 5 catches, 210 yards, 3 TD.

posted by uberschuck 9/19/2004 10:36:00 PM

Week 2 at the Vuelta

A lot has changed in the second week of the Tour of Spain. At the end of the first week Tyler Hamilton won the time trial and Floyd Landis claimed the overall race lead. But then what happened…

Stage 9: Hamilton crapped out and lost 10 minutes in the mountains. Roberto Heras attacked and gained time on Landis.

Stage 11: American David Zabriskie made a solo attack just after the race started. Minutes later Alejandro Valverde crashed and the race slowed down while one of the contenders fixed his bike and cleaned up the blood. Zabriskie rode alone for 160 km and held off the charging peloton for the stage win.

Stage 12: Heras attacked in the mountains again, winning the stage. He beat Landis by 3 minutes and held a 35 second lead over Francisco Mancebo.

Stage 13: Hamilton didn’t start. Alessandro Petacchi won the bunch sprint for his 4th stage win.

Stage 14: Back to the mountains…Valverde and Santiago Perez escaped the group of elite climbers and picked up 41 seconds on Heras.

Stage 15: Valverde and Perez beat Heras in a mountain time trial, but Heras retains the lead just barely.

Here’s the top of the leader board with 5 stages remaining.
1. Roberto Heras
2. Alejandro Valverde +0:05
3. Santiago Perez +1:45
4. Francisco Mancebo +2:02

The last 5 stages have 2 mountain top finished plus two other stages with big mountains, so the top 4 are going to be on the hot seat almost constantly. Mancebo is the real darkhorse because he hasn’t been able to beat the three ahead of him on the mountains. Heras is a weak time trialist, and that’s exactly what the final stage is, so Heras needs to attack his competitors in the mountains. The good news for him is that he’s the best climber in the race.

posted by uberschuck 9/19/2004 10:33:00 PM

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