Yet Another Pet Peeve

Unless you are someone who has ever talked to me for more than 30 seconds, you probably don’t know that I can be a relatively opinionated individual.  And many of these opinions are about things that really bother me–pet peeves, if you will–so I figured I would start another running segment where I take the opportunity to get it out of my system.  I’m no psychiatrist, but writing this segment every once in a while may improve my life, whether or not anyone actually reads it.

I figured there was no better way to start this segment than by admitting my single biggest pet peeve in the world of sports–and it happened the other night to a team I love.

Today’s Pet Peeve: 
Giving up offensive rebounds on missed free throws

Admittedly, I have a tendency to speak in hyperbole, especially when talking about sports, but honestly, this is my biggest pet peeve in any sport (there is one in baseball that is close).  I know that I am not a basketball coach and that, in my playing days, I was a poor rebounder even for a skinny 2-guard, but all that I think I know about basketball leads me to believe that, barring a strange bounce off the rim or a ridiculous height or athletic advantage, the player with position should ALWAYS get the rebound.  And, on free throws, the actual defined rules of the game GRANT THE DEFENDER POSITION!  So, it has to be laziness or absent-mindedness or lack of effort, right?  Right?!?

THE SCENE:  Monday night…just shy of 9:00pm on the east coast…the beautiful city of Akron, Ohio…1 minute, 17 second to go in the second half…Akron Zips 61, Temple Owls 59…Temple’s press (weird thought) has forced multiple Akron turnovers over the last minute or so, in which the Owls are on a 12-2…(you all see what’s coming)…Temple’s Ryan Brooks fouls Akron 6th man, Steve McNees…he misses the first…misses the second, BUT Mike Bardo gets the offensive rebound, kicks it out, where Temple has to foul again.  Yada yada yada, Akron wins 67-65.

Granted, I was forced to watch the play-by-play on the computer (who doesn’t televise the great November Temple-Akron showdown?), so I didn’t actually see the play, but what are the chances that it took a crazy bounce OR that Mike Bardo (total game stats Monday night:  8 minutes played, 1 rebound) has a ridiculous height or athleticism advantage over a Temple big man?  Slim?  None?  Obviously, there’s no saying if Temple would have won the game had they grabbed that rebound, but anyone who knows anything about basketball knows that there is a huge difference between a 2-point deficit and a 4-point deficit in the final minute of a college game.  Infuriating!

Thanks for listening, friends…

Intra-City Wars

As baseball’s offseason progresses, it appears more and more likely that two of the game’s best players, Twins ace Johan Santana and Marlins third baseman Miguel Cabrera, will be traded by their respective teams.  Obviously, the competition among other teams to acquire them will be fierce, but it looks like it will boil down to two intriguing matchups: the Yankees and Mets battling for Santana, and the Angels and Dodgers going toe to toe for Cabrera.

Considering the level of talent it will take to get either player in a trade, no team will trade for these guys unless they cansantana afford to sign him to a long-term deal.  And considering the amount of money it will take to sign them, only a handful of teams are in a position to be involved in these trade talks.  The vast majority of the league has already been eliminated from contention due to a lack of quality prospects, lack of money, or both.

The Yanks appear to be the frontrunner for Santana, as it was widely reported today that they are being quite proactive and are already in ‘preliminary’ discussions with the Twins.  At this point, new Twins GM Bill Smith appears to be sizing up the market for his ace pitcher and figuring out what kind of offers he can expect.  A common rumor has the Yankees giving up Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy, and Melky Cabrera, which would be a fairly impressive haul for Minnesota.  The Twins will also surely be interested in Joba Chamberlain and Robinson Cano, but reports indicate the Yanks will not part with either player.

The other team with the means and the need to make the strongest push for Santana is the Mets.  They will want Santana desperately but a package built around Lastings Milledge will not be enough to beat out the Yankee offer.  The Mets chances may come down to whether or not they are willing to part with 18-year-0ld outfield phenom Fernando Martinez.  There has been indications that they are very reluctant to trade him, but if the difference between getting Santana or not comes down to a far-from-proven 18-year-old, Omar Minaya will be very tempted.

Meanwhile, in LA the Angels and Dodgers have money to spend and, even with the Angel’s addition of Torii Hunter, offenses that could really use the boost Cabrera’s bat would supply.  Juan C. Rodriguez of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel suggests one possible Angels offer: 2B Howie Kendrick, OF Reggie Willits, C Jeff Mathis, and SP prospect Nick Adenhart.  That would give the Marlins three good, young position players that would be in their Opening Day ’08 lineup, with Dan Uggla moving to third to make room for Kendrick.

cabreraThe Dodgers have been right there with the Angels in discussing their best young, major-league ready talent in a potential deal for Cabrera.  The talks have involved the Dodgers trading OF Matt Kemp, 1B James Loney, 3B Andy LaRoche, and either SP Chad Billingsley or SP prospect Clayton Kershaw.  The Dodgers hiring of a big-name manager like Joe Torre would indicate they are eager to win now, and bringing in Cabrera to a team with a deep starting rotation would go a long way.

With these teams attempting to outbid their nearby neighbors, the stakes are raised higher than they normally would be.  You can imagine an especially tough time for the Yankees or Mets if their cross-town rival brings in the All-World pitcher they so badly wanted.  And the battle for Los Angeles has been going strong since Arte Moreno bought the Angels, opened his big wallet full of cash, and changed the team name to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.  The Yankees and Angels appear to be ahead right now and smart money has the two American Leauge teams landing the big prizes.  If so, the 2008 World Series will be a three-horse race between them and the Red Sox.

Cimorelli’s Question of the Day

Who would you rather have, considering the market price (salary plus trade chips, if not a free agent this offseason): Alex Rodriguez, Mike Lowell, Miguel Cabrera, Miguel Tejada or Scott Rolen?

Same question for the following free agent pitchers: Bartolo Colon, Randy Wolf, Matt Clement or Kris Benson?

Close Loss Spells End to McNabb Era

The most important story to come out of last night’s miraculous 3-point loss to the Patriots involves an Eagle that wasn’t even in the stadium: Donovan McNabb.  To say that McNabb has been on the hot-seat with Eagle fans and media would bemcnabb an understatement, and the excellent performance of A.J. Feeley last night moves the heat dial up to BROIL.  McNabb very well may start the rest of the games this season, but it’s likely that last night’s game cements his exit at the end of the season.

As much as Andy Reid insists that McNabb is his quarterback, McNabb’s constant injuries and diminished play this season, combined with the Eagles history of cutting loose veterans as soon as they appear to be slipping, make it very easy to see them parting ways with the quarterback this offseason.  Feeley is not the long-term answer (the Eagles hope that’s Kevin Kolb), but he has always looked comfortable in Reid’s West Coast offense and it makes it easier to part with McNabb knowing you have Feeley and Kolb at the position.

Most Philly fans seem to forget now, but McNabb is the best quarterback to ever put on an Eagles uniform.  I’m not convinced that he should be gone after this season.  He is, after all, in the first season after major knee surgery and it’s hard to tell how much that has affected his play.  But he turned 31-years-old yesterday, is owed a lot of money over the next couple seasons, and just can’t seem to stay healthy anymore.  He also has never fully matured into the leader that it seemed like he would become early in his career.  But he is still a great quarterback and people shouldn’t forget that.  The stage is now set for the fans and media to run him out of town and I’m just starting to think that might not be such a bad thing.  At this point, it might be what he and the team needs, but wherever McNabb is playing next year, I’ll be rooting for him. 

Phils Ownership May be Willing to Raise Payroll

Well, it took about one day for my ‘Phillies hot stove’ post to be proven wrong, on some counts.  It appears that around the same time I was writing the post on Sunday night, claiming the Phillies would not be bringing in Mike Lowell or any other lowellthirdbaseman, the Phillies front-office was actually involved in serious negotiations with Lowell on a four-year deal.  Yesterday, Lowell decided to stay in Boston, signing a 3 year, $37.5 million contract.  The Phillies offer was for the same amount per year, but with a fourth year bringing the total amount of the contract to $50 million.

The question here is, what changed between last week, when Pat Gillick flatly denied that the Phillies would be pursuing Lowell, and Sunday night, when the Phils offered him $5o mil?  I can’t imagine that Gillick was willing to leave himself with no payroll flexibility to pursue a pitcher.  I think the only logical conclusion is that Phillies ownership were willing to go over their stated payroll limit of $105 million, if it meant bringing in Lowell.  This is, potentially, great news.  It may make all my points in that post on Sunday night moot, but I would be fine with that.

Eagles-Patriots Preview

The Eagles go into Foxborough this Sunday to take on a Patriots team that is off to a relatively unimpressive 10-0 start. Despite the undefeated record so far, the Patriots have not looked all that dominant in wins over subpar teams, capped off with their two most recent victories: a win on the road over an unproven Indianapolis Colts team, followed by last night’s 56-10 victory over the Bills that was much closer than the score might indicate. And, the Patriots had the bye week in between to prepare for the Bills.

On the other hand, the Eagles have been flying high as of late, with the most recent evidence coming Sunday in a 17-7 romp–at home–over an underrated Miami team. Though falling behind early against the Dolphins, the Eagles showed the stuff that champions are made of by coming back to take a 10-7 lead into the locker room at halftime. From there, the defense took over, somehow making quarterback John Beck look mortal (109 yards passing, zero TDs). Even the loss of Donovan McNabb could not stop the Eagles offense from piling it on in the second half, as they added 7 more points in the final 30 minutes behind former Dolphins starting quarterback, A.J. Feeley.

That leads us into this week’s prime time showdown between the Eagles and the Patriots on Sunday night. If you just look at the numbers, the Patriots may get the edge, but we all know that NFL football games are decided by more than just raw statistics and fantasy points. Games in this league are won by intangibles that the average fan usually doesn’t fully understand. Let’s try to break down the matchups and see if we can get to the heart of what will actually transpire on Sunday night.

PATRIOTS PASSING ATTACK vs EAGLES SECONDARY:
This is a perfect example of the average fan being misled by media coverage and statistics. There is so much more that goes into to this matchup than just Tom Brady’s 16 touchdowns to Randy Moss (38 overall) through 10 games. Let us delve deeper and see what that means for this Sunday’s game. Yes, the Patriots have an aesthetically pleasing passing attack, led by Brady and Moss, but the rest of the passing attack is not quite in that league. Wes Welker is a glorified #3 receiver and Donte Stallworth was cast off by the Eagles this offseason. On the other side, the Eagles have experience, depth and intelligence in the secondary, led by Brian Dawkins, Lito Sheppard, Sheldon Brown and, of course, William James. This will be the area of the game that draws the most attention in the pre-game analysis, and though I trust the Eagles secondary to play tough and well, I do give an ever-so-slight edge to the Patriots passing attack in this game.

PATRIOTS RUSHING ATTACK vs EAGLES RUN DEFENSE
This is the matchup in which the Patriots must excel, if they hope to keep this game close. Though the Eagles rank 12th in the NFL in rushing defense, they are coming off a game where they held Jesse Chatman to only 72 yards on the ground, which is quite an accomplishment. Plus, let us think about the Patriots season so far. Every time they have found themselves in a close game in the fourth quarter, they have relied on Brady’s arm to bail them out (see week 9 at Indianapolis). They have not been able to use the running game with effectiveness late in a close game all year. And since we are already 10 games in, it is pretty safe to say that, when the game is close in the 4th quarter, the Patriots cannot truly rely on Laurence Maroney or Kevin Faulk to get the job done. Because of this, I have to give a definitive edge in this matchup to the Eagles run defense.

EAGLES PASSING ATTACK vs PATRIOTS PASS DEFENSE
Yes, Donovan McNabb is questionable for the game on Sunday, but A.J. Feeley has proven on numerous occaisions that he is a more than competent NFL quarterback. Not to mention the fact that he is surrounded by fantastic weapons, all over the field. Brian Westbrook aside, the Eagles receiving corps is (aside from the Super Bowl year) better than it has been since the days of “Arkansas Fred” Barnett and Calvin Williams. Reggie Brown is a star in the making and let us not forget that Kevin Curtis reached all the way up to #3 on the depth chart in Saint Louis a year ago! That is some true talent on the outsides. Then there are L.J. Smith and Hank Baskett, who are just waiting to break out for that 12-catch, 210-yard day that we all know they are capable of. This just might be the week because the Patriots are on the schedule with their unproven and untested secondary and linebackers. Think about it–J.P. Losman threw for 174 yards last night. Is that the kind of pass defense that wins championships? I think not. It is clear that Rodney Harrison’s best days are behind him and Asante Samuel should have left via free agency because he may not fit the Belichick system all that well. Furthermore, we all know that Teddy Bruschi is still recovering from the stroke of a year ago and Mike Vrabel is a far better pass-receiver than he is a linebacker, so there is a good chance that L.J. Smith has a field day on Sunday. The edge here clearly goes to Feeley and the Eagles passing attack.

EAGLES RUSHING ATTACK vs PATRIOTS RUSH DEFENSE:
This Patriots rush defense enjoyed many years of glory under Belichick, but that was a long time ago. Though the results have been decent this year, anybody watching the game closely can tell that this defensive line and interior linebackers of the Pats are old and slow. Futhermore, it is clear that the addition of Adalius Thomas may have even hurt this defense because he just doesn’t seem to fit in with the system in place. Because of all of this, they are going to struggle mightily in trying to control the Eagles three-headed monster of Brian Westbrook, Correll Buckhalter (another TD yesterday) and Tony Hunt. The Eagles offensive line should manhandle the Pats defense and open gaping holes for Westbrook and Co. The effectiveness of this running game may even enable Feeley to throw in some devastating play-action plays, catching the Pats’ often-out-of-position linebackers on their heels. The Eagles have a huge edge in this category and should be able to impose their will on the Pats all night on the ground.

SPECIAL TEAMS:
Yes, the Eagles’ special teams cost them the Packers game in Week 1, but they have addressed that need by bringing back former NFL leader in return yards, Reno Mahe, thus turning a weakness into a strength. The Patriots, on the other hand, have been using Ellis Hobbs as their return man all year. Though Hobbs has put up big numbers and may be the fastest player in the NFL, we all know that speed is not everything for a kick returner. Mahe is a more intelligent return man and should get the better of Hobbs on Sunday. As far as the kicking game, David Akers is the toughest kicker in the league and, year in and year out, leads the NFL in tackles made by a kicker. Whereas the Patriots kicker, Stephen Gostkowski, is only in his second season in the league, does not make a lot of tackles and has yet to prove–this year, at least–that he can make a field goal with the game on the line. None of the Patriots 10 wins this year have come from a Gostkowski game-winner. Big-time advantage to the Eagles in this category, as well.

COACHING:
There is no telling how much the SpyGate controversy affected Bill Belichick and his staff this year. They seem a little out of sync and careless, as seen last night when they gave up that early touchdown to the Bills. On the other hand, Andy Reid has proven to be infallible, when dealing with off-the-field distractions. He has so much going on in his personal life right now, but nothing stops him from being incredibly prepared and putting his team in the best position to win each and every Sunday. And, we all remember what happened the last time these two faced each other. For that game, Belichick had two whole weeks to prepare for Reid’s Eagles and they still only came out with a 3-point victory in Super Bowl XXXIX. He only has one week this time. Advantage: Andy Reid and the Eagles coaching staff.

OVERALL:
Yes, the Patriots come into this game with a better overall record, but judging by the Cardinals win over the Bengals and the Vikings win over the Raiders yesterday (not to mention the Eagles beating the Dolphins), the NFC may be the superior conference and, therefore, the Eagles have probably played the tougher schedule thus far. Plus, the Eagles have proven that they can win the close ones, as all but one of their wins (80%) have come by 10 points or less. On the contrary, only 1 of the Patriots 10 wins (10%) have come by less than 10 points. All of this, and the above analysis, points to a tougher Eagles team coming away with a sound victory on Sunday night. The Patriots offense may muster a couple scoring drives, but I really don’t see them getting into the end zone, whereas the Eagles offense should have a field day. I predict a final score of 44-9, in a game that isn’t even as close as the score would indicate.

What’s Cooking in the Phillies Hot Stove?

There are a lot of rumors circulating, as there always are this time of year, about who the Phillies will bring in to try to defend their NL East title in 2008.  Mike Lowell and Miguel Cabrera have been mentioned as possibilities to fill the void at third base.  There’s been much speculation about Aaron Rowand and whether or not the Phillies will bring him back.  Here’s my prediction: the Phillies won’t be bringing in any thirdbaseman or centerfielder this offseason.  On Opening Day 2008, Shane Victorino will be the centerfielder and Greg Dobbs will be platooning with Wes Helms at third.rowand

That’s not really what Phillie fans want, but I think that’s the reality right now.  Why?  Well, the Phillies ownership, via David Montgomery, has said that the player payroll in ’08 will be in the $100-105 million range, and right now it is about $90 million.  Pat Gillick has said consistently since the Brad Lidge trade that pitching continues to be the priority.  It’s very hard to imagine the Phillies still having enough in their budget to sign a high-priced free agent like Rowand if they’ve already shelled out for another pitcher. 

As hard as it is for me to say, I agree with Gillick if his ultimate decision is, in fact, to let Rowand walk and not pursue a thirdbaseman, in order to focus on upgrading the pitching.  If there’s any blame to placed here, it would be on the Phillies ownership.  After the success of the team last season and the recent announcement by commissioner Bud Selig that baseball posted record profits this year, you would really hope to see the team commit to raising the payroll.  But assuming that that isn’t going to happen, Gillick has to make some tough decisions and some concessions. 

Put yourself in Gillick’s shoes and take a look at the spots on the team that could use an upgrade.  You have Victorino in centerfield and Jayson Werth in rightfield.  You have Dobbs and Helms at third.  You have Adam Eaton in your starting rotation.  Which of those spots would you choose to address?  I think the obvious answer is the starting pitching.  The gillickPhillies went into last season with six starting pitchers and we all saw how that turned out.  Right now, they have five and one of them is Eaton.  They need another starter and chances are it won’t come cheap.  It will be interesting to see how Gillick chooses to go about getting this pitcher.  Will he make another trade?  Or will he choose from free-agent pool that includes options like Randy Wolf, Kris Benson, Bartolo Colon, Kyle Lohse, Hiroki Kuroda, and Carlos Silva?  I’m sure Gillick isn’t too interested in making another Eaton-like signing, but he may feel forced to roll the dice once again on a free-agent pitcher.

The Phils will have to replace Rowand and Tad Iguchi on the roster, but they’ll probably do it with low-priced backups, not big name stars, and they’ll probably bring in an over-priced pitcher.  For every team that’s not the Yankees or Red Sox, those are the trade-offs that have to be made.