Eagles Midseason Report Card

We have now had two weeks to stew about the start to this Eagles season – the 14th (and possibly final) under the current head coach, Andy Reid.  If you had asked me, before the season, how many wins I would have given the Birds coming out of the bye week, I would have said 3 or 4, so the current 3-3 record is not devastating, but it is just the nature of how they got here that is so troubling.  But, I will say this – in the recent NFL, it does not really matter how you get there, you just gotta get there.  If you don’t believe me, drive up I-95 for about two hours and check out the two shiny, new trophies that have been added to Giants Stadium (it will always be called that to me) in the past 5 years.  Neither of those Giants teams were all that good in the regular season (last year’s version was OUTSCORED on the season), but they got in the tournament and got hot at the right time.  Now, by no means am I comparing this Eagles team to the Super Bowl champs, but it certainly isn’t because of any perceived talent disparity because, on paper, this team is more talented than either of those championship Giants teams.

Anyway, it has been two weeks of self-analysis for the Birds as they prepare to welcome local hero, Matt Ryan, and his undefeated Atlanta Falcons.  So, let us here at BSB do some analysis of our own.  It’s time for the Eagles report card – and we are starting at the top…

Front Office/Coaching Staff

Player Personnel:  A- (Howie Roseman, Andy Reid)
Anyone who can’t stand to hear any good things about this team right now (and, I can’t say that I blame you), skip this section – but don’t stop reading altogether because, trust me, this is not a rose-colored post from an Eagles apologist.  There will be some harsh words in many of the other categories, as there is plenty of blame to go around, I just really do not think it should lie at the feet of anyone making the personnel decisions.  First of all, in the salary cap era, it is hard to build a deep, solid team at every position and still have superstars.  Yes, in retrospect, is Michael Vick overpaid?  Absolutely.  But, was it a terrible contract?  Absolutely NOT.  It was actually a rather brilliantly-structured contract, for which the front office deserves a LOT of credit.  Whereas most teams, when they sign QBs to $100 million contracts are tying their whole franchise’s future to them, the Eagles can be free and clear of Vick – if need be – after this year.  And, even in the interim, it’s not like his “massive” contract affected the roster flexibility in the least, as they had one of the biggest NFL spending sprees in recent memory last year.  The point is that it is not entirely fair to judge a decision based upon the end result – you can really only judge on the information available at the time the decision was made.

Okay, so they signed a high-reward QB to a relatively low-risk contract.  So, even though it may not work out, still a move I hope they make again.  What else goes into a strong personnel department?  Filling holes, right?  Well, after last year what was the biggest hole on this team?  The middle of the defense, right?  What did they do?  They acquired the best available middle linebacker in Demeco Ryans (at a bargain price, nonetheless) and they traded up for the best d-tackle in the draft in Fletcher Cox along with spending their second-round picks on OLB Michael Kendricks and DE Vinny Curry.  Another hole was created when Jason Peters went down in the offseason.  What did they do?  They went out and signed Demetress Bell.  Now, in retrospect, Bell has been a TOTAL bust, but everyone, at the time, thought he was the best tackle on the market.

So, they made smart contract decisions and aggressively identified and filled their team needs.  What else is there?  Evaluation of talent and performance on draft day.  This has been a weakness of Roseman in the past, but this spring the Eagles were almost unanimously dubbed as “winning the draft.”  They were given Mel Kiper, Jr.’s best draft grade.  And, this was a weakness of this front office in the past.  But, they did what they needed to do and landed a potential Pro Bowl d-tackle (Cox), a legit starting OLB (Kendricks), and a high-upside pass rusher (Curry) in the first two rounds.  Then, they added their starting nickle corner (Brandon Boykin) in the 4th round, and their #2 RB (Bryce Brown) in the 7th round.  Oh, and before I forget, they also nabbed everyone’s favorite Eagles QB, Nick Foles, in the THIRD ROUND.

Maybe an “A-” isn’t even high enough?  The only thing I can downgrade them is that they didn’t really have a backup plan for Jason Kelce, who just happens to have suffered a season-ending injury in Week Two.

Coaching Staff:  D- (Andy Reid, Marty Mornhinweg, Juan Castillo, Bobby April, et al)
So, anyone who has read anything I have put on this site knows that I really hate piling on with the “popular opinion,” but this time the masses are exactly right they really need to RUN THE F’ING BALL.  They have, arguably, the best running back on the planet, an inexperienced and struggling o-line, and a turnover-prone, confidence-lacking QB, so WHY THE HELL ARE THEY RUNNING AN OFFENSE BUILT AROUND 7-STEP DROPS?!?  I’m at my wits end.  Watching this offense continue to spit in the face of every other opinion and throw the ball 65+% of the time is infuriating.  I almost forget to get frustrated about it anymore.  Yes, I know that these were the plays being called in 2004 when they set all sorts of team scoring records and again in 2010, when they even demolished those 2004 records en route to setting new ones.  But, just because it worked with a certain collection of talent 2 years ago and 8 years ago does NOT mean that you have the talent to do it again now.

And, then there’s the defense.  Yes, it is improved, but that has NOTHING to do with the playcalling or coaching.  Nnamdi Asomugha is the best man-to-man cover corner on the planet not named Revis.  And, he’s played upwards of 40% of the snaps this year in ZONE COVERAGE.  The wide-9 technique led the Eagles to league-best sack totals last year, but they are currently mired in their longest period of time without a sack since some guy named Marion Campbell was coaching this team (I barely remember the Ray Rhodes Era).  And, they remain the team with the lowest blitz frequency in the league.  They have blitzed 38 times this YEAR.  Jim Johnson used to blitz roughly 38 times a quarter.  I know that they do not have the same ferocious blitzers that Jim Johnson had, but I would like to see guys like Kurt Coleman and Michael Kendricks take a shot at the QB once in a while.  I do agree that the defense is improved, but Juan Castillo had to go.  With the immense talent that this unit has to be so incredibly underperforming is a travesty.  And, that falls on the guy who put him there.  To sum up the entire coaching staff’s performance, I would like to quote Doogan:

“I’ve held back from saying it all year because it’s a moot point.  But I thought this entire coaching staff should’ve been gone after last year.  8-8 with that much talent is a joke.  And they’ve done NOTHING to change my mind this year, that for damn sure.  The act of making Juan Castillo the DC in the first place should have been a fireable offense.  The fact that it blew up in Reid’s face should seal the deal.  Let’s get Cowher.  I’m done with Reid and VERY close to done with Vick, and if anything, I tend to stay loyal to coaches and player for too long.”

Finally, to quickly sum up my stance on the special teams this year:  Juan Castillo was not the first person I would have fired – not even remotely.  I cannot even fathom how Bobby April still has a job after the monumental steps backwards that every single aspect of the special teams have taken in the two years he has been the Special Teams Coordinator.  It’s almost insulting.

Offense

Quarterback:  C (Michael Vick)
This was actually a tough grade to make because Michael Vick has led three clutch fourth-quarter drives to put the Eagles ahead.  The Birds are 3-3 against a pretty rough schedule, and they have beaten two of the better teams in the league in the Giants and Ravens.  I also think that it is really hard to evaluate Vick right now because of the absolute ineptitude of the offensive line, particularly those on the interior.  But, that might just be an excuse because there is another side of this coin – namely, the turnovers.  It has been said and said again, so I won’t belabor the point, but you can’t win NFL games when you turn the ball over.  In fact, the team that wins the turnover battle wins the game 78% of the time, which is a significantly higher percentage than teams that have more rushing yards (73%), greater time of possession (70%), more total yards (68%), higher 3rd-down conversion rates (68%), or more first downs (66%), and just about any other stat except for team with more points (100%).

And, I think it would be absolutely foolhardy to even consider throwing a rookie QB into this make-or-break season behind this brutal offensive line, so any Nick Foles commentary probably needs to be its own full post.

Interior Offensive Linemen:  F (Evan Mathis, Danny Watkins, Dallas Reynolds, Jason Kelce)
Here’s a shot at the personnel department that I could have taken up top – DON’T DRAFT A GUARD IN THE FIRST ROUND UNLESS YOU’RE 100% SURE HE CAN PLAY.  Oh, and, by the way, double that if the dude had spent the first 23 years of his life without ever playing football.  Danny Watkins has been a trainwreck inside this year, and I am not sure what they can do about it.  Evan Mathis – who actually got Pro Bowl consideration last year – has been a total no-show this year.  I am not sure if it is because the rest of the interior of the line has been dreadful or what, but he has been pretty bad.  And, Dallas Reynolds looks to be exactly what everyone thought he was – a practice squad guy.  As soon as it happened, I said aloud to the guys I was watching the game with:  “Other than McCoy and Vick, Jason Kelce is the guy the Eagles can least afford to lose.”  And, the only thing that looks to have been wrong about that statement is that I included Michael Vick in the qualifier.  There is one thing I do not understand:  where is Jamaal Jackson?  Was he just too expensive to keep around as a backup?  I am pretty sure he has not landed on another team somewhere, and I am also pretty sure that if he is in any shape whatsoever, he would be better than Reynolds.  I am interested to see what this guy Matt Tennant can do – a guard that the Eagles just signed after he was cut by New England.

Offensive Tackles:  D+ (Todd Herremans, King Dunlap, Demetress Bell)
What a disappoinment this group has been.  The “D+” grade might even be a bit generous, but it is hard to know just how bad they are when the middle of the line is a turnstile.  Honestly, I (and many others) thought that the Eagles front office pulled off a bit of a coup signing Demetress Bell so late in the game as a homeless man’s Jason Peters.  But, he looks more like a homeless man’s Antone Davis.  He has been so dreadful that I actually agree with starting King Dunlap over him, and I think we all know my opinions on The King, by now.  Todd Herremans is a workhorse, but even he has taken a beating this year.  I don’t know if it’s the Howard Mudd schemes or what, but this o-line looks gassed by the third quarter – and it’s not like they have been putting together all that many scoring drives.

Oh, and after watching Terrell Suggs last week for the Ravens and knowing that Jason Peters is not on IR leads people to start dreaming of having the big guy back at left tackle before the end of the season.  Considering he was the BEST PLAYER ON THE TEAM last year – at any position – I am also salivating at the thought.

Running Backs:  B+ (LeSean McCoy, Bryce Brown, Stanley Havili)
What can we say about Shady McCoy that hasn’t already been said?  There isn’t a running back on the planet that I would rather have on my team (I do think that Arian Foster and, possibly, Adrian Peterson might be better backs, but have proven to be far less durable/reliable).  He does it all.  He has even developed into a pretty solid blocker in the backfield.  He has fumbled twice already this year, but that’s just picking nits.  Bryce Brown has been rather ordinary, but he’s a rookie.  And, Stanley Havili has been fantastic.  Who knew that the Eagles even used a roster spot on a fullback?  But, it looks like it has been a great decision because this Havili character has been terrific.

Wide Receivers:  B- (DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant, Damaris Johnson, Riley Cooper)
Honestly, I am a little disappointed with Jeremy Maclin these days.  I really thought that he would break out this year into a true elite receiver in this league.  And, when he’s good (and healthy), he shows flashes, but there are just far too many stretches where he just totally disappears.  I don’t know if that’s poor playcalling or poor decision-making by the QB or what, but you have to think most of the blame has to go on Maclin himself.  That being said, he is still one of the best #2 WRs in the game and is a key piece to this offense.  On the flip side (and both of these opinions might be a bit contrarian), I think DeSean Jackson is as integral a part of this offense as anyone.  He literally changes games, even if he doesn’t catch a single pass.  Defenses are so concerned with taking away the bomb to Jackson that the term “two-deep safeties” probably needs a “very” on the front of it to be truly descriptive.  And, that opens up a TON of room for the Avants, Celeks, and McCoys of the world to do their work in the middle of the field.  IF ONLY they would run the ball, imagine how effective it would be and, even more importantly, imagine how effective the play-action would be.  D-Jax is doing his job – and doing it really well this year.

Third receiver, Jason Avant, remains steady as she goes.  He might go down as one of the more underrated receivers we have seen here in a very long time.  Damaris Johnson was supposed to be an NFL-ready punt returner, who needed a lot of work as a receiver.  So far, it looks like he’s the opposite (more on that later…).  Riley Cooper made his 2012 debut against the Lions in Week 6 and could start to be worked into the offense on obvious passing downs, but he still looks like he’s a long way from making any substantial impact.

Tight Ends:  A- (Brent Celek, Clay Harbor)
What if I told you that Brent Celek, NOT DeSean Jackson led the Eagles in catches of more than 20 yards this year, would you believe me?  Hell, I don’t even believe myself, but it’s true.  Brent Celek has been terrific this year – second on the team in both receptions and yards – despite being needed more and more to help pass protect.  And, Clay Harbor, who is also a solid pass-blocker, has shown to be a pretty decent short yardage/redzone target this year, as 3 of his 8 catches have gone for either a first down or a touchdown.

Defense

Defensive Tackles:  B- (Cullen Jenkins, Derek Landri, Fletcher Cox, Cedric Thornton)
First of all, I love Cullen Jenkins.  I think he’s a real leader on and off the field.  I also think that he brings a lot of versatility to this loaded (on paper) defensive line.  Second of all, I think Fletcher Cox is going to be a star.  But, don’t take my word for it because I also thought that Broderick Bunkley and Mike Patterson would be stars, as well.  Either way, Cox looks like the real deal already, and he’s one of those guys that I’m really glad to have wearing my colors and not someone else’s.  The middle of this line is so important in the wide-9 (as evidenced last year when they were gashed), and adding Cox aside Jenkins has really made a difference.  Derek Landri and Cedric Thornton have been space-fillers, but they haven’t caused real issue when they on the field, though Landri probably should be supplanted as the team’s starter for Cox at some point soon.  And, apparently the aforementioned Mike Patterson may be coming back in a week or two, which can only help the depth, even if he doesn’t turn out to be the star that I thought he would.  The reason this grade isn’t higher is because they haven’t really generated any pass rush up the middle (in fact, they are the only team in the league this year without a sack from a defensive tackle), but I only consider that the icing on the cake from the tackles – their number one job is to occupy blockers and fill gaps, and this unit has been doing that all year.

Defensive Ends:  D (Trent Cole, Jason Babin, Brandon Graham, Philip Hunt, Darryl Tapp)
This might seem a bit harsh, but I actually considered going even lower simply because this has been the most disappointing Eagles units – to me, personally – of any in recent memory.  I actually thought this d-line would be the best in football, bar none.  And, now they’re on the verge of setting franchise records for sack futility?  Trent Cole‘s argument that they are seeing more mass-protect schemes than anyone else in the league was not a terrible argument after the Steelers game, as the Steelers used two- and three-tight end sets all game and even added backs chipping and such.  But, the argument blew up in his face when the Lions ran basic blocking schemes at Mr. Cole and he failed to even register a single tackle, let alone live in the backfield, as he used to.  And, then there’s Jason Babin.  The perfect specimen for the wide-9 defense because of his raw quickness.  Well, where the hell has he been?  This defensive scheme is predicated upon getting pressure on the quarterback and becomes scarily vulnerable when that pressure doesn’t materialize.  The wide-9 is essentially a trade-off that says “we know that you can run on us all day, but we’re okay with that because we are going to pressure you on every pass attempt.”  Well, that’s great and all until you CAN’T GET TO THE QUARTERBACK – and then you’re just putting far too much unneccesary pressure on the tackles and Mike-backer to make plays.  Fortunately, the tackles and Demeco Ryans have been so good this year that it hasn’t totally killed them, but that’s a scary proposition.

Where have Darryl Tapp and Philip Hunt been?  Weren’t we told that these two could start on just about any other team around the league?  Well, that seems almost laughable now, given the total lack of impact either of them have made all year.  The lone bright spot in this group has been this unit’s whipping boy the past two seasons – Brandon Graham.  Graham is finally rounding into shape and, while not really showing the promise that made him the 13th overall pick two years ago, he has been rather solid as a rotation lineman this year.  Just don’t bring up the fact that they traded up so that they could take him ahead of some guy in their division that just goes by the initials JPP.

Middle Linebackers:  A- (Demeco Ryans, Casey Matthews)
We have gotten every bit of what we could have expected out of Demeco Ryans when the Eagles picked him up this offseason.  He has been all over the field, making plays in both the running and passing games.  And, from what we can tell, he has brought with him a real veteran presence to a team in serious need of one.  He’s not the boisterous, Brian Dawkins-like leader; he is more of a calming influence on a group that can sometimes seem a bit overhyped (particularly those safeties with whom he works closely).  And, the best part about Ryans is that he has answered all the questions about whether or not he can still be a three-down ‘backer in this league.  He absolutely can, which is crucial to this defense because it means that we rarely ever have to see Casey Matthews on the field any more.

Outside Linebackers:  B- (Michael Kendricks, Akeem Jordan, Jamar Chaney)
This group is still a work in progess, but they are coming along rather well.  Michael Kendricks has been a joy to watch play this year and is probably making as much, if not more, of an impact as fellow rookie Fletcher Cox.  Either way, the Birds look to have added two perennial starters to their defense in this draft.  Akeem Jordan and Jamar Chaney have been decent, while not, in any way, spectacular this year.  I would like to see some more big plays out of this group – and that includes Kendricks – before really saying that this linebacking corps has emerged as an elite unit on this team, but considering where they were last year, at this time, let’s be happy with what we’ve got.

Cornerbacks:  B+ (Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Brandon Boykin, Brandon Hughes, Curtis Marsh)
To all the Nnamdi haters out there, call me, and we can discuss just how wrong you are about this guy.  Call me delusional, if you’d like, but there is only one cornerback on the planet right now that is better than Nnamdi Asomugha in single, man-to-man coverage, and that guy happens to be injured and out for the year.  Think back to the Giants game.  The defense was utterly dominant except for one drive.  The Giants drove down the field in the middle of the third quarter, seemingly at will, and scored.  Well, that was the only drive the Eagles played without Nnamdi (who was tending to an eye problem).  Okay, think about last week.  For three quarters, the Eagles put Nnamdi man-up on Calvin Johnson.  He had 3 meaningless catches for 32 yards.  In the fourth quarter, they got the ingenius idea to start playing a zone-blitz defensive scheme.  Calvin Johnson went crazy with something like 10 catches for approximately 894 yards in the fourth quarter – all while Nnamdi sat in zone coverage.  Stupid.  Now, has he been a disappointment?  Yes.  It has been really disappointing to see how poorly he does play zone coverage.  But, let’s think about why we never knew that…BECAUSE EVEN THE RAIDERS WEREN’T STUPID ENOUGH TO PLAY ZONE WHEN YOU HAVE A COVER CORNER AS GOOD AS NNAMDI!  Hopefully, Todd Bowles knows how to best use him – and we have to assume he does, as he was the secondary coach.

On the other side of Nnamdi is the great Dominique-Rodgers Cromartie.  Asante Samuel for DRC on that side has been an interesting swap.  I, one of the biggest Asante supporters you’ll find, might even call it an even swap.  For everything you lose as far as a playmaker in Asante (and it’s a LOT – hopefully we won’t be reminded on Sunday), you gain in DRC a guy who is willing to play bump-and-run on short yardage situations and someone who actually understands that NFL cornerbacks have to occasionally make tackles.

Brandon Boykin and Brandon Hughes have been pretty solid as the nickle and dime backs, respectively, although I am not sure that Hughes is anywhere near as good as Chris Collinsworth (most overrated announcer in any sport at the moment) claimed on that Sunday Night broadcast.  He does not appear to be a guy who can play an entire series without getting mercilessly exposed.  Boykin, on the other hand, looks like he may be the steal of the draft when it’s all said and done.  He actually looks like he is not too far away from being a viable starting corner in this league.  I never thought that a pair of rookies would make me forget about the one and only Joselio Hanson so quickly (I’m not entirely joking…).  Curtis Marsh, though, looks lost and might not be long for professional football.

Safeties:  C (Kurt Coleman, Nate Allen, David Sims, Colt Anderson)
The two starting safeties – Kurt Coleman and Nate Allen – have been decent this year, but I knocked this grade down a bit because of the real lack of depth at this spot.  David Sims (who they acquired from Indy) is okay, and Colt Anderson is a sensational special teamer, but neither really look like NFL-caliber safeties quite yet (I still don’t understand why the cut O.J. Atogwe, but he must have looked really bad…).  As for Coleman and Allen – they are coming along, and I actually think they could turn into a real solid pair of safeties, but they still have a lot of work to do.  Coleman is a big-hitter, but doesn’t really play the run as well as one might think.  He also seems rather lost out there sometimes, as evidenced by the multiple times Nnamdi confronted him on the sidelines about miscommunication, as well as the countless times he has been shown to have bitten badly on the play-fake.  Allen has been solid – and when he went down with a hamstring injury against the Lions, the defense seemed to really suffer.  But, I accredit that more to the aforementioned lack of depth at the position.  On the positive side (not sure what this says for the defense, as a whole, though), Coleman and Allen are 2nd and 3rd on the team in tackles, behind only Demeco Ryans.

Special Teams

Kick Coverage:  F
If there was an “F-” they would have received it.  To add a little more credit to this defense is that the Eagles have allowed the single-worst field position in the NFL and have still allowed fewer points than all but 7 other teams.  To be fair, this team had to play the first five games without one of the league’s single best special teams players in Colt Anderson, and the unit did look slightly better against the Lions with Anderson back (of course, he made a couple fantastic plays…he’s awesome).  But, do we really think that one guy – even a guy as good as Anderson – can make that big of a difference?  I hope so, but I am not optimistic.

Return Game:  D- (Damaris Johnson, Brandon Boykin, Mardy Gilyard)
As pleasant of a surprise Brandon Boykin has been as a nickleback, he has been nearly that disappointing as a kick returner.  It might be the schemes though (again, FIRE BOBBY APRIL ALREADY), as the Eagles are the only team in the NFL without a 40+-yard kickoff return in the past two seasons (April’s reign).  Similarly (and I said this above), Damaris Johnson was supposed to be relatively NFL-ready as a punt returner and a project as a WR.  He looks like the complete opposite.  He looks absolutely lost out there returning kicks.  If he fair catches one more ball on the 5-yard line, I might throw something through my new TV.  It’s a simple concept, Damaris – if you are standing inside the 10-yard line, LET THE BALL BOUNCE.  The good news is that the Eagles may actually be a little sick of it too, as Mardy Gilyard was back there a couple times against the Lions.  We will see if he’s any better.

Kicking Game:  B+ (Alex Henery, Mat McBriar, Chas Henry)
Alex Henery has been really good, though he has yet to be called upon to make a big fourth-quarter kick yet, so we’re still waiting to see him “make his money.”  That being said, he has only missed one of his 12 FG attempts, and that was a 47-yarder.  His long this year is a 49-yarder.  Credit to Andy Reid for not just handing the job to the big-footed Chas Henry.  He had to earn it against Mat McBriar out of camp, as McBriar was the last Eagle cut this year.  That is good because (a) it gave him a real familiarity with the team and (b) it was so late that no one else had the chance to scoop him up.  Then, when Henry proved that all he was was a big leg with no sense of touch or consistency, the Eagles flipped the script and called McBriar back, who has been superb.  I’m happy because, to me, Henry’s guaranteed shank every game was not made up for by his 60-yard bombs.  Oh, and it’s so much less confusing now that our kicker and punter aren’t homonyms.

Random Complaint

Schedule-Maker:  F-
The Eagles play four, count ’em, FOUR teams coming off of their bye week, including the division-rival Redskins in Week 11.  They also had to play the division-rival Giants team after the Giants Thursday night game gave them 3 extra days rest.  Oh, and if that wasn’t awful enough, get this – the Eagles play on Monday Night the week before BOTH Cowboys games this year.  Absolutely absurd

Quick Hits: MLB Playoffs

I know that we are now 4 games into the LCS’s, and the DS’s are ancient history, but I wanted to throw out some random thoughts about the first week in the always fascinating MLB playoffs.

This Hard-Core Traditionalist LOVES The Extra Wild Card
I hate the DH with as much as I hate anything else in this world.  I can’t stand Astroturf (though, it’s AMAZING to play on).  I don’t necessarily hate the “This Game Counts” rule for the All-Star Game, but I completely DESPISE the fact that we have to make it count.  And, I can’t stand any best-of-5 format.  BUT…I LOVE this extra wild card.  Why?  First of all, it’s exciting, but that’s cheap and easy.  Most of all, because I really look at it as not necessarily adding a wild card, but actually taking one away – or, at least, taking away any advantage for the division winner.  Yes, might Baltimore and St. Louis meet in the World Series?  Yes, but Texas and Atlanta didn’t even get to the Division Series.  And, the Orioles and Cards will have done so against longer odds than any of the division winners – and rightfully so.  And, honestly, it’s exciting!  That wild card day was fantastic.  And anyone who argues that it’s “fabricated excitement” is a hypocrite if they argue for any playoff system whatsoever.  If you denounce this “fabricated excitement” created by the one-game playoff, your argument would have to finish with just crowning the Washington Nationals as 2012 MLB champs because they were the best team over 162 games.  Hell, I’d be all for letting all 30 teams in a big playoff, where #30 plays #29 with the winner playing #28 for the right to play #27, and so on…

While a Really Bad Call, the Bogus Infield Fly Call Actually HELPED The Braves
First of all, the infield fly call in the Braves-Cardinals Wild Card Game was a bad call.  The point of the rule is so the infielder can’t intentionally drop a pop-up and turn a double-play.  Well, you saw what happened when that popup was dropped – they didn’t get anyone out!  So, there is no debate that the call was wrong.  However, I couldn’t disagree more with those of you that said it cost the Braves the game.  In fact, not only did it not cost them the game, but it didn’t cost them anything.  The Braves actually benefitted from that call, at least from what I could tell.  When a popup is hit into shallow leftfield, there is a tacit understanding between the leftfielder and the shortstop that if no one says anything, it’s the shortstop’s ball, but it is the leftfielder’s clear responsibility to call off the shortstop if he can make the play because it’s an easier catch coming in.  So, as a shortstop, you are finely trained to go after the ball hard, all the while listening to be called off, in which case you better get out of the way.  As Kozma went back on the ball, he was ready to make the catch, but was also dutifully waiting to be called off by Holliday.  There is no doubt in my mind that when the umpire – who was standing 10 feet from Kozma – yelled “INFIELD FLY, BATTER’S OUT,” Kozma mistook it for his leftfielder calling him off, peeled off and the ball dropped.  Yes, it is his fault that he misheard it, but if the umpire did his job and said nothing, then he would have caught the ball and the runners would have remained at 1st and 2nd.  Instead, the ball fell, and the runners advanced.  Obviously, the Braves didn’t capitalize, but they were clearly (by my judgment) actually put in a better situation because of the umpire’s mistake.

This Bad Call Actually HELPED the Braves...

Hey, at Least They Sold Out the Playoff Game for a Change.
Then, in the wake of that call, how embarrassing was it when Braves fans threw so much trash on to the field that it delayed the game for more than 15 minutes?  Absolutely classless.  Where was that on the front page of every national sports site?  If that was Philly, it would have been on Good Morning, America

Managers Stepping Up
For a sport with “experts” that like to do nothing more than criticize managers for their moves, October seems to be bringing out the best in this much-maligned species of baseball man.  Joe Girardi, obviously, made the splashiest move by pinch-hitting for the best right-handed hitter of all-time with a 40-year old who hit the game-tying and game-winning home runs in ALDS Game 4.  But, I am much more concerned with the more subtle decisions that are a lot harder to analyze.  Buck Showalter‘s decision to start Joe Saunders in the winner-take-all wild card game (as prescribed by BSB’s own, Gross, the day of that game) exemplified the steady hand he has had on that wheel all year.  And, then there was that Reds-Giants series, that had two managers oft-criticized for their approach to their pitching staffs put on an absolute clinic on how to use a bullpen in a short series.  I did not exactly like Bob Melvin‘s treatment of the 9th inning in the elimination Game 4, but it seemed to work out okay for them on that day.

Is Robinson Cano Lost at Sea?
Doogan asked me the other day “Do you think Robinson Cano has ever gone 2-for-32 before in his entire life???  Not the best timing.”  Not only would this Cano slump (which is grossly overshadowed by One Life to Live, starring Alex Rodriguez) be incredible at any point, it is even more incredible if you consider that he finished the regular season in absolute blistering fashion.  In fact, Cano entered the playoffs with a ridiculous streak of NINE straight multi-hit games – the first time anyone has even had a streak of 8 or more since, well, Robinson Cano, in 2010.  In those 9 games, Cano his .615…yes, .615…with 24 hits in 39 at-bats.  And, he’s not the only one who ended the regular season red-hot only to go ice cold in the postseason.  Here is an article from the day after the regular season ended that mentioned, among others, some of the postseason’s worst hitters as players to watch this postseason simply because of how hot they were down the stretch:  Cano, Nick Swisher, Curtis Granderson, Chris Davis, Brandon Moss, and Bryce Harper.

My Pick to Win the World Series
I said before the playoffs started that the winner of the Giants-Reds series would win the whole thing.  While I hate the whole “I can’t change my original pick” theory that has plagued sportswriters, I still hold on to the Giants as my pick to win this thing, despite how good the Tigers and Cardinals both look right now.  Pitching wins, and the Giants have it – in the rotation and in the ‘pen.  If, in 2010 when the Phillies acquired Roy Halladay, I told you that, by the end of 2012, Barry Zito would have two more World Series rings Mr. Halladay, you would have had me committed.

Breaking: Eagles Fire D-Coordinator Juan Castillo

More on the state of the Eagles later this week, but the news just broke that the Eagles have fired Juan Castillo in the wake of that devastating fourth-quarter collapse against the Lions on Sunday.  Secondary coach Todd Bowles was promoted to take his spot.  A couple random knee-jerk reactions to this:

  • This smells of a move of (warranted) desperation on the part of a head coach who sees his job in serious peril.
  • Todd Bowles – who was the interim head coach for the Dolphins last year and who received several head coaching interviews this offseason – might be the next Eagles head coach.
  • I have some very, very cautious optimism that this will mean a total readjustment to the defensive scheme vis a vis Nnamdi.  Can we FINALLY use this SUPREME talent the RIGHT WAY?!?!?!?!?  PLEASE…  For three quarters yesterday, we saw just how INCREDIBLY good this guy is when you put him on one receiver man-to-man.  He eliminated the best receiver on the planet.  Then, they took him off Megatron in the fourth quarter and he had over 100 yards…IN A QUARTER.
  • Wasn’t this plan doomed to fail from the beginning?  How can you promote your offensive line coach to defensive coordinator, then hire the best and most respected D-Line coach in Jim Washburn one year and then the hot, up-and-coming, head-coach-in-waiting Secondary coach in Todd Bowles the next year?  How can you have these strong personalities under a guy who has never coached on that side of the ball and not expect dissent?  Just a really poorly conceived idea from the jump.
  • Maybe the loss Sunday has a silver lining, because going into a bye is the best time to make a major change, so this may have been the only time they would have done this.  Needless to say, this defense is WAY, WAY, WAY too talented to blow consecutive fourth-quarter leads and be pushing the franchise record for most consecutive plays without registering a sack.
  • One more thing:  Fight, fight, fight for the Cherry and the White…Yes, Mr. Bowles is a Temple Owl!

Baltimore Orioles – Game One Report Card

It was everything as expected for a guy who hasn’t felt the cold air of postseason baseball since he was ten.  Everything except that bit of Orioles Magic of course.  The atmosphere was electric in the large sea of orange as Game One was a memorable one, much like most of the Orioles games played this season.  Sadly, I was taken back to my days as a ten year old as I sat and watched the Top of the 9th with my head in my hands and my fellow Orioles fans walking out of the stadium…shame on you by the way.  However, this is not a post about my experience, rather a report card of how I thought our squad, player by player, performed in the first game of this best of five series.  I will go by lineup and then by pitching, just so everyone can sort of follow.

1. Nate McLouth – Left Field      Grade: B-

There wasn’t a ton of action out in left field last night for Nate, so there isn’t a ton I can say about his fielding. I didn’t feel like there was at any point where I was sort of dumbfounded about how he shifted for any hitter, or any play that he didn’t come up with out in the field.  At the plate he was so-so.  I thought his first at bat was terrible, didn’t really make CC really work at all and just kind of hurried through his at bat, but I guess you can chalk that up to nerves.  His second at bat was obviously fantastic, driving in two runs off of a first pitch, what looked to be fastball, may have been a slider but it had some steam to it from the looks of things.  Anyway, great second at bat with men in scoring position driving them in and being one of the lone Orioles to take advantage of that opportunity. A tough third at bat, worked the count to 3-2 and then swung at garbage, sitting him down in the fifth.  His final at bat a weak sort of liner on a one bounce to Cano, ending McLouth’s night.

2. JJ Hardy – Shortstop     Grade: C+

Typically, I would give JJ a worse grade, however he is our shortstop and he controls the infield.  That being said I thought the infield was poised and ready the majority of the game. There were a lot of situational type moments, which happens frequently in the postseason, and I thought the infield handled them well.  JJ lead the pack and played another solid game at SS, no errors made some nice plays and stood in there and almost made one of the most impressive double plays of the season.  Unfortunately, it took a while for JJ’s bat to wake up.  Again, another first at bat that you can probably chalk up to nerves, a three pitch popup to Jeter.  His second at bat only got worse as he ended the Orioles third inning with a double play.  Finally in the fifth it looked like JJ had started to figure out CC, with a 2-1 count he hit into a fielder’s choice.  Low and behold he did figure CC out because in the 8th inning he led the inning off with a gorgeous double, taking a hard low and away fastball and punching it down the right field line, it was the perfect display of hitting.  But still a 1-4 night, not sure that gets it done in the postseason.

3. Adam Jones – Center Field        Grade: F

Other than the first inning when Ichiro drove in Jeter and Jones had to run the ball down, there was minimal action sent AJ’s way, so I can’t really grade his fielding on next to nothing.  Hitting wise I thought Adam Jones was god awful.  This is something that I hardly ever say or do is criticize our best player, but when guys don’t perform they need to be questioned, and this is one of those times.  Adam Jones didn’t have one productive at bat the entire night.  He swung at shitty pitches and he had a hard time working counts.  Not to mention the biggest error of all, is not bunting in the 8th inning.  I listened to sports talk on 105.7 the entire way home.  I heard both sides of the argument.  I even understand both sides of the argument, but when you have CC up on the mound in the 8th inning just cruising on a small pitch count, pretty much controlling the game and you know that you are an effective bunting hitter, you need to put your ego aside and move JJ Hardy to third.  The postseason is entirely about how you can manufacture runs.  You didn’t see fucking Derek Jeter putting his ego up there, he didn’t go up hacking, not only did he attempt to lay down bunts in two at bats, he bunted with two strikes and that is exactly why Derek Jeter is Derek Jeter and Adam Jones is still Adam Jones.  It was an absolute critical point in the game, it would have changed CC’s pitch selection to Wieters, and Wieters would have had a complete different approach to his at bat.  Not to mention it gives you a way better chance at a 3-2 lead heading into the ninth, regardless of how it ended up turning out.  This isn’t the regular season anymore, striking out when you 82-65 and it costs you a game is a little different than striking out Game One of the ALDS which puts you in a spot to have to win 2 of 3 up in New York.

4. Matt Wieters – Catcher     Grade: B+

I thought about this grade a lot.  It is super frustrating to watch Matt Wieters hit, especially as our number four hitter, he just isn’t a four hitter, at least not yet.  However, how he controls a game behind that plate will never show up in a stat sheet but it completely changes games.  His hitting has to be somewhat taking into account, he or Jones not even getting Hardy over is a disgrace, but his grade is so high due to what he did behind that plate last night.  Let me start by saying….Ichiro is a moron.  Girardi didn’t make the call to send him, Ichiro has a green light to make the call himself.  On the other side of that what a brilliant throw by Wieters getting Ichiro at third, it could have completely changed that game if he doesn’t nail him.  The first inning could have been quite ugly.  On top of that, the play he made off of the Andino, what looked to be 5 year old tee ball throw, was one of the best plays I have ever seen from a catcher.  To pick the ball coming in like that, have the presence of mind to keep himself in front of the plate, find where Martin was coming home and make the tag, it was unbelievable.  Up to that point in the game, it was the play of the game, Jeter bunting with two strikes a close second.  Along with all of this, like he does, Wieters called a great game.  Even though Hammel threw a ton of pitches, hitters were having a somewhat tough time with him and the bullpen pitched fantastic up until Jim Johnson…we’ll get to that whole mess.

5. Mark Reynolds – First Base      Grade: C-

I’m not sure where the hell it came from, but Mark Reynolds is becoming one of the best defensive first basemen in the league, how I don’t know, but he just works over there.  Again last night he made a fantastic play that almost turned a great double play, but guys stopped trying to hit the ball down the line from that point forward.  Since there were so few plays, the thing that kills me is he gets to hit fifth and he blows it.  His stat line is a little deceiving,  1-3 with a walk, the one hit was with 2 outs, as was the walk.  Getting to hit fifth, the big spot he finally got put in, in the game and he grounded to shortstop.  Reynolds has been hitting sixth or seventh the better part of the last two months.  Buck finally rewards him and he doesn’t capitalize.  How can Buck not put him back down after that?  It was just super frustrating to be at the game and say yea ok two out walk, two out single, oh hey Mark runner in scoring position, two outs here is your chance to thank Buck for moving you up, saving your career, ok bounce out to shortstop…frustrating.

6. Manny Machado – Third Base    Grade: D

Manny fever is big in Baltimore, but it was definitely quieted last night.  This kid is going to be a stud no doubt, but last night proved that I don’t think he is one of those phenoms who comes up in the postseason and goes nuts, like an Andruw Jones type.  I’m sure a lot of people will disagree, but I just don’t think he is quite ready for that yet, he will be an All-Star for years to come, but it may just be a year before his time.  Granted it is only one game, so I could be completely off with my call.  But back to his game, he went 0-4 with a K and although he made a very nice play over at third, with his bazooka that God tied to his right arm, but from where I was sitting it looked like he rushed it a little.  I’m excited to be there tonight to see if the kid can change my view and put up a big Game Two.

7. Chris Davis – Right Field     Grade: B

One of the hottest hitters on the team and he gets bumped down to seventh….I understand lefty on lefty and I’m sure his numbers against lefties, and mainly CC were subpar, but sometimes you have to throw numbers out the window.  He got moved down to seventh and ended up with two hits and scored a run.  Why did we move him down?  Why not leave him at third where he had been hot, I just didn’t understand.  Not only did he have two hits, he played an awesome right field, making a tough, tough catch near the gate and throwing a runner out at second base.  He has been moved back up to third in Game Two and he deserves it, hope he produces big tonight.

8. Lew Ford – DH     Grade: A

Lew Ford best grade on the team? You’re damn right.  Since he was the DH all you can go off is the hitting and he had two hits off of CC.  Lew Ford with two hits off of Sabathia! Not only did he get two hits, but he was part of that third inning where we scored our only runs.  The guy will probably get very limited play from here on out, at least in this series since we are behind the eight ball now, but if this is his only game…he over performed.

9. Robert Andino – Second Base     Grade: A-

Andino had a very nice game.  He had a hit that moved Davis to third in the fifth inning, which shocker we didn’t capitalize on and he laid down a very nice sacrifice in the third, in which Nate McLouth brought in two runs.  To go along with his solid day at the plate, I thought Andino was consistent at second base, which has been a major issue for the Orioles.

10. Ryan Flaherty – Pinch Hit

This pinch hit was so meaningless and unforgettable that it isn’t even worth talking about nor grading.

Pitching Staff

1. Jason Hammel – Starting Pitcher       Grade: B-

For a first start off of the “DL” Hammel did a really nice job.  The biggest thing that killed him throughout the night was pitch count.  He threw a ton of pitches, 112 pitches through 5 2/3 innings is a ton.  Not to mention he walked four guys.  However, he was right in the game, matching CC Sabathia the entire way, until he was pulled of course.  Being at the game it even felt that the Orioles were putting more pressure on CC than the Yankees on Hammel.  Personally, I thought that the Orioles could have taken a lead several times and really just gave the game away, it didn’t feel like there was constant pressure on Hammel even though the pitch count probably makes it feel differently.

2. Troy Patton, Darren O’Day, Brian Matusz – Relief Pitching    Grade: B+

It’s sort of hard to give each of these guys an individual grade so I will sort of lump all of them as one.  Patton came in and did a really nice job getting out of that sixth inning.  However, he came back out in the seventh and walked two straight.  O’Day came in and pitched his ass off in the seventh and got some help from the field with an unbelievable play by Wieters at home.  Matusz then came in on the eight and pitched close to a perfect inning, his lone blip was a walk to Tex where he threw four balls, and you could tell it was on purpose because the next batter, Granderson, he pumped a strike right to where Wieters was set up.  This portion of the bullpen was pretty amazing, like it has been all year.

3. Jim Johnson – Closer       Grade: F

Oh Jim, it just clearly wasn’t your night.  From the first pitch he just looked kind of off.  After getting behind 2-0 JJ left a sinker, that didn’t sink, up in the zone and Russell Martin of all people hit a no-doubt-abouter.  Adding insult to injury, things just got worse and the entire night was a wreck for Jim Johnson only lasting 1/3 of an inning and giving up four earned runs.  Let me say this, Jim Johnson has been unreal all season, 51 saves and has dominated the majority of appearances he has been in.  This was one bad night and I think he will be just fine for the remainder of the series.

Manager – Buck Showalter     Grade:  D

Much like Adam Jones, there hasn’t been many times where I have disagreed or shook my head when Buck makes a call this year.  In fact, I think I counted 4 times in 162 that I truly disagreed with Buck.  Unfortunately, in the past two games (WC game at Texas and Game 1 ALDS) I have no disagreed with Buck twice.  Not like the rambling idiot writing the blog article has any right to talk about managing a major league ball club. Anyway, on Friday down in Texas someone will have to pay me a substantial amount of money to agree with them that leaving Thome in, in the ninth inning instead of bringing in a pinch runner was the right move. It wound up ok, but two batters later, Robert Andino hit a double, which could have scored a pinch runner, and it may have been the only run we got, instead Thome wound up at third.  In last night’s game, there were a couple of things I disagreed with.  One, simply, was lineup. I said it earlier and I will say it again, I just completely do not understand taking one of your hottest hitters in Chris Davis and drop him to seventh in the lineup.  He ended up with two hits and they may have helped a little more further up the lineup.  The other thing I just didn’t agree with was not having Adam Jones bunt.  I understand having a philosophy and Buck clearly believed in letting his best hitter hit, I just thought with the way the game was playing out, trying to steal Game One from their ace the right move there was trying to get that run in, in the eight inning and letting Jim Johnson come in with a one run lead.

Game Two grades will be posted whenever I get a chance to go to work, sleep and reflect on what I saw being at the game.  Let’s go O’s!

On Andy Roddick

Our collective attention has turned, appropriately so, to baseball playoffs and football. But if you’ll allow me to interject with my first post here, a story that has not yet received its due attention on this space is the retirement of Andy Roddick. (Confession: it has not received its attention because I happily agreed with a suggestion from Bry that I write about it, so he has held off, and it’s taken me this long to write it. Look, it’s been a busy month, and as you’ll no doubt come to agree, I’m not the best writer. So it took a little while. If the content below or the fact that it comes so late irritates you, feel free to ask the powers that be to revoke my posting privileges. Or better yet, say so in the comments. I can take the heat.)

When he won the 2003 U.S. Open at age 21 and finished the year as the world’s number 1 player, it seemed clear that Andy Roddick was on his way to multiple major titles and accordingly as the successor to Sampras and Agassi as the Next Great American Tennis Player. What wasn’t clear, though, was that Roddick’s run that year at Wimbledon would be far more telling. He had a fine tournament, but lost in the semifinals to another promising young player looking for his first major championship, Roger Federer. The rest, as they say, is history.

Some will remember Roddick for what he had, a powerful forehand to complement one of the most devastating serves ever unleashed, and for what he didn’t have, multiple major championships. Of course, Federer had a lot to do with that. Four times they met in a major final, and four times Roddick had to watch Federer hoist the championship trophy. It is fair to say that Roddick essentially spent a the better part of a decade looking up at, chasing, and failing to reach, Federer. His career record against Federer was 3-21, which gives Roddick the distinction of being the man who has lost to Federer the most.

Roddick’s failure to best Federer is most typified by his 5th set, 16-14 loss in the Wimbledon final in 2009. I suppose Roddick will be long remembered for that match. But I hasten to say that it will likely be for the wrong reasons. To most, it represents him failing to overcome Federer. And there is no question that it embodies that notion quite succinctly and efficiently. But to me, it represents quite a different story.

To tell this tale, we must look back over the arc of events since Roddick’s victory at the U.S. Open in 2003. A few months later Federer began to assert a dominance unlike any other in modern men’s tennis. In three of the next four years he won three majors and in the other year he won two majors. For four years, the only times Federer lost in a major were as follows: a 5th set (9-7) loss in the semifinals of the 2005 Australian Open to eventual champion Marat Safin (himself a 2-time major champion and former world number 1), and at the French Open in 2004 to a 3-time French Open champion (Gustavo Keurten, a former world number 1), and at the French in 2005-2007 to the greatest clay court player of all time (Nadal, whose resume needs no stating).

2003 came to a close with Roddick as the number 1 player and Federer a close 2nd. What had looked like a close race at that point wasn’t anything of the sort. Federer was the roadrunner. Roddick became the coyote, never catching his prize despite his constant pursuit and trying everything he and his coaches could think of. To keep up with the increased power of the game he gained weight and tried outslug opponents from the baseline. Over time injuries took its toll, and his forehand became less of a weapon and more of a looping, keep-the-point-going shot. He dropped weight to become more mobile. He improved his backhand, his volleying, and attacked the net more. He improved his return game. By his late 20s, when most men are retiring from tennis, he had reinvented himself as more of all-court player, albeit one who never seemed totally at ease with that style of play.

And it all culminated at Wimbledon in 2009. In the semifinals, Roddick faced Andy Murray—the hope of Great Britain, the man most likely to break the death grip held by tennis’s Big 3. Murray was a natural all-court player, complete with crafty drop shots and the brilliant return game. Murray was supposed to break through and play the all-court style that could take down the likes of Federer. In the semifinal, with the crowd firmly pulling for Britain’s hope for a men’s major champion at home, Roddick not only won, he did so by out-Murraying Murray. And then, of course, there was the final. And while some look at that match as “Roddick lost again to Federer, failing again to win a second major title while Roger won his record-breaking 15th” I look it at as “Roddick—after retooling so much of his game, and after all the previous defeats—took Federer, the greatest player in the history of tennis, to 16-14 in the 5th set.”

There is no question that, as a player, Roddick was not in the class of Federer. But in his decade of trying to reach Federer—through all the serves, through all those times he bounced out of his chair while his opponent waited out the change-over, through all the sweat-soaked hats, through the reinvention of his game, through that brilliant semifinal win and even more brilliant final loss at Wimbledon in 2009—something totally unexpected and all the more remarkable happened: Roddick became nothing short of a modern day Sisyphus, consigned to a fate of perpetual striving but never attaining his elusive goal. Through it, Roddick demonstrated a quality of character he could not have otherwise shown. The kind of character that keeps a competitor pushing in face of the obstacle he could not overcome, the kind of character that has him face up to the questions after all the defeats as Roddick always did, the kind of character that recognizes that in spite of all of the effort there are some things more important than the next title, as Roddick did when, rather than defend his title at a tournament in Dubai in 2009, he pulled out over their refusal to grant a visa to Shahar Peer at the women’s event.

At the age of 21, Roddick was seemingly on his way to winning multiple major titles and becoming the Next Great American Tennis Player. Through his failure at achieving the former, and in ways no one could have anticipated, he indeed accomplished the latter.

Deep In the Heart of Texas

Well there it is, 162 games complete.  It’s funny while most “Orioles” fans are sitting around angry thinking, “how could they blow it on the last day,” this Orioles fan is not.  Sitting around, thinking about the division and thinking about how the season turned out, it’s kind of funny. An early series in April at home, against the Yankees comes to my mind. Up in all three games, sending two to extra innings as this team has most of the season, we walked out of that series with one win, yup just one.  So people can talk about a late season push for the division, it still goes to show that the games in April are just as important as the games in September.  After re-reading this opening paragraph my reflection kind of seems like a death sentence, right? I promise it is not.

Once I was done sort of stewing that after such a magical season it ended in having to travel to Texas to play a one game playoff, I had a moment of clarity.  Here is why.

Plain and simple, I like our chances to beat the Rangers once, more than three out of five.  All we need is one game, one Chris Davis three run homer, one suicide squeeze by Nate McLouth, just one more final moment of magic that the Orioles have been coming up with all season.  So as many of you go to sleep this evening worried and anxious, as am I, have faith that in one game that this team can win in 14 innings, can erase a 2 run deficit in the eight inning, can come in young and fired up knocking around a suspect Rangers pitching staff in the first three innings.

But now on to the important stuff.  Clearly, we know we are playing the Rangers, but who is pitching? who is on the 25 man roster? Here is my take:

Friday’s Starting Pitcher:

I have been reading stuff on Twitter, listening to Buck talk about potential pitchers in the next couple of days and it seems like it has come down to two guys, Steve Johnson or Joe Saunders.  Call me old fashion or narrow minded but I don’t think that Steve Johnson gets the start.  Don’t get me wrong the kid has had an amazing year, 4-0 2.11 ERA with a 1.07 WHIP, and “you don’t want to start this kid?”  No I don’t.

Let me throw out some numbers and rationale as to why. Before I even bring up the numbers, I have been really persistent on watching Steve pitch.  He is a local kid, that a lot of guys I know grew up with and I know everyone has been rooting him on, including myself.  However, in watching him pitch….he doesn’t have a pitch that can blow hitters away and he is in the middle of the plate a lot.  That makes for a somewhat deadly combination facing the Texas Rangers. He is young and teams haven’t seem him, I think that is going for him but this is the postseason, if you don’t think those Rangers will be fully prepared for what he will throw at them, then you’re addicted to heroin…that is only the excuse you could have.  

Ok so after my expert opinion of what I have watched, let me get to some numbers.  His ERA against the teams in the postseason this season:

Texas Rangers – 9.00 ERA

Detroit Tigers – 4.50 ERA

Oakland A’s – 0.00 ERA

New York Yankee – 0.00 ERA

These are off of small sample sizes, but it can give you a brief idea.  My personal opinion is that if I am Buck and I see a 9.00 ERA against the Rangers and a 0.00 ERA against the Yankees, who we would play if we won…don’t you think you might want to keep that Ace up your sleeve, especially if your other option is Joe Saunders?  Seems like sort of simple math.

The other stat that is even more frightening to me is that when I look at the Texas Rangers, I see guys who hit hard line drives, a lot of which end up over the fence, but for the most part they are a line drive hitting team.  Steve Johnson’s hit trajectory shows that when guys hit line drives against him, their average is .778….let that just soak in a minute. You good? A little worried? Me too, it’s ok. But yea, .778 facing a team of line drive hitters…it just don’t add up.

Now that I have either convinced you that Steve Johnson isn’t the answer or got you yelling at your laptop, let me tell you why Joe Saunders is the answer.

The main reason is just because he is a vet and he has postseason experience.  I mean it really is that elementary.  He pitched against Texas for years in LA and doesn’t have the best numbers, but sometimes it’s not all about the numbers.

To give you the numbers Saunders is 3-7 with a 6.48 career ERA against the Rangers.  To break it down further:

2006: 3 GS, 2-1 4.86 ERA 1.26 WHIP

2007: 2 GS, 0-1 8.10 ERA 2.30 WHIP

2008: 2 GS, 1-1 1.93 ERA 0.57 WHIP

2009: 3 GS, 0-3 16.88 ERA 2.53 WHIP  (like looking at an ugly baby)

2010: 1 GS, 0-1 1.29 ERA 1.14 WHIP

Just so inconsistent, but I would take my chances on getting one of those gems.

The bottom line for me is, do you want to throw a kid out there who has no experience and was called up pretty much out of necessity and has had some success or do you want a veteran guy that you know will probably give up 2 or 3 runs and believe that you can put up 5 or 6 to beat Texas.  Keep in mind, the majority of this team has never been in this spot and you only get one game to get this right, you lose and you’re done.  My pick is Saunders.

25 Man Roster:

Since it has been a while since the Orioles have been in this position, I asked some guys, aka Cimorelli, about how most teams break down their rosters hitters/pitching wise.  He said mainly, but not always teams are likely to go 14 hitters – 11 pitchers.  For this Orioles team I really think it needs to be 13 hitters – 12 pitchers, due to the lack of veteran pitching mainly.  That being said let me give you what I got. Hitters wise I doubt there will be much dispute.

Hitters:

1. Matt Wieters

2. Taylor Teagarden

3. Mark Reynolds

4. Robert Andino

5. Omar Quintanilla

6. JJ Hardy

7. Manny Machado

8. Nate McLouth

9. Adam Jones

10. Chris Davis

11. Jim Thome

12. Endy Chavez

13. Wilson Betemit

I think the only real argument anyone could give me is why would you put Omar Quintanilla or Wilson Betemit on the roster over Ryan Flaherty.

Well, to me Ryan Flaherty is simply not worth a roster spot. One, I think he is terrible in the field, he has made some key errors and proved that he is not ready to play second base every day. He’s made throwing errors, he’s made fielding errors and he has gotten in J.J. Hardy‘s way.  If we are in a tight game I am trusting Q to turn a double play with Hardy WAY over Flaherty.  Two, everyone can still say, “his bat has been hot he has had an awesome September.”  There is a reason his September was so awesome and his August and July weren’t…September call ups.  If you don’t think CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander won’t make Flaherty look foolish, again you’re on that heroin kick.  If someone is going to go 0-3 with 2 Ks I would rather it be Q or Andino suring up a second base position for a team that has trouble with errors already. Oh and for those wondering about Betemit, he has been cleared for baseball activity, and he gets a roster spot 10 times out of 10 compared to Ryan Flaherty.

Pitching:

1. Joe Saunders

2. Wei-Yin Chen

3. Miguel Gonzalez

4. Jason Hammel

5. Jim Johnson

6. Darren O’Day

7. Luis Ayala

8. Pedro Strop

9. Brian Matusz

10. Tommy Hunter

11. Steve Johnson

12. Troy Patton

13. Zach Britton

Again, I am sure this is pretty typical as to what everyone thought.  The two glaring names left off of this list are Jake Arrieta, our opening day starter and Chris Tillman, which I am sure most are baffled as to why I left him off.

It just came down to Zach Britton is left handed and Jake and Chris are right handed.  If something happens and we make a deep run into the playoffs you cannot just rely on Brian Matusz and Troy Patton, who just got off an injury himself to pitch left handers all the way through.  We need left handed arms.  On top of that, where would you put Tillman or Arrieta?  To me Chris Tillman and Steve Johnson are one in the same, that if you would need a start from someone it would be one of those two.  Not to mention, if they are talking about Johnson pitching on Friday…he is on the roster.  So breaking it down my starters are Saunders, Chen, Gonzalez and Hammel if he comes back, if not it could be Johnson.  And that’s even if you go with a 4 man rotation.  The bottom line is that it comes down to numbers and where you would put Chris Tillman and I just cannot find a spot for him, so it either comes down to do you want Tillman on the roster or Johnson, because I don’t think you can have both.  Putting only 2 left handers in the bullpen I think would be a big blunder especially with some of the left handed bats in these playoffs.

Either way if you agree or disagree, it has been a wild ride and I won’t be sleeping much Thursday night just due to the excitement over seeing our Baltimore Orioles in the Playoffs!  Grab some friends go out and support this team.  The game is Friday night, 8:37 posted first pitch…let the ride begin.

MLB Suicide Game: The Final Chapter

It has been a long, great baseball season (as always), and now we are writing the final chapter of the 2012 regular season.  The Suicide Game has been full of drama from Day One and now on Day One-Hundred Eighty, we still have drama.  Three people are left with 2 strikes.  They control their own destiny – win and they clinch a share of the Round Thirteen title.  There are 7 people with 3 strikes, just hoping for a shot at a piece of the title, though they do need all 3 leaders to go down to have a shot.  All 3 leaders got there last night with different teams, while 4 people fell off the lead with the Mets loss.

LEAD GROUP:
-Bry (Blue Jays)
-GrossJr (Nationals)
-Scott (Astros)

CHASE GROUP:
-Dannell (Mets-L) picks an awful time to lose back-to-back games, as he falls to 0-2 with NYM this year
-GregDoc (Rays-L) falls to 0-3 with TB this year and 8-8 in the ALE
-Josh (Mets-L) falls under .500 (8-9) in the NLE with a tough loss
-Kevin (Nationals) wins his 4th game with WAS and 16th in the NLE (7 more than any other division) to stay alive
-McGrath (Reds) also gets a big W to stay alive, as he goes to 9-3 in the NLC
-Mittenthal (Mets-L) falls to 0-3 with NYM with a big L here
-Pat (Mets-L) falls to 12-8 in the NL (7-1 in the AL)

ELIMINATED LAST NIGHT:
-Aaron (Nationals) wins his 6th game with WAS (2 more than any other team), but is eliminated nonetheless
-Boot (Braves-L) falls to 5-2 in the NLE in an elimination loss

-Chad (Mets-L) loses his first NYM pick of the year to seal his fate in Round Thirteen
-RyanDoc (Dodgers-L) loses for the 3rd time with LAD this year – equalling SEA for most Ls by one team for him
-RyanSmith (Cubs-L) loses his first CHC pick of the year

MLB Suicide Game: Let the Madness Ensue…

If you are a fan of suicide game drama, then last night was just what the doctor ordered.  Our leader dropped back and SEVEN people chasing him all won, giving us an unbelievable 8-way tie with 2 to play.

IN THE LEAD (8) – controlling their own destiny
-Dannell (Nationals-L) takes a big loss (with his winningest team of the year), bringing him back to the pack
-Bry (Marlins) picks up his 18th NLE win and overall best 55th NL win
-GregDoc (Marlins) improves to a huge 16-5 in the NLE
-GrossJr (Marlins) wins his 3rd MIA game, one shy of CHW and SF for most of any team
-Josh (Marlins) evens his MIA record at 1-1 and his NLE record at 8-8
-Mittenthal (A’s) hits a really nice pick here to get him back into the lead
-Pat (Phillies) went all-or-nothing, as he went head-to-head with Dannell, winning his first PHI pick of the year to tie for the lead
-Scott (Marlins) wins his overall-leading 20th NLE game (only Bry with 23 NLC wins has more wins from a single division)

ONE GAME BACK (5) – need two straight wins and some help
-RyanDoc (Nationals-L) falls to 9-8 in the NLE, picking up a huge L here to fall off the pace
-Boot (Astros), with only 2 days left, makes HOU the last team all year to give someone a win – they were 0-9 before last night
-Kevin (Marlins) improves to 15-5 in the NLE (6 more wins than any other division)
-McGrath (Blue Jays) improves to 8-2 in the ALE, including 2-0 with those Canadians, eh?
-RyanSmith (Marlins) evens his MIA record at 2-2 and picks up his 12th NLE win of the year

TWO GAMES BACK (2) – in need of a miracle
-Aaron (Marlins) wins his first MIA pick of the year, improving to 13-4 in the NLE
-Chad (D’backs-L) falls to 0-2 with ARI (joining PIT, TEX, and CHW as his only 2-time losers)
* – these two now have a best-case scenario of being part of a 9-way tie, which would require an absolute miraculous series of events

MATHEMATICALLY ELIMINATED:
Dan, Jayson, MattK, Rohde, Steve, Stumpf, Tyler, Walsh, Wojo