This has been a fairly boring week in the sports world. My week started late per my four-day vacation in Toronto so I’ve been on somewhat of a mental break from anything that requires thought. I did, however, manager to attend a Pistons and a Tigers game in Toronto over the weekend. Through some strategic planning and a bit of luck, I was able to knock out a trip to the Air Canada Centre and the Skydome in one trip. Here is a bit of a tip for those of you planning on seeing the Pistons play in Toronto: call Flip Saunders and ask him if he’s planning on building a 16-point lead and then turning the game over to the powerful nucleus of Lindsey Hunter, Jason Maxiell, Ronald Dupree, Carlos Delfino, and Amir Johnson for the majority of the second half. I understand the importance of getting those players playing time and resting the starters but you start making reservations for a win in your mind right around that 16-point barrier. It would have been a whole lot more bearable if the Raptors fans weren’t acting as if it were the playoffs already. They definitely have some good fans in Toronto. Anyhow, here are a few cluttered thoughts…
- I would not want to be the manager of the Philadelphia Phillies ever. It has turned into a one-way ticket to the unemployment line. First it was Terry Francona. He gave way to Larry Bowa whose tenure was eerily similar to Charlie Manuel’s right down to the underachieving and clubhouse tirades. The Phillies never start off the season playing good baseball. The team never reaches expectations no matter how good the roster is. Call me crazy but I think it might have something to do with Philly’s pitching. Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Bobby Abreu, Jim Thome, Scott Rolen, and Pat Burrell all have something in common: they aren’t pitchers. So, the next time Jimmy Rollins wants to predict that the Phillies will win the pennant or the next time a Philly beat-writer wants to encourage Charlie Manuel to stage a blowup, they may want to look at Philly’s team ERA over the last ten seasons. I believe the problem lies somewhere in the following numbers:
Yr ERA NL Rk
07 5.55 16 of 16
06 4.60 11 of 16
05 4.21 10 of 16
04 4.45 13 of 16
03 4.04--8 of 16
02 4.17 --9 of 16
01 4.15 --6 of 16
00 4.77 11 of 16
99 4.93 13 of 16
98 4.64 14 of 16
97 4.87 12 of 14
- I don’t want to hear anything from the Dice-K contingent about not receiving run support; at least he has a win. Jeremy Bonderman has a miniscule 2.25 ERA in 28 innings to go with a .86 WHIP. He has received a whopping ten runs of support in his four starts. This “no run support for Bondo” thing is nothing new. Last season, the Tigers scored four runs or less an unbelievable 19 times in Bonderman’s 34 starts. Kenny Rogers and Justin Verlander each had 12 such occurrences. It’s pretty difficult to get recognized around the league with zero wins.
- I lived in Europe for four years. One of the things that I was envious of was the rest of the world’s passion for soccer. Soccer around the world is like college football here. It’s frenzied and crazy with quite possibly a lot more alcohol. Passionate doesn’t even begin to describe the worldwide obsession (sans the U.S.). I think it would be fantastic to be able to share in that sort of fanaticism. Unfortunately, I can’t force myself to like soccer any more than I can force myself to watch The View. The problem is that the U.S. brand of soccer is a jalopy to the world’s Ferrari. The U.S. can’t field a good team when it combines all its best players on one roster. Now take that team and disperse it to the 13 different teams in the MLS and you have a watered down version of a team that already can’t compete in the World Cup. Suffice it to say, there isn’t much to be interested in. I don’t think it’s a fluke that every other country in the world loves soccer (with the exception of Canada but I believe hockey counts as soccer in some circles). It is so simple but so difficult. It requires the most conditioning of any sport in the world. It also features intercontinental match-ups which is something American sports lack. There is a pride factor involved in soccer that just isn’t present in American sports. Even the leagues around the world feature teams from many different countries squaring off. So to say that soccer is an inherently flawed game or that there isn’t anything intriguing about it is too much of a cop out. If America was a World Cup contender every four years, this country would go “bonkers” over soccer. If the MLS had anything close to the talent of the Premier League or The Bundesliga it would sell out most of its games. While bringing David Beckham and Zinedine Zidane to the MLS will probably have a small positive effect on fan interest, bringing over two passed-their-prime stars is not the answer to bringing soccer to the American mainstream. It didn’t work with Pele and it certainly will not work with Beckham and Zidane. A soccer revolution in America won’t happen until the U.S. soccer team can have consistent success in the World Cup. Americans don’t want to watch second-rate soccer which is what they feel they are getting with MLS. The thing that amazes me the most is the fact that so many kids play soccer in America yet the National Team never gets better. How can Americans be so good at baseball, football, and basketball and be so terrible at soccer? I blame the “Soccer Moms”. They just aren’t getting it done!
- This is a bit unrelated to anything going on in the news but is there a better jump-shooter in the NBA than Antonio McDyess? Does he ever miss a jumper? I would love to see him go up against Steve Nash in a 15-footer competition. Since McDyess has suffered such devastating knee injuries, he doesn’t spend much time around the basket. That means that the vast majority of his shots are jump shots. That makes his 52.7% shooting from the field that much more unbelievable.
- It has been quite satisfying watching the Pistons over the last few games. With the #1 seed in the conference wrapped up, the Pistons were able to give an ocean full of playing time to Amir Johnson. For those of you that don’t know much about Johnson, he is the guy that is supposed to erase “the Darko pick”, “the Okur decision”, and “the Darko trade” all in one swoop. In the sports world, hype is almost never lived up to. For instance, look at any NFL or NBA draft of the last 20 years. I doubt there is one single draft where even half of the players lived up to the hype. So, it’s understandable if you’re taking the route of caution when projecting Johnson’s career. However, I think he is a Jermaine O’Neal (hopefully the healthy version) in the making. He is extremely athletic and seems to understand the game very well. He also appears to have some range from behind the arc. There are some aspects of his game that need fine-tuning (i.e. being able to dribble more than twice without turning the ball over). Although to be fair, I think his shortcomings have a lot to do with getting too excited and trying to do too much. All of his “awkwardness” will disappear as soon as he starts getting consistent playing time. If the Pistons can’t break through again in the next two years, we at least have a promising young frontcourt in the making with Amir Johnson, Jason Maxiell, and Tayshaun Prince. Now just pray that Johnson doesn’t suffer a gruesome injury (i.e. C-Webb, Amare, J.O., ‘Dyess). Athletic power forwards are the most susceptible to such injuries.
- If I had to take one team to come out of the Western Conference, I would take San Antonio. The Spurs are playing as well as they’ve ever played. They have a well-rested threesome of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker. They have a deadly group of role players and the most underrated coach in NBA history. Add that to the sour taste of last season’s playoff loss to Dallas and San Antonio should be the odds on favorite to win the NBA Championship. One thing that I’ve learned about the NBA is that things don’t change nearly as much as the basketball media makes it appear. Despite Dallas and Phoenix’ gaudy records this year, SA was always the most complete team just like they were the most complete team last year (despite losing in seven to Dallas). SA stills has the best defense in basketball. It still has the best center in basketball. It still has the best coach in basketball. So don’t be surprised if (or when) the Spurs win yet another NBA Championship in two months.