Friday, April 29, 2011

Go Big Or Go Home

As much fun as it was watching the Orioles take 2 out of 3 from the Red Sox this week, the loss last night made it easy to switch over to the NFL Draft to see what was happening in the country's favorite sport / litigation source, professional football.

At this point I am going to go out on a limb and assume that I am not your primary source of local sports information (as always, deep pocketed sponsors with comprehensive health coverage that can be applied to myself and my family are welcome to contact me. I will gladly post multiple entries per day if there is no "boss" walking past my cubicle demanding I do the "work" they pay me for), so I am going with you have already heard about the drafting snafu between the Ravens and the Chicago Bears. But in case you haven't, the Bears and Ravens had a deal in place to swap 1st round picks (Bears moving up to 26, Ravens moving down to 29th and getting the Bears 4th round pick in the trade), but Bears GM Jerry Angelo delegated to his staffers the task of informing the league of the trade, and everyone on the Bears staff thought he was talking to someone else so no one did it. Consequently the trade was never consummated and the Chiefs (who had the 27th pick) jumped up as soon as the clock hit triple zeros on the Ravens and got the player THEY wanted, which was immediately followed by the Ravens turning in a card for the player they would have drafted at 26 if there had been no trade and the Bears getting who they were trying to get at 26 in their slotted place at 29. Confused? You won't be, after this episode of...SOAP

A photo of the Bears 2011 Draft Team. Notice how many medals Jerry Angelo has earned. I just wish Jay Cutler would turn his head to face the camera. But he does look cute sitting on Mike Martz's lap.

So the Ravens lose a potential additional 3rd day pick and maybe save a few bucks on rookie signing by him being drafted a slot lower than planned. The loss is negligible. But that is not the reason for the title of this article. That is for the player they drafted, Colorado CB Jimmy Smith. Why is that? Well, the young man has consensus Top 10-15 talent. He's a 6' 2", 211lb CB with ball skills, the ability to play the run, and is excellent at press coverage. In short, he is a potential shutdown corner. But he has a few problems. To wit: three failed drug tests, two times being busted as a minor for alcohol possession, and an arrest for 3rd degree assault in a restaurant. Not exactly the feel good story that Michael Oher was, is he?

So to say I felt some trepidation over the Ravens picking him would be an understatement. And when a coworker came up to me this morning and asked me how I felt about the pick I told him I didn't like it at all. But I've been thinking about it while staring at my screen at a worthless excel spreadsheet that I created for just such an emergency, and now I have changed my mind.

Now I just don't like it a really tiny bit.

If he pans out, Smith could be a big piece of the puzzle in winning a Lombardi Trophy this year. But it is a big "if". And while I am aware that he has not been in any trouble for over 2 years, this isn't one isolated incident and who knows what a bunch of money and stardom will do to someone who does not exactly have a track record of thinking ahead. So it is a big risk, big reward scenario.

More than anything, what swayed me was remembering a John Clayton article from ESPN not too long ago where he talked about teams that consistently make the safe pick over the pick that could benefit them the most. And the gist of the article is that when a team has a chance to make some serious noise (and a team w/3 straight playoff appearances, with wins in all 3 playoff appearances, and with a trip to the conference championship game mixed in there definitely has the potential to make some serious noise) they need to be a little daring. Or to put it another way, fortune favors the bold.

Now we just have to hope that this move was bold and not stupid. Because while fortune favors the bold, a top 10 draft pick favors the stupid.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

This Year Might Be Different

Hockey has never been able to get a real foothold in Baltimore, and that is a real shame. I remember going to Skipjacks games as a kid, and I know that the Flyers were originally supposed to be a Baltimore team (which is why they share the same colors as the Orioles and their name is at least tangentially connected to ornithology. "Flyers"). Hockey does not translate as well to TV as the other major sports do, and that has stunted its growth. But it is one of the most exciting sports to watch live, and while Baltimore may not have a team there is a good team (with a really cool owner and a few players that even casual hockey players may have heard of) right down the road: The Washington Capitals

I'd rather be red than dead? Yup.

For the last few years the Caps have been knocking on the door of the upper levels of the NHL. Last year they were the overall number 1 seed in the playoffs, only to run into a buzzsaw of a goalie named Jaroslav Halak of the Montreal Canadiens (a prime example of riding a hot goalie in the playoffs, kind of like what the Caps did in 1998 w/Olaf "Olie the Goalie" Kolzig), but that was just one instance of the team failing to capitalize (sigh, I really couldn't think of a better word) on their potential and get to that next level.

So when the Caps took a 2 games to nothing lead over the New York Rangers, then lost Game 3 while playing a rather listless game where they kept tying it up but never really had any momentum, I did start to think the worst. And when I saw that they were down 3-0 in Game 4 I got what unfortunately was a feeling I had felt before.

Now since I was working last night I couldn't really watch the game. But when I walked over to the bar once I wrapped up the trivia hosting duties I saw that it was tied 3-3 and in overtime. And by the time I got home I found out that the Caps had somehow found a way to win it in DOUBLE overtime.

The series is not over, as last year's collapse after a 3-1 series lead against the 8 seed of the Eastern Conference showed us. But this feels different. Caps GM George McPhee talked about how the team "grew up" this season, and they did make a sea change in style of play by actually playing some defense (it seems the "run-n-shoot" offense is as successful in the NHL as it was in the NFL. It's exciting, but you really can't win consistently without at least SOME defense). They can still score, but they get back on their side of the blue line now. And while they are not the best team playing right now (I would probably say the Detroit Red Wings are the top team as of this moment), they have every chance to go far into the "2nd season". Maybe a rematch of the 98 Stanley Cup is in the cards. If so, let's hope for a different outcome.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

No Diggity, but Some Doubt

Leave it to Baltimore to have a team break out of an 8 game losing streak with an 11-0 victory, and still the sports rags all have the schedule for a team that is currently barred from having any contact with its players taking the prime spot on the front page. Then again, back in the town's sports heyday they were known for having a decent stable of very knowledgeable baseball fans that loved their team and a rabid fan base for the football team that led to Memorial Stadium being nicknamed "The World's Largest Outdoor Insane Asylum" (do a Google search for that and see what the results are). But since the sports talk of the town is the Ravens, let's take a quick look at the schedule and break it down a bit (home games in bold):

  1. Sunday 9/11/11 - 1pm vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
  2. Sunday 9/18/11 - 1pm @ Tennessee Titans
  3. Sunday 9/25/11 - 4pm @St. Louis Rams
  4. Sunday 10/2/11 - 8pm vs. New York Jets
  5. BYE
  6. Sunday 10/16/11 - 4pm vs. Houston Texans
  7. Monday 10/24/11 - 8:30pm @ Jacksonville Jaguars
  8. Sunday 10/30/11 - 1pm vs. Arizona Cardinals
  9. Sunday 11/6/11 - 8pm @ Pittsburgh Steelers
  10. Sunday 11/13/11 - 4pm @ Seattle Seahawks
  11. Sunday 11/20/11 - 1pm vs. Cincinnati Bengals
  12. Thursday 11/24/11 - 8pm vs. San Francisco 49ers
  13. Sunday 12/4/11 - 1pm @ Cleveland Browns
  14. Sunday 12/11/11 - 1pm vs. Indianapolis Colts
  15. Sunday 12/18/11 - 8pm @ San Diego Chargers
  16. Saturday 12/14/11 - 1pm vs. Cleveland Browns
  17. Sunday 1/1/12 - 1pm @ Cincinnati Bengals
Overall it is a decent schedule. As it stands right now the Ravens have the easiest schedule in the AFC (based on final standings of opponents in 2010). They have 5 primetime games (tied for most in the league), and are hosting the NFL Network's Thanksgiving night game (the 1st ever Thanksgiving game in Baltimore and the 1st time a Baltimore team has played on Thanksgiving since the Colts played in Detroit in 1965. Also the 1st ever matchup in NFL history where two brother head coaches face each other in a game). The bye week is early (the first week that teams have a bye) and the primetime matchup with the Steelers is back in Pittsburgh, but before the conspiracy nuts sink their fangs in this let's look at the facts. The Steelers also play 3 of their 5 primetime games on the road, last year they had a Week 5 bye, and they had to come to Baltimore for the now all but annual primetime matchup with the Ravens. And their season turned out pretty decently. So once again I say PLEASE don't start with the whole "the league is out to get us" whining.

It is WAY too early to go making predictions on wins and losses (my general rule of thumb is if the team is barred by federal law to interact in ANY way with the players it is too soon to think about which team of currently uncoached players will beat another team of uncoached players. Your results may vary). But it looks to be a good schedule, and while we are here we can look at some potential pitfalls for the team.

Having to travel across the country to face Seattle (one of the toughest places for a visiting team to play in any year) the week after travelling to Pittsburgh for a primetime Sunday game is going to be tough, both from a team energy standpoint and (if previous games are any indication) from a players in triage after the Steelers slobberknocker standpoint.

I'm pretty sure that this guy (he may not have invented the word "slobberknocker", but he pretty much perfected its usage) is the only man who can TRULY do justice to a Ravens-Steelers matchup. In fact, I would be okay with cancelling the game and just having the teams meet in a Hell In A Cell Match. I might go PPV for that.

The other west coast trip (to San Diego) is also going to be difficult, if for no other reason than it is a west coast trip and those are never easy. Add to that the game time of 8pm (which will be 5pm in San Diego), which could be problematic depending on how the coaching staff plans on preparing the team for the game as well as the fact that the previous week they are playing the Indianapolis Colts (and that Manning guy has an 8 game winning streak against the Ravens) and you have the possibility of a tough game for Baltimore.

Other than that it looks to shake out very much neutral if not in the Ravens' favor.

NOW you can begin the wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth in the comments section.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Well THAT was not fun

Y U NO  Beat Yankees Or Indians

As I type this the Orioles are 3 outs away from an 11-0 win over the Twins, which would end an 8 game losing streak. After starting out 6-1, the wheels fell off the wagon in a BIG way. The bats went cold and the pitching went south. It wasn't pretty.

A lot of people were pie in the sky over the fast start. I said then that it wasn't a good idea to get too excited (and since I had Chuck D backing me up we all know that I was right). So now that the 11-0 win is final and the O's are off that infamous schneid, we can all all hope that they are going to go back on a roll.

Friends have been asking me about the team over the last week or so. And I tell them what I am going to tell you: I still believe that the Orioles are going to be over .500 at the end of this season. But that is predicated on them not suffering major injuries. The sad fact is that now that Zach Britton is with the team, the cupboard is pretty much bare as far as replacements / help in the minors go. So injuries (like the ones to Brian Matusz and JJ Hardy) can quickly put this team in a tailspin (8 games sounds about right). Last report I heard was Matusz had finally done some 60 and 90 feet long toss without pain but was still weeks away from returning, and I have sen no reports on Hardy. And as much as people have enjoyed blaming a lot of the team's woes on Andy MacPhail, it really isn't on him. There was well over a decade of bad drafting and questionable trades before MacPhail ever walked through those doors, and it takes more than a few years to recover from that. The Erik Bedard and Miguel Tejada trades brought a lot of nice pieces, but those are pretty much all in the majors now. And there is no one on the team that can give them that kind of haul again. If this team IS still floundering in a couple of months do not be surprised to see the likes of Vladimir Guererro, Derrek Lee, Luke Scott, and even Jeremy Guthrie putting their condos up for rent. It won't be a Syd Thrift level fire sale, but it could be like the Florida Marlins 1998 moves (minus a championship), with hopefully the same results (a World Series trophy 5 years later).

It's going to be a long season, kids. Try to not get too emotionally invested. At least, not until after the All-Star break.

Monday, April 11, 2011

He Has The Power To Kill A Yak From 200 Yards Away

Possibly the greatest song EVER.

Heady times to be a local sports fan. The Orioles are still playing well (the way the Texas Rangers are playing winning one game is a good thing), the Washington Capitals are going into the playoffs as the #1 seed in the East (here's hoping for a better turnout this year), and the Wizards...well...John Wall does one hell of a Dougie.

But in the midst of all of this is the 900 lb gorilla that is the NFL (and the 1200 lb gorilla's mother-in-law that is the neverending labor strife). And in the midst of all of this Friend O' The Blog Matt Vensel posits that the Ravens should go after Santonio Holmes if he does in fact become a free agent once the labor morass is resolved. While the thought of Holmes making big plays for the purple and black sounds nice (making them against his former team in Pittsburgh sounds doubly sweet), I am going to have to respectfully disagree for a couple big reasons.


The Ravens figure to have some cap room once there is a cap again, so they could sign Holmes. But if they do, what do they do about signing Haloti Ngata, Ray Rice, Joe Flacco, and possibly Ed Reed (if he decides to stick around for a few more years)? One of the reasons this team is able to be good more often than it is bad is because the team makes tough but sound choices when it comes on who to keep versus who to let go (look at the post Ravens careers of Duane Starks, Edgerton Hartwell, Adailus Thomas, Gary Baxter, et cetera). Is Holmes a good player? Undoubtedly. Is he better at his position than Ngata/Rice/Flacco/Reed are at theirs? I don't think so. So it is not worth it financially to sign him if the Ravens lose one of the other guys.


John Harbaugh has been working very hard to alter the mindset of this team. He has not eliminated the swagger, but he has eliminated a lot of the trash talking and the malcontents that don't play into the team concept. Holmes is not a team player because of the way he conducts himself off the field. Any player that gets a separate tag for "legal trouble" on Wikipedia is not possessing the kind of character that Harbaugh is fostering on this team. And since he already has a 4 game suspension under his belt, the next one will be 8 games. Another big red mark.

Add it all up and Holmes is not worth the money OR the risk. Besides, I am not sure that Cam Cameron would know what to do with him on the team anyway.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Chuck D Has A Message For You

Don't believe the hype

All Orioles fans enjoyed this past weekend. Against the same team that they blew leads against in 2 of their first 3 games en route to a 2-16 opening mark, the O's held the Tampa Bay Rays to 3 runs (with a starting pitching ERA of of 1.35 and a WHIP of 0.65) while averaging 4 runs per game. They stand alone in 1st place in the AL East, and now they come home to face the Detroit Tigers and the Texas Rangers before hitting the road to play the NY Yankees and Cleveland Indians.

And it feels good, doesn't it?

Well enjoy it. As fans, you have earned a moment to look at the standings and see the entire division looking up at the Birds. Go ahead and do a screen capture, or print it out in glorious color (if you are at work, make sure you pick the highest quality setting available). But I have to caution to not get caught up in trash talking that Boston Red Sox fan and their 0-3 record in the cubicle across from you just yet. Or, to quote friend o'the blog (and the first best friend I ever had, and the only guy who was cool enough to share his Han Solo blaster when we were playing "Space Cowboys" in our back yard, Sean (edited for television):

Are they f*@%ing with us or are they that good? Good young pitching? I know Tampa Bay has issues but Maddon is a good manager and the Rays are not a laughing stock.

He is correct in his evaluation of the Rays. They are not a pushover. And scores aside, those were close, tight games played w/a lot of intensity by both sides. And both sides had unexpected injuries to deal with. The Orioles had to put potential staff ace Brian Matusz on the DL w/a strained back muscle, forcing them to call Zach Britton up before they wanted to. Meanwhile, the Rays lost All Star 3rd baseman Evan Longoria for a minimum of 3 weeks w/a strained oblique. The Orioles just beat them. And it was the kind of beating that they have been on the other end of for far too long. A "here's our best going against your best, let's see who wins" kind of beating.

But no matter how good they have looked for the last 3 days the Orioles are not going to go 162-0. I doubt they could even pull off 154-8. I still think they have a legitimate chance of being over .500 for the season (I said 86 wins last time and I stand by that). I believe that the team will not win the wild card, but they will be in the conversation in August and September as something other than a spoiler for other teams w/hopes of October baseball.

The rest of this month they are home against the Rangers and the Red Sox, home and away against the Yankees, and end the month / begin next month with a 4 game weekend series against the Chicago White Sox. It is not an easy schedule (the Red Sox will bounce back), and in the AL East there are no extended vacations in the schedule. If this team is 14-13 on May 1st they will be well on the way to making people remember that this team used to be one of the ones that opponents feared and opposing fans lined up to buy tickets to watch.