Thursday, May 31, 2007

The "D-Lowe"-Down

The 2007 season began much like the 2006 season did for the Los Angeles Dodgers' Derek Lowe. A six runs allowed in four innings outing in Milwaukee against the Brewers essentially duplicated his seven runs allowed outing at home in his opening start last year against the Atlanta Braves. In fact, "D-Lowe" has gotten off to very slow starts four of the past five seasons, with 2005 being the lone exception. Needless to say, slow starts will often cause skepticism amongst fantasy owners and since he doesn't strike out a ton of hitters like teammate Randy Wolf, he's someone who often will get dropped in fantasy leagues at the first sign of trouble.

Yesterday, Lowe continued his turnaround from a slow 2007 start, shutting out the Washington Nationals for seven innings for his fifth win in a 5-0 Dodger victory at RFK Stadium. Although the box score only shows three hits and two walks allowed, Lowe definitely had to work hard to this one, throwing a season high 113 pitches. If you stuck with Lowe after his rough April where he posted a 4.62 ERA, you were richly rewarded in May as he finishes the month posting a fine 2.16 ERA in his six starts. As an added bonus, Lowe struck out 32 batters this month after fanning only 16 batters in April. Lowe is one of fantasy baseball's most underrated players due to the fact that his strikeout numbers tend to be low, but he's very consistent, and a good guy to have at the back end of your rotation. His numbers with the Dodgers attest to his consistency. His ERA's over the past three years are 3.61, 3.63 and 3.32, while his WHIP's have been 1.25, 1.27 and 1.33 over that time. The Dodgers have a very good team this year, so it's indeed possible Lowe could improve on the 16 wins he posted last year.

As for the Nationals, what has happened??? After winning 12 of their previous 17 games, including a 5-2 road trip, the Nats suddenly have been shut out in two straight by the Dodgers. Ironically, the last time the Dodgers shut out a team in back to back games was exactly three years ago when they shut out the Montreal Expos on May 29 and May 30, 2004. For those counting, it's been 19 innings and since the Nats last scored a run - that was against St. Louis this past Sunday. I look for that streak to end quickly tonight as the Dodgers throw Mark Hendrickson out to the mound. After a very fast start, the inconsistent Hendrickson has come back to earth with a 6.55 ERA in his past four outings. Matt Chico, and his 3.67 ERA over the past five outings, goes for the Nats tonight. Apparently, Chico has at least one very big fan out there as there is actually a blog dedicated to him! I'm not exactly sure how I stumbled upon this thing a couple of weeks ago, all I know is that I found it pretty amusing that a somewhat below average major league pitcher would have a blog entirely dedicated to him.... Now a word of warning before I post you the link, the language there can be a little colorful at times... The Matt Chico-sphere. With 36 entries in three months of existance, it doesn't look like there is an end in sight to the "Chicosphere."

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In other sports news, the Anaheim Ducks took a 2-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup playoffs with a 1-0 win over the Ottawa Senators last night at the Honda center. For the second game in a row, a defenseman scored the game decider for the Ducks - in game one it was Travis Moen, yesterday it was Samuel Pahlsson. Game three of the series will be in Ottawa this Saturday night.

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Time constraints limited me yesterday, so today I'll continue my "Don't Forget To Remember Me" series with Mike Piazza of the Oakland A's. Without a doubt, Piazza is one of the best hitting catchers in the history of baseball... The future first ballot Hall of Famer posted five consecutive seasons hitting .319 or higher with the Dodgers, hitting 32 or more home runs in four of those years. His most remarkable season had to be 1997 when he posted 40 homers, 124 RBI's, 104 runs and a .362 batting average. Yes, those are a catcher's numbers - the kind you would normally expect from guys named Pujols, A-Rod or Vladimir... That 1997 season of Piazza's is considered by most to be the best ever from the catcher position, and arguably (due to the scarcity of talent and offense at the position) the best season ever in fantasy baseball.

As a Dodger fan, it was tough to see Piazza go to the Florida Marlins and then to the New York Mets early in the 1998 season. Piazza continued right where he left off with the Dodgers, posting a 32 homer, 111 RBI campaign. In 2001, Piazza hit over .300 for the ninth consective year, and in 2002 he hit 30 or more homers for his eighth consecutive campaign. Wear and tear from being behind the plate took it's toll though, and Piazza's numbers have recently eroded... Last year, with the San Diego Padres he had somewhat of a comeback year, posted a .283 batting average with 22 homers and 68 RBI's in only 399 at bats. Piazza was signed by the Oakland A's in the off season, and was to be their full-time DH. Without the rigors of having to be behind the dish five days a week, Piazza was a big time speculative pick in fantasy leagues this year, often going in the 10th round or so. Early in the 2007 campaign, it became clear that something just wasn't right with him though... in 103 at bats, the slugger only hit one lone homer! Fantasy owners got off the bandwagon in droves, and he now sits available as a free agent in most fantasy leagues. Not surprisingly, the cause to Piazza's lack of power turned out to be a sprained right shoulder. Once this heals, he should be good to go... People were speculating that Piazza could put up 30, even 35 homers this year... if healthy, there's no reason he can't put up 15-20 homers over the course of the next 3 1/2 months - he's supposed to return in mid-June. If you have a free DL or bench slot in your league, now is the time to stash him away!!!

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Ervin Santana Paradox...

For the better part of a week, several members of Ron Shandler's outstanding Baseball HQ site have had a very spirited discussion in the forums about Anaheim/Los Angeles Angels pitcher Ervin Santana. You may recall my "Jekyll and Hyde" column on Santana back on April 11th. In that column, I wrote of Santana and how over the course of his career he's been almost "Johan-like" at home - referring to the great Johan Santana of the Minnesota Twins, yet he's just been dreadful on the road.

In our discussions of Santana, many of the HQ subscribers have insisted that the huge gap between his home and road numbers is merely due to randomness and probability. Even Angels manager Mike Scioscia made this rather erroneous comment about Santana this past week, stating "his issue is not home or away. His issue is the location of his fastball." Seeing him pitch for all of his two years with the Angels, I know better. At home, he's VERY confident, while on the road he is not. The three main tendencies I've noticed about him are these: His control is better at home than on the road. His fastball is low in the strike zone at home, on the road he leaves the ball up, resulting in lots of home runs allowed. Lastly, when he gets into trouble, he is good at getting out of it at home, when he's on the road, baserunners often will lead to a HUGE disaster inning.

Last night was a typical game for Santana at home as the Angels took on the Seattle Mariners. He struggled in the first inning, giving up two hits, two walks and a run before inducing Kenji Johjima to ground into an inning ending double play. Santana threw 25 pitches in that first inning. Over the course of the next six innings, he only needed 72 pitches in limiting the Mariners to just two more hits. For the night, his line was just another night at the Anaheim office for Santana - seven innings pitched, one earned run, four hits and two walks allowed to go along with four strikeouts. Scot Shields and closer Francisco Rodriguez (who tallied his 17th save) pitched two scoreless innings to preserve a 4-1 Angels win.

Now for the numbers... with last night's gem, Santana put his career ERA at home under 3.00...

Venue: W-L ERA WHIP BAA AB/HR K/BB
HOME: 23-6 2.95 1.13 .226 51.35 2.27 (36 games started)
ROAD: 9-15 6.98 1.63 .295 19.38 1.73 (31 games started)

Santana's numbers over the course of his 67 career starts tell lots of stories. I'm not sure which stat is the most glaring... I've always been of the opinion that there is some randomness involved in getting wins, though when you compare his other numbers, it's no wonder that Santana has won nearly 80% of his decisions at home, while struggling to win 37.5% of them on the road. To me, the most amazing difference is between his home and road ERA... His road ERA is FOUR runs higher than at home!!! His WHIP (walks + hits allowed per inning) is also 44% higher on the road. Gopheritis is also a problem for him on the road as he's over 2 1/2 times as likely to give up a home run outside of Anaheim. Control is an issue for him on the road as well - his strikeout to walk ratio being 31% better at home than away.

While the numbers are very convicting, one has to wonder why Santana is just so awful on the road. Clearly, as his home numbers demonstrate, he has the ability to be a great pitcher. I'm of the opinion that it is mostly mental with him... he simply doesn't look confident on the mound when he's on the road (with the lone exception of when he pitches in Oakland where he's managed a 2.73 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in four career starts). I also think that maybe the mounds on the road may not be to his liking - he might not be able to get comfortable on them. The mounds in the major league ballparks are all supposed to be uniform, but as any pitcher will tell you, they aren't!

Whatever the case may be, Ervin Santana is certainly a fascinating study. As a fantasy baseball player, I've done my best to exploit this tendency over the past year and a half or so. Simply put, I use him to kill two birds with one stone!

Here's how this works for the fantasy leaguer... First off, Ervin gives everyone hope that he's "gotten it all together" after putting together some good home starts, so owners pick him up and use him (usually in his awful road starts) in their leagues. After the usual two bad road outings, he often finds his way back onto the waiver wire... which is where I come in... I scoop him up and use him for his home starts, and then as soon as that last start of his latest homestand takes place, I send him right back out the waiver wire! This accomplishes two things: I get his good home numbers, while some opponent gets his awful road ones!!! Needless to say, it's in your best interest to follow suit and exploit this tendency in your leagues if at all possible... and heck, if you're a betting man, perhaps a trip to Vegas should be in your future!!!

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Torii Just Being Torii!

I spent most of Memorial Day doing chores and getting ready for my trip to Washington D.C. and Nashville next weekend... I actually had a nice blog all done and ready to go when my cable provider, Adelphia, decided to go on the blink... I was actually just about to publish my blog for today when the connection was lost. Everything that I wrote, unfortunately went with it!!! So, I'm going to give a somewhat abriged version of what I had originally written over the past hour or so...

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Torii Hunter just continues to amaze... did any of you happen to catch the game on WGN yesterday between the Minnesota Twins and the Chicago White Sox??? Well, I had a personal interest in the game since my fantasy ace, Johan Santana was going for the Twins. Santana wasn't as dominant as usual, giving up four runs in eight innings to get the win... but it could have been worse. Jim Thome gave him a GREAT battle before hitting a long fly ball to center field. It looked like it was going out of the park for a home run, in fact it DID go out! But, just as a fan was about to glove it, Superman (aka: Torii Hunter) leaped six inches over the fence and "brought it back!!!" as the Twins announcers would say. I stopped what I was doing in the kitchen and walked up to the TV and gave Torii a big hand... as did the fans in attendance at the game for a good two minutes... while Torii has always produced well on offense, it's his defense that he is known for - he is a regular on ESPN's Sportscenter due to his defensive prowess. Yesterday's robbery of Thome was definitely amongst his best ever!

Curt Schilling was dominant in striking out 10 in a 5-3 Boston Red Sox win over the Cleveland Indians... Chuck James struck out eight in six innings and Andruw Jones homered for the second straight game in a 2-1 Atlanta Braves win over the Milwaukee Brewers. Finally, the New York Yankees lost again falling to the Toronto Blue Jays by a 7-2 score. With the loss, the Yankees fell into a tie for last in the AL East, 13 1/2 games behind the Red Sox.

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I watched a few things I normally don't yesterday - a minor league baseball game, college lacrosse and some hockey... There was a good reason to be watching minor league baseball - Roger Clemens was making his third minor league rehab start. The Rocket had great command throughout, striking out six batters in six innings. The Yankees certainly need him now, and judging by yesterday's performance, he is ready to go! Though I'm not a Yankee fan, I've always admired Clemens for his work ethic and his will to win... You don't win seven Cy Young awards without working for it... I also love the fact that Clemens is a positive person. In the news conference following the game yesterday, one reporter tried to be negative, and Clemens quickly turned the tables on him, stating "I'm a positive person, I don't like to be around negative people." Being very much the same way myself, I was very happy to see the Rocket immediately shift the focus to something positive... If all goes as planned, he will be pitching against the Red Sox this Sunday.

This will probably be the only time all year I talk about college lacrosse... The Johns Hopkins Blue Jays took on the Duke Blue Devils for the NCAA Championship. Most of you know what happened to Duke's lacrosse team last year, so I won't go into detail about it... Not surprisingly, they were this years "Cinderella" team going into the championship... In case you've never watched lacrosse, it's a very fast paced game, not unlike hockey. The main differences being that it's played on grass and that there are many more goals scored than in hockey. The Blue Jays took a six goal lead at halftime, but gave it all away as the Blue Devils scored five straight goals in the final period to knot the game at 11... With just over three minutes to play, Kevin Huntley gave Johns Hopkins their final goal... it turned out to be the final goal as Duke would be held scoreless the rest of the way. The 12-11 win gave Johns Hopkins their 9th national title. Though Duke lost, it was a valient effort and redeeming to their program after all that happened last year.

After falling behind twice yesterday, the Anaheim Ducks scored two goals in the third period - the game winner by Adam Moen with just under three minutes to go - to give the Ducks a 3-2 win in the opening game of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Game two is Wednesday night in Anaheim starting at 8 ET/5 PT

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Finally, it's time for my fourth installment of my "Don't Forget To Remember Me" series... Juan Rivera of the Angels is in the spotlight today. Rivera came up to the majors for the first time with the Yankees in 2001 and played with them through 2003. Traded to the Montreal Expos before the 2004 season, Rivera put up a very impressive .307 batting average with 12 homers in 391 at bats. Unlike my last two spotlighted players, Nick Johnson and John Patterson, Rivera did not make the 2005 trip to Washington D.C., as the Expos became the Nationals. Instead, Rivera became an Anaheim/L.A. Angel. In his first season for the Halos, Rivera put up 15 homers in only 350 at bats. Last year, he had his breakout year, posting 23 homers, 84 RBI's and a .310 batting average in 448 at bats. Project those numbers out over a season of 600 at bats and you get 31 homers and 113 RBI's - good enough in most fantasy leagues to be your second or third outfielder...

Needless to say, Rivera was someone planned on getting in my fantasy leagues this year. At 28, he is just entering the prime of his career... Fate stepped in 10 days before the new year though as Rivera broke his left leg in a winter league game. The break turned out to be a severe one, and Rivera is not expected back until perhaps the all-star break... If you have an empty roster spot - particularly a DL slot, it wouldn't be a bad idea to tuck this guy away there... simply put, he can MASH!!!

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Monday, May 28, 2007

Never Forget...

Never forget those that have selflessly served this great nation and made the ultimate sacrifice - not just today, but every day. Our freedom is a precious gift, and when you see our troops fighting just remember that they are trying to preserve that gift for each and every one of us Americans. No matter how you spend this Memorial Day just be thankful for what you have and remember the heroes that have kept us free!

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Before I delve into Sunday's sports, I'm presenting part 3 of my "Don't Forget To Remember Me" series. Today, I spotlight John Patterson of the Washington Nationals. Unlike my previous two spotlighted players, Pedro Martinez and Nick Johnson, John actually has played some games this year - seven to be precise, before being shelved with a right elbow injury.

Some of you may not know that John originally broke into the majors with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2002. In five starts, he posted some very impressive numbers - a 3.23 ERA, a 1.11 WHIP, a .235 batting average against, and most imporantly to me, an impressive 31 strikeouts in 30 2/3 innings. Anytime you see a pitcher striking out more than a batter an inning (particularly if you're a fantasy player) it usually catches people's attention. Needless to say, John was a pitcher everyone wanted on their fantasy teams in 2003... Unfortunately, he was slowed by injuries that year, and resultantly was traded to the Montreal Expos - the same organization where he had come to Arizona from... John started 19 games for the Expos in 2004, and while his 5.03 ERA was hardly impressive, he still had that good strikeout pitch working for him as he fanned 99 batters in his 98 1/3 innings that year...

With that last statistic in mind, John again garnered attention in fantasy leagues as a possible sleeper in 2005 drafts... the Expos moved to Washington, D.C. and became the Nationals that year. The change in scenery must have done some good as John posted some numbers very reminiscent of those he put up his rookie year: a 3.13 ERA, a 1.19 WHIP, a .233 BAA and 185 strikeouts!!! Offensive deficiencies resulted in John only winning nine games that year, but John was now finally realizing that great promise he showed us his first year up! Injuries reared their ugly head again last year though, and John only pitched 40 1/3 innings in 2006, producing a 4.43 ERA, but a very impressive 1.11 WHIP, .237 BAA and 42 strikeouts.

With such a light workload and those impressive peripheral numbers in 2006, John was someone I looked to be a big time sleeper in fantasy leagues this year... with a low-mid 90's fastball, and a devistating breaking ball, there was no doubt he had the tools to deliver some great numbers this year... Not surprisingly, John was someone I drafted late in a large number of my leagues this year... As the season started, I inserted him into my lineups, very unaware that something was amiss. Unfortunately, we don't get to see a lot of televised Nats games out here in L.A., so I had no idea that his velocity was down 4-5 MPH, and that he was having trouble controlling his breaking stuff until I started reading some of the local DC papers around mid-April.

Just before the 2007 season started, a very nice thing happened to John: he got engaged! Yes, engagements happen every day, but it's not every day that you get engaged to someone who partcipated in a Miss America pageant! A year and a half after first going out with 2005 Miss District of Columbia, Shannon Schambeau, John and Shannon began on the journey to take the BIG step... Before I found out about John's injury, I figured that maybe all of the wedding plans and arrangements were the cause of his early season pitching woes - that certainly is not the case! The injury may be a little bit of a blessing in disguise for John, as it's probably giving him more time to plan for the big event... Speaking of their wedding, which is to take place on November 10th, they have created a very nice website simply entitled "Shannon & John." The website is very professionally done and includes all kinds of interesting stuff such as photos and an "about us" page. There is also a guest book for their friends and family to sign - and if you read the comments, you'll soon find that John and Shannon are indeed two very nice people!

Now that I've taken you on that tangent, I'll just let you know that John is rehabbing that elbow and is scheduled to throw a bullpen session at RFK stadium tomorrow. If all goes well, he could be back in the rotation early next month. Before stashing him on your fantasy team's DL slot, make sure he's got his velocity back along with his command... if so, then it's all systems GO and he could end up having a HUGE impact on fantasy teams everywhere this year!

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As for the games... well, let's make this a smooth transition and start off Sunday's games with the Nationals... Ex-Brave Ryan Langerhans hit a grand slam in the 8th inning to give the Nats a 7-2 win over the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals and a 5-2 record on their recent road trip. The Nationals now come home to face the two National league teams most near to where I live: my Dodgers and the San Diego Padres. The Dodgers got six shutout innings from the resurgent Randy Wolf, while Chicago Cubs starter Rich Hill matched him frame for frame with six shutout innings of his own. I was loving this as both pitchers are on several of my fantasy teams! Both teams scored a run in the eighth inning, and the game was decided in the bottom of the 11th inning as Juan Pierre got the rare walk-off hit-by-pitch to force in the winning run with no one out. The Padres have undoubtedly the best pitcher in the National League at the moment in Jake Peavy... Last year was an injury plagued season for Jake, but this year, he has put it all together. All he did yesterday was throw seven shutout innings at the Milwaukee Brewers, giving up only two hits while striking out eight in the process. Peavy's ERA now stands at an incredible 1.47, and he leads the senior circuit in strikeouts with 85. As I'll be in DC next weekend, I'm planning on catching Peavy's next outing which is scheduled to be this Saturday afternoon... Depending on how my plans/schedule work out, I may catch Sunday's game as well.

Normally, this next item would be big news, but given how bad the Yankees have been this year, it isn't... John Lackey pitched a strong eight innings to get his major league leading 8th win, and Francisco Rodriguez survived control issues to close out the game for his 15th save and a 4-3 Angels win. With the three game sweep of the series, the Angels have built their AL West lead to 4 1/2 games over the Seattle Mariners. Meanwhile, the floundering Yankees now find themselves 12 1/2 games back of the AL East Division leading Boston Red Sox.

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In auto racing, Dario Franchiti won a rain shortened Indianapolis 500... Though very competitive throughout, Danica Patrick never led the race (she got as high as second). Danica ended up finishing in eighth. In Nascar, it was just another day at the office for the Hendrick team as Casey Mears got his first career win - the 5th consective victory for team Hendrick. A daring move to conserve fuel ultimately led to the Mears win - he ran out of gas soon after the start/finish line!!!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Ladies & Gentlemen, Start Your Engines!!!

Memorial Day weekend is a time to remember all of those who selflessly have served and are serving our great nation... it's also a time where they traditionally run the Indianapolis 500, also known as the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing"... Since 1911, "the Brickyard" has hosted racing's most prestigious event. It was "the race" to watch throughout the decades - with names like Foyt, Unser, Mears, Rutherford, Johncock and Andretti amongst those who made history there... With the split between CART and the IRL in the mid-90's, people began to watch the race less and less... in the early 2000's it was to the point where there was some genuine concern about the race's future... Two years ago, Danica Patrick burst onto the scene and unlike any other woman racer before, she was actually VERY competitive even leading the race for a few laps before fading to a fourth place finish. Danica helped bring in a whole new legion of fans, both old and new - as a result, people are actually tuning into the race again!!! Last year's race was truly amazing as Sam Hornish Jr. passed Marco Andretti on the final straightaway for a dramatic victory. This year is notable because for the first time, three women have made the field including the aforementioned Patrick, who starts in 8th. Live coverage of the race begins on your local ABC station at 12 noon ET/9 am PT.

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Today is the second installment of my "Don't Forget To Remember Me" series... Yesterday, I covered the great Pedro Martinez... Nick Johnson of the Washington Nationals is today's subject... At 28 years of age, Nick is in what should be the prime of his career. Looking at last year's numbers, it seems that this indeed is the case, as Nick posted many career bests including a .290 batting average, 46 doubles, 23 home runs, 77 RBI's and 10 steals in exactly 500 at bats. He also drew 110 walks, and finished the season with the 4th best on-base percentage in the National league (.428), and also an impressive .520 slugging percentage. His .948 OPS (On Base + Slugging Pct.) ranked 10th in the NL in 2006. Nick has always been immensely talented, but he's also always been injury prone, and his career best season came to a crashing halt quite literally as he broke his leg in a collision with teammate Austin Kearns on September 23rd of last year. Nick was originally hoping to be back before the season started, but it's been a slow healing process for him... Nick is now participating in fielding drills and batting practice and is targeting a return by the end of June. Nick is a huge asset in regular rotisserie leagues, but he's an even bigger one in the so-called Sabermetric leagues due to his propensity to draw walks... If you have an empty roster spot, now would be a good time to stash him as he should definitely provide a huge boost to your fantasy team in the second half of this season!!!

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Saturday, May 26, 2007

Don't Forget To Remember Me...

The names are familiar ones to most of us... Pedro Martinez, Nick Johnson, John Patterson, Juan Rivera, Mike Piazza, Dave Roberts and Moises Alou... Normally, all of these guys would be on our fantasy teams making some sort of positive contribution... Most of the aforementioned players are tried and true veterans who have more than proven what they can do on the field... they all share one thing in common at the moment - they're injured! No, they aren't contributing a thing to your fantasy teams at the moment, but you can't forget about them as they are still VERY capable of making a big contribution before this season is over. Over the next week, I'm going to cover each of these players in depth, one each day...

I lead off this list with Pedro Martinez for many reasons... First and probably foremost is that I'm a HUGE fan of Pedro's. I remember watching him pitch (mostly out of the bullpen) in 1993 as a rookie for the Dodgers and being totally in AWE of his stuff. His arsenal of pitches even at only 21 years of age was formidable, and he already knew "the art of pitching." All Pedro did that year was put up a 2.61 ERA and 119 strikouts in 107 innings... these were the numbers of a star in the making... November 19, 1993 was one of the saddest days for me as a Los Angeles Dodger fan as they traded the pitcher I was in awe of to the Montreal Expos for infielder Delino Deshields!!! Before that day, I never paid much attention to the Expos, save for 1981 when the Dodgers defeated them in the playoffs before advancing to the World Series and defeating the New York Yankees...

So, the next year, 1994 I began to follow the team north of the border closely for the first time, and I've done so ever since - even as they moved to Washington, D.C. and became the Nationals. The rookie pitcher I admired blossomed as a starter. Pedro went 11-5 that year in helping lead the Expos to their first division title since that same 1981 season where they ironically lost to the Dodgers in the playoffs. Every year with the Expos, Pedro's numbers got better and better, closing out his career with them with an amazing 1997 season where he put up an 17-8 record, a 1.90 ERA and 305 strikeouts in 241 1/3 innings. A star had been born!!! With a very small payroll though, there was no way that the Expos would be able to retain their ace - free agency and a HUGE payday awaited Pedro...

In 1998 Pedro moved onto Boston where he went from being merely very successful to legendary!! Since I've ALWAYS been a Red Sox fan, I was very happy he went to one of my favorite teams!!! In 1999, he posted a 23-4 record with a 2.07 ERA and 313 strikeouts... The next year, he posted an incredible 1.74 ERA and 0.74 WHIP with 284 strikeouts and a .167 batting average against... 2000 was also the first year that I won some fantasy leagues - Pedro was the cornerstone of my winning teams, including one which made an appearance on the ESPN.com overall leaderboard!!! In 2004, Pedro (along with Curt Schilling) led the Red Sox to their first World Series title in 86 years. The curse of the Bambino had been broken! With that triumph though, Pedro's days in Beantown sadly ended...

Pedro moved onto the New York Mets in 2005 and helped lead them to their first division title since 1988 (ironically the Mets lost in the playoffs to the World Champion Dodgers that year)... This past June, I finally got to see Pedro pitch in person for the first time... although he didn't have his best stuff, it was such a priviledge to finally see my hero pitch!!! Pedro was injured most of the second half last year and had rotator cuff surgery in the off season... He's currently rehabbing his pitching elbow and his targeting a return by the first of August. He's a gamer and a fierce competitor - look for Pedro to have a big impact on any fantasy team he happens to land on those final two months of this year. If you don't believe me, check out this article in Newsday which looks VERY encouraging. In the article, Pedro states "It's like I'm rejuvenated. I feel like I'm my good old '97, '96 years."... If indeed that's the case, the rest of the teams better watch out!

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Well, there were some great games last night... Did any of you catch that wild game out at Chavez Ravine between my Dodgers and the Cubs??? It was quite the roller coaster!!! Derek Lowe pitched a very strong six innings giving up only one run and striking out five batters in exiting with a 5-1 lead. The usually reliable Dodger bullpen had a meltdown last night though, giving up seven runs in the seventh inning to the Cubs and blowing D-Lowe's win. As I have D-Lowe in several fantasy leagues, this was quite disappointing and reminiscent of the 2005 season where the Dodger pen routinely blew his leads... Getting back to the game... as most of you Cubs fans know though, that Cubs pen is not very reliable, so no lead is safe. Sure enough, the Dodgers came back to score four runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to take a 9-8 lead. Takeshi Saito pitched a perfect ninth for his 15th save in giving the Dodgers their third straight win after losing four straight. Prior to the Dodgers' triumph, the crosstown Angels beat up on the New York Yankees 10-6. Jered Weaver gave up three runs in a gutty five inning performance including Alex Rodriguez' league-leading 19th homer.

So who is the hottest team in baseball??? No, it's not the Dodgers... that honor would happen to belong to the Washington Nationals... Yesterday, they won their fourth consecutive game in defeating the St. Louis Cardinals 5-4. The resurgent Dmitri Young went 2-for-3 with two runs scored, while Brian Schneider hit a two run homer off Cardinal starter Anthony Reyes. "The Chief" Cordero pitched a perfect ninth for his seventh save of the year... For the Nats, it was their 11th win in their past 15 games... amazingly, most of this is being done without their top three starting pitchers - John Patterson, Shawn Hill and Jason Bergmann... Why have the Nats suddenly started winning??? Maybe it was my column two weeks ago!!!??? By the way, my apologies to John, Shannon and Ryan - I must have been asleep when I posted that originally - I hope I didn't start any rumors with that one! Long story short is the BIG error I posted has been fixed! All kidding aside, it appears that their hitters have finally begun to wake up as they have scored 56 runs in their past 10 games. Also, the aforementioned Cordero is looking like the pitcher we all know he can be - I'm convinced that the health of his Grandma was having a lot more of an effect on him than most of us knew. In seven outings since her passing, Chad has not given up an earned run in lowering his ERA from 4.70 to 3.22. The window to buy Chad low in fantasy leagues is quickly closing, so if you haven't done it yet, you might want to think about doing it this weekend!!

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... and yes, I tricked you all with the title today, did I not? ;)

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Friday, May 25, 2007

Playin' Hardball...

I have to admit to a rare case of insomnia last night...while channel surfing just before 1 a.m PT, I happened upon MSNBC and Chris Matthews' Hardball - a show that I've watched on and off for many years... In case you've never seen the show, Matthews often uses it as a forum to discuss political issues and will grill his guests with his questions. Matthews recently garnered a lot of controversy with the questions he asked some of the competitors as a judge in the 2007 Miss America pageant. Some examples: “Why did Mississippi seem to do a better job than Louisiana in the wake of Hurricane Katrina?"... “Faulkner never used commas when he wrote. Why is that?”... and the topper, "Where is Osama bin Laden now?"

Clearly, Matthews was out of his element as a judge at the pageant... however, he does a fine job most of the time on Hardball and on the Chris Matthews Show. And sometimes, you do happen to see the "kinder, gentler" side of Matthews - last night was one of those nights as he interviewed Ron Jr. and Nancy Reagan during the final 15 minutes of his show... Nancy recently decided to publish the daily diaries that her late husband Ronald Reagan during his eight years in office. Of all of our nation's leaders during my lifetime, there probably isn't one I admired and respected more than Reagan... Reagan was very "old school" in his writings which kept with his image - very "polite and clean" as Matthews put it... The book on our 40th President is simply entitled The Reagan Diaries and is on sale now.

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"Hardball" is the theme for the day... this is the time of year in fantasy leagues where you have to start playing "hardball" with your fellow fantasy leaguers... The season is nearing 1/3 over, and if your team is more than say 15 points out of first, well then you more than likely have some work to do. Now's the time where you sell high on the overachievers, and you buy the underachievers at a discount... I'll make a few quick "Buy Low, Sell High" recommendations here...

BUY LOW:

1. Albert Pujols (1B-STL) - Pujols is perennially near the top of the fantasy (and real) world most years, but 2007 has been different so far. With only a .275 BA, 7 homers and 25 RBI's through 44 games there is some concern that he may be hiding an injury. ESPN recently did a piece though which shows the true culprit to his slow start may be a different batting stance that he has this year - one in which there are more moving parts... Expect Pujols to put it all together soon. I doubt you ever have a chance to get him cheaper than now.

2. Andruw Jones (OF-ATL) - Jones is hitting an embarrassing .213 at the moment with only 6 homers and a tolerable 31 RBI's to this point. Jones tallied 92 homers and 257 RBI's to go with a .262 BA over the past two years for the Braves... This past Sunday, he reached the ultimate low, striking out five times in five at bats!!! Jones is too good of a hitter to continue hitting like this. Look for him to regain his plate patience and start hitting like the guy we all have come to draft as a cornerstone of our teams the past few years.

3. Ryan Howard (1B-PHI) - Howard put up an amazing 58 homers and 149 RBI's last year for the Phillies... injuries and a slow start have contributed to a GREAT buying opportunity as he only hit 6 homers and driven in 23 in 29 games before going on the disabled list on May 10th... I have Howard in a keeper league and have recived several lowball offers over the past couple of weeks... Rule one of thumb in being successful in fantasy is to never sell low... take advantage of this buying opportunity if you can!!!

SELL HIGH:

1. Torii Hunter (OF-MIN) - Hunter is a very good hitter, but he's not a .315 hitter. Always an injury risk, Hunter has also posted 16 doubles, 11 homers, 40 RBI's and 8 steals so far in 2007... While on the surface those numbers look great, a red flag goes up when you discover that he's only walked 8 times, while striking out 32 so far this year... That's only a 0.25 batting eye - prior to this year his batting eye was 0.36 for his career, so he's clearly regressed in that regard. This can only mean one thing - that .315 batting average is due for a BIG fall! A career .271 hitter, it's going to be hard for Hunter to keep his BA over that mark as long as he continues to strike out so much. I recently sold him for Rafael Furcal in a league. Yes, that was GREAT value! Get as much for him as you can NOW, before the numbers start to tumble and/or he gets injured.

2. Magglio Ordonez (OF-DET) - Ordonez has got to be one of 2007's biggest "feel good" stories so far, putting up a .361 BA with 23 doubles, 12 homers and 45 RBI's through the Tigers first 45 games. From 1999 thru 2003, "Maggs" was one of baseball's most consistently reliable power hitters, averaging 32 homers, 118 RBI's and a .310 BA... Injuries limited him to only 17 homers and 134 games total between 2004 and 2005. Last year, Maggs played the entire season, but his numbers weren't up to par with what he did prior to the injury - a 24 homers, 104 RBI's and a .298 BA. A career .307 hitter, you just now that his .361 BA will fall. If you've owned him and enjoyed the ride until now, it would be a good idea to move him. The injury risk is always there, and he's on a VERY unsustainable pace...

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Lastly, I'll just make a comment on the NBA playoffs - I'll play some "hardball" with the officials here... if you didn't see what went on between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Detroit Pistons last night, it's probably best that you don't watch any highlights - particularly if you're a Cavs fan. Like with the Georgetown-Ohio State game in the NCAA tournament, the players weren't the ones deciding the game - it was the referees!!! Several HORRIBLE calls in the closing seconds last night (all going against the Cavaliers), along with several instances where the referees conveniently didn't blow their whistles when they should have for fouls on Detroit players turned the game into something that looked strangely familiar... A foul is a foul, whether it's 24 seconds into a game or with 24 seconds left to go... it's sad that the referees made so many mistakes last night. One can only hope that the Cavs can rebound from the defeat and that the players will decide the remaining games...

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Jordin wins, Carrie shines in AI6 finale...

It was almost a foregone conclusion that Jordin Sparks was going to win American Idol 6 last night... from the time the field was pared down to 24, it was clear that the women were much more talented this year than the men. Sure enough, when the field got down to four, only one man remained - Blake Lewis. While many of us are still wondering how Blake managed to get to the finals over the much more talented Melinda Doolittle and LaKisha Jones, at least the best singer of the final two competitors won. At only 17 years of age though, Jordin has a lot to learn about the music business. Yes, she has talent, but the music industry is a tough one. Hopefully Clive Davis and everyone at 19 Entertainment will get some good people around her to show her the ropes and give her some much needed experience. Someone like Melinda or LaKisha wouldn't have had to face the things Jordin will as they're veteran performers and they've been through a lot of things in singing for so long. My hope through all of this, Jordin will be able to keep her feet on the ground and a good perspective on everything.

As for the show itself, it had many highlights and one HUGE lowlight... For me, the biggest highlights were seeing Carrie Underwood perform her cover of the Pretenders' "I'll Stand By You," and then later being presented her 6x Platinum plaque by Clive Davis for her U.S. sales of her "Some Hearts" CD. And to think, just a short two years ago, Carrie was on that stage, defeating Bo Bice. Did any of us see her amazing success coming? I knew she would be good, but she's exceeded even my wildest expectations! The lowlight???... well, it happened to be right after Carrie accepted that award - a big huge production featuring Sanjaya Malakar. Season One winner Kelly Clarkson also made an appearance, singing on stage with Joe Perry. It was Clarkson's first time on the show since winning five years ago. The ending was also VERY memorable as there was a medley of Beatles tunes highlighted by the aforementioned Carrie, Ruben Studdard, Taylor Hicks and this year's top 12 finalists...

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With all of my favorite TV shows done for another six months or so, it's time to put our efforts fully on baseball! Oliver Perez continued to display his 2004 form, pitching seven innings of shutout ball, and Billy Wagner picked up his 11th save as the New York Mets defeated the Atlanta Braves 3-0. Red Sox' ace Curt Schilling just did not have his good stuff yesterday (bad news for my fantasy teams), yielding five runs and 12 hits as the Yankees won 8-3 behind Andy Pettite's strong seven inning performance. Pettitte only gave up one run despite giving up nine hits as the Yankees took two out of three games in the series. The resurgent Washington Nationals won their second straight as Ryan Church blasted two homers and drove in six in a 12-7 win over the Cincinnati Reds. Ryan Zimmerman appears to have gotten back on track as well, homering for the fourth time in the past seven games.

As for my hometown teams, the Angels' Bartolo Colon got torched for six earned runs and 10 hits in 4 1/3 innings as the Detroit Tigers held on for an 8-7 victory. Look for another loss today for the Halos as Ervin Santana is pitching. Ervin is great at home, awful on the road... will he ever get the road figured out??? The resurgent Brad Penny pitched a strong seven innings of shutout ball, while the Dodgers got to Brewer starter Chris Capuano for four runs and eight hits in four innings of work in a 5-1 victory for the Blue Crew.


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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Perfect Storm...

Last night was just one of those that you dream about as a baseball fan... it was a night where all of my favorite teams won, and all of my least favorite teams lost - OK, I really only have one least favorite team (the Yankees), but you get the idea... And yes, I got to eat my cake too as several of my fantasy league aces did very well last night - Johan Santana, Jake Peavy, John Lackey, Tim Lincecum and Randy Wolf all had strong performances, and more importantly (at least to my fantasy teams) wins! OK, a few of my pitchers (Rich Hill, Bronson Arroyo and Cole Hamels) didn't do too well, but overall it was a GREAT night!

As for the AL games that meant something to me... first off, the Boston Red Sox defeated their arch-rival New York Yankees 7-3. Manny Ramirez was "just being Manny" last night as his three-run homer led the BoSox attack... The aforementioned Johan Santana was absolutely DOMINANT last night, striking out 13 batters in seven innings while leading the Minnesota Twins to a 5-1 victory over the Texas Rangers. John Lackey pitched a gutty five innings (he threw 104 pitches), giving up only a run as the Angels beat the Detroit Tigers 6-3. Francisco Rodriguez closed things out for his 13th save of the year.

As for the NL games, the suddenly red-hot Felipe Lopez (remember, I recommended picking him on 5/15) homered and drove in six runs as the Washington Nationals beat up on Bronson Arroyo and the Cincinnati Reds 8-4. Andruw Jones rebounded from his embarassing five strikeout performance this past Sunday going two for three with an RBI, and pitcher Kyle Davies homered as the Atlanta Braves defeated the New York Mets 8-1. Rookie sensation Tim Lincecum pitched a strong eight innings for the San Francisco Giants, giving up two runs and five hits, as he defeated Roy Oswalt and the Houston Astros 4-2. Finally, my Dodgers got yet another strong performance from the resurgent Randy Wolf in defeating the Milwaukee Brewers and Ben Sheets 3-2. Wolf gave up two runs and three hits in seven innings as the Dodgers stopped their four game losing streak...

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For the second time in three days, I'm going to talk a little hockey! The Anaheim Ducks are going to the Stanley Cup finals! A 4-3 win over the Detroit Red Wings last night gave the Ducks a 4-2 series win. In the game, the Ducks jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead after two periods. The Ducks then played VERY conservatively in the third period, scoring once, while giving up three goals... they were able to hold on though thanks again to the outstanding goaltending of series MVP Jean-Sebastien Giguere. The Stanley Cup final is set to begin between the Ducks and the Ottawa Senators this Monday night. Neither the Ducks nor the Senators has ever won a championship, so a first time champion is certain to be crowned!

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Well tonight is it - the Americal Idol finale'... who will win? Jordin or Blake??? I'm picking Jordin, though with my fortune in picking A.I. winners this year, it's a pick that I wouldn't recommend betting on!

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Red Sox-Yankees Part Deux

Last month, the Boston Red Sox swept their arch rival New York Yankees in a three game series at Fenway Park. That sweep was the beginning of a 13-17 tailspin for the Yankees which found them a a full 10 1/2 games behind the BoSox as their second series of 2007 began. Poor pitching, injuries and poor hitting by everyone not named Jorge Posada and Derek Jeter were the culprits to the bad month by the Yankees.

Lately though, the Yankees are beginning to show signs of life again. Chien-Mien Wang is back from injury and the Rocket, Roger Clemens, will be back pitching for them again by the end of the month... A-Rod is at it hitting homers again, including a 3-run shot off the Red Sox' Tim Wakefield last night. Jason Giambi is starting to look like himself at the plate again - he blasted a massive third deck shot last night off of Wakefield. Bobby Abreu is starting to walk again after looking more like Alfonso Soriano with his lack of patience at the plate for the better part of two weeks and Robinson Cano is also finally starting to hit. You add all of this up, and the Yankees are beginning to look formidable again. Yes, they are still 9 1/2 games behind the Red Sox in the A.L. East after a 6-2 win last night, but history tells us that they are by no means out of it yet...

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Though baseball is almost always my focus this time of the year, it's also the time of the year when my favorite TV shows are coming to a close... The Amazing Race ended a couple of weekends ago. Yes, I was rooting for the beauty queens Dustin and Kandace - but they only came in second... Last night, 24 had an exciting two hour finale... if you missed it, you just HAVE TO see it!!! Over the next two nights, American Idol will crown it's season six champion. In case you missed it, a certain contestant from season four is going to be performing on Idol tomorrow night. Yes, that would be Carrie Underwood!

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OK, well it's Tuesday and it's now time to try to find some Diamonds in the Rough for your fantasy baseball teams...

1. Jeremy Hermida (OF-Fla) 60% owned in CBS Sportsline leagues - Hermida is the guy EVERYONE wanted last year in their fantasy leagues... The Marietta, Georgia native (maybe he belonged in yesterday's blog???!!!) hit four homers in 41 at bats for the Marlins in 2005 after posting an impressive 111 walks and .457 OBP in the minors that year. He looked poised to be HUGE in 2006, as he often was drafted in the 10th round or earlier in fantasy leagues. Unfortunately, injuries took away most his 2006 season and when he came back in June he became VERY impatient at the plate. Not surprisingly, his numbers suffered as a result and he wound up the year hitting only .251 with five homers in 307 at bats. So far in 2007, Hermida is looking every bit like the hitter we all coveted last year - a .417 BA, 2 homers, 6 RBI's and 4 runs in his first seven games. Most importantly, Hermida is displaying plate discipline this year, walking four times to go along with four strikeouts for a very impressive 1.00 batting eye (walks to strikeout ratio). As long as he remains patient at the plate and healthy, the sky is almost the limit for this guy. Get him NOW!

2. Reggie Willits (OF-LAA) 49% owned - Another week, another speedy guy profiled here... if you're like me in fantasy baseball drafts, the one area that tends to get neglected the most is the stolen base column. Fortunately, every year, many new speed sources emerge. I profiled the Philles' Shane Victorino here a few weeks ago, and he's only second in the majors in steals. As for Willits, he has taken the leadoff spot away from veteran Angels outfielder Chone Figgins and has absolutely SEIZED the opportunity. All Willits has done so far this year is hit .351, steal 10 bases and score 20 runs in 105 at bats. Possessor of a great batting eye in the minors, he's also drawn an impressive 15 walks for a .433 OBP... It looks like Willits is here to stay (bad news for Figgins owners). If healthy, he could very easily steal another 30-40 bases the rest of the way for the Angels!

3. Randy Winn (OF - SF) 30% owned - The one thing that most fantasy owners know about Randy Winn is that he's very streaky and his streaks (both good and bad) tend to last a lot longer than most players. In 2005, Winn finished the year with these numbers over his final 79 games beginning July 5th: 18 homers, 38 RBI's, 55 runs, 10 SB, a .348 BA and a .639 SLG. Needless to say, those numbers won many people (myself included) a lot of fantasy titles in 2005... In 2006 though and through the first month of 2007, that Winn was nowhere to be found. His numbers in those 165 games: 11 HR, 61 RBI's, 84 runs, 10 SB, a .256 BA and a .384 SLG. Nothing in those numbers, except maybe the runs will help your team. In 25 games since April 23rd of this year though, that "2005 post-4th of July version" of Winn has returned to the tune of 3 homers, 10 RBI's, 16 runs, 2 SB, a .390 and a .590 SLG. As my favorite baseball forecaster Ron Shandler always likes to say "once you display a skill, you own it." History has shown us that Winn can be REALLY good for three months at a time (at least)... ride this streak out and enjoy!!!

4. Boof Bonser (SP - Min) 73% owned - Lost amidst the "baby Johan" mania which was Francisco Liriano last year in Minnesota, another very nice prospect with a funny name made it to the Twins major league roster. In the minors, Bonser displayed a combination of great power and command, striking out more than a batter an inning while posting nearly a 3:1 strikeout to walk ratio. In just over 100 innings last year with the big club, Bonser posted 84 strikeouts and a respectable 4.23 ERA and 1.28 WHIP. Bonser got off to a slow start this year, mostly due to command problems, but over the past three outings, he seems to have solved those issues, striking out 24, while walking only five in 19 innings... Expect some really good times ahead for Bonser as the Twins get batting champ Joe Mauer back behind the dish. It's not out of the realm of possibility that Bonser gets 200 strikeouts before the year is over with 15 wins, a 3.75 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP. If he's still out there and available, it would be a GREAT idea to get him!

5. Scott Baker (SP-Min) 18% owned - So you missed out on Bonser? Well, fear not as the Twins have a VERY deep farm system full of guys who aspire to be the next Johan Santana or Francisco Liriano... Scott Baker is another star in the making... Though he doesn't have the overpowering stuff of the aforementioned guys, Baker does have Greg Maddux-like skills - he knows how to get guys out with his pure pitching ability. He posted ERA's of 3.01 and 2.67 in the minors the past two years, and while he got hit pretty hard last year in his stay with the big club, he looked VERY impressive in his first outing of 2007, striking out five and giving up six hits and two earned runs in 8 1/3 innings of a 5-2 win against the Milwaukee Brewers last week. An ERA of perhaps 3.80 along with 12-15 wins and 140 strikeouts could be in his future for 2007... numbers which can definitely help your team!

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Johnson wins "Battle of the Bulldogs"

There must be something in the air of Georgia that appeals to 2007 Masters champion Zach Johnson. The former Drake bulldog and Iowa native came from three strokes down to defeat former Georgia Bulldog Ryudi Imada in the first hole of a playoff for his third career PGA Tour victory - all of his wins coming in the state of Georgia. Johnson was in the clubhouse at 15 under par, with Imada sitting at 14 under and needing a birdie on the par-5 18th hole to force a playoff. Imada hit his tee shot into the fairway. His second shot hit the green and then rolled off the back edge and into a drainage area from which he was allowed a drop. Imada hit a brilliant pitch on his third shot to within a foot and a half for a tap in birdie and the playoff was on.

The playoff ended just as quickly as it started though as Imada's second shot to the first playoff hole (the same par-5 18th) found the water fronting the green. Johnson would go on to birdie the hole, while Imada closed with a bogey. Johnson has now won twice in two months, and with his "bulldog mentality" is quickly becoming a household name on the PGA Tour. Johnson has very much impressed me with his mental approach to the game - he has a plan and sticks to it and he doesn't seem to let things rattle him. If he hits a bad shot, it's quickly forgotten and he moves on to the next one. His approach should serve him very well next month in the U.S. Open. Now if only they could somehow move that tournament to Georgia, he might just about be guaranteed to win it...

Speaking of Georgia, there must be something in the air of the Peach state that I like as well... For some reason, Georgia natives seem to find me (or is it the other way around)??!! My connections there go back about nine years now - in 1998, I created a webpage devoted to Marietta, Georgia native Jennifer Paige. Paige had the huge #2 pop hit "Crush" that same year... One of my main Fantasy Baseball leagues is called "Georgia Trades Win." I'm now in my third year in that particular league, though I've been playing in fantasy leagues with league organizer and Georgia native Keith Jansen for over five years now... Needless to say, I'm the only Californian in this league which is otherwise filled with Georgians... Keith and his family are truly some of the nicest, most gracious people I've met in my nine years of playing fantasy baseball... Last, and certainly not least, my friend 2006 Miss DC Kate Michael would also be a Georgia native, growing up in the city of Lilburn. Perhaps with all of these Georgia connections, I need to pay a visit there one of these days - maybe late this summer I will get the chance to finally go.

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Well, it's time to really change things up here - I'm actually going to talk about hockey! Two months of posts here and not a single mention of hockey until today... well with the Anaheim Ducks in the playoffs and looking to go to the Stanley Cup, I guess it's about time that I started giving them some recognition. While I'm not much of a hockey fan - my sister and brother-in-law are HUGE fans though - I have been paying attention to what's been happening with our hometown Ducks. For nearly 58 1/2 minutes yesterday, the Detroit Red Wings completely controlled game 5 of the best of 7 series... still, their 1-0 lead was tenuous at best. A penalty on Pavel Datsyuk with 1:47 to go, gave the Ducks a power play. Ducks' coach Randy Carlyle pulled goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere for a 6-on-4 advantage. Exactly a minute later, Scott Niedermayer scored the dramatic game-tying goal.

In overtime, the momentum clearly had shifted as the Ducks had complete control most of the time. The Red Wings' spirit appeared to be broken - you could sense it was only a matter of time before the Ducks would somehow pull it out. Andreas Lilja, who scored the Red Wings line goal in game 5, turned the puck over deep in the Red Wings' zone 11 minutes and 55 seconds into the overtime... It was a fatal mistake for the Wings as the Ducks best player and leading scorer Teemu Selanne wound up with the puck. Selanne quickly faked out Red Wings goaltender Dominik Hasek and flipped in the winning score. The series now heads back to Anaheim where the Ducks hope to close out the Red Wings on Tuesday night.

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Yes, there was also lots of baseball played on Sunday - the so-called "Freeway series" was played here in Los Angeles between the Dodgers and Angels in Anaheim. Quite surprisingly, the Angels swept the Dodgers, closing their series with a 4-1 victory yesterday. Derek Lowe pitched well for the Dodgers, but two errors and a couple of other misplays doomed them as Kelvim Escobar pitched a brilliant seven innings. Francisco Rodriguez closed things out for his 13th save for the Halos.

In Chicago, the White Sox took it to the crosstown rival Cubs, torching Carlos Zambrano for seven earned runs in 6 2/3 innings of a rain delayed game for a 10-6 victory... A.J. Pierzynski (aka: "Punch A.J.") hit a grand slam in the top of the 7th inning to give the White Sox the final margin of victory. Matt Morris threw a two-hitter in Oakland as the A's were stifled by the San Francisco Giants 4-1. The red-hot Randy Winn went 3 for 5 with a homer, and is starting to look a lot like the Randy Winn who helped out a lot of my fantasy teams late in the 2005 season... In Washington, D.C., it looked like the Baltimore Orioles were going to sweep the injury plagued Nationals as they took a 3-1 lead into the bottom of the 8th... The suddenly resurgent Nats would have none of that, however, as Ryan Langerhans hit a run scoring single, and Nook Logan hit a two out, two-run single to give the Nats a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the frame. Chad Cordero closed out the Orioles in the ninth to get his first save in nearly three weeks.

In the battle of New York, the Yankees torhced Mets starter John Maine for five earned runs in five innings, and Alex Rodriguez hit his major league leading 17th home run as the Yankees avoided the sweep, defeating the Mets by a 6-2 score.

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Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Fantasy Baseball Player's Worst Nightmare...

It's the thing that will drive you crazy if you play Fantasy Baseball... you know at some point you'll be affected by it. No, it's not your best player going down due to injury - it's a pitching implosion!!! Fortunately, these things are few and far between for me. Last night, however, one of my teams got hit REALLY hard as all three of my starting pitchers got lit up brighter than a Christmas tree! For those of you that play this game, you may want to be sitting down when you read this... It was REALLY U-G-L-Y!!!

The particular team of mine got off to a REAL slow start this year in the pitching categories, but with some hard work and well placed spot starts, I had managed to get that team's ERA down to a respectable 4.003 (from being in the 5.00 range a few weeks ago) and within striking distance of several teams ahead of me. This past weekend I had a decision to make - do I use the Philadelphia Phillies' Jamie Moyer or do I take the Washington Nationals' Jason Bergmann as my final starter this week. The brain said Moyer, the gut said Bergmann... and as you probably know or guessed by now, I took Moyer. All Bergmann did was throw an absolute gem the other night with 10 strikeouts, giving up only two hits and a run in eight innings after throwing no-hit ball for seven innings.

Moyer was nothing short of AWFUL last night - giving up eight earned runs in three innings... he was followed by the Milwaukee Brewers' Dave Bush who gave up five runs in 7 1/3 innings of work. That turned out to be the best of my three starts last night. Greg Maddux of the San Diego Padres ended the horrific night for me by giving up seven earned runs in 3 2/3 innings. For the night, my team gave up TWENTY earned runs in only 14 innings!! As a result, my team's ERA jumped from 4.003 to 4.316!!

Just to show you how bad and disastrous last night was for that team of mine, it will take 42 innings of shutout ball to get the ERA back down to 4.003 where it stood before! I think I need to borrow that late season 1988 version of Orel Hershiser or something!!!

Though I may be deterred a little after last night in that particular league, I have to rememeber to put things in perspective. The season is only 1/4 over, and these kind of things happen to all teams. Even after last night's disaster, I still lie only 16 points out of first place - a very managable deficit this early on. My motto always is "Never Give Up"... Anyone that knows me also knows that I give 100% effort in my leagues from the beginning until the end... Last night's failures will only drive me to want to win that title more!!! Help may soon be on the way for that team as I'm trying to acquire either the Twins' Johan Santana or the Padres' Jack Peavy in trade. I'm dangling A-Rod out there in hopes of landing one of those two aces...

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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Interleague Madness!

Well, it's finally here... the first of the much anticipated interleague games between the American and National League teams. After giving a friend of mine a ride home from the car dealership where she dropped her car off, I got home just in time to watch first of the three games in the "Freeway Series" between the two teams of Los Angeles - The Dodgers and Angels. The Angels were the home team and Ervin Santana was pitching... If you know about Ervin Santana, then you probably know where I'm leading with this. If not, please check out my April 11th column Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde and "Frenchy" where I discuss Santana's crazy home and road splits and the Atlanta Braves' Jeff Francoeur... Last night, Santana had his typical good home outing, giving up one run and six hits in six innings of a 9-1 Angel win over Brad Penny and the Dodgers. Penny was leading the league in ERA going into last night, but if you read my Buy Low, Sell High entry from May 2nd, you would have already known that he was pitching over his head and that a correction was coming. Before giving up eight earned runs in five innings last night, Penny's ERA stood at 1.39. After last night's meltdown it now stands at 2.54.

Speaking of that "Sell High" list, look at what B.J. Upton has done since I made my recommendation: He went 5 for 11 in the three games immediately afterwards, but in the 12 games since then, he's been 8 for 48 (.167) with two homers and five RBI's. That batting average which sat at .377 is now down to .309! Needless to say, he will be a tough sell now, especially since he is striking out even more now than when he was hot. Unlike Upton, Alex Rodriguez will never be a tough sell, but he was on that "Sell High" list as well. Since then, he is only 12 for 58 (.207) with one homer and five RBI's. A-Rod is actually showing better plate discipline than he was earlier in the season, but it also appears pitchers just aren't giving him much to hit. Expect for him to break out of his slump soon!

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In the NBA, the conference finals are set as the San Antonio Spurs will be facing the Utah Jazz in the West and the Cleveland Cavaliers will take on the Detroit Pistons in the East. I'll probably be pulling for the Spurs in the West as ex-Laker hero Robert Horry is on their team. I do like and respect a lot of players on the Jazz team as well, most notably another ex-Laker Derek Fisher who has been a real trooper through some very tough personal stuff with his one year-old daughter. As for the East, I'll take the Cavaliers and LeBron James. We will just say that I'm not a Pistons fan - this dates way back to the late 80's/early 90's when they faced my Lakers in the finals. Heck, I even like the rival Boston Celtics more than the Pistons!!!

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Friday, May 18, 2007

Another Road Trip!!!

In another two weeks, I'm going to be taking my second big road trip of the year. My first trip to Washington, D.C. was so much fun and enjoyable that I just had to do it again! So, I'll be flying out into there very early the morning of Saturday, June 2nd. I'm hoping to catch a Nationals game there either that day or the next against the San Diego Padres, the rivals of my hometown Los Angeles Dodgers. I also hope to see a lot of the things I didn't get to see the first time I was in the District, though I know I won't be able to see everything I want to... I'm thinking I'll need to take an extended vacation of two weeks or more at some point to explore.

As for the other leg of that vacation, well that is going to be my first ever trip to Nashville. I'll fly into Nashville late the afternoon of the 4th from DC... for whatever reason (and this is REALLY mind boggling), it was $40 more expensive for a one way ticket from DC to Nashville than a round trip ticket! So, I bought the round trip ticket of course! By the way, I'm still awaiting response from American Airlines regarding me getting stuck in Reagan Airport in D.C. the entire day of April 26th...

Getting back to the Nashville trip, everything is pretty well all set. For those of you that don't know, I was one of the lucky people in Carrie Underwood's Fanclub who was selected to go to an exclusive Fanclub party being held on June 5th... it's going to be a blast to hang out with Carrie and fellow fans of hers! I'll be hooking up with my friends Jeff and Reggie at the airport on the 4th, and then Jeff will be driving us to the hotel where all three of us are staying. The Fanclub party is tentatively set for 3PM in the afternoon on the 5th, with Carrie performing at the Grand Ol' Opry later that night. It's going to be a VERY exciting time! And I need to remind myself to get that memory card for my camera - going to be taking a whole lot of pictures from both DC and here!

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Just a few quick baseball notes today... First off, I have to give some props to the Yankees' Jason Giambi for stepping up to the plate and admitting he was wrong for using steroids a few years ago. As a huge fan of the game, I hate to see things like steroids tarnish baseball's image. I hope that more players will own up like Giambi and admit to the mistakes they have made...

Johan Santana pitched another gem for the Minnesota Twins, striking out 11, while only giving up three hits against the Cleveland Indians yesterday... the only problem is that two of the hits he gave up were solo homers, and the offense was MIA against Indian pitcher Fausto Carmona in a 2-0 Cleveland win. Vladimir Guerrero hit a two run homer and had three hits to raise his batting average to .351, and Bartolo Colon threw a solid seven innings as the Angels defeated the Seattle Mariners 7-3. Of note, the Mariners' Ichiro Suzuki was caught stealing (by the Angels catcher Jose Molina) for the first time in 46 attempts yesterday. While Ichiro set the American league record with 45 straight thefts, he falls five short of the major league record set by Vince Coleman. Finally, the Washington Nationals won for the sixth time in seven games yesterday, defeating the Atlanta Braves 4-3... Felipe Lopez had a single, double and a triple to snap out of an 0 for 13 slump and Matt Chico pitched a strong six innings for the win. Jon Rauch picked up his third and presumably last save for the Nats - Chad Cordero will be back in the closer's role beginning tonight...

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Hamels Nearly Perfect, Furcal En Fuego!

When Philadelphia Phillies starter Cole Hamels first came up last year, I admit the first thing I noticed about him was that his first name and that it matched my last name... I still remember the first time I saw him pitch on TV last year, and marveling at his breaking balls and his great command... With 145 strikeouts in only 132 1/3 innings, a solid 4.08 ERA and 1.25 WHIP, I knew he was someone I definitely wanted on my fantasy teams this year. While I didn't get him on a lot of teams this year, I got him in a couple of my more important leagues...

Last night, Hamels was perfect for six innings. A walk and a J.J. Hardy homer to beging the seventh ended that... still, the performance was overwhelming: 8 innings pitched, 2 hits allowed, 2 runs allowed, 1 walk and 11 strikeouts. After last night's 6-2 Philly win, he now owns a 6-1 record, a 3.30 ERA, a 1.20 WHIP and 70 strikeouts (2nd in the league to Padres ace Jake Peavy). At only 23 years of age, Hamels is looking like someone who is going to be a star for a very long time if he can remain healthy...

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What in the world has gotten into the L.A. Dodgers' Rafael Furcal??? This past Saturday night, as I was watching the Dodgers game against the Cincinnati Reds I noticed that his batting average had fallen to .214. Furcal's historically a slow starter as I mentioned to a few people on Ron Shandler's Baseball HQ site. I also made mention that I was going to "aggressively target" Furcal in my fantasy leagues. So what happens? Furcal gets hits in his final two at bats to raise his average to .228. Over the next three nights, Furcal tallied an amazing four hits each game, while only making two outs total over that time, raising his batting average to .297. Last night, incredibly, he got a hit in his first at bat to get over the .300 mark! Outs in his final three at bats pushed him back down to .295. What an AMAZING run! Needless to say, it's probably too late now to try to buy Furcal low in your leagues... This past weekend, I did manage to make a trade for him in one league, giving up the Twins' Torii Hunter straight up for him. Hunter is a career .271 hitter who happens to be hitting .322 at the moment... expect that batting average to fall over the coming months. My only regret is that I didn't make that trade a day or two sooner, as Furcal's stats won't start counting for my team until next Monday...

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As for the games, well the aforementioned Dodgers won again 5-4 behind the resurgent Randy Wolf... The Angels shut out the Seattle Mariners 5-0 as their ace, John Lackey, threw six strong innings. The Washington Nationals won for the fifth time in six games as Ryan Zimmerman homered and doubled and Ryan Church hit a three run double in the fifth inning... Jon Rauch picked up his second save of the year for the Nats. For all of you Chad Cordero owners, fear not! He will be back in the closer's role starting on Friday. My condolences go out to Chad and his family as his ailing Grandmother passed on this past weekend.

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Time to switch gears to the NBA Playoffs for a moment. Being a lifelong spoiled Los Angeles Lakers fan, it's always hard to get into the playoffs when my Lakers are no longer in them. This year, I guess I have to be rooting for the San Antonio Spurs - I like a lot of their players such as Tim Duncan and ex-Laker Robert Horry, and I'm really not a fan of the Phoenix Suns... Last night, the Spurs rallied from a 16 point deficit to defeat the Suns 88-85 and take a 3-2 lead in the best of seven series... Manu Ginobili led the Spurs with 26 points and 10 rebounds.

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Finally, just what happened on American Idol last night??? I really don't know... I'm still in shock that Melinda Doolittle got eliminated. I had picked her to win from the beginning as she definitely seemed to have the "complete package." So much talent and such an AMAZING voice, and a spirit that reminded me of 2005 winner, Carrie Underwood... I'm going to make a prediction now: Melinda is going to sell more records than either of the two finalists on this year's show. Two years ago, I correctly predicted when they were down to 24 contestants that Carrie and Bo Bice would be the two finalists with Carrie winning... I picked Taylor Hicks to win when they were down to 20 contestants last year - though I said at the time that Chris Daughtry was going to be more successful commercially... This year, I picked Melinda and LaKisha Jones as the two finalists when they were at 24... Needless to say, the past two weeks have been a little humbling to me as far as A.I. goes.

With the whole Sanjaya thing earlier this season, and with the two best singing talents not even making it to the finals, you have to think that some of the long time fans of the show (such as myself) are feeling a little disappointed this morning.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Carrie & George win big at ACM Awards

It's all about the music, the people, the fans and the Country music family... that's what I love about the ACM awards... Every year, the show delivers on it's promise of providing three hours of wholesome family entertainment. Reba McEntire did her usual outstanding job as host, later singing an outstanding duet with Kelly Clarkson of the latter's #1 hit "Because Of You."

There were so many highlights to the show last night, it would literally take me forever to write about it all... what I'll probably remember the most were some of the moving tributes paid last night. Who could not help but love Taylor Swift singing her hit "Tim McGraw" and then walking right down to the legend himself and his wife, Faith Hill and begin serending Tim???!!!... that was truly a special moment! Rascal Flatts then performed "The Leaving Kind," paying tribute to the victims of the Virginia Tech shooting... I couldn't help but well up when I started watching the video screen as it started to show pictures of the victims. Just before the show's closing, Tim McGraw performed a moving new song which paid tribute to "America's fallen heroes."

As for the big winners last night, well Carrie Underwood added three more awards to her now HUGE collection. Carrie won Female Vocalist of the Year, Album of the Year for "Some Hearts," and the Video of the Year award for "Before He Cheats." George Strait took home the Single of the Year and Song of the Year awards for his song "Give It Away." Brooks & Dunn also took home two awards, including the Humanitarian of the Year award... Rascal Flatts, Rodney Atkins, Miranda Lambert, Brad Paisley and Little Big Town also took home awards.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Bergmann Flirts With No-No

As I was helping one of my best friends move yesterday, I was keeping close tabs on the happenings around the diamond on my cellphone. It's pretty amazing what cellphones can do these days. As the evening progressed, the game between the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves caught my attention. Through three innings, the Nationals' Jason Bergmann was throwing no-hit ball... and this continued through the fourth, the fifth and into the sixth as the Nats held tightly to a 1-0 lead. Bergmann cruised through the 7th as well and the Nats added a run in the bottom of the frame for a 2-0 lead. Six outs away from the pitchers ultimate... and in one swing of the bat, the Braves' Brian McCann ended it... a solo homer to lead off the 8th inning took away both the no-hitter and the shutout. Bergmann retired the next three batters and was pulled in the 9th after giving up a pinch hit single to Matt Diaz. In addition to only allowing two hits, Bergmann also struck out 10 batters - he was thoroughly dominant. Jesus Colome got the final three outs for his first save and the Nationals won a league best fourth straight!

The only bad to come out of this is that I decided not to go with my gut instinct in a couple of my CBS Sportsline fantasy leagues this week. I needed a couple of two start pitchers, and in two leagues, the final decision came down to Bergmann and the Phillies' ageless wonder, Jamie Moyer... Yes, I picked Moyer in both leagues! Argh! I can only hope that Moyer recovers from his 5 earned run, 9 hit, 2 walks allowed performance (with only one strikeout!) in his outing this weekend... One solace I have is that I did manage to pick up Bergmann in a few of my less important leagues where I really needed some help. Ironically, in those leagues the guy I dropped for him was the now injured Shawn Hill...

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It's time now for some Diamonds in the Rough... my weekly look at players who could be available in your fantasy league and should be able to help your fantasy teams!

1. Jack Cust (OF - OAK) 53 % owned in CBS Sportsline leagues - Last week, another Oakland A, Dan Johnson, was my #1 pick... and he's only gone from 35% owned to 74% owned after an amazing week... As great as Johnson's week was, Cust had an even better week, putting up 5 homers and 12 RBI's in the four games from May 10th through May 13th. Cust has ALWAYS had the ability to hit, but he's never gotten a chance to play full time. As he's toiled in the minor leagues for most of his professional career, the one thing that has happened is that he's become a more patient hitter. Last year, Cust drew 143 walks in Triple A ball (with an amazing .467 OBP) while hitting 30 homers in 441 at bats. The A's have a history of getting players that have been discarded by others and turning them into hidden gems - read Michael Lewis' Moneyball to get the lowdown on their philosophy. As for Cust, I see no reason why he can't become a 30 homer guy annually. Ryan Howard burst onto the scene with 57 homers last year... cust may be someone to follow in his footsteps.

2. Jason Bergmann (SP - WAS) 27 % owned - Well, I was planning on spotlighting Bergmann even before he pitched his gem last night... with that performance his ERA now stands at 2.76 and his WHIP at 1.00. Hitters are batting only .162 against him! With a 2:1 K/BB ratio, it looks like Bergmann is the real deal. Due to a lack of run support, his win yesterday was his first of the season. The Nats bats are finally starting to show some signs of life after lying dormant for over a month. Perhaps now they will start providing him some run support. If so, he might be good for another 12 wins or so the rest of the way.

3. Craig Monroe (OF - DET) 58 % owned - Is it just me, or is it every year that this guy just flys under the radar and posts very solid numbers??? 28 homers and 92 RBI's last year, 20 homers and 89 RBI's the year before... These numbers are pretty good for a 5th outfielder, yet he's just sitting there available in almost half of fantasy leagues at the moment. A very slow start in 2007 got people off his bandwagon this year almost as quickly as they got on, but Monroe has gotten hot of late, raising his average from .202 to .261 in a recent 12 for 25 stretch over the past week. While he never is going to help you in the batting average or speed department, guys that can get you 25 homers and 90 RBI's with a .265 or so batting average will do nothing to hurt you. At 30 years of age, Monroe is in the prime of his career, so I'd say there's an excellent chance he could reach both 30 homers and 100 RBI's for the first time if he remains healthy.

4. Wily Taveras (OF - COL) 47 % owned - Taveras has had some injury issues early on in the season, but those appear to be behind him now... With a .302 batting average, 22 runs scored and nine steals, he's done everything you could ask for from a leadoff guy. The only thing is that he has been caught stealing six times, but at least he's running! You have to figure that his luck will change and more of those caught stealings will turn into steals. With the red-hot Todd Helton and Matt Holliday hitting behind him, it's entirely possible Taveras could score another 80 runs while stealing 40 bases the rest of the way. In the thin air of Colorado, that .300 batting average he currently owns is likely to only get better!

5. Felipe Lopez (SS - WAS) 78 % owned - With the season-long slump of most of the Nationals players, people have been very inclined to jump ship on many of their better players - I even managed to get Ryan Zimmerman off the free agent wire in a very competitive league this week. Over his past two years, Lopez has produced 34 homers, stolen 59 bases, scored 195 runs with a .282 batting average... Needless to say, that's a lot of production from the shortstop position. Yes, Lopez currenly is in the midst of a 5 for 35 slump (.143)... but he's been too good the past couple of years to give up on now and we all know that law of averages! Look for him to get back on track as the Nationals finally are starting to play up to their potential.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Phil Mickelson Wins TPC!


It was the type of final round performance you would expect from a champion... 10 out of 14 fairways hit, 16 out of 18 greens in regulation, and a three under par 69... Just the type of performance you would expect from the winner of The Players Championship. What you didn't expect was for that type of performance from fan favorite, Phil Mickelson. Mickelson, also known as "Phil the Thrill" because of his lack of accuracy off the tee and ability to somehow scramble and make a par or even birdie when it seems next to impossible, produced just the type of 4th round you've come to expect from everyone but him. Three weeks ago, Mickelson began working with Tiger Woods' old swing coach, Butch Harmon and the results have resulted in a completely transformed Phil Mickelson. While outwardly still being the same old fan-favorite, "smiling Phil," his game has never looked better. Mickelson was in complete control of his game on Sunday, with only 3rd round leader Sean O'Hair giving him any sort of challenge.

Early in the round, O'Hair doggedly fought. Mickelson birdied the first hole to tie O'Hair at nine under par. Both players birdied the 2nd hole to get to 10 under. At that point the field started to fall back and a four stroke gap developed between the final pairing and the rest of the field. Until the final hole, no one got closer than three shots from the lead the rest of the way. Both players parred the 3rd through 6th holes, with Mickelson getting a birdie on the 7th hole for a one stroke lead. O'Hair tied Mickelson at 11 under with a birdie on the 9th hole, but just as quickly gave it back with a bogey on the 10th hole - it was the first chink in O'Hair's armor all day as he badly mishit a chip on his 3rd shot from just off the green. Mickelson increased his lead to two with a birdie on the 11th. After that, you could really tell the pressure was getting to O'Hair as it was literally taking him forever to play his shots - particularly his putts. There were several occasions in those final nine holes where he would take five, six or even seven practice strokes before putting. Consequently, the final pairing was two holes behind the field as they got to the 16th hole. Both players parred 12 through 16, with O'Hair missing a critical four foot birdie put on the 16th... The periolous 17th awaited them, and as we all know, anything can happen there... Sunday was no different.

Mickelson, who had the honor on all but three holes on Sunday, hit a safe shot to the center of the green on the 17th. O'Hair curiously took little time in hitting his 9-iron tee shot. With a two stroke deficit and Mickelson safely on the green, it was obvious what he had to do - go for the pin. O'Hair looked to hit a perfect shot, but as the crowd began to howl, it was obvious something was wrong - O'Hair's shot flew the green and went into the water! O'Hair added insult to injury by hitting his 3rd shot from the drop area into the water as well. The damage was done as O'Hair tallied a quadruple bogey seven on the hole to drop from second place to out of contention. The cruelest hole in golf? Many call it just that. Sunday certainly added to the hole's history and lore. O'Hair bogeyed the 18th to fall all the way to 11th... In the space of those two holes, he went from possibly coming in second and taking home a $972,000 paycheck to a $225,000 payday for finishing 11th. $747,000... that's how much he lost those final two holes! It was so sad to see this happen to him... for 70 holes, he played a GREAT tournament - a winning tournament. I hope that he can take from this experience and grow from it.

As Mickelson is my favorite player for the tour, I was happy to see him win the tournament and further silence the critics who got all over him for having a "meltdown" at the 72nd hole of last year's U.S. Open. Why do I like Phil? Well, he's ALWAYS smiling and he loves to interact with the fans and they love him back! He's also a family man with a beautiful wife and three beautiful girls... It's become a very familiar sight to us fans of Phil to see his girls run up to him after a tournament win and then get a hug from his wife Amy after a win. That was the only thing missing from Sunday - Amy had a friend's wedding to attend, so the "normal" Mickelson family celebration didn't take place... Still though, it was awesome to see Phil in such control of his game on Sunday. Perhaps now he may be able to give Tiger Woods a serious run for the #1 spot in the World Rankings.

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In auto racing, Jeff Gordon held off a charging Denny Hamlin and survived an overheating engine to win the Darlington 500... Jimmie Johnson finished third. Gordon now has a 233 point lead in the points race as the Hendrick team won it's fifth consecutive race using the "car of tomorrow."

Time for a little baseball now... and there was some REAL excitement brewing in Boston... After eight innings, the Red Sox trailed the Baltimore Orioles 5-0... Oriole starter Jeremy Guthrie was seemingly crusing to an easy victory when it all just began to fall apart. With one out, catcher Ramon Hernandez made an error dropping a infield pop up hit by Coco Crisp. David Ortiz quickly cashed in Crisp with a double... Wily Mo Pena singled and J.D. Drew walked to load the bases. Kevin Youkilis walked to force in another run. Jason Varitek then hit a two run double to close the gap to 5-4... Eric Hinske was then intentionally walked. Alex Cora then hit into a fielder's choice with Youkilis being forced out at home. With two outs, Julio Lugo hit a grounder to first baseman Kevin Millar, who flipped it to Oriole closer Chris Ray... Ray inexplicably dropped the throw as he was running to cover first (it would have been the final out of the game) and Varitek and Hinske both scored to give the Red Sox an improbable come from behind 6-5 victory.

The Los Angeles Dodgers scored five runs in the bottom of the eighth to defeat the Cincinnati Reds 10-5 for a three game sweep of the series. Torii Hunter had two home runs and a career and 2007 major league high seven RBI's as the Minnesota Twins beat up on the Detroit Tigers 16-4. Former Dodger closer Eric Gagne got his first win as a Texas Ranger as the Rangers Nelson' Cruz hit a walk-off homer off Angels' set up man Shot Shields in a 7-6 victory.

Is there some hope for the Washington Nationals? Well, I posted that question on Friday morning, and guess what has happened since? They've won three straight games for the first time all year! Saturday night, Ryan Zimmerman hit a walk-off grand slam homer in a 7-3 victory... Yesterday, they scored five runs in the second inning and cruised to a 6-4 win over the Florida Marlins with Jon Rauch getting his first save in Chad Cordero's absence.

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Lastly, I hope all of you mothers out there and all of your Moms had a very Happy Mother's Day!!!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

O'Hair Grabs Players Lead...

Sean O'Hair birdied eight holes en route to a six under par 66 and a nine under par total for a one stroke lead over Phil Mickelson in the Players Championship. Mickelson struggled all day with his driver, but he birdied two of the final three holes to shoot a 69. Sergio Garcia played very well for 17 holes, posting a seven under par total (and 5 under for the torunament) up to that point. An ill-advised second shot on the 18th hole found the greenside water as he posted a double bogey, falling to three under and all but out of contention. None of the other really big names is in contention. Vijay Singh shot a 71 and is eight strokes back, Jim Furyk shot a 74 to fall 10 strokes off the pace, while Tiger Woods shot his second straight 73 to start Sunday 14 days behind the leader... One player I would definitely keep my eye on is Chris DiMarco. At five under par, he's only four back of the leader, and as a lot of you know, there are few players on the tour with more heart than him. I just know that one of these days he's going to win the big one. Will today be that day??? Final round coverage of the tournament is on NBC beginning at 2pm ET/11am PT... You can check on the progress of the tourament here:

The Players Championship Leaderboard

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Time to shift gears and give the cars some time. Qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 began yesterday and not too surprisingly, Helio Castroneves won the pole with a four lap average speed of 225.817 MPH. Tony Kanaan and Dario Franchiti also made the front row... Danica Patrick had another good qualifying session, as her 224.076 speed placed her 8th. Only the first 11 spots were determined on Saturday. The remainder of the field for the race will be determined today and then on next Saturday, with a "bumping session" to follow next Sunday where the slowest drivers in the field of 33 can be bumped from the field if someone posts a higher speed.

In the meantime, another Saturday night NASCAR race got postponed by rain... The Darlington 500 will be run today instead beginning at 1pm ET/10am PT. Clint Bowyer secured his first ever pole, and leads the 43 driver field... Points leader Jeff Gordon starts 10th. Watch your local Fix affiliate for live coverage of the race.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

"Lefty" Leads Players'

Midway through the Players Championship, two time Masters champion Phil Mickelson is your leader at five under par. Mickelson had an uneventful second round, posting three birdies and three bogeys to go along with 12 pars in an even par round of 72. Nathan Green is one stroke back, and a bunch of other relative unknowns are another stroke back at three under... Chris DiMarco was at four under par before a double bogey on 18 dropped him to two under. As for the other big names, Vijay Singh is at one over par, Ernie Els is another stroke back at two under, and Tiger Woods barely made the cut at four under after a one over par 73... Defending champion Stephen Ames shot a 79 to finish at 12 over par, missing the cut by seven strokes. Third round coverage of the tournament begins on NBC at 2pm ET/11am PT...

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It certainly was nice to see the Los Angeles Angels' John Lackey finally have some success against the Texas Rangers last night. The Rangers have owned Lackey over the years, but yesterday was a different story as he took a shutout into the 9th inning. The Angels won the game 6-3 with Scot Shields earning a rare save.

How about the Los Angeles Dodgers' Randy Wolf? He has been nothing short of phenomenal for the blue crew this year. Last night, Wolf struck out a career high 11 batters in seven strong innings as the Dodgers won 2-0 over the Cincinnati Reds. Wolf very surprisingly is now amongst the league leaders in strikeouts with 55 of them to go along with a very respectable 3.94 ERA and 1.27 WHIP. It's nice to see Wolf return to the form that he displayed with the Phillies from 2001 through 2003 when hitters only batted in the mid .230's off him. If he happens to still be available in any of your fantasy leagues, it wouldn't be a bad idea to get him.

Also on the "feel good" side of things, the Washington Nationals broke their eight game losing streak with a 6-0 win over the Florida Marlins. Two of the Nats' reliable players so far this year, Shawn Hill and Ryan Church, led the way again. Hill took a no-hitter into the 6th inning before having to leave the game with soreness in his right elbow. Church drove in two runs and scored another in going two for four including his 13th double of the year.