Saturday, August 25, 2012

08/25 (Very) Quickie

In one week, the college football season begins (technically, one week from last night, with the tantalizing Boise St at Michigan St opener), and I can't wait.

I have muted expectations for Florida.
I am pretty sure that the national champ is a foregone conclusion -- Alabama.
I am pretty sure that USC might run the table and it won't matter.
I am pretty sure that both West Virginia and TCU are going to take the Big 12 by storm.
I am pretty sure that both Mizzou and Texas A&M are in for a rough freshman season in the SEC.
I am pretty sure that Matt Barkley is a lock for the Heisman.
I am pretty sure that Urban Meyer will have Ohio State better -- but by no means great.

But I am also pretty sure that I felt as certain last year that Alabama would roll to the title -- the loss to LSU certainly could have counted as disqualifying.

(Although I think it's clear that the SEC will always have a claim -- a legitimate one -- to one of two title-game spots. In most years, the opponent should be the best non-SEC team, but as we saw last year, that doesn't always work out.)

And I (and everyone else) was pretty sure that Andrew Luck was a lock for the Heisman -- was RG3 even on the Heisman radar at all on August 25, 2011?

Despite the hegemony of the SEC's championship dynasty and the temporarily limited two-team playoff system, college football remains the best "week-in-week-out" sport and every year on the last Saturday before the season starts, I look ahead to spending the next three months' worth of Saturdays immersed.

More on the college football season over the course of the next week.

-- D.S.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox are lucky the Dodgers want to spend their way back to relevance. The trade, by the way, is a massive repudiation of the Theo Epstein Era in Boston (at least since the second title.)

Friday, August 24, 2012

8/24 (Lance) Quickie

Happy birthday to my dad: It's funny: I was a die-hard Cubs and Bears fan as a kid because my dad is from Chicago and was a fan of those teams.

Eventually, my fandom for those teams eroded (although I'm still highly sympathetic, but I can't insult real Cubs/Bears fans by calling it "fandom" anymore), but it was that "first love" for a team -- particularly being a "displaced fan" -- that turned me into a sports fan.

It was on my mind last night as I did my annual fantasy football draft. I was picking 7th and committed to taking a QB first. Rodgers, Brees and Brady were all off the board, and I was deciding between Cam Newton and Matthew Stafford.

In the end, the thing that proved decisive is that Cam Newton is my 6-year-old ason Gabe's favorite player -- I knew we'd have a lot more fun this fall watching games on Red Zone if we had a mutual rooting interest in Newton.

I wonder if Gabe will be a Panthers fan for life or if he merely loves Cam -- he likes a lot of individual players and a range of teams, mostly the TD-scorers he knows from watching Red Zone last year.

When I was 6, I'm not sure I had much more of a handle on sports than knowing which NFL team nickname went with which city. Last week on vacation, Gabe and I went through the Top 100 players in fantasy football and he knew the specific team for roughly 75% of the list.

Is he growing up too fast? Is that just the evolution of having more information available? At age 6, I'm not even sure I really understood that I was a Bears fan -- that didn't come for another few years, in my hazy recollection.

In the end, I think the "how did we get here?" is less important than the fact that he and I can share the experience together.

(Funny: This was supposed to be just a short "Happy birthday to my dad!" line at the end of the post. It turned into the lead.)


Lance: I think I've always been in the "I assume he's a cheater but then again they're all cheaters so really in the end who cares he seems like a pretty amazing athlete who has done amazing things for so many people" camp.

Mississippi State: It's sort of like recruiting in college football -- everyone is doing something shady, so it's not surprising or insulting when those tactics come out, as they seem to be doing in Starkville. I'm a fan of Dan Mullen's, so this is an example of where I'll go "Oh well" where I might not for, say, a coach I dislike like Jim Tressel. (Not that the potential violations are anywhere on the same scale. Also, my biggest problem with Tressel was that he was so sanctimonious. Mississippi State's goal is to try to get bowl-eligible in the SEC as a historically second-rate program -- as noble of a goal as you could find.)

NBA: Can we please not make a big deal out of this Wade thing about LeBron and Jordan? OBVIOUSLY, LeBron isn't at Jordan's level yet. It's hardly an issue Wade would affirm that.

NFL: I kind of love that the Colts would trade a 1st-round pick to try to complete their rebuilding in less than a year.

CFB: I started working on my BlogPoll ballot -- one of my favorite little fun side hobbies every fall. I'll tell you right now that I'm picking Alabama No. 1, and the notion of anyone picking USC over the Tide is absurd to me. USC may go unbeaten through the regular season, but they will get leveled by whoever wins the SEC (probably Alabama). I look forward to heading down the ballot, where things get more interesting.

Fantasy: So here's the obligatory post-draft "here's my team" list:

Cam Newton (7th overall in a 14-team league), with Luck as the backup QB. Historically, I have drafted RBs and WRs early and suffered during the season with weak QBs. Not this year.

RBs: Marshawn Lynch and Peyton Hillis (with Kevin Smith as initial W/R, plus Jacquizz Rodgers and Alex Green as backups).

WRs: Jordy Nelson and Percy Harvin (with Justin Blackmon, Randall Cobb and Brandon LaFell as backups. Cobb was basically my Nelson handcuff.)

TE: Vernon Davis (with Greg Olsen as backup -- I'm clearly going long on the Carolina O.)

I'm actually pretty happy with my draft for once. That clearly means I'm headed for a bottom-three finish.

-- D.S.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

8/22 (Strasburg Extra) Quickie

From the NYT's Tyler Kepner this morning, defending the Nats' plan to shelve Strasburg:

"The way to win a title is to reach the playoffs as often as you can and hope everything breaks right one time."

But is that really true? Let's look at a healthy selection of the last decade of World Series winners:

2010 Giants
2008 Phillies
2006 Cardinals
2005 White Sox
2003 Marlins
2002 Angels
2001 Diamondbacks

These were teams that didn't make the playoffs consistently before winning a championship.

And that's just the last decade. Before that, if you take away the Yankees dynasty -- which was a function of institutional (and non-replicable) financial advantage as much as anything else -- the reality is that the way to win a title is pretty clear, particularly in the Wild Card Era: Get into the playoffs when you are having one of Those Years.

Kepner's model described above didn't work for the mid-90s Braves. It didn't work for the early-90s A's. Those two would-be dynasties collected division title after division title... and combined to win as many World Series titles as the one-year-wonder, title-or-bust Marlins ('97 and '03).

"Hope" is not a strategy. The two staples of October -- luck and the variance of small sample sizes -- almost always beat the best-laid organizational plans.

Flags fly forever. The history of baseball -- of any pro sport, really -- is that if you have the very unique and viable chance to win a championship, you do whatever you can to win it that year. Because there are no guarantees the next year, no matter how good your roster looks.

If the Nationals' window really is "five years," I would rather win a title this year and miss the playoffs the next four than make the playoffs this year and each of the next four but without winning a championship, with nothing to show for the run but a "Division Champ!" or "Wild-Card Earner!" t-shirt. Nobody wears a "Made the Playoffs" ring.

Kepner quipped: "With apologies to The Social Network, one playoff appearance isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? Five playoff appearances"

Actually, making the playoffs a lot isn't cool.

You know what's cool? Winning a World Series.

-- D.S.

UPDATE: Loyal reader Steve S. emailed me to take issue with my analysis of the Yankees: "I feel that you unfairly wrote off their dynasty run as a result of a huge financial advantage.

"This link shows the payroll for every MLB club from 1994 to 2006. If you review it you will see that from 1994 to 2001 (using the loss in the 2001 World Series as the end of the dynasty) you will see that the Yankees had the highest payroll 6 of the 8 years, but that most years the number two spender was just a little behind them.

"In fact the numbers don't really start going crazy until 1999, which was a result of re-signing Bernie Williams and trading for Roger Clemens more than anything else. Also, the Braves were in the top 5 every year from 1995 to 2000, further weakening the argument that the success was due to a financial advantage.

"The Yankees core was made up of wisely chosen players, some homegrown. Jeter, Posada, Brosius, O'Neill, Knoblauch, etc. Since 2001 the Yank's financial strength has actually hurt them since they now chase big names, not big producers."
(Still, S.S. says: "Anyway, your larger point about going all in when you have the chance is right. Nothing is guaranteed. When you have a hot hand going, ride it.")

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

08/21 (Very) Quickie

History! Minor-league baseball oddity Billy Hamilton stole his 146th base of the season on Tuesday night, breaking Vince Coleman's old (seemingly unbreakable) record. Hamilton is going to shatter it.

I like sneakers very much, although I gave up collecting them when the kids came along, but there isn't a chance in hell I'd pay $315 for any sneaker, let alone LeBron X's.

Anyone want to trade for MJD? Probably quite a few. Anyone want to pay him what he wants? Probably a lot less.

Seahawks starting rookie QB Russell Wilson for preseason Week 3: I'm a big Wilson fan, and I hope he wins the starting job for the regular season. I suspect Flynn will be the guy... to start.

I'm quite sure Roger Clemens could still pitch at the MLB level. Maybe the Nationals should sign him -- that's just as absurd a notion as benching Stephen Strasburg for the playoffs.

The Joe Paterno book: All I know is that Joe Posnanski, a writer I like very much, had just about the toughest job in the world on this. Once the Sandusky story broke, it was never going to work out.

Slowest sports week of the year by far? Slowest sports week of the year by far.

-- D.S.