Friday, October 19, 2012

10/19 (TGIF) Quickie

*The Yankees get swept: Did Baltimore take all the fight out of them? Did the Jeter injury deflate them? Was the team profile ripe for a postseason flop? Most accurately, the Tigers' awesome starting pitching did in New York. Hard to remember a team folding so badly in the LCS.

A Quickie truism: If it is in the best interests of baseball that the Yankees be competitive, it is even more in the best interests of baseball that the Yankees fall short of a championship, preferably in the most humiliating way possible.

*Cards up 3-1 on the Giants in NLCS: They are the defining baseball franchise of the past decade, and if the Red Sox' title breakthrough got more publicity and the Yankees spent more money, it is the Cardinals that are one win away from being as close to a dynasty as we have had since the Yankees crapped out in '04 (or possibly '01). Head over to Quickish for a tip to a Jeff Passan column about the most fascinating thing about these Cardinals: Not only have they gotten this far this season without Albert Pujols, it's almost as if they are better off without him.

*NFL Week 7: Ravens-Texans is the best game of the week -- let's see how a Lewis- and Webb-less Ravens D handles Houston's offense... RGIII getting his first taste of the DC-NY rivalry between the Redskins and Giants (who also happen to be the team to beat in the NFL right now) is the most must-see match-up... And yet! The storyline that will earn the most attention is whether Rex Ryan will have Mark Sanchez hand the ball off to Tim Tebow, rather than having Tebow take snaps directly before running with the ball.

*49ers grunt past the Seahawks: Not a pretty one, which is a testament to Seattle's defense and -- if you believe the morning-after quarterbacking -- a testament to eroding faith Jim Harbaugh has in QB Alex Smith. The 49ers could be the best team in the league -- would they really bench Smith for rising backup Colin Kaepernick? If any coach has the wherewithal to do it, it's Harbaugh.

*CFB Weekend: The game of the week is South Carolina at Florida, which -- ironically -- doesn't do a ton to settle the SEC East. USC would have the tie-breaker over Florida and Georgia, but even if Florida beats South Carolina, if they lose next week to Georgia, the Bulldogs are in the driver's seat in the East. Let's keep things simple: If Florida wins, they remain in the national-title picture for one more week.

*Speaking of national-title simplicity: The same goes for Kansas State -- if they win in Morgantown, K-State collects a second Win of the Year (to go with winning at Oklahoma) and look very good to run the table (until the inevitable baffling loss). If they lose to West Virginia -- and despite the evidence of K-State's fortitude displayed in Norman, I'm saying they will -- they (and the Big 12) are out of the national-title picture.

*Upset Watch: BYU won't beat Notre Dame -- although BYU's defense combined with ND's defense means the game will be close enough to make Irish fans sweat -- but I'm intrigued by Texas A&M playing at home versus LSU. Johnny Manziel is as tough of a player as LSU has faced this season -- then again, Manziel hasn't come close to going up against a D as tough as LSU (not even Florida's, which let Manziel go crazy in the 1st half before clamping down on him in the 2nd.) Nope, my upset pick is 2-4 Utah beating 5-0 Oregon State in Corvallis and ruining OSU's thus-far-perfect season.

*Oregon rolls over Arizona State: The Ducks got to 40+ so blindingly fast that Oregon ripping through the rest of its schedule feels like the most foregone conclusion in college football. (Even Alabama -- for all its might -- feels like it would give the SEC East winner a puncher's chance in the SEC title game. Oregon? They're not going to get stopped until -- as usual -- they run into an elite SEC defense.)

*NBA: It is a testament to LeBron being the NBA's center of gravity that the biggest NBA story of the week is whether the Lakers are angling to sign LeBron after the 2014 season. At least that's only two years away -- remember when we were a full four years from LeBron's free agency when we started talking about him leaving Cleveland for the NYC area?

FWIW, after LeBron wins another title or two with Miami -- and, coming off of last season, that is the most likely outcome -- he may very well see his next frontier as conquering LA and bringing a title back to the Lakers (particularly if he beats the Lakers in either of the next two NBA Finals).

Enjoy your weekend.

-- D.S.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

10/18 (Midweek) Quickie

The A-Rod-to-Marlins idea was far-fetched, but I appreciated the spirit in which it was delivered.

If I was the Yankees, I'd trade him, even if it meant eating his massive contract. If I was another team -- yes, particularly the Marlins -- I would absolutely pick him up... if the Yankees picked up the tab.

This won't end soon -- even if the Yankees' season ends imminently. But I could see it ending by mid-December. Can you envision the Yankees taking A-Rod into spring training next year? I can't.

Then again, the Yankees have much bigger problems than A-Rod and his contract. Much bigger.

NLCS: It's hard to not respect the Cardinals, begrudgingly or otherwise. Epitome of "playoff team."

NFL: Welcome back, Terrell Suggs. Will almost certainly lift a Ravens D reeling from the loss of Lewis and Webb.

Tebow: If Tebow does get touches as an RB (meaning, not a QB who takes direct snaps and runs like a RB, but a full-fledged RB taking handoffs from a QB), my only question is when he gets "RB" eligibility in fantasy. Some smart platform is going to do it this weekend, if he really does take a handoff.

NBA: Kevin Love out 6-8 weeks. Between Love's injury this season and Rubio's injury last season, a promising franchise remains theoretical.

CFB Tonight: Do yourself a favor and watch Oregon at Arizona State. This is the Ducks' first real road game, and even if ASU isn't going to pose a challenge, you've got to see Oregon's offense first-hand. It's a great appetizer for a very strong weekend of games.

-- D.S.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

10/17 (Yankees) Quickie

A little more than a decade ago, ESPN's Buster Olney put out a book called "The Last Night of the Yankees Dynasty," hubbed around the 2001 World Series loss and the decaying infrastructure of a team that had dominated baseball for a half-decade.

11 years later, the Yankees are still a perennial playoff team, but it really feels like a break point now: The energetic Orioles seem to have sapped New York's energy; the Yankees are about to get swept out of the ALCS, a complete humiliation.

Jeter is out. Rivera is out. I would never bet against either, but between age and injury, you just don't know how effective they will be in 2013 and beyond. The rest of the lineup is largely punchless -- and if/when Cano and Granderson and Teixera aren't hitting HRs, it's a huge problem.

And then there is the A-Rod issue, which is really just a money issue -- he is owed $120M over the next five years, and he is so ineffective, they won't play him in a must-win playoff game, among other signals that he is all but done as a useful contributor.

I'm not sure the Yankees can spend their way to a title again -- they aren't better-positioned than the Tigers (clearly); they aren't better-positioned than the Rangers or Angels. The Orioles will clearly regress next season, but the Rays won't, the Jays are always on the cusp and the Red Sox -- while even more of a mess than the Yankees -- are a couple of well-financed moves from being a threat, if not a contender.

Yankees fans have every right to be unenthusiastic -- they have championship expectations, and this team isn't even close (and looks to be getting further away by the day). And it is good for the game that the swath of Anti-Yankees Nation gets to revel in a little bit of schadenfreude.


*Lance: He's leaving Live Strong. Nike is dropping him. These two things are way more symbolically meaningful than the USADA report or the various tell-alls by his former colleagues.

*ALCS: Justin Verlander is a joy to watch. Take in his playoff starts now, so you can tell your kids about it when he is inducted into the Hall of Fame.

(Sidebar: How many active pitchers feel like HOF locks? Rivera, obviously. Verlander. At this rate, King Felix. Probably Cliff Lee. Probably Roy Halladay. Probably CC Sabathia. Maybe Andy Pettitte. Possibly David Price. Possibly Clayton Kershaw. That seem right?)

*NFL: Firing the defensive coordinator won't help the Eagles. At what point will they finally figure out that Andy Reid isn't getting them to the top?

*More: Not sure there's a more overrated NFL exec than Mike Holmgren, who was a terrific coach but always felt like a huge stretch as a GM/President. His final (and most obvious) failure was not putting the trade package together to get the Rams' 1st-round draft pick to acquire RGIII.

*CFB: The minor knee injury to Bama QB McCarron feels like ominous foreshadowing of the Tide falling short of what initially felt like an inevitable national title. (Now, you could probably plug in the third-string QB and they would still run over people -- and it's not like McCarron plays D, which will always keep Alabama in games -- but don't undervalue his role as a leader.)

*Remainders: The new Nets court looks terrific on TV.

-- D.S.

Monday, October 15, 2012

10/15 (Busy Weekend) Quickie

Am I still recovering from the Nats' excruciating loss on Friday night? Yes. But yesterday was Jonah's 4th birthday, so that party -- superhero-themed -- kept me occupied.

As there is no natural sports tie-in to Captain America (Jonah's favorite), then the hook is that one of his favorite gifts was a pair of Bauer hockey pants that he had been coveting to round out his hockey gear. Not going to lie: He looked faster/tougher on the ice on Saturday while wearing them.

Meanwhile, much like our house, let's zip around to clean up a busy weekend:

*NFL Week 6: The pivot point where early-season narratives (The Texans look like Super Bowl contenders! The Falcons and 49ers are the class of the NFC!) start to erode -- the Packers and Giants we saw yesterday are closer to what real contenders look like than the performances we see across the league in Weeks 1-5.

*Team of the Week: Seahawks! With all due respect to the Lions (let's be honest: the Eagles are not particularly good) and the Packers (who did nothing more than finally play up to their potential), Seattle's comeback win over the Patriots wasn't just the best win of Week 6, but the best win of the year -- the kind of awesome performance (with the whole country watching) that should make everyone forget about the MNF "Fail Mary" debacle that gifted them a win. The Seahawks earned this one, and in the process punched in the nose a team that most of the country can't stand.

*Player of the Week: RGIII: Not just a decent game coming off his concussion, but his best game yet in the NFL -- his 76-yard TD run to seal the win was arguably the most exciting play of the season so far, across the league.

(BTW: There's no question that Aaron Rodgers had the most impressive statistical game of the week -- and more than a little bit to prove after Green Bay's slow start. But RG3's concussion was THE story of the NFL this week -- that he came up as big as he did makes him the most intriguing player of the week. Let's also give some credit to Russell Wilson.)

*Nats hangover: I'd rather lose excruciatingly in the playoffs than either (a) get blown out in the ultimate game or (b) not make the playoffs at all. That said: Those of us who think the Strasburg shut-down was an epic mistake have that bitter affirmation to keep us warm during Hot Stove season.

*Yankees: If New York was going to poop the bed in the ALCS -- and that includes its fans simply tuning out (when they're not booing) -- they might as well have forfeited Game 5 against the Orioles and let a team (and fan base) with some competitive spirit have the spot.

*More Yankees: No, seriously, after Justin Verlander destroys them tomorrow and they're in an 0-3 hole, the only question is whether they'll have enough pride to avoid a sweep or just pack it in.

*Jeter: Much like Jeter's insistence that he keep his spot at shortstop when A-Rod arrived -- even though A-Rod was demonstrably better in the field -- I can't see Jeter doing anything but demanding he get to return to shortstop after his injury recovery, even if the reconstructed ankle will make him even more limited in the field than before (which is saying something). As with Mo Rivera, I hope he comes back at whatever "full strength" is for a 39-year-old -- ahem -- and has a productive year.

*NLCS: The only consolation for Nats fans should be that the Cards are going to hack their way to the NL pennant -- the Giants' starting pitching is a mess, and that is exactly what St. Louis feasts on.

*BCS: It's hard to get too worked up about Alabama-Florida at 1-2 -- if it all plays out like the computers seem to expect, they'll play each other in a knock-out game in the SEC title game (I don't even think Florida gets past South Carolina next week, let alone the rest of the schedule, including a trip to Tallahassee in the season finale that will be a season-maker for Florida State if Florida is unbeaten at the time.) The reality remains: It's going to be Alabama-Oregon in the NCG.

*More CFB Hangover: It was fun while it lasted, West Virginia. They can re-enter relevancy -- if not the national title picture -- by giving Kansas State its first loss of the season next Saturday.

-- D.S.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

This Week's BlogPoll Top 25 Ballot

Alabama, Oregon... Florida? That's just about the kiss of death for the Gators heading into a huge game against South Carolina, which is coming off a brutal loss at LSU. Meanwhile: West Virginia's BCS hopes are all but over (and possibly Geno Smith's Heisman campaign?), but I predict WVU plays the spoiler next week by beating currently unbeaten Kansas State. I rank Notre Dame in the Top 5 but don't recognize their legitimacy after they were gifted that terrible call to hold off Stanford. But, again, as of now, there is zero BCS drama: It's Alabama-Oregon, because both are going to win out.