Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Rest of Week 16

Does anyone else find this Saturday thing a little weird?  The NFL used to do Saturday games at the end of the season all the time, but it's been so long that there's been one that it's a bit of a shock to the system.  But it's definitely a welcome change, even if it is only for one week.

Thursday Night: Tennessee (Loss)

Eagles (9-5) at Redskins (3-11): Philadelphia-It's just one of those things, but it's almost unfair to think the Eagles could end up 11-5 and out of the playoffs, while one of the NFC South teams is guaranteed a home game.  Back-to-back losses to Seattle and Dallas have moved Philly from a game up to a game down on the Cowboys...and out of the playoffs.  So, basically, the Eagles don't have any other choice but to win.  If they don't, next week's game against the Giants is essentially meaningless.

Chargers (8-6) at 49ers (7-7): San Diego-The 49ers are out and Jim Harbaugh is being courted by his alma mater, Michigan.  San Diego is currently out and needs some help to get in.  Like the Eagles, they've lost two straight--to the division-leading Patriots and Broncos.  They know they no longer have any margin for error.  I think they go into Levi's Stadium, get a victory, and set themselves up for a Week 17 clash with the Chiefs that could be for a wild card spot.

Lions (10-4) at Bears (5-9): Detroit-For all the talk about Green Bay and Seattle as the two "best teams" in the NFC, nobody has seemed to notice that Detroit isn't just currently in first place, but would have a bye.  The silent assassins can even clinch the division if they win and the Packers lose this week.  While that's probably not going to happen (the Packers are playing Tampa Bay), Detroit's at least going to keep up its end of the bargain, clinch its playoff spot, and make next week's showdown a winner-take-all battle for the NFC North.

Vikings (6-8) at Dolphins (7-7): Miami-The Dolphins and Vikings.  Two teams playing out the string.  They do both have a chance to finish the season at .500, though, which I don't think anyone would've expected about the Vikings after everything they've gone through this year.  Before the season started, I thought the Dolphins could be a sleeper playoff team.  They're not going to make the playoffs, but 9-7 is definitely possible.  In order to be 9-7, they'll have to get to 8-7 first.

Falcons (5-9) at Saints (6-8): New Orleans-This is, amazingly, one of the most important games of the week.  And it's probably going to decide the NFC South.  If the Saints win and the Panthers lose, that's it, New Orleans clinches.  At the very least, a Saints win puts them in a position to clinch next week.  Meanwhile, a Falcons win means the NFC South "champion" will definitely be below .500, and it could mean that Atlanta-Carolina for the division title ends up as next week's Sunday night game.  I think most people would agree, though, that New Orleans is the least-bad team in this division.  They're also the only hope for 8-8, so how could I pick against the Saints?

Patriots (11-3) at Jets (3-11): New England-Rex Ryan's final home game as Jets head coach is against his nemesis Bill Belichick.  A New England win clinches a bye, and could also mean home field if Denver loses.  Maybe Rex can give Jets fans a Christmas present and beat the Patriots one last time.  Yeah right.

Chiefs (8-6) at Steelers (9-5): Pittsburgh-This is a huge game for AFC playoff positioning.  Pittsburgh's in with a win, while Kansas City sets itself up to clinch next week if they win.  The loser also knows that they're most likely not getting into the playoffs.  So, basically, it's a big one for both teams.  So who's got the edge?  I like Pittsburgh.  They haven't been to the postseason in three years and can still win the division.  They're hungry.

Packers (10-4) at Buccaneers (2-12): Green Bay-We all know that the Packers are incredible at Lambeau Field.  It's winning on the road that's been a bit of a problem.  Well, they're going to need a road win this week in order to make sure they don't have another one for a while.  Fortunately for them, that last road game is in Tampa.  Although, the Raiders and Titans have to hope the Bucs win either this week or next.  Otherwise, Tampa Bay is a virtual lock for the No. 1 pick because of how bad the NFC South is.

Browns (7-7) at Panthers (5-8-1): Carolina-Bernie Kosar took some heat for publicly criticizing the Browns on a Cleveland radio station earlier this week.  But you know what?  Everything he said was 100 percent right.  There was absolutely no reason for them to piss away the season by making a quarterback switch to Johnny Overrated last week.  Somebody in the front office was watching too much ESPN I think.  30-0 is proof that they made the wrong decision.  Carolina, meanwhile, has once again figured out how to win football games, and the Panthers, incredibly, can play for the NFC South title next week if they win and the Falcons beat the Saints.  Carolina does its part.  Because Cleveland is clueless.

Ravens (9-5) at Texans (7-7): Baltimore-The Ravens can clinch a playoff berth this week, but need some help to do so.  The first step is beating Houston.  Then the rest will fall into place (seeing as the teams Baltimore needs to lose are playing each other is very helpful).  There's still a chance the Ravens win the division, too.  While I don't think a win here is guaranteed (Houston is still mathematically alive), I do think they get it.

Giants (5-9) at Rams (6-8): St. Louis-Imagine if the Rams had a healthy Sam Bradford this season.  They're without a doubt the best last-place team in football.  The Giants have made their record a little more respectable after proving that there are two teams worse than them.  St. Louis is better than them.  I give the edge to the Rams.

Colts (10-4) at Cowboys (10-4): Indianapolis-Indianapolis has clinched the division and is basically guaranteed the 3-seed in the AFC.  Dallas has a whole lot more to play for.  The Cowboys have a one-game lead on the Eagles, but could also end up out of the playoffs entirely.  We've got a good one for the national doubleheader game.  Although, I'm sure undefeated-on-the-road Dallas would prefer if this game was in Indianapolis.  They might have to play for all the marbles next week in Washington.  Because for some reason, I'm feeling Lucky.

Bills (8-6) at Raiders (2-12): Buffalo-They're not going to make the playoffs, but there's still plenty to play for.  Thanks to last week's upset of the Packers, they need just one win in their last two games to clinch a winning record for the first time since 2004.  For a team that hasn't made the playoffs in 15 years, that's a big deal.  Fortunately, their first chance at win No. 9 comes in Oakland.  Because they're ending the season in New England.

Seahawks (10-4) at Cardinals (11-3): Seattle-NBC and the NFL did a great job setting the Sunday night schedule this year.  Not a single game was flexed out.  And this week, we've got the Cardinals and Seahawks in a huge matchup for NFC playoff positioning.  Arizona has already clinched a spot and wraps up home field for the entire playoffs (including the Super Bowl) with a win.  The defending champs, meanwhile, move into the NFC West driver's seat if they win this one to complete a sweep of the Cardinals.  Seattle's on a roll and Arizona's down to it's third-string quarterback.  It would be remarkable if the Cardinals managed to pull this one out, but I'm not sure I see it happening.

Broncos (11-3) at Bengals (9-4-1): Denver-The final game of Monday Night Football's 45th season is just as important as the Sunday nighter.  Denver's basically locked into the 2-seed, but Cincinnati's in a dogfight for the AFC North title that won't be decided this week.  Except a loss probably knocks them a half-game back heading into the finale in Pittsburgh (that might end on Sunday night).  The Bengals' problem all year, though, has been how bad they've played in night games.  Slaughtered by New England on a Sunday night.  Lost to Cleveland on a Thursday night.  They've gotta do something on their only Monday night if they want to avoid potentially being knocked out entirely next Sunday night.  I think Denver takes care of its bye, though, and Peyton can take it easy against the Raiders.

This Week: 0-1
Last Week: 14-2
Season: 144-80-1

Friday, December 19, 2014

Numbers for the New Guys

Now that the Yankees have re-signed Chris Capuano for some reason, it's starting to look more and more like they're not going to make a run at Max Scherzer (although, I think the door isn't quite closed on James Shields yet).  While I don't understand the Capuano thing, assuming he's the final member of the Opening Day rotation, that makes the roster a little bit clearer.

As I see it, there are 23 roster spots already accounted for.  That will probably change because of injuries, trades, signing free agents, releasing guys, etc., but, for the most part the Yankees' 2015 Opening Day roster is pretty much set.  While they aren't world beaters and they'll probably be projected to finish third in the division in a number of different publications, they also shouldn't be as bad as last year if everyone can stay healthy for a majority of the season.  (I understand that's a big if.)

Anyway, there's a fair amount of turnover from the end of 2014 to the start of 2015.  And, as is often a problem with the Yankees, there's only a handful of numbers to be handed out.  Although, they've freed up some low ones with the trade of Francisco Cervelli (29), David Robertson (30) leaving as a free agent and the likely not re-signing of Ichiro (31).  And if Hiroki Kuroda decides to either retire or stay in Japan, 18 becomes available, too.  Brandon McCarthy's 38, which was presumably being reserved for Scherzer, is free (although reliever Preston Claiborne wore that before McCarthy and could presumably take it back).  Should Shields sign with the Yankees, he'd actually be able to wear 33, like he has for his entire career.

Before figuring out what numbers the new guys (Didi Gregorius, Justin Wilson, Andrew Miller) might wear, there are also a couple of Spring Training number situations that need to be resolved.  Now that Cervelli has been traded, John Ryan Murphy becomes the backup catcher.  When Murphy was called up in the past, he wore number 66.  But he's on the roster full-time now.  He needs a real number.  So does Jose Pirela.  I'm figuring here that Pirela's on the team to start the season.  That means no more number 67.

I really hate unnecessary high numbers.  He might look like one, but Joba Chamberlain's not an offensive lineman!  Wear a real number!  I understand this is really only a problem for the Yankees since they famously don't have any numbers under 11, and a bunch of other prime jersey numbers are also retired, but there's still no reason to wear number 61 when you can just as easily wear something lower. 

If it's Spring Training, that's one thing.  I can even tolerate the random high numbers in September.  But if you get called up in June, wear a real number!  You're in the Majors!  There has to be one number available between 1 and 59.  (If it were up to me, there wouldn't be any double-digit numbers starting with a 6 worn anywhere in the Major Leagues.)  Unless you have an actual reason for wearing one, no football numbers!  That's why Dellin Betances is allowed to keep 68.  Because he's 6'8.

This is a completely arbitrary exercise (if they do change numbers, the Yankees certainly won't make a big deal about it), but I'm going to give Pirela No. 29 and Murphy something in the 30s (33 if they don't sign Shields, 30 if they do).

Then there are the guys that are brand new.  Didi Gregorius is the most interesting case.  Mainly because, with Capuano coming back, he can't be 26.  He's the starting shortstop, so he needs something low, which means Kuroda's 18 is really the only number left for him.  If Kuroda does decide to pitch, then Gregorius gets 29 and Pirela takes one of the available ones in the 30s/40s (I'll give him 31).

Andrew Miller's easy.  Number 48 is their generic left-handed reliever number.  It doesn't matter who.  Boone Logan, Matt Thornton, Rich Hill, insert lefty here.  Since Miller already was number 48 last year in Baltimore, that one's easy.  Justin Wilson was No. 37 with the Pirates, which, not surprisingly, he can't wear with the Yankees.  But 31 and 38 are available.  Chase Whitley is 39 and Eury Perez is 40, but there's no guarantee either of them makes the team, so those could become available, as well.  At the very least they'll be at Spring Training, and I'm thinking Claiborne goes back to 38, which means Wilson ends up with 31.

So, with that, here are the Yankees by number for 2015 (at least according to me):

11-Brett Gardner, 12-Chase Headley, 13-Alex Rodriguez, 14-Martin Prado, (15-Retired), (16-Retired), 17-Brendan Ryan, 18-Didi Gregorius, 19-Masahiro Tanaka, (20-Not Happening), (21-Not Happening), 22-Jacoby Ellsbury, (23-Retired), 24-Chris Young, 25-Mark Teixiera, 26-Chris Capuano, 27-Shawn Kelley, 28-Joe Girardi, 29-Jose Pirela, 30-, 31-Justin Wilson, (32-Retired), 33-John Ryan Murphy, 34-Brian McCann, 35-Michael Pineda, 36-Carlos Beltran, (37-Retired), 38-Preston Claiborne, 39-Chase Whitley, 40-Eury Perez, 41-David Phelps, (42-Retired), 43-Adam Warren, (44-Retired), 45-, (46-Not Happening), 47-Ivan Nova, 48-Andrew Miller, (49-Retired), 50-, (51-Unavailable/Retired), 52-CC Sabathia, 53-Esmil Rogers, 54-, 55-, 56-Tony Pena, 57-, 58-Larry Rothschild, 59-Rob Thomson, 60-Gary Tuck, 68-Dellin Betances

Monday, December 15, 2014

Stop Freaking Out About the Olympic Program

One of the major changes in IOC President Thomas Bach's Olympic Agenda 2020 was moving from a sport-based to an event-based program, lifting the 28-sport limit while still keeping a maximum of 10,500 athletes and 310 events.  Since there are 306 events on the schedule for Rio, that's not a lot of room for new ones.  And that has a number of international federations freaking out.  The reason?  In order to make room for new events, old ones have to go, and everybody's worried that means they're going to be the sport whose program is reduced.

After the announcement came out, the speculation immediately started as to which events were on the chopping block.  There were all kids of suggestions thrown out, predominately in track & field and swimming.  The main reason these two sports were mentioned is because they're the ones with the most events.  There are 47 events in track & field, as well as 32 in swimming (34 if you include the two open water events).  That's 79 of 306, which is more than 25 percent of the total.

Among the track & field events thought to be most in danger are the 200 meters, 10,000 meters, shot put, triple jump and at least one of the race walks.  In swimming, I've heard the 50 meter freestyle, the 800/1500 freestyle and 4x200 freestyle relay mentioned.

Well you know what?  They don't really need to worry at all.  Track & field and swimming are two of the most popular sports on the Olympic program.  Both attendance-wise and, probably more importantly, TV ratings-wise.  That's why I think it's highly unlikely either of the Olympics' two marquee sports will see its program reduced in Tokyo (ditto for gymnastics, which also has a ton of events).

I'm not going to get into how stupid some of the proposed cuts are.  OK, I will.  Usain Bolt's the biggest star in the Olympic movement.  The 200 meters is Usain Bolt's best event.  Not happening.  In 1896, the first-ever Olympic gold medal was awarded in the triple jump.  The shot put also goes back to the 1896 Games.  Dropping those two events, which have their Olympic history going all the way back to the beginning, just so there's room for something like skateboarding, which has no Olympic history whatsoever, would simply be asinine.  And people just think the 10,000 meters is boring.  That's why they wouldn't mind seeing it go away.

With that being said, would anyone really miss the men's 50 kilometer walk, which is the one track & field event I think actually is in danger?  Probably not.  Besides, it makes very little sense that there are two men's race walks, especially since there's only one for women.  I've also always found it dumb that the marathon isn't the longest event on the track & field program.

Olympic swimming only has a 50 meter freestyle, but they have 50s in the other three strokes at the World Championships.  There's also a men's 800 free and a women's 1500 free at the World Championships, but not the Olympics.  FINA has actually been making a (so far unsuccessful) push to get those events added to the Olympics.  Well, it sure looks like that definitely ain't happening now.

People within the IOC have indicated that swimming and gymnastics are particularly vulnerable because in those two sports, it's possible for an athlete to stockpile medals.  Michael Phelps is the most decorated Olympian in history.  In Beijing, he went a historic 8-for-8.  There are 16 events in men's swimming, which means he won half of them.  Same thing in gymnastics, where there are eight different events for men and it's possible for an individual to medal in every one of them.

They've identified the events that don't require event-specific training as ones they'd like eliminated.  If you train for the 200 backstroke, you can obviously do the 100 backstroke.  If you run the 100 meters, you can do the 200 meters.  Just like a lot of the competitors in the 10,000 also do either the marathon or the 5000.  If you do the all-around in gymnastics, you have to train for each of the individual events out of necessity.

But again, I don't think it's likely that any of the 79 events in track & field and swimming will actually be dropped from the Olympic program.  Instead, I have an alternate proposal: capping the field.  And this wouldn't just apply to those two sports.  By instituting maximum field sizes in all sports (many of which already do), knowing that there will be a number of athletes who do multiple events, you're opening the door for enough additional competitors to accommodate a team sport or two (such as baseball and/or softball). 
That wouldn't completely solve the problem.  Let's, for a second, assume baseball and softball return, and squash is added (all you need is 64 athletes to have two 32-competitor squash tournaments).  If no other events are dropped, those four would get the Olympics to 310, which is the designated magic number.  So, it looks like the program is definitely going to be adjusted in some form.  But I don't think it's going to be as radical as some in the track/swimming circles are worried it will be.  At least I hope not.  Because as much as the Olympics want to stay relevant to youngsters in the 21st Century, they can't forget where they came from either.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Rest of Week 15

It's Week 15 and, amazingly, no team has clinched a playoff spot yet.  Well, that's probably going to change.  The Cardinals are in as long as the Cowboys/Eagles game isn't a tie, and the Patriots, Broncos and Colts can all clinch their divisions this week.  We might even get some teams eliminated from the postseason this week.  Crazy, I know.

Thursday Night: Arizona (Win)

Steelers (8-5) at Falcons (5-8): Pittsburgh-This one is important for all of us who care about things like teams that are actually somewhat deserving ending up in the playoffs.  Because if the Falcons and Saints both lose this week (which is possible), we're guaranteed a sub-.500 NFC South "champion."  I think the Steelers hold one of the AFC wild cards right now, but their hold is tenuous.  They end the season with Kansas City and Cincinnati, so getting a win here to go to 9-5 is very important for the Steelers.  Even though I have a feeling the Falcons are going to pull it out, Pittsburgh's the pick.

Packers (10-3) at Bills (7-6): Green Bay-The Bills are a popular upset pick this week.  I can see why.  They looked really good last week in Denver.  Except I think it's a bit of a stretch to say they're going to knock off the Packers.  Green Bay might be the best team in football, and playing in Buffalo in December isn't going to affect a team that's used to the snow.  The Bills will keep it respectable, but Green Bay moves to 11-3.

Bengals (8-4-1) at Browns (7-6): Cleveland-Cleveland evidently doesn't want to make the playoffs.  That's the only reason I can think of why they have Johnny Overrated starting this week.  It's not Brian Hoyer's fault the defense let Andrew Luck walk down the field and engineer another game-winning drive last week.  The Bengals, meanwhile, got crushed by the Steelers to cut their lead in the division to just a half-game.  I've got a feeling they turn it around.  Especially because I think Cleveland made a costly mistake by turning to Tebow 2.0 for no reason.

Texans (7-6) at Colts (9-4): Indianapolis-If Houston wants to complete an improbable playoff run, they need a win here.  Otherwise, the Colts clinch the division and the Texans' chances at a wild card take a tremendous hit.  I think that's what's going to happen, though.  Indy's fighting for positioning, so they need a win to keep pace with New England and Denver.

Raiders (2-11) at Chiefs (7-6): Kansas City-Ending the Raiders' losing streak was embarrassing for Kansas City.  Then the Chiefs lose in Denver and in Arizona.  So, basically, they need a win big time.  That's the only way they'll have any shot at making the playoffs.  Fortunately, this time they're home.  I just don't see a team as good as Kansas City getting swept by the Raiders.

Dolphins (7-6) at Patriots (10-3): New England-The Patriots have been waiting all season to avenge their Week 1 loss to Miami.  Well, they finally get their chance to knock off the Dolphins.  And if they do, it's another AFC East title.  Of course, they're already thinking about the playoffs (more specifically holding off Denver for the 1-seed).  But with things in the AFC so tight, even the Patriots could consider this a "must-win" game and it wouldn't be much of a stretch.  Besides, do you really see New England losing twice to the same team in the same season?  I don't.

Redskins (3-10) at Giants (4-9): Giants-The Giants won last week!  Proving, at the very least, that they're not the worst team in the NFL (which we already knew, seeing as they're not even the worst team in New York).  Now they've got a chance to win two in a row and clinch third place in the NFC East.  We've already established that the Giants are better than the Titans.  They've already beaten the Redskins once, too.  With St. Louis and Philly left, this might be Tom Coughlin's final win as Giants head coach.

Buccaneers (2-11) at Panthers (4-8-1): Carolina-Hey everyone, Carolina won last week!  This is news because the Panthers hadn't done that since Week 5.  But amazingly, if they win out, they might actually end up in the playoffs.  We know that, at the very least, an NFC South team isn't going to lose this week.

Jaguars (2-11) at Ravens (8-5): Baltimore-For everything they've been through this season, the Ravens are in a position to make the playoffs.  Jacksonville at home is a nice little Week 15 gift for a team fighting for a postseason spot.  They could even potentially move into first with a win and a Bengals loss.  That's somewhere they haven't been since Week 7.

Jets (2-11) at Titans (2-11): Tennessee-For the second week in a row, the Titans host a New York team.  They lost to the Giants last week, now they get the Jets in their first of back-to-back matchups against fellow two-win teams.  The Titans are better than the Jets, though, so they won't be a two-win team when they play Jacksonville on Thursday in a game all of America is excited to be subjected to.  Unlike this one, where only a handful of New Yorkers and Tennesseans will have the pleasure.

Broncos (10-3) at Chargers (8-5): Denver-San Diego is probably the best non-division-leader in the AFC, and they beat Denver last season.  That's actually what started the Chargers' run to the playoffs.  The Broncos know that San Diego's plenty capable of doing that again.  But they've also got a chance to wrap up the AFC West this week.  The Super Bowl loser usually doesn't make the playoffs.  That's obviously not going to be the case this year.  Because Denver's going to win the division again.

Vikings (6-7) at Lions (9-4): Detroit-The Lions-Packers showdown in Week 17 is really looking like the season-ending Sunday night game.  Detroit has quietly put together a very good season, and they'll get to 10 wins if they beat the Vikings.  The Lions are currently sitting in a playoff spot, but that could easily change depending on the Eagles-Cowboys result.  In other words, Detroit better win so that they don't have to worry about that.

49ers (7-6) at Seahawks (9-4): Seattle-To say things have gone south for the 49ers this season would be an understatement.  We knew that even before they lost to the Raiders.  But now they're in a position where they have to win out in order to have any shot at the playoffs.  In fact, they'll be eliminated if they lose to the Seahawks for the second time in three weeks.  With the way both teams are playing, there's no way I see that not happening, setting up Seattle to take over control of the division with a win over the Cardinals next week.

Cowboys (9-4) at Eagles (9-4): Dallas-The game of the week is on Sunday night.  Philly won on Thanksgiving, so a Dallas loss would all but guarantee the Cowboys a trip to Atlanta/New Orleans in the wild card round.  It's not as if that would be a problem for the Cowboys, though.  They're undefeated on the road this season.  And they were given a huge gift last week when the Eagles lost to Seattle.  Even though they're tied, the winner here takes control of the NFC East.  I think that'll be the team that hasn't lost on the road all year.

Saints (5-8) at Bears (5-8): New Orleans-I'll once again reaffirm my belief that the Saints are the least bad team in the NFC South.  Next week's matchup with Atlanta will probably determine the division, but it hopefully won't be to determine which team will be the 6-10 NFC South "champion."  Fortunately, Chicago isn't good either, so a Saints win on Monday night is very doable.  (Sidebar, this is the Bears' third straight non-Sunday game.  I wonder when the last time that happened was.)

This Week: 1-0
Last Week: 10-6
Season: 131-77-1

Friday, December 12, 2014

Wheeling and Dealing at the Winter Meetings

Now that the Winter Meetings are over and free agency is in full swing, we're starting to get a glimpse of what some 2015 Major League rosters will look like.  Some teams filled needs, others had to go to Plan B when their guy went somewhere else, while still others made nonsensical trades and signings.  Then there are the teams that just sat around and did nothing.

Take the Boston Red Sox, the first team to make a splash with their signings of Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez.  Now, the Sandoval signing made a lot of sense.  They needed a third baseman and a middle-of-the-order hitter.  Panda was the best guy available on both those fronts, and they had the money to pay him, so why not?  But the Hanley Ramirez signing is confusing.  It wasn't the type of signing the Red Sox typically make.  It was George Steinbrenner singing.  By that I mean, they went out and got a guy they really had no particular need/use for simply because they could.  I don't blame Hanley for following the money, but it made very little sense for the Dodgers to let him go, and even less for Boston to go after him.

Hanley Ramirez filled no need for the Boston Red Sox.  They have Xander Bogaerts at shortstop, they obviously signed Sandoval to play third, and another fat guy is the DH.  So Boston settled on left field, even though they got Yoenis Cespedes to play that very position in July.  No worries.  Instead of using Cespedes as a piece they were going to build around in 2015, he became a two-month rental that was shipped to Detroit for Rick Porcello.  Why did the Red Sox get Rick Porcello?  Because the reunion with Jon Lester isn't happening.  The guy he's reuniting with is Theo Epstein.  That's right.  Lester's a Cub.

The Cubs are at least two years away.  Even with Lester, they're probably a third-place team at best in 2015.  But they've got the ace everybody else wanted.  And after 108 years without a championship, there's at least hope for the Cubs.

As for the A's, who knew they weren't going to keep Lester, so they didn't even try, we're seeing another one of those famous Billy Beane fire sales.  Oakland traded its best two hitters.  Brandon Moss is headed to Cleveland, and Josh Donaldson is now a Blue Jay.  And 60 percent of Oakland's rotation is headed to Chicago.  Lester and Jason Hammel are both Cubs, and Jeff Samardzija hopefully didn't get rid of his apartment.  Because he's joining a White Sox team that's suddenly looking like a contender.  They've even got a fresh new closer to boot in David Robertson.

Robertson certainly earned his payday.  He didn't just take over for Mariano Rivera, he thrived as the Yankees' closer.  But not enough for the Yankees to be willing to pay him the type of money he was going to get.  Instead, they didn't even make him an offer.  They signed Andrew Miller and they're looking at Sergio Romo, both of whom come with a cheaper price tag.

Besides, the Yankees have much bigger needs and they know it.  One of those needs was filled via trade.  The unenviable task of following Derek Jeter at shortstop goes to Didi Gregorius, formerly of the Diamondbacks.  They'd also like to bring Chase Headley back, but Panda leaving the Giants means San Francisco's going to have a lot of interest in Headley.  Will they end up pricing the Yankees out of the Headley market?  Another guy who came to the Yankees at last year's trade deadline was Brandon McCarthy, who they wanted back for rotation depth.  Except that's not going to happen.  He signed with the Dodgers.

Speaking of the Dodgers, it's been a bit of a curious off season for them.  LA was built to win last season.  They one of the best 1-2 pitching punches in all of baseball in Kershaw and Greinke, and the lineup was just as good.  Hanley Ramirez was a big part of that.  Everyone knew Ramirez was going to be a free agent, but I think most people assumed the Dodgers would at least make an effort to keep him.  Whether or not they did is unclear, but the bottom line is Hanley left, leaving a gaping hole in the middle of the lineup with him.

So what do they do to fill that hole?  They trade Matt Kemp?  Their best right-handed power hitter after Ramirez?  Yes, they had a logjam in the outfield.  Everyone knows that.  Andre Ethier had expresses his displeasure in being the odd man out.  You knew Yasiel Puig wasn't going anywhere, but Kemp's the best all-around player out of the other three.  I would've sent Carl Crawford (or, at the very least, Ethier) packing.  But instead it's Kemp, who's headed south to the division rival Padres?  A curious move to say the least.

That was the strangest move the Dodgers made, but it was by no means their last.  They had a busier Winter Meetings than anyone but Scott Boras.  To make up for the loss of Ramirez at short, they made a trade with the Phillies and got Jimmy Rollins, who could be great fit in LA despite his age.  Leadoff hitter Dee Gordon, meanwhile, who developed into an All-Star last season, is also a former Dodger.  He was traded to the Marlins to make room at second base for Howie Kendrick, the latest guy to pull off the cross-town switch.  Frankly, though, I'd rather have Gordon, Ramirez and Kemp.

You want a team that's been an off-season loser so far?  How about the Orioles?  Nick Markakis went to Atlanta as a free agent, and Nelson Cruz signed a monster deal with Seattle.  Suddenly, the Mariners are looking very formidable in the AL West.

There are still plenty of moves to be made, and the rosters of virtually every team aren't complete yet.  But, as per usual, the start of free agency has been plenty eventful.  It'll only get better from here.  After all, we're still two months from the start of Spring Training, and April's a long way away.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Women's World Cup Draw

There was a lot that went on in the world of sports this weekend.  The teams for the inaugural College Football Playoff were picked, which would be a lot more significant to me if I gave a crap about college football.  (Although, I do think the Big 12 screwed themselves by not picking between Baylor and TCU, opening the door for the committee to pick Ohio State.)  The Baseball Hall of Fame Golden Era Committee voted on its candidates, but alas, no one was elected to join Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez in the 2015 induction class.  Dick Allen and Tony Oliva came the closest, missing by one vote, and Jim Kaat ended up two votes shy.  The IOC also met to discuss "Olympic Agenda 2020" and unanimously approved the 40 reforms.  There are plenty of significant changes that are going to take place, the most significant of which might be the removal of the 28-sport cap, which could allow for baseball and softball's return for the Tokyo Games.

But there was something just as significant over the weekend that, because it was on Fox Sports 1, a lot of people might've missed.  The draw for the Women's World Cup was held, and the U.S. landed in the proverbial "Group of Death" with Sweden, Australia and Nigeria.  That may not be as big a deal as some people are making it out to be, though.  The top two automatically advance to the knockout round, as do the four best third-place teams out of the six groups.  That means the top-ranked Americans realistically only need one win to advance.  And if they win the group, which still seems likely, the don't face another group winner until the semifinals.

Sweden, which is ranked fifth in the world, was mad that they were passed over for a seed by sixth-ranked Brazil, and they ended up with the Americans as a result.  But FIFA's logic for the seeding actually made sense.  There are eight European teams in the tournament, and Sweden's the third ranked European team.  By only seeding two (Germany and France), they were able to put all of the remaining teams in the same European pot, which made figuring out the pots a lot easier.  And it's not like seeding Brazil over Sweden was the same as seeding Belgium and Switzerland over the Netherlands and Italy for the men's World Cup, when they did base it (stupidly so) only on world ranking.  I think the seedings were appropriate.  Besides, E1 plays D2 in the round of 16, so if that ends up being a Brazil-Sweden matchup, the Swedes will get a chance to prove they should've been seeded over the Brazilians.

Anyway, on to the groups.  Canada, as the host country, was automatically placed in position A1, as is the case in every major FIFA tournament.  Joining the Canadians in Group A will be China, New Zealand and the Netherlands.  Not exactly a who's who of women's soccer.  But as hosts, I guess Canada is entitled to having a favorable draw.  They'll get through no problem and China should finish second in the group.  Third place will be up for grabs between the other two.

One of the two groups where third place might not advance is Group B, where two-time champion Germany was gifted with Norway and lightweights Thailand and Ivory Coast.  Thailand is ranked 30th in the world, while Ivory Coast is the lowest-ranked team in the tournament at 64.  So, basically, this should be a cakewalk for the two European teams, which have combined to win three of the first six Women's World Cups.  Winning the group will be extremely important, though.  Because second place plays second in Group F, which will probably be either France or England.

In Group C, we've got defending champion Japan, along with three teams making their World Cup debuts--Switzerland, Cameroon and Ecuador.  This group might be even softer than Group B.  The Swiss are the best of the other three teams, so I've got them finishing second.  Ecuador was the last team to get in, beating Trinidad & Tobago in the CONMEBOL-CONCACAF playoff, so let's see if that gives them any momentum heading into the World Cup.  Ecuador and Cameroon are ranked 49 and 51 in the world, so it should be a good game when those two play.

I think it's some sort of FIFA rule that the United States, Sweden and Nigeria end up in the same group for the Women's World Cup.  This is the fourth straight time (and fifth time in seven Women's World Cups) that the U.S. is in the same group as Sweden and the fourth time in five World Cups that the U.S. is with Nigeria.  The three of them are together for the third time in four World Cups.  (The fourth member of this group is usually North Korea, which was barred from competing this time after what happened in Germany, so this time it's Australia instead.)

It's fairly obvious that Group D is by far the strongest of the six groups, and it also seems likely that this group will almost certainly have three teams reach the knockout stage.  The U.S. and Sweden will probably finish 1-2 in whatever order, while Australia is going to be the most dangerous third-place team in the round of 16.  If they were in a different group, I'd really like Nigeria's chances of advancing, but it'll be really tough for them to knock off one of the three top 10 teams they'll be facing.

Group E is Brazil, Spain, South Korea and Costa Rica.  This is a great opportunity for the Koreans, who've only been in the Women's World Cup once before, and the Spanish, who are making their debuts.  The Brazilians are going to win the group.  They're by far the strongest of these four teams.  But the battle for second place is going to be interesting.  Although, it ultimately might not matter that much, since I think both South Korea and Spain will advance.

Lastly, there's Group F, which has the strongest 1-2 punch outside of the USA and Sweden.  France, which finished fourth in 2011, is ranked fourth in the world, while rival England, which has been to the quarterfinals in each of the last three Women's World Cups, is ranked seventh.  Unless something crazy happens, they'll be the top two teams.  The real question is who's going to win the Mexico-Colombia game?  Because I think the winner there takes third place and goes to the round of 16.  Brazil 2014 was a great World Cup for the CONMEBOL teams.  Will Canada 2015 be the same for CONCACAF?  If so, things are looking good for Mexico.

So, my round of 16 matchups, based on what teams I have advancing are:
  • China (A2) vs. Switzerland (C2)
  • United States (D1) vs. Spain (E3)
  • Germany (B1) vs. New Zealand (A3)
  • England (F1) vs. South Korea (E2)
  • Brazil (E1) vs. Sweden (D2)
  • Japan (C1) vs. Mexico (F3)
  • Norway (B2) vs. France (E2)
  • Canada (A1) vs. Australia (D3)
Our quarterfinal matchups...
  • China vs. United States
  • Germany vs. England
  • Sweden vs. Japan
  • France vs. Canada
The semifinals...
  • United States vs. Germany
  • Japan vs. Canada
Your 2015 Women's World Cup Final...
  • A United States vs. Japan rematch
And hoisting the Women's World Cup trophy on July 5 in Vancouver...
  • The United States of America

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Rest of Week 14

There's a month left in the NFL season, and we still have no idea who's going to make the playoffs.  Sure, we know Denver, New England, Indianapolis and Green Bay are probably going to win their divisions, but the wild cards are anybody's guess.  We'd better start figuring out those tiebreakers.  Because they're most definitely going to come into play.  Especially since there are currently six teams tied for the second AFC wild card at 7-5.  (The craziest part about all this is that Dallas, Detroit and Seattle entered this week in a three-way tie for the two NFC wild cards, and Dallas would've been out based on conference record, even though the Cowboys beat the Seahawks.)

Thursday Night: Dallas (Win)

Steelers (7-5) at Bengals (8-3-1): Cincinnati-This is going to sound redundant over the next couple weeks, but this is a huge game.  Especially for the Steelers.  Everybody else in the AFC North losing last week put the Bengals a game and a half up on the other three, which gives Cincinnati a little breathing room.  Which is a good thing, seeing as they've got Pittsburgh twice and Denver among their last four games.  The Steelers have nobody but themselves to blame for their current predicament.  They crushed the Colts, but they also lost to the Jets.  A loss to the first-place Bengals is something they can ill-afford, but no one ever picks Cincinnati, even though they always seem to win (unless it's a night game).

Colts (8-4) at Browns (7-5): Indianapolis-Sticking with Brian Hoyer was the right decision.  Why switch to Johnny Overrated simply because Hoyer had a bad game against the Bills?  The Browns wouldn't be in a position to make the playoffs without Hoyer.  I have a feeling this is a must-win for Cleveland, which is a difficult proposition against a Colts team fighting for positioning.  It'll be a close one that can go either way, but I'm going with Indy on the road.

Buccaneers (2-10) at Lions (8-4): Detroit-For all the talk that has centered around the Green Bay Packers over the past few weeks, the 8-4 Lions have almost gotten lost in the shuffle.  But here they sit in playoff position, with the tiebreaker over the Packers and the game in Green Bay still to come.  Don't sleep on this team.  With plenty of rest against a not good Tampa Bay team, the Lions should become the NFC's fifth nine-win team and officially eliminate the Bears.

Giants (3-9) at Titans (2-10): Tennessee-One of the NFL's two longest current losing streaks is going to come to an end!  The Giants have officially hit rock bottom, and I think we're probably entering the final month of Tom Coughlin's tenure.  While the Titans are one of the few teams the Giants might actually be better than, I said that about Jacksonville last week, too.  The fans in Nashville begin their joy of seeing the Giants and Jets in back-to-back weeks by handing New York's NFC team another loss.

Ravens (7-5) at Dolphins (7-5): Baltimore-For all the games that affect playoff positioning this week, there probably isn't one more important than Ravens-Dolphins.  This is a virtual wild card elimination game.  The loser will be a game behind at least one team, while the winner goes a game up and gets the head-to-head tiebreaker.  The Ravens wouldn't be in this position if they hadn't blown it last week against the Chargers, but I have a feeling they're going to make up for it by sending the Dolphins to 7-6.

Jets (2-10) at Vikings (5-7): Minnesota-There are all the games involving playoff contenders.  And then there's this one.  Our second "who cares?" meaningless game involving a New York team.  Things are so bad that the Giants and Jets were scheduled for the same time this week and the NFL did nothing to avoid it.  Rex begins his final month as Jets coach with another loss.

Panthers (3-8-1) at Saints (5-7): New Orleans-Somebody in the NFC South definitely isn't going to lose!  To think, when these two met the first time on a Thursday night in Week 9, it was a battle for first place, with 3-4-1 Carolina holding a half-game lead.  Well, that ended up being the third of six straight losses for the Panthers, who haven't won since Week 5 (don't forget their wonderful tie).  Anyway, the Saints are the only chance we've got left to have an NFC South "champion" with a record that's actually somewhat respectable, so I'm going with New Orleans.

Rams (5-7) at Redskins (3-9): St. Louis-Fresh off their 52-0 drubbing of the Raiders, the NFL's giant killers get another patsy to beat up on this week.  The Redskins might actually be worse than the Giants.  They're definitely worse than the Rams.  St. Louis heads into its Thursday night matchup with Arizona at 6-7.

Texans (6-6) at Jaguars (2-10): Houston-The news that Jadeveon Clowney is out for the year was certainly unfortunate, but that Texans defense still has J.J. Watt, so Houston should be just fine.  Especially since they've got a division game against somebody other than Indianapolis this week.  The NFL is still listing the Texans on the AFC playoff picture, although their only chance is probably catching the Colts in the South.  Well, if they both win, Houston will only be a game back going into the showdown next week.

Bills (7-5) at Broncos (9-3): Denver-Raise your hand if you thought the Bills would still be in playoff contention with four weeks left.  Of course, things are going to be tough.  They've still got the Packers and a trip to New England in addition to this week's visit to Denver.  Speaking of Green Bay, thanks to them, Denver is suddenly thinking about home field again.  The Broncos have huge road games in San Diego and Cincinnati coming up.  They know they can't afford a loss to the Bills.

Chiefs (7-5) at Cardinals (9-3): Arizona-This might be the most interesting matchup of the week.  Arizona suddenly needs a win, having lost two straight without Carson Palmer.  And last week's loss in Atlanta was certainly startling.  The Chiefs have also dropped two straight since their win over Seattle, including that inexplicable defeat in Oakland.  Kansas City needs a win to keep pace with the Broncos and Chargers.  Arizona needs a win to hold off the surging Seahawks and 49ers.  Something's gotta give.  With the game taking place in Phoenix, though, I'll give the edge to the Cardinals.

49ers (7-5) at Raiders (1-11): San Francisco-The Battle of the Bay!  That, of course, is fake excitement.  Because the Oakland Raiders are barely a professional football team.  More than just bragging rights over a terrible team are at stake for the 49ers.  They're on the outside looking in at the NFC playoff picture.  Playing the Raiders is an early Christmas present that they can't just throw away.

Seahawks (8-4) at Eagles (9-3): Philadelphia-We've got a lot of good ones, but this might be the game of the week.  They both picked up a huge division win on Thanksgiving, and they might be the two hottest teams in the league not named the Packers.  It's the Seahawks that "need" to win a little more, but the Eagles already know the Cowboys won, which means a loss drops them into a first-place tie going into next week's Sunday night game.  The entire NFC playoff race could be affected by the outcome of this game.  The equal rest balances things out a little, but I don't like the Seahawks having to travel cross country, so I'm taking the Eagles in what should be a good one.

Patriots (9-3) at Chargers (8-4): San Diego-This is normally the time of the year when San Diego starts making its run.  They're at three in a row since that 37-0 loss in Miami, and last week they had that amazing comeback to win in Baltimore.  New England finally lost last week in Green Bay, and things don't get any easier with a cross country trip to face a Chargers team that's already beaten Seattle.  I know the whole "the Patriots don't lose back-to-back games" thing, but I think they're going to.  San Diego on the road isn't a good matchup for them.

Falcons (5-7) at Packers (9-3): Green Bay-Atlanta beat Arizona last week, maintaining its standing "atop" the NFC South.  I'm still not exactly sure how that happened.  But Atlanta's next three weeks are brutal, starting with a Monday night game against the team that so many people have already anointed NFC champions.  We're still a long way from that, but the Packers shouldn't have a problem handling the Falcons at home.

This Week: 1-0
Last Week: 9-7
Season: 121-71-1