April 19, 2008

Bigger Disgrace to MD Journalism: Christmas Ape or Jayson Blair?

The biggest story in the sports blogosphere this week was unquestionably the firing of Christmas Ape/Mike Tunison from the Washington Post for his postings on Kissing Suzy Kolber. An under-reported aspect of the story (from this Terp's point of view) is the fact that Tunison is a graduate of the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism.

Maryland's journalism school has a long and storied history (famous alumni include Connie Chung and Bonnie Bernstein), but it is best known as the place that gave Jayson Blair a degree (correction: he attended Maryland but never graduated). Blair embarassed the New York times by lying in some of his stories. Tunison embarassed the Washington Post by being a successful blogger. The question is, which one has disgraced the College of Journalism more?

Proof of a Maryland conspiracy to take down national newspapers.

Some would say that the answer should be obvious because Blair was fired for lying while Tunison was fired for telling the truth. But Blair was fired for things that were printed in a newspaper. Tunison's firing was due to the fact that he's a blogger. And we all know what real journalists think of bloggers.

I'll leave it for the commenters to judge between these two, but I think the lesson here is clear. If you're a major national newspaper, don't hire anyone from Maryland, you'll just end up embarrassed.

Cal Ripken DVD Collection Review

From our Wolverine State correspondent, "ben," who like me, despite being an ardent Nats fan, loves Cal Ripken and the 80s-late 90s O's, and who unlike me, has a wife who is accomodating enough to allow him to watch five full DVDs dedicated to the life and career of Cal. Anyway, Ben agreed to review them for us. Didn't you all read the fine print back in February 2007 and know that this is how it would go... we would hit 1,000 posts, and then sit back and let our guest correspondents do al the work? Anyway, enjoy, and J-Red, be sure to tell me and Ben what hypocrites we are.

I recently made the $49.99 investment in the DVD collection devoted to Cal Ripken, Jr. available here. It's a six DVDset featuring five games (in their entirety, mostly`from original broadcasts) and one documentary.

Based on the games chosen, you might be under the impression that Cal didn't start playing until Sept. 6, 1995. Overall, I enjoyed my trip down memory lane, watching some old games. It's also fun to see everyone come upto bat and make a mental note of whether or not they are a known 'roider. After having watched it once,however, I think it will be a long time before I watch any of these games again (except for the 2,131 game). It kind of feels like a bootleg copy, though. There are a few things about the individual games that I'll comment on later. For the packaging, though, the special features listed mention the "#3,121" game. On the DVD itself, it lists items from the "#3,121" game...twice. Bad sign for credibility of the package. At least the numbers on the Warehouse during the game are correct. The rest of the packaging is pretty good with lots of trivia, a picture of the Cal Ripken candy bar (who knew?) and other such things. I did not bother fact-checking it all, although maybe I should have given the blatant mistake at the outset.

Also, the DVD cases have the play-by-play of the whole game. It's like an ESPN gamecast. I regret that they had no games from the 1980s. I know he hit for the cycle in 1984. Wouldn't that have been a good choice? Maybe they didn't win the game. I just would have liked to have seen a young Cal with a cartoon bird on the cap. It also would have been nice if they could have found at least one game that had a dramatic ending. Oh well. I'm also sorry that this seems to have been released before his HOF induction. His Cooperstown speech would have been a great addition to the special features. For the games, "scene selection" is done by each half-inning. All the special features are on the disc with the documentary. This is where they stuck some post-game ceremonies. It's also the only place wherey ou can actually see him get his 3,000 hit. Sadly,there are no defensive highlight reels. I know he wasn't flashy, but he does have two Gold Gloves. On with the games:

Sept. 6, 1995 - Cal breaks Lou Gehrig's record
This is the ESPN broadcast, so you're stuck with Berman and Buck Martinez (as in "Oh, Buck! He crushed that!"). If you've worn out your tape of the game or haven't edited out the commercials, and if you want an alternative to the HTS broadcast from iTunes where Mel Proctor threatens to not vote for Clinton if he doesn't show up in the booth as promised, then this makes the purchase worthwhile by itself. It is slightly flawed in that it cuts out just a tad early between innings, so it cuts some stuff off. They cut Clinton's interview short as a result. It even has an unnecessary jump cut from the end of the celebration to the first at-bat of the bottom of the fifth. Weird.

May 28, 1996 - Cal hits three home runs
It's his only three home run game of his career. As is noted often during the broadcast, this came right after Davey Johnson said he was going to move Cal to third (but did not). It's kind of cool to watch Brady Anderson lead off with a home run on his way to slugging 50, and to watch a young Griffey and even younger A-Rod (20-years old). When Cal hits his second home run, a grand slam, Proctor first yells, "Hell yeah!" and quickly changes it to "Oh yeah!" Nice save, Mel. It's a great slugfest with the O's winning (as is the case in all the O's games selected for this set). Cal draws a standing ovation from the Seattle crowd withhis third home run.

Oct. 1, 1996 - ALDS Game 1, O's vs. Indians
While I enjoyed watching the O's win their first playoff game since 1983, this game did not belong in this set at all. Cal gets an RBI single early on and finishes with three hits, including a double. He also strands three runners during the game. The other games selected are celebrations of Cal. This one treats Cal like any other player. It was an odd choice. I suppose they desperately wanted to include a playoff game, but I wonder if this was really the best choice. I guess he never had a clutch hit in a single playoff game. But still, perhaps they should have opted for Game 5 of 1983 and justified it by saying he caught the last out. At least then you'd have a copy of that historic game.

June 13, 1999 - Cal gets six hits
This game was crazy. I remember watching the Sunday Night Baseball broadcast and just being stunned by the O's hanging 22 on the Braves in Atlanta. Cal started getting his ovations from the Braves fans (of those who stayed) when he got his fourth hit. Very odd thing about this DVD, however: it was theESPN broadcast, but it wasn't. While all the other games show the original television broadcast, this game had none of the graphics. None. They'd be referencing stats or lineups posted on the screen, but you don't see it. When you saw replays, there were no cool transitions, so you see the freeze frame for an oddly long time. You even missed some of their replays when they did things like K-Zone, so instead you see the camera moving around and getting its next shot because it was not live on ESPN. I have no idea why this happened for this game and not others. I kind of think they just got the wrong tape.

July 10, 2001 -- Cal wins MVP in his last All-Star game
Naturally, there's a lot of love thrown Cal's way as it is his final all-star game. And unlike Tony Gwynn, he's actually playing. Once Cal gets pulled and they have their little ceremony for him and Gwynn, there's not much left to see in the game.

What it is: Everything you imagine it is.
What it isn't: NFL Films Presents
MLB Productions is way behind NFL Films. It's a 1-hourlove fest for Cal, telling you everything you already know. It's okay. I felt like the narration was being done by a junior college student who was throwing something together for his film and video class. Then the credits rolled. It was Maryland native Ed Norton. I didn't even recognize his voice. Pretty weak.

April 18, 2008

NBA Playoffs Preview and Predictions

From our West Coast correspondent, Michael Prodanovich...

As one of the few real NBA fans left, and as one who has seen almost every good Western Conference game, I feel a duty to give a preview, especially since this years West playoffs will be some of the best basketball ever played. All 8 teams in the West playoffs won at least 50 games, and the 48-34 Warriors were left out in the cold. I’ll give an overview of the East as well, but my expertise is mainly with the West. Despite when the TV coverage says the games will start, most of these Western games will actually tip-off around 10:50pm EDT, but for those insomniacs and fans of great basketball, this truly is must-see, and worth staying up to watch.

West 1-8: Lakers vs Nuggets
: This will be one of the fastest paced and highest scoring series you are likely to see, as these are two of the four highest scoring teams in the league. The Nuggets have star power, but the Lakers have THE star, and won all three games during the regular season by an average of 16 points, and all three of those were before Pau Gasol came into the fold and turned the Lakers into contenders. Count one up for the fast-paced Nuggets in the altitude, but this will be an easy series for L.A.
Prediction: Lakers 4-1

West 2-7: Hornets vs Mavericks
: Two opposite teams in roster compilation, but the same in style. The Hornets are young and athletic and the Mavericks are a group of aging veterans, despite both teams preferring a slow, half-court style. The Mavs actually regressed after getting J-Kidd (partially due to their aforementioned style of play), but his veteran leadership will keep them in this series. I think Chris Paul is just too good, and with Game 7 in NOLA, the (surprisingly good) crowd will carry them to victory.
Prediction: Hornets 4-3

West 3-6: Spurs vs Suns
Analysis: Although this is the 3-6 series, there is only one game difference between the teams (54 wins vs 55), in a matchup you would normally expect in late May, rather than late April. The Suns got Shaq solely to deal with Duncan, and his rejuvenated health combined with Amare Stoudemire being an absolute beast (30-10 down the stretch), gives them a good chance to finally beat their aging nemesis. The Spurs will be headed for their first opening-round exit in many years.
Prediction: Suns 4-2

West 4-5: Jazz vs Rockets
: The 5-seed Rockets actually have the home court in this series, thanks to the divisional seeding rule, but it won’t help them much. The Jazz are on fire since acquiring Kyle Korver and are nearly unbeatable at home. McGrady’s bunch have cooled down significantly and have looked downright mediocre since winning 22 straight. This is their worst possible first round matchup, as the Jazz have the advantage at 4 of the 5 positions, head coach, and style of play. It Utah takes one game in Houston, this series is over.
Prediction: Jazz 4-2

Second Round: Lakers over Jazz 4-1, Suns over Hornets 4-3

Conference Finals: Lakers over Suns 4-3. If this series happens, it will be worth staying up to watch. Not just with the high quality of play, but with the Kobe vs Shaq for a trip to the finals drama.

In the East, I would be shocked if the first round didn’t go to form. Starting in the second round this will get interesting. Second round predictions in the East:

Eastern Semis

Boston 4, Cleveland 2: The Cavs took a step back from last year, I just don’t think LeBron can beat Boston four times by himself.

Detroit 4, Orlando 3: The Magic are one year away from contending, and the Pistons are one year away from falling out of contention…but Detroit takes this one in their last chance to take another title before needing to look to rebuild.

Eastern Finals - Boston 4, Detroit 1. This will not be nearly as tough a series as people may think it will be. The Celtics seem to be the team of destiny, and Detroit probably has their fourth best team of the last five years. I don’t even know if it will be this close.

Finals: Lakers vs Celtics. A flashback to the days of old. I think the Lakers have a better chance at getting upset along the road than Boston does, due to the superior competition in earlier rounds, but I expect to see this matchup. I can’t pick it though due to my blatant homerism. I went to my first Lakers game when I was seven years old in 1986, and I detest the Celtics (and Pistons) with the same fervor of Maryland fan against Duke and a Sox fan against the Yanks. So you know how I would pick…

April 17, 2008

Post 1000: Commenter Appreciation

It's hard to believe, but in a little over a year, East Coast Bias has reached 1000 posts. I think I speak for all of us when I say that this little side project of ours has far surpassed our expectations.

All of that success is due to you, our readers, and particularly to the commenters. What makes ECB special is the fact that we have such an active commenter community. We rarely see a post go by without at least a few comments.

So we're dedicating our 1000th post to you, our commenters. We appreciate everyone who has ever left a comment, but we'd like to specifically thank our frequent commenters:

  • "ben"
  • big tuna
  • Nic (who we recently discovered is our only frequent female commenter)
  • Anonymous (the Lions fan)
  • Anonymous (the Duke fan/HIMMMMYYYYY guy)
  • Dean
  • kgoon1590
  • michael
I'm sure I'm missing someone, but if I did, know that we read and appreciate every comment.

Thanks again, and we'll try to make the next 1000 posts even better.

Baltimore Looking Very Smart These Days

First, the oft-mocked Orioles. Miguel Tejada decided to get something off his chest today. He announced that he's actually two years older than what he originally told the Athletics. He's fooled baseball all these years, despite the fact his drivers license and green card both list his correct address. Note to teams: before you trade some good prospects for a hispanic player, CHECK HIS DRIVERS LICENSE. Tejada is actually almost 34, not almost 32. Since the Orioles traded Tejada his name has surfaced in the Mitchell Report, he has not performed particularly well, and he's older than he claimed to be. Great move O's!

Second, Terrell Suggs unexpectedly showed up at the Ravens minicamp. Suggs is the franchise player and is not under contract. He said that he has been on board with new coach John Harbaugh from day one and wanted to use the surprise appearance to let the coach know that. It looks like owner Steven Bisciotti's change of heart leading to Brian Billick's dismissal has been quite well-received by the team.

In other news, Steve McNair has decided to voluntarily free up some cap space by announcing his retirement. McNair was a big part of the Ravens 13-3 season in 2006. Unfortunately, he was also a big part of last season's disaster. It seems the parting is amicable, and I think most Ravens fans join me in wishing him a happy post-football career.

Nationals Park Gets Second Sellout

After struggling with attendance woes through the first few weeks of the season, Nationals Park finally saw its second sellout of the year, a standing-room-only crowd of 46,000. Unfortunately the Nats weren't playing, and the crowd was there to see the Pope.

Not an empty seat in the house.

Maybe the Kasten should see if he can get BXVI to toss out the first pitch at a game. I bet he wouldn't have trouble selling the "President's Club" seats for that game.

Let's have all the Nats fans break out their spin machines in the comments and try to show how baseball in Washington is more popular than the Pope, and that the discrepancy in attendance is due to the weather/basketball/time of day/free communion wine.

April 16, 2008

Capital Inspiration

Now that the Caps are down 2-1 in the opening round series against the Flyers, I feel pressed to come forward with something inspiring for the team.

I now present my favorite song from the NHL '08 soundtrack. This always gets me in the mood to smear Briere with an open-ice hip check. It's 99% by The Mooney Suzuki.

Sonics' Old Owner Tries to Put Horse Back in Barn

Earlier this week Seattle got a shot of hope from former owner and Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. Apparently Mr. Schultz had a provision in the contract of sale that transferred the Sonics to Oklahoma City businessman Clay Bennett that required Bennett to make a good faith effort to keep the team in Seattle. Now, Schultz alleges, Bennett has violated the contract. In effect, Schultz is suing to undo the sale.

I have not been able to find an actual copy of the contract effecting the sale of the Sonics, but I am skeptical that Schultz can succeed.

First of all, Schultz' suit is based on a "good faith" provision. That phrase has a commonly accepted definition and connotation in legal circles. Black's Law Dictionary defines good faith as:

A state of mind consisting in (1) honesty in belief or purpose, (2) faithfulness to one's duty or obligation, (3) observance of reasonable commercial standards of fair dealing in a given trade or business, or (4) absence of intent to defraud or to seek unconscionable advantage.

Here's Schultz's problem: all Bennett has to say is that he had every intention of keeping the Sonics in Seattle if the city cooperated and helped him replace the Key Arena. They didn't and the reasonable commercial standards of fair dealing in the NBA is that you move the team to where you think you can make money. The Hornets and Grizzlies moved recently, the Hornets played half their schedule in Oklahoma City after Katrina and did well, and the NBA has a long history of team relocations (MPLS Lakers, Baltimore Bullets, San Diego Clippers, Kansas City Kings, New Orleans Jazz, etc. etc. etc.). In effect, Bennett is not doing anything unusual.

Schultz, as a Seattle icon, HAS to do everything he can to keep the team in Seattle. Otherwise it appears that he sold out the city for the profit he earned from selling the franchise. Considering he has more money than any man would need (though less than Gates, which might be a source of jealousy), the average Seattlite is not going to understand why the millions a year he earned from the franchise was insufficient. We all know the truth: Schultz sold the team because he knew he wouldn't get a government-funded arena. He couldn't move the team himself, and he couldn't make it profitable long-term. Instead, he sold it.

To further complicate matters, even if Schultz can prove a breach of the good faith clause, he has to show that the contract contained a mechanism for undoing the sale. This could come in a few forms, including a delayed rescission or a forced sell-back, but it's extremely rare. If one puts any thought into what it would entail, it becomes clear why courts don't favor the delayed unraveling of completed deals. For one, the Sonics have acquired a valuable asset since the sale in the form of Kevin Durant. For another, Bennett has made investments into the team, mingling his assets with the assets that existed when Schultz owns the team.

Most likely the court will find, as Stern already has, that Bennett made good faith efforts to keep the team in Seattle. Even if they think he violated the contract a court would likely find that the good faith clause was a mere recitation of the intentions of the party, but that it is not binding on post-contract behavior.

Either way, the people of Seattle need to spend more time loving the M's and Seahawks, because the Sonics are headed to Oklahoma City.

Soriano Owes Apology to Cubs, Fans

The culprit limps off, with help. (AP Photo)

In yesterday's game with the Cubs, Alfonso Soriano suffered a lower leg injury while catching a fairly routine fly ball. Watching the replay shows that he was not contacted during the play nor did he dive or even need to extend himself. The cause of the injury was the landing from a small hop he performed while catching the ball, and the hop was unnecessary to reach the ball. Apparently, the hop is common for Soriano, but depending on the MRI results, he could be out a few weeks.

Why the hop? No other outfielder in MLB or college or HS catches the ball while jumping. Soriano was originally an infielder, but this is his third season in the outfield. The hop does not help him get to balls nor position himself for a subsequent throw. Is it flair made to make himself more noticeable? Can he not run without bouncing his head, so he has to jump to have a steady look at the ball? What was he doing the last two offseasons when he could have been unlearning this bad habit? One would have to think the Nats and Cubs coaches have offered to help him fix that.

The unfortunate result is that the leadoff hitter and one of the best players on a team that expects to compete for the NL title may go on the DL, for no good reason. Injuries happen to anyone and can happen at any time, no matter how careful you are (just ask Mike Hampton). However, an injury caused by bad technique, which isn't new or an accident, falls squarely on the player's shoulders. Any player making over $15 million per year for 8 years owes it to the team and its fans to do everything in his power to make sure he plays as many games as possible at the highest possible level.

Whatever the reason for it, and however much of a fluke it may have been, Soriano is injured and I think it's clearly his fault. He should apologize.

Game 4 Do-or-Die for Caps

Down 2-1 in their first round series with the Flyers, the Caps desperately need a win on the road in Game 4 to stay in the series. The Flyers have dominated the series so far. Only a big third period by the Caps in Game 1 for a comeback victory is preventing a 3-0 Flyers lead and possible sweep. The Capitals have only led for 17 of the 180 minutes played so far, and all of those few minutes were in Game 1.

The Flyers have roughed up Ovechkin and the Caps. (AP Photo)

The Flyers appear to have succeeded in their obvious (and wise) plan to rough up the Caps and get under their skin. The penalty on Huet and the fight involving Mike Green should not happen in Game 3 of a playoff series, especially when the game is still within reach. The Caps need to focus and get back to playing the hockey that got them into the playoffs.

If the Flyers win, that would be 3 straight and a big lead in the series. I don't think a young Caps team that barely made the playoffs could recover from that kind of deficit.

April 15, 2008

Idol Recap 4/15

Mariah Carey week... the biggest chance for trainwrecks since Lennon/McCartney week. I agreed with the judges at the outset that the ladies had the biggest challenge and I agree with them at the end that the men hit the ball out of the park tonight. Easiest for me will be to rank the performances in order from best to worst:

David Cook - I spent the entire first half of this song not able to tell if I liked it or if I hated it. And then the wife and I realized that we were comparing the song too much to the Mariah version. Putting the Mariah version out of our minds, David's version was nothing short of brilliant and is the second time this season I have been tempted to spend 99 cents on an Idol iTunes version. The best thing to happen to David would be getting voted off tomorrow. He'd have record producers lined up around the corner to pay him millions. Absolutely magnificent and incredible.

David Archuleta - Seeing his very wooden (no pun intended) hug of Mariah Carey in which he looked like a deer in headlights, I couldn't help but think of Garth in Wayne's World ask Wayne timidly if he remembered getting that funny feeling in gym class when he climbed up the ropes. It's entirely possible David was having unpure thoughts for the first time in his life. No big deal, he's banished to eternal damnation. Tonight we saw again that David has a great voice and the personality and charisma of a doorknob when he sings. He'll sell records on the radio because he's robotically just a great singer. But as a performer, he sucks.

Jason Castro - I didn't dig the whole performance but it was still better than the remaining four. Jason is good at the type of music he loves to sing. He always appears to have fun and not take himself too seriously. He's like that loveable stoner who you can never get mad at. Jason did more than enough tonight to make the teeny-boppers who love his girlish cheekbones and luscious eyelashes speeddial for him a few million times. He'll be back next week.

Syesha Mercado - God do I want her voted off. As much as J-Red hated Kristy Lee a few weeks ago, I hate Syesha more now. I hate her phonyness. I hate her interviews. I hate her plastered on stage grin that reminds me of the Kim Wayans character in the Lil' Magic sketches on In Living Color when Kim Wayans played a schoolgirl who auditioned for big parts and got bossed around by her stage mom played by David Alan Grier ("I'm Ms. Smile Bright 1987!!!") Alright, that rant done, she did a very smart thing by singing a song I've never heard so all I can say is she sang with some good range and hit some heavy notes. She's been persistent bottom three so she'll have to overcome the country western voters who love Kristy Lee.

Kristy Lee Cook - Again, smart girl picking something I've never heard. She's getting better and better as the weeks go on but she's still light years away from winning this competition. She's also light years ahead of the girl who had to sing Amazing Grace twice to make it out of Hollywood Week. I fear bottom three for Kristy Lee but with her solid voting bloc, she could escape given the clusterfuck performances we saw from the remaining two girls.

Carly Smithson - At least she looked like she was having fun tonight and she did make her tatt'ed up fiance cry out in the audience. Although maybe that was allergic reaction or ink poisoning or something that was causing tears to well in his eyes. Regardless, she fell into the trap of singing a really recognizable song that somebody who doesn't have Mariah's range just can't escape comparison unless you put your own unique spin on it. She did a decent job but she will be in the bottom three (and possibly voted off) because I think her fan base is dwindling, she performed too early in the show, and she sang a weak version of a famous song.

Brooke White - Dude. Seriously. You missed your sister's wedding for American Idol? At least you have like 21 sisters and brothers. I would say I'm sure you weren't missed, but given how much you talk to the judges and can't seem to quell your ego to just SHUT THE FUCK UP AND LISTEN IF THEY DARE CRITIQUE YOU WITHOUT REASSURING THEM THAT IT'S OKAY TO CRITIQUE YOU, I dare say you were likely impossible to miss at the wedding. You know how I know you have a big ego? When Ryan jokingly talked about getting a cardboard cutout of you for the wedding and you slipped that you had actually looked into it. Anyway, we had an almost David Archuleta moment with you tonight and you almost cracked on stage. Visibly shaking at the end of the song, the Carole King meets Mariah Carey thing just did not work well at all. You will experience the cold, cold steel of the bottom three stools tomorrow evening.

FINAL PREDICTION - It's time for Carly to "say hello, wave goodbye" as my favorite Welsh singer would say. 10 points to the first ECB reader who can ID songwriter and CD.

Pats Win SOS Lottery, Get Home Field Now

Well, if the Patriots weren't already the favorites to have home-field advantage for the playoffs, they are now. The Patriots have the easiest schedule in the entire league, based on last year's records. The Patriots' opponents won less than 40% of their games last year. The Chargers have the second easiest schedule, while the Steelers, Colts, and Jaguars will all have to fight for every win. Look for a rematch of last year's AFC Championship in Foxboro.

This is the only Patriots picture that eased my pain.

The Patriots and the rest of the AFC East will play the AFC West and the NFC West. This means they have the Dolphins (x2), Raiders, Chiefs, Rams, Jets (x2) and 49ers. That's right, the Pats play 6 of the 7 worst teams from last year, and those teams comprise 8 of their 16 games. I'm not ready to give the Pats the Super Bowl or anything, but it's hard to imagine them losing many of those games. Then figure in the Broncos, Cardinals, and Bills (all at NE), and the record's pretty good. To be fair, the Pats rolled through the NFC East and AFC North last year, but at least that was a little bit more of a challenge. For comparison, the Steelers and Colts' opponents averaged more than 9.5 wins last year. Slight difference...

Zorn's First Year Schedule

Well, Skins fans, it could be a long year. The Redskins get all three divisional opponents in the first five weeks, all three on the ROAD. The Saints, who will likely return to 2006 form, and the improving Cardinals will visit the nation's capital in between. A slow start will mean 0-5 without any trouble at all.

Unfortunately for the Redskins, none of the teams I would project to be terrible next year are Skins' opponents. The Dolphins, Falcons, Chiefs, and Raiders will be other teams' punching bags. The best chances for wins will be the Cardinals, 49ers, Rams, Lions, Saints, and Bengals. I think it's a serious mistake to think that the Rams and Saints won't be much better than last year. We get both Mike Martz's new team and his old one, hopefully the transition will hurt both (unless Shaun Hill is starting). The Bungles could be eliminated and demoralized by the time we see them at the end of the year, but that's a little too far away to depend on.

"Another losing season? Good work."

First and foremost, the Redskins will have to be a physically tough team this year to compete. Hopefully Zorn will be able to instill that mentality along with his (soft Seattle) passing offense. The NFC East is always brutal, and the AFC North is equally so. The games with the Browns, Steelers, and Ravens will all depend on the Redskins' ability to win the trenches and stop some of the toughest running games around.

With the transition to a new system, it's hard to imagine the Skins being particularly dominant and this schedule won't help. I'm thinking 6-10, and that might be optimistic.

Full schedule here.

Bullets Better vs. Cavs or Celtics?

Here we are again, literally. For the third straight year, the Bullets get the Cavs and King James in the first round. The Wiz are again the 5th seed, though after this injury-riddled season, there is no shame in that. Despite a disturbing trend toward winning close games and then getting blown out, a strong finish and improved health should have the Bullets entering the playoffs on a strong, optimistic note. So how about those chances?

The Bullets are clearly better than last year. The absence of Arenas has allowed the development and emergence of Daniels and Stevenson, with Jamison and Butler as the stars. Blatche and Songaila provide an upgrade inside supporting Haywood. Now that Arenas is back, the Bullets are certainly capable of some good things.

The Cavs won the Eastern Conference last year behind the emergence of Lebron as a superstar. Their blockbuster deal for Ben Wallace and others is still somewhat of an unknown. The Cavs have been around .500 since the deal, but it was made for the playoffs. Stopping Lebron is pretty much the key to victory, but it's much easier said than done. The Bullets have a number of guys with good length and quickness, but team defense will be critical. This series will really test if the Bullets have improved at that end of the court. This series could go right down to the wire. I think it will hinge on the Bullets' ability to stop Lebron in the last possession of the game with game hanging in the balance, potentially multiple times.

The Celtics are clearly the best team in the East, but their Achilles heel seems to be the Bullets. After a victory in early November before Arenas went on the DL, the Celtics are 0-3 against the Bullets. The Bullets seem to matchup well with the big 3, somehow managing to beat them in different ways each time. In the first victory, the Bullets dominated the boards, while in the last, the turnover margin was critical. The Bullets also came back from a 13 point deficit late in the 4th in one of the victories, showing resilience and confidence. The Warriors showed last year how much a good matchup can mean in the playoffs, but you know the Celtics will be focused and determined in the playoffs. The real question will be how Pierce, Rondo, and the other Celtics not named Garnett and Allen handle the playoffs, where most of them have never been, especially against a tough adversary. If the Bullets make it past the Cavs, this could get very interesting.

Stadium Quiz

Following up on the wildly successful Sports Trophy Quiz, East Coast Bias is proud to present a test of your MLB, NFL, and NCAA Football stadium knowledge.

Special thanks to ballparksofbaseball.com, stadiumsofnfl.com, and collegegridirons.com for providing the pictures.

April 14, 2008

Braves Offense: All or Nothing

This season, the Braves are 3rd in MLB in runs scored, and have outscored their opponents by 15 runs through 12 games. Usually this would lead to a good record, but not this year for this team. The Braves are 5-7, and have already lost 6 one run games!!! How is this possible? The offense is either all the way ON or all the way OFF.

The Braves have scored 4 runs or less in 7 games so far, and are 2-5 in those games. All 5 of those losses are by one run, and the 2 wins were both 1-0 games going into the 8th inning before a couple insurance runs were added. To get their run total up, the Braves have scored in double figures 4 times (3-1).

"Not another groundout!" (Frank Franklin II/AP)

So where does the blame lie for this inconsistency? A big part of the problem is that no one gets on base for extended periods. I wouldn't be surprised if the Braves lead the league in 1-2-3 innings. Let's start at the top. Kelly Johnson is killing the Braves as a leadoff hitter. Ignoring his PH slam (which was huge), he has 0 RBI's and 3 runs in 37 AB's. His 10 total bases and 1 walk are pitiful for a leadoff man expected to set the table for Chipper and Tex. For comparison, Prado, the backup infielder who came in for Kelly when he was hurt, has an OBP over .100 higher. He has scored 6 runs in only 16 AB's, notching 7 total bases and 4 walks in way fewer trips to the plate than Kelly. With Chipper again leading the league in BA, someone needs to be on base. Prado scores 3/4 of the time when he gets on base. Yunel has scored 11 times out of 24 on base.

Not only does Kelly not get on base, his 0 RBI's as a leadoff man result in Diaz scoring 1/11 times on base. Rallies can't make it past the two outs of the pitcher plus Kelly.

Teixeira is known for slow starts and has hit the ball hard at times, but his struggles have hurt too. The big cleanup hitter is at .213 right now, with only 6 RBI's (6th of the Braves' 8 position players, ahead of Kelly and Kotsay). Diaz has had some clutch hits, but also has the worst possible K/BB ratio with 13 K's and 0 BB's, both worst on the team. No other Brave has more than 7 K's. His .245 OBP combined with Kelly's struggles, the pitcher's spot, and Kotsay's .250 BA pretty much kills any rally trying to make it back to the heart of the order.

ESPN's secondary average, which looks at other ways than BA that hitters contribute to run scoring, shows that Kelly and Diaz (.132 and .102) are pretty bad in that regard also. It's devastating when Kelly is creating fewer than 4 runs per 27 outs, while Cristian Guzman is at 6.5 and Rafael Furcal (ex-Brave) is at almost 13.

The Braves need to turn this around in a hurry, as the quality of the pitching will be hurting the next few weeks. Glavine just pulled a hammy, Hampton is doing rehab (permanently?), and Soriano the closer is on the DL. Smoltz just came off the DL, and James got shelled in his only outing. Chipper's a little lame in one leg, and may leave a big hole in the lineup for a week or two.

The Braves just need a consistent 6 runs/game, which would make them 10-2 right now. Their current 5.6 runs/game has had the worst possible distribution and has been very inconsistent, leaving them at 5-7.

April 13, 2008

Our National Nightmare Is Over

So clearly I am a good luck charm for the Nats. They are 2-0 at games I have been in attendance at, winning today in what became a nailbiter 5-4 over the Braves (and yes, I stayed the entire time). The Nats avoided the dreaded double-digit loss streak and have an off day tomorrow to regroup and refresh before a 9-game road trip through Shea, Dolphins Stadium, and Turner Field. Gotta cede Nationals Park to his Holiness. I won't be back at the park for another 12 games, so if they're on an 11-game losing streak, I can play streakbreaker again. Streakbreaker... I believe that was J-Red's mother's nickname back in college.

Anyway, a few thoughts on 'deez Nats and Nationals Park following today's game...

1) Regarding the catcher position... by the end of the season, Jesus Flores will be starting catcher with Lo Duca as backup, Jesus Flores, for those of you who don't follow the Nats closely, was a Rule 5 pickup last year who blossomed into a top prospect at the position. With the additions of Lo Duca and Estrada, the thinking was that Flores would get another full season in the minors to develop. Flores was demoted to Columbus to make room for Willy Mo Pena (an auspicious arrival today) but really this will help him move along so that he can play every day and play with the Nats' pitchers of tomorrow. Lo Duca's best offensive days are behind him now that he's off the HGH. He's not a very good defensive catcher as evidenced by his throw today to try to nail a base stealer that if not for Cristian Guzman's acrobatics, would have ended up in centerfield. Estrada is cool for wearing the high socks, but really is pretty much a waste of space. Flores will be running the show by August. And one more thing... while Brian Schneider was certainly not a slugger nor was he the best at throwing people out, he is truly missed in terms of calling a game from behind the plate and in terms of his ability to manage pitchers. Having him behind the plate was like having a second pitching coach.

2) Lastings Milledge will be a star. He had two baserunning "blunders" today. However, one of them was truly not his fault (getting picked off at first base after an infielder snagged a ball that was headed to the outfield on a beeline). The other, when he tried to take home on a ground ball to the infielder, was a blunder because he didn't run it correctly (take a few steps and then break once the infielder throws to first instead of waiting to move at all until the infielder throws) but was technically not a blunder because even though he was called out, replay confirms the ump blew the call. Bottom line is that Milledge is a threat on the basepaths. He's 23 years old. He can slap the ball around the alleys for true extra base hits and turn singles into doubles. He is an incredible upgrade in the field over Nook Logan. The Mets will really regret giving up Lastings.

3) Metro is more than up to the challenge of Nationals Park. Leaving at the end of the game today, I waited a total of two minutes for two trains. Zero minutes at Navy Yard (train on platform when I got down there), two minutes at Gallery Place to transfer to the Red Line. Metro police block traingoers from entering the stadium until the platform clears. Then, they allow traingoers into the station in anticipation of the next train arriving. 8-car trains are backed up and enter the station as soon as the train ahead of it leaves. All this means you move freely through the station and you're not getting bumped and jostled around. You deal with a little bit of a wait on Half Street to get into the station, but it's a pleasure once you're inside. Plus, the system was well aware that the vast majority of stadiumgoers would have to change trains to get to Montgomery County and Northern Virginia, and smartly (and unlike at RFK), the system now runs extra trains through the transfer points as well as through the stadium stop. If you're going to urge people to take Metro, make sure you're ready. And Metro, you're passing with flying colors.

4) I'll spend more in food at Nationals Park in this season than I did the previous three seasons combined at RFK. Alright, $5.50 for a souvenir soda is obscene. $7.50 for a 16-ounce domestic draft is crazy (even if it is in a pretty cool commemorative inaugural season plastic cup). But the offerings at the ballpark are great. With the owners of the Nationals being observant Jews, they have two kosher stands throughout the ballpark. Everyone knows kosher hot dogs are the best kind. My dad grabbed a potato knish and a kosher dog with sauerkraut from the kosher stand right outside our section. Total damage: $9.75. The kosher dog was $5 and well worth it. Add the kosher dog to the Hard Times chili nachos as "must haves" at the new stadium. As for all the hubbub over Five Guys and Ben's Chili Bowl, the line for Ben's Chili Bowl is still two innings long. Just take the train to U Street after the game. Or get a Ben's chili dog at any one of the concession stands inside the park. I've heard the Five Guys operation is finally getting to be a little bit quicker but really... Five Guys are everywhere... is it really that much of a novelty to get a Five Guys burger inside the ballpark? Come on.

5) The cheap seats at Nationals Park have the best views in the stadium. My dad and I have a share of season tickets in Section 314, Row C. For those of you keeping score at home, that's the third row of the upper deck, directly behind home plate, and about 30-40 feet directly below Carpenter and Sutton in the MASN television suite. The seats are unfortunately a little too high to be in foul ball territory. But at $20/seat, we have an unobstructed view of the entire field, good enough depth perception to never be one of those idiots who stands and screams on a rocket to deep second base, a dead-on view of the scoreboard, the ability to see the ball as it crosses the plate to be able to call at the very least inside and outside. The best is the truly Washington part of our seats. Looking up the left field line, the Capitol Dome looms right in front of us, just 14 blocks up the street. A quick comment on ticket price inflation, using the Orioles by default as an example... I was looking through an old Orioles program from 1995. In 1995, field box seats (between the bases, lowest level) were $20/ticket (2008 - $55). Upper reserve seats were $9 (2008 - $15). Bleacher seats were $5 (2008 - $15). Makes me wonder what tickets are going to run 13 years from now.