Monday, July 14, 2008

MLB: Yankees vs. Redosx

by Steve Cernak

Can someone please explain to me why Boston and New York fans are cool with one another now? And am I alone wishing that the bitterness returns?

When "NYY vs. BOS" shows up on the schedule, the game is now a rivalry. Before the Sox won a couple chips, the game technically wasn't a rivalry, but meant more.

The All-Star Break unofficially started with Terry Francona riding the Yankees' brass and Mariano Rivera's jocks. And the Yankees' brass rode Francona's unit, and Hal Steinbrenner said something about the two empires having similar interests in and outside of baseball.

What the hell happened?

I once had this girlfriend that was a huge Sox fan. I felt dirty every time I thought about it, like I had violated the sanctity of the team, sport, and region. Now, Francona says Derek Jeter deserves the two hole, and gives priority to Alex Rodriguez over and above Manny Ramirez?

What the hell happened?

And crazier yet, Sox fans acknowledge how very special this All-Star game is, with the game likely being the last major baseball performance on this most historic of stages.

Yet even crazier, as a Yankees fan, I'm happy to get accolades of that magnitude from the new Kings of Major League Baseball. I need an effing shower.

Friday, January 05, 2007

NFL: Picking Playoff Winners

The NFL Playoffs are officially here, and so far our first set of picks for this weekend's Wildcard round. As was expected, there are two nice matchups in the AFC side and two dismal coin flips on the NFC side. All season long, the NFL has been a virtual crapshoot and the first round of the playoffs should be no different. With that said, here are our rolls of the dice.

Kansas City Chiefs at Indianapolis Colts

Dustin Hockensmith: The Colts win by putting points on the board and making opposing offenses impatient and more prone to abandon the run. If Larry Johnson and the Chiefs don't get out of the gates early, Trent Green can't possibly lead a comeback through the air. The Colts are 8-0 at home this season and stay perfect on Saturday. Colts 24, Chiefs 13.

Steve Cernak: I'm skeptical picking the Chiefs because they are 3-5 on the road and the Colts are 8-0 at home. However, the Jaguars and Bengals both showed the league how to pick apart Indy's pathetic run defense. Larry Johnson will run wild and KC's great corner tandem of Patrick Surtain and Ty Law slows Peyton Manning. Chiefs 30, Colts 17.

Dallas Cowboys at Seattle Seahawks

DH: Both teams enter the playoffs with losses in three of their last four games, which makes it hard to gauge what they will do with clean slates. The matchup between an 'overconfident' Tony Romo and the Seahawks depleted secondary plays too big a part in this game, and I think the Cowboys win it ugly on the road. Cowboys 21, Seahawks 20.

SC: I don't like either team. So Bill Parcells is a better coach than Mike Holmgren, but that's the only advantage I'll give the 'Boys. Shaun Alexander I heard is pretty good. Seattle's receivers are good, but Matt Hasselback will be throwing to playoff proven Deion Branch.

What interests me more than the game is whether or not Parcells chokes the life from Terrell Owens. Seahawks 27, Cowboys 20.

New York Jets at New England Patriots

DH: This is the must-see game of the weekend. These two teams play the same brand of football under two coaches from the same school of thought. The Jets are a nice story under Bill Belichick disciple Eric Mangini, but I just don't see them winning in Foxboro. Tom Brady leads a touchdown drive in the final five minutes, and the Pats come back to win. Patriots 20, Jets 16.

SC: Who picks against the Patriots, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick in January? Me. I never claimed to be smart. Belichick versus Eric Mangini pervaded the headlines, with Belichicks allegedly despising his former protégé. Could this be a distraction of epic proportions?

The Jets are a good team and Chad Pennington was the feel-good story of 2006. No one believed the weak-throwing quarterback would bounce back after his throwing shoulder exploded. He fought through can't after can't and this would make for one hell of an icing. The Jets' superior receivers put Pennington on the NY tabloid backpages and makes Mangini look genius. Jets 24, New England 21 (with the Pats missing Adam Vinatieri)

New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles
So much turmoil for the Giants, and here they are in the playoffs. They play the Eagles in Philadelphia for the second time this season with a new sense of hope and a second chance for their season. Tiki Barber and Brandon Jacobs run wild, and Jeff Garcia's emotions get the best of him. Giants 28, Eagles 21.

SC: The Giants are my team. I follow them closely. They looked like Super Bowl contenders the first half of the season but the second half… Tom Coughlin is a joke. Peyton Manning did a great job teaching his younger brother Eli how to completely miss expectations. Trust me, I could go on forever. Even though the Eagles stink too: Eagles 107, Giants -3.

Monday, January 01, 2007

MLB: The Ups and Downs of Barry Zito's Monster Deal

By Dustin Hockensmith

The San Francisco Giants signed left-hander Barry Zito to a 7-year, $126 million deal – the largest ever for a pitcher – late last week and came under immediate scrutiny. Long-term contracts for pitchers have not historically been wise investments, just ask Kevin Brown and Mike Hampton, but I think this one will turn out differently. Zito has not been dominant in the four seasons since his 2002 Cy Young award, but the 28-year old has also never missed a start – the key to this deal.

With so much uncertainty about the future of a pitcher, Zito has offered the closest thing to a crystal ball with his impeccable health history. He should also grow as a pitcher in the National League, where his curveball will be used less and his command will improve. His tendency to put a lot of runners on base will still be there, but the combination of weaker hitting teams, no designated hitter, a pitcher-friendly park and fewer walks should call for a significant improvement in his 2006 numbers.

Specifics aside, this deal makes sense in pretty simple terms. The Giants wanted Barry Zito, and Zito wanted to be a Giant. Is he cornerstone type player? Probably not right now, but he can be and is more-than-ready to be the leader of San Francisco's balanced staff. His stay in the Bay Area eliminates one personal transition for him to make, and he could really break out as a Giant.

Frankly, Zito needs to break out to make this deal really worth San Francisco's while. It's great to be a reliable innings eater, but that's more of a saving grace for a No. 3 starter than a No. 1. Zito needs to be a stopper, a leader and an annual 15-plus game winner. If he takes those steps and continues to log the 200-plus inning seasons that have been guarantees thus far, Giants GM Brian Sabean will need a big pat on the back for his vision.

Other Notes
Zito's Impact on the Giants Staff
Zito's professionalism sets a great example for a staff that vaguely resembles the old Zito-Tim Hudson-Mark Mulder threesome in Oakland. Some added chemistry from Zito provides added value to Matt Cain, who can flourish with less pressure, and Noah Lowry, as he tries to bounce back from injury and inconsistency in 2006.

The Big Picture
The 28-year old neither helps nor hurts the Giants, in terms of their quest to get younger (or older) in 2007. It is obviously Sabean's intent to put together a veteran team year-in and year-out, and I would say that it has worked out pretty well so far. In a mediocre National League West, why blow the organization up now when it's just as easy to go the other way and remain a competitor for the NL West crown?

For the Fans
Contention for a playoff berth is really icing on the cake when it comes to luring Giants fans to the ballpark. What you get with Zito is a whole lot of buzz and optimism in San Francisco and yet another reason for fans to come to the ballpark every fifth day. They will immediately love the quirky Zito, who might just be too goofy or spiritual to understand the pressure $126 million should put on him.

Zito vs. Vernon Wells
Position players justifiably get more money and longer contracts, and the same 7-year, $126 million deal that both Zito and Blue Jays center fielder Vernon Wells signed is a better daily value for Toronto. The thing that can make both of these players franchise guys worthy of such sums is that they are unassuming blenders who contribute to team chemistry, not compromise it.