Wednesday, October 19, 2011

DFW Sports Hot List – Oct. 19

The Hot List
1.  Nelson Cruz and the Texas Rangers
Nelson Cruz is on fire. After hitting .364 with six home runs and 13 RBIs in the ALCS, the outfielder was rightly named the series MVP. His home run and RBI totals are the most ever recorded by a player in a single series (note the series only went 6 games). Has there ever been a more dangerous hitter in the seven spot?
2.  The Dallas Stars
Living in the shadow of the Texas Rangers are the 5-1-0 Dallas Stars. After dropping a 5-2 decision at Chicago on Oct. 8, the team has reeled off four consecutive victories, despite being outshot 203-154 during that stretch. Kudos to goalie Kari Lehtonen, who leads the league with five wins and 164 saves. Also, did you see the goal by forward Jamie Benn. Phenomenal.
3.  SMU Football
SMU (5-1) has won five consecutive games, most notably a 40-33 OT thriller against cross-town rival TCU.  Junior RB Zach Line leads Conference USA with 665 yards rushing and 13 TDs. A few more wins might just move SMU out of the “others receiving votes” category and finally into the rankings.
4.  TCU Athletics
A move to the Big East would have been a disaster for a Texas-based major college program. Weekly travel would have been trivial for the cash heavy football program, but the toll on the women’s equestrian team would be far too great. Great move in joining the Big 12, which suddenly looks formidable and stable after all.
5.  Allen High School Football
When a program has the sustained the success that Allen is having, it deserves to be recognized.  2008 State Champions, USA Today’s No. 5 team in the country, 7-0 on the season and rolling through district.
The Not List
1.  CJ Wilson
It’s amazing that the Rangers have made a second consecutive World Series appearance without much help from their starting rotation. CJ has been the worst of the bunch.In three starts (0-2), the “ace” has compiled an ERA of 8.04 with a WHIP of 1.85.  That’s awful, especially for a guy that the Rangers will likely pay nearly $100 million to this offseason.
2.  FC Dallas
After two consecutive MLS wins, many thought the team had escaped their dreadful September slump (0-1-5). That is until Toronto FC came to town and soundly defeated the Hoops 3-0 to eliminate the team from the CONCACAF Champions League.  Luckily for Dallas, the MLS playoffs are just around the corner, and the team is well positioned to repeat their 2010 run to the MLS Cup Final.
3.  Jason Garrett’s play-calling
Fair or not, Jason Garrett has been criticized for his conservative play calling in the fourth quarter against the Patriots. Though the Cowboy’s stall of RBs averaged only 2.6 yards per carry, Garrett called three consecutive running plays before handing the ball back to Brady for the decisive drive. Garrett played not to lose, but he did.
4.  Mitch and Yorvit’s playing time
Mike Napoli and Michael Young should play every game in the World Series. Unfortunately, four of the seven potential games will be played at Busch stadium, a National League park, eliminating the DH. Expect those two to be relegated to pinch hitting duties in the late innings.  Moreland’s two hits in 19 at bats will be missed this series.
5. Jerry Jones' 2011 NFL Draft
Tyron Smith is performing admirably as a rookie right tackle, so I will leave him out of this.  Outside of Smith, there is little productivity. 
2nd: Bruce Carter has been injured. 
3rd: Demarco Murray has been largely uneffective (71 yards on 24 carries). 
4th: David Arkin isn't ready to see the field, despite all the injuries.
5th: Josh Thomas was cut.
6th: Shaun Chapas made the practice squad.
6th: Dwayne Harris was released (on Tuesday).

Friday, October 7, 2011

Rangers will fall short of World Series

As part of a two-sided piece for another publication, I was tasked with explaining why the Rangers will NOT reach the World Series.

The 2010 Texas Rangers were pioneers, reaching the first World Series in franchise history.  But the 2011 postseason will be different.  The Rangers will fail to reach the World Series and here’s why.

To consistently win in the playoffs, you need an ace.  Since the departure of Cliff Lee in the offseason, the Rangers simply don’t have one.  While C.J. Wilson won an impressive 16 games during the 2011 regular season, he hasn’t been dominant in the playoffs.  After an abysmal performance in a game 1 loss to Tampa Bay, the left-hander has a 6.26 ERA, and the Rangers are a dismal 0-4 in his past four playoff starts.  Aces win the big games.  That’s hardly an ace.
Defensively, the Rangers have a number of players with plus-athleticism and abilities.  Elvis Andrus has exceptional range at shortstop.  Mike Napoli has been phenomenal behind the plate.  The outfield is filled with speed and powerful arms.  The numbers just don’t show it.  The team committed 114 errors this season, the seventh-highest total in baseball.  These errors led to 70 unearned runs, the most among American League playoff teams.  While the defense is capable of being a weapon, the Rangers are vulnerable to defensive miscues, which can be costly in a seven-game series.
A lack of hitting could also derail the Rangers postseason run.  Yes, the team scored more runs than every team in baseball outside of the Red Sox and Yankees.  However, the ‘daytime’ Rangers and ‘nighttime’ Rangers are two different beasts.  In night games, the Rangers have the most explosive offense in baseball, averaging a staggering 5.66 runs per game.  When the sun is up and the lights are off, that number plummets to 4.38 runs per game.   Josh Hamilton alone sees his batting average fall from .324 at night to .220 during the day. With four weekend games on the schedule, daytime baseball is a probability, and frankly, a liability for the Rangers.
The biggest reason the Rangers will not advance has nothing to do with the team, but their opponent.  Justin Verlander of the Tigers has been an unstoppable force this season and is a lock for the American League Cy Young award.  Since July 21, the Tigers have gone 13-1 in games started by Verlander.  Verlander will take the mound twice in the series, and potentially a third time in a decisive Game 7.
Reaching the World Series in consecutive seasons is statistically unlikely.  No team has appeared in consecutive World Series since the New York Yankees appeared in four consecutive from 1998-2001.  Injuries, human error, and luck inevitably factor into determining the outcomes of games.   And in 2011, the Rangers will need more than luck to get past the Tigers.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Will Fans Miss the NBA?

David Stern and Billy Hunter have a lot of work to do to save the NBA season

Today is the 68th day of the NBA Lockout...and no one cares.

Why would we?  The NFL is set to start on Thursday, and NCAA football kicked off last week.  The MLB season is winding down and heading towards the postseason.  And for those global sports fans, the MLS, English Premier League, and national soccer teams are off and competing.

So the question becomes, will the NBA be missed?

The short answer is yes...eventually.

As the NFL lockout continued through the summer, little was happening in the world of sports.  MLB games were being played, but early season baseball lacks the intrigue and suspense of a pennant race.  That put the spotlight directly on the NFL. 

Rumors and information were leaked and reported 24 hours a day as the lockout received unprecedented coverage.  Though sports fans grew tired of the overwhelming coverage, the discussion dominated every media outlet and was at the forefront of our minds.

But the NBA is in a different position.  Sports fans are preoccupied with actual sporting events and don't give a damn about the NBA lockout.  This places little to no fan pressure on the negotiating parties to reach an agreement.

So when will fans care?  The first regular season game is set to tip off on Nov. 1, the day after the conclusion of Week 8 of the NFL season.  If they fail to reach an agreement and miss that date, there will be some audible disgust; however, fans will still have the NFL to fall back on.

The NFL season culminates with Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis on Feb. 5, 2012.  Then, and only then, will fans really care. 

As the NBA lockout hides in the shadows of the NFL, the league risks becoming even less relevant as they struggle to fight off emerging sports.  And with a canceled season lurking, the NBA might lose what relevancy it has.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Is Romo Elite? Madden 12 Suggests Not

How good is Tony Romo?  Ask three people, and you will likely get three different answers.  Cowboys' fans love him, experts remain intrigued by him, and countless others hate him.

Though far from scientific, one entertainment source might just have the answer.  Since its inception in 1988, the Madden NFL video game series has sold over 85 million copies worldwide.  On August 30, Madden NFL 12 was released, along with their annual player and team rankings.

Take a look at the chart below to see how the NFL QBs were rated. 

Madden Rating
Tom Brady
Peyton Manning
Aaron Rodgers
Phillip Rivers
Drew Brees
B. Roethlisberger
Michael Vick
Matt Ryan
Joe Flacco
Matt Schaub
Tony Romo
Eli Manning
Josh Freeman
Matt Cassel
Sam Bradford
Jay Cutler

Romo received an overall rating of 88, good for ninth among all QBs.   Does that make him elite?  In my opinion, no.  The word elite is often misused and abused by NFL talent evaluators.  For those in need, consider the following definition.

e·lite (noun /əˈlēt/  /āˈlēt/):  A group of people considered to be the best in a particular society or category, esp. because of their power, talent, or wealth.

If you ran a race and finished tied for ninth in a field of 32, would you consider yourself elite?  No.  Tom Brady is elite.  Peyton Manning is elite.  Aaron Rodgers is elite.

So where does Romo fall?

Is he average?  This adjective probably understates his talent.  Jay Cutler is average.  Josh Freeman is average.

Great?  This is a dangerous adjective for a quarterback with one playoff win to his name.  Great implies that he has acheived greatness.  Perhaps a bit strong.

How about above average?  Though vague, this is the best I can do.  It at least provides an unlimited ceiling for Romo entering the 2011 season.

But have no fear Cowboys' fans.  We could debate for hours the correct adjective to describe Romo.  Or, we could at least be happy with one fact.  At least he's better than Eli.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Plaxico is Back...Sort of

Photo by AP

It was an amazing play by the former convict. 

After beating his defender down field, Plaxico Burress reached up with both arms, secured a deep wobbly ball from Mark Sanchez, and dove into the end zone for a 26-yard touchdown.  The play came with under a minute remaining in the first half and extended the Jets lead to 17-7.  It was undoubtedly one of the game defining plays that led the Jets to a 27-7 victory over the visiting Bengals.  Simply…amazing!

That’s certainly how one might interpret the touchdown based on the post-game hype.  After what appears to be a routine play, the Plaxico bandwagon is back intact, and numerous outlets and writers are jumping on for the ride.

“A Giant Regret? Giants may regret letting Plax fly away”
“Burress’ first Jets touchdown a brilliant example of his talent”
“Plaxico Burress Let’s Everyone Know He’s Here”

Overreaction Monday is already upon us, and it’s only Week 2…of the preseason.  A more accurate description of the event is as follows.

Facing inside pressure from a blitzing corner, quarterback Mark Sanchez placed a perfectly thrown ball at the outside shoulder of the former Giant’s receiver.  Plaxico had a step on his defender, adjusted to the ball, caught the pass and fell into the end zone.  He miraculously beat the single coverage of Fred Bennet, the 5th year corner out of South Carolina, who last season recorded two tackles and zero passes defended in five games.

This is not a knock on Plaxico.  He might have a great season with the Jets (and I may soon jump on as well).  But to start lambasting the Giants for letting him slip away is silly.  Don’t sing his praises just yet.  Make him legitimately earn it.

It’s the preseason.  That was the Bengals.  And a guy by the name of Fred Bennet.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Baseball’s Only “Unwritten Rule”

Another event, another debate.  On Sunday afternoon, Justin Verlander was within six outs of recording his second no-hitter of the season.  With the Tigers holding a slim 3-0 advantage, in steps Erick Aybar to lead off the eighth inning. On the first pitch of the at-bat, Aybar lays down a bunt.  Verlander responds with an errant throw to first base allowing Aybar to reach safely.  The play was ruled an error, leaving the no-hitter intact.

Twitter blew up.  The baseball traditionalists erupted.  And even Verlander was livid, shouting at Aybar and threatening to throw at him from the dugout.  Why? It’s baseball’s unwritten rule of course: never attempt a bunt to break up a no-hitter.  Seems logical right?  If the pitcher has his dominant stuff and is on the verge of blanking your team late in the game, just go easy on him.  It’s his day.

Ridiculous. How about this “unwritten rule”: Do everything you can within the rules to win the game.  Run through the catcher, steal signs from second, and heaven forbid, bunt the baseball.

Entering the game, the Angels were a mere 2.0 games back of the AL West leading Rangers.  Their ace, Jared Weaver, had just been ejected from the game.  The offense was struggling as they had failed to collect a single hit through seven innings, yet they trailed only 3-0.  That sounds like the perfect time to bunt.

Traditionalists will argue that Aybar is compromising the integrity of the game, yet I believe he is upholding it.  The detractors are the same people who refuse replay in baseball.  They are the ones who like watching professional pitchers hit.  And they are the old-school fans who reject the idea of a Mark Cuban-like character in baseball.  They are holding the game back.

If Aybar was wrong, Tiger manager Jim Leyland surely didn’t think so.

“They've got a good team with a lot of speed and they're trying to win a pennant just like we are,” said Leyland. “I don't have any problem with that play whatsoever.”

But Verlander took exception to the play.  "I know it was only 3-0, so I can understand there are arguments on both sides. But as a pitcher, we call that Bush league," said Verlander.

The irony is that, in this particular case, the errant throw to first by Verlander was the only one that deserved the distinction of being an amateur play.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Thoughts on the Free Agent "Chaos"

According to sources, ESPN's Adam Schefter has not slept since the lockout began.
Things have been absolutely chaotic with the delayed opening of NFL free agency (I feel obligated to say that since every talking head on ESPN has pointed that out at least 7 times).  Here are a few of my observations on a few of the key events from Thursday.
1. If Nnamdi Asomugha does land with the Jets, no one will disagree that the team will possess the best cornerback duo in the league.  Is it possible that they could be the most talented and dynamic tandem in NFL History?  The NFL Network attempted to identify the best tandems in the history of the league back in 2009.  Where do you think this super-tandem would rank?

2.  The Dallas Cowboys were very busy shedding salary on Thursday, officially releasing Marion Barber, Roy Williams, Marc Colombo and Leonard Davis (among others).  Many have interpreted these moves as a sign that “Jason Garrett is now in charge!”  The truth is, those players don’t deserve their contracts and would have been cut by the majority of teams around the league.  But if people get fired up by this story, go for it.  The truth is and always will be, it’s Jerry’s team.

3.  Staying on the Cowboys, it has been pointed out by a variety of writers that, though the Cowboys have done an admirable job clearing cap space this season, they will be sitting on $20.9 million of dead money in 2012.  They better win now. Yikes.

4. The Washington Redskins threw $27.5 million at Stephen Bowen when no one else would.  My gut tells me that’s way too much.  But I guess the Redskins know what they are doing with defensive linemen.  They did just spend over $25 million on a fifth round pick in 2013.

5. Something just doesn’t feel right with the Patriots.  Maybe I will be proven wrong over time, but it sure feels like the Pats are panicking in an attempt to match the Jets talent.  Randy Moss was a calculated risk with talent.  Ocho-Cinco is a sideshow clown and Albert Haynesworth has done nothing to indicate that he enjoys the game of football.

6. The Seahawks are strange.  They are kind of like that gothic kid in high school.  No one quite understands what they are thinking, but it’s difficult not to be intrigued from a distance simply because of their odd behavior.  Apparently Robert Gallery is their answer at left guard.  That is really all I want to say about that.

7. If I were an Arizona Cardinals fan, the whole Kevin Kolb experiment would scare the hell out of me.  Career numbers thus far: 19 games, 60.8% completion rate, 11 TD, 14 INT, QB rating of 73.2.

No, those numbers don’t tell the whole story.  The value is in his potential.  But that’s a dangerous word to use when committing $63 million over 5 years.  Read Mike Florio's thoughts on the deal.
Feel free to disagree with me.  70% of the time, I am about 62% right.