Posted by: figbort | April 7, 2009

Soccerwatch: United Lose the Plot

manchester-united-v-fc-po-001


Champions League Quarterfinal, First Leg.  Old Trafford, Manchester.

Manchester United 2-2 Porto

Surely it can’t end like this.  Great football teams can have short half-lives, and the pessimistic quarter of the red side of Manchester will be forgiven for thinking that this one is showing serious signs of coming apart at the seams.  Whereas last year’s team was hard, this iteration looks increasingly brittle.  Whereas last year’s team involved a fresh infusion of youth, this one is more and more reliant on a fading old guard.  Whereas last year’s United managed games with a strong sense of internal cohesion, this year’s team harks back to an older United, one that turned domestic domination into European disappointment by trying season after season to out-swashbuckle continental sides who were more than capable of maintaining their own composure.  More than anything else, the Red Devils are beginning to resemble their predecessors from 2001.  In that year, added to the sheer quality of the treble-wining side were both the vastly expensive Juan Sebastian Veron and the lethal Ruud Van Nistleroy, meant to be European specialists.  Famously, even this nearly galactico-laden United failed to replicate their recent Champions League success.  This year’s United are beginning to look all to similar.   Although Dimitar Berbatov will likely never equal the accomplishments of either Veron or Van Nistleroy, he was certainly almost as expensive, and his presence has resulted in a similarly unsettling re-shuffle of a squad that might not have needed it.  What exactly the terrible trio of Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Carlos Tevez did wrong last campaign is unclear;  less so is the blatant incompatibility of the languid, lazy Berbatov in a team that used to defend from the front so successfully.  Not since Paul Scholes was shunted into an ill-fitting second striker role at the peak of his career have United made a strategic shift that has proven so costly.

Berbatov, to be fair, wasn’t even fit tonight for his usual jog-around and toe-poke routine.  Up front, United looked plenty dangerous, especially given the starvation diet provided the forwards by an insipid midfield performance.  While Michael Carrick had a shockingly bad match, the blame really lies tragically at the feet of two United legends:  Paul Scholes and Gary Neville.  Scholes, for all his ginger tenacity, looks increasingly past it and surely cannot be relied upon for much longer.  He is at best a 50/50 proposition at this point, and central midfielders are not allowed to be so unreliable.  Neville, even at his finest, was never a dominating player.  Of slight build and limited pace, he made a career by his ability to read the game and through his powerful determination.  At 34, his physical limitations have caught up with him.  For all its beauty, football is relentlessly cruel, and it must be time for Neville to go. The hardened, angry lines of his face tell the whole story: it is not that he has no idea what he is doing;  he knows exactly what to do, and yet can no longer do it.

Indeed, the United back line hasn’t been this poor for years. Giving up ten goals in four games is beyond reproach. It is astounding that a team which defended their way through the Champions League last term has been reduced by injury and temperament to a set of bumbling head-cases.  Rio Ferdinand’s absence has been telling—the young Johnny Evans shows plenty of promise but is not yet ready to play this much—but the most significant problem has been the long-term reliance on John O’Shea.  Although he is competent going forward and strong in the air, the Irishman is tentative and flat-footed at the back, especially in one-on-one situations.  In this recent United implosion, during which they have been beaten 4-1 by Liverpool, 2-0 by Fulham, and 2-2 by Porto, a common theme has been opponents constant targeting of O’Shea.  This should no longer be surprising.  In the modern game, clubs with championship ambitions can no longer get away with starting squad-quality players at outside-back.  Those looking for a difference between last season’s nearly-impenetrable United defense and this year’s initially strong but quickly disintegrating rear-line should look no further than the absence of Wes Brown.  Brown, although extremely limited in a technical sense, would never in a million years have allowed the goals Neville and O’Shea have tamely surrendered to Villa and Porto in the space of 36 hours.

The odds makers, creatures of jingoism and habit, will still surely still favor United to pull out a win at the Estadio Dragao.  Only a brave, even foolish, Mancunian partisan would take such a punt at this point.  United are shipping more goals than the factory that makes them, and barring a sudden realization on Ferguson’s part that he must rush Brown, Ferdinand, and young Rafael Da Silva back into the fold, things do note bode well for the Red Devils.  The quintuple, once so brashly predicted, looks now more like a lethal mirage.

Liverpool will be licking their lips.

Posted by: damnyankeejew | April 5, 2009

The New Yankee Stadium

I’m drunk. And so I’m thinking, “wjat better way to spend the next few minutes sobering up a little before going to be than recalling my first trip to the nw yankee saruifm” (btw, i’m not going tos peel check anyo f this.+-)> . Ok, woh, anyway. The staidum si big. And the junborong is way big.
dsc052931

proud to be an american!

So, hpe youre following along. My friend and i began walking around th whole park. It’s an open concourse similar to what you find at many new stadiums accorss the coutry. nfortunately I felt a little too strong of a resembelance to Cellurar field, which sucks. But there’s a lot f nice perks to the plae too. All of the seating epecetp for the bleachers and te upperdeck are cushoined with cup holders. That’s sweet. And the bleachers are way beter than they were before becauce theyre closer to the field and at a lower eye level.

That’s one thing I miss. The old ankee stadium had a bowl kind of feel to it. You felt on top of the field like you were looking down at the players. Noew you feel like you’re looking them in te eye. Which I guess is better, but there’s something more intimidating abour having a bunch of fans staring and yelling down at you as opposed to looking you in the eye, That makes it hard to curse and yell.

The bombers won. and they bombed away, thanks in large part to mark teixiera who had two dingers, as wel as jeter and shellye motherufkinc duncan. so that was cool seeing the captains first hr in new yankee stadium as well as tex mashing.

Then the audio system broke down around the 7th innning stretch so ymca was  not done and everthing was quite and boring. The starting lineup were subbed for a bunch of minor leagegures. My buddy and I walked around the aprk some more sitting in different areas to get a feel for the place (including the mohegan sun bar which is cool for like 4 mintus and then the techno music gets to you and you’re ready to go).

no gambling here, but nice views

no gambling here, but nice views

aslo you cant see the ball well through the tinted glass and they restrautent blocks the view for te bleacher seats in the back. the tradeoff is that there’s a great bar and eati area smack in the middle of the outfield. prob some of the best views in the whole park.

in all, the digs are nice, but it’s ging to take some getting used to. I still feeel like i’m at another stadium and it just doesnt feel like home. Thats going to take a while. and eve though there’s a lot of conisistency between the old and the new, there are changes that may, with some hindsight, prove to be unfortunate decisions.

one things for sure. i’ll never again experience walking into a dank, low hanging ceilinged conrete mass only to enter an open expanse of grass and air. that was the old stadium. the new one opens up gradueally to you. from the great hall to the open concourse to your seat, you’re always in on the action. which is good, but it leaves a little awe by the wayside.

dsc05290

hope you were able to understand some of this. next time I’ll be writing about this year being the frist time I’,m playing  fantasy baseball. so done’t miss it!!!

Posted by: Dex | March 25, 2009

2009 Team Sales Report: Chicago White Sox

Welcome to jockr’s 2009 Team Sales Report, where we will offer fans consultative outreach and analysis of the comprehensive, results-based solutions they can expect from each franchise this upcoming quarter. Today’s entry focuses on the Chicago White Sox.

Chicago White Sox

2008 year-end market position: 89-74 1st place, AL Central
Defeated Minnesota Twins in 1-game playoff
Lost to Tampa Bay Rays 3-1 in AL Divisional Series

New Hires: 3B Dayan Viciedo (free agent from Cuba), RHP Kelvin Jimenez (claimed on waivers from Blue Jays), INF Wilson Betemit (trade with Yankees), RHP Bartolo Colon (free agent from Red Sox)

Layoffs: RHP Javier Vazquez (traded to Braves), LHP Boone Logan (traded to Braves), OF Nick Swisher (traded to Yankees), LHP Horacio Ramirez (free agent, signed with Royals), C Toby Hall (free agent, signed minor league deal with Astros), INF Juan Uribe (free agent, signed minor league deal with Giants), OF Ken Griffey Jr. (free agent, signed with Mariners), 3B Joe Crede (free agent, signed with Twins)

Best Practices: The White Sox had an interesting year last year. On one hand, they saw a lot of things go wrong–Jim Thome and Paul Konerko were black holes in the lineup most of the first half, newly acquired Nick Swisher had the lowest average (.219) of anyone qualifying for the batting title, Javier Vazquez regressed on the mound, Joe Crede continued to see his career fizzle because of injury, and Jose Contreras ruptured his achilles. On the other hand, John Danks and Gavin Floyd blossomed into solid starters, Alexei Ramirez shook off a disastrous April and showcased his considerable talent, newly acquired Carlos Quentin likely would’ve been the MVP had he not broken his wrist punching his bat, and the Sox had six layers hit at least 20 home runs as they stunningly won the division. They have a lot of questions coming into this year as well: is Quentin healthy and was last year a fluke? Can Alexei handle shortstop? Are Floyd and Danks for real? Are Thome and Konerko done? Living in Chicago, I’ve paid some attention to the Sox, and for some reason I’m just not very optimistic about this season. Don’t get me wrong, I love Alexei, but I’m worried the league will catch up to them. (Also, Alexei needs to seriously work on his plate discipline after walking just 18 times in over 500 plate appearances.) I do think Quentin is for real, though. The bullpen is also quite good. Bobby Jenks is an elite closer and the Scott Linebrink/Octavio Dotel duo, if they stay healthy, are as good as anyone. I also think lefty Matt Thornton is a decent power arm.

Pain Points: I think that the White Sox are relying on too much from Floyd. They need him to be a No. 2 starter, and I don’t think he can be that. He’s far too hittable (190 hits in 206 innings) and though he had a decent K rate last year (6.3 K per 9) the batting average of on balls hit in play against him was .241, which indicates he probably was getting pretty lucky. I think he’s definitely a legitimate major league pitcher, but by the end of last season they were looking to him as a stopper, and I just don’t think he’s capable of doing that. I expect a serious regression from him this year, but I hope I’m wrong. I also think it’s risky to count on Contreras returning to form, and I’m not sold that Bartolo Colon has anything left, but as a 1-year deal, he was worth the risk. The White Sox won the World Series in 2005 with solid pitching and a gritty offense that manufactured runs. Last year they relied to heavily on the home run and often went station to station on the basepaths with cloggers like Thome and Konerko running around out there. Dewayne Wise has some speed, but he’s also one of the worst starting outfielders in the majors. He certainly can’t bat leadoff with a career .254 on-base percentage. Come on. Alexei moves on to short while decent prospect Chris Getz takes over at second. I watched some of yesterday’s Sox preseason game and they were talking about Getz. After the play-by-play guy compared him to Jeff Kent, the Hawk stepped in to offer some reason “I think he’s more like Ryne Sandberg.” That’s a lot to ask of a guy who never hit more than three home runs in a season until last year when he muscled up for 11. Disappointing Josh Fields once again gets a shot at third. Yawn.

Key Thought Leader: MGR Ozzie Guillen. He worked magic last year and he’s going to have to do it again. The AL Central is going to be real tough this year, so the Sox are going to have to play better than they did a year ago to eke it out. Unfortunately, I think they played about as well as they possibly could a year ago. Everyone’s a year older and I just can’t get excited about that rotation. Sorry, Ozzie.

Enterprise Outlook: Let the outrage begin. 5th place, AL Central

Tomorrow’s Target: New York Mets

Posted by: Dex | March 24, 2009

2009 Team Sales Report: Minnesota Twins

justin-morneauWelcome to jockr’s 2009 Team Sales Report, where we will offer fans consultative outreach and analysis of the comprehensive, results-based solutions they can expect from each franchise this upcoming quarter. Today’s entry focuses on the Minnesota Twins.

Minnesota Twins

2008 year-end market position: 88-75 2nd place, AL Central
Lost 1-game division playoff to Chicago White Sox

New Hires: RHP Luis Ayala (free agent from Mets), RHP Jason Jones (Rule 5 pick from Yankees), 3B Joe Crede (free agent from White Sox)

Layoffs: SS Adam Everett (free agent, signed with Tigers), LHP Eddie Guardado (free agent, signed with Rangers), LHP Dennys Reyes (free agent, signed with Cardinals), DH Randy Ruiz (released, signed with Blue Jays)

Best Practices: I love this team. So much young talent all maturing at the same time. Even though C Joe Mauer is banged up to start the season, the Twins should be alright thanks to 1B Justin Morneau solidifying a lineup that includes Denard Span, Carlos Gomez, Alexi Casilla, and Delmon Young–all under 25 years old. With consistent time, DH Jason Kubel could blossom into a 30 home run guy, and if he’s healthy, OF Michael Cuddyer could force the enigmatic Young to the bench most nights. The pitching staff is also very young, with all five starters 27 years old or younger. LHP Francisco Liriano may finally be back to his 2006 form after two seasons lost to injury. In case you forgot, he was 12-3 with a 2.16 ERA and 144 strikeouts in 121.0 innings that year. Sick. Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, and Kevin Slowey all return after posting ERAs of 4.05 or under a year ago. And solid lefty Glen Perkins rounds out one of the most balanced 1-through-5 rotations I think I’ve ever seen.

Pain Points: They might struggle to score runs sometimes, especially with Mauer out early in the season. Other than Morneau, they don’t really have another true run producer, so they have to rely on speed to manufacture runs. Down the stretch, Gomez was one of the most exciting players in the league. No one can leg out a triple or score from first like he can. The problem was that he only got on base at a .294 clip, which is completely unacceptable. Only 25 walks in 602 plate appearances is shockingly terrible, so he’s going to have to work on it if he wants to truly make his speed an asset. If Young has to be a part-time player, will he stand for that? He has drastically outplayed Span this spring, but Span is still tentatively the starter because he is far superior in the field. We’ll see what happens there. Other than that, this team is pretty solid all the way around. Exciting lineup, solid starters, and a quality bullpen led by Joe Nathan.

Key Thought Leader: Morneau. The pride of Canadian baseball, Morneau played in all 163 of the Twins’ games a year ago as they came up on the short end of an amazing 1-0 one-game playoff with the White Sox. He’ll probably have to improve on his 23 homers from a year ago, but his 129 RBI show that while he wasn’t launching bombs, he still was productive.

Enterprise Outlook: Not much more I can say. This team is good and should be a lot of fun to watch. 1st place, AL Central

Tomorrow’s Target: Chicago White Sox

Posted by: Dex | March 21, 2009

2009 Team Sales Report: Toronto Blue Jays

citogastonWelcome to jockr’s 2009 Team Sales Report, where we will offer fans consultative outreach and analysis of the comprehensive, results-based solutions they can expect from each franchise this upcoming quarter. Today’s entry focuses on the Toronto Blue Jays.

Toronto Blue Jays

2008 year-end market position: 86-76 4th place, AL East

New Hires: LHP Brian Burres (waiver claim from Orioles), OF Jason Lane (free agent from Red Sox), INF/OF Brandon Fahey (free agent from Orioles), LHP Mike Maroth (free agent), C Raul Chavez (free agent from Pirates), C Michael Barrett (free agent from Padres), 1B/DH Randy Ruiz (free agent from Twins), RHP Matt Clement (free agent), SS Angel Sanchez (waiver claim from Royals), RHP Bryan Bullington (waiver claim from Indians), RHP Adam Loewen (free agent from Orioles), INF Kevin Millar (minor league free agent from Orioles)

Layoffs: LHP John Parrish, (free agent, signed with Orioles), OF Brad Wilkerson (free agent, signed with Red Sox), C Gregg Zaun (free agent, signed with Orioles), LHP Mike Gosling (free agent, signed with Twins), INF Hector Luna (free agent, signed with Dodgers), SS Pedro Lopez (free agent, signed with Pirates), LHP Gustavo Chacin (free agent, signed with Nationals), RHP A.J. Burnett (free agent, signed with Yankees), OF Mike Vento (free agent, signed with Nationals), OF Kevin Mench (free agent, signed with Japanese team)

Best Practices: The poor Blue Jays had a terrific season last year, but it was only good enough for fourth place in the gauntlet that is the AL East. Their strength a year ago was in their starting pitching. RHP Roy Halladay had an incredible season, picking up 20 wins and tossing an ML best 246 innings. Dude also threw nine complete games and posted an ERA of 2.78. RHP Jesse Litsch won 13 games and posted a 3.58 ERA. Unfortunately, those two are the only guys back to start this season north of the border. RHP Shaun Marcum was also excellent, and he had a 3.38 ERA over 151 innings before having to get some Tommy John sauce slathered up in his elbow in September. He’ll miss all of 2009. RHP Dustin McGowan also is very talented, but he had shoulder surgery and will be out until June. After shoulder surgery, it’s iffy that he’ll be able to come back at all and be as effective as he once was. But the biggest blow to the Blue Jays came when RHP A.J. Burnett opted out of his contract and signed a mammoth deal with the Yankees. So Halladay and Litsch have their work cut out for them as they’ll lead a staff that will include the likes of David Purcey, Casey Janssen, and Matt Clement (Matt Clement?!). Good thing Halladay’s one of the best in the biz, but will he hold up? The good news for the Jays is that they have a pretty solid bullpen. They have a solid array of righties and lefties leading up to shutdown closer B.J. Ryan, who showed he was fully recovered from elbow surgery in 2007 with 32 saves a year ago.

Pain Points: I don’t understand how they were so good a year ago with a lineup this uninspiring. Despite playing just 108 games, CF Vernon Wells led the team with 20 homers because RF Alex Rios, who’s supposed to be a stud, hit just 15 bombs a year ago. That’s not going to cut it, the Jays need Rios to anchor the heart of the order and be a 30 homer/100 RBI guy. They’re also going to need 3B Scott Rolen to produce more than the 11 homers and 50 RBI he had a year ago. That doesn’t seem likely because Rolen is about five years and one league removed from being an impact bat. So that leaves a lot of pressure on the shoulders of young guns Adam Lind and Travis Snider. Lind was one of the top prospects in baseball a couple years back, but has been solid if unspectacular so far in the majors. Just 21, Snider is one of the top 3 hitting prospects in baseball, and should step right in and be the Jays’ everyday left fielder. As a 20-year-old September call up a year ago, Snider hit .301 and hit a couple homers in 73 at bats. He’ll also be fun to watch because he’s a little butterball at 5’11”, 245 pounds. He should be able to pick up the slack for fellow shortstack Matt Stairs, who was traded late in the year ago and won a World Series title with the Phillies.

Key Thought Leader: MGR Cito Gaston. After firing John Gibbons about halfway through the season a year ago, the Blue Jays went with a blast from the past and hired Gaston, who was the manager in their early-’90s glory days. The Jays responded well, and were 14 games above .500 with Gaston at the helm. Gaston provides an interesting conundrum for Orioles fans because he was universally reviled back in 1993 for failing to put Mike Mussina in the All-Star Game at Camden Yards. However, Mussina is also a villain in Orioles land after spurning the O’s to sign with the Yankees following the 2000 season. What in the world are we to do about this?

Enterprise Outlook: Well, they can’t finish fifth because the Orioles are also in their division, but they sure can finish fourth again. With all the defections and injuries in the starting rotation, they won’t be able to compete with the three teams ahead of them, all of which might win 90 games or more. Sadly, it may be time to consider shopping Halladay at the deadline. 4th place, AL East

Tomorrow’s Target: Minnesota Twins

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