Monday, March 31, 2008

2008 Pittsburgh Pirates ............

The Neal Huntington era begins tonight in Atlanta as the Pirates will open the 2008 season against the Braves with a team that looks a lot like the team that Captain Dave left in 2007.
My biggest problem with this is that it appears that the Pirates want (translate NEED) to revamp a weak farm system,yet feel the pressure to attempt to avoid the record for consecutive losing seasons that they would break with a sub .500 record.
They could not add pieces to improve the major league team without peddling one of their few prospects,yet were unable to add to the system with the value of Jason Bay being at an all-time low.
Which kind of puts us back where we started and delays the first date of learning whether Coonelly/Huntington really is a new start or the next link in a horrendous management legacy.
It appears that will be in June when the Bucs pick 2nd in the amateur draft,followed by the trade deadline in July,so until then,we just do not know.

In any event,here is a quick synopsis of your 2008 Pirates.
The Infield is pretty much intact and only one of the starters appears to have any hope of improving their stats from 2007.

Adam LaRoche had a start that gave ice cold new meaning in 2007 and despite his late rally,his numbers were average at best.
If LaRoche can get off to an average start,30 homers is possible.
I would expect some improvement,but not to the level of his 2006 in Atlanta,which looks to be his career season.

Freddy Sanchez looks to be solid at second,but shoulder concerns do have me worried.
But assuming he is healthy,you can pretty much write down an above .300 average and single digit homers,although he did hit a career high 11 last season.
I see no reason to expect any more from Sanchez than he has already shown.

Jack Wilson,like LaRoche,finished strongly after trade rumors to have deceivingly good numbers for the 2007 campaign.
As long as Wilson can keep up his defensive numbers,I can live with any offensive deficiencies and anything he adds is a bonus.
Wilson is one of the possible trade chips at the deadline,if some team would have SS injuries.

Jose Bautista has the job at third,but basically has this season to prove that he is deserving of keeping as Neil Walker should arrive in 2009.
Bautista would be a utility player on a good team,but on this one-he is a starter.

The outfield is pretty similar to last season,expect for finally giving Nate McLouth a chance in Center over Chris Duffy,which I had been screaming for over the last two years.
I have never understood the Pirate love affair with weak hitting center fielders.
I would make a list,but the list is long and the time is short.

Jason Bay returns in Left after his worst season as a pro last year.
If Bay had even come close to repeating his average numbers last season,he would have traded and the rebuilding started already.
Huntington decided to gamble on Bay returning to form and being able to get more in return at the deadline and I can see that,as selling at rock bottom value is exactly would Littlefield always seemed to do.
I like Bay,but here is hoping for a fast start and being able to get a nice package of prospects for him.

Nate McLouth gets his chance to take hold of Center before Andrew McCutchen arrives after fighting off yet another one of those Pirate slap hitters in Nyjer Morgan for the starting job.
McLouth is not the defender that Morgan is,but his power could help on this team and with some luck,could have a 20/20 season.
Then again with the Pirates track record in CF,he could be on the bench by mid-season.
I am willing to take that risk..

Xavier Nady is back in Right and unlike Bay,I would have traded him over the winter.
I know the Pirates said they could not get equal value for Nady,but he really is not an everyday corner outfielder and more of a "super sub" type.
Therefore his value to the Pirates is not what it is to other teams.
In any event,he is blocking one of the Pirates few prospects in Steven Pearce,so look for the Pirates to settle for something at the break.

The catching job appears to be a platoon for now between Ryan Doumit and Ronny Paulino.
Doumit is the better hitter,but is not as solid defensively as Paulino.
That is when Paulino cares anyway.
Doumit brings the higher upside and the lefty bat,but look for things to shake out as the year progresses.

The bench includes Morgan as the only outfielder,Doug Mientkiewicz as the backup at first,Luis Rivas as the backup to Freddy Sanchez at 2nd,Chris Gomez as the obligatory light hitting utility guy and whoever is not playing between Doumit and Paulino.

If the Pirates surprise,it will be the starting pitching that allows that to happen.
Ian Snell and Tom Gorzelanny provide stability to the front of the rotation,although Gorzelanny brings some concern from his overuse by Jim Tracy in the last month of 2007 in meaningless games.
If he is solid,Pittsburgh looks to be at least solid in two spots.
Lefthanders Paul Maholm and Zach Duke need to step their game up for the winning scenario to occur.
Malholm actually pitched ok last season before missing time with a bad back and returning with two horrible outings that made sense to use him only to Jim Tracy,who was in job saving mode,and inflated his numbers.
Duke has finally run out of excuses as Jim Colborn is gone as pitching coach after revamping (unnecessarily) his mechanics.
Duke likely is not as good as his 2005 indicated,but not as his numbers under Colborn,which could only have been worse if the ball was placed on a tee for batters facing him.
Matt Morris finishes up as the final legacy of the Captain as the Pirates highest paid player of all time as a 5th starter.
Morris was shopped in the off season,but no takers for the high priced veteran.
Like with so many others on this team,a fast start would help Pittsburgh in moving him to a contender,but we shall see.
Morris could be another test for Neal Huntington,as Littlefield would likely not only keep Morris after a hot start,he could have offered him an extension-remember Mark Redman?

The Bullpen looks solid at the back end with Matt Capps and Damaso Marte.
Capps put together a strong first season as a closer and Marte had an excellent year,yet was not moved.
I thought with a reasonable contract coming off a great year,he would have been traded.
Look for that to happen this season.
After that,it looks like a real mess with John "Matches" Grabow and Phil Dumatrait from the southpaw stance and new acquisition Tyler Yates joining Franquelis Osoria and Rule 5 draftee Evan Meek from the right.
This looks very weak to me and look for a lot of blown leads from this bunch.

Predictions for the road.
Final record 74-88.
Central Division 6th

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Xavier reaches the end of the road

The Xavier Musketeers ended their season in the field of eight with a 76-57 loss to UCLA.
Xavier pretty much ended their campaign late in the first half when UCLA stretched a small lead to one of double figures at the half.
Derrick Brown was the high scorer with 13 points.
A very nice season for Xavier and the Muskies bid a fond farewell to three senior stars in Drew Lavender,Josh Duncan and Stanley Burrell.
All three had excellent careers at XU and will be missed.
The cupboard is not bare though as the torch is passed to B.J.Raymond,C.J.Anderson and Derrick Brown for future glory.
The question is who will be the coach?
Will Sean Miller bolt for Indiana?
Or will he decide to continue to build Xavier as the "Gonzaga of the East"?
Time will tell.

Bullpen Notes

One reason that I love to root for Xavier so much is that their players stay for four seasons.
You rarely have to worry about losing an Xavier player early like you do about a quality player at Ohio State or Maryland.
You can learn their games,begin to read their emotions and get attached to the players like you could in the past and not watch the hired guns help for one year and run.

Battlin' Bob has now entered the blog universe.
Check his work out here.
Never fear though, fans of the Battler,his humor will still appear here and I may occasionally make a guest shot over there.

No word as of now on Pirate minor league rosters.
They should be released tomorrow,I would think.

The Pirates did make two moves at Indianapolis as they re-signed Matt Kata (wow) and former Indian Jason Davis to add a veteran to the AAA rotation.

The Post-Gazette ran an article on the minor league system and the Buc front office says things are not as bad at it seems.
With the exception of Indianapolis-yes,it is as bad as it seems.

Tomorrow will be a quick preview of the Bucs as they prepare for their opener tomorrow night in Atlanta.

Photo Credits
Xavier:Chris Carlson-AP Photo
Battlin Bob:Ryan Heimberger

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Happy Anniversary to us!

Yep, that is correct.
We celebrate our first anniversary today of our first post and it was not exactly a thrilling entry.
Far from our best work, but looking back at the last year, I see some pretty good work, some less than inspiring posts, and some that one can see that the blog's style has changed from.
I like to think that if you are a fan of the teams covered here, you get game coverage that you can get other places, but we offer lots of opinions that differ from other spots on the net.
Not always right, mind you, but different and hopefully interesting.
I try to put lots of stuff in Bullpen notes that catch my eye and vary from day to day and hopefully that is fairly good reading as well.

When I think about the past year, we have seen a lot of things come and go.
After spending the first few months of rambling about Captain Dave Littlefield's maneuverings, we saw one final head-scratching deal (Matt Morris) and finally his dismissal.

A few shots at Will Smith and Hagerstown Suns saw some visitors (not all happy), but (and I have no proof of this) some of our ideas have been quietly implemented by the Suns, so someone there is reading occasionally.

Plenty of autographs were gotten at various parks and we talked about who signed, who did not, who was a great guy (Adrian Cardenas), and who was not so good (John Patterson).
Both Ohio State and the Cleveland Browns surpassed expectations in the last year and we covered the Cleveland Cavaliers first run to the NBA Finals.

Some personal stuff happened as well, as the first baseball scouting trip was taken.
My family lost a good friend in John Moser in July and our beloved pet Chancellor.
On one night at the Muni, a fellow visited Hagerstown for the first time and after an evening of baseball talk, I made a pretty good friend, thanks, Luke.
We were able to get to know Erik Arnesen during the last year as well and his interview here brought many kind words from readers.

So I would like to thank a few of you for the past year.
Thanks to the lovely Cherie for the suggestion of starting something of my thoughts.
Although the format was different than the original suggestion, this was all her idea.
Thanks to Ryan, as many of the best opinions, were first discussed with him and bounced off in debate before they ever get to the typed page.
Thanks to Battlin' Bob for being a great friend and sending me many of the links that you see in Bullpen Notes and for being one of our biggest boosters to others.
And a final thanks to all of you that read what I have to say.
Readership is rising every week, but without the mailing list and the few Feedburner guys (whoever you are), the word does not carry as easily.
Thanks again and feel free to offer any comments on the last year!

A pair of interesting stats on the blog

The most visited posts were
1:The season-ending awards
2:Why the Suns do not shine in Hagerstown
3:Baseball Trip-Day 3-Lynchburg

The most visited images
1:New Jersey Devils Logo-Go figure
2:me with Adrian Cardenas
3:Jonathan Towes on his debut night

The New Jersey Devils actually scored some goals, but twice allowed the visiting Philadelphia Flyers to rally and would go to the dreaded shootout.
But all three Devils would whip Martin Biron to allow the Devils to gain two precious points and a 5-4 win that broke the losing streak.
The Flyers struck first on a Vinny Prospal goal (Prospal is another one of those guys that I have always wanted as a Devil) and I was thinking "not again".
But Johnny Oduya was credited with a power-play goal (5)to tie the game that I thought Zach Parise should have credited with, but they all count the same.
Oduya then beat (6) Biron with a shot from the circle that gave the Devils a 2-1 lead at the end of one.
The Captain Jamie Langenbrunner then took advantage (13)of a wide-open net off a Philly miscue to increase the lead to 3-1 before the Flyers trimmed the lead to 3-2 on a goal by former Devil Jim Dowd.
The Flyers then tied the game, but Brian Gionta's goal with 5 minutes (22) looked to be the winner before the Flyers tied the game with a minute to go, setting up the shootout heroics.
A needed win and nice to see the goals coming in again, although not as excited about the defense.
The Devils return to action on Tuesday in Long Island against the Islanders.

Devils Pitchforks
Gold-Jamie Langenbrunner-Goal and the shootout winner
Silver-Johnny Oduya-2 goals and good point work on the power play
Bronze-Zach Parise-Seemed to be all over the ice.

The Xavier Musketeers battle UCLA in Phoenix for the chance to go to the Final Four for the first time ever in school history.
Going to be a tough task, but the Muskies are more than capable of winning this game over UCLA.
The key matchup to me is Stanley Burrell being able to lock down Darren Collison.
If that can be done, this game swings to Xavier in my opinion.

Speaking of UCLA, whoever thought of the idea of replacing the blue C with a yellow one needs to be fired.
The Bruins have such iconic and classy uniforms and now they are ruined.
I am not sure who has the UCLA uniform contract, but that has Nike written all over it.

Memphis reached the elite eight last night.
Here is hoping for a title run (if Xavier cannot) as an old-time Memphis fan from the Keith Lee, William Bedford days.

Sean Burnett is hot about his demotion and I do not blame him.
I would prefer Burnett to either Francelis Osoria or Phil Dumitrait, but I understand why the Pirates made the move even though I disagree with it.
I appreciate the candor offered by Burnett, but I hope that the Pirates do not hold it against him.

Looks like Kent State will be looking for a new basketball coach as Jim Christian appears headed to TCU.
Perhaps former Kent coach Gary Waters might be interested in a return to KSU after a successful return to the area at Cleveland State?

And finally sorry to hear of the passing of a longtime Tigers coach Billy Consolo at the age of 73.
Consolo was a Tiger assistant for Sparky Anderson for many years after being one of the unsuccessful high priced "bonus babies" of the 1950s.

Photo Credits
Flintstones-Happy Anniversary
Langenbrunner-Bill Kostroun-AP Photo

Friday, March 28, 2008

Xavier marches on and Nigel Dawes strikes again

Xavier looked to be cruising on their way to the Elite Eight midway through the first half of their game vs West Virginia,running up a lead of eighteen points and controlling the game tempo.
But West Virginia had trimmed the lead to seven by the half,continued their fine play in the second half and even managed to take the lead later in the game.
The teams went back and forth until Joe Alexander's score with 14 seconds to go and Alexander had a chance to put WVU up with a free throw,however he missed and the game went to overtime,where Alexander would quickly foul out.
West Virginia broke from the gates fastest in overtime,but after Alexander's 5th foul,Xavier began to rally paced by two long three pointers by C.J.Raymond that clinched a 79-75 win and a trip to the regional finals vs UCLA.
Josh Duncan's 26 (career high) paced the Musketeers.

One thing that I would like to add that makes me wonder was the absence of any strategy for Xavier's last two regulation possessions.
With Xavier up two,they just dribbled out the shot clock before throwing up a haphazard shot by Drew Lavender that looked to be just pumped up without a plan at all.
Then after the missed Joe Alexander free throw and a tie game,Xavier did not even try to run any type of set play and again settled for a low percentage jumper by Lavender.
To me,the end of the game set off alarm bells about the strategies of Sean Miller and might be something that Indiana (Interested in Miller as the next head coach) might want to carefully look at......

The New Jersey Devils actually scored two goals and held a lead last night against the Rangers.
That was the good news.
The bad news is that the special teams allowed two Ranger power play goals and the Devil killer,Nigel Dawes (I am really beginning to dislike this guy) bounced the game winner off of his shoulder in a 3-2 Ranger win.
The goal was just one of those fluke things that happen and was perfectly legal,so no complaints here.
Both Devil goals came in the second period and turned a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 New Jersey lead.
Patrik Elias tied the game with his 19th and Zach Parise scored number 31 on a gift from the Rangers Christian Backman.
Backman would redeem himself shortly after with the game tying goal on the power play.
A heartbreaking loss for sure,but an encouraging one.
Goals tend to do that.
The Devils will again attempt to snap the losing streak with a game vs the Flyers at the Rock tonight at 7.

Bullpen Notes

The Pirates did decide to keep Phil Dumatrait over Sean Burnett for the last spot on the Bullpen/Roster.
Burnett returns to Indianapolis in his new bullpen role.
Considering the Pirates bullpen,it should not be long before Burnett is back in Pittsburgh.

I would have preferred Burnett,but he had minor league options available after clearing waivers over the winter and I did want the Pirates to keep Rule 5 draftee Evan Meek for a look to see if he is worth carrying for the year.

Until tomorrow.

Photo Credits
Raymond-Chris Carlson-AP Photo
Duncan-Matt York-AP Photo
Dawes-Frank Franklin II-AP Photo

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Ohio State clips Flyers and Pirates down to 26

The visiting Dayton Flyers hung tough with the Ohio State Buckeyes for a half and went into the locker room with a one point lead,but a sizzling second half of shooting for Ohio State told a different tale as the Buckeyes raced out to a lead that stretched as far as 19 before settling to the final margin of 74-63.
Kosta Koufos led 4 Buckeyes in double figures with 21 points in a loud Schottstein Center that seemed far noisier than usual.
Two reasons for that were the articles on the atmosphere from the Cal game at St.John Arena and
the large amount of fans from the visitors from Dayton.
Between the reasonably short trip (75 Miles) and the rare opportunity for Dayton to play OSU (Had not played in 20 years),this was a hot ticket for Flyer fans.
Ohio State moves on to New York for the tournament Semi-Finals against the Ole' Miss Rebels Tuesday night.

The Pirates have trimmed their roster to 26,which leaves just 1 move to be made.
It looks like it will come down to which lefthander they prefer between Sean Burnett and
Phil Dumatrait.
Burnett is the sentimental choice,but I would be surprised if it is not Dumatrait.

The Xavier Musketeers play for a spot in the Elite Eight tonight against the West Virginia Mountaineers.Coverage here tomorrow on the Muskies as well as tonight's New Jersey Devils-New York Rangers matchup.

Bullpen Notes

The Hagerstown Suns announced their giveaways schedule today and even though some of the silly stuff returns,it appears that they have stripped the number of the eye rolling stuff away and added a few interesting nights.

On the Good side:
Six different Player sticker nights-Good stuff,I would have liked cards better,but still good!
Suns Alternate hat day-Battlin' Bob's day is now made.
John Henry Moss day-The long time President of the SAL (now retired) comes to Hagerstown.
Maybe now I can get some of his cards that come in the SAL Prospects set every year signed!!

On the bad side:
KISS Tribute night-This has leaving early written all over it!
Elizabeth Schulze Bobblehead night-1,000 Elizabeth Schulze's bobbleheads given away.
Schulze is the head of the Maryland Symphony Orchestra,most of whose members/patrons would not be caught dead at a Suns game.
Yet another Egg Toss Championship=Enough Said.

Overall,a long way to go,but an improvement anyway you look at it.

Missouri State hired Purdue assistant Cuonzo Martin as their new head coach.
Martin was one of my favorite players in his Boilermaker playing days and was always a hard nosed defender.
Best of luck to Martin.

And finally,our man in Japan,Brandon Siefken has started a Japanese prospect site.
Check it out,never know if you learn early on about the next Ichiro or Matsuzaka.

Photo Credits
Koufos-Terry Gilliam-AP Photo

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Pirates starting to move towards final roster,Devils fall in Pittsburgh

The New Jersey Devils once again failed to bring any offense to the arena and lost a pivotal game in the race for the Atlantic Division title in a 2-0 loss to the Penguins.
Ryan Malone's power play goal in the first period gave Pittsburgh all they would need and would be all they would get until their empty netter at the end of the game.
I thought that the effort was there,but the puck just is not going in.
I would rather have the slump occur now instead of the playoffs,but offensive problems sometimes can be tough to stop.
The Devils will battle the Rangers tomorrow at Madison Square Garden in another attempt for the first win over the Blueshirts as well as stop a three game winless streak.

The Pirates look to be close to finalizing their final roster,as Luis Rivas made the team as an insurance policy against the ailing shoulder of Freddy Sanchez among other moves.
Nate McLouth was named the center field starter over Nyjer Morgan,although Morgan made the roster as a bench outfielder.
Byung-Hyun Kim was released as was Jaret Wright and Juan Perez and the Pirates designated Jonah Bayliss for assignment.
The releases of Kim and Wright were surprises for different reason.
Kim,as I did not think the Pirates would want to eat his minimum guarantee, and Wright because he seemed to be pitching well.
Bayliss will likely be sent to Indianapolis,if he clears waivers as expected.
Doug Mientkiewicz appears to have made the team as his contract was purchased from Indianapolis.
The battle appears to be still on for some bullpen spots over the next few days.

One bullpen job that was open,but now appears to be closed was the 8th inning spot to set up Matt Capps.
Tyler Yates was acquired from Atlanta for minor leaguer
Todd Redmond.
The hard throwing Yates started last season very well with Atlanta,but struggled badly in the second half.
We rated Redmond as the Pirates 6th best prospect last season,but he struggled with Lynchburg and dropped in our upcoming prospect preview (coming soon).
Todd signed cards for us during his stints in Hickory and Lynchburg and seemed like a nice guy,so best wishes to him.
All said,I do not see the harm in this trade,but not a great deal to be excited about either.
Yates is a "Dime a dozen" reliever and adds to the logjam in the Pittsburgh pen,Redmond was not an outstanding enough prospect to be too upset about the deal either.....

I am hoping that this Freddy Sanchez shoulder issue is not much of one,but keeping Chris Gomez and Luis Rivas both on the main roster makes me wonder.
Plus anytime that you are being checked out by James Andrews in Birmingham can never be totally good news.
Stay tuned....

Chet Trybus sends us this interesting article on former Pirate farmhands Adam Hyzdu and Josh Bonifay.
The article states that Bonifay will be joining Hickory as hitting coach in July after his college term ends,so that looks like just in time for the Crawdads visit to Hagerstown.

The Altoona Mirror also has an article on former Hagerstown Sun and Hickory Crawdad Jonel Pacheco and his arrival on the Curve roster after two years of Low A.
I am not sure that Pacheco is a prospect,but he at least deserves an attempt at the higher level.

I enjoyed the Ohio State game at St.John Arena,but the court took some getting used to as it now is mainly lined for volleyball and looks like a shrunken court when used for hoops.
Bob Hunter offers his thoughts on the difference in the atmosphere between St.John and the Schottstein center and agrees with us that newer is not always better.

The Seattle Seahawks brought two players home after signing defensive end Chris Cooper from Arizona and linebacker D.D.Lewis from Denver.
Neither should start although Cooper fits in the D-Line rotation picture.

Photo Credits
Sutter-Bill Kostroun-AP Photo
Yates-J.Meric-Getty Images

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Xavier to the Sweet Sixteen,Ohio State moves on in the NIT

I have tried to get this finished twice before,so here is hoping that the third time is the charm!

A quick look back at Xavier's 85-78 win on Saturday over Purdue shows that the main difference between two closely matched teams was just one thing.
The Musketeers led by experienced seniors Josh Duncan,Stanley Burrell and Drew Lavender had been there before and the talented young Boilermakers had not and that was the difference in the crucial crunch time.
Xavier used (as usual) balanced scoring as Lavender and Junior C.J. Anderson each scored 18 points,while Duncan added 16.
The Musketeers use balance to increase their offensive versatility and that makes them a very difficult team to prepare for and I give them a very good chance of a Final Four trip,although UCLA looms large,if Xavier can get by West Virginia on Thursday night.

Ohio State moved on the final eight of the NIT with a 73-56 blasting of California at St.John's Arena.
The crowd for the game was incredible and the atmosphere was more similar to a important Big Ten game than a second round NIT game.
I would attribute that to the sentimental return to St.John's,but the Buckeyes came to play and had little problems with the Golden Bears.
Jamal Butler paced OSU with 20 points,while Frosh Kosta Koufos tossed in 17 from the paint.
Othello Hunter controlled the boards with a career high 16 rebounds.
Ohio State returns to the Schottstein Center tonight for a in-state battle against Dayton for the right to travel to New York for the tournament semis.
Tough game tonight as this is another case of the silly Ohio State policy of not playing in-state schools in basketball (when they go out of their way to other sports) that could haunt them.
The Flyers are a talented and motivated team and could pull the upset tonight.

Bullpen Notes

Thumbs down on the Dick Vitale idea of no players being able to foul out of a game.
Vitale's idea is that for each foul a player commits after five,the fouled team will receive two foul shots and the ball.
Sorry,being able to control fouls is part of the game and this just hurts the less talented team.

Finally was able to watch the Juan Manuel Marquez-Manny Pacquiao fight on delay from HBO and it was a classic.
We scored it 114-112 Marquez,but would not argue a similar score for Pacquiao.
One thing is beyond dissent-they need to hook it up and do it again!

The NBA is looking at raising the minimum draft age from 19 to 20.
We support this all the way,as this would lessen the one season "hired gun" types that have been populating college hoops and diminishing the game!

Back with a extra post later with Devils-Penguins,Our take on the Freddy Sanchez problems and more!

Photo Credits
Burrell-LA Times
Koufos-Terry Gilliam-AP Photo

Monday, March 24, 2008

Devils drop two important games in two nights

Catchin' up after the weekend after watching a lot of hoops.

The New Jersey Devils lost games on both Friday and Saturday that sent them falling to lower spots in both the Eastern Conference and Atlantic Divisions.
On Friday,the loss of Patrik Elias began to show itself in a 3-1 loss to the Islanders in a game filled with penalties and fights and the debut of touted Islander prospect Kyle Okposo,who scored the game winning goal late in the third period.
The play was sloppy on both sides of ice,but the play was evenly bad and Okposo fired in the winner off a pass from Richard Park without his helmet which had just been knocked off.
Side note-The last time these two teams played,I spoke to Ryan about how much I liked the play of Park and said that I always wished that the Devils would add him to their roster.
Ryan then said,"you already have him-Sergei Brylin!"
A few minutes later-Doc Emrick then compared Park to Brylin on the air!
The only Devil goal was a power play goal by Travis Zajac (14) in the first period that countered the Islanders opening tally.
But Zajac's very brain dead penalty led to the winning score later in the game,so Travis gave a goal and took one away.
The Islanders added a empty netter late for the final score.
The game did feature a few scraps with David Clarkson decisioning Bill Guerin and Rod Pelley whipping Josef Vasicek at the end of the contest,but the highlight was Arron Asham's one punch knockout/sliceup of Matthew Spiller.

The loss was a killer,considering the importance of the game,New York being without Rick DiPietro for the season and the utter lack of offense shown.
Things would get worse one night later.....

Devils Pitchforks
Gold-Aaron Asham-High energy and one great KO
Silver-David Clarkson-See above without the KO
Bronze-Marty Brodeur-Good,not great

The next night in Pittsburgh with division leadership on the line,the Devils played fair for two periods,before a third period that sent Marty Brodeur fleeing from the game,the Devils wishing that they could join him and the Penguins blowing the doors of Mellon Arena off in a 7-1 Pittsburgh win.
To sum the third period up-the Penguins had the same number of goals (5) that the Devils had shots (5)!
Does that say it all?!
Brian Gionta scored the only Devil goal in the first period shorthanded (21).
Here is hoping that some how this offensive drought can be stopped in the rematch against the Penguins tomorrow night at the Rock!

Devils Pitchforks
Gold-Brian Gionta-Shorthanded goal
Silver-Me-for watching this mess
Bronze-Me-for holding down my dinner while watching this.

Bullpen Notes

Since tomorrow is a slow day, I will be blogging on the Xavier trip to the Sweet 16 tomorrow.

Ohio State battles Cal at St.John Arena tonight at 7 in the second round of the NIT.
I love SJA and the the improved atmosphere there makes it a better game to watch there.

The Seattle Seahawks kept their top defender and my favorite player Lofa Tatupu for as long as they want him after signing him to a extension through 2015.
The hard hitting linebacker from USC was a second round pick in 2005.
This one makes me very happy!!!

Looks like Freddy Sanchez will not be placed on the disabled list and will be ready for next Monday's opener in Atlanta!
Good news for a team that needs all that it can get!

The lovely Cherie sends us this article on how Global Warming has moved up the arrival of spring in a negative fashion.
I understand this and see the points,but I must say I like a faster arriving spring in a purely selfish way!

And our correspondent in Japan,Brandon Siefken sends us this article on Yu Darvish.
Darvish,a righty thrower of the Nippon Ham Fighters,will likely be the next import to receive a big money contract from either New York or New York Lite,since no one else can afford them.
I hope to see Darvish pitch a game or two this year on the airplane from Tokyo.

7 days until Pirates opener
11 until Frederick Keys home opener
18 until Hagerstown Suns Home opener
Cannot wait!

Photo Credits
Asham-Rich Schultz-AP Photo
Gionta-Keith Srakocic-AP Photo

Friday, March 21, 2008

Muskies move on,Kent State ice cold and Maryland bows in NIT

The Xavier Musketeers rallied from a nine point halftime deficit to end the miraculous run of the Georgia Bulldogs and eliminated them 73-61 in their first round game in Washington.
Josh Duncan's 20 points (11 from the free throw line) paced the Muskies,who outscored the Dawgs 27-3 from the charity stripe.
Derrick Brown added 19 points as well as 11 boards to key the comeback.
The free throw disparity appeared to come from Xavier driving to the basket,while Georgia preferred to fire up jumpers from the perimeter.
Xavier will take on the 6 seeded Purdue Boilermakers in Washington tomorrow at 4:40 with a trip to the Sweet Sixteen on the line.

The Kent State Golden Flashes were one of those quiet "sleepers'" that so many people picked to win that they weren't sleepers anymore by the time that the ball was tipped.
After a half,all of those people knew that it was all over as the Flashes scored a meager 10 points in the opening half,throwing all hope away in a not as close as the score indicates 71-58 loss to UNLV.
Mike Scott led KSU with a double double of 14 pts and 10 rebounds.
Kent State finished with an excellent 28-7 record on the season.

Syracuse blew open a close game in the second half and ended the season of Maryland 88-72 in the NIT second round in Syracuse.
James Gist led Maryland with 23 points and 11 rebounds in his final game as a Terrapin,ending a fine career.
Maryland finishes a disappointing season at 19-15.

Bullpen Notes

A what goes around comes around note,the Washington Nationals released righthanded pitcher John Patterson yesterday.
Long time readers may remember Patterson blowing off fans last year in his rehab outing at Frederick in order to stand alone in the bullpen doing nothing.

Congrats to Duke on their big 1 point win over Belmont.
Is it me or is "Coach K"'s teams slowly starting to look like his mentor Bob Knight's later Indiana teams with lots of hype and pub and starting down the road of losing to lesser teams in the tourney every year?
Duke is not to that point yet,but something to keep an eye on.

New Jersey plays the New York Islanders tonight in an important game at 7.
At this point in the season,they are all important!

Photo Credits
Xavier Fans-Ernest Coleman-Cincinnati Enquirer

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Dawes kills Devils again in 2-1 shootout loss

The New Jersey Devils played well and led for most of the game, but a Chris Drury goal late in the game tied it and only one player on either side was able to dent the twine in the shootout.
Unfortunately for New Jersey, that player was wearing white-the Devil killer Nigel Dawes.
Dawes dribbled a knuckler through the pads of Marty Brodeur for the only shootout score and therefore a 2-1 Ranger win.
The Devils were able to lead for most of the game on the strength of a first-period power-play goal by Dainius Zubrus for the 12th of the season for the suddenly improving Zubrus but struggled to gain any kind of flow going for the remainder of the contest.
The Devils were hampered by a Patrik Elias missed game with a knee injury and Bryce Salvador was scratched with an undisclosed injury as well.
The Devils were able to salvage one point from the defeat, which enabled them to keep their conference lead over Montreal and moved their lead over Pittsburgh for the division to two, but the suddenly charging Rangers moved to within 4 points in both and appear to be looming in the distance.
The Devils battle the Islanders, who will be without Rick DiPietro for the rest of the season on Friday before their following two games being home and home vs the Penguins in games that look to be very important on the playoff landscape.

Bullpen Notes

One part of the loss was that someone stepped up and established to the Rangers that win or lose,the Devil attitude in these the inter-city games was going to change.
David Clarkson slugged it out with Ranger's annoyance Sean Avery less than a minute into the game, getting the better of Avery.
As we have said before, love the grit and attitude of Clarkson and with some work around the net, Clarkson could turn into quite the valuable player in the future,

The Edmonton Journal is reporting that the Devils will sign Flyer defenseman Jason Smith in the down season.
Smith started his career with the Devils organization before a trade to Toronto.
We would not be against a Smith return, but not sure if Smith would be the choice over keeping Bryce Salvador.

The Devils also signed Alaska-Anchorage blueliner Tyler Eckford to a contract.
Eckford has spent the last three years at UAA after the Devils used a 7th round draft pick on him in 2004.

Xavier against Georgia and Kent State vs UNLV in the NCAA's today.
Coverage here tomorrow.

Sorry to hear of the passing of legendary pro wrestling manager Gary Hart from a heart attack at 66.
Hart managed all over the southern territories, but most notably in Texas and his run with WCW managing the Great Muta.
Hart was a key part in both of the two documentaries on World Class Championship Wrestling.

And in better news, the CFL looks pretty close to getting the city of Ottawa back in the CFL for 2010.
The league needs that presence in the capital city and once they have that solidified, they then can work on the badly needed 10th franchise.

Photo Credits
Dawes-Bruce Bennett-Getty Images
Fight-Rich Schultz-AP Photo

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Terrelle Pryor signs with Ohio State!

Terrelle Pryor,the top ranked high school quarterback announced today that he will be an Ohio State Buckeye for his college career.
Pryor,a 6-5,235 lb passer from Jeannette Pa made the right decision and chose Ohio State over his other finalist michigan.
Pryor will likely play in special situations only in his first season,as the Buckeyes return Todd Boeckman at quarterback and then should take over in 2009.
This also could mean a possible transfer for Antonio Henton,who had hoped that he would be the heir apparent to Boeckman.
Pryor is also considered by some recruiting services as a top 40 basketball prospect,but will likely not play hoops at OSU.

Both Ohio State and Maryland grabbed NIT wins on the opening night of the "consolation" tournament.
Ohio State used a huge game from Jamar Butler to down UNC Asheville and their massive center Kenny George 84-66 in Columbus.
Butler's 21 points and ten assists paced a balanced Buckeye attack that shot 56 percent from the field.
Ohio State will host the winner of tonight's New Mexico-California game on Monday at St.John's Arena.
The Buckeyes return to to their former long time home due to the Schottstein Center being booked for Bruce Springsteen Monday night.
I like the old building and the cool floor with the state of Ohio in the center,so any chance to use it is fine with me.
The arena is still used for OSU Hockey,Wrestling and small revenue sports.

Maryland traveled to Minneapolis for their NIT opener against Minnesota,controlling the game throughout and not allowing a trailing team to play their way back into the contest in a 68-58 win.
Grevis Vasquez led the Terrapins with 16 points,while Bambale Osby added 14.
The Terrapins will travel to Syracuse for their second round matchup against the top seed in their bracket.

The New Jersey Devils will attempt to not only keep pace in their conference and divisional races tonight against the hated Rangers,they will also try to defeat New York for the first time this season.
The Rangers have won all 5 meeting between the two.
Coverage here tomorrow.

Finally in another sad note,Ivan Dixon (Kinchloe) of the 60's TV series Hogan's Heroes passed away in Charlotte at the age 76.
Dixon was a director of various films and TV shows after the end of Hogan's Heroes.

Photo Credits
Butler-Terry Gilliam-AP Photo
Osby-Paul Battaglia-Ap Photo

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Bixler,Pearce,McCutchen and Walker Indianapolis bound

As expected,all of the Pirates top prospects were assigned to Indianapolis.
Brian Bixler,Steven Pearce,Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker are all headed to the Hoosier state to start the 2008 season along with some other players that were sent down.
Seems like most of the grousing among Bucco fans is about Pearce and I see their point considering the lack of spring performance of Xavier Nady,but I can live with this short-term.
That is mainly because the more Nady plays,the more his value can go up (hopefully) and that is keeps the Arbitration/Free agency clock from starting for Pearce.
It only makes sense to try to keep the few prospects together for as long as possible,so if the Pirates make a run a few years down the road,they would all be involved in making the run and give Pittsburgh their best chance to win during it.
Bixler likely would have been the starter had Jack Wilson been moved,but with Wilson and Freddy Sanchez still in the Steel City,the smarter move was to send Bixler to Indy instead of him sitting on the bench and playing rarely in a utility role.
Walker clearly needs a full season learning the third sack at AAA and I would argue that McCutchen could be better served by starting the season at AA Altoona before moving to Indianapolis in May or June.
McCutchen really did not dominate Altoona in a season that saw him skip High A Lynchburg,so a short return there could be best for him,although that does not seem to be in the cards.
Bryan Bullington and John Van Benschoten were also returned to Indy,as both players appear to be AAA level pitchers after big league chances,although Bullington has not received any chances similar to Van Benschoten yet.
Two other interesting names were Brian "Bombs Away"Rogers and Marino Salas,two hurlers that were brought from past trades,Rogers for Sean Casey and Salas in the off-season in the "Gas Can" Torres swap.

Bullpen Notes

A sad note,Bob Purkey passed away at the age of 78.
Purkey spent 13 years in the big leagues for three teams,most notably with Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.
Purkey's peak years were in the River City,as a rotation stalwart on the Reds 1961 National League pennant winners and with a dominant 1962 that saw him finish with a 23-5 record and with numbers that could be seen as better than the eventual winner-Don Drysdale.
Purkey also occasionally appears in Jim Brosnan's 1961 diary of the Reds-Pennant Race.

The Seattle Seahawks watched wideout D.J.Hackett walk away to the Carolina Panthers.
Hackett signed a two year contract for 3 and a half million and will be a loss to the Seahawks,but f plays at perhaps the deepest position on the Seahawks roster.
Cap problems likely caused the loss of Hackett and hopefully this will not cause further losses for the Seahawks.

And finally,the lovely Cherie sends us this from the New York Times on home school sports and the highly recruited girls hoopster Taber Spani.
Spani is the daughter of former Chief linebacker Gary Spani,who played for Kansas City in the late 70's and early 80's.
I would love to involved in something like this for my young hoopster/volleyball player,but I am not sure whether Hagerstown/Washington County has anything like this or that I have the time to travel with involvement anyway,but it sounds like a terrific program....

Back later with NIT action and a preview of tonight's Devils-Rangers matchup.

Photo Credits

Monday, March 17, 2008

Pirates lock up Ian Snell and lots of tourney talk

The Pittsburgh Pirates took a gamble,but a smart one as the Buccos signed pitcher Ian Snell to a 3 year contract that could last as long as five years considering the addition of two option years.
If Snell continues his performance level,he could earn as much as 24.6 million over the length of the deal.
This is a gamble,but one worth taking.
The Indians have been doing this for years with their talented young players,paying them more money now than they have to in return for buying off free agency years and/or arbitration years.
These deals do not always work as the Indians know.
For every Albert Belle ,there was a Mark Whiten and for every Charles Nagy,
there was a Dennis Cook and so on.
But when you do not have the money of most teams,these are chances that you must take and I fully back this one.
Now lets get to work on locking Tom Gorzelanny up next!!

Talkin hoops.

Xavier and Kent State are in,Ohio State and Maryland are NIT bound and Wake Forest is sitting at home after yesterdays announcement of the post-season tourneys.

Xavier and Kent State both play Thursday afternoon,as the 3rd seeded Musketeers play the 14th seed,the miracle SEC Tournament winning Georgia Bulldogs and the Golden Flashes,who received a 9 seed will take the Runnin Rebels from Nevada Las Vegas.
Ohio State was given a one seed in the NIT and will play their NIT opener against UNC Asheville at home on Tuesday,while Maryland was given a 5 seed and will travel to Minnesota for their Tuesday opener against the Gophers.
No complaints here about either team not getting in,Ohio State needed a Big 10 tourney win and did not get the job done and Maryland lost two non-conference games at home to American and Ohio U to go with their utter collapse against a losing Boston College team in the ACC brackets.
Win those three very winnable games and 18-14 becomes 21-13 (figuring a next round ACC loss for the Terps) and that gets you in.

UNC Asheville was one of eight small conference teams that won their regular season conference title,but lost in their conference tournament.
Such teams now get an automatic bid to the NIT and I love the rule,as I got tired of watching quality small teams not play in the NIT,so 15-14 teams from the ACC and Big East could half heartedly shuffle through the tourney.

NCAA stupidity-Part 1
I have no problem with the play-in game between teams 64 and 65 and I have no problems with the two teams picked to play in it-Mount St.Marys and Coppin State.
But the NCAA could have had a much better atmosphere for the game if the game had been played at say College Park for the two Maryland schools and saved each school some time and money on traveling to Dayton Ohio.
Instead of a good size crowd of maybe 5 to 6 thousand watching that game in MD,it will be lucky to have 500 breathing fans for the same game in Dayton.

NCAA stupidity-Part 2
Please quit the out and out lying about not hooking certain teams up to play each other for obvious reasons and the we do not look at teams playing near home deal either.
I do not believe that USC with O.J.Mayo and Kansas State and Michael Beasley just happened to fall that way for one example or of all the 15 seeds-UMBC happened to accidentally draw Georgetown,so that Washington and Baltimore teams can play as just two examples.
Or that top seed Memphis will have to beat second seed Texas in the "Neutral' site of Houston.

Will someone please tell the Jay Bilases of the world that the tournament does not say the best 64 teams in the country,just the best at large teams plus qualifiers?
Bilas whined about this all through the ESPN show on the tourney last night and cried "the committee give breaks to mid majors for at larges over majors" using South Alabama as an example.
Sorry to offend your ACC mentality,Jay,but the tournament is great because of the smaller schools getting their shot and if Virginia Tech and Arizona State sit home because the Sun Belt got two bids for a change-oh well.
If you put the best 64 teams in,few of the smaller teams get in and that leads to basically a bigger version of the major conference tournaments that we saw all weekend and that with few exceptions is not all that wonderful.

I do agree that the two teams that got screwed the most were Arizona State and Virginia Tech.
I would have put both teams in over PAC Ten entrants Oregon and Arizona.

The best part of the show was( surprisingly) Bob Knight,who offered great insight in a non-overbearing fashion and stood out among the other commentators.
Plus. watch this video for Knight's reaction to Dick Vitale's ramble about a Knight return to Indiana that had nothing to do with the subject at the time.

Until tomorrow.

Photo Credit
Snell-Lenny Ignelzi-AP Photo

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Devils send Avalanche down the river 4-2

In perhaps their most effective game of the season, the New Jersey Devils wore down the Colorado Avalanche and walked away with a key two points and a 4-2 win.
The Devils were effective on defense and scored goals in each period and generally seemed in total control of the game.
Dainius Zubrus scored the only goal (11) of the first period, continuing his improved play since being
moved to the line with Mike Rupp and David Clarkson.
Rupp and Clarkson's physical play has been opening up space by the net for Zubrus and lately, he has been taking advantage of just that.
In the second period, the Devils followed a Colorado goal that tied the game with a Jay Pandolfo goal (12) less than two minutes after the Avalanche goal that gave the Devils a lead that they never relinquish.
Jamie Langenbrunner slipped the W into the win column for good when his slap shot flew over the shoulder of Jose Theodore for Langenbrunner's 12th goal of the season and a 3-1 lead.
John Madden's 19th goal finished the Devils scoring, although Colorado would get a final goal that seemed a bit dubious to me as I thought the goal was clearly batted/deflected by Marty Brodeur.
Marty was sensational in the win, which was his 40th of the year, with one of his greatest saves ever as he stopped a certain goal with a stick save behind his back while prone on the ice!
Tremendous game by Marty in finishing the Western road swing on a high note.
Patrik Elias missed the game with a bruised knee and is expected to return Wednesday.
The Devils now need to take care of business in the division as 9 of their final 10 games are against division foes, the first of those comes Wednesday night in MSG vs the Rangers.

Devils Pitchforks
Gold: Marty Brodeur-Can add nothing else
Silver: Brian Gionta-2 assists and all over the ice yesterday
Bronze: Jay Pandolfo-goal and assist

In honor of Marty's great save, which is not on youtube yet, here is a video that someone did of their opinion of Marty's top ten saves.

Bullpen Notes

Manny Pacquiao lifted the WBC Jr. Lightweight belt from Juan Manuel Marquez by a close and disputed split decision win.
Pacquiao scored the bouts only knockdown in the third round.
I will have my scoring and opinion on the battle next week after the fight is replayed on HBO.

Congrats to Kent State for giving me another team to root for in the NCAA's next week with a dominant 74-55 victory in the MAC Championship game over rival Akron.
I pull for most of the Ohio MAC teams in non-conference games, but Bowling Green and Kent State are my MAC favorites.

Tomorrow, I will talk about the matchups for our teams in the NCAA's here.
It looks like Xavier and Kent State are in, Ohio State is a maybe, Maryland has a slim shot and Wake Forest is certainly NIT bound.

If anyone wants to join our NCAA pool on Yahoo, the league ID is 31696 and the password is devils.

Photo Credits
Brodeur-David Zalubowski-AP Photo
Boxing-Chris Cozzone-AFP/Getty images
MAC Hoops-Ed Suba Jr.-Akron Beacon Journal

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Mike Marshall-Innovator or snake oil salesman?

I have always been intrigued with Mike Marshall.
Marshall was a top notch closer in the 70's with the Expos, Dodgers,Braves,Twins etc and he seemed to be an unusually deep thinker in Jim Bouton's classic book Ball Four.
(And if you have never read Ball Four-Shame on you!).
But I have been interested in the pitching motion that Marshall has been teaching for years and after watching Marshall's appearance on HBO's Real Sports last night,I am even more intrigued.
Marshall has claimed for years that his motion has never caused a shoulder or elbow injury and that the pitching motion that is taught/used by traditional baseball men is causing the constant breakdown of pitchers and as a result ending careers and costing franchises lots of money on disabled pitchers.
Marshall holds a doctorate from Michigan State and seems to have the knowledge of the human anatomy down,as one holding a doctorate should,but the motion just looks so awkward and looks like it is more likely to cause arm injuries than the convention motions.
The drills that Marshall teaches at his school's compound in Florida sure seems odd,but so do many baseball drills,so I am not sure that matters much either.
What seems to work against Marshall is the fact that only one pupil (Jeff Sparks) has ever pitched in the big leagues.
One would think if this is such an advance in the pitching business that someone would be using it,but Marshall explains this by saying that either baseball has a bias against his students and therefore does not give them a chance or that most of his students are pitchers recovering from arm problems and are not big league caliber,instead are just looking to be able to pitch in college.
As someone that loves the pitching part of the game more than most and in my coaching days liked to work with pitchers in practice more than anything else,this sounds almost whacko.
But what if Marshall indeed is onto something that is way ahead of his time and baseball (notoriously slow to try new ideas) just is not ready for him?
How many careers could have been saved?
I think I am going to order Marshall's free book and video to take a more detailed look on his teaching and I will be sure to blog on it here,but for now-it is just interesting thinking.

Bullpen Notes

Both of the hoop teams that played yesterday lost and left me pretty uninterested in today's games.
Xavier was upset by St.Joseph's in the Atlantic 10 semis 61-53, while Ohio State fell to Michigan State in the Big 10 quarters 67-60.
The Ohio State loss was not a bad one though in losing to a ranked team in a close game through the game.
Considering the bad losses by other "bubble" teams,I think the Buckeyes are in the tourney.

The Devils play Colorado in Denver today at 3,a win would make it 3 of 4 on their western road swing.Coverage here tomorrow..

Big fight in Las Vegas tonight as Juan Manuel Marquez defends his
WBC Jr.Lightweight belt against Manny Pacquiao in a rematch of their terrific battle four years ago.
In the first fight Pacquiao dropped Marquez three times in the first round,but Marquez dominated much of the rest of the battle before the verdict of a disputed draw.
We like Marquez by a close decision and think his style of controlled aggression is the perfect style to combat Pacquiao,although I hope as a long time Marquez fan that I am not biased in this one.

Photo Credit
Marquez-Pacquiao-BBC.UK,Getty Images

Friday, March 14, 2008

Langenbrunner shoots down the Wild

I was thinking "oh no,not again" when the Minnesota Wild scored first period goals and added to the New Jersey Devils scoreless streak,but the Devils rallied twice to tie the game and Captain Jamie Langenbrunner scored the only goal of the shootout and lifted the Devils to a 4-3 win.
The Devils scored the first two goals of the second period to tie the game for a while before the Wild took a 3-2 lead into the locker room with a goal with just 13 seconds to go in the period.
The Minnesota goal by Marian Gaborik was quite pretty as Mikko Koivu took Mike Mottau to school and twisted a helpless Bryce Salvador into the ice unable to stop the brilliant option to the cutting Gaborik.
The Devils first goal was on a shot from the outside by Vitali Vishnevski (2) and Brian Gionta scored his 20th later in the period.
But as you would expect from Marty Brodeur,he was at his best in the 3rd period and knocking all three Minnesota shots in OT away,so the Devils were able to tie the game in the third on a Dainius Zubrus shovel in during a crease battle.
Zubrus had a good night as he assisted on the Vishnevski goal and was very visible around the net,which is where he needs to be to be most effective.
I thought the game was slipping away with 53 seconds to go when John Madden was called for a very soft hooking call,but the Devils were able to kill the penalty off and set the stage for the game winner by Langenbrunner.
I did see one thing that I did not care for in the shootout as both Brian Gionta and Zach Parise went to the backhand against Niklas Backstrom.
I think that the backhand reduces the chance of scoring in the shootout as the shooter commits to where he is going to go and cuts down his options.
Plus twice in a row?
The win vaulted the Devils back into first place in both the Eastern Conference (by 1 point over Montreal,Ottawa and Pittsburgh) and the Atlantic Division (1 pt over Pittsburgh).
New Jersey also guaranteed themselves at least a .500 record on the road swing which concludes tomorrow in Denver against the Avalanche at 3 pm.

Devils Pitchforks
Gold:Jamie Langenbrunner-Game winner
Silver:Marty Brodeur-Kept the team in the game
Bronze; Dainius Zubrus-Goal,assist

Bullpen Notes

We do not cover College hoops that much,but the 4 teams that we follow all had NCAA hopes going into their conference tournaments yesterday.
Xavier had locked their spot away,but Ohio State and Maryland were teams on the proverbial bubble and Wake Forest was hanging on the back end of the bubble and needed a good run in the ACC Tournament.
Well,the team that could have afforded a loss won and two teams that needed wins badly both played their way into the NIT as Xavier grabbed a workmanlike 74-64 win over rival Dayton,while Maryland choked away an 18 point lead and lost to lowly Boston College 71-68
and Wake Forest lost a must win game to Florida State 70-60.
Ohio State caught a break by not having to play on a day that seemed to see every bubble team lose,so a Buckeye win later today over Michigan State in the Big Ten tourney might lock them a spot in the tournament.
Xavier plays St.Joseph's tonight in the Atlantic 10 semi-finals at 7.

The Cleveland Browns are giving injury plagued corner Gary Baxter one more chance to help the Browns by signing him to a one year deal.
Not sure if the veteran has anything left after tearing both patella tendons,but worth a look and kudos to Baxter for trying his comeback in Cleveland as he felt that he took the huge money for little production due to his injuries.

Photo Credit
Hockey;Jim Mone-AP Photo

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Talkin' Pirate prospects

Today we will discuss the Pirate farm system,mainly the fellows that the Post-Gazette wrote about in an article today.
This will not be an in depth post like last years two part series that covered 1-5 and 6-10.
I am saving that for later in the month and I am even considering making that a 3 part post and rate a top 15 for Pittsburgh and maybe Cleveland,although I may stick with a top 10 for the Wahoos.
We saw all the players that received mention,except for Quincy Lattimore and I would think that we should see Latimore sometime this season as he should start at Hickory.
Brad Corley is the most familiar of the names from his stellar seasons at Hickory in 06 and Lynchburg in 07.
Brad has always been a favorite of ours off the field for his personality and on the field for his hustle,but there can be no denying that this is the pivotal season for Corley.
Corley has always been plagued by the "swing at anything" mentality and AA baseball is usually the litmus test for such types.
The numbers that jump out on Corley are these over the last two years-a combined 208 strikeouts to just 32 walks.
That looks like Corley is meat on the AA pitchers platter unless he makes the needed adjustments.
Brad has always jumped at the bait of the high fastball,when we have seen him,so unless Corley wants to be a career minor leaguer,he needs to make the needed changes and move more quickly through Altoona and Indianapolis.

James Boone has been in the organization for the same amount of time as Corley,but just cannot seem to stay on the field.
Boone has been plagued by injuries in the last two seasons,but last year looked to be turning the corner before his latest injury as he played well at both Hickory and Lynchburg.
Like with Corley,this is a pivotal year for Boone.
Boone will turn 25 before the season starts,so even though he likely could use more at bats at Lynchburg,the Pirates appear to be placing him on the fast track to Altoona.

Shelby Ford looks to be Altoona bound as well.
Ford missed the last month of 2007 with a bad back,but his numbers at Lynchburg were nice and the system does not have a second baseman that appears to have his talent,so that is not really a reach to place him there.
My question with Ford is on defense,he appears to be "heavy footed" and does not run well for a second sacker and hurts his range despite his good hands.
Ford is 23,so this season is not as big to him,as it could be to others,but a good season at Altoona could give the Pirates reason to move one of their few assets of value in Freddy Sanchez in the winter of 09.

Brian Friday was the Pirates 3rd rounder last year from Rice and fits the Littlefield/Creech drafting mode.
Good glove,power lacking and projecting to be more of a journeyman type than a starting player.
I only saw Friday once at State College and saw about what I expected.
I thought Friday would be the SS at Hickory,but this article appears to have the Pirates giving him the Lynchburg SS spot.

Andrew Walker was the Bucs 5th rounder last year from TCU and he played very well at State College.
I only saw Walker the one game at State College,but came away quite impressed.
Walker could be a 12-18 homer guy and seems to have no problems behind the plate,although Wilbur Miller has questions on his arm and he did give up a stolen base the night we were there.
Walker should start at Hickory,but a fast start could have him at Lynchburg by mid-season.

Quincy Lattimore was the exception to the "Littlefield/Creech" rule in last seasons draft.
He was a high schooler that had solid tools and did not appear to be their type,but was able to put up OK numbers at the GCL level after signing.
I would think Lattimore might get a chance at Hickory to start the year,but keeping him in Florida and then sending him to State College is not out of the question either.

I wished the article had mentioned Marcus Davis though.
Despite a low average at State College,I really liked what I saw of Davis the night that I saw him and I am higher on him than others are.
He showed some pop in State College with 8 homers in 155 AB's and the Pirates could use an injection of athletic,power hitters to their system,but he is still raw and already 24,so a Hickory assignment could help us get a better feel for Davis and his abilities.

Thanks to Wilbur Miller for his great site on the Bucs organization.
It is terrific to have all the stats that you need in one place and someone who has opinions that you respect there as well.

Bullpen Notes

Looks like the Cleveland Browns are going to give GM Phil Savage a multi-year extension soon.
I cannot say that I agree with this one although a one year extension would be fine with me.
I am afraid that Savage is trading the teams future potential away in an effort to win now and could be overrating a 10-6 team with flaws.
Remember none of those 10 wins came over teams with a winning record and just one over a .500 team (Arizona).

Many of you know that I far prefer boxing to mixed martial arts,but I do follow two longtime veterans of the MMA game in former Ohio State alums Mark Coleman and Kevin Randleman.
The 43 year old Coleman was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame recently and then signed a 4 fight deal with the organization.
The return fight for the "Hammer" will be a big one as he takes on former WWE star
Brock Lesnar in August in Lesnar's college haunts in Minnesota.
This could be a good one as the two former NCAA Heavyweight champs battle in the octagon...

And finally Battlin Bob sends us word of his hometown in Butler Pa has finished their renovation of Pullman Park and its increase to 4,000 seats in an attempt to lure pro baseball of some kind to Butler.
Good luck to them as long as the team they take is not Hagerstown's!

Photo Credits
Coleman-Pride Fighting Championship