Monday, July 31, 2006

Quick Hits: Deadline passes, United loses, football still hasn't started

Well that was anti-climactic. Alfonso Soriano AND Miguel Tejada are still with their respective teams.

Tejada told The Sun he wasn't surprised despite all the deadline rumors. Perhaps more importantly, he told Sun reporter Roch Kubatko, "This team, we can win ... I want to play baseball here."

The O's also will be sticking with Jeff Conine, Rodrigo Lopez, Javy Lopez, Latroy Hawkins and Kevin Millar, all of whom had at least some trade talks surrounding them. They can still be dealt until August 31 if they pass through waivers.

There's still some speculation that Tejada will be traded in the winter, but my feeling has always been the same. Why sign Melvin Mora and Jay Gibbons to extended deals if you were looking to rebuild? They need to keep Tejada and go out and buy up a couple big name free agents with all that MASN money that Peter Angelos will supposedly be rolling in once he gets the network on Comcast.


As for Soriano, I don't think too many people thought that he would still be with Washington after 4 p.m. Earlier in the week ESPN even reported that Soriano to the White Sox was as good as done, but no deal ever materialized. Team President Stan Kasten told The Washington Post that the Nats would attempt to re-sign Soriano in the off-season but "if it doesn't get done it doesn't get done."

That's optimism.

I know GM Jim Bowden was adamant about getting top dollar back, but when it's pretty clear that the team's not going to be able/willing to throw a competitive offer at Soriano after the season's over, don't you have to get something in return, even if it's not full value?


Of course, as soon as I mention D.C. United in this blog for the first time in probably 10 months, they decide to end their own unbeaten streak by tripping two Real Salt Lake players in the penalty area (not at the same time), resulting in a pair of late penalty shots that turned a 1-0 United lead into a 2-1 loss. The most frustrating part was that the second trip occurred on the end line where the offenseman had no angle to shoot and seemingly no passing options.

The second most frustrating part is that the loss and a New England Revolution tie cut United's lead in the East down to 19 points with 11 games to play. How will they ever hold on?...

D.C. United is back playing Tuesday night at 7:30 against the Columbus Crew, but not on TV and it doesn't count in the standings. It's a U.S. Open Cup match, which, as far as I can tell, is just an excuse for MLS teams to kick the crap out of a bunch of amateurs.

More exciting is this Saturday's MLS All-Star Game, in which the best of the MLS will face off against last year's English Premier League champs, Chelsea F.C., in Chicago. The game is at 5:30 p.m. and will be aired on ESPN.

There are seven D.C. United players on the MLS All-Star team (forwards Jaime Moreno and Alecko Eskandarian, midfielders Christian Gomez and Freddy Adu, defenders Bobby Boswell and Joshua Gros, and goalkeeper Troy Perkins). Chelsea is chock full of familiar faces from the World Cup, including Ukraine's Andriy Shevchenko, Germany's Michael Ballack, Ghana's Michael Essien, Portugal's Ricardo Carvalho, and England's Joe Cole, Frank Lampard and John Terry.

One of my loyal readers (hi mom!) e-mailed me today wanting to know what the deal is with soccer refereeing, since it seems to be more uneven than the other popular American sports.

I haven't watched a ton of soccer and I'm no expert, but it seems to me to be pretty similar to basketball in that there are some things that you know are likely to get called no matter who is refereeing (like slide tackling someone in the box, D.C. United), and other things you have to feel out early in the game. Just like in basketball, refs establish early on what kind of contact will be allowed and as long as they are consistent there shouldn't be any complaints. It's probably just more noticeable in soccer because if a foul is called it could result in a goal in a low-scoring game (and in the case of a penalty kick, an easy goal in a low-scoring game) , whereas in basketball it means you go to the free-throw line for a chance at two points in a game where both teams are probably going to score at least 80.

There. Now you're informed and have no excuse not to watch the MLS All-Star Game.

That means you, mom.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Blog Quotes of the Week: July 21-28

It's almost the weekend, and since it's once in a blue moon that means it's time for Blog Quotes of the Week! (I had some time so I figured what the heck... Let's make with the funny.)

But first some stuff.

If you didn't pick it up based on my link at the end of my last post, I've become a bit of a soccer fan since the World Cup. That's right. I get Fox Soccer Channel and GOLTV and I think that makes me pretty special.

So this Saturday D.C. United puts their 14-game unbeaten streak on the line against Real Salt Lake, who is in last place in the West. D.C. United pretty much runs the joint, leading the East by 20 points. The game is at 9 p.m. Eastern on Comcast SportsNet. If you enjoyed the World Cup for more than just the violence, you should take some time to check out one of the most dominant franchises in all of sports.

Monday is the MLB trade deadline, and that could mean goodbye to a pair of the area's superstars, Miguel Tejada and Alfonso Soriano. I think for the good of the Nats Soriano HAS to go, and he has to fetch a score of hot prospects. As for Miggy, I just don't think they can get enough value to make it worth trading him when he's still locked up for another three years at what is now looking like a bargain contract. That being said, the O's do have to make some changes... We'll know on Monday.

And Roch makes this segue easy...

Roch Kubatko on the state of the Orioles:
"The more people I talk to who are close to the Orioles, the more I'm convinced that Miguel Tejada stays. And that no trades are imminent. And that it's a really, really bad idea to give up 10 runs in one inning."
-- Roch Around the Clock, July 26

Federal Baseball's Basil on Nats trades:
"When Brad Wilkerson was traded, I was sad intellectually, which might just prove I'm stupid; when Alfonso Soriano is traded, I'll be sad emotionally, which might just prove I'm human."
-- Federal Baseball, July 27

Roch (again) on the Orioles ineptitude with runners in scoring position:
"The team bus departed the stadium without Miguel Tejada. Rather than take his usual seat, he was left on base."
-- Roch Around the Clock, July 26

Capital Punishment's Chris Needham, not impressed with Nats GM Jim Bowden's one good trade:
"The man's a ham. He sees a TV camera or a reporter with a recorder and his chubby little cheeks engorge with blood like a teenager first discovering late-night Cinemax."
-- Capital Punishment, July 26

And since, as any Camden Chat reader knows, a list of funny quotes can NOT be complete without a LarryBigbie3 quip:
"The old Baltimore logo(s) kicked trucks of ass."
-- Camden Chat, July 28

So that's it. Enjoy your weekend.

And please, PLEASE if you see anything hilarious on a blog or message board about local sports, e-mail me with the quote and a link at cstone@beltwaysportsbeat.com. As always, feel free to self-nominate, you attention-craving narcissists!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

This Just In: It's Not Really Football Season Yet

With the Orioles and Nationals going nowhere and NFL training camps opening this week, I've been hearing a lot of that phrase said all too often in late July around here:

"At least it's almost football season."

Now that football is the undisputed king of American sport I'm sure this phrase is echoed all over the nation in cities where baseball teams aren't doing so hot.

But I hate it.

Don't get me wrong. I love football and I cheer hard for the Ravens... from September to January. But it's July and that's baseball season whether your team sucks or not. In fact, it's trade-deadline time. The "hot stove"! But if you turn on D.C. or Baltimore sports stations, all anyone wants to talk about is football.

I want to read, watch or hear news about possible trades and who's doing what that could help them in the long run, but instead every media outlet has to devote 85 percent of their coverage to football.

In July.

Yeah, it's hard to cheer for the O's or Nats sometimes (especially the O's), but you still cheer for your team until the season's over and don't look for any excuse to dump them, especially when that excuse is training camp and worthless preseason football games where 40 guys you've never heard of play on local TV for a spot on the third string.

Saying one local team isn't worth your time because there's another, better local team getting ready to play makes you a fairweather fan. Maybe not in the traditional sense, but the idea is the same.

My feelings against this actually go back a ways. As a Caps and Wizards fan, I got pretty tired of year after year hearing and seeing no talk of the Caps or Wizards because this area is all 'Skins all the time. Even when the Caps were just coming off a run to the Stanley Cup finals and the Skins were coming off a 6-10 season and sucked donkeys, the Caps were still just a passing mention on the sports news, treated as a novelty act like the water skiing squirrel.

"Hey, did you hear about the local hockey team that made it to the championship finals?"
"Hey... did you hear about the squirrel that can ride WATER SKIS!?"


It was bad enough when football meant no coverage for teams that actually played winter seasons, but now football coverage is smothering out summer sports. (Seriously... where's the D.C. United and Washington Mystics coverage? I blame football.)

I know there's excitement in this area about football. A national columnist even picked the Redskins and Ravens to face each other in the Super Bowl, with the Ravens coming out on top. (OK, so it's ESPN.com Page 2...) But despite the football teams' potential and the baseball teams' continuous losing there should be a lot of something in this area for baseball.

If you're a Nats fan, what do you think you can get for Alfonso Soriano? Is the Austin Kearns trade the start of an upswing in the franchise or did that blind squirrel Jim Bowden just stumble upon a nut? (What's with all the squirrel references today?) You have reason to be excited and optimistic with a new ownership group, a new stadium coming, and plenty of changes to the current stadium to make for a better game experience in the meantime.

For the O's, do you trade Miguel Tejada or keep him? Do you trade one of your young arms to fill your holes at first base and in left field? Do you seriously consider sending Peter Angelos to the same sushi joint that Erik Bedard went to in the hopes that it takes a greater toll on his 77-year-old body?

Maybe the feelings you have toward your baseball team aren't all positive at the moment, but whatever they are, they should at least be strong enough to keep you interested...

At least until football season really starts on August 19.

Friday, July 21, 2006

The A's Formula for Success

The Oakland Athletics were in town to beat up on the poor Orioles this week, and it got me thinking about the A's and Billy Beane's much-hyped sabermetrics and how everyone says that pure numbers are his "formula for success" on a tight budget.

I read Moneyball during the 2004 season, and I definitely recommend it to any baseball fan because it does an incredible job of explaining just how well numbers can be used to evaluate a hitter's value. It's fascinating stuff.

But the more I thought about the A's and their success this week, the more I realized the central flaw in the book. It merely glosses over the fact that the A's have been extremely successful in scouting and developing excellent young pitchers from college. Sure, it gets talked about for a chapter, but THAT's the reason for the A's success, not the few extra runs they get out of their tight budget because Scott Hatteberg walks a lot and came cheap.

Billy Beane may find a bargain on an underrated player that's slightly above league average because Beane values numbers that other GMs aren't thinking about, but when you break down the numbers and evaluate everything sabermetrically, the players that everyone thinks of as the best players in the league are still the best players in the league.

Shocking, right? And here you were thinking this was some magic formula that would have any team winning championships with other teams' utility infielders.

To prove a point, one of the new stats that everyone loves is VORP, or value over replacement player. It's kind of confusing, but basically this is saying how much a player is worth over some nameless generic player.

Not too surprisingly, the top 10 goes:
  1. Travis Hafner
  2. Albert Pujols
  3. Vernon Wells
  4. Joe Mauer
  5. Jim Thome
  6. Derek Jeter
  7. Miguel Cabrera
  8. Manny Ramirez
  9. Carlos Beltran
  10. Chase Utley

So here everyone's talking about the A's craaazzy system of evaluating players and whatnot, but the reason it works is that their pitching is always so good.

The stats don't lie.

In 2005, the Athletics were sixth in the majors in team ERA and first in batting average against. Meanwhile they were a middle-of-the-pack hitting team (17th in batting average and, -- before you bust me for using a "worthless" statistic -- 14th in on-base percentage and 20th in the Moneyball favorite, OPS).

They win because the pitching is great, so they can have a mediocre lineup and still win games. And middle-of-the-road players are really where sabermetrics help you get the most bang for your buck. When you're debating between $3-4 million-a-year players, sabermetrics will show you who will help you win the most games. But a $15 million-a-year player is still lightyears ahead of those guys.

Michael Lewis, the author of Moneyball, seems to want readers to believe that the Yankees should be winning about 150 games a year if they were using all that money with a knowledge of sabermetrics, but that's not really true because once you get up to that much money the best players are still the big names, and those are the players that command the kind of money that only the Yankees and Red Sox can provide.

So there's all this hype about hitter stats, but the real difference maker is talented scouting that is able to find quality pitchers who will be ready to pitch in the Majors with little adjustment time.

Think about it. They had Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito dominating the West. Then when Hudson and Mulder got their payday when their rookie contracts ended, the A's filled holes with Rich Harden, Dan Haren and Joe Blanton.

So how does this pertain to the Orioles?

It gives me optimism, that's how. The O's have tons of highly-regarded pitching prospects. Erik Bedard is already showing he can be an ace, Daniel Cabrera has ace stuff but needs to learn to control it, Adam Loewen is working out his kinks with the big club and has showed flashes of brilliance, Hayden Penn is knocking on the door, and they've got guys like Garrett Olson, Brandon Erbe and Radhames Liz who are all well though of by people in the know.

It takes a long time to build up a quality stable of young arms like this, but the Orioles are well on their way and fans could be seeing results sooner rather than later.

So while you O's fans are crying over the crushing haplessness of Peter Angelos and thinking this team will never compete (by the way is it wrong that I caught myself today checking Wikipedia to see how old Peter Angelos is? ... 77), please recognize that our lineup, even with the Conines and Millars of the world, would be pretty good with Oakland's pitching. Oakland's in first place in their division and they're 28th in the league in runs scored! (Yeah I know that's the crappy AL West, but still, the O's are a far superior hitting team.)

So have some hope. Soon Russ Ortiz will get the boot and Rodrigo Lopez will be traded and we can watch the future: Bedard, Cabrera, Loewen and Penn all in the rotation.

Sorry this post wasn't funny... I'll try harder next week.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

My Rant Against SportsTalk 980

I used to like SportsTalk 980. It had a solid lineup, with Mike & Mike in the Morning, then Tony Kornheiser, then Jim Rome (later swapped out for Dan Patrick, a better show with more of the East Coast bias that I love), then John Thompson, then The Sports Reporters, and you could pretty much listen to it the whole day until The Sports Reporters, and I considered myself lucky that they came on after my evening commute.

Mike & Mike is, I'm convinced, the best nationally-syndicated sports radio show on the air. They're funny, they're interesting, they get good guests, and it's just good for the drivetime. Plus they know their stuff and somehow they do it all while being NICE guys, which is unheard of in the shock-jock era.

So when SportsTalk 980 went "all-local," moving everything around to compensate for Tony Kornheiser's departure, they ended up with Mike & Mike, Sports Reporters, Brian Mitchell and John Thompson, and I was thankful that they at least kept Mike & Mike.

So I'm driving to work yesterday, and I turn on 980 hoping for my daily 45-minute dose of intelligent and amusing sports talk before I start my work day, and what do I get? STEVE CZABAN and "The First Team." NOOOOoooooooooooo. That means 980 is now the "All-Czaban" network, with six straight hours of "Czab," from 6 a.m. to noon with The First Team followed by The Sports Reporters.

Steve Czaban is everything Mike & Mike are not, and I mean that in the worst way. He's got the trifecta. Annoying, mean, and completely ignorant about most sports. He is a complete hack. He makes JT the Brick look like Shirley Povich.

Oh sure, he knows golf. But he doesn't talk golf in the popularized, 'I started watching when Tiger came on the scene' sort of way. No. He talks golf in the 'Women, blacks and Jews shouldn't be allowed in the clubhouse except to clean my spikes and fetch my beer' sort of way.

And he's fine if you want to hear about college basketball or NFL football two months before either season starts, because that's all he knows, but what if I want to hear about baseball or hockey or the NBA or, heaven forbid, soccer? I'm S.O.L. And now I'm S.O.L. for six hours straight.

I'm in the unfortunate position of being an Orioles/Ravens fan south of the Baltimore City line, because that means I can't get the Baltimore sports stations. Instead, I get the bigger market D.C. stations like 980, and I've accepted the fact that I'm doomed to hear nothing but Redskins talk from July to January.

So today Czab is doing his usual Jim Rome wannabe routine making fun of Sports Reporters co-host Andy Pollin, and he mentions to Pollin how on Monday they start "Two-a-Days." So I say to myself, "What the hell is that?" Thankfully, Andy Pollin asks the same question. And Czab explains that it's two full segments a day on the Redskins.

Kill me now.

I could take this if it were ANYONE BUT CZABAN. If Brian Mitchell wants to talk about the 'Skins for his entire three hours I would understand, the same way I'd understand if John Thompson wanted to talk college basketball for his entire show. But they DON'T. They at least take an interest in other sports and talk about them, and in John Thompson's case he has Smokin' Al Koken to pick him up on hockey and other sports. But not The Sports Reporters.

Really, calling Czaban and Pollin "The Sports Reporters" is a misnomer. They're The Golf, Basketball and Redskins Opiners. ("Redskins" instead of "Football" only because, as anyone in this area knows, the rest of the NFL does not exist; only the Redskins. That's why signing Antwaan Randle-El GUARANTEES them a Super Bowl. Just like signing Santana Moss guaranteed them last year's Super Bowl and getting Clinton Portis guaranteed them the 2004 Super Bowl.)

But this isn't an anti-Redskins thing. This is an anti-Czaban thing. Somehow, years after the "I'm bitter, I'm angry, I hate change and I'm taking it out on my callers" style of sports radio went out of fashion and the Fabulous Sports Babe went off the air, Czab still hangs on as the staple of 980's programming.

And the funny thing is, people don't like Czab. He's painful to listen to. When he used to fill in for Jim Rome it was like a root canal. He would try to be like Rome complaining about some pet peeve using long pauses and overly-emphasized words, but he'd be covering for his total lack of sports knowledge by bitching about how stupid his brother-in-law's motorboat is. And the story took forever to tell. And there was no punchline. And then somehow he'd segue into sports from that. Wait, did I say sports? I meant golf.

Now the only interesting and funny sports radio I'll get to hear on my morning commute is when Elliot in the Morning talks about the Caps or has Ben Olsen from D.C. United on.

Steve Czaban: worst thing on radio. Thanks 980.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Quick Hits: Promoting the promotions

UPDATE 7/13/06:
The Brian Roberts bobblehead promotion has been botched. There will be no bobbleheads on Saturday, but everyone in attendance will receive a voucher for the bobblehead that can be redeemed in September. The Orioles Web site says it's due to a "manufacturing error." To make up for it, ALL fans in attendance will receive the voucher, not just the first 20,000 fans 21 and over as the promotion was originally slated.


A couple quick plugs for things that I actually get no benefit from promoting all over my highly reputable and well-read site:

I was over at my new timewasting spot, Orioles Hangout, where a bunch of know-it-all O's fans dump on other know-it-all O's fans for overrating Brandon Fahey's .280 batting average by not recognizing that his VORP isn't very good or for overly praising Kris Benson when, in fact (duh!), the O's would have won half-a-game more with a "league average" pitcher instead of Benson based on his RSAA.

That's right. The O's could be a half-game better with a merely average pitcher. That's the difference between fourth place and ... fourth place but leading the Devil Rays by another half-game. Nevermind how you get "half a win."

But that's all beside the point. And it's part of the fun.

I don't know if someone at Orioles Hangout came up with it or if they're just pimping it hard, but a couple of dedicated O's fans have created Section336.com, which has set out to fill section 336 (upper deck directly behind homeplate) with a big orange and black cursive O, to prove to the doubters that the O's do have dedicated and die-hard supporters.

The Java section map on the home page is pretty sweet, and you can see who has already committed. They're asking people to buy tickets for the section, contact them with where they're sitting, then come to this Saturday's game in their designated white, orange or black regalia to create the O. Also, they're bringing colored posterboard to bring out the full effect in case some people can't sport the right colors for whatever reason.

I thought it was a pretty sweet idea, so if you have Saturday afternoon free you should definitely get in on it. Also, if just "being awesome" isn't enough incentive for you to go, if you're one of the first 20,000 fans in the gates, you get the Brian Roberts half of the "Roberts/Mora Celebration Bobbleheads," which is pretty much the most incredible giveaway the Orioles have ever done, unless you count the Curt Schilling, Steve Finley and Pete Harnisch for Glenn Davis trade in 1991.



The Nats new owners are doing some promoting of their own. Sure, they've committed to retaining Jim Bowden, the worst GM in the Majors, and they've already said they're not going to raise payroll, but hey, the hot dogs should get better (and before you ask, no, I'm never letting that go).

When the Cubs come to town for a weekend series July 21-23, the Nats will host a "Grand Re-Opening" of RFK stadium. The festivities will include giveaways, pre-game entertainment, some appearance changes to the beat up old football stadium and, yes, improved concessions (PRIORITY NUMBER 1!).

If you've been in any D.C. Metro stations recently, you've seen the banners that say stupid things like "GET YOUR RED ON" and "PAINT THE TOWN RED," to try and get you to come to the ballpark that weekend, but the real draw will be permanently lowered ticket prices for the cheap seats. Similar to the Capitals' "Eagle's Nest" seats, 1,000 of the $11 seats in RFK will become $5 seats, and 1,000 of the $5 seats will now be just $3, which means now parking at the Metro Station costs 50 cents more than the game tickets. Sweet.

In case you were wondering, your $3 ticket on Friday will also get you a red Washington Nationals baseball cap, on Saturday it will get you a red Nats T-shirt, and on Sunday it will get you a red rally towel. (Sensing a theme? Yeah... But there's not going to be a scattered quarter of sweet Curly W in the stands is there!?)

So now your next two weekends are booked. Just don't tell your girlfriend she's going to baseball games to hold up colored posterboard. Oh, and if your the jealous type, watch out for longing stares at the Brian Roberts bobblehead...

That's YOUR bobblehead and you loved Brian Roberts before she even knew he existed!