Thursday, April 26, 2007

Why I'm Not So Upset About The Orioles Three-Game Losing Streak

Normally I'd be devastated by a three-game losing streak like this. The O's had a four-game winning streak and a lot of momentum going for them, they are facing a couple of good teams in short series at home and it would have meant a lot to show those clubs that the O's are for real.

But it's April 26 and that's all B.S.

The O's have been "showing teams that they're for real" for the past few Aprils now. I didn't believe it until I looked it up, but the Orioles have finished April at or above .500 for the past four seasons. And where did it get them? Not once in those seasons did they finish within five games of the break-even point.

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That's why early this month I told myself that I wasn't going to get worked up about what happens in April.

Lots of crap teams jump out of the gate hot and put up decent April records. The good teams get better as the season goes on.

And if you look at how the team has played, these guys should feel lucky to still be one game over .500.

Erik Bedard was supposed to be the ace of the staff, and he's putting up Bruce Chen-like numbers.

Melvin Mora seems to have dedicated his April to making a bloopers reel for his six kids.

Razor Ramon Hernandez, One of the best all-around catchers in the Majors, is hurt and has been replaced by Paul Bako, honestly one of the worst all-around catchers in the Majors.

Aubrey Huff in April has been in 2007 as Aubrey Huff in April has been throughout his career -- bad.

But those things will change. Huff will get hot, Hernandez will come back from his injury, Mora can't be this bad in the field forever (right?!?) and Bedard will return to form (he did have a 5.97 ERA on June 1 last year before basically dominating for the last three months of the season to get it down to 3.76).

It's fun to project out numbers less than 20 games into the season and say things like "Ian Kinsler is on pace for 64 homers" or "The Orioles are on pace for 96 wins," but then reality sets in. Because this is baseball, and the season is long.

Every team is going to have winning streaks and losing streaks and every player is going to have slumps and surges, but at the end of a 162-game season everything will end up where it should be. The best players will separate themselves from the flukes and the best teams will rise to the top of the standings.

So for now I'm just trying to sit back, enjoy the baseball and be pleased with how the O's have kept their heads above water despite the issues and injuries. ... But seriously this team better not be sucking like this in May or I'm going to flip.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

My Wizards Optimism Rides On Tonight's Game

Defying all reason -- no Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler, an ugly game-one loss, facing Lebron in the playoffs -- I am still optimistic about the Wizards chances in this series.

Not "I think they're going to win" optimistic ... more like "I think they can win" optimistic, which is better than they're getting from most people.

For three quarters on Sunday Cleveland looked like crap. They failed to pull away from the Wizards, who seemed to botch every open, in-tight look that was giftwrapped for them by the Cavs' defense. Cleveland did pull away in the fourth and ended up winning by 15, but the game made me more confident that the Wizards can steal an early win in this series and keep themselves in it.

Unfortunately, an "early win" means tonight.

The task of any road team in a seven-game playoff series is to take one of first two games in the other team's building to wrestle away home court/field/rink advantage, so for the Wizards tonight is their opportunity. Their only opportunity.

It would be especially big because it would ensure that the series will get to at least a fifth game, which could be long enough to get Butler back in the lineup.

Caron had his cast removed on Monday but is supposed to avoid contact for a week to 10 days. Even on an ambitious schedule there's almost no way he's cleared to play in game four on April 30, but Caron prides himself on his toughness -- or is that tuffness? -- and based on no inside information or real facts at all I wouldn't rule out a game five or game six return even though Eddie Jordan apparently has.

And it's that type of irrational hope that sums up my optimism. If the Wiz can eek out a win in C-town tonight then win one of their two home games, they could get Butler back with the series not yet out of reach.

But if they lose tonight you can kiss all that goodbye and I'll start posting about the Orioles again.

Friday, April 20, 2007

New In The Shop: JAMIE WALKER T-SHIRTS!!!!shift11

That's right. Go to the Beltway Sports Shop and you can get your very own #32 "Everything fits in this skillet" T-shirt (several styles available).

You know you love him. What's not to like? His ideal day includes sitting in the country with a Bud in his hand listening to some music. ... And "maybe a bug zapper" because "them are pretty cool."

This is a guy who plays for a month of the spring in party-town Fort Lauderdale, but says he "ain't going to no damn club, that's for sure." He owns a '79 Trans Am ... and a pickup truck.

And you know what else? If it fits in a skillet ... he kills it.

Here's what's on the shirts (sans "" above it):

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Wizards Will Face Cleveland In First Round

I'll admit, I completely missed this scenario as a possibility, but the Wizards beating the Pacers, the Bulls getting stomped by New Jersey, and the Cavaliers beating Milwaukee means a first-round rematch from 2006: Wiz vs. Cavs.

Except last year's series featured Lebron James vs. Gilbert Arenas. This year will be Lebron James vs. ... um ... DeShawn Stevenson?

I don't love the Wizards chances against the Cavs (I was really hoping to get Toronto), but I prefer it to facing Detroit or Chicago. And I think if Cleveland comes in thinking they're already in the second round they're going to be surprised.

I told my brother last night that I thought the Wiz would shock some people and take two games of the series. He then asked if I would give him even money that the Wizards would win more than one game. I said I would not.

I also can't help but wonder if this is going to become some sort of Capitals vs. Penguins situation, where the Wiz and Cavs play each other in the playoffs five of six and seven of 11 years -- hopefully with the Wizards doing a little better than the Caps (Pens have won six of those seven series) . But they've got a long way to go for that.

So here's your first round schedule:

Game 1: Sunday, April 22 @ Cleveland, 12:30 p.m.
Game 2: Wednesday, April 25 @ Cleveland, 8:00 p.m.
Game 3: Saturday, April 28 @ Washington, 5:30 p.m.
Game 4: Monday, April 30 @ Washington, Time TBD
Game 5: Wednesday, May 2 @ Cleveland, Time TBD (if necessary)
Game 6: Friday, May 4 @ Washington, Time TBD (if necessary)
Game 7: Sunday, May 6 @ Cleveland, Time TBD (if necessary)

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Could Wizards Turn Tough Breaks Into Inspiring Run?

It looks bad for the Wizards, I know, but part of me feels like the injuries were what they needed to start playing like a team (and I know Jshuane Melton, Wizards beat writer at DC Sports Box, agrees).

Maybe it didn't need to be quite as bad as what they got, but in the last two-plus weeks, the Wizards have rallied around each other and started playing good team ball.

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The results haven't shown up in the standings, but they've played admirably despite the absence of their all-stars.

The only blowout loss the Wizards took with both Arenas and Butler out was Sunday against Chicago.

Other than that, the Wiz fell to Charlotte by eight (in the game Arenas was injured in), Cleveland by five, New Jersey by six (in overtime) and then four, Miami by three and Orlando by six.

They're losses, but they're solid efforts and they're enough to give the most ridiculous of optimists (me) some hope.

There was so much optimism before April 1. Then things started going wrong.

The Wizards won that night in Milwaukee to get to 39-33 but all-star Caron Butler fractures his hand and is done for the regular season. The Wiz get embarrassed in their next game, April at Charlotte. Trying to regroup without Butler, the Wizards lose to Charlotte again on April 4 at Verizon Center, but Gilbert Arenas' torn knee ligament is more of a crushing blow than the final score.

The Wizards have lost eight of nine going into tonight's regular season finale, and only a win against lottery-bound Indiana will get them to the break-even point.

Tonight's results will decide where the Wizards will be seeded going into the playoffs and who they will face in round one:

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A loss tonight coupled with an Orlando win over Miami would drop the Wizards to the eighth and final playoff spot and pit them against Detroit in the first round.

However, if the Wizards win tonight and the Nets lose to the Bulls, the Wizards get sixth place and would face Toronto, the Atlantic Division champs.

If all stays as is, the Wizards would take on the second seed Bulls, and we all saw how that went on Sunday.

Unfortunately, Arenas' only shot at a return is if the Wiz make the finals. Butler's situation is slightly better -- he targets a possible second-round return -- but the team has to get there first.

As easy as it is to say, "They suck, they've lost their all-stars, they'll play the minimum," I'm not quite ready to write them off.

After Arenas went down, Jamison stepped up huge in the first four games. He recorded double-doubles in each and averaged almost 29 points. Then he stumbled for the next three games, averaging under eight points per game. Wearing down from trying to carry the team, perhaps? I would have thought, but then he broke out for 48 points on the Magic last night.

Jarvis Hayes has also stepped up, getting into double digits in scoring in all but one of the past eight games, including 29 at New Jersey and 20 at Atlanta.

Is there realistic hope that the Wiz can pull off a shocking upset over either Chicago or Detroit? Probably not. Jamison would have to score 40 every night and Hayes would have to shoot approximately 100 percent from the field.

But Toronto's a different story. They get a third seed by default for winning the Atlantic Divison, which is probably the worst division in the NBA this year.

I take that back. There's no probably about it.

I like the Wizards chances against Toronto. Not that I'd put money on it, but out of the three available opponents that's the one that that the Wiz could most likely beat. (And I know Juan Dixon wants to face Washington, but I'm not particularly offended. Who wouldn't? If Shaq and Dwyane Wade were both hurt everyone would want to face Miami.)

If they go into the playoffs playing the kind of team basketball they've been playing lately, the Wiz might just make it out of the first round. Then if Butler really does return, who knows what could happen?

At the very least, here's rooting for a great story.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

More Meaningless Baseball Stats

If you are merely a passive observer of baseball, you may look at the current records of the Orioles and Nationals and deduce that they are on pace for x wins and x losses based on their winning percentage 13 games into the season:

Orioles: 7-6, .538 winning %, on pace for an 87-75 season (gotta love April).

Nationals: 4-9, .308 winning %, on pace for a 50-112 season (not loving April as much).

But if you use Bill James' pythagorean expectation formula -- 1/(1 + (Runs Allowed/Runs Scored)^2) -- you get different results:

Orioles: 60 runs for, 57 runs against, pythagorean expectation of .526 winning %.
Bill James would say 7-6 is right where they should be, and stretched over an entire season they would go 85-77.

Nationals: 36 runs for, 67 runs against, pythagorean expectation of .289 winning %.
James would again be satisfied with their 4-9 result, and it would stretch out to 47-115 if they continue to play like this.

So not a huge stretch in either direction, but it's interesting that even after only 13 games, Bill James' stats -- which were meant to be applied to full seasons -- are proving accurate.

If I don't get lazy I'll keep track of this throughout the season.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Unusual Statistics That You Don't Want To Hear

Tonight the Orioles lost on a Tigers grand slam in the 12th inning, already the second time this season the Orioles have lost a game on a last-inning, game-winning grand slam.

The season is nine games old.

At this rate, the Orioles will lose 36 games this season in this fashion.

That five-month wait with no baseball sure seems worth it now, doesn't it?

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Kevin Millar Would Like To Know If There Are Any Dogs In The House

I once heard a pack of drunken frat guys doing their rendition of the Ravens pre-game ritual (I think it was while tailgating for a University of Maryland football game) and it effectively ruined it for me. Just to clarify, they weren't doing it mockingly ... they were serious about getting amped for that next Natty Light.

That being said, Kevin Millar went all Ray Lewis up in this joint on Monday afternoon before the home opener against Detroit. He busted out a pretty impressive rendition of the infamous Ray Lewis pre-Super Bowl dance.

I missed it because I was in the District looking at overpriced apartments, but the good public has been kind enough to hold a digital camera up to a television and post the results on YouTube. So here it is for you to enjoy ... all seven seconds of it!

That's worth watching a good 10 or 20 times.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

My Homage to Jamie Walker

So it's only two games into the season, the Orioles haven't won and he's pitched all of 2/3 of an inning, but it's not too soon to wrap all of the amazing backwoods likability that is Jamie Walker into one awesome GIF file.

If first impressions are everything, Jamie should already be in the Orioles Hall of Fame for some of these gems.

So here you go. Man this would make a nice-lookin' T-shirt, ya reckon?

Yes. Indeed I do "reckon." Jamie, have your people call my people.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

So ... Is This How It's Going to Be in 2007?

Nice start to the baseball season, eh?

At 1:00 yesterday the Nationals kicked off their season, and by 1:30 it was obvious they were going to lose.

The Orioles started six hours later but it took about as long of actual game time for them to look like they were out of it, except then they teased us with a big inning and a lead that lasted, oh, maybe 45 seconds including the commercial break.

Marlins 9, Nationals 2.

Twins 7, Orioles 4.

The "aces," John Patterson and Erik Bedard looked awful. Chalk it up to opening day jitters, I hope.

I still don't think the Nationals lose 100 games, despite that it seems like the media has all but guaranteed it. ESPN's Buster Olney went as far as to say the Nats could lose 130 games, which is Youppi-level ridiculous.

Here's the thing: 71-91, which the Nats were in 2006, is a bad team. REAL bad. And it's easy to say "well that's only nine losses less than 100!" But a 71-91 team is 20 games under .500, playing .438 baseball. A 100-loss team is THIRTY-EIGHT games under .500, playing .383 ball. The difference is HUGE.

Are they looking at last place in the NL East? Probably. But it won't take 100 losses to get there.

In true Orioles fashion, key injuries have shown just how unprepared this team is for success. After an offseason thinking about what depth the Orioles might have with one of Jay Payton, Aubrey Huff, Kevin Millar, Jay Gibbons or Corey Patterson coming off the bench each night, two guys get hurt before opening day and whaddya know you're looking at a lineup with Paul Bako starting and Freddie Bynum pinch hitting in a key situation.

Freddie Bynum.

But it's OK because Bynum plays several positions so that makes him Brandon Fahey valuable.

What I'm most annoyed about, though, is that I went to Champps last night figuring I could catch the last half of the O's game and then watch the NCAA championship, but the O's game was nowhere to be found -- apparently there was some problem getting the channel to work. (I suspect they didn't realize that the game was locally blacked out on ESPN2 because it was on MASN, but if that's the case it's a pretty sad indictment of the state of the franchise that a sports bar in Columbia doesn't even know what channel the local team will play 162 of its 162 games on.) So the O's finally have a night opening game that I would be able to watch and I only get to see three and a half lousy innings. Aaugh.

Oh well. That's the beauty of baseball. You only have to stew on a loss for a workday and then you're greeted at home by another game! Unless you're the Cubs...