Monday, May 31, 2010

Roland Garros Day 9: The Last American Man Takes His Bow

Curtain Call

Player: Robby Ginepri
Nation: USA
Age: 27
Current Ranking: 98
Notable Conquests: Juan Carlos Ferrero (16th seed, Spain) and Sam Querrey (18th, USA
Tour Page
Today's Result: loss to Novak Djokovic (3rd, Serbia) in four sets

What a great tournament for the American veteran! Beating Querrey is a bigger deal than one might think as Sam had actually been playing well on clay. But Ferrero was the big prize. Ferrero is not the guy he was when he won this thing in 2003 but he is a former champ and a former World #1. It counts!

It was a day for multi-tasking. I did watch quite a bit of tennis but my parents are coming to visit next week so tidying up was the higher priority. No harm in having the tube on while you're getting the chores done, though!

Catching Up with Old Friends

Gisela Dulko
(Curtain Call, Aussie Open Day 9) - Dulko (Argentina) started out great in singles, beating Victoria Azarenka (10th, Belarus) in the first round, but then fell to qualifier Chanelle Scheepers (South Africa). She earns our interest here for her performance in doubles. She teamed with Flavia Pennetta (Italy), garnering the fifth seed in the draw. The pair reached the fourth round before losing to the third seed: Liezel Huber (USA)/Anabel Medina Garrigues (Spain).

Justine Henin
(Curtain Call, Aussie Open Day 13) - Surely, for a four-time champion, a fourth round finish is very disappointing. But I, for one, think it's appropriate to cut her some slack. For one thing, it's only her seventh event after a long layoff. For another, Samantha Stosur (7th, Australia) is pretty good and was due for a big win. Henin (22nd, Belgium) also gets some credit for taking out a battle-ready Maria Sharapova (12th, Russia) in the third. She'll have some added incentive heading into Wimbledon: it's the only Slam she's never won.

All Part of My Fantasy

My women's bracket took a big hit with Henin's loss. It's tough to make any noise if you fail to pick the champ. At least my finalists on the men's side - Federer and Nadal - are both going strong so far.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Long Trail Project: Our Journey Begins

My Wife has started a blog to chronicle our new family project: Wikes! Hikes on the Long Trail. Our goal is to hike all of Vermont's Long Trail as a family. It's 271 miles long so we won't be doing it all in one go, of course.

Two new posts:


Hike #1 - Prospect Rock

Check it out!

Roland Garros Day 8: Middle Sunday

Curtain Call

Player: Chanelle Scheepers
Nation: South Africa
Age: 26
Current Ranking: 131
Tour Page
Today's Result: loss to Elena Dementieva (5th, Russia) in straight sets

This is by far the best result the veteran Scheepers, yet another qualifier, has ever had at a Slam. In 2009, she made main draw appearances in both Melbourne and Paris but didn't get past the first round. Reaching the fourth round will earn her plenty of points. It's too late to get direct entry to Wimbledon but the boost may be enough to allow her to skip the qualifying rounds for the US Open.

The junior tournaments begin today. The top seed for the boys is Daniel Berta of Sweden - and he lost his first round match. For the women, it's Monica Puig of Puerto Rico, who won her first round match. The last woman to win both the junior and senior titles was none other than Justine Henin who won the juniors in 1997 and the seniors for the first time in 2003. It's been longer for the men with Ivan Lendl the last to accomplish both: boys' title in 1978, first men's title in 1984.

I didn't watch much live action today. Memorial Day weekend is the beginning of hiking season in Vermont and we hit the Long Trail, details to come soon.

All Part of My Fantasy: Roy Rocks

Week: May 23-29
Current standing in league: 4th out of 12
My Player of the Week: Roy Oswalt (starting pitcher, Astros) with 1 win, 9 strikeouts, 0.00 ERA and 0.63 WHIP

Oswalt only had one start this week but it was a good one: a 5-0 win over the Brewers. His desire for a trade has been very public and one can hardly blame him. When you're 3-6 with a 2.35 ERA, something is very wrong. He could be an ace for a contender. The latest news is that the Dodgers are interested. That could be great for me, too, as it might give him more wins.

Mock is now ahead of me in the standings. This is not acceptable!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Roland Garros Day 7: Hooray, It's Saturday!

Curtain Call

Player: Anastasia Pivovarova
Nation: Russia
Age: 19
Current Ranking: 187
Notable Conquest: Jie Zheng (25th seed, China)
Tour Page
Today's Result: loss to Samantha Stosur (7th, Australia) in straight sets

Pivovarova is another qualifier in her first Roland Garros. At 19, one expects she'll be around for a while. She was, however, no match for Stosur: 6-3 6-2.

Oh Mix Channel, how I have missed you this week! How wonderful it has been today to channel surf. It is such fun to pop around the grounds and the lower-key commentary is nice, too.

How about Robby Ginepri, the last American man standing? Minnie Driver's one-time boy toy took out a former champ in Juan Carlos Ferrero (16th, Spain) to boot. He draws Novak Djokovic (3rd, Serbia) next: a tall order.

A tangentially related side note: to me, Minnie Driver has always seemed a dead ringer for the woman in Vermeer's The Girl with a Pearl Earring. I thought it unfortunate that Scarlett Johansson was cast for the part in the film, though Driver was probably too old at that point.

The line of the day goes to Mary Carillo who, in response to the assertion that television makes the light of an early evening match appear brighter than it really is, asked "Why can't it make us appear brighter than we are?" Self-deprecation is the highest form of humor, to my mind.

Catching Up with Old Friends

Alberta Brianti
(Curtain Call, Aussie Open Day 6)
- Brianti lost her first round match to Vera Zvonareva (21st, Russia) but, as she didn't play the event at all last year, it still counts as an improvement. She had a slightly better showing in doubles, teaming with Alexandra Dulgheru (Romania) to make it to the second round. She didn't play Wimbledon or the US Open last year either so there are plenty of opportunities for her to build up some points this summer.

All Part of My Fantasy

David Ferrer (9th, Spain) went down today. I had him in the semis. For the moment, all of my finalists are still alive, though Henin's in a fight with Maria Sharapova (12th, Russia) at present. The third set of their match will be played tomorrow.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Roland Garros Day 6: See No Ivo

Curtain Call

Player: Julian Reister
Nation: Germany
Age: 24
Current Ranking: 165
Notable Conquest: Feliciano Lopez (27th seed, Spain)
Tour Page
Today's Result: loss to Roger Federer (1st, Switzerland) in straight sets

Of course, Reister had no chance today. If a qualifier, in his first-ever Slam main draw, took out the top seed and defending champion, it would have been the biggest upset in tennis in a very long time. Ivo Karlovic (Croatia) pulled off the feat at Wimbledon in 2003 but Lleyton Hewitt (Australia), even in his prime, was no Federer. And Reister would do well to match the career Karlovic has had since.

However, that should not detract from the fact that Reister had a great tournament. He beat both Lopez and Olivier Rochus (Belgium) in straight sets. Rochus, while not the player he once was, is still not an easy win for anyone, particularly on clay. He is, after all, a former doubles champion at Roland Garros.

It's been all men so far for my Curtain Calls. I swear I didn't plan it that way. I really do try to pick the one player I find most deserving each day. Generally, things even out over the course of a Slam and I would imagine that will happen again before it's all over.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Roland Garros Day 5: Answer = Ljubljana. What's the Question?

Curtain Call

Player: Grega Zemlja
Nation: Slovenia
Age: 23
Current Ranking: 141
Notable Conquest: Juan Monaco (26th seed, Argentina)
Tour Page
Today's Result: loss to Teimuraz Gabashvili (Russia) in straight sets

Today's match wasn't pretty, final score 6-3 6-1 6-1. But, Zemlja went through qualifying to reach his first ever Roland Garros. He took out a seed in the first round and Monaco's a decent clay-courter, too. In so doing, he became the first Slovenian man to win a singles match at a Grand Slam tournament.

More rain today. Things are starting to back up now, with both second and third round singles matches scheduled for tomorrow.

Catching Up with Old Friends

Blaz Kavcic
(Curtain Call, Aussie Open Day 1) - Two Slovenians in one day! This was Kavcic's first French Open and he made it to the second round, even managing to win a set against Andy Roddick (6th, USA) before going down in four. He's currently ranked #112, meaning he'll probably have to qualify for Wimbledon.

All Part of My Fantasy

I lost a semifinalist on the men's side as Chela fell to Murray. He was my long shot so I shouldn't be too surprised. Murray has certainly proven to be a fighter thus far. I didn't think he'd make it past Gasquet, to be honest. No doubt, he'd love to improve on last year's quarterfinal finish.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Roland Garros Day 4: Retractable Roof, Please

Curtain Call

Player: Tobias Kamke
Nation: Germany
Age: 24
Current Ranking: 157
Tour Page
Today's Result: loss to Albert Montanes (29th seed, Spain) in straight sets

Kamke is another qualifier in his first Roland Garros. He managed to win his first round match, too, taking out Stephane Robert of France. Despite the worrisome weather, most of the day's matches were completed, only a few to carry over to tomorrow. I can't watch TV at work, but I can follow the weather for Paris online.

Catching Up with Old Friends

Angelique Kerber
(Curtain Call, Aussie Open Day 5) - Kerber didn't make the French last year and her second round finish this time is a career best at the event. There's no shame in losing to Aravane Rezai, the 15th seed from France. It's an excellent beginning to the brutal summer slog.

All Part of My Fantasy

I lost another semifinalist on the women's side. Lucie Safarova (24th, Czech Republic) went out rather meekly to Polona Hercog (Slovenia) 6-2 6-1. On the men's side, Juan Ignacio Chela (Argentina) is currently in a battle with Andy Murray (4th, UK). He's down a set, on serve in the second with the match to resume tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Roland Garros Day 3: Fischer's a Fighter

Curtain Call

Player: Martin Fischer
Nation: Austria
Age: 23
Current Ranking: 190
Tour Page
Today's Result: loss to Horacio Zeballos (Argentina) in five sets

Fischer went through qualifying to reach his first ever Slam. He gave Zeballos a good match, too, losing 8-6 in the fifth.

Catching Up with Old Friends

Kai-Chen Chang (Curtain Call, US Open Day 3) - This was Chang's first Roland Garros so, despite the fact that she lost in the first round, her general upward trend continues. Her current ranking stands at #89, good enough for direct entry into Wimbledon. It will be the first time for her in the main draw of that event as well. She's still only 19.

All Part of My Fantasy

Safina going down was a rough loss for me. I had Dinara in the semifinals. I'm doing better on the men's side. All eight of my quarterfinalists are still alive after the first round.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Roland Garros Day 2: No Unexplained Polar Bears

Curtain Call

Player: Michael Yani
Nation: USA
Age: 29
Current Ranking: 151
Tour Page
Today's Result: loss to Lukas Lacko (Slovakia) in five sets

The Singapore-born veteran Yani qualified for his first French Open and celebrated by playing a 71-game match against Lacko, the longest match in games since tiebreaks were introduced for the first four sets. The match started yesterday and finished today.

Lost Detox

I have seen quite a variety of reactions to last night's Lost finale but if you are like My Wife, I imagine you are feeling somewhat betrayed by how matters have been left. And so, devotees, as you begin to adjust to the cold, aching void, I offer you Roland Garros to ease your pain. First, a few ways in which I hope tennis will be more satisfying for you:

- It is unlikely that a polar bear will attempt to charge Rafael Nadal during a match, though I am completely confident he'd be able to handle the situation with a cool comparable to Sawyer's. If it did happen, a bestselling expose on the polar bear and its troubled youth would hit bookstores in short order and we'd soon know more than we ever wanted. The bear would be the must have for the exhibition circuit in the off-season.

- There will be resolution. Champions will be crowned, protectors of the island indeed. Plus, they're certain to be in better shape than Hurley. I will grant, however, that they are unlikely to quote Star Wars movies in their acceptance speeches.

- John McEnroe probably won't turn to Ted Robinson in the broadcast booth on the last day and ask, "What are you doing here?" Furthermore, Ted is unlikely to reply, "No John, what are YOU doing here?" On second thought, that could get interesting. I will admit that sitting through tennis commentary can feel a bit like purgatory.

- The plot is MUCH easier to follow. You win, you lose, no time travel.

There are areas where tennis can match Lost's strengths as well:

- Interaction. My Wife, a devoted fan of the show, yells with exasperation at the screen during Lost in a manner befitting a sports nut. I half expected a few McEnroesque "you cannot be serious" volleys from her last night.

- Beautiful people. Yes, you're losing Sawyer, Sayid and Jin. But I'm sure Rafael Nadal, Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco, the Spanish lefties, can help cushion the blow. As for the women, I've never thought the women of Lost were really all that exciting, certainly not compared to the women on Mad Men, Human Target or Leverage. I think tennis wins on this front. There are the obvious supermodel types: Maria Sharapova, Ana Ivanovic and Venus Williams. There are newcomers, too. Did anyone catch a glimpse of Egyptian-born Canadian Heidi El Tabakh yesterday? She got tuned in her first round match but she is, nonetheless, stunningly beautiful. I am generally turned off by the meat market publicity approach for women's tennis, but wow!

- International cast. Nine different countries are represented in the men's top 10, seven for the women. Four different continents are represented between those 20 players alone. And, unlike with Naveen Andrews, the accents are genuine.

- Plenty of morally ambiguous characters. Villain one day, hero the next: that's tennis in a nutshell. Take your pick: Serena Williams, Justine Henin, Lleyton Hewitt, Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, the list goes on. Very few manage to stay in the good guy camp forever. Even Roger Federer and Kim Clijsters get wisps of bad press from time to time.

- Mr. Eko. Eko Tunde was far and away my favorite character on Lost and the day he was killed by the smoke monster was the day my interest in the show began to fade. A reformed African drug lord trying to pass himself off as a priest. Not really a priest but a genuinely good man. Plus, the whole thing about his dead brother in the plane. That storyline had promise and, like so many in the Lost saga, it was gone in a flash. Tennis has plenty of Mr. Ekos, players who show great promise only to fade as reality sets in. For me, it was Paradorn Srichaphan, a flashy, yet humble shot-maker from Thailand who rocketed to the top 10 only to gradually fade away. At least with tennis, it was easy to stick with the larger story.

I'll let someone else tackle 24...

My Weekends Only Slam

In response to a comment at Tennis Forums, DVRing sports is rarely a satisfying experience for me when I know I can instantly get a result online. I'm not disciplined enough for a spoiler-filled world. Besides, for me the fun of the early rounds is surfing the Mix Channel and that can't be replicated later.

The Internet, as you suggest, is wonderfully accomodating. The Grand Slam Websites are top-notch. My experience with online streaming during last year's US Open men's final was less than satisfying but the live scoreboard usually holds me until I can watch live.

All Part of My Fantasy

I've crashed out of the suicide pools, both the men's and women's draws, in a single day. I knew Stephanie Dubois (Canada) was a risky pick but Feliciano Lopez (27th, Spain)? That was a surprise. There's clearly an art to this game and I haven't quite sorted it out yet - not that I'm going to stop trying!

Editorial Note

I changed yesterday's Curtain Call to Somdev Devvarman of India. I mean no disrespect to Ms. Zhang. It's just that I forgot all about the guys for a day and Devvarman's five-set effort should not go unnoticed. I realize no one's going to lose any sleep over it but me but I must, in good conscience, live and blog by my own rules.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Roland Garros Day 1: Sunday Start

Curtain Call

Player: Somdev Devvarman
Nation: India
Age: 25
Current Ranking: 108
Tour Page
Today's Result: loss to Marco Chiudinelli (Switzerland) in five sets

Blogger's Edit Note: This is a change from my initial post in which I gave the Curtain Call to Shuai Zhang of China. I mean no disrespect to Ms. Zhang. It's my own fault - I completely forgot about the guys. I must be fair and acknowledge Mr. Devvarman's far superior first round showing.

This was Devvarman's first Roland Garros and he made a very respectable showing, finally going down 6-3 in the fifth. He is my first return honoree. He won a Curtain Call for his performance at the US Open as well.

I am so glad for the Sunday start. The French Open is my weekends only Slam. During the week, the matches are over by the time I get home from work. Wimbledon would present similar problems if not for the fact that I am a teacher and get the summers off, thank goodness. I suppose I could catch a few glimpses in the morning over breakfast - a more appealing option if the rest of the family enjoyed watching more.

It's a beautiful day in northwest Vermont. Grilling season begins at our house this evening - pork tenderloin.

All Part of My Fantasy: My Ace Reliever

Week: May 16-22
Current standing in league: 3rd out of 12
My Player of the Week: Jonathan Broxton (relief pitcher, Dodgers) with 4 saves, 6 strikeouts, 2.25 ERA and 1.00 WHIP

Broxton is another player who had a slow April: only one save. But it wasn't his fault. He pitched well when he was in games but the Dodgers didn't have many save situations. His season stats are rock-solid: 2 wins, 10 saves, 29 strikeouts, 1.45 ERA and 0.96 WHIP.

I'm just a half-point out of first at the moment. It's still early in the season, of course, but I've been pretty happy thus far.

Roland Garros: My Picks and Lost Detox

For the men...

Semis: Federer v. Chela, Ferrer v. Nadal
Final: Nadal def. Federer

Nothing too shocking there. The Chela pick may not be as crazy as it looks. He's in the Murray quadrant which, to my eyes, is wide open. Somebody's gotta come through. Why not Juan?

For the women...

Semis: Henin v. Safina, Safarova v. Dementieva
Final: Henin def. Dementieva

That Serena/Justine quarterfinal has the look of a "true final." Whoever wins that one should have the momentum to take the whole thing.

All Part of My Fantasy

My suicide pool picks for Day 1

Women: Nadia Petrova
Men: Robin Soderling

One More Reason to Watch

A friend has pointed out another good reason to watch. All you Lost fans will need something to ease your withdrawal symptoms after tonight's finale. I'm not such a huge fan but My Wife certainly is and we'll be watching tonight. I think you can expect a tennis as Lost detox post before too long.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Why You Should Watch the French Open

Clay Court Tennis
Roland Garros, the tournament otherwise known as the French Open, is the showcase event for clay court tennis. Tennis was born on grass and, before concrete took over the planet, much of the world played the game on well-manicured lawns. But the sport which developed in Continental Europe, the Mediterranean and Latin America was played on red clay. In essence, two very different games emerged. The ball bounces low on grass, favoring players who play with power: the Pete Samprases of the world. The higher bounce on clay increases the reaction time of the ball striker, a difference in milliseconds which favors a very different variety of tennis god: Gustavo Kuerten, for instance. The dirt also is more difficult to run on so getting your opponent out of position is key to winning points. Grass court tennis is a duel at 20 paces. Clay court tennis is a knife fight in the alley.

Given all that, what can one do against a player who brings power, nasty spin shots, court vision, tactical genius and the foot speed to steal countless winners from his opponent? Over the past half-decade, the answer has been not much. Last year's loss to Soderling was an unfortunate blemish on a jaw-dropping record at the event for Nadal. It was the first Roland Garros match he had ever lost, putting an end to four straight titles. No athlete is truly invincible but Rafa on clay is about as close as anyone has ever come. He arrives in Paris having already won all three Masters Series clay court events. No one has ever done that before. Bet against him at your own peril.

Roland Garros was always Justine Henin's best Slam. She is the closest equivalent on the women's side to Rafa in terms of clay court dominance. Her run to the finals in Australia was impressive but expectations in Paris will be much higher, even though she hasn't played the French in three years. Kim Clijsters has already withdrawn from the event so it would seem that the Williamses are her most likely obstacles, mainly Serena, the stronger of the sisters on clay.

The Beginning of the Summer Slog
This is just the beginning of a brutal four-month run, the heart of the tennis year. Two weeks after this one's over, Wimbledon gets underway. Then comes the North American hard court season, including big pay days in Montreal, Toronto and Cincinnati. Finally, the US Open kicks off in late August. Only the strong survive.

Fantasy Tennis
Tennis Channel Racquet Brackets are available for the men and the women.

TalkAboutTennis will be running suicide pools.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Madrid: A New Beginning for Nadal

It is surely folly to place too much importance on a single match on the tennis calendar, a match that isn't even a part of a Slam. But this match, the singles final of the last Masters tournament before the French Open as contested by Federer and Nadal, has been the pivotal moment of the tennis year for each of the past two years. In 2008, Nadal won in Hamburg and went on to win three of the next four Slams and claim year-end #1. In 2009, Federer won in Madrid and did exactly the same. There is no reason to believe that it will happen again except for the fact that it very well could. Nadal now heads to Paris on an unprecedented clay season hot streak. And to think, just a few months ago, people were saying that Rafa might be finished.

Today's was not the greatest of Federer-Nadal matches but so much talent on one court never fails to inspire a few moments of unmatched brilliance. Nadal was the better man as he nearly always is on clay. It's hard to imagine anyone stopping him at Roland Garros now.

My risky picks did me no good in the draw challenge. Of my predicted semifinalists, only Rafa made it through. I finished in the bottom 1% - yikes! Overall, I'm now in the top 25%.

To follow up from yesterday, Barcelona took care of business, beating Real Valladolid 4-0 to claim the league title.

All Part of My Fantasy: Hamstrung No Longer

Week: May 9-15
Current standing in league: tied for 2nd out of 12
My Player of the Week: Ryan Zimmerman (third baseman, Nationals) with 3 home runs, 8 RBI, 7 runs and a .345 batting average

I picked up Zimmerman in the 3rd round of our draft and, at the time, he seemed like a very sensible pick. Toiling with the lowly Nationals, Zimmerman had quietly emerged as one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball. He also played all 162 games last year, an important consideration in fantasy sports. But April was a rough month for the young slugger as he battled hamstring troubles, missing quite a lot of games and being reduced to pinch hitting duties in others (though he was still a genuine threat to go long in those appearances). May, however, has been a different story. Zimmerman's on an absolute tear at the moment. Two of his three homers came in a single game on Thursday at Colorado. In yesterday's doubleheader, also in Denver, Zimmerman was 5 for 8. The Nats have him signed through 2013 and, with the team suddenly playing well, maybe they can manage to hang on to him for a while.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Madrid: The Stars Have Aligned

At long last, we get another Federer-Nadal match. It's been twelve long, cold months since the last chapter in the greatest rivalry in the sports world. If you get the Tennis Channel and you have tomorrow afternoon free, do yourself a favor and watch. Roger v. Rafa is as good as it gets.

I missed the Nadal-Almagro match today as I was out getting my hair cut but I watched Federer-Ferrer. That match was a perfect demonstration of a truism: you don't have to win every point in tennis, just the most important ones. There were moments of pure genius from Fed, though he did conserve them for the most important points. It was not his most dominating effort - just good enough to get the job done.

Quite a lot has happened since Federer and Nadal last stood across the net from one another in a competitive match. For Federer, it's been a legacy-cementing year. Career Slam - check. Tying, breaking and extending the all-time Slam record - check. Regaining World #1 ranking - check. He has also since become a father and is rapidly approaching Pete Sampras's record for weeks holding the top ranking. One does have to wonder if all of these accomplishments have changed his outlook on his rivalry with Rafa. His overall losing record to his primary rival is perhaps the only knock against him in the Greatest of All-Time discussion. One assumes that provides a bit of motivation.

For Nadal, on the other hand, the past twelve months have not been so kind: upset by Soderling at the French, pulling out of Wimbledon as defending champ, dogged by genuinely worrisome injuries and generally under-performing at events big and small. He has, however, been back to his usual superhuman self since the European clay season began, winning every match he's entered and never really seeming threatened. For him, it would appear there is plenty of motivation: beating Federer on the same court where he lost to him a year ago would go along way to proving that the comeback is real.

Whoever wins tomorrow should be in the driver's seat with Paris looming.

It's a big day in Spanish sports across the board tomorrow. It is also the final day of the soccer season and it's down to the wire for Barcelona and Real Madrid for the league title. Barca is a point ahead with both teams set to play tomorrow, though not against each other. The Barcelona game is on ESPN2 tomorrow afternoon, essentially the same time as the tennis match. So, I will be switching back and forth. Go Barca!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

All Part of My Fantasy: Madrid Picks

A little more daring for Madrid...

Semis: Wawrinka v. Murray, Soderling v. Nadal
Final: Soderling def. Wawrinka

Could this week be the start of a big summer for Soderling? We shall see.

All Part of My Fantasy: Heigh-Ho, Silver!

Week: May 2-8
Current standing in league: 5th out of 12
My Player of the Week: Josh Hamilton (center fielder, Rangers) with 1 home run, 6 RBI, 5 runs, 1 stolen base and a .333 batting average

Hamilton is the first American Leaguer I have honored in this space. Though I didn't plan it that way, mine is predominantly a National League team. There's nothing wrong with that, of course, but as I've spent my life in American League markets, I don't feel I know the National League game as well. The double-switch, for instance, seems downright exotic to me.

Happy Mother's Day! It's snowing at our house. Ah, Vermont...

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Playoff Hockey: My Western Team

Now that the Caps have been sent packing, I need a new rooting interest for the Stanley Cup playoffs. Fortunately, I do have a Western Conference team: the Chicago Blackhawks. As noted in previous posts, My Wife favors Chicago teams inasmuch as she cares at all. On her way to bed last night, she took a minute to check the score of the Hawks-Canucks game I was watching and expressed genuine dismay that Chicago was down a goal at the end of the first period. By her standards, that's passion!

I enjoy watching the Hawks. They are, in many ways, the Caps' Western equivalent: a young team bursting with offensive talent. I enjoy their style of play as well. Team speed is a highly admirable quality in a hockey team and they've got it in abundance. They also appear a bit more methodical in the offensive zone than the Caps. I get frustrated with Washington as they often seem to be just firing as many shots as possible in hopes that enough of them will go in. The Hawks, on the other hand, seek to create traffic in front of the goal in order to screen the goalie, thus creating better shot opportunities. A top NHL goalie, and there is none better than Vancouver's Luongo, is at a great advantage when he can see what's happening and anticipate the play. Luongo proved that on several breakaway opportunities last night. A good offensive team creates distractions and the Hawks did a very nice job of that.

Chicago also got a great game from their goalie, young Antti Niemi of Finland. The Caps could have used more of that, too. Sigh...

Ultimately, the Hawks won 4-2 to even the series at a game apiece. On to Vancouver for Games 3 and 4.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Checking in with the Orioles: A Great Start to a New Month

As noted in my bold proposal post yesterday, the Baltimore Orioles currently have the worst record in the Majors. But lo and behold, they just swept the Red Sox, a team they beat all of twice last year in 18 tries. Is this the start of something big? The tests don't get any easier with three games at Yankee Stadium beginning tomorrow.

The positives from today's 3-2 win in 10 innings:
- an excellent start for Kevin Millwood who allowed just two runs in eight innings. Starting pitching was a major weakness for the O's last year and the veteran Millwood was acquired in the off-season to help.
- a great day for the top of the batting order. The O's first four hitters - Jones, Markakis, Wiggington and Tejada - hit .500 for the game. Wiggington had the game-winning RBI.
- hitting well against Jonathan Papelbon. The Red Sox closer has owned the Orioles in his career so tagging him with a loss must have felt pretty good.

Concerns going forward:
- The Orioles could, of course, do with improvement across the board. They're actually having more problems on the offensive side than they did last year. Losing second baseman and lead-off hitter Brian Roberts has definitely hurt. The team is 28th in the Majors in on-base percentage and dead last in stolen bases. Center fielder Adam Jones, my new fantasy team acquisition, had a great day leading off today: 2 for 5. We'll see how he does against the Yanks.

NESN color commentator Jerry Remy had a go at Orioles' manager Dave Trembley for bunting Ty Wiggington with two on and no outs in the eighth. Remy's argument was that Wiggington has the hot bat so let him swing. I thought it was a reasonable gamble against a superior team: move the runners to second and third, forcing the Sox to walk Tejada to load the bases with one out. Yes, he could have swung away but what if he'd hit into a double play? You'd still have a runner on third but two outs rather than one. The move, while seeming conservative, actually maximized their chance for a big inning. Of course, it didn't matter. The Sox got the last two outs without giving up a run.

Then, in the 10th, Remy criticized Trembley for NOT bunting Wiggington with a runner on and no outs. Instead, Ty hit the walk-off single. So it goes.

Now, pitching Papelbon more than one inning in a non-save situation? That was highly questionable.

All Part of My Fantasy

It was not my intention to criticize those who DO horde players from their favorite team. For me, both my MLB team (Orioles) and NFL team (Redskins) lose a lot more than they win so I'm far more inclined to get excited about what's going on with my fantasy teams. I perfectly understand not wanting your fantasy interests to corrupt your lifelong allegiances.

Rome: Mud Tennis

So, Ferrer put up a much better fight than Verdasco did in Monte-Carlo but still went down in straight sets to Nadal, the undisputed Clay King. I managed to catch a fair amount of the action between the rain delays. Of course, this all means little in terms of Roland Garros. Rafa won both Monte-Carlo and Rome last year, too, and still crashed and burned in Paris.

I had an excellent showing in the bracket challenge this time: top 8%. I'm now in the top 17% overall. Next up is Madrid which kicks off next weekend.

All Part of My Fantasy: A Bird in Hand

Week: April 25-May 1
Current standing in league: tied for 3rd out of 12
My Player of the Week: Heath Bell (relief pitcher, Padres) with 3 saves, 9 strikeouts, 0.00 ERA and 1.00 WHIP

Bell, the Padres' right-handed closer, pitched four innings of shutout baseball last week. You can't ask much more than that.

Effective tomorrow, I will have an Oriole on my roster. Center fielder Adam Jones had a miserable April and was thus available on waivers. I'm not one to believe that having players from one's favorite team is a viable strategy in fantasy sports but it does have its advantages. It clears up any potential confusion in rooting interest when watching them play.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Rome: Tiptoe Through the Tulips

Does anyone else think Gulbis looks like a cleaned up version of Tiny Tim?

The big Latvian certainly played well this week and he gave Nadal a very good match. One hopes it's just the beginning of something bigger for Gulbis but who knows? The Slams are a different ballgame.

My finalists have both made it through, though a Nadal victory tomorrow wouldn't actually help me too much. 74.6% of draw challenge participants picked Rafa to win.

Let's Talk Baseball: Bold Proposal April Standings

Back in March, I posted a bold proposal for a realignment of Major League Baseball, essentially setting up a European soccer style promotion/relegation system. The basic premise was an improvement of the narrative for the mid-range teams. Now that we have one month of the season in the books, the standings under my system would be as follows.

First Division

1. Rays
2. Yankees
3. Cardinals
4. Twins
5. Giants
6. Tigers
7. Phillies
8. Angels
9. Red Sox
10. Rockies
11. Marlins
12. Rangers
13. Mariners
14. Cubs
15. Dodgers
16. Braves

Second Division

1. Padres
2. Mets
3. Nationals
4. Reds
5. A's
6. Blue Jays
7. Diamondbacks
8. Pirates
9. Indians
10. Brewers
11. White Sox
12. Royals
13. Astros
14. Orioles

So, as things stand at the moment, the top eight teams in the First Division would make the playoffs: Rays, Yankees, Cardinals, Twins, Giants, Tigers, Phillies and Angels. The bottom three in the First Division would be relegated to the Second: Cubs, Dodgers and Braves. The top two in the Second Division would be automatically promoted to the First: Padres and Mets. The next four would be in a playoff for the third promotion: Nationals, Reds, A's and Blue Jays. The Orioles, regardless of alignment, still stink.

Obviously, the two teams who are not well-served by this arrangement are the Padres and Mets, who currently lead their divisions in the real world. As I said in my initial post, I will consider my experiment a failure if one of the Second Division teams wins the World Series.

The point of this is how it enriches the narrative for the middle of the pack teams. Suddenly, the Nationals are in playoff position. There's more of a sense of urgency for the Cubs - a lovable loser might not be so lovable toiling in the lower division.

All Part of My Fantasy: April's Player of the Month

Player: Matt Kemp
Team: Los Angeles Dodgers
Position: Center Field
Stats for the Month: 7 home runs, 20 RBI, 20 runs, 3 stolen bases and a .278 batting average

Image from Sports News.