Tuesday, August 31, 2010

US Open Day 2: Nalbandian Survives

Curtain Call

Player: Rik De Voest
Nation: South Africa
Age: 30
Current Ranking: 231
Tour Page
Today's Result: loss to David Nalbandian (31st seed, Argentina) in five sets

Photo from ATP

Well done, sir, of course. I can't deny, however, that I would have been mighty embarrassed had my pick for the champion gone out in the first round. I know he's a long shot but still!

De Voest has had more career success as a doubles player. His high rank for doubles (#39) is significantly higher than his high for singles (#110). He also has won two doubles titles on tour. Going five sets against possibly the best grinder in the world is still pretty darn good for a 30-year-old.

Catching Up with Old Friends

Daniel Brands (Curtain Call, Wimbledon Day 7) - This was Brands's first time in the main draw of the US Open. A first round exit pales in comparison to his fourth round effort at Wimbledon but the 23-year-old's career is definitely heading in the right direction.

All Part of My Fantasy

I'm already out of the running for the men but my pick for the women today was Jelena Jankovic. It was a little scary in the third set against Simon Halep but Jankovic prevailed.

Monday, August 30, 2010

US Open Day 1: Flushing Meadows

Curtain Call

Player: Andreas Haider-Maurer
Nation: Austria
Age: 23
Current Ranking: 214
Tour Page
Today's Result: loss to Robin Soderling (5th seed, Sweden) in five sets

Photo from juniortennis.com

Haider-Maurer went through qualifying to reach his first slam. Pushing the fifth seed the distance is an impressive showing.

The brothers McEnroe are currently debating the merits of Federer's between the legs shot tonight versus the one against Djokovic last year. I realize it's not so interesting to talk about the lopsided match in front of them. Heaven forbid they should stop talking altogether.

Catching Up with Old Friends

Greta Arn (Curtain Call, Wimbledon 2010 Day 5) - Today's match marks Arn's return to the US Open main draw after a three-year absence. At 31, it's good to see her making a late-career surge.

My Tennis Fantasy

First, my picks for the tournament...

Men -
Semis: Nalbandian v. Murray, Roddick v. Federer
Final: Nalbandian def. Federer

Yup, I'm going with the long shot. If he gets hot and stays healthy, Nalbandian can do it.

Women -
Semis: Kuznetsova v. Martinez Sanchez, Schiavone v. Clijsters
Final: Clijsters def. Kuznetsova

It's difficult to be too shocking with a wide-open women's field.

My suicide pool picks for Day 1 were Marion Bartoli for the women and Leonardo Mayer for the men. Bartoli came through with a straight-sets win over Edina Gallovits. Mayer, on the other hand, crashed and burned. He stormed through in the first set against French wild card Guillaume Rufin only to go down in four.

I'm still doing my bracket on the Tennis Channel site but major kudos to the US Open site for running their own bracket challenge. I think it's a great way to potentially draw the interest of casual fans and also draw the more serious fan to early round matches that otherwise wouldn't merit much attention.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

My Baseball Fantasy: The Best Player in Baseball?

Week: August 22-28
Current Standing: 1st out of 12
My Player of the Week: Josh Hamilton (Left Fielder, Rangers) with 3 home runs, 8 RBI, 7 runs and a .375 batting average

A couple weeks ago, Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci wrote a column on the Rangers' slugger: Hamilton Leaving No Doubt He Is the Best Player in Baseball. He has certainly been a fantasy gold mine for me. I have to admit that I had some misgivings about him at the beginning of the season: history of injury and substance abuse, inconsistency, etc. Plus, he's a lefty so there's always the concern he might miss starts against lefty pitchers. No doubt, it was because of these factors that he was available later in our draft. Instead, the MVP-type numbers keep piling up, now at 30 homers, 93 RBI, 91 runs, 8 stolen bases and a .357 batting average for the year. He still has all of September to build his case.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Long Trail Project: Lincoln Gap/Sunset Ledge

Check out My Wife's post regarding our latest Long Trail hike:

Hike #6 - Lincoln Gap/Sunset Ledge

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

State of the Blog 2010

The Armchair Squid is one year old today. I started this blog with what I will admit was a rather amorphous vision. The idea first hatched as I was watching last year's Confederations Cup soccer tournament. During the last World Cup (2006), I served as commissioner for My Wife's work pool and wrote humble missives to help guide the uninitiated. It was good fun and I thought I might give it another shot in 2010.

However, as you may have already figured out, my primary sports enthusiasm is for tennis. Not long after my soccer thoughts, I was watching Wimbledon and thinking about how frustrating it is that the press follows such a small sample of the hundreds of players who participate in a Slam tournament. 128 players in a singles draw means 128 stories. I thought I might find a way to showcase some of the lesser-knowns and my Curtain Call idea was born. It was with these two ideas that I launched the Armchair Squid last August.

Years ago, my mother asked me why I like sports so much. It is an interest which I developed entirely apart from my family. She wondered if it was my love for numbers. While I am certainly a numbers geek and the sports page definitely fed me plenty of them, I didn't think that was it. I believe that what I really love about sports is its wealth of stories. Every game is a story and if you watch (or play) live you get to watch the story unfold as it happens. But really, a game is a great confluence of stories. Every player has a story, as does every team, every coach, every season, every franchise, every city and on and on. Naturally, every fan also has a story, too. After the US Open finished, I didn't want to just twiddle my thumbs until the Aussie Open came around. I wanted to keep writing. And so, I decided that my story as a fan would be my starting point as I explored other topics.

This jumping around and dabbling here and there has been good fun but I'm now at a point where I'd like for the blog to have a better defined direction. It is my intention, therefore, to narrow my focus to a few specific areas rather than the entire sports world. At least for the moment, those areas shall be:

1. Baseball
2. Fantasy Sports
3. Tennis
4. Curling
5. Books
6. Family Adventures


I'll definitely see my bold proposal project through to the end of the season. I have some ideas as to how the postseason would play out in my ideal universe. Whether I bring it back next season will depend on how things work out this season.

But what I'd really like to do is reconnect with the team I grew up with, the Baltimore Orioles. I've written a lot about the Cubs this season. I like the Cubs and I certainly like the fact that they're on TV a lot but I can't deny that I feel a touch disloyal. I'm not prepared to shell out for a broader TV package so my relationship with the O's will continue to be one of the long-distance variety. But I think of all those baseball fans in the pre-television era who never got to see their team in action. If they could do it, so can I.

Fantasy Sports

I'm still not sure what took me so long to get into fantasy football or fantasy baseball. Perhaps in my subconscious I knew the risk of addiction. I don't know if I would have enjoyed it as much before it was all Web-based but I'm sure glad it's a part of my life now.

I need to find some more specific directions with fantasy sports but it is certainly a hobby ideally suited for blogging. I will continue to showcase the players who do well by me. I also want to explore ways to be a good commissioner - the fantasy sports equivalent to a dungeon master - and to develop the perfect league. Stay tuned. This will take some flushing out.


I definitely want to continue with the Curtain Calls, partly because it's a fun way to follow a Slam but also because it's really the essence of what I want my blog to be. I also feel that the Slams are the best point of contact for the casual fan. I'm still hoping to convert average sports fans to my sport of choice.


I was puzzled over what to do about this one as television coverage in the US is essentially nil. So, anyone with an interest would have access to all of the same Web resources as I do. How could I offer something different? Wouldn't you know, the Canadian Broadcast Company would come to my rescue. A TV series version of Men with Brooms is premiering this fall. While we don't get CBC in our satellite package, the network has an outstanding website on which one can watch programming. So, it is my plan to blog reviews of the show. Beyond that, I'll certainly check in with the world championships when they come around.


Apart from actually watching sports, books have been my fuel this year. I have been delighted to find so much quality sports writing and fully intend to continue my exploration. I'll certainly share my thoughts on the books I find.

Family Adventures

We're sure to have plenty of them and I'll write about them when appropriate. In many ways, these posts are the most fun for me to write. My Favorite Athlete is also my favorite subject.

It is entirely possible that other subjects will creep in from time to time. I may, at some point, get off of the sports track but it's working for now so I'll stick with it.

I am tickled pink that anyone would read and enjoy my blog. To paraphrase Jon Wertheim, if anyone enjoys reading The Armchair Squid half as much as I enjoy writing it, we're all doing pretty well. I'm looking forward to Year 2. I hope you'll join me.

Squiddies 2010

My blog turns one year old today. As such, it's awards show time. And the Squiddy goes to...

Biggest Surprise: Curling

When the Winter Olympics began in February, I was not expecting to become a devoted curling fan by the end but it happened. I like curling for many reasons:

1. It is no end of quirky, as a sport with ice, 40-pound rocks and brooms could only be.
2. Basic sportsmanship is the rule rather than the exception. I particularly approve of the expectation that a team will concede once a win is out of reach. Nothing in sports is more boring than a blowout.
3. The relaxed pace. It's easy enough to imagine all of the curlers standing around the ice with beers in hand.

Anyway, I fell in love and will do my best to follow the sport in non-Olympic years, despite the lack of coverage on American television.

Honorable Mention: Fantasy Football, Butler Basketball, Francesca Schiavone

Biggest Disappointment: Washington Capitals

No contest here. They made quite a convincing impression of the best team in hockey for most of the season but finished with zero Olympic medals and a first-round playoff loss. With so much young talent, I certainly hope they're taking a long, hard look in the mirror this summer to figure out how to turn this team into a champion.

Honorable Mention: The Yankees Win the World Series...Again

Best Game: NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Final

It is not mere coincidence that Duke has played in so many of the great basketball games of the past 25 years. Whether you love them or hate them, there's no denying that the Blue Devils play the game as it was meant to be played. Win or lose, Coach K's teams always play tough, disciplined basketball.

To me, the definition of a great game is one in which both sides play hard and it's a shame that somebody has to lose. Butler's improbable run to the national finals was enough to cement their place in sports legend. But the Bulldogs came ready to play and gave as good as they got against mighty Duke. Let us not forget that Hayward's desperation heave at the end nearly went in. If it had, this would have to be called the best game ever. Period.

Honorable Mention: Olympic Men's Ice Hockey Gold Medal Game

Best Story:
Francesca Schiavone Wins the French Open

But alas, Hayward's shot did not go in. For two weeks in Paris, Italian veteran Francesca Schiavone made all of the shots when it mattered. I started following Schiavone at the U.S. Open. I really enjoyed watching her play. She is not a physically dominating player in any way but she plays with a competitive fire which is downright inspiring. No one could have expected her to walk away with the singles title at Roland Garros but she did it. Her team's t-shirts said it all: "Nothing Is Impossible."

Honorable Mention: Butler Basketball, Chicago Blackhawks

Best Read: A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

One of the best unexpected consequences of blogging is that it has gotten me back into pleasure reading. I've read a lot of good sports-related books this year but I would consider A Walk in the Woods the best of them simply because I expect it's the most enjoyable without an initial interest in the subject matter, in this case hiking the Appalachian Trail.

Honorable Mention: Open: An Autobiography by Andre Agassi

Athlete of the Year:
Vernon Davis

Vernon Davis is, of course, the San Francisco 49ers' Pro Bowl tight end. He was also the MVP of my fantasy football team last year. That really would have been enough to earn my praise but he turned out to be so much more. First I found out he was an art major in college which led me to his excellent website. The website led me to seek out other well-regarded athlete sites (I still say Vernon's is the best). Then, before the Olympics, he was named honorary captain of the U.S. men's curling team. Later in the year, he picked up a tennis racket and played doubles with Serena Williams at a charity event.

In short, he turned out to be a far more interesting person than I would have expected an NFL tight end to be. He was a great story to follow over the course of the year, very much in the spirit of my overall vision for the blog.

Honorable Mention: Francesca Schiavone, Josh Hamilton, Gordon Hayward

Post with Most Unexpected Consequences: South Africa 2010: The Orange Crush

The fact that watching the World Cup got me thinking about my own youth soccer experiences is not so surprising, nor is the fact that such thoughts inspired me to try to get in touch with the members of my first team. But the success I had in finding them and the enthusiastic responses I have gotten from my teammates and their parents have been nothing short of astonishing. Bear in mind, I have not seen some of these folks since the fourth grade. That was 28 years ago! Stay tuned. This story may yet be going places.

Honarable Mention: All Part of My Fantasy: Best 11th Round Pick Ever

Best Family Adventure: The Long Trail Project

My Wife has primary blogging rights on this subject (Wikes! Hikes on the Long Trail) but I figure I can claim a tangential connection. What we're doing is wonderful for many reasons:

1. We're all doing it together.
2. We live in an outdoor adventurer's paradise and we're lazy bums if we don't get out on a regular basis to enjoy it.
3. It suits my larger purposes of getting more exercise.

Honorable Mention: Our Girl's Swimming Adventures, Tree Farm Vacation

Best Unexpected Benefit of Blogging: An Enriched Friendship

At the beginning of this past school year, I'd like to think that Mock and I were already on our way to building a solid friendship. But blogging has definitely played a role in helping us get to know each other better. For that, I am very grateful. If you haven't checked out his blog, you should: Stay on target...

Honorable Mention: Reconnecting with the Orange Crush, Renewed Interest in Pleasure Reading

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Cincinnati: Setting the Stage

So, with Federer winning the title in Cincinnati, the stage is set for a very interesting US Open on the men's side. Even with del Potro unable to defend his title, some high-quality players are definitely peaking at the right time: Federer, Fish, Murray, Roddick, Baghdatis, Djokovic and Nalbandian. Nadal should be dangerous, too, of course but as his tendency, his play has dropped off a tad since Wimbledon.

Right now, it's disappointing that two of the bigger names on the women's side have already pulled out: Serena Williams and Justine Henin. But it does mean great opportunities for the lesser lights.

All Part of My Fantasy: Garza Returns

Week: August 15-21
Current Standing: 3rd out of 12
My Player of the Week: Matt Garza (Starting Pitcher, Rays) with 1 win, 10 strikeouts, a 0.00 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP

Our trade deadline is now past so the end game is upon us. It's great to see players like Garza hitting their stride late in the season.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

On the Coffee Table: Bill Bryson

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson is an absolutely wonderful read - the best book I've read in quite a long time. If you're interested in hiking, nature, history, geology, plate tectonics or just well-told stories with engaging characters, Bryson covers all of that and more in his book about his adventures on the Appalachian Trail. Apart from being thoroughly informative, the book is often very funny - funny enough for one to be self-conscious about reading it with other people in the room. Spit takes, aplenty!

Enthused by our new family hobby of hiking the Long Trail, My Wife borrowed the book from a colleague at work and we both read swiftly through it in a week. It was the perfect companion for our vacation at the Tree Farm. I am both grateful and relieved to report that neither of us has been inspired by it to tackle the 2,000+ mile Appalachian Trail but I do feel encouraged in our own more modest pursuit. I also feel encouraged to check our gear inventory.

I was able to relate to Bryson early as I get the sense that he hikes much the same way I do. Mind you, I'm nowhere near as ambitious as he, but I do tend to focus on the trail in front of me without adequate appreciation for my surroundings. Even on a bad day, the Vermont woods are breathtaking. I do need to look up from the path more often and enjoy that.

Where I really connected with him is in his reverence for the forest. When I say forest, I don't mean a stand of trees in a city park. I mean the sort of dense woods where humans are the clumsy, unwelcome invaders. Trees are better than we are. I look out my living room window at an old maple which is bigger than I, also stronger, older, more beautiful and far better suited to survive the elements. As it has endured more Vermont winters than I will ever see, it is also probably much wiser, with more and better stories to tell. It provides food and shelter for the life which surrounds it. And one cannot forget the miracle of photosynthesis which makes the planet inhabitable for all of us. By any cosmically meaningful measure, that tree is my superior.

Multiply that tree by a thousand and a thousand more. Now we're talking forest. A forest is a universe unto itself, dependent upon a very delicate balance to thrive. The symbiosis of life in the woods makes all human enterprise seem quaint and contrived. And yet, when that balance is in peril, it is almost invariably because humans screwed up. Invasive species? Because we planted something in a place where it wasn't meant to be. Too many deer? Because we killed off all of their predators. Polluted streams? Acid rain? We all know how those things happened. Don't even get me started on forest fires.

I try to remain conscious of the fact that I have lived most of my life on stolen land - stolen from the Native Americans, certainly, but just as surely stolen from the forest. Where once was nothing but woodland between the Atlantic and the Mississippi, we now have a world of concrete and asphalt. I'll admit that I don't stay up at night with these thoughts, nor have they propelled me to any great cause but I do think about them. I am glad to live in a part of the world where the forest is making a determined and largely successful comeback.

Alright, I'll get off my Lorax stump now. Have I mentioned that the book is thought provoking? Anyway, even if you never make it past the armchair stage of hiking, I expect you will find the book immensely enjoyable.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

On the Road: Central Pennsylvania

We just got back from a five-day trip to central Pennsylvania. As noted in a previous post, my family has a cabin in the State College area. Our cabin is part of a summer community which we refer to as The Tree Farm. It's not the sort of Tree Farm that sells Christmas trees. While there is an occasional harvest, the "Tree Farm" is mostly a tax designation.

At any rate, my family has been taking vacations at the Tree Farm every summer since I was seven years old. I've managed to make it almost every year since myself and it has been, without a doubt, a very important part of my life. The land has belonged to one family since 1940 and they've invited numerous friends to join them at their summer retreat over the decades. A few, including us, have built their own cabins. Our connection is that the original owners' daughter was my mother's roommate in college.

Ours is a very modest cabin - electricity and running water but no flush toilet. We use an outhouse instead. Through years of college and young adult wanderings, the cabin at the Tree Farm was the constant in my life. I have invited many friends over the years, including a group of guys in high school who made it back every year in one configuration or another for, I think, 14 summers in a row. But just as important to me is the other families who return every year. It is a community which has nurtured me both spiritually and intellectually for most of my life. I consider them to be part of my extended family.

Luckily for me, My Wife has always loved it, too. We were married there in a Quaker-style ceremony nine years ago this summer. I think of it as a truly magical place and the fact that we now live on the edge of a Vermont forest is not merely coincidental to the fact that I grew up loving the Pennsylvania woodlands.

As with so many things, my feelings towards the place have evolved over the years. I find myself in a funny relationship with it right now. It's a pretty good distance from where we live - we made it back in under 11 hours today, with stops for meals. So, with a day's travel each way, it's not a simple matter of popping up for a weekend on the spur of the moment. Also, I have to admit that now that I live in the woods, a vacation in the woods is not such a draw in and of itself. At our house in Vermont, we have not only flush toilets but also satellite television and DSL. Generally speaking, summer weather in Vermont is also superior.

Nonetheless, I find that it's very important to me to maintain a connection to the place, not only for the many people with whom it links me, but for the land itself. There's a meadow in front of the main cabin which might be my favorite spot in the whole world. I have spent many hours of my life there staring up into the stars and/or singing with my friends. I've done some of my best thinking out there. It's where we pitched the tent for the wedding reception.

Of course, now the fun is in sharing the place with our daughter. She experienced the sauna for the first time this year along with her first night swim in the pool. I learned to play ping-pong at the Tree Farm and as soon as she's tall enough, I intend to teach her as well. Otherwise, it's just a lovely place to relax with a book or a board game or take a walk in the woods. I hope she will learn to love it as I have.

Follow Up: Pennsylvania Sports

As I wrote earlier in the year, I can usually judge the relative popularity of Pennsylvania's sports teams by the availability of paraphernalia in State College stores. So, the verdict this year...

Wegman's: All Penn State football. Baseball? NFL? Never heard of 'em.

Target: Philadelphia wins this year. All Phillies. All Eagles. I guess the Steelers' off-season troubles haven't helped them in the product licensing market.

Monday, August 16, 2010

All Part of My Fantasy: Toronto to Cincy

I did miserably on my Toronto bracket: 10,593rd out of 13,210. Fortunately, I'm doing better for the overall circuit: 6,514th out of 27,691.

I was out of town over the weekend so didn't have time to do a Cincinnati bracket. But I do have a pick for the winner: Nadal.

My Player of the Week, 8/8-14

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Checking in with the Cubs: That's More Like It

Just a quick check in tonight as the Cubs are already running away with it in the first inning against the Giants and their ace Tim Lincecum. It's currently 4-0 with two outs in the top of the first.

Hats off to Tyler Colvin. I've been picking on him but he did exactly what a leadoff hitter's supposed to do to open the game: single, steal 2nd, score the run on a base-hit. Excellent work.

Let's Talk Baseball: Extra-Inning Success

Mock posted the following link in a comment to an earlier post:


The short article encapsulates the Orioles' recent success and, in particular, their efforts in extra innings. What does it say about a team if they have a strong extra-inning record, 10-3 in the Orioles' case? I think two things:

1. Good tactical decisions on the manager's part. So, go Buck!

2. Bench strength, particularly in your bullpen. Sure enough, the Orioles' team ERA in relief (4.54), while abysmal, is better that the team ERA for starters (5.33). Team ERA for the past week is much improved at 3.53 as compared to 5.05 for the season.

Both these factors tell us that the Orioles do have the capacity to be a good team. However, I've been an O's fan long enough to know that a hot streak is just that. Long-term, sustained success takes something more. As I said yesterday, we'll learn a lot about this team from how they close out the season. Right now, all looks wonderful. But a slump will happen eventually and how the team handles that is a more meaningful test.

Monday, August 9, 2010

All Part of My Fantasy: Toronto Picks

My picks for the Rogers Cup in Toronto this week...

Semis: Cilic v. Nalbandian, Federer v. Djokovic

Final: Djokovic def. Nalbandian

The Orioles in the Showalter Era

Mock is right, the Orioles are doing much better these days. At present, they have won a third of their games. That may not seem like a big deal but I have had my doubts all season that the O's would cross that threshold.

The return of Brian Roberts, second baseman and leadoff hitter, from injury is a part of recent success but the big story in Baltimore is the new manager: Buck Showalter. He has definitely brought a spark to the club. The team is 5-1 since he took over at the helm. Whether or not that spark can be parlayed into long-term success is another matter but the Birds were long overdue for a run like this. Currently 30 games out of a playoff spot, team goals for the current year should be modest. Even catching the Blue Jays to get out of the division cellar is highly unlikely. But with the worst record in the majors, there's nowhere to go but up. Maybe we'll get a glimpse of the team they can be next year.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

David Nalbandian

David Nalbandian of Argentina won the Legg Mason Tennis Classic in DC today, defeating Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus in straight sets. Nalbandian has long been one of my favorites. I like him for many reasons:

- He is strong on all surfaces. He is one of very few active players who has made the semifinals at all four Slams.

- He is not afraid of the big boys. He owned Federer in the early part of their careers and has strong records against all of the current top 5. When he's on, he can beat anybody. A few years ago, he beat both Federer and Nadal in two consecutive Masters Series tournaments.

- While Nalbandian is, quite reasonably, looked upon as an underachiever, he has enjoyed some of the finest moments of his career when playing for love of country. On more than one occasion he has put the Argentine team on his back and essentially won a Davis Cup tie by himself. His all-surface game is a major asset for a nation of clay court specialists.

- His shots are very clean, including one of the best backhands in the sport.

- He's currently climbing his way back up the standings after having hip surgery, a career ender for many players.

All that said, Nalbandian is now 28, well past the age when a player wins his first Slam title. Odds are against him for a US Open title this year but if you're looking for a dark horse, he's not a bad choice. He has demonstrated in the past that if he can get hot at the right time, he can mow them down.

He will need to play better than he did today. If he serves at 49% against the likes of Nadal, he's toast. Still, I'll be watching with great interest.

The Long Trail Project: Devil's Gulch

We hiked to Devil's Gulch today. Check out My Wife's post:

Hike #4 - Devil's Gulch

All Part of My Fantasy: A Tenuous Lead

Week: August 1-7
Current Standing: 1st out of 12
My Player of the Week: Ryan Zimmerman (Third Baseman, Nationals) with 4 home runs, 7 RBI, 7 runs and a .370 batting average

The Nationals are doing pretty well, too, at the moment: 6-4 in their last ten games. It's nice to be leading in August but there's still most of two months to go!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Long Trail Project: Carleton Mountain

Check out the latest post on My Wife's blog. We hiked Carleton Mountain up near the Canadian border today:

Hike #3 - Carleton Mountain

Also, she posted some interesting links about Vermont's Long Trail several days ago:

Long Trail Links

Let's Talk Baseball: Bold Proposal July Standings

Following are the current standings for my bold proposal for baseball realignment. The basic idea is two divisions, upper and lower, determined by last year's final standings. The bottom three of the First Division are relegated for next year. The top two of the Second are promoted, along with the winner of a playoff between the next four.

First Division

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

Second Division

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

Biggest rise: Giants

Greatest fall: Angels

I find it interesting that there's a lot more change in the First Division than there is in the Second. I'm not sure what it means. I think that volatility among the best teams is good. All of the division races (in the real world) should be fun to watch heading into the final two months of the regular season. It's a little disappointing, though I suppose not surprising, that it's a lot harder to dig your team out of an early season hole.

There are still two real-world division leaders in my Second Division: the Padres and the White Sox. The Padres, in fact, have the best record in the National League and the third best in baseball. If one of my second division teams wins the World Series, I will consider this experiment a failure. Just to be clear, I'm sort of hoping that it will fail. I want to believe that more than just a handful of teams have a chance to win the World Series each year. We shall see.

All Part of My Fantasy: July Player of the Month

Image from ESPN

Player: Rickie Weeks
Team: Milwaukee Brewers
Positions: Second Baseman
Month: July 2-31
Stats for the Month: 9 home runs, 20 RBI, 20 runs, 2 stolen bases and a .294 batting average

All Part of My Fantasy: No-Hitter

Week: July 25-31
Current Standing: 2nd out of 12
My Player of the Week: Matt Garza (Starting Pitcher, Rays) with 1 win, 15 strikeouts, a 2.25 ERA and an 0.44 WHIP

As previously noted, Garza pitched the first no-hitter in Tampa Bay Rays history.

Lots of changes for my players before the trade deadline. As previously noted, Dan Haren is now with the Angels. Roy Oswalt now pitches for the Phillies. Lance Berkman (1B) is a Yankee. Jhonny Peralta (3B) is a Tiger.

But the biggest news for me was meeting two of my league-mates in person for the first time yesterday: Mock's brother and another of his cousins. (They are Marc's cousin's, too, of course) It's funny the way the world works these days: you meet people in the real world after knowing them only as online personas, rather than the other way around. Mock and family had a huge shindig in their backyard to celebrate multiple summer birthdays. The pool was open, of course, but also a bouncy house on offer. We played some lawn golf, too.

Mock also gave me a huge stack of comic books. I didn't really read comic books as a kid but have become curious about them recently. Luckily for me, Mock is an aficionado with a surplus.