Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Roland Garros Day 10: Pavlyuchenkova

Curtain Call

Player: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
Age: 19
Nation: Russia
Current Ranking: 15
Notable Conquest: Vera Zvonareva (3rd seed, Russia)
Today's Result: lost to Fancesca Schiavone (5th, Italy) in three sets

Photo via Sky Sports

Pavlyunchenkova has been rising like a rocket up the rankings and this is her career-best Slam finish. Unfortunately for her, the run ended today against an awfully scrappy defending champion. This result will help Pavlyunchenkova's ranking heading into Wimbledon, where she will have only first round points to defend.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Family Adventures: Back on the Trail

Memorial Day marks the beginning of hiking season in Vermont and we have renewed our quest to hike the entirety of Vermont's Long Trail. Today was our first-of-the-season, let's-see-where-we-are hike, a manageable trek from last year that would serve as a good measure of our capabilities for the coming summer. Following is My Wife's write-up from her blog:

Hike #8 - Sunset Ledge Redux

A few more photos for your enjoyment:

I've always been fascinated by lichens, ever since I first learned what they were in seventh grade science. And I'll bet Ms. Reid didn't think I was paying attention!

Evidence of mud:

A few things to remember for next time:
- bug spray for Our Girl
- cell phone
- dry socks for everyone
- a dry T-shirt for me for the end of the hike (I had a long-sleeved to change into, but it would be nice to have a choice)
- hats for everyone
- a belt for me - the plumber look is not in style on the trail

Roland Garros Day 9: Ljubicic

Curtain Call

Player: Ivan Ljubicic
Age: 31
Nation: Croatia
Current Ranking: 37
Notable Conquests: Fernando Verdasco (16th seed, Spain) and Sam Querrey (24th, USA)
Today's Result: lost to Rafael Nadal (1st, Spain) in straight sets

Photo via Sporting Life

Ljubicic has been around a long time. This was his twelfth Roland Garros main draw. He has served notice that he's still got plenty of fight left. Indeed, he won his first Masters 1000 event just last year at Indian Wells. He looked despondent today but there's no shame in losing to Nadal in Paris.

Let's Talk Baseball: Bold Proposal May Standings

We come to the end of the second month of Season 2. For those new to the program, here is my original post for the idea and here is how things shook out at the end of last season, setting up the two divisions I'll be using for the 2011 season.

Photo via Diamond Hoggers

The current standings are as follows:

First Division

1. Phillies (unchanged from April)
2. Cardinals (+3)
3. Marlins (unchanged)
4. Red Sox (+9)
5. Braves (+6)
6. Yankees (-2)
7. Rays (unchanged)
7. Giants (+3)
9. Rangers (-4)

10. Angels (-3)
11. Reds (-2)
11. Tigers (+1)
13. Rockies (-11)

14. White Sox (+1)
15. Padres (-1)
16. Twins (unchanged)

Second Division

1. Indians (unchanged)
2. Brewers (+1)
2. Diamondbacks (+10)
4. Blue Jays (+1)

5. Mariners (+3)
5. A's
7. Orioles (unchanged)
7. Pirates (+4)
9. Mets (+4)
10. Cubs (-1)
11. Dodgers (-8)
12. Royals (-10)
13. Nationals (-4)
14. Astros (unchanged)

Biggest rise: Diamondbacks
Biggest fall: Rockies

The teams in italics are the six different teams to win the past six World Series titles. I am hoping that trend will continue and yet a different team will win this year. The Marlins are in the strongest position to do so at the moment.

A couple of observations:

- Of the top eight teams in the First Division, there are three teams from the AL East and also three from the NL East. In the real world, only four of those six teams could possibly make the playoffs.

- For the moment, two real world division leaders inhabit my Second Division: the D-backs and the Indians, who still hold the best record in the American League. Once again, I will consider this experiment a failure should one of my Second Division teams win the World Series.

My Baseball Fantasy: Braun, Part III

Private League: lost 4-5-1 (51-24-3 overall, 1st place out of 10, 5 games ahead)
Public League: 3rd place out of 12
My Player of the Week: Ryan Braun (Left Fielder, Brewers) with 1 RBI, 7 runs, 3 stolen bases and a .529 batting average

Photo via Fantasy Knuckleheads

Even in a week when he didn't hit any home runs, Braun was still a fantasy baseball goldmine.

I suffered my second loss of the season in the private league, this time to Mock's cousin. This coming week is the ninth of the year, thus we're about to wrap up the first round of the schedule. At the moment, I'm 2-2 against the Mock cousins, 4-0 against everyone else.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Roland Garros Day 8: Highway Robbery

Curtain Call

Player: Albert Montanes
Age: 30
Nation: Spain
Current Ranking: 38
Notable Conquest: Mikhail Youzhny (12th seed, Russia)
Today's Result: lost to Fabio Fognini (Italy) in five sets

Photo via Tennis24seven

There's no doubt about it. Montanes was robbed today. Fognini shouldn't have been granted an injury timeout for his leg cramps late in the fifth set and thus should have been given a warning for delay of game. He also should have been given a warning for unsportsmanlike conduct for deliberately foot-faulting. Then again, Montanes probably should have put him away in the fourth set. Instead, Fognini moves on to the first Slam quarterfinal of his career and Montanes is sent packing.

Catching Up with Old Friends

Richard Gasquet
(Curtain Call, US Open Day 8) - Even with today's straight-set loss to Djokovic (2nd, Serbia), this was Gasquet's career-best showing at his home Slam. Gasquet is turning 25 next month. Will he ever fulfill the promise he showed as a teenager or is this as good as it's going to get?

Yung-Jan Chan (Curtain Call, Australian Open Day 14) - The 21-year-old Chan had a great all-around tournament. She reached the singles main draw through qualifiers, then took out the 31st-seeded Klara Zakopalova (Czech Republic) in the first round. She made it to the third before falling to Maria Sharapova (7th, Russia): her best-ever Roland Garros result in singles. In women's doubles, she teamed with Monica Niculescu (Romania) as the 13th seed. They lost today in the third round to Vania King (USA)/Yaroslava Shvedova (Kazakhstan) (3rd seed).

But we latched onto Chan in Melbourne for her performance in mixed doubles. In Paris, she teamed with Eric Butorac (USA). In the first round, they took out the 2nd-seeded team of Vania King (USA) and Daniel Nestor (Canada). No doubt, Chan and King have had their fill of each other this week. Chan and Butorac's run ended in the second round today as they fell to Casey Dellacqua (Australia) and Scott Lipsky (USA).

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Roland Garros Day 7: Spring Cleaning

Curtain Call

Player: Lukas Rosol
Age: 25
Nation: Czech Republic
Current Ranking: 111
Notable Conquest: Jurgen Melzer (8th seed, Austria)
Today's Result: lost to Juan Ignacio Chela (Argentina) in four sets

Photo via Bettor.com

At 25, Rosol is at the traditional make-or-break age for a tennis player - not a bad time to have your best-ever Slam result. Rosol went through qualifying to reach the main draw and took out Melzer in the second round. Chela, even at 30, is never a good draw on clay. Rosol did well to take a set off of him.

With company coming next week, it's been a big cleaning day at our house. Our home looks tons better AND we have the rest of the weekend to relax. We're hoping to get out for a hike but thunderstorms are predicted for the rest of the weekend. Just what we need - more water. (It's been a very wet spring in Vermont.)

Friday, May 27, 2011

Roland Garros Day 6: Darcis

Curtain Call

Name: Steve Darcis
Age: 27
Nation: Belgium
Current Ranking: 135
Notable Conquest: Michael Llodra (22nd seed, France)
Today's Result: lost to Gael Monfils (9th, France) in straight sets

Photo via Mens Tennis Forum

Darcis first came to my attention four years ago when, after going through qualifying to reach his first-ever ATP-level tournament (Amersfoot, 2007), he went on to win the title, beating the far more accomplished Mikhail Youzhny (Russia) along the way. Unfortunately, his career has never quite lived up to that extraordinary beginning but he's had a great tournament here. In fact, this is his best-ever finish at a Slam.

Catching Up with Old Friends

Rebecca Marino
(Curtain Call, US Open Day 3) - Marino's third round finish is her best-ever result at a Slam. She is currently Canada's top-ranked female player. She fell today to Svetlana Kuznetsova (13th, Russia), 2009 Roland Garros champion. Her ranking, now #60, will improve once again.

Lourdes Dominguez Lino (CC, US Open Day 6) - Lino lost early in singles, falling to Vera Zvonareva (3rd, Russia) in the first round. But given that she missed the French last year, it still qualifies as an improvement. Her showing in doubles was slightly better. She and partner Laura Pous-Tio (Spain) made it to the second round.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Roland Garros Day 5: Soler-Espinosa

Curtain Call

Player: Silvia Soler-Espinosa
Age: 23
Nation: Spain
Current Ranking: 158
Today's Result: lost to Na Li (6th seed, China) in straight sets

Photo via Tennis Forum

Soler-Espinosa went through qualifying to reach the first Slam main draw of her career. She won her first round match, too, taking out Elena Vesnina (Russia). Alas, Li was too good.

Golden Squid Update

Tobias Kamke (Golden Squid since 1/17/2011) - Kamke lost to 15th-seeded Viktor Troicki (Serbia) in straight sets, thus ending his Roland Garros campaign for 2011. He made the 2nd round last year, too, so no ranking points lost or gained. He'll have more at stake at Wimbledon, where he made the 3rd round last year.

Jurgen Melzer (Golden Squid since 1/24/2011) - Melzer's loss today will hurt a lot more, falling to Lukas Rosol (Czech Republic) in five sets. He made the semis last year so his ranking will take a big hit. Perhaps to conserve his energy for singles, Melzer did not enter the doubles draw in Paris. At Wimbledon, he and partner Phillip Petzschner are the defending doubles champions.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Roland Garros Day 4: Why Berdych Should Have Consulted Me First

Curtain Call

Player: Stephane Robert
Age: 31
Nation: France
Current Ranking: 140
Notable Conquest: Tomas Berdych (6th seed, Czech Republic)
Today's Result: lost to Fabio Fognini (Italy) in straight sets

Photo via Tennis Today

Did I not say that Tomas Berdych shouldn't have played Nice? I'm most certain I did! Nice champ Nicolas Almagro (11th, Spain) also lost first round in Paris. Why does no one ever heed my advice in these matters?

Stephane deserves major props for taking out Berdych, the biggest scalp taken by anyone in the tournament thus far. Berdych's ranking will take a big hit as he had semifinal points to defend here. For the qualifier Robert, on the other hand, even with today's pasting at the hands of Fognini, this is his best-ever result at Roland Garros. We're only four days into the tournament and I'm already honoring my second local.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Roland Garros Day 3: A New Golden Squid

Curtain Call

Player: Marina Erakovic
Age: 23
Nation: New Zealand
Current Ranking: 167
Today's Result: lost to Arantxa Rus (Netherlands) in three sets

Photo via Otago Daily Times

New Zealand is not particularly known for tennis. Rugby and sailing? They are among the best in the world. Top flight tennis players are few and far between. Erakovic is Croatian by birth, but has lived in New Zealand since she was six. She has a nice website. Check it out here.

Catching Up with Old Friends

Greta Arn
(Curtain Call, Wimbledon Day 5) - Arn lost her doubles match today. This was actually her first time in the doubles main draw of a Slam. She partnered with Jill Craybas (USA) and they lost to the 11th-seeded Spanish team of Martina Jose Martinez Sanchez and A. Medina Garrigues. She fell out of the singles draw yesterday, losing to the 9th seeded Petra Kvitova (Czech Republic) in straight sets. This was her first Roland Garros singles main draw since 2002. This is her fourth consecutive appearance here, thus earning a Golden Squid award.

Photo via Tennis Served Fresh

Photo via tenhand.com

Arn's overall ranking has improved considerably over the past year. She was ranked 136th in the world when she made the third round at last year's Wimbledon. Now 32 years old, she achieved her career-high ranking of #40 just over a week ago. Her current ranking is #46. She is Hungarian born but competed for Germany until 2008, when she represented Hungary in both Fed Cup and Olympic competition.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Roland Garros Day 2: Phau

Curtain Call

Player: Bjorn Phau
Age: 30
Nation: Germany
Current Ranking: 145
Today's Result: lost to Gael Monfils (9th seed, France) in four sets

Photo via Browse Biography

The Indonesian-German Phau went through qualifying to reach the main draw. He managed to take the first set off of Monfils before dropping off. This was his fourth appearance in the Roland Garros main draw, but his first since 2006.

My Baseball Fantasy: The Evil Empire

Private League: won, 6-2-2 (47-20-3 overall, 1st place out of 10, 7 games ahead)
Public League: 3rd place out of 12
My Player of the Week: Alex Rodriguez (Third Baseman, Yankees) with 3 home runs, 4 RBI, 7 runs, and a .419 batting average

Photo via Hot Celebrity Photos

When my pick came up in the second round of the private league draft, the right choice was obvious. I already had one third baseman as Evan Longoria (Rays) had been my first pick but there was no reason not to pick another for one of the utility slots. I pulled the trigger but I have to admit to feeling unclean immediately afterward.

I detest the Yankees. As an Orioles fan, that's more or less obligatory. Even beyond that, with all else being equal, I'll always root for David over Goliath and there is no bigger Goliath in North American sports than the New York Yankees. Plus, A-Rod is my least favorite among them. But I swallowed my bitter pill and I certainly can't complain about the results over the past week.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

On the Coffee Table: Michael Lewis

Image via Mike Jacobs

I was prepared for Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game to blow my mind. Michael Lewis's book has enjoyed both high praise and great notoriety since its publication in 2003. It is the only book, I believe, to merit mention in Ken Burns's Tenth Inning. There is, of course, a danger in approaching any work - be it literary, musical, cinematic, whatever - with high expectations. But Moneyball exceeded mine, nonetheless. My outlook on the game of baseball is permanently altered. I now have entirely new perspectives on...

The Oakland A's: I've never been much of an A's fan. My main association with them is the Canseco/McGwire/Eckersley teams of the late '80s which I did not like. The book, however, is about the very different franchise of the late '90s and early aughts, one which managed to win plenty, despite a significantly lower payroll than the other power teams of the era. I am now completely sold on Billy Beane's philosophy. It is interesting to note, however, that the franchise is at a low ebb at the moment. Perhaps the draft philosophy Beane was exploring in the book hasn't worked out so well over the long-term. On the other hand, perhaps the spread of his philosophy to other clubs has cut into his advantage, other clubs like...

The Boston Red Sox: Combine the Beane philosophy of the valuation of baseball talent with the deep pockets of a much richer team and you can, at last, break the Curse of the Bambino as GM Theo Epstein did in 2004.

The Baltimore Orioles: My team is no longer one of the big spenders in the baseball market but in the late 1990s, in particular, they were not shy about using Peter Angelos's considerable wealth on free agents. Then as now, Michael Lewis's book suggests, the franchise treasure could have been invested far more wisely. As for this year's squad, the team's on-base percentage - the stat most highly-valued by Billy Beane - is .317, tied for 16th in the Majors. For what it's worth, the A's OBP is .301. The O's slugging percentage is .376, 20th best in the Majors, though still better than the A's at .344. Perhaps this explains Oakland's recent downturn as well.

Fantasy Baseball: Ever since reading chapter 4, "Field of Ignorance," I have been thinking about ways to adapt fantasy baseball to sabermetrics, the rational examination of baseball statistics which has been highly influential in Billy Beane's player valuation philosophy. In short, many of the traditional measures of player value - batting average, RBI, stolen bases, etc. - are not as meaningful as we've all been lead to believe. On-base percentage and slugging percentage, in particular, have much stronger correlation to a team's run-scoring ability and, by extension, its winning percentage. Not only does conventional baseball thinking value the wrong stats, so too do most fantasy baseball leagues. I'm hoping to address this issue directly next season though I'd like to do a bit more research. My current league-mates may require some convincing as well.

The First-Year Player Draft: I've never paid much attention to the baseball draft but I sure will this year. In particular, I'm going to keep an eye on how the Orioles' picks compare to those of the Athletics. I find it funny that Beane has been drafting more high school players recently, a practice at which he scoffed in the book.

The Vermont Lake Monsters: Our local minor league club has a new Major League affiliation this year. You guessed it: the Oakland A's. The Lake Monsters play in the New York-Penn League, a Short-Season A circuit. As such, we may get to see some of Billy Beane's 2011 draftees in person.

As much as I was impressed by the philosophy Beane promotes, what I enjoyed most about Lewis's book are his stories of the players whose talents were undervalued by the rest of baseball. I'd love to believe that sports are purely meritocratic but in truth, people's preconceptions too often cloud their judgements of a player's abilities. The Oakland philosophy has allowed a different sort of player to succeed and their stories are highly engaging.

Roland Garros Day 1: Gensse

Curtain Call

Player: Augustin Gensse
Age: 27
Nation: France
Current Ranking: 178
Today's Result: lost to Stanislas Wawrinka (14th seed, Switzerland) in four sets

Photo via ITF Tennis

Gensse went through qualifying to reach the first Slam main draw of his career. He made Wawrinka work for it, too, by taking the first set. He's got a nice forehand but Wawrinka's backhand is better, not to mention his superior talent and experience overall.

My Tennis Fantasy

Once again, I'm going with the world's top 5 for the Slam: Nadal, Djokovic, Federer, Murray and Soderling. All five have made it at least as far as the semis here before. For the record, Djokovic is my pick to win. It's hard to pick against Rafa on clay, even with the Djoker's current hot streak. But with each passing week, it's looking more and more like a Djokovic year.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

My Tennis Fantasy: Hanescu

Current Overall Ranking: 36th
My MVP for the Week: Victor Hanescu (Romania) with $51,608, losing to Nicolas Almagro (Spain) in the finals of the Open de Nice Cote d'Azur

Photo via Dominican Sports News

Romania's top player for several years now, the 6' 6" Hanescu is unusual for a big man in that clay is his best surface. Most tall players - John Isner and Ivo Karlovic, for instance - are power players whose strengths are best exhibited on faster courts. This is Hanescu's fifth career ATP final, all on clay.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Checking in with the Orioles: Mid-May

I DVRed the Orioles-Red Sox game from Monday night and watched it over three evenings. Part of me wonders about the sense of this given that by the morning after the game, I knew not only the final score but also all about Adrian Gonzalez's walk-off double. But, as it says at the top of the page, every game is a story. It's fun to watch one from beginning to end - even if you already know the ending.

Guerrero photo via Yahoo! News UK

And so, as the game entered the bottom of the sixth, I found myself wondering how on earth the Orioles had managed to lose this one. They were up 6-0. Chris Tillman, despite allowing runners to get as far as third base in two different innings, had kept a clean sheet through five. But he was done for the night, as all of the O's young hurlers are on strict pitch-count limits. The offensive production was there, too. Apparently, they've decided they can run on Jason Varitek. The Birds stole four bases on the night. As of now (5/20/11, 6 pm EDT), they've only stolen 19 all year. So, how did they lose?

The bullpen let this one get away. I don't want to be too tough on the pen as they had a magnificent night on Wednesday against the Yanks. But the sixth inning on Monday was just ugly. Three different relievers pitched in the inning, combining to allow five runs. It all started with the ill-fated Michael Gonzalez who was responsible for four of those runs. The Sox smelled blood in the water. The kill shot in the ninth was almost inevitable.

Even with such a disappointing loss, there were definitely some bright spots for the O's. Vladimir Guerrero went 3-for-5 with 2 doubles, an RBI and 2 runs scored. While the pen struggled, there were definitely those who fought valiantly to stem the tide. Lefty Clay Rapada put a merciful end to the sixth inning, not allowing any runs to score once he entered the game. Righty Koji Uehara (more on him later) pitched a scoreless eighth.


Time to check in on the 10 things Matt Trueblood feels the Orioles must do to win the pennant. Oh, to dream...

1. Brian Matusz becomes an ace. May 28th is the current target date for his return from injury. He has his second rehab start tomorrow in Bowie (AA).

2. Koji Uehara wins the closer role. Current closer Kevin Gregg has seven saves so far, though he's blown three. Uehara blew the only chance he had. Overall, however, Uehara does have the better ERA: 2.50 vs. 3.31. The case is increasingly strong for the change to be made.

3. Nick Markakis elevates. The O's right fielder has had a slow start, though really the whole offense has been sluggish to this point. Markakis's overall numbers are down from last year: .249 BA as opposed to .297, .317 OBP vs. .370 and .343 slugging way down from .436. There is, however, some good news. His ground outs/air outs ratio is down to 0.95 from 1.04, suggesting the potential for greater power numbers over the long run.

5. Justin Duchscherer gets healthy. Now it seems June is the earliest possible return from the DL.

6. Buck Showalter makes the team his own. Slugging and fielding were Trueblood's two main points of interest here. Slugging is down: .376 as a team as opposed to .386 in 2010. The team fielding percentage, however, is up slightly: .985 vs. .982. The team winning percentage - the most important stat to this fan - is definitely up: .452 vs. .407. I still say Buck is the man and the longer the team sticks with him, the better.

7. Zach Britton finds his way. Since our last check in, Britton has allowed 4 earned runs over 27 1/3 innings. For those without a calculator handy, that's a 1.32 ERA over 4 starts. Yeah, this guy's pretty good. Most impressive to me were his nine shutout innings on 108 pitches against the Mariners on May 12th.

8. Left field poses a good problem. With Brian Roberts (2B) and Derrick Lee (1B) on the DL, the team will frequently require the simultaneous services of both Luke Scott and Félix Pié. Pié is holding down leadoff duties in Roberts's absence. Scott is covering first.

9. Chris Tillman breaks the ceiling. As noted above, Tillman did well on Monday night. Combine that with the fact that Brad Bergesen was thoroughly bludgeoned by the Yankees last night and Tillman's long-term prospects of staying in the starting rotation may have improved slightly.

10. Adam Jones becomes Batman. The batting average is up, .292 as opposed to .284 last year. The slugging percentage is up slightly: .448 vs. .442. The stolen base percentage is up: 100% vs. 50%. The fielding percentage is exactly the same: .984. The range factor is up slightly: 2.93 vs. 2.91. This definitely qualifies as good news.

Monday, May 16, 2011

My Baseball Fantasy: Sabermetrics

Private League: won 8-2 (41-18-1 overall, 1st place out of 10, 3 games ahead of second)
Public League: 3rd out of 12
My Player of the Week: Adrian Gonzalez (First Baseman, Red Sox) with 5 home runs, 10 RBI, 7 runs and a .346 batting average

Photo via Through the Fence Baseball

Gonzalez was a double-edged sword for me this week. He was on my opponent's team in the private league but in the public league he's all mine. The guy has been on a tear of late. I'd actually be alright with him going cold for a couple days. The Orioles are at Fenway for a quick two-gamer. Of course, if it's raining in Boston like it is here, they won't be playing at all tonight.

I'm in the middle of reading Michael Lewis's Moneyball and I'm completely sold on sabermetrics. My mind has been racing for ways to adapt fantasy baseball to more meaningful statistics. There are models out there, though most seem to be for points leagues. I have nothing against points leagues, of course, but it would be interesting to see how the H2H format might be tweaked, while remaining within the capabilities of Yahoo! customization.

The most straightforward model I found (via Tom Tango at MLB Trade Rumors Forums):

At Bats (AB) -1
Singles (1B) 4
Doubles (2B) 8
Triples (3B) 10
Home Runs (HR) 12
Stolen Bases (SB) 2
Caught Stealing (CS) -3
Walks (BB) 3
Hit By Pitch (HBP) 3

Innings Pitched (IP) 6
Home Runs (HR) -13
Walks (BB) -3
Hit Batters (HBP) -3
Strikeouts (K) 2
Singles Allowed (1BA) -3
Doubles Allowed (2BA) -6
Triples Allowed (3BA) -8

In Yahoo!'s H2H set up, the weighting system would be lost but could the main ideas be preserved? The H2H batter defaults are runs, HRs, RBI, SBs and batting average. Instead, how about on-base percentage, slugging percentage, total bases, net steals and homers? Pitcher defaults are wins, saves, Ks, ERA and WHIP. Alternatively, WHIP, Ks, home runs allowed, total bases allowed and on-base percentage against might be better.

Of course, one has to wonder, does it really matter? Pretending that fantasy baseball should be or even COULD be more like actual baseball is probably akin to madness. One should enjoy the fantasy game for what it is. Would using different stats actually make the game more fun? It's all a matter of taste, I suppose.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

My Tennis Fantasy: Berdych, Part 3

My Current Ranking: 32nd
My MVP for the Week: Tomas Berdych (Czech Republic) with $72,170, losing to Richard Gasquet (France) in the quarterfinals of Internazionali BNL d'Italia

Photo via Sky Sports

This is my second week in a row featuring Berdych. Make that eight out of ten tournaments this season in which he's made the quarters or better. He'll be the #2 seed in Nice this week. I think it's always a questionable decision to play in a tournament the week before a Slam if you have a reasonable shot at that Slam's second week, which Berdych certainly does. I guess he can worry about that later. Here's to another strong week.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

On the Coffee Table: Roger Angell

Kurt Vonnegut once wrote when he was, of course, still alive and a relatively young man, that he wouldn't mind being as old as E.B. White as long as it meant he could actually be E.B. White. I have very similar feelings about Mr. White's stepson, Roger Angell. Angell, now 90 years old, has had a long, successful and varied career as a writer. But he is best known for his many essays on his life passion: baseball. In fact, a very strong case could be made for him as the most profoundly insightful sportswriter of the 20th century.

Image via Barnes & Noble

Five Seasons: A Baseball Companion is one of several collections of Angell's New Yorker baseball columns. First published in 1977, the book contains 16 essays from the 1972-76 baseball campaigns. The 1970s were, without question, a time of transition for the sport: the introduction of the designated hitter, the end of the reserve clause and the subsequent rise of free agency, more night games, more AstroTurf, American League expansion, etc. The economics of the game have changed beyond recognition since that era, of course, but Angell's musings still resonate with the baseball world of 2011.

I have to admit that, as much as I admire Angell's writings, his season and post-season synopses can be a bit tedious: that one-game-after-another feel. He's at his best when he follows his insatiable curiosity to probe the deeper mysteries of the game: the world of the talent scout, the sudden and total demise of a star pitcher, the physics of the knuckleball, the passion of three die-hard Tiger fans, etc. My favorite chapter of the book is also its shortest: "Stories for a Rainy Afternoon." It is the only essay in the book that had not previously been featured in The New Yorker.

My favorite passage, however, comes at the end of Angell's write-up of the epic Game Six of the 1975 World Series (p. 306, University of Nebraska Press, 2004):

It is foolish and childish, on the face of it, to affiliate ourselves with anything so insignificant and patently contrived and commercially exploitative as a professional sports team, and the amused superiority and icy scorn that the non-fan directs at the sports nut (I know this look -- I know it by heart) is understandable and almost unanswerable. Almost. What is left out of this calculation, it seems to me, is the business of caring -- caring deeply and passionately, really caring -- which is a capacity or an emotion that has almost gone out of our lives. And so it seems possible that we have come to a time when it no longer matters so much what the caring is about, how frail or foolish is the object of that concern, as long as the feeling itself can be saved. Naïveté -- the infantile and ignoble joy that sends a grown man or woman to dancing and shouting with joy in the middle of the night over the haphazard flight of a distant ball -- seems a small price to pay for such a gift.
That pretty much says it all.

Monday, May 9, 2011

My Baseball Fantasy: Sunday Night Baseball

Private League: won 5-4-1 (33-16-1 overall, 1st place out of 10, 1 game ahead of 2nd)
Public League: 4th place out of 12
My Player of the Week: Shane Victorino (Center Fielder, Phillies) with 1 home run, 5 RBI, 3 runs, 2 stolen bases and a .333 batting average

Photo via Jim DeLorenzo Public Relations

I'm definitely a fan of the head-to-head league format. Individual Major League games become a lot more important and I really like that. ESPN's Sunday night game, in particular, has the potential to match the significance of the Monday night game in fantasy football. Such was the case with last night's Braves-Phillies contest.

I had a tough matchup this week, facing the guy who had been just ahead of me in the standings. The ultimate outcome was still in doubt with just the one Sunday night game left to play. We both had several players involved in the game. I had starting pitcher Cole Hamels and center fielder Shane Victorino for the Phillies as well as closer Craig Kimbrel for the Braves. He had Phillies' first baseman Ryan Howard and closer Ryan Madsen as well as Braves' left fielder Martin Prado and third baseman Chipper Jones. We were very close on a few stats. Wins, runs, RBI and batting average were all up for grabs. Fortunately, things fell my way. While Hamels couldn't get the win, Victorino had a great night: 2-for-5 with a run. It was just enough.

Victorino, aka The Flyin' Hawaiian, is on my roster in both leagues. I got him in the 10th round of the private league and the 8th round of the public league. He was also a track star in high school, winning the Hawaii state titles in the 100 m, 200 m and 400 m races.

This week I draw Mock as my opponent in our first of two scheduled matchups this season. If it all comes down to Sunday night this time, the competition will be direct. I have two Yankees on my squad. True to form, Mock has six Red Sox on his.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

My Tennis Fantasy: Berdych, Part 2

Current Overall Standing: 29th
My MVP for the Week: Tomas Berdych (Czech Republic) with $89,872, losing to Thomaz Bellucci (Brazil) in the quarterfinals of the Mutua Marilena Madrid Open

Photo via The Tennis Server

Berdych is having a great 2011 season so far. No titles yet but this is the seventh tournament out of nine in which he's made the quarterfinals or better. He looks to be in very good shape with just two weeks to go until Roland Garros.

Today's win for Djokovic was big. I'm starting to believe. It's folly to read too much into any one match but over the past two years, success in Madrid has been a springboard to winning both Roland Garros and Wimbledon. If Novak can beat Rafa on clay, we're in for an exciting summer.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Checking in with Terps Baseball: Ping!

"Wait, we're watching college baseball?" asked My Wife, The Exasperated.

Indeed we were. I have to admit that I've never paid much heed to the college game - certainly not during the regular season and most definitely not the University of Maryland's team. The Terps are not exactly a powerhouse program on the diamond. They've not been to the NCAA tournament since 1971, also the year of the team's last ACC title. But with no Orioles games on in the near future, I thought I'd see what else was on offer on our DirecTV schedule. What do you know, there was a Maryland-North Carolina game on today. So, why not college baseball?

Bakich Photo via PressBox

The college game is very different. The most obvious rule change is the use of aluminum bats, outlawed in the pros but the overwhelming preference in the college game. It is also a pretty steep drop in talent, even from low-level minor league teams. Each team in Division I is only allowed 11.7 scholarships so a sizable portion of the roster is composed of walk-on players.

But the sport is no less entertaining at this level. In fact, today's was a pretty good game. The North Carolina Tar Heels are the far more established program, having reached the College World Series in four of the past five seasons. They entered today's game ranked #17 in the nation. As such, the Heels were the heavy favorites but the Terps put up a good fight. Terps starting pitcher David Carroll gave the team a quality start, allowing three runs over six innings, but the offense and bullpen were not able to get him the win. Ultimately, UNC won 5-4 in ten innings.

I did my best to keep a scorecard for the affair but my work was cut out for me. Given the low number of scholarship players on each team and the resulting talent disparity on a given squad, one tends to see personnel moves which one would never see in a professional game. Case in point: UNC reliever Greg Holt pitched the last out in the top of the seventh, then pinch hit for the designated hitter in the bottom of the inning. He pitched the first out of the eighth before being pulled but remained in the game in the batting order, ultimately hitting a game-tying RBI double in the bottom of the ninth. On the Maryland side, center fielder Korey Wacker, in addition to having a great baseball name, is the Terps' closer. In the ninth inning, he came down from the outfield to try to save the game. Sadly, it didn't work out.

The game got exciting enough toward the end that My Wife asked me if I knew who won (I DVR games so I can skip commercials and keep score more easily). "No, I'm only about 15 minutes behind with this one. Are you saying you're actually taking an interest?"

"No, no, just wondering," she replied, suddenly sheepish.

I hate to see a great game end on a mistake, as it did with Wacker's throwing error in the tenth. Nonetheless, I'm glad that I tuned in, and certainly won't turn my nose up at college games in the future. Even with today's loss, the future for the Maryland program looks bright. This is head coach Erik Bakich's second year with the program and this year's freshmen represent the 25th best recruiting class in the country. They're getting playing time, too, with as many as five frosh taking the field in any given game. I'll look forward to checking in with them again sometime.

Monday, May 2, 2011

My Baseball Fantasy: It's a Boy!

Private League: lost 6-4 (28-12 overall, 2nd place out of 10, 0 games out of 1st but down a tie-break)
Public League: 4th out of 12
My Player of the Week: Ryan Braun (Left Fielder, Brewers) with 3 home runs, 5 RBI, 3 runs, 1 stolen base and a .292 batting average

Photo via EndScore

This was my first head-to-head loss in the private league, losing to Mock's brother. I'm going up against the guy ahead of me in the standings this week. That should be interesting.

It was another great week for Braun. I feel a couple of my other players deserve honorable mention. First, it was tempting to pick Ben Zobrist (Second Baseman/Right Fielder, Rays) as my PotW with his astonishing week: 2 home runs, 13 RBI, 8 runs, 2 stolen bases and a .440 batting average. But I benched him yesterday in favor of Nick Markakis (Right Fielder, Orioles), a new acquisition of mine in the public league. It was a wise choice, as it turned out, as Markakis had the better game on Sunday. I don't feel right picking a guy if I didn't start him for every game he played during the week.

Second, and really far more important, Ian Desmond (Nationals), my starting shortstop in both leagues, became a father and took advantage of the Major Leagues' new, highly enlightened paternity leave policy. Icing on the cake: he hit a homer and a triple in his first game back. Many congratulations to the young family!

A to Z Reflections

I have thoroughly enjoyed the A to Z Blogging Challenge and I'm already thinking about theme possibilities for next year. It has been a wonderful opportunity to make connections in the blogging world. My only regret is that the link I submitted was not a very good one - lesson learned for next time. Nonetheless, a few determined souls found my blog anyway and I'm delighted to have a few new friends.

Count me in for 2012! What is the scheduling plan for an April with five Sundays?

Some final baseball thoughts, too:

I had a great time learning about the history of the Baltimore Orioles/St. Louis Browns franchise. As I wrote in one post, I settled on my criteria before I picked the players, basically picking the player for each letter who had the longest tenure with the club. What I found is that quite a lot of the players who've been with the team for extended stays were better known for their fielding than for their hitting. The lesson: fielding your position well is great for job security.

The one position for which I had no players was second base. There were a few who played some games at second, but no one for whom that was his primary position. Not too many pitchers made the list either: only six. Conversely, shortstops and catchers were over-represented with four and three respectively.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

My Tennis Fantasy: Del Potro

Current Standing: 25th
My MVP for the Week: Juan Martin Del Potro (Argentina) with $98,246, defeating Fernando Verdasco (Spain) to win the title at the Estoril Open

Photo via Tennis Ticket News

All is right with the world. Juan Martin Del Potro is healthy and winning tennis titles. Here's the one guy who can really shake things up at the top of the rankings if he stays in form. This is his second title of 2011, having taken the Delray Beach tournament on hard courts. He missed much of 2010 and didn't so much as make a tournament final during that campaign. If we're all lucky, Djokovic won't be the only one breathing down Nadal's neck this summer.

Checking in with the Orioles: Sox of Various Hues

It was an exciting week of baseball for me. An Orioles-Red Sox series assures NESN coverage so I had three midweek games to enjoy. As a special bonus, the Orioles-White Sox game on Saturday was on WGN. The Birds had slumped a bit after their fast start so I was hoping for at least three wins over the five games played from Tuesday to Saturday to get them back on track.

An O's-Sox series also means my team and Mock's are going head-to-head. Mock doesn't see the O's as much of a threat and really, why would he? The Birds' recent history against Boston has been abysmal. The Yankees, Rays and even the Blue Jays are all of greater concern as AL East rivals. But from my perspective, taking a series from the Red Sox would be a very big deal.

4/26/11 - Boston @ Baltimore

Over a 162-game season, it would seem folly to attach too much importance to any one contest. That said, Tuesday night's offering, the opening act of the series, had strong microcosmic elements. A Britton vs. Buchholz match-up is exactly the sort of game the Orioles will need to win more often if they are to make any real progress this year. On the one side, with injuries to others who would normally inhabit the starting rotation, the Orioles are counting heavily on Zach Britton, their rookie lefty phenom. On the other, Clay Buchholz absolutely owned the Birds last year and with a righty-heavy lineup, the O's are still vulnerable to the right-handed power pitchers in the AL East.

Britton photo via Bent Corner

Both sides of the equation worked out just fine on Tuesday. Britton was the star of the evening, pitching six innings, allowing only one run. In theory, Britton should be good against the Sox' lefty-heavy lineup. But in defiance of conventional baseball wisdom, Britton is statistically stronger against right-handed batters. As such, his dominating performance was very encouraging.

Buchholz allowed zero earned runs in 15 innings against Baltimore last season. The O's tagged him for four over 6 2/3 on Tuesday. That's one nemesis conquered - for now, at least.

Final score: Orioles 4, Red Sox 1

4/27/11 - Boston @ Baltimore

For Wednesday, an extra treat was in store. Jerry Remy, NESN's usual color man, was a late scratch due to illness. In need of local talent for a replacement, NESN contracted Baltimore folk hero Rick Dempsey for the evening. Dempsey was D on my A to Z list. A colorful character in his playing days, he brings plenty of personality to the booth as well. It was a bit strange to watch a Red Sox broadcast in which they talked primarily about the other team but I certainly enjoyed that. Sadly, others were not so impressed.

As for the game, Jeremy Guthrie provided the Orioles' their second quality start in a row, allowing zero runs over six innings. Unfortunately, the bullpen couldn't hold things together for him to record a victory. Three Baltimore pitchers combined to allow four runs in the eighth as the Sox tied the game.

Lee photo via The Loss Column

But it was a night for the Birds' two new big-name acquisitions to shine. Derrick Lee went 3-for-4 on the evening, scoring two runs, including the game-winner in the bottom of the eighth. Vladimir Guerrero brought him home for the winner with exactly the sort of single upon which he has built his career. With Lee on third courtesy of two passed balls by Jason Varitek and first base open, the smart move would have been to walk Vladi. But he found a pitch to hit and knocked it into center field.

Final score: Orioles 5, Red Sox 4

On Thursday morning, I stopped by Mock's room to chat. I gave him some gentle ribbing over the O's two wins. He didn't really rise to the bait. Of course, he was a bit preoccupied with other things, like trying to find dry clothes to wear for the day. It's hard to feel sorry for ourselves with the tornadoes raging in the south but to say it's been a rainy week in Vermont is putting it mildly. The Thursday morning commute, in particular, was quite an adventure.

4/28/11 - Boston @ Baltimore

Jon Lester has the Orioles' number. That is the simple truth. The Boston lefty is now 14-0 lifetime against Baltimore. The box score indicates that the Oriole bullpen gave up four runs over two innings to put the game out of reach. But even if they'd allowed just one, it wouldn't have made any difference. Lester was just too good: eight innings, five strikeouts, four hits, three walks and two runs.

Bergesen photo via Bleacher Report

The game was not without its bright spots for the Birds. The young righty Brad Bergesen provided the team with its third consecutive quality starts, allowing two runs over six. At some point, it would be nice if the Oriole starters could work further into games but I certainly understand wanting to preserve young arms early in the season.

Final score: Red Sox 6, Orioles 2

On Friday morning, the gentle ribbing came my way from Mock. That didn't go too far either. I can't be overly upset. A sweep of the Sox would have been great but a series win is a series win. It would seem neither of us is too keen on a baseball rivalry playing too much of a role in our friendship. That's fine by me. I do believe that a true fan loves the game first and the team second, anyway. Of course, it's easy to be magnanimous in April, too. Our two teams have 15 more games to play against one another this season, including the last series of the year in September. If a playoff spot is on the line at that stage, our discussions might take on a more anxious tone.

4/30/11 - Baltimore @ Chicago

I feel I can say definitively that NESN's coverage of Red Sox games far exceed's WGN's coverage of White Sox games. Even My Wife, a Chicagoland native, was embarrassed by the broadcast booth's blatant Good Guys vs. Bad Guys rhetoric. I find it extra irking as color man Steve Stone is a former Oriole! In fact, he won a Cy Young while pitching for the team in 1980, back in an era when the Orioles staff more or less had a lock on that particular trophy. Three different Baltimore pitchers (Jim Palmer, Mike Flanagan and Stone) won the Cy Young a total of five times from 1973-80. NESN's graphics are sharper, too.

Photo via Bleacher Report

The Orioles had beaten the White Sox on Friday night, 10-4. So, they had already crossed the three-win threshold I had envisioned. Thus, the Saturday night win was icing on the cake from my perspective. The Birds had a particularly nice game from Robert Andino, the regular shortstop at the moment. With J.J. Hardy's injury and gifted fielder Cesar Izturis's eternal struggles at the plate, Andino has unexpectedly emerged as the Orioles' most dependable hitter over the past few weeks. He went 2-for-4 on Saturday night with a homer, two runs scored and a stolen base. Shortstop has been a troubling position for the club for a while now. Andino's recent success is a welcome surprise.

Final score: Orioles 6, White Sox 2


As I've written before, I thought before moving here that hockey was a bigger deal in Vermont than it actually is. I've lived in a hockey state. I spent a year in Minnesota, where high school games are frequently televised. That's hockey country. Here, the average sports fan is far more passionate about baseball. I believe I have come to understand why.

If baseball is being played, spring really is on its way. The very words spring training reassure us that the days will be getting longer. Once the home opener is played at Fenway, we know that even mud season is temporary. As baseball wraps up its first month, there are finally buds on the trees and there is talk at our house of backyard grilling.

Unfortunately, the reverse is also true. Once the final out is made at the World Series, we all know what's coming...

Finally, a quick assessment of a few of Matt Trueblood's ten things the Orioles must do to win the pennant:

1. Brian Matusz Becomes an Ace He's still on the DL, apparently about three weeks from returning to service.

2. Koji Uehara Wins the Closer Role The slightest sign of trouble with current closer Kevin Gregg seems to inspire calls for his replacement by Uehara. But in truth, Gregg was solid over this five game stretch, converting both of his save opportunities without even allowing a base runner. Uehara, on the other hand, has been sketchy. Sure, he was credited with the win on Wednesday but he did give up a three-run homer which tied the game. He only got the win because the offense bailed him out in the bottom of the inning. He allowed a home run in the ninth last night, too.

4. Clay Buchholz and Phil Hughes Regress I think the Birds can cross this one off the list. The win against Buchholz on Tuesday had great implications for the season ahead. Hughes, meanwhile, has completely fallen apart. Technically, he's on the disabled list but really he's just been stinking up the place. He has already had a start against the Orioles. They knocked him around for five runs over 4 1/3. Of course, Buchholz and Hughes aren't the only tough righties in baseball. Nonetheless, the Baltimore hitters should be encouraged by early signs that their division road may have gotten a tad easier.

5. Justin Duchscherer Gets Healthy He's still on the DL, officially due back in May.

7. Zach Britton Finds His Way There's still plenty of time for all to go kablooey but man, he looked tough on Tuesday. He's currently 4-1 with a 2.84 ERA. With any young stud hurler, one wonders how he'll survive his first shelling. The Indians touched him for five runs in six innings on April 15th. His two subsequent outings were both solid wins. It's hard not to be excited about this guy.

8. Left Field Poses a Good Problem Luke Scott has more starts but Félix Pié has more game appearances. Pié's batting average is still slightly better: .250 to .241. There is one major drawback to the left field situation: both men bat left-handed. Against lefty pitchers, Jake Fox, the backup catcher, is getting the starts.

9. Chris Tillman Breaks the Ceiling When Matusz and/or Duchscherer return and presumably take up spots in the starting rotation, Tillman appears, at least for the moment, to be the most likely man to be shipped to Norfolk, the triple-A club. He got the win last night but only lasted five innings and had to be bailed out of trouble by the bullpen in the sixth.

Let's Talk Baseball: Bold Proposal April Standings

The first month of Season 2 is in the books. For those new to the program, here is my original post for the idea and here is how things shook out at the end of last season, setting up the two divisions I'll be using for the 2011 season.

Photo via Bleacher Report

The current standings are as follows:

First Division

1. Phillies
2. Rockies
3. Marlins
4. Yankees
5. Rangers
5. Cardinals
7. Rays
7. Angels
9. Reds

10. Giants
11. Braves
12. Tigers
13. Red Sox

14. Padres
15. White Sox
16. Twins

Second Division

1. Indians
2. Royals
3. Brewers
3. Dodgers

5. Blue Jays
5. A's

7. Orioles
8. Mariners
9. Cubs
9. Nationals
11. Pirates
12. Diamondbacks
13. Mets
14. Astros

The teams in italics are the six different teams to win the past six World Series titles. At the moment, the Rockies would appear to be the most likely team to continue that trend. Last year's promoted teams, the Reds, Padres and White Sox, are experiencing varying levels of success in the upper league. The Reds are cruising along respectably while the Padres and White Sox are, at least for the moment, in position to go right back down.

The Indians lead the Second Division. In the real world, of course, they have the best record in the American League. Just as last year, if a Second Division team wins the World Series, I'll consider my experiment a failure. For some historical perspective, only one Second Division team even made the playoffs last year: the Reds. Of last year's relegated teams, the Dodgers, Cubs and Mariners, the Dodgers would appear the most likely to make it back to the First Division.