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Monday, April 27, 2009

5 Winners

The NFL draft is finally over!  I don't believe in giving grades because it takes three years to evaluate a team's draft but I do think there were some clear winners and losers.  Here's a few teams whose drafts stood out above the others in a good way. Click on the team links to see who they selected.

Cincinnati Bengals- The Bengals first four players should start right away.  Charles Johnson reminds me of Julius Peppers and could be a steal if he decides to play hard on more than 50% of the downs.  Chase Coffman is a viable offensive threat which hopefully will be utilized by Carson Palmer (considering he's never had a TE who could catch, I hope he is not confused).  The only pick I question is 6th round pick Bernard Scott who has been arrested 5 times in four years.  He should fit right in.

Buffalo Bills - Buffalo decided not to reach for a tackle with the #11 pick instead choosing the best pure pass rusher available in Aaron Maybin.  They also selected two interior linemen who should step in right away to improve one of the league's worst lines at run blocking.  Fourth round pick Shawn Nelson is being declared the steal of the draft and 6th round pick Corey Harris could end up being a solid starter.  Any time you get a starter in the 6th round you had a good draft.  Their last pick of the day made little sense to me though.

Seattle Seahawks - Seattle passed on taking Matt Hasselbeck's replacement.  Normally  a decision like this should be questioned but Seattle probably took the best player in the draft in LB Aaron Curry.  Second round pick Max Unger will step in and start a center right away also.  Deon Butler is the new Bobby Engram and Courtney Greene will be a stud on special teams as a worst case scenario.  Taking QB Mike Teel in the 6th was just silly.  Seattle will make the playoffs this year.

Houston Texans - Brian Cushing will be the team's main pass rusher off the end beginning on day 1.  This move should should help EVERYONE on the defense.  Connor Barwin is a DE who can also line up at TE.  James Casey is already better than Owen Daniels in my mind and could be an immediate offensive threat.  I think Houston had a great draft.

Green Bay Packers - I'm not sold on Clay Matthews being a solid NFL linebacker but with GB moving from a 4-3 to a 3-4 he can play next to AJ Hawk which should help hide each of their weaknesses.  BJ Raji was an absolute steal at #9.  TJ Lang was a nice pick for a team with an aging O-line and John Meredith could develop into a solid guard.  I think Green Bay's overall draft hinges on the success of Matthews but right now it looks like one of the best.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Talladega Afternoons, where cars take flight...

IF YOU DIDN'T SEE ANY RACE HI-LIGHTS OR DON'T CARE ABOUT NASCAR, THIS HEADLINE MIGHT GET YOU TO READ THE FULL ARTICLE: Carl Edwards was leading the race, got spun out and caught air at 200 mph with 100 yards to the finish. He climbed out of his flaming, destroyed Claritin Ford Fusion and jogged to the finish line, a la Ricky Bobby.

(photo courtesy of

This being my first post on SportsTemps...I better act like I know what I'm talking about. If you only watch one NASCAR race in your entire life, this was the race to watch.

A few things you need to know first:

  • The NASCAR race season is comprised of 36 points-races, plus a few other races that don't count in the overall standings.

  • This weekend's race at Talladega Superspeedway was the 9th of the season.

  • Talladega is a restrictor-plate track, meaning a special plate is put over the engine's carburetor to restrict the air/fuel intake and limit overall horsepower and speed of the cars.

Talladega and Daytona are the only restrictor-plate tracks in the NASCAR circuit. These tracks are huge (2.66 and 2.5 miles per lap, respectively) with extremely steep banking through the turns, and allowing a car to run without a restricted engine would result in speeds of well over 210 miles per hour. Since the tragic death of Dale Earnhardt at Daytona Superspeedway in the 2001 Daytona 500, NASCAR has come up with many safety innovations to help protect the fans and drivers. However, the restrictor-plate was made mandatory at these two tracks a few years earlier in 1998.

The fastest official qualifying lap at Talladega had an average speed of just over 212 miles per hour by Bill Elliot in 1987. The fastest speed ever recorded on that track was a test-run without a restrictor-plate by retired NASCAR legend Rusty Wallace in 2004. He reached 228 at one point on the back straightaway and ran an average of 221 mph for the full lap.

The restrictor-plate now allows cars to top out around 190 in their qualifying laps. Once multiple cars get together in a group, they can push or "bump-draft" each other to get up to speeds in the 199-201 range. Though still dangerous, this apparently keeps the engineers and physicists happy as cars shouldn't be able to catch any real air when crashing at these speeds.

Restrictor plates also have a huge down-side. Cars grouped together drive faster than a lone car on a breakaway. Much like the peloton in the Tour de France, breakaways are quickly caught as the group cuts through the wind resistance better and sucks the leaders back in. Drivers never touch the brake pedal and spend more time looking in the rear view mirror than out the windshield. Just letting off the gas for a split-second will get you slammed from behind. With 30+ cars grouped together, one small mistake can result in dozens of cars wrecking because there's no room to stop or swerve at 190 miles per hour when you're surrounded. Talladega is even more notorious for this than Daytona, and therefore, every Talladega race brings the threat of the "Big One"...a wreck wiping out a huge chunk of the field. This happens at least once in nearly every race on NASCAR's biggest track. No amount of skill can save you when everyone around you is wrecking. You can try to stay towards the front of the pack, but you run the risk of being the one who starts the wreck. Or you can hang around at the back of the pack to give yourself stopping room if a wreck does occur, but you run the risk of losing the draft and falling waaaaay back in the race, and even possibly getting lapped.

Usually, races at Talladega are exciting at the begging, then the drivers settle down during the middle, then wild at the end again. This year's Aaron's 499 at Talladega was really no different. Just 7 laps into the 188-lap race, Jeff Gordon, one of the best drivers in the sport, and maybe the best active driver in restrictor-plate races, got bumped in the middle of a turn by this year's Daytona 500 winner, Matt Kenseth. At the time, Gordon was running about 10th and near the front of a 40-car pack. Gordon wobbled up the track a little, then down into Kenseth again, then back up into David Gilliland, and the subsequent smashup left about 20 cars with damage. 5 cars never returned to the race, and another 4 had to make serious repairs before returning just to limp around and salvage a few extra points.

The next 165 laps were mostly uneventful. A few cautions for debris on the track, the occasional single-car spin, but no real casualties. Then, with 8 laps to go, someone let off the gas, and when the trickle-down effect reached Juan Pablo Montoya, he took a shot to the rear from Denny Hamlin's FedEx Toyota Camry that sent ten cars near the back of the pack crashing into the walls and each other.

After the cleanup, 24 cars restarted on the lead lap for a shot at the win. Carl Edwards has become a championship threat over the last 2 seasons, but he has always had a black cloud over his head at restrictor-plate tracks. He's never finished in the top 5 and wrecks without finishing the race about half the time. Today he spent most of the race near the back, trying to avoid getting caught up in another big wreck.

When the green flag dropped with 4 laps to go, Edwards was running in 9th. Ryan Newman was leading, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was in 2nd. Newman and Junior immediately hooked up, and pulled out to a big lead over the pack. With a little over 1 lap to go, Brad Keselowski got behind Edwards and started pushing him toward the leading duo. The trick with Talladega is to make the final pass early enough to have a run on the leader and get by him to win, but not so early that you get hung out alone and someone else comes blazing by you just before the finish. Earnhardt Jr. couldn't get around Newman coming off the final turn while the Edwards/Keselowski train was steaming by them both on the outside. Keselowski ducked below Edwards, and Edwards tried to slide down in front of him to block, but Keselowski had already cleared Carl's rear bumper. The result was Edwards's car spun hard left and the rear wheels lifted off the track as Brad drove high for the win. Meanwhile, Newman and Earnhardt were still fighting for 3rd, and Carl's driver-side rear wheels came down right on Ryan Newman's hood. The shock lifted Carl's car completely off the track and into an upside down helicopter spin which slammed the outside wall and safety fence in what is a top 3 most ferocious wreck I've seen watching NASCAR live (all at Talladega, and 2nd involving Carl...).

Keselowski went on to win, Earnhardt Junior 2nd, and Newman skidded mostly sideways across the finish line for 3rd. Carl's car came to a rest about a football field short of the finish line while the rest of the field safely drove by. I thought he was surely unconscious and probably hurt, but he unhooked his window-net and climbed out of his still burning wreck. He then jogged past the rescue crew to the finish line, helmet and all.

Carl is not one of my favorite drivers, but he has the best TV personality of all NASCAR drivers by far, and I'm certain he's seen the Will Farrell movie named for this track. Of course, none of Carl's post-race antics mattered as his car has to cross the line to technically finish the race, but he earned the same finishing position as he would have if his car had crawled across last on the lead lap. In the post race interview, Carl simply said, "...I want my wife and mom to know I'm okay...its pretty scary when you're upside down...I've never hit the wall with anything other than the side of my car before...I guess we'll just keep doing this for NASCAR until somebody gets killed [in a restrictor-plate race]."

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Are the Marlins for real?

After 12 games in this young season, the Florida Marlins are 11-1 with a run differential of +32.  Both marks are best in the majors but is it just a hot streak or a sign of things to come?  Here are a few trends I have noticed:
  • Rookie 3b Emilio Bonifacio started off 14-24 (.583) in his first five games but since then has gone 3 for 29 (.103) with 0 walks.
  • Cameron Maybin is hitting .206/.289/.235
  • Cody Ross has 2 walks in 45 plate appearances 
  • John Baker is hitting .333/.421/.545
Now, Maybin is going to hit but the other three bullet points should be cause for concern.  John Baker was the main focus of Moneyball but he's not really this good.  Cody Ross has always had plate disicplate problems but this is bad even for him.  And scouts were saying even during Bonifacio's hot start that he's just an "average" player.  I love Florida's pitching but their offense will have to get more from Maybin if they are going to be playing in October.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Season Preview: Florida Marlins

2008 Record: 84-77  .522

Run differential: +3 (8th)

2008 payroll: $21,811,500

2008 represented yet another season in which the kids in the south sun exceeded all expectations.  Finishing with a winning record despite trading away their two best known players in Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis is yet another testament to GM Larry Beinfest. Having the lowest payroll in the majors is not considered a handicap to this organization.  Instead it gives them an excuse to play minor leaguers who are ready for The Show.  When these players start to get expensive they are shipped off like Scott Olsen and Josh Willingham were this past offseason.  The catch is these guys aren’t stars but instead are cheaper than the alternatives in other organizations.  Even getting something for Kevin Gregg and Mike Jacobs who were candidates to be non-tendered is impressive.

2009 appears to be much like 2008 for the Fish.  Expectations are low, payroll is even lower, but the talent is here.  The organization even locked up Hanley Ramirez, who is arguably the best player in baseball, to a long-term contract. Plans for a new stadium finally appear to be in the works also.  There is no guarantee this will increase revenue for the franchise but you can bet that ownership is banking on it.  With the pipeline of young talent showing no signs of drying up and their best player locked in for several years, it would be foolish to bet against this team having an awful season.  The continuation of smart management decisions coupled with the growth of young players, could allow this franchise be building the next mini-dynasty.  It’s just up to ownership and the fans in Miami to determine how long it lasts.

Likely opening day roster:

Pos. Name Salary How Acquired
C John Baker $.4 M Acquired in trade w/ Oak 3/07
C Ronny Paulino $.44 M Acquired in trade w/ SF 3/28/09
1b Jorge Cantu $3.5 M Acquired in trade w/ TB 7/07
2b Dan Uggla $5.35M Selected in Rule V draft '05.
3b Emilio Bonifacio $.4 M Acquired in trade w/ Was 11/08
SS Hanley Ramirez $5.5 M Acquired in trade w/ Bos 11/05. Signed extension 5/08
LF Jeremy Hermida $2.25M Drafted #11 overall 2002
CF Cameron Maybin $.4 M Acquired in trade w/ Det 12/07
RF Cody Ross $2.25M Contract purchased from Cin 5/2006
Inf West Helms $1.9 M Acquired in trade w/ Phi 4/08. Signed extension 10/08
Inf Andy Gonzalez $.39M Signed as FA 1/13/09
Of Ross Gload $1.9 M Acquired in trade w/ KC 4/09
UT Alfredo Amezaga $1.3 M Claimed off waivers from Col 4/05
SP Ricky Nolasco $2.4 M Drafted #11 overall 2002
SP Josh Johnson $1.4 M Drafted 4th rd 2002
SP Chris Volstad $.4 M Drafted #16 overall 2005
SP Anibal Sanchez $.4 M Acquired in trade w/ Bos 11/05
SP Andrew Miller $5.4 M Acquired in trade w/ Det 12/07
Cl Matt Lindstrom $.41 M Acquired in trade w/ NYM 11/06
SU Leo Nunez $.415M Acquired in trade w/ KC 10/08
RP Scott Proctor $.75M Signed as FA 1/5/08
RP Renyel Pinto $.404M Acquired in trade w/ ChC 12/7/05
RP Logan Kensing $.66 M Drafted 2nd rd 2003
RP Dan Meyer $.4 M Claimed off waivers from Oak 11/08
RP Hayden Penn $.4 M Acquired in trade w/ Bal 4/1/09

Payroll obligations to former players: none

Say hello to: Ross Gload, Emilio Bonifacio, Wes Helms, Hayden Penn, Dan Meyer, Leo Nunez, Ronny Paulino, Jose Ceda

Wave goodbye: Mike Jacobs, Kevin Gregg, Scott Olsen, Josh Willingham, Arthur Rhodes, Matt Treanor, Mark Hednrickson, Joe Nelson, Sergio Mitre

Rookies: Emilio Bonifacio, Gaby Sanchez, Cameron Maybin

Non-Roster Invitees to Watch: Kiko Calero

Potential breakout: Cameron Maybin

Welcome to Earth: Chris Volstad, Jorge CantĂș

Likely to rebound: Hanley Ramirez (kidding), Josh Johnson, Jeremy Hermida

Strengths: There is a lot of power in this lineup

Weaknesses: Infield defense is iffy unless last season’s improvements from Ramirez and Uggla were for real

Optimal batting lineup (position, name, bats, Avg/OBP/Slg, HR, SB, EqA):

3b Bonifacio B  .248/.305/.344  0, 6  .231

LF Hermida L  .249/.323/.406  17, 6  .260

SS Ramirez R  .301/.400/.540  33, 35  .324

2b Uggla R  .260/.360/.514  32, 5  .299

1b CantĂș R  .277/.327/.481  29, 6  .280

CF Maybin R

Rf Ross R  .260/.316/.488  22, 6  .280

C Baker L  .299/.392/.447  5, 0  .301

Prediction: 4th place NL East.