Tuesday, November 17, 2009

For Nats, Riggleman far from the answer

Last week, the Nationals removed the interim tag from Jim Riggleman and made him their permanent manager. It was a move that disappointed some - including this blogger - because names such as Buck Showalter and Bobby Valentine were being thrown out as possible candidates.

My first choice? Valentine. He's had success before in the major leagues and, if nothing else, would make the season entertaining. He thought he would be given the job, but GM Mike Rizzo decided to stick with the in-house candidate, Riggleman.

His reasoning was pretty simple: Riggleman knew the team, went 33-42 as their manager, and improved the team's fundamentals.

Well, that's sound logic. I can't really argue with any of that, other than to say that their 33-42 record was more of a result of the team finally hitting its stride and playing to its capabilities. Nyjer Morgan had a big role in that. While Riggleman was manager I was not really impressed with him. He mismanaged the bullpen just about every night and made some comments that really rubbed me the wrong way. I didn't like how he refused to start prospect Ian Desmond; he did, however, become a big Desmond supporter by the end of the season. So, at least he isn't opposed to changing his ways.

I did like some things Riggleman did - he was better than Acta, that much is true - but overall, I was hoping the team would bring in a winner to the organization to change up the losing culture that has already begun to develop. The team got behind Riggleman, though, and I'll trust Mike Rizzo in this move; he hasn't done anything to break my confidence..yet.

Which leads me to my next point: hiring the manager was just the first step to improving the team. The manager is only as good as the players you give him. If Rizzo fails to acquire pitching help and defensive help, Riggleman will fail as a manager. If Rizzo acquires 1-2 quality starters, some solid defensive players, and bullpen help, the Nats could be .500 next year (a big leap, I know).

If I was Rizzo, I target these types of players this offseason: sub-4.50 ERA starters, middle-of-the-road relievers, good defensive middle infielders, a good defensive backup 1B, and a veteran backup catcher who could play 80-90 games.

Really, that isn't that much. Their outfield is essentially set with Willingham-Morgan-Dukes and Maxwell as the primary backup. Willie Harris can also play if needed. On the infield, the team really needs to try to move Cristian Guzman so they can start Desmond full-time and start a guy like Adam Everett or Alex Gonzalez. The last two guys aren't offensive threats, but are quality defensive infielders. I'd like the team to go after a veteran like Mark DeRosa who can start if needed but is a great utility player.

On the mound, the team just needs MLB-quality talent. There just isn't enough there right now. John Lannan is a good pitcher and players like JD Martin, Ross Detwiler, and Craig Stammen are decent young options, but a veteran ace would add so much. As for the bullpen - well, there's just a need for every role.

All in all, the team needs a lot of work. Rizzo has a lot of holes to fill and may or may not have a tight budget to do so. It will be interesting to see who he goes after and who he can actually reel in. He's been talking the talk, now can he walk the walk?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Thursday, November 12, 2009

NFL Midseason Awards

In case you missed it, last week Tyler and I talked about our NFL midseason awards. Now that most teams have actually played the full 8 games, its time to recap those (I'll do half today, half tomorrow) and look at some others to consider.

Defensive Rookie of the Year
Tony: Jairus Byrd, FS, Buffalo (32 tackle, 16 p def, 7 int)
Tyler: Brian Cushing, LB, Houston (78 tackle, 1 safety, 10 p def, 2 int, 2 ff)
SI.com's Peter King: Cushing
Others considered: none
--> This is a tw0 man race and will continue to be so until the end. At the end of the season, I have a hard time seeing anyone but Cushing coming away with it because 6 of Byrd's 7 interceptions have come in three games. If Byrd (pictured) can snag a few more before the end of the year and possibly lead the NFL in picks, however, he'll be impossible to ignore.

Offensive Rookie of the Year

Tony: Percy Harvin, WR, Minnesota (28 rec, 369 yds, 3 rec TD, 2 KR TD)
Tyler: Harvin
CBS Sport's Clark Judge: Harvin
Others considered: Michael Oher, RT, Baltimore; Mark Sanchez, QB, New York Jets; Austin Collie, WR, Indianapolis; Knowshon Moreno, RB, Denver
--> Despite the gluttony of other people to talk about, this is Harvin's (pictured) award to lose, 100%. On pace for 10 total touchdowns and 750 yards, even if Collie puts up the same numbers, Harvin will win because, after all, it's Peyton Manning throwing to Collie. Oher won't get it because he's a lineman and Sanchez won't get it unless the Jets make the playoffs. Moreno would have to have a huge second half to be under real consideration.

Comeback Player of the Year

Tony: Cedric Benson, RB, Cincinnati (198 att, 837 yds, 6 tds)
Tyler: Benson
SI.com's Don Banks: Tom Brady, QB, New England (204/310 com/att, 2364 yds, 16 td, 5 int)
Others considered: Brett Favre, QB, Minnesota; Carson Palmer, QB, Cincinnati
--> Preface here: During our show, Tyler and I said that nobody else was under consideration for this award but Cedric Benson (pictured). However, Mr. Banks of SI didn't even mention Benson when he talked about this award. I'm sticking to what I said. Yeah, Tom Brady's having a good season, but he's not playing like hes one of the top 5 QB's in the league this year. I know he didn't play after the first game last year, but before that, the man was the best quarterback in football. So, yes, a comeback from last year, but not a comeback to his career. Benson on the other hand, through 8 games, has more yards this year than any other year during his career. Here's a guy completely left for dead on a completely left for dead franchise and he - way more than Carson Palmer - has turned them into a contender in the AFC. Respectfully, this award is Benson's and Benson's only.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

One Week Later, Does Anyone Care?

It was one week ago today that the Yankees defeated the Phillies 7-3 for their 27th world championship.

It was a fitting end for the postseason it was in: lots of hype, a bad baseball game, and then talk about that city's respective NFL team.

Who could be excited/worked up at all about this outcome? Yankee fans? "Woo hoo, we won our 27th title, and the 5th since I've been alive." I mean I'm sure it was good for a "27th heaven" facebook status, but most I talked to spent the next day complaining about how bad the Giants' defense was.

What about Philly fans? Is there some inescapable grief? No, because they won it last year and were all still too giddy about that. Philadelphians (not a word; go with it anyway) love the Phillies more than any other team. They're deservedly proud of their squad and were okay with losing in the grand finale to the best team in baseball.

... Which leads me to why nobody else was excited about this series. Besides the rest of the country having both rational and irrational hatreds toward everything sports-related in the cities of New York and Philadelphia, this series was the best team in baseball against the second best team in baseball. I know NOTHING when it comes to predicting the MLB. I'm the guy who predicted at the beginning of September that the Angels wouldn't make the playoffs. I'm pretty sure I predicted the Indians to go to the playoffs at the beginning of the season. Yet I said before the first pitch of the 2009 MLB postseason was thrown that it would come down to the Yankees beating the Phillies in 6. If I could predict it, surely most people at least could see there was a real possibility of it happening.

Last point: You can ask, "Isn't that what it's supposed to be all about? The two best teams in baseball squaring off?" The answer: sure, if you want to decide who the best team in baseball between those two is. The problem: that wasn't the case here. Every person who followed a lick of baseball the entire season knew the Yankees were the best team in baseball. They bought their way to the top better than anyone else did but still managed to play like a team. This outcome was predetermined. Throw that in with a World Series that featured a total of zero 1-run games and you're left with a city that stopped celebrating a World Championship hours after it happened and sports media that would rather talk about Eli Manning's plantar fasciitis than Hideki Matsui's clutchness.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

NFL Power Rankings 2009: Week 10

Sigh. I fail spectacularly. After that impassioned blog post about how regularly I'm going to be doing this ... I didn't. No more promises, but I will try my best. Anyway, how about that AFC? 5 of the top 7 teams, still 3 of the top 4 divisions (the NFC South's big week had to be thrown in there) and looking to win in interconference play for about the millionth time in a row. By the way, if it feels like the Steelers are better than 6th and the Cowboys are better than 8th, it's because they probably are. It's a very top heavy league though right now.

1. New Orleans Saints (last week's rank: 1; change: 0): The Saints certainly look beatable, but nobody's done it yet. Drew Brees needs to stop fumbling (he's fumbled 8 times and lost 4) or it could hurt them by playoff time.
2. Indianapolis Colts (2; 0): Oh, boy. Indy-New England. Which is not the MNF game because that's Baltimore at Cleveland. ... What?
3. Minnesota Vikings (3; 0): I graciously keep them here even though the Steelers (who beat them) are waiting a few spots behind. Their schedule is absurdly easy; it would shock me to see them not get a first round bye.
4. New England Patriots (5; +1): If NE beats Indianapolis this week, Minnesota will have to shrug it off because NE is moving into the two spot. Gee, we've never seen New England, Pittsburgh and Indy be the three best teams in the AFC this decade, have we?
5. Cincinnati Bengals (6; +1): But wait! Cry the Bengals fans. We already beat the Steelers this week; surely we are better than they! Well, for now, Bengals fans, you are. Win this coming weekend and you'll stay that way.
6. Pittsburgh Steelers (7; +1): Watching the Steelers' second half performance against the Broncos ... Well, all I'll say is this: If there's one team I would not bet AGAINST making the Super Bowl, it would be Pittsburgh.
7. Denver Broncos (3; -4): They hold onto a spot in the top 10 with trembling fingers, just praying that the pseudo-expected collapse hasn't begun. San Diego fans are snickering so loudly Josh McDaniels can hear it in his office.
8. Dallas Cowboys (9; +1): Dallas flexes its muscle and grabs sole possession of first place in the NFC East. Tony Romo rips the month of December out of his personal calendar.
9. Atlanta Falcons (11; +2): It kind of feels like last year for this team. They're good, and nobody would be surprised to see them in the playoffs, but they're not Super Bowl contenders yet.
10. Philadelphia Eagles (8; -2): I'm a bit surprised Philadelphia's offense couldn't get more going at home. They have a huge game this week at San Diego; I don't even know what it is, but I would be betting on the "over."
11. San Diego Chargers (15; +4): Everyone (well, maybe not Tyler) thought they would eventually get hot, but few thought it would be so soon. If they take care of the Eagles this weekend, there won't be any more doubters.
12. Arizona Cardinals (16; +4): Is anyone going to be surprised if they get knocked out of the first round of the playoffs? Will anyone be surprised if they go to the Super Bowl?
13. Baltimore Ravens (10; -3): The bad news for the Ravens? The division is basically out of reach. The good news? They're in the thick of the dogfight that will be the race for the 6th seed in the AFC.
14. Houston Texans (14; 0): The Texans finally get a bye (what is the point of having two teams with byes in week 10?) as they prepare to grab their first playoff berth in franchise history.
15. Miami Dolphins (13; -2): I stubbornly keep the Dolphins in my top 15 for only one more week (if they lose). That playoff spot I predicted for them looks far-fetched, but I'm telling you, still possible.
16. New York Giants (17; +1): Nothing about losing at home merits a raise of one point, but the epic failure of a certain Wisconsin football team says they have to move up one.
17. Chicago Bears (18; +1): See above.
18. New York Jets (19; +1): See above, replace "losing at home" with "having a bye."
19. Jacksonville Jaguars (20; +1): See above, replace "having a bye" with "struggling with Kansas City."
20. Green Bay Packers (12; -8): Ah, that certain Wisconsin football team. So much potential, so little reward. There's no excuse for losing to any team ranked 26-32.
21. Tennessee Titans (25; +1): I'm not even going to say it, but you know what I'm thinking. Mum is the word on this team until they pick up two more losses, then everyone can exhale.
22. Carolina Panthers (22; 0): Blast. My upset pick of the year didn't come through for me. When they were up 14-0, I have to tell you, I was feeling pretty darn good.
23. Buffalo Bills (23; 0): Is there a team that receives less publicity than the Buffalo Bills? Even with T.O, you hear nothing about them - except that they're probably going to leave Buffalo.
24. Seattle Seahawks (24; 0): They won! ... at home ... against Detroit ... clinching it in the last 45 seconds ...
25. San Francisco 49ers (21; -4): Ouch, San Fran. I don't believe in you one bit, except for Patrick Willis, Frank Gore and Vernon Davis.
26. Oakland Raiders (26; 0): It's bad enough the world has to stomach one KC-Oakland game a year, but two? Really?
27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (32; +5): Good for you, Tampa Bay. Good for you, Josh Freeman. If they can get even two or three more wins this year, they have to feel okay about their future.
28. Kansas City Chiefs (27; -1): Does anyone else think that the KC front office was listening to our show on Wednesday when we said they should release Larry Johnson?
29. Washington Redskins (28; -1): Washington could get a morale boost with a win over struggling Denver at home this weekend. Not saying it could happen, but I wouldn't be surprised.
30. Cleveland Browns (29; -1): The Browns have every single reason to win this Monday night game. The Ravens will probably play undisciplined because they're mad. The Browns are home underdogs on a Monday night, the safest bet in sports. The players are going to be playing angry because of their fans. Mangini has something to prove. If there's a perfect storm for upset, this is it. ... And they're still going to lose by 20.
31. St. Louis Rams (30; -1): I drop the Rams on their bye week just because they're really, really bad. I still can't get that safety out of my head.
32. Detroit Lions (31; -1): Sigh. The Lions. I hope you enjoyed your 6 weeks out of the cellar. I hope you don't spend the rest of the season in here.

Division Rankings: With the Bucs being the biggest movers this week, the NFC South catapults itself into the top 3. The AFC North remains in the lead, and that shouldn't change too much this week unless Cleveland pulls the Baltimore upset. I broke the NFC North/AFC West tiebreak because the NFC North had the best team between the two.
1. AFC North (last week: 1): 13.50 average rank amongst the four teams
2. AFC South (3): 14.00
3. NFC South (6): 14.75
4. AFC East (2): 15.00
5. NFC East (4): 15.75
6. NFC North (5): 18.00
7. AFC West (7): 18.00
8. NFC West (8): 23.00

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

NFL Power Rankings 2009: Week 9

After I failed to post the rankings last week, I'm back at it. You're still going to hate my Miami ranking, but I'm telling you, the Dolphins are dangerous. There was actually some shake-up on the back end this week, too, so don't stop reading after number 10. Oh, and the "last week" and "change" categories are actually talking about last week. Remember, I had them done, but couldn't get them up here. So, here we go ...

1. New Orleans Saints (last week's rank: 1; change: 0): They've been living on the edge the past two weeks, but still managing to win nonetheless. The defense isn't great, but with that offense, it doesn't need to be.
2. Indianapolis Colts (2; 0): Many other teams with they were in the position where a "bad game" consists of beating a desperate, motivated team without playing that well.
3. Minnesota Vikings (7; +3): The Vikings leapfrog three teams with byes with their impressive win in Lambeau. Is you-know-who's arm going to hold out?
4. Denver Broncos (3; -1): This is a temporary one point fall, but don't you get the feeling this is only the beginning of the deluge?
5. New England Patriots (4; -1): By the end of the next four weeks (games against Miami, Indianapolis, New York Jets and New Orleans), it's not unrealistic to think New England could be at the top of these rankings.
6. Cincinnati Bengals (5; -1): The Bengals are 1-4-1 coming off of bye weeks under Marvin Lewis. If they make it 1-5-1 this week, the 2009 Bengals doubters will return in full force.
7. Pittsburgh Steelers (6; -1): Denver didn't look very good against Baltimore, but Pittsbugh fans would be foolish to think that going into Denver on a Monday night will be an easy win.
8. Philadelphia Eagles (9; +1): Philadelphia's "A" game is better than anyone else in the league's "A" game. They don't bring it consistently during the regular season, but it's something to watch for come playoff time.
9. Dallas Cowboys (10; +1): I hate to be that guy, but it's no surprise Dallas is moving up in the top 10: it's November, not December.
10. Baltimore Ravens (14; +4): That was a season-saving victory against the Broncos this week. Now they just need another one in Cincinnati.
11. Atlanta Falcons (11; 0): On NFL GameDay Final on the NFL Network, Deion Sanders said that Joe Flacco is starting to leave Matt Ryan behind. After watching the Falcons-Saints game, I think I believe him.
12. Green Bay Packers (12; 0): There's no need for them to be upset about their 4-3 mark after week 8. If they win the games they're supposed to win (starting this week at Tampa Bay), they'll be fine.
13. Miami Dolphins (15; +2): Ted Ginn, Jr. What a game. It's great to see guys get bounce-back games like that. Maybe Miami's running game will have one against New England this week.
14. Houston Texans (18; +4): See "Stat of the Week 3." I really, REALLY, can't wrap my head around that.
15. San Diego Chargers (19; +4): An average ranking for an average team. 4-0 against sub-.500 teams, 0-3 against +.500.
16. Arizona Cardinals (13; -3): Arizona, I just don't understand. As the rest of the NFC West continues to be terrible, I suppose their bad losses don't matter that much, though.
17. New York Giants (8; -9): And the Giants get dropped into the bottom half of the league. Their defense hasn't been showing up and their offense isn't good enough to compensate.
18. Chicago Bears (20; +2): The Bears hope that their blowout against Cleveland got them back on track, and wasn't just an abberation because it was against Cleveland.
19. New York Jets (16; -3): And now New York fans are starting to feel a little bit of the pain Baltimore fans have felt for the past four years ... Just shut up, Bart Scott.
20. Jacksonville Jaguars (17; -3): That was a bad loss for Jacksonville to take. How could Maurice Jones-Drew only get eight carries in that game?
21. San Francisco 49ers (21; 0): Alex Smith played fairly well in San Francisco's tough loss to the Colts. Their defense sure played tough, tough.
22. Carolina Panthers (23; +1): Don't look now, but the Panthers are 3-4. You don't want your team to face them when they have their running game going.
23. Buffalo Bills (22; -1): Buffalo could have made a big statement against Houston, but they didn't. It's a shame Trent Edwards can't ever seem to stay healthy.
24. Seattle Seahawks (25; +1): Yea, they moved up one after losing by double digits to Dallas. I couldn't stomach Oakland being above them.
25. Tennessee Titans (30; +5): I respect Jeff Fisher for pulling the plug on Kerry Collins and I respect Vince Young for - at least temporarily - seeming to get it all together. I respect the Titans organization in general.
26. Oakland Raiders (24; -2): Donovan McNabb has 1/6 of the number of pass/catches to himself as Russell to Heyward-Bey.
27. Kansas City Chiefs (27; 0): I'll be sick if Larry Johnson gets another chance. Jamaal Charles has promise and should be playing.
28. Washington Redskins (29; +1): They get moved up one A) because the Browns are the Browns and B) because there's a resemblance of talent there that gives you a fleeting suspicion they could play better after their bye.
29. Cleveland Browns (28; -1): What good will firing your GM during the middle of the season possibly do? Someone find me this answer.
30. St. Louis Rams (32; +2): Their victory was overshadowed by one of the dumbest plays I have ever seen in professional football.
31. Detroit Lions (26; -5): Oh, Lions. You better pray Tampa goes winless or else you'll take your usual perch back.
32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (31; -1): Dumbest call I've ever seen that I knew was going to be the dumbest call I would ever see when it was made: Jon Gruden, during the preseason, saying the Bucs would win 9 games.

Division Rankings: Woah! After three NFC divisions took numbers 1-3 a few weeks ago, this week, it's thee AFC divisions. There are a bunch of big interconference games the next few weeks that will be bound to shake this up.
1. AFC North (last week: 1): 13.00 average rank amongst the four teams
2. AFC East (3): 15.00
3. AFC South (6): 15.25
4. NFC East
(2): 15.50
5. NFC North
(4): 16.00
6. NFC South (5): 16.50
7. AFC West (7): 18.00
8. NFC West (8): 22.75

Monday, November 2, 2009

Last Week's Power Rankings:

As promised, here's a brief overview of the power rankings I had assembled from last week that never got up here. I hate to post these right after Tyler puts the work into an actual post, so please scroll down.

Anyway, the top 10 was as follows:
1. New Orleans Saints
2. Indianapolis Colts
3. Denver Broncos
4. New England Patriots
5. Cincinnati Bengals
6. Pittsburgh Steelers
7. Minnesota Vikings
8. New York Giants
9. Philadelphia Eagles
10. Dallas Cowboys

The bottom 10 ... eh. You don't care about the bottom 10. Anyway, the "bye" question really comes in this week, with numbers 4, 5, and 6 all not playing. Minnesota certainly looked very good and had a great win at a good Green Bay team, but does that win make them better than the Steelers - who they just lost to - or the Bengals - who had beaten the Steelers? So you have to look at it that way. Meanwhile, Denver could fall a lot. Not really fair considering their one loss was on the road to a truly desperate team, but such is life. Everyone's still rooting for them, but I'm not sure anyone had their heart into rooting for the Broncos 100%.

Other teams I may not know what to do with this week:
13. Arizona Cardinals: All of a sudden, the Giants win doesn't look so great, does it?
18. Texans: If the playoffs started today, the Texans would be in them.
23. Carolina Panthers: They're 3-4, which means - assuming Atlanta loses tonight - they're a game back in the loss column behind other NFC playoff "contenders."

All this and more tomorrow.