MLB network has been doing its top 10 right now at each position. “Right now” means right now, as in 2011. Track records no doubt come into play, but the lists are based on whom the network’s “editors” — let’s hope that doesn’t include Harold Reynolds who, though a nice guy, isn’t known for employing incisive analysis — deem to be the best players going into this season.
What's up with the presumed opening-day starters for the three NL Central Division favorites? First the Cardinals Adam Wainwright goes down with a bum elbow that required season-ending Tommy John surgery. Then the Reds Edinson Volquez, whom manager Dusty Baker oddly anointed as the opening-day starter before spring training even opened, was thrown off course with visa issues relating to his positive drug test from last year. And now the Brewers newly acquired ace, Zack Greinke, breaks a rib while playing in a pick-up basketball game.
Well, here we are a few weeks later and UC is 12-0 … but without a spot in the Top 25. The latest AP poll has the ’Cats at No. 29, a position that's hard to argue against given UC's epically weak schedule (the most recent RPI poll has them at No. 95, with a strength of schedule ranking of 340 out of 346 Division I teams).
Temple cruised to an easy 85-72 victory over Xavier after dominating from the start. Tied 5-5 with 16:36 remaining in the first half, Xavier went more than seven minutes without a point while the Owls reeled off 16. Though Xavier finally got back on the board, there was little to applaud about a lackluster first half effort. Xavier gave up a season-high 47 first-half points and six 3-pointers and found themselves down 20 at the break. Two of the Muskies' key contributors, Dez Wells and Kenny Frease, combined for 0 points by going 0-6 from the field.
Temple boasts the top-two scorers in the conference, and they did not disappoint. Ramone Moore dropped five 3-pointers on the Muskies and scored a game high 30 points. The Owls other starting guard, Khalif Wyatt, added 18. The 6-foot-11 Micheal Eric was a beast on the boards, ripping down 16 rebounds and adding 11 points. The second half provided a little more excitement for Xavier fans, but it was all for not.
Dez Wells knocked down two second half 3-pointers to cut it to 13 with 12 minutes left. Temple went cold from the field and a Tu Holloway free throw cut it to single digits with a little over a minute to go — too little too late. Holloway led Xavier with 23 points and Mark Lyons added 15.
Xavier now needs help from the rest of the A-10 if there is any hope for a sixth straight conference title, which is unlikely. Xavier must now prepare to play Dayton on Saturday. The Flyers spanked the Muskies by 15 back on Jan. 21.
Would UC make the NCAA tournament if the season ended today? Yes, according to Joe Lunardi, the diminutive Italian dude who compiles ESPN’s Bracketology predictions. Lunardi currently has the ’Cats as an 11 seed, which means at least four other at-large teams are below them in the seeding. (Conversely, he has a streaking Xavier team as an eight seed.)
After a couple of days of suspense, the Bengals anticlimactically announced today that Marvin Lewis is coming back for two more years as head coach.
I was going to craft a long, acerbic essay about the dysfunctional nature of Mike Brown’s dad Paul Brown’s once-proud franchise, but then I just became depressed and walked over to Sunshine Foods — a longtime CityBeat employee lunch stop staple — and splurged on a Italian sausage hoagie with pizza sauce and pickles.
Last week I was sitting in a smokey Portland bar, chatting nonchalantly with friends about current events when I looked up at a TV screen and saw that the Dodgers were beating the Cubs for the second straight night. The Cubs led the National League in wins this year and were on the brink of falling behind two games to none in a best-of-five series.
"That ain't good," I thought to myself. "Them daggone Cubbies gonna lose already."
Then a girl my friend dates showed up and made a weird hand gesture, which prompted my friend to lay down on the dirty floor for about two seconds. I still don't know what that was about, but it only temporarily distracted me from the unfortunate reality of baseball's Divisional Series. I thought that if MLB is going to start drawing brackets and letting mediocre teams into the playoffs, then it may as well be the NCAA tournament, and the Dodgers can be Butler.
Six PBR pints later (seriously, it wasn't a good night) I had forgotten all about the Cubs or the 84-win team that was probably going to reach the NLCS. There was pool to be played and spicy hot dogs to eat and heartburn to deal with. But then I returned home a few days later and read my favorite alt-weekly sports columinst Bill Peterson, who said this about the situation: "Exactly 40 years ago, in 1968, the St. Louis Cardinals and Detroit Tigers embarked on the last World Series between the regular season champions from the National and American leagues. MLB was set to divide its leagues and embark on playoffs the next year. Purists objected that excellence would be punished. The purists were right. Back then, you didn’t get to the World Series without a club that proved it through time. Now a club can go to the World Series if it’s just a little better than average."
I nodded my head to Peterson's words. "Yeah, man. The wild card is such a gimmick and I hate when they have cheerleaders on the dugouts too."
But then Peterson made a really good point about today's playoff format actually giving small market teams a chance to win the whole thing: "With expanded playoffs, it doesn't matter if the Yankees pay $200 million for players because during the week that counts the $200 million club might not be as good as the $80 million club down the street. The expanded playoffs are a lifeline for clubs like the Reds, who will never be able to afford the most expensive talent. If they can just cobble together enough victories to reach the playoffs, they're in the lottery."
So, back when the league offered a relative degree of competitive balance (before those God damn labor unions started greedy ass free agency), the regular season determined who the most deserving teams were. But now the free market has determined that the Yankees, Mets, Cubs, Dodgers, Phillies and Angels are the best teams, we need a new playoff format.
If this is the only way to make the league fair again, then the playoffs should be expanded even further. Let 16 teams in and spend a month playing four rounds of seven-game series. Then crappy teams like the Reds can make the playoffs once in a while and maybe even win a series. It would only be mildly more risky for the teams that actually deserve to be here, and it would be really exciting for the baseball fans that never get to see their teams in the playoffs. Even if they have to go in as a No. 10 seed, it would still be worth watching.
The NBA Finals might be weeks away, but a rematch of last year’s NBA semifinals matches familiar faces. Here are four things to ponder during the Celtics-Cavs series before — presumably — one team continues its advancement to the Finals.
Celtics vs. LeBron James
The most current concern in the city of Cleveland is if the elbow of reigning MVP LeBron James will be ready to go on Saturday night for Game 1. His elbow was tweaked as he came down on it after contesting the layup of Bulls point guard Derrick Rose. Thus far, LeBron says that he will be ready to go Saturday and is for the most part 100 percent. LeBron has had great person success this season and in the past against the Celtics. In four regular-season games this year, he averaged 36.5 points, 8.3 assists and 6.5 rebounds. This may be James' year to win it all as he is not only coming off one of his better statistical regular seasons, but has the players around him to take on anything the rest of the NBA decides to bring his way.
Cleveland’s new starting lineup and depth off the bench
The 2010 Cavaliers have been completely upgraded from the 2008 team that was defeated in the Eastern Conference Championship by the Celtics. Not only does the starting lineup come with a completely new look, but the firepower that the Cavs produce off the bench is what makes this year’s team heavily favored to make a championship appearance. The starting lineup now features Moe Williams, Anthony Parker, Antwan Jamison and Shaquille O'neal. One of the most productive benches in basketball includes Delonte West, Jamario Moon, Anderson Verejao and Zydrunas Illgauskas. The Cavs are twice improved over the 2008 team that the Celtics faced, while their depth off the bench gives them the firepower to play with any team they will face along the playoffs.
Cleveland holds home-court advantage as the No. 1 seed
This time two years ago when the two teams played, the Celtics had boasted the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference along with the claim to home-court advantage. 2010 is a different year as the Cavs hold home-court advantage throughout the entire playoffs. I’m sure the Cavs are more than happy to begin the Series in the "Q" rather than in the Celts "TD Gardens." This is one of the series’ more significant factors as the Cavaliers hold one of the NBA's best home records in the last two years.
Lack of production from Celtics bench
For what seems like the entire year, the Celtics have received no serious production from their bench players. To make matters worse, newly acquired Michael Finley and Nate Robinson have done nothing with the few minutes they've played this season. Proven veteran Rasheed Wallace, who was acquired with a large paycheck this summer, has struggled throughout the year to find his fit with the rest of the team. The "Big 3" (Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett) are going to need a helping hand from their teammates if they don't plan on watching the rest of the playoffs from their couch throughout May and June.
Prediction: Cavs win 4 games to 1
Joey Votto won the NL MVP yesterday by getting 31 of the 32 first-place votes, a dominating total that left little doubt about the 27-year-old first baseman's rapidly ascendant reputation. It's no coincidence that Votto's move into the MLB elite coincided with the team's first playoff appearance in 15 years (and just their second playoff appearance since 1979), which was also the last time a Reds player, Barry Larkin, won the MVP. What wasn't expected was the gusher of praise about the Reds future from MLB Network's panel of Hot Stove analysts.
OK, maybe we were wrong.
Last December, as both the Bengals and Bearcats were riding high via uncommonly strong seasons, Danny Cross and I wrote cover-story essays about why each team's success wouldn't be just a one-year anomaly. I took the Bengals, he took the ’Cats.
Flash forward 11 months: The Bengals have lost six straight games to fall to 2-7, and the Bearcats are coming off a 37-10 shellacking at West Virginia that dropped their record to 3-6, making a bowl game appearance unlikely.
So what happened?