Wednesday, October 31, 2012

NFL 2012 Week 9 Predictions, Midseason Predictions

Week 8 Record: 8-6
Overall Record: 79-39

Chiefs at Chargers - Embarrassing loss to Browns.  If they're down at half, Norv should be out.
Broncos at Bengals - The defense is coming around.  Shutting down NO is no easy task.
Ravens at Browns - Bal isn't who we thought they were.
Cardinals at Packers - With GB and ATL next, Cards will have lost 6 straight.
Bears at Titans - Narrow win at Carolina doesn't shake the pretender feel around Chi.
Dolphins at Colts - Both are surprise teams with winning records.  Love me some Luck.
Panthers at Redskins - RG3 wins battle of struggling teams led by exciting, athletic QBs.
Lions at Jaguars - Stafford finally put up expected big numbers.  Should continue here.
Bills at Texans - I'm done predicting upsets by the Bills.  They're just not good.
Buccaneers at Raiders - I was shocked by TB's big win at Minny.  Can they keep it up?
Vikings at Seahawks - Unfortunately, I think Sea stops its 2 game skid.  Go Vikes!
Steelers at Giants - My upset pick of the week.  Big Ben will air it out again.
Cowboys at Falcons - Garrett's decision to throw with 3rd and 1 is absolutely brain-dead.
Eagles at Saints - At least NO knows who they are.  Philly might need a change at QB and HC.

Midseason Postseason Predictions

NFC West: San Francisco - Finally, a 2 game lead over pretenders.
NFC North: Green Bay - Risky pick here since Bears have better defense.
NFC South: Atlanta - Only undefeated team left.
NFC East: New York - 3 win lead.  I didn't think the East would be this easy.

NFC Wildcards:
Chicago - 1 loss so far, but will there be regression to mean?
Minnesota - Last wildcard spot is up for grabs.  They've got 5 wins, but who knows?

AFC West: Denver - All other 3 teams are a joke.
AFC North: Baltimore - 2 games vs Pitt will be the difference.
AFC South: Houston - Clearly the class of the conference.
AFC East: New England -  Unfortunately, there's no way Mia hangs around with the Pats.

AFC Wildcards:
Pittsburgh - They very well could win division in the end.
Indianapolis - They and Mia are the only two other teams left to have 4 wins.

NFC Championship Game: 49ers over Falcons
AFC Championship Game: Texans over Patriots

Superbowl: 49ers over Texans

Monday, October 29, 2012

World Series Game 4: Giants win in 10th

The San Francisco Giants won the 2012 World Series for their 2nd championship since moving to SF in 1958.  They have been the most dominant team of the last 3 years, but they're still 2 for 5 all time in World Series appearances, having lost in '62, '89 and '02.  Apparently they did win another 5 as the NY Giants previously, but those don't count for SF fans.  For us, these two championships were our first.  Hopefully not our last.  But they're our everything.

Starting this 4th game, it looked as if Detroit wasn't even going to put up a real fight.  Since 20-23 teams to be in a 0-3 World Series hole didn't even make it to a Game 5, history was on our side as well.  The game seemed to start just as the others did.  Cain capably handled Tiger hitters in the 1st two innings.  Meanwhile, Pence was involved in starting the Giants' scoring for the 3rd straight game, this time with a ground rule double.  Belt tripled to bring him home for an early 1-0 lead.

Then the horrific happened.  Detroit's triple crown winner woke from his slumber and pounded Cain's 1-1 pitch to right for a 2 run HR.  This was the worst case scenario.  We did not want Tigers' bats to find any life, especially with Verlander set to pitch in Game 5.  Detroit had the lead for the first time all series.  How would we respond?

Buster Posey did, finally making his mark offensively in the 6th inning with a 2 run HR of his own.  He had been struggling this series, but we will remember this as his 2nd homer in a series clincher this postseason.  (His grandslam in Game 5 vs the Reds will never be forgotten).

If SF didn't know it before, when Delmon Young hit the Tigers' 2nd HR off Cain to tie the game, it was clear Detroit wasn't going away easily.  Cain recovered to retire the side in a solid 7th, then gave way to Jeremy Affeldt.

Affleldt was the dominant pitcher on the night, halting all Tigers' momentum by striking out the heart of their order in a row - Cabrera, Fielder, Young, Dirks - getting the Giants through the 8th and 9th innings.

It was top of the 10th, when Bochy's choice for DH, Ryan Theriot singled to center.  UCLA alum and standout SS, Crawford, sacrificed him over to 2nd.  After Pagan's strikeout, here came NLCS hero, Scutaro.  Marco looked as calm as could be, patiently worked a 0-1 count to a 3-1, then ripped a fastball to center.  Theriot flew home for the most awkward, unnecessary, yet beautiful slide one could ever see.

Sergio Romo struck out all 3 Tiger hitters to finish it off.  Cabrera, who might be the best hitter in baseball, left the bat on his shoulder looking for Romo's signature slider, while a 89mph fastball drifted across the center of the plate.  And it was over.

Matt Cain didn't get the official W, but he started all 3 of SF's postseason series clinchers - Game 5 vs Reds, Game 7 vs Cardinals and now Game 4 vs Tigers.  Add to the fact that he threw a perfect game this year, then started and won the All-Star game which gave SF the homefield advantage in the World Series, you could say that this is the best season of his career.

Buster Posey's ability to call great games, in tune with his pitching aces was as big as factor to the Giants' championship as anything.  But I'm glad the eventual NL MVP contributed with a critical HR in the clincher, just when we needed it most.

Lastly, Scutaro wasn't as hot as he was in the NLCS, but we all expected him to come through with Theriot there at 2nd.

And then for the 2nd time in 3 years (and the 2nd time in the 54 year history of baseball in SF), the Giants are champions of the world.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

World Series Game 3 - Vogelsong's Moment

This time, the Giants scored its 2 runs early on and depended on Vogelsong and Lincecum to hold off the Tigers for a 2nd shocking shutout.  Again, Detroit had been shut-out only twice in 162 games and now the Giants had done it back to back..... in the World Series.  Unbelievable.

Ryan Vogelsong gave up no extra-base hits and obviously no runs in a strong 5.2 inning performance.  2 years ago, he could not have imagined getting a win in the World Series.  After being drafted by the Giants in '98, he was traded for Jason Schmidt in '01.  He had Tommy John surgery before 3 mediocre season with the Pirates.  He then played 3 humbling years in Japan for 2 teams before coming back to MLB and getting cut twice by another two teams.  He then played winter ball in Venezuela at the end of 2010 and had some sort of epiphany.  He signed on with the Giants before 2011 and it was an immediate turnaround.  He was named to the 2011 Allstar game and finished the season with the lowest ERA of any Giants starter at 2.71.  He was unfairly overlooked for the Allstar game this year, but no doubt he'll take this World Series W over that anyday.  Great story.

Lincecum and Romo finished things up with 3 more shutdown innings.  They had the luxury of doing so because the Giants earned a 2-0 lead by scrapping together a couple runs.  Pence walked to start the 2nd inning, stole 2nd then advanced to 3rd on a wild pitch.  Blanco then hit a RBI triple.  UCLA alum Crawford then hit a RBI single.  That's 1 more than Vogelsong & Co needed, but they also had the defense to thank.

Three times the Tigers had runners in scoring position.  In the 1st and 3rd innings, Detroit had runners at 1st and 2nd with just 1 out.  Both times they grounded into double plays.  In the 5th, they had bases loaded with 1 out, and Vogelson struck out Berry and got Cabrera to pop out.  A grandslam there might have been the momentum shift they needed.

Perhaps the most memorable play from this game was Buster Posey's 8th inning play - in which he somehow caught a stray Lincecum pitch headed toward his low left to prevent the runner from advancing to 2nd.  Instead of turning his glove over (so his thumb was up), he just kept twisting his glove (with his thumb facing down) while reaching far left to literally snag the ball.  Its hard to describe, but from the camera view behind, he looked like he caught the back of the ball.

Now, think about these facts.

- The Giants have allowed only 4 runs in the last 6 games.  Its a franchise record 6 straight postseason wins.

- This is the first back-to-back shutout since 1966 WS (Orioles over Dodgers) and its only the 2nd time in 90 years that this has happened in the World Series.

- Only 1 team out of 32 total who have been in a 0-3 hole in any 7 game series has come back to win ('04 Red Sox's legendary comeback over the Yankees, of course).

- No team in a 0-3 hole in the World Series has even pushed the series to Game 6.  20 of the 23 teams to fall behind 0-3 were swept and the other 3 teams fell in Game 5.  These are amazing stats.

That means that according to history, there's an 87% chance that we win Game 4.  That is truly crazy.  If we go by the 1-32 stat, that means there's just a 3% chance that the Tigers win the series.

However, we have Cain going tomorrow against their 4th starter.  If we don't win, they've got Verlander in Game 5 against Zito, whom we cannot possibly expect to dominate again, can we?  After that, Bumgarner gets the 6-8 giant, Fister.  Then its a Game 7.  Shudder.

I'm not greedy.  I'm not looking for a perfect game from Cain.  Just one more W.  One.

Friday, October 26, 2012

World Series Game 2 - Bumgarner's Redemption

Even after a shocking Game 1 victory, I thought we needed a 2-0 series lead before heading for 3 straight games in Detroit in order to win it.  Chances were, the Tigers would win at least 2 of those 3 games at home, and we definitely didn't want to play 2 elimination games again, even if they were at home.  (What are the odds of winning 8 straight elimination games in a single postseason?)  For that reason, I was hoping that Bochy would send Lincecum and not Bumgarner out to the mound for Game 2 instead of using Timmy as Game 1 relief.

Yes, I know that Bumgarner threw 8 shutout innings in Game 4 of the 2010 WS, becoming the youngest starter to ever win a WS game.  But in Bumgarner's last 9 starts before Game 2, he had lost 6 times and given up 34 combined runs.  September was his worst month of the season as he finished with his highest ERA, 5.47.  In the 2 playoff games coming in, he had pitched a combined 8 innings and given up 10 runs, both in losses.  So, he's not exactly the hot pitcher you want in such a pivotal game against a Tigers team just itching to get back to their smashmouth ways.

In 162 regular season games, Detroit had only been shut-out 2 times.  TWICE.  So there's a 1.2% chance that they will be shut-out any given game.  Even less with Bumgarner in his current form.

There was a scare in the 2nd inning when Fielder strangely tried to score from 1st on a Young double.  He was thrown out at the plate as TV replays conclusively confirmed Buster's timely tag.  It was just the 1st out.  It was the kind of mistake that the Giants' haven't been making.

After that hiccup, Madison proceeds to finish 7 shut-out innings.  Only 2 hits and 2 walks.  No extra-base hits.  8 strike-outs.  With Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo shutting down the 8th and 9th innings, the Giants took a commanding 2-0 lead.

Though the Giants went toe to toe in Game 1 with Panda's historic long-ball performance, they managed to score just two runs in Game 2 with the typical grind-it-out small-ball that they have become so good at.  Scoreless until bottom 7th, Pence led off with an unlikely single.  Belt walked.  Then came a SF signature moment of the game.

Blanco's sacrifice bunt bumbled 40 feet just inside the 3rd baseline while three Tigers huddled around it, waiting for it to roll foul.  It never did.  In fact, to Detroit's horror, it came to a dead stop on the dirt inside the chalk line.  I'm not sure I can remember the last time I saw a bunt do that.  Bases loaded.  No outs.  UCLA alum and lifelong Giants fan Brandon Crawford had the game-winning RBI, even though he hit into a double play.  It was the best double play hit I've ever seen.

In the Giants' 8th, Detroit walked the bases full and Pence hit a RBI sac fly to seal it.

Of the 52 teams previously to take a 2-0 lead in the World Series, 41 have gone on to win it all.  That's 79%.  Thanks to Bumgarner, for the first time in the Giants' 2012 postseason, I like our chances.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

World Series Game 1 - Sandoval's 3 HRs beats Verlander & Tigers

When the majority of experts predicted a Detroit series win on the strength of Verlander's dominance and the Tigers' arsenal of sluggers, they could not have foreseen nor would they have believed what played out in Game 1.  Instead of Detroit's triple crown winner (an antiquated honor), Miguel Cabrera, or even highly sought after free agent bat, Prince Fielder, doing the damage, it was Giants' Pablo Sandoval, who had been practically disregarded and unused in the Giants' 2010 postseason title run.  Instead of the Tigers' reigning AL Cy Young winner and the one who's widely regarded as best and hottest pitcher in the world, Justin Verlander mowing down hitters, it was the Giants' Barry Zito who allowed just 1 run.  This is the same Zito who seemed to be 10 years past his prime (2002 AL Cy Young winner) and whose performances had so declined that he was left off the 2010 postseason roster entirely.  But, Verlander gave up 5 runs in 4 innings before being removed.

Zito even pitched in with a RBI single.  Amazingly, this is the 13th consecutive game that SF has won when Zito started, stretching all the way back to early August.  For the highest paid and most criticized player on the roster, this postseason is feeling like a storybook redemption for him.

Another previous Cy Young winner ('08, '09), Tim Lincecum, also made an appearance in this game and probably pitched the best he's had all year with 5 strikeouts in just 2.1 innings of work, retiring 7 straight.  Pagan, Scutaro and Posey also contributed with 2 hits each.

But the biggest story on the night was Pablo Sandoval's record-tying 3 HRs.  Nobody has hit more HRs in a postseason game.  And only 3 others have done it in a World Series - legends Babe Ruth (twice), Reggie Jackson and Albert Pujols.  Incredibly, he only had 12 HRs in the regular season but 6 in this postseason.

The first was a 0-2 fastball off Verlander which he deposited center field in the 1st inning.

The second was a 2-0 fastball off Verlander, sent opposite way to left field in the 3rd to extend the lead to 4-0.

The last was a 1-1 slider? off Alburquerque hammered to center to make it 6-0 in the 5th.

So Game 1 defied the odds.  Getting to Verlander defied the odds.  Zito's performance defied the odds.  A 3 HR game from a 12 HR regular season hitter on the league's worst HR hitting team in the league's most difficult park to homer in, defied the odds.

And now, the Giants have a chance.  By my estimation, they had to beat Verlander once out of his minimal 2 starts to even earn that chance.   Now it would be nicer for Bumgarner to get back on track and put us up 2-0 before the 3 game set in Detroit.

They say that winners of Game 1 in the WS have gone on to win it all just 62% of the time.  That's worse than I expected - still practically a coin flip.  But hey, its the first time this postseason we didn't start with a loss.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

NFL 2012 Week 8 Predictions

Week 7 Record: 12-1
Overall Record: 71-33

Buccaneers at Vikings - Better D, all-pro RB.  I'll take the Vikes at home.
Panthers at Bears - I can't believe Cutler will be leading a 6-1 team.  Not sure they're for real.
Chargers at Browns - Especially if Richardson doesn't play, Browns lose again.
Seahawks at Lions - Stafford and Megatron find a way to get back on track against tough D.
Jaguars at Packers - No Mojo, no chance.  Easiest pick of the week.
Colts at Titans - Hasselbeck's experience give them another edge as they host Indy.
Patriots at Rams - Should have lost last week at home, should win this week on road.
Dolphins at Jets - Jets upset about giving game away last week, win this one.
Falcons at Eagles - NFL's last remaining unbeaten goes down in Philly.
Redskins at Steelers - Big Ben needs to start airing this thing out, and he will.
Raiders at Chiefs - If nobody cares and nobody watches, are they really playing?
Giants at Cowboys - Dallas has only played 2 home games.  Dare I pick an upset?  yes.
Saints at Broncos - Brees airs it out, but NO defense lets them down in close game.
49ers at Cardinals - After a 4-0 start, these AZ pretenders will be at .500.  Hopefully SF sticks with the run game while getting Vernon Davis back into the gameplan.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Giants comeback to take NL Pennant, World Series History

After going down 3 games to 1 in the NLCS, the Giants again were faced with the prospect of 3 elimination games in order to advance.  They then proceeded to outscore the Cardinals 20-1 (5-0, 6-1, 9-0) in those 3 games to reach their 2nd World Series in 3 years, and their 5th overall since moving to SF.  Zito, Vogelsong and Cain all gave outstanding performances to hold St. Louis to just 1 run in 3 starts.  Midseason roster add, Marco Scutaro was the NLCS MVP, finishing with 14 hits, 3 of which came in Game 7 (along with a walk).

Historically, the Giants are just the 12th team in postseason history to come back from 3-1 deficit out of the 77 total teams who were in a 3-1 hole.  (They're the 7th team to do so in a LCS).  Incredibly, they had already come back in the NLDS (starting 0-2) with 3 straight wins, which means that before even reaching the World Series, the Giants have won a record-tying 6 straight elimination games in a single postseason.  (Hopefully they don't break that record in the WS).  Incredibly, they are the first team to ever win 4 eliminations on the road in the same postseason.

The 9-0 win was amazingly also the Giants' first Game 7 win in their history, ending an abysmal 0-5 streak.  It was also the first Game 7 of any kind hosted in San Francisco since the 1962 World Series, when they lost 1-0 to the Yankees in heartbreaking fashion.  That was the first World Series that the Giants played in since moving to SF.

SF World Series Appearances

1962 Lost to NY Yankees 3-4
1989 Lost to Oakland A's 0-4
2002 Lost to Anaheim Angels 3-4
2010 Won over Texas Rangers 4-1
2012 Vs. Detroit Tigers

The matchup against Detroit seems to be almost insurmountable.  With Verlander who's possibly the league's best pitcher, and Cabrera who is the league's first triple crown winner since 1967, the Giants are the underdogs even though they have home field advantage (thanks to Melky and other Giants' allstar game heroics).  But, these 2012 Giants clearly thrive when the odds are against them.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

US advances to WC Hex qualifying round

After all the commotion and panic by fans and the media going into the last two games of this round, the US ended up winning the group outright.  Turns out a mere draw in the match at A&B would have still been enough to total the most points in this Concacaf semifinal group round.  Looking forward, the final hexagonal qualifying stage just requires a top 3 out of 6 finish for automatic WC qualification while the 4th place team gets an intercontinental playoff for a bid.  Given the 10 games that are played in the hex instead of a shorter schedule where upsets can have a huge impact, the best teams should emerge comfortably.  So, its most likely that the US just passed its most dangerous road bump on its way to Brazil.  I guess there was reason for the commotion after all.

Bocanegra opened the scoring for the US in this critical home match vs Guatemala just as he did on June 8th in our first 2014 WC qualifying match.  Coincidentally, he again scored on a corner kick, off a header from Dempsey (June 8th it was Gomez) in which he was again in the right place at the right time to slot it home.  His set piece IQ has probably contributed the most to his 14 US goals, the most for a defender all-time.

Dempsey himself, who was completely out of the flow of the last game, was in top form this time around.  He finished a perfectly placed Eddie Johnson right-sided cross and then made sure a little chip over the keeper by Bradley would tally into the scorebook for his 2nd.  From one replay angle, it seemed quite clear that Bradley's "shot" would actually have been just wide of the far post, so Dempsey did the right thing.  I like how he immediately explained to Bradley that he wasn't sure if Bradley's shot was going in and how Bradley seemed to immediately confirm that the right thing was done.

Dempsey has now scored 30 goals for the US, tied with McBride for 3rd most overall (Wynalda 34, Donovan 49).  He's got 6 goals this year, the most he's ever had internationally and he's done it with only 8 games.  His previous high was 5 goals, scored last year in 14 games.

While we really did expect Dempsey to put in this kind of performance, Eddie Johnson's play as a wide midfielder was a revelation.  I had always called him "Pass-back" Eddie, but with my own eyes, I saw him running at the defenders nearly every time he had the ball.  Of course, Guatemala strangely never chose to pressure our players until they were far too close to goal, but Eddie's aggression and decisiveness stood out to me.  He took Klinsmann's unexpected offer, knew it was probably his final chance with the US team, and made sure it counted.  Clearly Klinsmann will continue to include him qualifying camps starting in March.

I liked the Danny Williams start, even though he was quite invisible on that muddy pitch in A&B.  I think Klinsmann clearly sees a strong pairing with Michael Bradley.  Jermaine Jones and Maurice Edu are capable players, but neither have meshed with Bradley the way Danny seems to have done.  Also, he's not a yellow card waiting to happen as JJ is, and he doesn't seem to make the occasional gaffes that Edu is prone to.  We'll see how this develops, but this bodes well for our central midfield in the next 2 WC cycles.

Gomez redeemed himself from a poor A&B match by displaying the willingness to do the scrappy work, as exemplified by winning the corner from which Bocanegra scored.  Perhaps this is Klinsmann's frustration with Jozy - he's not putting in the same kind of effort if he doesn't have the ball at his feet facing goal.

Our central defense is still questionable, with Bocanegra and Cameron allowing a direct long ball to sneak behind them for a 5th minute Ruiz goal.  It was reminiscent of our WC '10 campaign.  One of Klinsmann's tasks in the next year and a half is to find answers there.  In fact, it may be the biggest task as we approach Brazil.  Klinsmann found an answer to our LB problem in Fabian and even another usable CB in Cameron, but whether Bocanegra continues to be a starter for us over the next two years will be of major interest.  However in a game like this at home when we have the bulk of possession, the pressure is off the defense.

The question is really how we perform on the road.  Not just our defensive back four, but our entire squad.  At home this round, we were 3-0: beating A&B 3-1, Jamaica 1-0 and now Guatemala 3-1.  But on the road, we were a mere 1-1-1.  We tied Guatemala 1-1, lost to Jamaica 2-1 and needed EJ's 90th minute goal to beat A&B 2-1.  Those kind of road performances in the hex round will add a lot of stress on our home performances.

Even Klinsmann will have to review his tactics, especially on the road.  Here were his 6 lineups for this round (Howard started all 6) as well as results and goalscorers:

1) A&B at Home June 8th (3-1 win, Boca, Dempsey, Gomez)
(subs: Gooch, Jozy, Boyd)

2) At Guatemala June 12th (1-1 draw, Dempsey)
(subs: Cameron, Jozy, Beckerman (93rd min))

3) At Jamaica September 7th (1-2 loss, Dempsey)
(subs: Danny W, Shea, Boyd)

4) Jamaica at Home September 11th (1-0 win, Gomez)
(subs: Shea, Edu, Jozy)

5) At A&B October 12th (2-1 win, EJx2)
(subs: J Jones, Gordon, Kljestan)

6) Guatemala at Home October 16th (3-1 win, Boca, Dempsey x2)
(subs: Kljestan, Edu, Corona (90th min captie))

Random Observations:

- In the first 3 games, Klinsmann deployed 3 of these defensive-minded midfielders (Bradley, Jones, Edu, Williams and Beckerman) at a time.  We finished 1-1-1 (granted two of those games were on the road).  In the last 3 games, Klinsmann only used 2 of them - Williams and another - and we won all 3 (sure, 2 were at home and the other was at A&B).

- I'm also thankful that Beckerman, who seemed to be a favorite of Klinsmann early on, only started once.

- In our only loss, we used 2 strikers, 1 attacking midfielder and 3 def midfielders.  No wonder we lost the battle of the midfield.  Non-coincidentally, we also lacked the services of one injured Michael Bradley.

- Graham Zusi has had to start in Donovan's place the last 3 games and has done so capably.

- After such a promising first year under Klinsmann, Shea didn't start a single WC qualifier.  The lack of any left-sided attacking midfielder is precisely why EJ was surprisingly used there.

- In the last 4 games, Klinsmann went with 2 forwards - usually Gomez and Dempsey.  They are also the only two players, along with  who started in all 6 games.

- Dempsey scored 5 goals in these 6 games while Gomez, EJ and Boca each scored twice.

- 2 forwards meant that Bradley, playing in front of Williams, had to cover a huge amount of space, control the midfield and link up the attack.  I think this only works with Bradley.  If he's injured, Dempsey will have to drop back into the hole and Klinsmann will deploy a 2nd def midfielder underneath next to Williams.

Best current starting lineup and formation looking forward to the Hex:


possible subs: Guzan, Goodson, Parkhurst, Castillo, Jones, Edu, Shea, Gatt, Zusi, Kljestan, Torres, Jozy, Boyd

NFL 2012 Week 7 Predictions

Week 6 record: 9-5
Overall record: 59-32

Seahawks at 49ers - Worst loss in Harbaugh's SF career, 9ers take it out on cheatey petey.
Titans at Bills - Buffalo actually gets above .500 with a 2nd straight win.
Browns at Colts - No confidence that Cleveland will win 2 in a row.
Packers at Rams - How is it possible both teams are 3-3?  GB wins, but not easily.
Cardinals at Vikings - Minny D has a big day vs Skelton.
Redskins at Giants - As inconsistent as NY is, they still have an elite QB when it counts.
Saints at Buccaneers - Brees overcomes defensive liabilities when playing mediocre teams.
Cowboys at Panthers - If Dallas loses this game, Jerry Jones will make somebody pay.
Ravens at Texans - This could be AFC championship game preview.  Houston wins Rd 1.
Jaguars at Raiders - Oakland needs to win the ones it can.
Jets at Patriots - Brady takes out frustrations on NY, Jets can't keep pace.
Steelers at Bengals - Pitts last loss was eye-opener for Steeler nation.  Bounceback game.
Lions at Bears - Everyone seems to be on Chi-town's bandwagon.  Can you trust a Cutler team?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

US barely scrapes past A&B in WC Qualifier

For the two most critical games of Klinsmann's career thus far, he had clearly made some bold / risky / crazy (choose your adjective depending on your pov) roster decisions.

Forwards Eddie Johnson and Alan Gordon, were called in instead of Jozy Altidore and recent regular, Terrence Boyd.  Landon Donovan and Brek Shea were called up in spite of injuries, which ultimately left us short-handed in attacking midfielders.  Both our left backs, Fabian Johnson and Edgar Castillo, were sidelined with injury.

So our starting lineup against A&B was:


Without Landon or Brek, Klinsmann decided to deploy EJ, who has played forward for all of his career, at wide left midfield.  Boca took over LB duties, which he can play as long as the opponent does not have a right-winger that is faster than him (which is almost everyone).

The high stakes given the possibility of missing the WC 2014 meant a must win away at A&B and at least a tie at home vs Guatemala.   We needed all hands on deck.

What I think should have been done given our injuries:
a) I would have brought in some speedier attacking options at left midfield. Somebody that can stretch the defense (even though the A&B field was comically small) as well as put in crosses from the left.  Gatt (who was called up last camp but was injured) or Pontius (Jan camp call-up) perhaps?  Or even Kljestan.  At least he didn't try Edu out there.

b) As much as I love Bradley's offensive prowess, I would have played him alone at defensive mid, and brought in an offensive-minded distributor or attacker who would be planted centrally in front of Bradley.  We didn't need Danny Williams as well.  Perhaps Kljestan, who has been in great form, contrary to all our bad experiences with him in the past.  Or Dempsey, with EJ on top with Gomez.

c) With Fabian and Castillo out, Klinsmann should have immediately given Timothy Chandler a chance to be the hero.  It was perfectly setup - Klins should have sold him on the fact that he could endear himself to teammates and fans with an emergency cap-tie in the position of greatest need.  Is there any doubt Chandler would have done a better job at defending against A&B's only goal?  If Chandler rejected us again, then Eric Lichaj would have been the obvious choice.  To go with an aging Bocanegra, who has never been mistaken as fleet-footed even in his youth when you know that A&B's only chance is lightning fast counter-attacks, seemed to be an invitation for disaster.  If nothing else, I would have rather put Edu back there.

What I would have done:


Seeing how the game played out, we looked as unprepared and inexplosive as our roster suggested.  Our left side, gutted by injuries, was non-existent.  (The Chandler-Shea combo, once a strength and so immensely promising, is but a dream.)  Our forwards had little service.  Gomez was especially horrible, displaying the first touch of a linebacker.  On his best 2nd half chance, it was clear to all that he should have shot the through ball first time, but he bonked (for lack of a better word) it straight to the keeper trying to control it.  Dempsey was practically invisible for most of the night.

The fact remains that though we dominated possession - somewhere above 70% - we just could not get shots on goal!  I read somewhere that we had 1 shot on goal from run of play.  I think the problem lies with either a lack of usable quality attacking midfielders OR a lack of trust in them on Klinsmann's part.  We have so many skilled defensive midfielders, but that doesn't mean we need to play them all together.  Klinsmann has at times deployed 3 on the field at the same time, even misusing guys like Danny W, Edu or Jones out wide.  I know he believes that especially Jones and Bradley are not only defensive but in fact 2-way players, but it is clear that all are better at defense.  We need to try and get Donovan, Dempsey, Shea AND two forwards on the field at the same time especially against teams that are just looking to bunker.  Bradley can shore up our central defense by himself.

On A&B's unlikely score, it took mistakes from all 3 of our centerbacks to give them the easy goal.  Bocanegra lost the ball and was too slow to recover.  Cameron had good position but was beat around the corner quite easily by the sprinting attacker.  Goodson slipped (or was pulled down) while trying to hold off the goal-scorer, thus giving him one of the easiest scores he'll ever get.

Ironically, with the number of Americans playing well all over Europe, the 3 US players who scored or assisted in this critical match were all MLS guys.  Kansas City's Zusi sent in the beautiful left-footed cross to Seattle's EJ for the lead and San Jose's Gordon displayed great touch in his smart cross to EJ for the 90th minute winner.

It is hard to believe that EJ would emerge as the hero.  He had a meteoric start back in 2004-05 during WC '06 qualifying, when he scored 7 goals in 6 games.  He was hyped as the future of US Soccer.  He was what we all believed an American athlete normally destined for the NFL, but decided to play the other kind of football, would be.  Then he couldn't live up to those expectations.  He probably got a big head.  Probably didn't work hard enough.  Probably got injured some.  Bounced around to a bunch of different teams in different countries.  Never scored another critical goal for the US besides a Gold cup group goal in '07 (WC qualifier goal vs Barbados in '08 doesn't count since we won 8-0) and didn't surprise anyone when he was cut from WC '10 roster consideration.

However, with his recent resurgence with Seattle and with Jozy being in Klinsmann's doghouse for his attitude, EJ got his call-up.  Then both Landon and Shea were unavailable due to injury and EJ's found himself starting at left midfield.  Two goals and 3 precious points later, he's the toast of US fans everywhere.  Amazingly, only Landon has scored more WC qualifier goals than EJ (10, tied with the legend that is McBride).  His first goal came from after a corner, which accounts for why he was so close to goal, and his 2nd goal came after he was moved up to forward.  He was aggressive, quick and decisive - all attributes that I don't remember him best for when he played for us.  In fact, for me he had become synonymous with the backward pass, which is all I saw him do in games in the last half decade.

Other bright spots were Michael Bradley, who was the man of the match if you put aside EJ's heroics.  Graham Zusi also continued to show himself as a useful right winger, which gives us much-needed depth down the line.

Even though it was against the 106th ranked team in the world, a 90th minute desperation goal to grab an additional 2 points was still exhilarating.  Unfortunately, it never should have come to that.  Honestly, I felt more relief than joy.

What I'm guessing Klinsmann rolls out against Guatemala given our healthy camp options:


EJ scored 2 goals while Gomez was completely out of sorts, so I'm giving EJ the nod here, albeit hesitantly.  Kljestan fills the hole on the left, just because we need somebody there.  Corona would be his backup.  This is Kljestan's chance to stake a claim for future call-ups.  Edu gets a start, even though Williams has played a lot more for his club lately.  Parkhurst gets the start at LB because we literally have nobody else.

Should we win or at least draw, our WC hopes stay alive as we advance to the hex.  I'll probably post a WC 2014 roster prediction then after that.  If we lose and Jamaica advances in our place, I may be too upset to ever post again.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Giants comeback to win NLDS

Everything was stacked against the Giants as they headed to Cincy.  After losing both home games, they had to play 3 straight on the road.  Since the first round is only 5 games, all 3 were elimination games.  (Why set up this ridiculous format?  2-2-1 makes sense - that way both teams have at least a chance to play a closeout game at home.)  The Reds hadn't lost 3 in a row at home this year.  Of course, they weren't playing the Giants.

(Is 5 games really enough to determine the better team?  I mean, really?  You make them play 162 games to see who's worthy of the playoffs, then basically go with a coin toss when they get there?  ridiculous.  Don't forget, this isn't the NBA where Jordan-led teams can go 72-10.  No, in baseball, every single team wins about 55 and loses 55 guaranteed.  Its what you do with the other 52 games that determine your record.  So in reality, they probably need a 11 or 13 game series to remove luck helping one side or another too much).

Anyway, after being outscored 5-2, then 9-0 in our 2 home games, SF traveled to Cincinnati to squeeze out a close 2-1 win in the 10th inning of game 3.  Vogelsong pitched a solid outing, but things still looked bleak.  We had only scored 3 runs in 3 games.  Even the 10th inning run was from a Scott Rolen error, even though I thought it was a tough grounder to handle.  Making things worse, we were sending Barry Zito out to the mound.  It was not exactly inspiring much confidence in Giants fans.

My, things sure changed in Game 4.  The Giants managed 8 extra-base hits (including 3 homers), which was mind-blowing compared to the 3 total through the first 3 games.  They also went 3-7 with runners in scoring position.  The Reds conversely were 0-7 with RISP and left 10 runners on base.  Though Zito allowed 2 runs in 2.2 innings, Lincecum eventually took over for a solid 4.1 inning, 6 strikeout, 1.42 ERA performance to get the win.  Pagan, Arias, Scutaro and Sandoval combined for 8 hits and 6 RBIs.  The one name not mentioned here was Buster Posey, who went 0-4, though he did draw 1 walk.

But Buster was just saving himself for Game 5.  We scored all 6 of our runs in the 5th inning, as follows.  Blanco led off with a left-field single.  Crawford, whom every Giants fan wanted to be benched for a hot Arias, shocked everyone with a triple down the right baseline.  After Cain grounded out, Pagan reached on a critical error by shortstop Cozart.  Scutaro drew a walk.  Pablo singled to left, loading the bases.  Up came Posey.

On a 2-2 count, Buster launched Latos' pitch 415 feet, nearly into upper deck in left center field.  The grand slam gave the Giants a 6-0 lead which proved ultimately insurmountable for the Reds, though they came close.  This was only the 3rd grand slam by a Giant in postseason history (Will Clark 1989, Chuck Hiller 1962).  It was also just the 3rd postseason grand slam by a catcher (Eddie Perez 1998, Yogi Berra 1956) and the 54th grand slam in MLB postseason history.

Can the Giants repeat the 2010 championship feat?  It sure doesn't look likely.  Cain doesn't look untouchable.  Lincecum's year relegated him to the bullpen.  But after making history with being just the 8th team to come back from 0-2 in a 5 game series and the 1st team to win a 5 game series after losing the first two games at home and winning 3 straight away, there is reason to believe in the unlikely.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

NFL 2012 Week 6 Predictions

Week 5 Record: 11-3
Overall Record: 50-27

Steelers at Titans - Pitts is in dog fight for the div.  Their days of AFC superiority are over.
Raiders at Falcons - Is there anything worse in the NFL than to be a Raider fan?
Bengals at Browns - Oh wait, I guess you could be a Browns fan.
Rams at Dolphins - Miami actually climbs to .500 after this.
Colts at Jets - Unfortunately, NY gets the best of young Colts after Indy's emotional high.
Lions at Eagles - Shockingly, Detroit drops to 1-4 after so much promise preseason.
Chiefs at Buccaneers - Chiefs' front office might have some major turnover this year.
Cowboys at Ravens - This is the sort of game that Dallas somehow wins.  But I doubt it.
Bills at Cardinals - Bills have a chance to bounce back from that trouncing.  Upset!
Patriots at Seahawks - I dislike cheatey petey more than belicheat.  Is it possible that both teams get a L?
Giants at 49ers - Smith leads league in passer rating and Total QBR.  Here's hoping his finger is good to go.
Vikings at Redskins - Not sure how Minny is 4-1.  If RG3 plays, I think Reds get the W.
Packers at Texans - I have no confidence in GB defense.  But I'll bet on Rodgers.
Broncos at Chargers - Peyton finds a way to win their first road game.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Brad Friedel's EPL Consecutive Start Streak Ends at 310

UCLA Alumnus (1990 National Champion) and US Soccer legend and now EPL legend, Brad Friedel's record consecutive start streak in the EPL is now over at 310 games.  It stretched from August 4, 2004 to September 29, 2013 with 3 different clubs - Blackburn Rovers, Aston Villa and now Tottenham.  For 8 straight years, he played all 38 Premier League games and the first 6 of this season.  (Friedel also started 37 and 36 EPL games the 2 years before that).  He also played another 46 games in all other competitions during those year as well, which increased his chances of injury.  Also, think about how one red card, a possibility every time there is a 1-1 breakaway, would endanger the streak.  Clearly Friedel has an incredible dedication to both keeping himself in great physical shape and maintaining absolute mental discipline.  He initially broke the record during his time at Aston Villa on November 30th, 2008 with his 167th game.

Even though the last game of the streak was the historic 3-2 victory at Old Trafford vs Manchester United, Villas-Boas decided to drop him for France #1 Hugo Lloris just a week later.  Given that Friedel is now 41 years of age (last season he became the oldest player to ever play in the EPL) and that Lloris was a front page transfer this summer, this was an inevitability.  However, it is indeed strange that the move is made now, especially since Friedel has been in strong form thus far.  Villas-Boas has also not anointed Lloris as the permanent starter either, which is a disappointing way for the streak to end.  I'd think choosing a keeper is much like choosing a quarterback - either you have 1 starter or your have none.  It should have been Friedel's job to lose - either through a lack of performance or injury.  Ultimately, and most impressively, Friedel's iron-man streak is celebrated not just as an American achievement, but as an astounding EPL record.

Interestingly, the holder of the longest current streak belongs to fellow American, Tim Howard, who has played 190 EPL games straight.  (The streak for an outfield player is 164, held by Frank Lampard.)

Friedel also had 82 caps for the US, including its 2002 WC quarterfinal run, easily the most successful US campaign in modern times.  You could argue that Friedel may be the best goalkeeper the US has ever produced and should the World Cup start tomorrow and Howard was injured, Friedel should be the US starter.

Friedel's English career:

1997-2000 Liverpool
2000-2008 Blackburn
2008-2011 Aston Villa
2011-now  Tottenham

Monday, October 8, 2012

49ers pile up 621 yards to go 4-1

300 yards passing + 300 yards rushing = something never seen before in a single NFL game.  Until Sunday that is, when Jim Harbaugh's squad demolished the Bills 45-3.  An Alex Smith-led offense set the 49ers record for most yards in a single game: 621.  Its more than Y.A. Tittle, Joe Montana or Steve Young ever amassed.  A Harbaugh team has more yards than any Bill Walsh team.

With the 34-0 beatdown of the Jets the week before, the 49ers have now outscored opponents 79-3 in two weeks.  The staunch defense has outscored those two opponents by itself - 1 Rogers INT TD vs just 1 FG allowed.  Meanwhile the offense has scored 9 TDs - 6 rushing and 3 passing.

Okay, I'll admit I'm getting worked up about a win over a lousy team just 5 games into the season.  Heck, all 3 NFC West division rivals are within a single game of us still (Arizona's even tied), and we've got 3 important games coming up.  But, my SF Giants are a loss away from playoff elimination, my football Bruins just got rolled by Cal, Shabazz is still ineligible for college bball and my Kings are still trying to skip town.  The 9ers mean everything right now.  And, they're really really good.

Players contributing to the 621 yard record (only bold adds up):

Alex Smith - 303 yards passing on 18-24 completions for 3 TDs.  Surprisingly, its just his third 300 yard passing day in his 8 year, 71 game (as starter) career.  Not surprisingly, of those three 300 yard games, this is the first that he's won.  He also rushed for 49 yards on 3 carries.  This season, he leads the league in passer rating at 108.7 and Total QBR at 81.9.  Impressive stuff.

Michael Crabtree - 113 yards receiving on 6 catches and 1 TD (28 yarder).

Frank Gore - 106 yards rushing on 14 carries and 1 TD (1 yard).

Vernon Davis - 106 yards on 5 catches.  His longest was a 53 yarder.

Kendall Hunter - 81 yards rushing on 11 carries.

Kyle Williams - 50 yards receiving on 2 catches and 1 TD (43 yarder), 6 rushing yards on 1 rush.

Colin Kaepernick - 39 yards rushing on 4 carries, 1 TD (16 yarder);  7 yards passing on 1 pass.

Mario Manningham - 26 yards receiving on 4 catches, 1 TD (10 yarder).

Anthony Dixon - 21 yards rushing on 4 carries, 1 TD (3 yarder)

Randy Moss - 11 yards receiving on 1 catch.

Bruce Miller - 9 yards rushing on 1 rush.

Greg Celek - 4 yards receiving on 1 catch.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

SF Giants win NL West, Buster should be NL MVP

Since the inception of the NL West division in 1969, the Giants have now won it 8 times in 43 years.  (They've finished in 2nd place 9 times, 3rd place 10 times, 4th place 9 times, 5th place 5 times and 6th place just 2 times.)  Also notable, before there were divisions within the NL, SF also finished first overall in the NL in 1962 with a 103-62 record.  This year, they finished with 94 wins, which was the 6th best record any SF team has ever had (including both 1965 and 2002 in which they finished with 95 wins but didn't win the division).

So remembering the fact that Brian Wilson was lost early on, their best BA bat was suspended for the season midway through and Lincecum was out of form all year, this was no small accomplishment.  The Giants were 0.5 games back of the Dodgers before that 3 critical game sweep in latter August.  By Sept 22nd, with still 10 games to play, they had already wrapped up the division.  They finished with the 4th best record in baseball, having whooped the Dodgers by 8 games.  These are the seasons where the Giants earned the division crown and how far they went in the playoffs:

1962   103-62  Lost World Series (Won NL to earn WS berth. NL West didn't exist.)

1971   90-72    Lost 1st round
1987   90-72    Lost 1st round
1989   92-70    Lost World Series
1997   90-72    Lost 1st round
2000   97-65    Lost 1st round
2003   100-61  Lost 1st round
2010   92-70    World Series Champs!
2012   94-68

The Giants also lost the 2002 World Series, but they got there as the wildcard (the only wildcard SF has ever earned).  You can see how precious that 2010 World Series was to SF.  After losing all 3 of its previous World Series appearances and getting dumped out in the first round the other 5 times it made the postseason, the 2010 title was a long time coming.

One of the misconceptions of our team this season was that we lost our best hitter in Melky Cabrera.  The fact of the matter is that Buster Posey is not only the best hitter and non-pitcher on the Giants, he should be the NL MVP.  Let's look at the stats:

- If we go only by batting average, Posey leads not just the NL, but all MLB with .336.  (Triple crown winner Miguel Cabrera won the AL at .330).  More impressively, he hit .385 after the All-Star break!

- In On Base Percentage (OBP), which helps us understand that walks are earned by hitters and not merely mistakes by pitchers, Buster finished 2nd in the NL with .408.  (It bears mentioning that the leader, Votto, had 156 less at bats than Buster).

- For Slugging Percentage (SLG), which weighs extra base hits, Buster finished in 4th with .549.

- But its worth noting that in OPS (OBP + SLG), which is a metric that many experts use to determine a player's actual hitting ability, he finished 2nd in the NL with .957.

- Other traditional stats of Posey this season, many of which are popular but may not be as accurate of a measure of a player's value, include:
     - 103 RBIs - He was 6th in the NL but had 74 less at bats than the RBI leader (115 RBIs).
     - 24 HRs - NL leader at 41.
     - 178 hits - Finished 8th, but had between 63-116 LESS at bats than everyone above (leader: 194 hits).

- And in perhaps the best metric about one's measurable value to one's team, WAR - wins above replacement, Posey led the NL at 7.2.

- The two other players in the NL who deserve a look are Milwaukee's Ryan Braun and Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutchen, but they both trail Posey in batting average, on base percentage and most importantly, wins above replacement.  We also can't forget that Braun and McCutchen's teams finished 14 and 18 games, respectively, out of their divisional leader.  Posey led an average group of hitters to 1st.

- Lastly, I forgot to mention that HE'S A CATCHER who deals with the wear and tear of a season in a crouch.  It is obviously the most physically demanding position in the sport.  The value he provides as perhaps the game's best hitter is enough to win alone, before you even account for his value as the team's everyday catcher.  Also, don't forget that this is just his first season back from the devastating leg injury last year.  There is no reason why Buster Posey shouldn't be awarded the NL MVP.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

NFL 2012 Week 5 Predictions, Quarter Season Predictions

Week 4 Record: 11-4
Season Record: 39-24

Cardinals at Rams - Cards are pretenders.  They could easily be 4-4 by week 8.
Dolphins at Bengals - AJ Green IS the next big thing in WRs.
Packers at Colts - GB finally climbs above .500.
Ravens at Chiefs - Love it when $c quarterbacks stink.  All 4 did last week.
Browns at Giants - NFC East might be up for grabs until the last week.  NY still in it.
Eagles at Steelers - Eagles aren't a 3-1 team, Steelers aren't a 1-2.  Home team takes it.
Falcons at Redskins - I already picked for one 4-0 team to go down.  Not this one.
Seahawks at Panthers - Seattle D could be tough on Cam, but I think he pulls it out.
Bears at Jaguars - Cutler should have his way vs Jags secondary.
Titans at Vikings - Looks like 49ers lost to a legit team after all.
Broncos at Patriots - Hate to do it.  Taking Brady over Manning.  Hope I'm wrong.
Bills at 49ers - I like Kaepernick but I'm not totally on board with this wildcat thing.
Chargers at Saints - Brees outscores Philips at home to find a W.
Texans at Jets - SF limited Jets to 145 total yards while rushing for 245.  Lets see Houston beat that.

Quarter-season playoff predictions:

NFC West: San Francisco
NFC North: Green Bay
NFC East: New York
NFC South: Atlanta
NFC Wildcards: Chicago, Philadelphia

AFC West: Denver
AFC North: Baltimore
AFC South: Houston
AFC East: New England
AFC Wildcards: Pittsburgh, San Diego

NFC Championship: San Francisco over Atlanta
AFC Championship: Baltimore over Houston

Superbowl: San Francisco over Baltimore

Monday, October 1, 2012

Dempsey's 1st goal for Tottenham & US Abroad

After finishing tied for the 4th highest goal-scorer in the Premier League last season with 17 goals (23 goals total for Fulham in all competitions), Clint Dempsey ultimately secured a move to EPL 4th place finisher Tottenham.  (The London club would have been playing Champions League football this season had it not been for Chelsea's unlikely CL championship and subsequent auto-qualification.)  After his drawn-out transfer saga, which included an overreacting Fulham manager Martin Jol and an apathetic Liverpool side, the Spurs made a deadline day move for him.  Fortunate for Clint, they had just sold their playmaker Luka Modric to Madrid for a pretty penny.

After coming off the bench for his first Tottenham appearance, Dempsey impressed Villa-Boas enough to crack the starting lineup for the next 4 straight games.  Then against Manchester United at Old Trafford, Dempsey's 52nd minute goal ended up being the game-winner as Tottenham beat MU 3-2.  They made history at Old Trafford by finally winning for the first time in 23 years (since 1989).  Perhaps it is no coincidence that Tottenham couldn't find a W its first 3 matches without Dempsey, but has now won all 3 that he's started, including the momentous one over MU.

For him personally, it was the first time Dempsey has won at Manchester United in over 5 years as well as his first goal against them.  This is hopefully a sign of great things to come.  But regardless, he has climbed higher up the EPL ladder than any US field player before him.

In other US players abroad news, Michael Bradley made a historic move of his own this offseason, going to perhaps the 4th biggest Italian club.  Think about it this way, Bradley now plays Italy's national sport for Italy's capital city: Rome.  He even started AS Roma's first Serie A match and assisted on a goal vs Catania, before sitting out subsequent games with an injury.  He is far and away the most successful US player ever in Italy.

Jozy Altidore is turning heads, having scored one of the most beautiful goals of his career this past weekend when he slalomed through 5 defenders before striking it home.  It was already his 8th goal of the year for the Dutch Eredivisie club, AZ Alkmaar, especially compared to the also impressive 19 he scored for them all last year.  Now if he could only find that form with the US...

US players in the EPL this season:
Tim Howard - Everton
Brad Friedel - Tottenham
Clint Dempsey - Tottenham
Eric Lichaj - Aston Villa (why isn't this RB getting call-ups from Klinsmann?)
Brad Guzan - Aston Villa (started last 4 EPL games)
Geoff Cameron - Stoke
Maurice Edu - Stoke (hasn't played)

Serie A:
Michael Bradley - AS Roma

La Liga:
Oguchi Onyewu - Malaga (hasn't played)

Steve Cherundolo - Hannover 96
Fabian Johnson - Hoffenheim
Danny Williams - Hoffenheim
Jermaine Jones - Schalke 04

Other notable:
Carlos Bocanegra - Racing Santander (Spain 2nd Div)