Saturday, May 10, 2003

State of the Red Sox Saturday

Down on the Farm Edition

After a disappointing loss last night, I don't really have it in me to talk about the Red Sox today. Since I'm in a minor league state of mind (I'm going to see the Rochester Red Wings play the Columbus Clippers tonight and I'll be keeping a close eye on the just-demoted Michael Cuddyer and the recently-promoted Justin Morneau) and I haven't talked about Boston's farm system at all this year, I thought I'd use today to check in on each of Boston's minor league teams.

Pawtucket Red Sox

The PawSox are 19-12 and the best news here is that Boston's second baseman of the future is tearing the cover off the ball. Freddy Sanchez is hitting .385 with a .467 OBP and a .573 SLG in 31 games. He has 10 doubles and four homers, 17 walks to 17 strikeouts and four steals without being caught.

Sanchez's minor league progression has been about as good as you could hope. In 2000, he posted a .786 OPS in 34 games for Class A Lowell in the Short-season New York-Penn League and then had a .739 OPS in 30 games for Augusta in the Class A South Atlantic League. In 2001, he had an .834 OPS in 69 games for Sarasota in the Class A Florida State League and then was promoted to Trenton in the Class AA Eastern League, where he had an .835 OPS in 44 games. He returned to Trenton in 2002 and posted an .840 OPS in 80 games and then had a .782 OPS in 45 games with Pawtucket. If he finishes this season at Pawtucket with an OPS above .900, then I'd say he's definitely ready to be Boston's starting second baseman next year.

Pawtucket's best hitter this year is Lou Collier. He's hitting .340 with seven homers and 32 RBI and has a 1.048 OPS. Julio Zuleta has seven homers for a .496 SLG, but only has a .308 OBP because he's hitting .243 and Andy Abad has a .960 OPS. Any one of those three could see some time with Boston if there's a trade or an injury.

The Pawtucket pitching staff has good news and bad news. Hector Almonte has a 2.25 ERA with 15 K/4 BB in 16 innings, Bronson Arroyo is 4-0 with a 2.60 ERA and 33 K/9 BB in 34.2 innings, Bob Howry has a 1.46 ERA with 7 K/1 BB in 12.1 innings and Ryan Rupe is 3-1 with a 2.05 ERA and 25 K/3 BB in 26.1 innings. On the other side, Robert Person has a 6.35 ERA with 4 K/5 BB in 5.2 innings, Hansel Izquierdo has an 11.48 ERA with 4 K/6 BB in 13.1 innings and Dicky Gonzalez has a 4.74 ERA despite 18 K/4 BB in 24.2 innings.

So, it looks like Sanchez is about ready for Boston, there are some hitters and pitchers who could help out in a pinch and Person needs some more time to get his control in place.

Portland Sea Dogs

The Sea Dogs are the Red Sox Class AA Eastern League affiliate now and Trenton is affiliated with the Yankees. Just like there was one player at Pawtucket who was excellent news, there is one player at Portland who is excellent news.

Third base prospect Kevin Youkilis, who is promoted as an OBP machine, has a .515 OBP in 22 games. Aside from hitting .310, he's drawn 20 walks (with 14 strikeouts) and been hit by 10 pitches. He only has one homer and six doubles for a .437 SLG, but power is usually the last thing to develop for a hitter. Youkilis is just another reason the Red Sox should trade Shea Hillenbrand.

Hillenbrand-lovers think that statheads hate Hillenbrand because he doesn't draw walks. It's not that I think Hillenbrand's a bad player, it's that I think he's an overrated player. And he's an overrated player at a position of strength for the Red Sox. Boston has another third baseman (Bill Mueller) who could do a fine job as the Red Sox everyday third baseman the rest of this year and probably next year. Then, Youkilis could take over assuming he progresses the way he should. Since the Red Sox don't absolutely need Hillenbrand for this year or for the future, the should trade him while his numbers look good (and a .312 average with 27 RBI look pretty good to a lot of people right now) for a pitcher who can really help the Red Sox this year and in the future.

Another player to keep an eye on in Portland is catcher Kelly Shoppach, Boston's top pick in 2001. He's only played nine games there, but he has a 1.017 OPS. I love Jason Varitek, but if Shoppach has a good season with Portland this year and a good season with Pawtucket next year, then there might be less reason to give Varitek a lot of money in a new contract when he's a free agent after 2004. I'd love to have Varitek back, but he'll be 33 early in the 2005 season and there are other players who are more important for Boston to lock up.

There are also a couple of interesting pitchers in Portland. Jorge de la Rosa has a 3.04 ERA with 26 strikeouts and 11 walks in 26.2 innings and Anastacio Martinez has a 2.92 ERA with 15 strikeouts and seven walks in 12.1 innings.

Sarasota Red Sox

At 12-25, the Sarasota Red Sox are just bad. They don't really have any good hitters to speak of and Manny Delcarmen, who had a 3.13 ERA in 23 innings and was probably the Red Sox best pitching prospect, just had Tommy John Surgery. Phil Dumatrait, Boston's top pick in 2000, has a 5.54 ERA with 22 strikeouts and 18 walks in 26 innings. If anybody on this team ends up becoming a regular in the majors, it will probably be a surprise.

Augusta Greenjackets

Not quite as bad as Sarasota, the Greenjackets are 11-22. David Pahucki is their only pitcher with an ERA under 3.25 and one of just three pitchers with an ERA under 4.50. Pahucki has a 1.89 ERA and 17 K/9 BB in 19 innings.

The big player to watch at Augusta is shortstop Hanley Ramirez, Boston's top prospect for 2003 according to Baseball America, except that he's not at Augusta anymore. Ramirez was hitting .255/.315/.378 when he was sent to extended spring training for disciplinary reasons. It doesn't sound too serious, but continued disciplinary problems combined with a slow start have obviously tempered the high expectations everybody had for this kid. Obviously this is not a good thing, and Boston's farm system would probably be a complete black hole right now were it not for Sanchez and Youkilis (and maybe Shoppach).

Lowell Spinners and Fort Myers Red Sox

The short-season New York-Penn League and the Gulf Coast League have not yet started their seasons, but these will be important teams to watch later in the summer. The Red Sox have multiple first-round picks and hopefully the can get them signed quickly and have them playing baseball right away.

So, that takes care of the Red Sox farm system. It is pretty much as dry as everybody says it is, but there are some important players to keep an eye on and our draft picks will obviously be important to follow. I'll probably check in on Boston's minor league teams like this every month or so.

Friday, May 09, 2003

Super Sports Friday

What a night to be a sports fan. Three playoff games, each of them compelling for one reason or another. I'll talk about them in the order in which they finished.

Detroit tops Philly in OT

First, the 76ers fall behind by 14 points and appear to be in serious trouble. Then, Philadelphia battles back and has the lead late in the fourth quarter. With a chance to seal the win, Allen Iverson misses two free throws with 15.1 seconds left to keep Philly's lead at 92-90. So, with no real go-to scorer, who does Detroit give the ball to to try to force overtime or get the win? How about a rookie who averaged 3.3 points per game during the regular season.

Tayshaun Prince has been, in a word, a revelation. After averaging 3.3 points per game in the regular season, he didn't play in game one against Orlando. He scored two points in 28 minutes combined in games two and three and then didn't play in game four. Since then, he's scored 13.6 points and grabbed 5.4 rebounds in just under 28 minutes per game.

With regulation coming to a close, Prince looked like a grizzled veteran driving to the right of the hoop, spinning off the defender into the lane and flipping in a short jumper with no worries. Then he scored the first five Detroit points in overtime to help the Pistons take a 2-0 lead heading to Philadelphia.

Three of the page designers in the sports department at the newspaper I work for are big Pistons fans. They all hope that Memphis gets the number two pick in the draft (Detroit gets Memphis' first-roudn pick unless it's number one) so that the Pistons can take Carmelo Anthony to be the big scorer the team needs. Well, Anthony would definitely be nice, but I think Prince is showing that he could be a pretty good scorer next year too.

Prince just looks a little bit like Reggie Miller out there to me. He's long (6 feet, 9 inches with long arms) and slippery, can hit the outside shot but can also drive to the hoop if he needs to and he doesn't look intimidated by anybody on the court. If the Pistons do end up with the second pick, they might be better off getting Darko Milicic to play power forward and letting Prince be the small forward.

Lost in Prince's fabulous play at the end was Iverson's disappearing act. Iverson had 27 points after the third quarter, but he finished the game with just 31 points. After Prince tied the game, Philly had about five seconds to run a play, but they could not get the ball to Iverson.

The other thing I'd like to mention regarding this game is that I was completely wrong about the Pistons. I severely underestimated them and I like this team more every time I watch it play. I don't think they can beat the Nets in the Eastern Finals, but I'm going to enjoy watching them try (yes, I'm going on record as saying there's no way either Boston or Philadelphia digs out of the 0-2 hole).

Dallas evens it up

I didn't get to see the entire game (in large part because the first quarter was almost over before the Philly-Detroit game ended), but the parts I did see were great. The first three quarters of this game were just plain fun.

Sacramento had a 20-10 lead less than four minutes into the game, but then got outscored 34-20 over the remaining eight-plus minutes. Dallas hit 11 straight shots in the first quarter and the two teams tied the record for most points in the first quarter of a playoff game. Here are some of the incredible stats from the game.

Nick Van Exel: 36 points in 30 minutes, shooting .739 from the floor.
Dirk Nowitzki: 24 points and 12 rebounds in 30 minutes, hitting 4 of 4 3-pointers.
Michael Finley: 24 points in 40 minutes.
Steve Nash: 19 points and 7 assists in 25 minutes, shooting .727 from the floor.
Adrian Griffin 15 points in 19 minutes.

That's five players for Dallas who averaged 23.6 points while playing 28.8 minutes. Just ridiculous. The Mavs led 44-40 after the first, 83-61 at halftime (setting a playoff record for points by a team in the first half) and 113-85 after three quarters. I just wish the game had been close and all of the starters had to play more minutes so they could have challenged the playoff record of 157 points in a game.

Dallas made 17 of 32 3-pointers, and that percentage would have been better if the scrubs hadn't come in and started clanking 3's all over the place in the fourth. Strangely, with Dallas leading by about 20 points in the third, every time Sacramento scored Bill Walton started screaming as though it was the Mavs who trailed big. And if you looked down at Don Nelson on the sidelines, you may have thought that was the case. I guess that's what happens when you have a terrible defense; you can't even trust your team to hold a 20-point third quarter lead.

As great as the game itself was, the best part came at the very end with all of the best players on the bench. Dallas' Walt Williams got fouled with 40 seconds left. There was some pushing, and both he and Sacramento's Hedo Turkoglu got ejected. With Williams unable to shoot his free throws, Sacramento coach Rick Adelman got to choose the replacement shooter. He picked Van Exel, who had been on the bench for some time and understandably thought his night was over after having scored a career playoff-high 35 points. As Van Exel walked onto the court, the camera was trained on his face and you could see quite clearly when he said, "Muthafucka." I don't know why, but it always makes my day when the camera shows a player swearing.

Anyway, the series is tied at a game apiece and the teams have combined to score 479 points in two games. Now, the Kings may actually be in trouble depending on the health of the two players who went down in game two. Chris Webber hurt his knee and Bobby Jackson fractured his cheekbone, but it's unknown how serious either injury is. If both players are forced to miss game three, the Kings will have a hard time winning that one. Even if they give home-court back to the Mavs, I still think Sacramento will win the series. It may just take seven games now, which is a good thing for people who like a lot of scoring.

Wild about the NHL

Every team in the NHL should send a big thank you card to the Minnesota Wild. Minnesota is single-handedly making these NHL playoffs exhilirating.

In the first round of the playoffs, there were three game sevens and Minnesota's was the only one that lived up to the hype. The Wild twice came back from one-goal deficits and eliminated the much more playoff-tested Colorado Avalanche in overtime. The Avalanche had led the series 3 games to 1, but the Wild won three straight elimination games.

In the second round, both Eastern Conference series ended in just five games and the upstart Anaheim Mighty Ducks needed only six games to pull off their second big upset of the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Wild once again fell behind three games to one and once again won two elimination games to force a game seven. In game seven, the Wild once again fell behind, this time 2-0. Before you could say, "Well, it was a fun ride" the Wild had scored four straight goals to move on to the Western Conference finals.

So in the West you've now got the very compelling Anaheim vs. Minnesota series and out East you have the fairly boring New Jersey vs. Ottawa series. I picked New Jersey to win the whole thing, so I guess I'll root for the Devils to knock off the Senators. Out West it's much tougher to decide because both teams are basically underdogs. I'm going to pull for Minnesota for the following reason:

If the Wild don't win this series, the good people of Minnesota may develop an Anaheim/L.A. complex. Think about it. In the 2002 baseball season, the Minnesota Twins had their best regular season since 1991 and knocked off the 103-win Oakland Athletics, only to lose to the eventual-champion Angels. In this basketball season, the Minnesota Timberwolves had their best regular season ever and got home court advantage for the first time ever only to draw the three-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers and get knocked out of the playoffs in the first round for the seventh year in a row. Now, the Minnesota Wild has made an amazing run through the playoffs, winning six straight elimination games to twice come back from 3-1 series deficits. Now, they face an Anaheim Mighty Ducks team that has only lost twice in dispatching the top two seeds in the Western Conference.

So, for the remainder of this hockey season, I'll be cheering along with all the Minnesota fans. It's a travesty that that state ever lost its NHL team and it's wonderful that their recent expansion team now stands on the brink of the Stanley Cup finals.

Clear your schedule

If it's at all possible, you should all clear your schedule from 8 to 11 p.m. eastern time. If you don't get the Boston at Minnesota game on your TV, intrude on a friend who has a satellite dish or something. If you can't do that, go to a Sports bar and make them turn one of the TVs to that game. Basically, if it's at all possible, find a way to watch this game.

Why am I so excited about this game? Because the pitching matchup is potentially great. Pedro Martinez takes the mound for the Red Sox. His last start was a complete game against the Twins in which he allowed one run on five hits and struck out 12. In his last four starts, he's pitched 30 innings, allowing four runs (three earned) on 16 hits and 10 walks with 33 strikeouts. In six of his seven starts, he's gone at least seven runs and allowed no more than two runs and in five of those six he allowed fewer than two runs.

For the Twins, young Johan Santana will make his first start of the season. Santana has appeared in 11 games as a reliever so far this year, pitching 22.2 innings. He has a 1.59 ERA with 29 strikeouts and 12 walks. The only thing preventing this from being an absolutely tremendous matchup is that Santana hasn't thrown more than 66 pitches in a game yet this season. So, he'll probably be held below 100 pitches for tonight's start, which means he'll pitch at most six innings.

Still, if you want to see the best AL pitcher of today go up against one of the best AL pitchers of tomorrow, then make sure you watch this game.

Obviously, this post has nothing to do with Fantasy baseball. Instead of Fantasy Friday, today is going to be Super Sports Friday for two reasons. One, yesterday was such a great night of sports that I don't want to wait until Sunday to write about it. Two, since Sunday is Mother's Day, I may not have time to do much posting. At any rate, check back around noon and I should have a post about last night's three playoff games up by then.

Thursday, May 08, 2003

The Big Hit Train

In his column today, Rob Neyer discusses the best hitting pitchers of all time besides Babe Ruth. His top five is Wes Ferrell, Red Ruffing, George Uhle, Red Lucas and Bob Lemon. Neyer obviously did a good bit of research on this, so I'm going to trust him that those are indeed the best five. However, I would like to point out what may have been the best offensive season by a pitcher with at least 100 plate appearances since Ruth.

In 1925, Walter Johnson, then 37 years young, pitched 229 innings over the course of 30 games. That was only the second time since his 1907 rookie season that he pitched fewer than 250 innings, but he did manage to go 20-7 with a 3.07 ERA (the league ERA was 4.21 and his 137 ERA+ was his second-best since 1919). The Big Train was obviously slowing: he was just above average in 260 innings in 1926 and he was well below average for 107 innings in his 21st and final season).

Aside from being his last real hurrah as a pitcher, 1925 was also the year Walter Johnson batted .433 in 97 at-bats. He drew three walks and was hit by a pitch and he has nine extra-base hits (six doubles, a triple and two homers) for a 1.033 OPS in 107 plate appearances (he also had six sacrifices). Johnson's season was good for 25 runs created and a 163 OPS+ (the league OPS was .783 - strangely, the league OPS was .770 or below each of the other 20 years of his career).

How does Johnson's 1925 season compare with the best offensive seasons of Neyer's five top-hitting pitchers? Let's take a look.

Ferrell's best season was 1931. He posted a .994 OPS in 128 plate appearances and his OPS+ was 151. Ferrell hit nine homers and drove in 30 runs that year. His 26 runs created were the second most of his career (he had 34 in 1935 when he posted a 140 OPS+ in 179 plate appearances).

Ruffing had his high-water mark the year before, 1930. His .984 OPS was good for a 150 OPS+ in 117 plate appearances and he had 25 runs created.

Uhle's best season was in 1923 and it was the weakest of the five. He posted an .863 OPS and a 126 OPS+. He did have 26 runs created because he got 156 plate appearances.

Lucas was the only one of the five whose best OPS did not match up with his best OPS+. In 1930, he posted an .866 OPS, which was good for a 114 OPS+. But in 1926, he had a 129 OPS+ when he posted an .844 OPS. He had 21 runs created in 137 plate appearances in 1930 and 20 runs created in 169 plate appearances in 1926.

Lemon had the best four-year offensive run of the group, which is not surprising since Neyer mentions that he started his career as a hitter and the four-year run came early in his career. From 1947 to 1950, Lemon had an OPS of at least .818 and an OPS+ of at least 112 each year. He had 469 plate appearances and 73 runs created over those four seasons. His best season was the shortest and the first of those four, when he had a .994 OPS and a 177 OPS+ in 64 plate appearances. In 1949, he posted an .886 OPS and a 134 OPS+ for his best season with at least 100 plate appearances. His highest runs created total was 22 in 1950 when he had 153 plate appearances and an .825 OPS.

So, while Johnson was not in the class of these five pitchers for his career, it looks like his 1925 season was better than any season they had at the plate. How does it stack up with Ruth's best offensive season while he was still pitching full-time? I'm glad you asked.

In 1915, Ruth pitched 217.2 innings and went 18-8 with a 2.44 ERA, which was good for a 114 ERA+ (the league's ERA was below 2.80 in each of Ruth's first five seasons in baseball). At the plate, Ruth batted .315 with nine walks and 15 extra-base hits (out of 29 hits) for a .952 OPS and a 189 OPS+ in 103 plate appearances.

The next year was Ruth's best as a pitcher. In 323.2 innings, he went 23-12 with a 1.75 ERA for a 158 ERA+. However, on offense he slipped to a 122 OPS+ thanks to a .741 OPS.

His offense rebounded with an .857 OPS and 162 OPS+ over 142 plate appearances, but he went back to merely being a good pitcher. He went 24-13 with a 128 ERA+ in 326.1 innings.

Then came 1918, the season when he really started to make the switch to being a full-time hitter and the last time the Red Sox won the World Series. Ruth pitched 166.1 innings, going 13-7 with a 2.22 ERA for a 121 ERA+. He got 380 plate appearances and he made the most of them, posting a .966 OPS and a 194 OPS+.

In 1919 (his last season in Boston), Ruth not only pitched just 133.1 innings, but he was average with a 102 ERA+. However, he was magnificent at the plate with a 1.114 OPS in 542 plate appearances. He had an OPS+ above 200 (219) for the first time and it was the first of the four times he broke the home run record as he belted 29 (the first of 15 straight seasons that he hit at least 25 homers).

After that, Ruth went to New York and became strictly a hitter, never again pitching as many as 10 innings in a season (although he did throw nine-inning complete games in 1930 and 1933).

So, as impressive as Walter Johnson's 1925 offensive outburst was, it paled in comparison to some of the things Ruth did even when he was still a pitcher. Those of you who like home runs should be thankful that Ruth didn't like being a pitcher. He may have eventually become a full-time hitter because he was so damn good at it, but he certainly sped up the process because he wanted to be a hitter.

I may get lynched by Red Sox fans for saying it, but I'm glad Ruth was sold to New York. Babe Ruth could not - I repeat, could not possibly - have become the star he became had he stayed in Boston. And baseball is a better game because Babe Ruth became the Sultan of Swat. Now if he'd only ease up on that damn curse...

A man among boys

Carlos Delgado is a man among boys in the Toronto club house both in terms of age and ability. Delgado is not just the only Blue Jay with at least 50 at-bats who has an OPS greater than .875, he's more than 350 points greater than 875 (1.237). I just love what the league leaders section of Delgado's player page says:

Ranks 3rd in AL in BA (.365)
Ranks 1st in AL in HR (12)
Ranks 1st in AL in RBI (37)
Ranks 1st in AL in R (29)
Ranks 2nd in AL in BB (27)
Ranks 1st in AL in OBP (.490)
Ranks 1st in AL in SLG (.748)
Ranks 1st in AL in OPS (1.237)

It doesn't get much better than that. Only Brad Fulmer (.371) and Hank Blalock (.3654) have higher averages than Delgado's .3652. Delgado is tied for the league lead in home runs with Juan Gonzalez. The only other AL player with at least 30 RBI is teammate Vernon Wells (33).

Delgado only has a 10-point lead in SLG and a 17-point lead in OBP, but nobody else in the AL has shown Delgado's combination of patience and power. His OPS is 102 points higher than the next closest AL player (Carl Everett).

Setting a Triple Crown pace is nothing new for Delgado. In 2000, he was at or near the top of the leaderboard in all three categories most of the year, eventually finishing fourth in all three with a .344 average, 41 homers and 137 RBI. His 1.134 OPS was second in the AL that year and he finished fourth in MVP voting. Delgado parlayed that banner season into a huge contract and there were talks that the Blue Jays wanted to trade him after two seasons with "disappointing" OPS's in the .950 range.

It's a good thing they didn't. Delgado may not strictly be worth his lofty salary, but he's the leader of that team. Delgado is 30 years old and has played in 1,167 games. There are only four position players on the roster who are older than him: the two journeyman catchers and the two utility infielders. The Blue Jays have six players age 26 or younger who have combined to play in 761 games. The other two "veteran" regulars in the lineup are Shannon Stewart (29 years old, 818 games played) and Frank Catalanotto (29 years old, 535 games played), at least one of whom will not be on the team next year.

I thought the Blue Jays were going to have a good, young offense this year and that the team would be fun to watch even without much pitching. Well, the team has been fun to watch at times and the offense as a whole has been good at times, but not very consistent. Delgado is the person who will allow the young players to continue to develop so that this will be a very good offense next year or the year after. They can look at him and say, "He's the man in this lineup; he's going to carry us and come up with the big hits. I just need to step up to the plate every time and do what I can."

Hopefully for Delgado, they all develop quickly and he's still around when the whole lineup's good, because there's no telling what kind of numbers he could put up if he had five or six really good hitters around him.

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

Contract the Orioles

What did the Orioles do that is so terrible? No, it's not that they have posted a losing record for five straight years and are likely to do so again this season. No, it's not that they were swept by the Detroit Tigers, who were 4-25 coming into the series. It's not even that they were doubled up (22 runs to 11) over a three-game series by a team that had scored just 74 runs (2.55 per game) and had allowed 151 runs (5.21 per game) coming into the season. Why then?

It's because they gave up two home runs to Brandon Inge. That's the Brandon Inge who had not homered since July 15th of last year. The Brandon Inge who came into the game with a .349 OPS this season (75 at-bats, 11 hits, all singles). The Brandon Inge who had seven career homers and a .521 career OPS in 199 games. The Brandon Inge whose performance today is just another entry on a long list of reasons why these Baltimore Orioles teams are an affront to the proud history of baseball in that city.

Revamping the Mets

The New York Mets are cover-your-eyes awful right now. In his latest column on, Bob Klapisch says they need to rebuild and he tells them how they should go about it. Well, we all know New Yorkers don't stand for losing very much and they won't like a rebuilding period. So, here's my solution to make the Mets competitive for this year while improving them for the future. DISCLAIMER: There is no chance that most of these things will happen and I do not have any special insight. I'm simply having some fun.

1. Fire Steve Phillips and make Jim Duquette the permanent, not interim, GM. Klapisch says the Mets will consider Duquette when, not if, they fire Phillips, but that they may wait until the offseason and go after Billy Beane, Brian Sabean and Gene Michael. Well, Beane and Michael will not go to the Mets for the same reasons they wouldn't go to the Red Sox this past offseason. Sabean might be intrigued by New York, but the Mets would be better off eliminating any controversy. Duquette is well-respected and has been a frontrunner for many jobs over the past few years. Give him the job and let him get comfortable.

2. Encourage Mo Vaughn to sit out the rest of the season with his injury. Once Vaughn has been out for 90 days, insurance will cover 75-percent of his salary (thanks to Lee Sinins' invaluable Around The Majors reports for pointing that out). Tony Clark can be the everyday first baseman. His 11 strikeouts and two walks indicate that he won't keep his OPS at .987, but he plays great defense and an .825 to .850 OPS could be acceptable.

3. Trade Roberto Alomar and Jose Reyes to Oakland for Miguel Tejada and either Adam Piatt or Jason Grabowski. Then use Vaughn's insurance money to help sign Tejada to a long-term deal.

I know the A's said they aren't trading Tejada, but he's struggling and Alomar's a free agent at the end of the year too. Alomar goes to second and maybe turns his season around now that he's playing for a winner and Mark Ellis slides over to shortstop for a season or two while Oakland waits for their two terrific middle infield prospects - Reyes and Bobby Crosby. In New York, Tejada should start hitting with his contract worries out of the way and Grabowski and Piatt are both fairly young and still promising hitters. Either one could help the Mets out.

4. Trade Armando Benitez and Pat Strange to Boston for Shea Hillenbrand and Ramiro Mendoza. Move Ty Wigginton to second base and release Rey Sanchez or just use him as a defensive replacement.

Benitez seems to struggle with the pressure of being the closer. He wouldn't need to worry about that in Boston since the Red Sox want to use their best pitcher in the most important situation and not adhere to the strict closer situation usage. Boston doesn't need Hillenbrand and he could help the Mets as their starting third baseman while Wigginton slides over to second. The Red Sox probably wouldn't want to take all of Benitez's salary, so the Mets take Mendoza in return and hope he can turn things around. Strange is a Massachusetts boy who could probably help the Red Sox bullpen as well (I actually graduated from high school with him and we had a wood shop class together).

5. Trade Mike Piazza to the Twins for Torii Hunter, Bobby Kielty and Micheal Nakamura.

Piazza could begin to make his switch to a new position in Minnesota, catching 2-3 times per week while playing first base or DH the rest of the time. He gives the Twins two things they don't have a ton of on offense: patience and power. Jacque Jones slides over to center field and the Twins have two more good corner outfielders in AAA (Michael Restovich and Michael Ryan) if they need help in left field.

For the Mets, Hunter solves their problems in center and Kielty gives them another quality hitter in the outfield. Nakamura is a 26-year-old righthanded reliever in AAA Rochester who could really help the Mets bullpen (maybe even as their closer). He has a 2.49 ERA with 31 strikeouts and four walks in 21.2 innings this year.

6. Give Aaron Heilman a spot in the rotation and see if you can get rid of Pedro Astacio for even a fringe prospect. Astacio was awful in the second half last year and has been awful in three starts this year. In seven starts for Norfolk, Heilman is 4-1 with a 2.66 ERA with 35 strikeouts and 15 walks in 40.2 innings.

7. Since Vance Wilson probably isn't good enough to be the everyday catcher, trade for Ramon Castro and have them split time behind the dish. Castro is the third catcher in Florida, so he probably won't cost too much. Castro had a .777 OPS in 101 at-bats last year and has a .921 OPS in 272 AAA games.

There are probably some other moves that could be made and something would have to be done with Jeromy Burnitz when he gets healthy (which is probably very soon). But, let's take a look at the new-look New York Mets after making those seven changes.

RF Bobby Kielty
LF Cliff Floyd
CF Torii Hunter
SS Miguel Tejada
3B Shea Hillenbrand
1B Tony Clark
2B Ty Wigginton
C Vance Wilson/Ramon Castro

C Wilson/Castro
OF Jason Grabowski or Adam Piatt
OF Roger Cedeno
OF Tsuyoshi Shinjo (until Burnitz is back)
IF Joe McEwing
IF Jay Bell or Rey Sanchez

Starting Rotation:
Tom Glavine
Al Leiter
Steve Trachsel
Jae Seo
Aaron Heilman

Mike Stanton
Graeme Lloyd
David Weathers
Scott Strickland
Micheal Nakamura
Ramiro Mendoza

I think that team is good enough to have a winning record this year and maybe even sneak into the playoffs if things break right. For the future, you've got Castro, Tejada, Hillenbrand, Hunter, Kielty, Grabowski or Piatt, Seo, Heilman, Nakamura... Find a better first baseman and a real second baseman in the offseason and you'd be in good shape. See, isn't it fun being the GM when you don't have to worry about actually making it happen and seeing whether or not it will work?

ARod for MVP

The other day, Aaron Gleeman wrote in his baseball blog (scroll down to about halfway through the Friday, May 2nd entry) that people seem to be searching for players on winning teams to give the MVP Award to instead of Alex Rodriguez. The trendy choice early in this season is Alfonso Soriano. So I thought I'd just list their stats side-by-side:

A.Soriano - Rodriguez
32 G 32
143 AB 125
27 R 24
49 H 43
6 2B 9
1 3B 0
10 HR 10
27 RBI 26
14 BB 13
25 SO 36
6 SB 5
1 CS 1
.343 BA .344
.416 OBP .427
.608 SLG .656
1.025 OPS 1.083

Those numbers are awfully similar. The only real differences are that Rodriguez has struck out more and, while they've put up nearly identical counting stats, Rodriguez has higher ratio stats because he's had 18 fewer at-bats. Of course, there are some things that don't show up in the numbers; two in particular that I want to mention. First, Rodriguez plays a slightly more difficult, and thus important, defensive position and he plays it much better by all accounts. Second, Rodriguez is just doing about what he's done each of the last three years while Soriano would set career highs in nearly every offensive category if he stays on this pace.

Remember, as good as Soriano was last year, he only had an .879 OPS. People like to yell at statheads for placing too much importance on walks and they love Soriano because they feel they can point to him and say, "See, there's a player who is great without a lot of walks." Well, no, he's not. At least not yet. You can be very good while drawing hardly any walks, but to be a truly great hitter for a season you need to either draw a ton of walks or hit for a ridiculously high average or find some middle ground where you're average or better in both. Soriano has a .416 OBP because he is drawing more walks this year and also because he's hitting .343. We'll see if he can keep his OPS above 1.000 the entire year, but I don't think he can.

While I'm attacking common perception, I may as well go after one regarding Rodriguez. That would be the thought that he doesn't steal anymore, and it's especially prevalent in the fantasy community. Well, Rodriguez is on pace to steal 25 bases. Here are his stolen base totals starting in 1996 and ending with that projection:

15, 29, 46, 21, 15, 18, 9, 25

Which two numbers look out of place in that list? Right, the 46 and the 9. If you expect 40-plus steals from Rodriguez, then yes, you will be disappointed. However, one year without reaching double figures in steals does not mean that he's decided to stop running.

Okay, now back to the MVP part of this post. Everything I've said above probably will not sway anybody, because people who feel Rodriguez did not deserve last year's MVP Award do not try to argue that he wasn't the best position player. Instead, they point to the fact that his team had a losing record and finished in last place and they say, "How valuable could he have been?"

I'm always baffled by how people think that John Hart's inability to put together a pitching staff in some way affects how valuable Rodriguez is. This year people are going to try to argue that George Steinbrenner's ability to spend a lot of money and Brian Cashman's ability to use that money wisely somehow make Soriano more valuable than he really is. Maybe you think that it's Rodriguez's fault that the Rangers are bad. He makes a ton of money and that might prevent them from spending money on pitchers. Well, they recently spent a bunch of money on Chan Ho Park, who has been predictably terrible for them. So, it's not that they don't have money to spend on pitchers, it's that they don't know which pitchers to spend it on.

Some people say that Miguel Tejada was the MVP because he was a part of a great team and you can't know how Rodriguez would have fit into the clubhouse and how he would have affected everybody else's play. As ridiculous as it is that people think Tejada may have some special winning quality that Rodriguez does not have, it gets even more ridiculous when you realize that Rodriguez was on a 91-win Seattle team in 2000. Did he prevent that team from winning 100 games because he lacked that special winning something? Or did he help them win 91 games, but then he lost his special winner juice when he moved to Texas?

The fact remains, no matter how you argue against it, that Rodriguez has had five MVP-caliber seasons in seven years, but for some reason he has yet to win an award. If they're going to give out an award, they should give it to the right person. Let's hope they get it right this year and give it to Rodriguez if he deserves it.

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Break up the Tigers

Apparently not satisfied with a two-game winning streak and some new-found offense, the Tigers are now trying their hand at ridiculously improbable offensive feats.

With Detroit in front 1-0 after two innings, Shane Halter led off the third inning with an inside-the-park home run. After two outs, Omar Infante doubled and scored on a single by Bobby Higginson. The Tigers then took a 4-0 lead when Dmitri Young tripled.

That's right, the Tigers hit for the cycle in the third inning. And they did it without hitting a ball out of the park. And they did it in Camden Yards, which is one of the smallest parks in the majors. Of course, Detroit fans shouldn't get too excited just yet. Mike Maroth is on the mound for the Tigers, and they'll probably find a way to tag him with yet another loss.

Update: Well, the Tigers did manage to rob Maroth of his first win, but the story of the game (with the bottom of the ninth still to be played) is Young. Young went 5-for-5 with two triples, two home runs and five RBI. Even after that, he's hitting just .229 as he came into the game batting .190. I'm sure somebody has hit two triple and two homers in a game before, but I doubt it's ever been done by somebody who was hitting .190 at the start of the day. In one game, Young has bumped his SLG from .300 up to .448! Young tripled to drive in the winning run in the top of the ninth and would have hit for the cycle had he just stopped at second. Funny how hitting for the cycle will get you more publicity than the more impressive feat Young just accomplished...

More fun than Kevin Bacon

Tony Clark hit his fifth homer of the season on Saturday, which annoys me since he only hit three homers for the Red Sox last year. I was going to just write about Clark, but I figured other fans were annoyed to see players who pissed them off last year doing better this year on different teams. Here's how I linked Seattle to Oakland using 15 other teams. You'll figure it out as you read:

Desi Relaford wasted 329 at-bats with a .713 OPS in Seattle last year. This year, however, he has an .890 OPS in 68 at-bats for Kansas City.

Kansas City fans in turn had to suffer through a 4.33 ERA and seven blown saves from Roberto Hernandez. Now with Atlanta, Hernandez has a 2.50 ERA and eight holds.

Tired of waiting for Wes Helms to develop into a decent hitter, Atlanta parted ways with his six homers and .688 OPS. Helms already has five homers and a more respectable .744 OPS for Milwaukee.

Of course, Milwaukee was anxious to get rid of Ronnie Belliard and his .211 batting average. Now with the Rockies, Belliard is hitting .279 with an OPS 201 points higher (544 to 745).

Belliard may be getting help from Coors Field, but Juan Pierre wasn't - not with a .675 OPS. Sent from THE hitters park to a good pitchers park, Pierre has upped his OPS to .690 and is on pace for 206 hits after collecting 170 last year.

The Marlins apparently weren't impressed with Kevin Millar's 16 homers and 57 RBI in 126 games and they tried to sell him to Japan. Boston jumped into the mix and got the outfielder, who already has five homers and 22 RBI in 29 games.

I've already mentioned Tony Clark, who agonized Red Sox fans with three homers and a .556 OPS in 275 wasted at-bats. This year, he already has five homers and a .918 OPS in 40 at-bats for the Mets.

Of course, the Mets had an offensive wasteland at shortstop in Rey Ordonez and .616 OPS and just a single homer. Dumped on Tampa Bay, Ordonez has three homers and an .833 OPS.

Tampa Bay fans had to watch Tanyon Sturtze struggle to a 4-18 record last year. Now with Toronto, Sturtze is already 3-2 (although his ERA is actually worse).

Toronto, meanwhile, was itching to get rid of the inconsistent Jose Cruz, who hit 18 homers on the way to a .755 OPS last year. Switching coasts to San Francisco, Cruz already has seven homers and a 1.028 OPS.

Aaron Fultz wore out his welcome in San Francisco with his third straight year posting an ERA above 4.50 (4.79 last year). The Texas Rangers picked him up while revamping their bullpen and he has a 2.04 ERA in 17.2 innings with 17 K's and just four walks.

One of the pitchers dismissed by Texas was Dennys Reyes, who had a 6.38 ERA in 42.1 innings for the Rangers last year. Now with Pittsburgh, his ERA is a much better 3.12 in 8.2 innings.

The Pirates didn't much like outfielder Armando Rios, who hit just one homer and posted a .651 OPS last year. He hooked up with the White Sox and has a .738 OPS.

The White Sox were happy to trade Rocky Biddle and his 3-4 record last year as part of their big offseason move. Given the closer's job in Montreal, Biddle already has six saves while Chicago's other big acquisition has apparently lost his job as the closer.

Matt Herges saved six games for the Expos last year, but he also blew eight saves and had a 4.04 ERA. Now with San Diego, Herges has a microscopic 0.63 ERA in 14.1 innings.

Finally, Jeremy Fikac had an ugly 4-7 year with six blown saves and a 5.48 ERA last year for the Padres. He hasn't been tremendous with Oakland this year, but at least his 4.50 ERA doesn't make him look like "The Mole."

So, there you go. If you can come up with a longer and/or better chain, please email it to me. If I get a really good one by the end of the week, I'll post it. Obviously, the player doesn't have to be doing tremendously this year and didn't have to have played horrifically last year.

Who needs Griffey?

Before the season started, Aaron Gleeman said the following as part of his many predictions (scroll down to the March 31 entry):

"The Reds' outfield will lead all of baseball in outfield homers and Dunn, Kearns and Griffey will each hit at least 35."

Seemed like a pretty reasonable thing to say and a fairly smart prediction. Then Ken Griffey Jr. went and got himself hurt. Since Aaron had penciled Griffey in for at least 35 dingers, he probably didn't feel quite so hot about his prediction. Well, it's May 6th and, so far at least, Aaron's prediction is right on track without Griffey's help at all.

As far as I can tell, the Reds lead the majors with 24 home runs from their outfielders. For comparison's sake, those 24 homers are more than five entire teams have hit (and tied with the Mets). Austin Kearns has hit all nine of his homers as an outfielder, Adam Dunn has hit seven of his nine homers from the outfield, Jose Guillen had added six outfield homers and Ruben Mateo and Griffey each hit one homer as an outfielder. The only other team that has at least 20 homers from its outfield is Texas (20 on the dot if my research is correct).

The interesting piece of this puzzle is obviously Jose Guillen. Once upon a time, Guillen was an excellent prospect. He spent all of 1995 and 1996 in Class A, where he posted an .866 OPS over the two years (212 games). He was then rushed to the majors with Pittsburgh where he put up consecutive years with a .712 OPS. Guillen was sporting a .663 OPS through 40 games the next year when the Pirates traded him to Tampa Bay. In parts of three seasons with the Devil Rays, Guillen had .711 OPS. He was then signed as a free agent by Arizona in December of 2001.

In 54 games for Arizona last year, Guillen had a .628 OPS before being released. He was signed by Colorado and played five games for Colorado Springs before being released. Then the Reds signed him and he had a .684 OPS in 31 games for Cincinnati. So, coming into this season, Guillen was a 26-year-old former top prospect with a 1.015 OPS in 109 AAA games and a .702 OPS in 639 games in the majors. Now, 639 games is a lot, so it seemed pretty safe to say that Guillen was your typical Quadruple-A hitter who had some value as a fourth outfielder/pinch hitter.

With Griffey hurt, however, Guillen has stepped up and hit the way people 6 to 8 years ago thought he might be able to. He's hitting .314 with six homers, 18 RBI and a 1.004 OPS in 25 games. Unfortunately for Guillen, whether this is real or not, he probably only has an everyday job until Griffey is back from the DL sometime next month. Did Guillen's failure after the Pirates rushed him to the majors set him back so much that he's just now realizing all of the potential he displayed at such a young age? Or is he just a below-average hitter enjoying a great month? I'd love to find out, but we probably won't really get a chance to.

Avoiding the F-word

Last year, Junior Spivey came out of nowhere to hit .301 with 16 homers, 103 runs, 78 RBI and an .865 OPS to make the All-Star game. Spivey had posted a .777 OPS in 72 games with Arizona in 2001. He had a .739 career OPS in AAA (82 games) and a .785 career OPS in A-ball (215 games). He did have a .927 OPS in 84 games in AA over parts of three seasons, but it's fairly safe to say that nobody thought of Spivey as a future All-Star.

So, when Spivey started off the season with a .182 average, .289 OBP, .227 SLG and .516 OPS, everybody probably thought last year was a fluke. Well, he may not be as good as he was last year, but Spivey's showing that he's not ready to be labeled a one-year wonder.

Over the last eight games, Spivey is 14-for-36 with four homers, 11 runs and nine RBI. He has raised his Avg./OBP/SLG/OPS to .255/.339/.422/.761. Those obviously aren't great numbers, but I think he'll be able to work his OPS up above .800 before it starts to level off. He'll never become a Hall-of-Famer, but should be an above average second basemen for several more years.

Maybe we were wrong

When the Royals got swept by the Red Sox last week, almost everybody thought that was the end of their feel-good season, especially considering how they lost the games. Not so fast, the Royals said. They went to Baltimore and took two of three from the Orioles (who are surprisingly above .500 themselves at 16-15) to even their road record at a respectible 9-9. Then they returned home to Kaufman Stadium for an immediate rematch with Boston.

Kansas City took a nice 5-0 lead, and then it looked like deja vu all over again. The Red Sox scored three runs in the seventh and two in the eighth to tie the game. Then Jason Varitek hit a two-out home run in the top of the ninth to give the Red Sox a 6-5 lead. However, just as the Royals had collapsed in Fenway Park, the Red Sox fell apart in the bottom of the ninth.

Brandon Lyon loaded the bases with one out before getting a strikeout. With two outs, Lyon just needed an out of any kind to preserve the win, but he hit Desi Relaford to force in the tying run. The next batter hit a ground ball to shortstop that went through Nomar Garciaparra's legs and the Royals won 7-6.

Kansas City is now 11-0 at home. The Royals have outscored opponents 58-30 at Kaufman Stadium and have an team OPS of .803 while their pitchers have allowed a .586 OPS there. If they can win the next two games to sweep the Red Sox (and I hope they cannot), then the Royals will break the record for most consecutive home wins to begin a season (the 1911 Detroit Tigers started the year 12-0 at home).

At 20-9, Kansas City has the third-best record in the majors behind the Yankees (23-8) and Giants (21-9). They have a 5.5 game lead in their division, tied with San Francisco for the biggest lead in the majors. What other reasons are there to believe that maybe, just maybe, Kansas City could actually win 90 games this year? Well, how about the fact that the two teams with the worst records in baseball (Detroit at 5-25 and Cleveland at 9-21) are both in Kansas City's division.

My gut tells me that Kansas City will have a losing record by the All-Star break, but it's not like the schedule is brutal from now until then. The Royals have 64 games left before the break and 30 of them are against teams that currently have a winning record. What reason do we have to believe that the Royals will go 26-38 or worse against a schedule with a winning percentage of .490? Isn't it possible that the Royals could win half of those games and go into the break at 52-41? Sure it is. And for the Twins and White Sox to be 52-41, they would have to win 37 of their next 63 and 62 games, resectively. So, it's entirely possible and not even tremendously unlikely that the Royals will still be in first place at the break.

I do still think Kansas City will finish third, well behind Minnesota and Chicago, but I also thought Anaheim would finish third, well behind Oakland and Seattle, last year. The longer the Royals stay in contention, the more fun this season will be for almost everybody.

The old Garret's back

Way back in the first week of this blog, I noticed that Garret Anderson had six walks in 16 games. I said it would be interesting to keep an eye on that because he was on pace to draw twice as many walks as he had the previous year (30). Well, guess how many walks Anderson has drawn in the 14 games since I made that post. If you guessed zero, you're probably at least decent at Trivial Pursuit.

When I made that post, Anderson ranked fifth in the AL with a 1.138 OPS. Now his OPS is down to .946 and the only reason it's that high is because his .344 batting average gives him a .372 OBP. When that average falls to its normal level (he hit .306 last year and is a career .298 hitter), his OBP will also drop to its normal level somewhere around .330. That lower batting average will also lower his .574 SLG.

Some people might think that his .574 SLG is also being inflated by his 15 doubles in 30 games, but I don't think it necessarily is. Last year, Anderson hit 56 doubles and 29 home runs to get 228 total bases out of his doubles and homers. This year, Anderson's on pace for 81 doubles and 16 home runs, which would give him 226 total bases out of his homers and doubles. Over the course of the year, some of those doubles will turn into homers and some of them will disappear when his batting average falls, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him hit about 60 doubles (with about 25 homers).

I take it back

Last Thursday, I wondered whether a certain Tampa Bay rookie would make the All-Star team. Well, for right now at least, I look pretty stupid for making that suggestion.

This past weekend, Rocco Baldelli went hitless in consecutive games for the first time in his very short major league career. His average is now down to .336 and he has an .845 OPS. Meanwhile, Aubrey Huff is absolutely on fire. In his last eight games, Huff is hitting .382 (13-for-34) with six homers and eight RBI. For the season, he's hitting .287 with eight homers and 19 RBI and a .927 OPS. Since last year's All-Star break, Huff is hitting .317 with 24 home runs and 61 RBI in 435 at-bats. He has a .374 OBP and a .549 SLG for a .923 OPS.

Huff is 26 years old and seems to be realizing his potential after some disappointing showings in the majors earlier in his career. He is one of the few truly good players on a Tampa Bay roster loaded with promising players and he would not noticeably lower the quality of the All-Star roster if he keeps doing what he's been doing since last July.

Monday, May 05, 2003

Back in New York

I'm back from my little trip to Massachusetts, but I'm too tired to do any blogging tonight. I'm going to use tomorrow to catch up on everything I've missed over the weekend. Please check back frequently tomorrow, as I plan on making 10 or so posts during the day.

Sunday, May 04, 2003

Super Sports Saturday Night

I'm going back to Massachusetts tomorrow and I don't know if I'll have a chance to make any posts while I'm there, so I'm putting up my "Super Sports Sunday" post now. With the first round of the NBA playoffs almost over, I wanted to look at the two series that are going to a seventh game tomorrow and then look at the six teams that have already won their series.

Dallas vs. Portland

There's missing a good opportunity, suffering a devestating defeat, choking and then, way worse than those, there's losing a seven-game series after you had taken a 3-0 lead. I knew the Mavericks were not legitimate title contenders, but they shouldn't have had any trouble putting away the Trail Blazers. I can understand losing one game after taking a 3-0 lead. And I can kind of understand losing a close game when you have a still-comfortable 3-1 lead. But getting blown out in a game that evens the series?

I still expect Dallas to win the series, but I definitely wouldn't put any money on it. I hope things change in Dallas after this year, because the Mavericks are starting to annoy me. Every year, they make everybody waste a ton of time discussing whether or not they're capable of going deep into the playoffs. Then the playoffs arrive, and Dallas once again proves that no defense equals no chance of winning more than one series (if that).

On the other hand, Portland is in great shape win or lose in game seven. The Blazers should not have been able to hang with the Mavs, and then they fell into the dreaded 3-0 hole. Now they've pushed one of the best teams in the NBA (nominally, at least) to the brink of first-round elimination. For the first time in awhile, that franchise has something to be proud of. Hopefully they can build on it over the course of a full season next year.

Detroit vs. Orlando

This series has given us good definitions for three different words.

Scary: Ben Wallace scoring 20 points in addition to his dominating defense (four steals and five blocks) and tenacious rebounding (17 boards). Wallace has averaged 10.2 points per game in this series on 50-percent shooting. If he could do that over the course of a regular season (he averaged 6.9 points this year), he'd be a legitamite MVP candidate.

Ugly: Wallace having to go to the free-throw line 22 times, where he was only able to sink eight (36.4 percent). Wallace has always been a terrible free-throw shooter, but during the season he only went to the line 2.6 times per game and nobody really noticed. When he has to take at least 10 free throws in a game, it usually isn't pretty.

Stupid: Tracy McGrady saying after Orlando's game four win that it was great for a superstar like him to finally be able to experience the second round. I've seen stories since that say he was misquoted, but he has to know better than to say anything that could possibly be written in a way that would motivate his opponent.

Maybe we were all just a little bit too ready for McGrady to be a big factor in the playoffs. He's such a tantalizing player that we all want him to be in the playoffs for more than one round, and I think many people assumed he would be. But he might just need one more year of disappointment to figure out exactly what he needs to do in the playoffs. And after coming so close this year, one would have to think he'll have extra motivation to see his team through to the second round and maybe further next year.

Then again, maybe he is already prepared. Maybe the first six games were just setting the stage for McGrady to drop 60 points in a game seven performance that everybody will be talking about for years. I don't know which way this will go, I just wish I could watch it to find out.

Boston Celtics

I have to admit, I was worried after game five. How can a team not score a single point in overtime? Especially when that team has Paul Pierce, who Bob Ryan has called the best scorer in the history of the Celtics. I was definitely afraid that if the Pacers were able to steal game six in Boston, there would be no way the Celtics could win a game seven in Indiana.

Fortunately, the Pacers forgot to show up for game six. It was unbelievable. They got outscored by 18 points (33-15) in the first quarter, and every Pacer was hanging his head before the second quarter was halfway over. If these Pacers aren't in need of a new coach, then no team in the history of sports has ever been in need of a new coach.

As for the Celtics, I've talked almost exclusively about Pierce when discussing their chances. Pierce has been wonderful (he's averaging 25.8 points, 9.2 rebounds, 6 assists and 1.83 steals), but the Boston bench is the reason the Celtics are in the second round. Tony Delk is averaging 15.5 points on 46.2-percent shooting after averaging 9.8 points on 41.6-percent shooting during the season and his rebounds and assists are also up. Walter McCarty is averaging 12.0 points on 51.0-percent shooting after averaging 6.1 points on 41.4-percent shooting during the season. If the Celtics can keep getting these kind of performances from their non-stars, I would feel very good about their chances of returning to the Eastern Conference finals. Except for the...

New Jersey Nets

The Nets just didn't look the same during the regular season this season as they did last season. Then the playoffs started and it was like they just flipped a switch. During the playoffs last year, Jason Kidd averaged 19.6 points, 9.1 assists, 8.2 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game. During the first round this year, he averaged 18.8 points, 9.2 assists, 6.8 rebounds and 1.67 steals per game. His scoring and rebounding are down a little, but otherwise he's been just as good as last year.

Meanwhile, Kenyon Martin has transformed from a good player in the regular season (16.7 points and 8.3 rebounds) to a monster in the first round of the playoffs (22.3 points and 10.0 rebounds). His bump in scoring and rebounding is the reason Kidd hasn't had to do as much in those areas. And the Nets still have some of the best depth in the Eastern Conference.

The second round against Boston should be a rough-and-tumble, down-and-dirty kind of series and it will be fun to watch. Ultimately, though, I don't think the Celtics match up well with the Nets. I'll be hoping though.

Philadelphia 76ers

Allen Iverson scored 55 points in the first game, and this series was still one of the most boring of the first rounders. And I'm not the only one who thinks so. I've read several stories that said there just wasn't anything intriguing about the matchup.

Well, if you want intrigue, you better sit on your couch at 12:30 and root as hard as you can for McGrady to get the Magic one more victory. I will be very disappointed if the T-Mac vs. AI series does not take place. If Philadelphia has to play Detroit, we're in for another lackluster series.

Los Angeles Lakers

I knew Minnesota was done after game four, but I expected it to be a little bit closer than it was. I guess I shouldn't be surprised though. The Timberwolves probably knew they were done. They had gotten pounded by the mighty champions while standing in there and delivering the biggest blows they could muster. And after four games of that, they had no advantage.

That said, the middle of that series just reinforced my belief that this year's Lakers don't have what it takes. They don't have the supporting cast anymore and they won't be able to scare off their next opponent just by flexing their muscles and baring their teeth.

San Antonio Spurs

Just take a look at Tim Duncan's numbers from the first round - 18.7 points, 16.0 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 3.5 blocks. He had a double-double in each game and a triple-double in the clincher.

Let's compare this team to Minnesota. Duncan is better than Kevin Garnett, Tony Parker can be just as good as Troy Hudson, Stephen Jackson is better than Wally Szczerbiak and the Spurs' other big men are better than the T-Wolves' other big men.

Maybe it's just me, but I don't see the Lakers being able to beat the Spurs.

Sacramento Kings

The only way the Kings don't reach the Western Conference finals is if they start thinking about the Lakers too soon. Or if the Spurs take a 2-0 lead in the series and the Kings get so relieved that they might not have to play L.A. that they forget they have a second-round opponent. Basically, Sacramento is way better than Dallas and Dallas should be way better than Portlant. Whoever the Kings end up playing, there's no way this series even goes seven games. Sacramento vs. Dallas would be a more fun series that I think the Kings would win in six.