March Madness Day Nine

Today the final four teams were all in action. Ohio State played Georgetown in the first game followed by Florida and UCLA in the second game. Last year Florida beat UCLA to win the national title. Today they play for a chance at the title game. Here are some thoughts on each game:

Ohio State 67 – Georgetown 60
Georgetown brought the game down to within four with under two minutes remaining and into a timeout. Ohio State came out of the timeout firing. They scored the next five points. They ended up winning by seven giving Oden his chance at a title, and a great reason to skip to the NBA (not that the money will be out of the equation).

Florida 76 – UCLA 66
Florida controlled the second game throughout. This means that I have both teams that are in the final in my bracket. Kansas getting beat last weekend won me the only paper bracket that I was in, and this final should set me up nice in the Mike and Mike bracket that I posted on here. My bracket is in the top 94% of all brackets submitted. If Ohio State can win on Monday I will be in good shape.

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White Sox 2007 Preview Day Five: The Infield

The four infield spots will remain the same for the White Sox in 2007. That was not always going to be the case. Joe Crede was/is still mentioned in some trade rumors, and his re-signing was one of the biggest off season moves that the Sox made. Juan Uribe spent a good portion of the off season battling legal trouble in his hometown.

First Base: The Sox have this position covered. Paul Konerko will be the regular first baseman for the 2007 season. His backup last year was Ross Gload, but he has now been traded to the Royals. Jim Thome can play first, but with his health issues it would be better to just let him DH. Darin Erstad can play first as well as Toby Hall. Erstad will step into the role that Ross Gload has played the last two years. He will fill in at first when needed, and but play the outfield.

Paul Konerko – Pauly will be the man at first again this season. He played in 152 games last season for the Sox. He is really coming into his own. Should benefit again from Dye batting behind him. Last year hit .313 with 35 home runs, 113 RBI’s, and 177 hits. He is one of the slowest players in the league, but actually stole a base last year. It must have been between innings. He is the master of the stand up double. I love Pauly to death, but he will hit a ball into the corner that would be a double for most people, and when the ball comes back into the infield Pauly will still be on first. His home runs were down last year from 40 and 41 the previous two years. His average though went up from .283 and .277. I will take the numbers he put up last year anytime. His 177 hits led the team. This year all of the seats in the stadium will finally be changed over to green except two of them. One of them remains blue to show where Paul’s grand slam in the 2005 World Series landed. Let’s hope we can get some more blue seats this year.

Jim Thome – Jim came out of the box last year strong. He fell off a little from the quick pace that he set, but still had a great year. He finished the year with 42 home runs and 109 RBI’s. He led the team in runs scored with 108 last year. He also drew a team high 107 walks, but his 147 strikeouts also led the team. He has hit 472 career home runs, and only needs 28 more to hit the magic number of 500. If he can stay healthy this year he should get it. The man he replaced on the team Frank Thomas only needs 13 more for 500.

Second Base: Tadahiti Iguchi is the second baseman for the Sox. He may bat later in the order though. Guillen really wants to bat him 7th so that he is in more RBI situations. Iguchi will play most days, but Rob Mackowiak, Alex Cintron, and Pablo Ozuna can fill in as well. Iguchi is the main option at second though.

Tadahito Iguchi – A decent defensive player with a great bat, Iguchi will bat seventh against right handed pitchers and second against lefties. Tadahito hit .281 with 18 home runs and 67 RBI’s last year. He did score 97 runs with the big guns behind him. This year he will not have the luxery of Pods in front of him and Thome behind him. The players ahead of him in the order are not the threats on the basepaths that Pods is, and A.J. behind him is not the big bat that Thome and Konerko are. He will not see the quality of pitches that he has seen in the past two years. Ozzie had the same idea to bat him lower in the order last year, but when nobody could fill his shoes in the two hole he was moved back. Iguchi’s signature game last year was the 7 RBI performance against the Astros on Sunday Night Baseball. What makes it even more special was that the 7 RBI’s were drove in with two at bats in the 8th and 9th innings to tie the game up. He also hit the single that ended the 19 inning game against the Red Sox.

Third Base: Joe Crede will be the opening day third baseman. With all the trade rumors with his name in them I don’t know how much longer that will be for. Josh Fields has been learning the outfield, but his natural position is third. The Sox think that he is ready to be an everyday third baseman, and Crede’s back may be scaring management. Crede has been mentioned a lot in the recent rumors to get Rowand back to Chicago. Crede will start the year as the everyday third baseman. Fields will start the year in Triple A. Pablo Ozuna will be the main backup at third as he was last year, but Cintron can play there as well if needed.

Joe Crede – One could easily make a case for Crede as the MVP of the Sox. He is one of the most clutch players on the team. Despite some back issues he played in 150 games for the Sox last year. In those games he hit .283 with 30 home runs, 94 RBI’s, and 76 runs scored. His bat has finally come around, but his glove has always been there. That is what kept him at third all these years while we waited on his bat. He is a great third baseman that will eventually get noticed for the gold glove. For now his signature moment was his game winning double in the 2005 ALCS in game 2.

Pablo Ozuna – Pablo is a natural infielder that can get by in the outfield. Last year it was an adventure everytime the ball was hit to him in left. I would rather see him get his playing time in the infield this year. He played in 79 games last year. He was the choice most of the year for a pinch runner when the situation called for it. He even beat out the throw on a squeeze bunt with two outs to win a game against the A’s in the 10th. Very quick and smart on the bases.

Shortstop: Juan Uribe looks to be the opening day shortstop even though he faced some charges back home in the off season. Alex Cintron could start on a lot of teams, but will back up Uribe this year.

Juan Uribe – If the pitcher is throwing it, then chances are that Uribe will swing at it. He had a run in with the law back home, and may have to leave the team in July if they can trump up enough charges on him by then. He will be missed in the field. He has above average range, and a rocket arm. He got off to a very slow start last year, but finished the season with a .235 average, 21 home runs, and 71 RBI’s. He also tied Paul Konerko with one stolen base. Even when he was in the slump at the beginning of the year he still got some key hits. He is a fun player to watch at a game.

Alex Cintron – A very good backup option for the Sox. In only 91 games last year he hit .285 with 5 home runs, and 41 RBI’s. He also had 10 stolen bases. A lot of those 91 games were appearances off of the bench. He got some clutch hits, and helped the Sox in the late innings. He is a very capable replacement at shortstop if need be.

Hard to believe, but a week from today I will be at my first Sox game. Hopefully they can get out to an early lead like in 2005. From everything that I have seen the matchup will be Javier Vazquez v. Sidney Ponson. Last year I saw the Twins early in the year and was happy to see us going against Silva. For some reason I am happy to see Ponson come up. Hopefully I can distract him with my hot dog.

White Sox 2007 Preview Day Four: Relief Pitching

If the starters cannot return to the form they showed in 2005, then the bullpen has to return to that form. Only Bobby Jenks returns from that group of pitchers. According to most reports the Sox have six relievers with closer type stuff. They are Jenks, Matt Thornton, Mike MacDougal, David Aardsma, Andrew Sisco, and Nick Masset. The bullpen will have a lot of new names in it this year. How these new guys perform will set the tone for the season.

#45 Bobby Jenks – The closer job is Bobby’s to lose. He took some advice and came to camp much lighter than he did last year. He recorded 41 saves last year. One bad note was that 3 of his 4 blown saves came after the All-Star break last year. He has devastating stuff, and could have a bright future with the Sox if he takes care of his body. One scary note is that it was rumored that Charlie Haeger was teaching him the knuckleball. If you were the hitter you wouldn’t have a chance. Last year he had 80 K’s in 69.2 innings pitched. He is the anchor of the bullpen. His velocity is not where it was at the end of last year, but this was the case last year as well. He kept getting better as the season moved on.

#37 Matt Thornton – Matt provides a solid left handed arm out of the bullpen. He appeared in 63 games last year for the Sox posting a 5-3 record with a 3.33 ERA and 2 saves. This is his second year with the club, and the team will be relying on him more since Neil Cotts was traded away in the off season.

#47 Mike MacDougal – Mike was a late season aquisition last year from the Royals. In limited time he posted a 1-1 record with a 1.55 ERA, 1 save, and 21 K’s in 29 innings pitched. He did not pitch very much last year, but seemed to be effective in the time that we saw him.

#54 David Aardsma – Aardsma could be a key player in the Sox bullpen, or he could be the answer to a trivia question. The Sox acquired the righty in the Cotts deal this offseason. Last year with the Cubs he was 3-0 with a 4.08 ERA, and 49k’s in 53 innings pitched. From the little I was able to see of him last year he looked like Vazquez. He has great stuff, but can’t seem to put it all together. He has been working on getting his slider going most of spring training. He made the team on the last day of spring training, and will be on a short leash as the season starts.

#51 Andrew Sisco – This might be the steal of the off season. We acquired Sisco even up for utilityman Ross Gload from the Royals. Sisco is a 6’10” lefty that has great stuff. I am instantly rooting for him because he is from Steamboat Springs, Colorado which is my favorite ski resort. Last year for the Royals he was 1-3, with a 7.10 ERA, 1 save, and 52 k’s in 58.1 innings pitched. We need another good left handed arm, and he could be the answer. Sisco had a rough outing right before the final cuts were made. The outings by the pitchers on the cusp were so bad that Ozzie took a night to cool off before he made his final decision. Sisco made the team at the expense of Boone Logan. If Andrew does not perform, Ozzie will waste no time in bringing Logan up from Triple A.

#46 Nick Masset – Here is another pitcher that was acquired for McCarthy. He has been a lock for the bullpen since the early spring. He has five pitches that he can use. They are fastball, curve, cutter, slider, and changeup. He was a starter in the minors, but will be used as a reliever this year. In limited action in the majors last year he was 0-0, with a 4.15 ERA, and 4 k’s in 8.2 innings pitched.

#57 Boone Logan – Last year Boone broke spring training with the team, but had what he later called ‘a mental breakdown’ while in the majors. He says he is better this year, but only time will tell that. He gave up 18 runs in the 17.1 innings he pitched last year. He did have one save and 15 k’s as well. He will be one of the wildcards in the pen. Boone was cut on the last day despite a great spring training. He was 1-0 in 9 appearances, and did not give up a run.

#34 Gavin Floyd – Gavin will be in the bullpen after losing out on the 5th starters spot. Floyd was acquired in the Garcia trade, and was the favorite for the 5th starters job coming into the spring. A couple of bad outings opened the door for Danks. In his first action of the spring he hurt his ankle falling off the mound. He was considered by the Phillies as a project, and that is why we were able to get him. Last year he was 4-3 with a 7.29 ERA, and 34 k’s in 54 innings pitched. He could be the one the Sox go to if Danks cannot get it done as a starter. He was probably destined for Charlotte when he did not get the starting job. He can still get his innings in as a starter, and be ready to come up if he is needed.

#78 Adam Russell – Adam put his name into the hat for the fifth starter at the end of the spring. He pitched well enough to get some notice. He was yet another non roster invitee that impressed this spring. Russell was moved up to the AA Birmingham club during the season last year. Adam is another big player in the bullpen. He is 6’8″ and 250 pounds. He will be another imposing force on the mound. Russell can also drop down to give hitters another look. He has never pitched in the majors, but impressed the coaches enough to see some innings this year. Russell was sent down during the last week of spring training. He will start the season in Double A, but I think we will see more of him before the season is over. He really opened some eyes this spring.

White Sox 2007 Preview Day Three: Starting Pitchers and Catchers

The pitchers and catchers will report first just like in spring training. Today I will look at the Sox starters and both catchers. Tomorrow I will go into the bullpen. The biggest question, and the key to the season is our starting pitching. This off season changed our rotation quite a bit. One of the starters was traded, and the pitcher that was to replace him was traded within the week. Here was the Sox rotation at the beginning of last year:

  1. Buehrle
  2. Garcia
  3. Contreras
  4. Garland
  5. Vasquez

Here is how it should look to start this season:

  1. Contreras
  2. Garland
  3. Buehrle
  4. Vasquez
  5. Danks

Jose Contreras – This will be the third full season for Jose with the White Sox. When he was acquired for Esteban Loaiza at the 2004 trade deadline it looked as if the Yankees were getting the better of the deal. The knock on Jose was that he was good early in the season, but fell off in the second half. In 2005 he was untouchable in the second half of the season, and was one of the major reasons the Sox won the World Series. He took an unbeaten streak into last season, but limped it through. He was not the same dominant pitcher. Last year he was 13-9 with a 429 ERA and 134 k’s last year. On paper it does not look bad, but his second half tells the tale. Here are his numbers after the All-Star break: 4-9 5.40 ERA. Part of that increase in runs was the longball. He only allowed 8 home runs in the first half of the season compared to 19 homers in the second half. Before the season started Jose was named the #1 starter by Ozzie Guillen. One concern about Jose is his age. Who knows how old he really is? He does not pitch a lot of complete games so we will see the bullpen a bit more with him pitching. His back seems to be doing better, so we may see the good Jose this year.

Jon Garland – Jon has won 18 games each of the past two years. We need that to continue this year with Garland moving up two spots in the rotation. Jon had the great start to the 2005 season, then hit a rough patch in August and September. He did pitch well in the playoffs that year though so we assumed he would be okay. Last spring he was bothered by shoulder tightness. He worked it out and posted a 18-7 record with a 4.51 ERA and 112 k’s. He was also named to the All-Star team last year. It may have helped that it was his manager that was in charge of picking the pitchers. Jon had the same tightness in the shoulder to start this spring, but just like last year he has worked through it. Jon looked to regain his form from 2005 during the months of June through August. He won 13 of his 14 starts in that span. If we can get another 18 win season from Garland we will be in good shape this year. He has seemed to ditch the big inning that used to hound him.

Mark Buehrle – For the last five seasons you could count on Mark Buehrle starting for the White Sox on opening day. That will all come to an end this year. Mark not only lost the #1 starter role, he was moved to the #3 starter. Ozzie explained this by saying that he needed to split up Garland and Vazquez in the rotation. Just like Jose, Mark’s season was a tale of two halves. He had a good season until July came. From April through June he was 9-4 with a 3.32 ERA. Then July came. For the month of July he was 0-5 with a 11.40 ERA. The picture that is at the top of the page was taken in July when the Rangers roughed up Mark. He finished the season going 3-4 with a 5.35 ERA. This is not the Mark Buehrle that we have come to know. He was the workhorse of the team in previous years. He is not a strikeout pitcher, but finishes games. Last year he was getting knocked out of a lot of games getting the pen involved. He had a rough begining of the spring as well. He could not get his cutter working. That seemed to change at the end. He started to pitch a little bit better. He did not sign a contract extension before the season started so he will be a free agent at the end of the year. Maybe that will help him come back into his old form. I don’t think he will get a lot of money with a 12-13 record with a 4.99 ERA. From the way Kenny Williams is talking this could be the last season that we see Mark in a White Sox uniform. He says that he will not be able to re-sign him with the money that is being thrown around for left handed pitchers. I hope that Mark can bounce back, and that the Sox will re-sign him.

Javier Vazquez – Javier has the stuff to be a great major league pitcher. He has fantastic stuff that makes hitters look terrible. Watching him on TV you wonder how anyone can hit him. Then he has the bad inning. It seems that he loses focus, and the other team takes advantage of it. All it takes is a bloop hit, an error, or something to get under his skin and he loses his focus. If he could get that in line he would be a great asset to the Sox. He led the Sox with 184 strikeouts last year, but only had an 11-12 record with a 4.84 ERA. Maybe Cooper can work some of his magic and get Javier to concentrate the entire game. Javier is one of the biggest keys to the 2007 White Sox. Javier will be on the mound when I go to my first Sox game on April 6th.

John Danks – Who? When the White Sox got rid of Brandon McCarthy I saw the names of the players that they got in return. I had no idea who any of them were. Danks is a 21 year old lefty that won the job in spring training. Danks only pitched 14 games for AAA Oklahoma last year, and only has a 21-30 record and a 4.20 ERA in his minor league career. He has not exactly torn up the minors on his way up. He did look good at the start of spring, then fell off a bit when his name was being thrown around for the 5th starter role. His last start of the spring was a good one though. He only gave up one hit in the 4 innings that he pitched. It was after that start that Ozzie gave him the 5th starters job. I don’t know if it is a good thing or a bad one that one of your starters will be a 21 year old non-roster invitee. Time will tell if Ozzie made the right call. Yet again here is another question mark with the pitching staff.

It seemed as if the White Sox have improved the situation behind the plate as well this year. They have had a good starting catcher since they acquired A.J. Pierzynski before the 2005 season. What they have been missing is a good backup catcher. Toby Hall will fill that void this year. Here is a look at the two catchers that will break camp with the Sox this season:

A.J. Pierzynski – Acquiring A.J. before the 2005 season was a great move by Kenny Williams. He was just booted out of Minnesota, and the Giants were not too interested in bringing him back. He brought a lot of baggage with him, but so far he has done all right. A.J. is the type of player that you love if he is on your team, but that you hate when he is playing for the other guys. A.J. plays with a great intensity that often gets him into trouble. He always seems to be at the center of controversy. So far the Sox have come out on top when he has gotten into something. Hopefully that will remain the case. A.J. seems to handle the staff very well. He calls a good game, and you could see his effect on the team when he came over. He has also showed some clutch ability the last couple of years. Game winning home runs against the Dodgers and Cubs come to mind immediately. A.J. is just a competitor, and refuses to do anything but win. From what I have seen, his problems start when his team is not playing up to their ability. This could be a trying year for A.J. and the Sox.

Toby Hall – One of the sore spots for the Sox the last few years has been the backup catcher. As far back as I can remember this has been a problem. Who can forget Ron Karkovice batting .071 for the Sox? Chris Widger was all right for the 2005 team. He seemed to be a good guy, but his bat was not there. Last season we made the big move to re-acquire Sandy Alomar Jr. He was over the hill the first time we picked him up, and last year he showed that he was near the bottom of the hill. This year we may have snagged a good one. Toby was the starting catcher for Tampa Bay last year, but was traded to the Dodgers in late June. Despite playing in two different leagues he managed to bat .259 with 8 home runs and 31 RBI’s in 85 games last year. He will provide a decent right handed bat for the days when A.J. needs a rest. As I am writing this Hall had to leave the spring training game he was playing in for an apparent shoulder injury. Hopefully he can recover to provide some good innings for the team. If he cannot go, the job looks like it will go to Wiki Gonzalez. Oh how quickly things can change. Since I wrote this it has been determined that Hall will most likely miss the rest of the season. He is going to try rehab instead of surgery, and has a slim chance to be back in May. At this point he has nothing to lose by trying to rehab his shoulder. The Sox want to fill the job in house, but could someone else be brought in? Javy Lopez has been mentioned as a possible replacement, but I think the winds are blowing Sandy back to Chicago for his third stint behind the plate.

First Fantasy Draft

This afternoon I participated in my first ever fantasy draft. The order was random and I was selected to pick 9th. The good news was that I was able to get the 12th pick of the draft when the order switched over. I am more of a fan than a numbers guy, so this should be an interesting process. Here is how my draft went:

1st Pick (9th overall): Carl Crawford – LF
2nd Pick (12th overall): Vladmir Guerrero – RF
3rd Pick (29th overall): Joe Mauer – C
4th Pick (32nd overall): Aramis Ramirez – 3B
5th Pick ( 49th overall): Chone Figgins – CF
6th Pick ( 52nd overall): Brandon Webb – SP
7th Pick ( 69th overall): Bill Hall – SS
8th Pick ( 72nd overall): Huston Street – RP
9th Pick (89th overall): Joe Crede – 3B
10th Pick (92nd overall): Matsuzaka – SP
11th Pick (109 overall): Tadahito Iguchi – 2B
12th Pick (112 overall): C.C. Sabathia – SP
13th Pick (129th overall): Lyle Overbay – 1B
14th Pick (132nd overall): Curt Schililng – SP
15th Pick (149th overall): Curtis Granderson – CF
16th Pick (152nd overall): Chris Capuano – SP
17th Pick (169th overall): Scott Podsednik – LF
18th Pick (172nd overall): Kevin Youkilis – 1B
19th Pick (189th overall): A.J. Pierzynski – C
20th Pick (192nd overall): Jason Bartlett – SS

Here is how the team looks
1B Lyle Overbay
2B Tadahito Iguchi
3B Aramis Ramirez
SS Bill Hall
LF Carl Crawford
CF Chone Figgins
RF Vladmir Guerrero
C Joe Mauer
Util Joe Crede
P Brandon Webb
P Huston Street
P Daiskuke Matsuzaka
P C.C. Sabathia
P Curt Schilling
P Chris Capuano
Bench Curtis Granderson
Bench Scott Podsednik
Bench Kevin Youkilis
Bench A.J. Pierzynski
Bench Jason Bartlett

I thought I was doing badly, but I got some good players late. Now all I need to do is figure out what to do with them. As the season goes on I will get more into how I am doing. Remember to go to the Baseball Challenge and sign up. Only four members of the White Sox on the team. Not too bad for a homer. Crede was just too good to pass up where I got him. He may take over for Aramis in no time.

Fantasy Baseball

In my opinion fantasy baseball would be a field filled with supermodels, but apparently it is a buch of number crunchers that apply that to baseball. Today I had my first ever fantasy baseball draft. Perhaps I have been watching too much TV, but I have seen the commercials for the ESPN free league for too long now. I joined up last night, and will have my first draft this afternoon. My team is called the Pinola Sluggers, and is in a group filled with mostly Sox fans. I really don’t have the knowledge or time to play, but I thought I would give it a try. I will post again when my team is completed. Hopefully I have a great lineup, but I have a feeling I will have a current/former White Sox team.

I have also created a room for the Baseball Challenge game on ESPN.com. The group is Pinola Possums, and the password is Yo. If you want to join there it is.