After all the playoffs games were done last night I sat down and watched 60 minutes. Scott Pelley, one of the show’s senior reporters sat down with Texas Tech head football coach Mike Leach to assess the secret behind the Red Raider’s success. And the reality is, Leach didn’t even have a succinct explanation. And frankly, neither do sports writers. Also interviewed during the segment was sports writer Michael Lewis, author of Moneyball, a book on how small schools are able to become the cream of the crop (as in Tech’s case this season, holding the #2 overall ranking at one point). Even Lewis couldn’t provide a reasonable explanation other than glorifying Leach’s ability to get the absolute best out of his players. The perfect case in point comes when looking at Leach’s quarterbacks-most recently Graham Harrell-who’ve led the NCAA in passing six of the past nine years, and this year wide-receiver Michael Crabtree, whose skills lend himself to being a top ten pick this coming April should he decide to leave early for the NFL Draft. The spread offense Leach runs certainly is complicated, but only rooted on one basic principle: spread the ball around to ensure defenses don’t key on one guy. So what makes this story truly amazing? Well, for one, Leach hasn’t even been fully committed to football despite his team’s winning ways. 60 minutes mentioned his leaving the coaching ranks at one time to earn a law degree from Pepperdine. The even more amazing aspect? Leach is doing all this with a constrained budget and limited recruiting power. With Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M the local powers that be, Leach has been forced to bring in whatever’s left and become particularly innovative. CBS specifically mentioned a fan who became the team’s kicker after knocking a 30-yard field goal through at a halftime show for free rent. Pretty nuts. And despite all the forces they’ve had against working them, one recruiting ploy Leach just wasn’t going to let go to waste for the Red-Raider football program was being placed in the national spotlight. Just imagine what this guy could accomplish with some major recruits.
In retrospect, looking back on the Packers 2008 season is certainly disappointing; dropping seven more games from a year ago is a drastic step backwards. And while the casual Packer fan will more than likely direct the brunt of the blame at Aaron Rodgers, statistics show that the quarterback position was not the cause of the team’s ills. Here’s a look at Favre and Rodgers final regular season stats:
COM PCT% PASS YDS TDs INTs QB RAT.
Rodgers- 63.6 4,038 28 13 93.8
Favre- 65.7 3,472 22 22 81.0
Rodgers became just the second quarterback in NFL history to surpass the 4,000 yard passing plateau in his first season as a starter, joining Kurt Warner. Additionally, Rodgers ranked fourth in the league in passing yards and TDs and sixth in QB rating. And to help sway you a little more, Favre’s 22 picks lead the league (Jay Cutler was second to last with 18). Need I go on? From those numbers, it’s obvious to see that the highly-publicized transition went better than expected. In just his first season as a full-time starter, Rodgers has cemented himself as a top 10 (if not top 5) quarterback. His mobility also proved valuable- contrary to what Favre was able to display in his final years in Titletown. The 207 total rushing yards he accrewed placed him 7th among NFL QBs. He also had four TDs on the ground. In comparison, Favre had a mere 43 yards with 1 TD on the ground.
While I won’t go on a rant on why the Pack ended up with a sub-par record, I will give you a couple news and views revolving around the team before the off-season begins.
Views: Can you blame the guy? Statistically, he was one of the best receivers in the league this season despite his snubbing from the Pro-Bowl. Note to Ted Thompson: get this guy locked up! He’s going to be a stud for years to come.
News: Defensive coordinator Bob Sanders is all but gone…or at least he should be. A decision on Sanders’ future could be made as early as this week.
Views: Top candidates to replace him: former-49er head man Mike Nolan, interim Rams and former Saints head coach Jim Haslett, Jaguar defensive coordinator Gregg Williams (who’ll likely be let go) and possibly Winston Moss, the Packers linebackers coach. At this point, it’s anyone’s guess who of those will be hired-if any. Anything to get Sanders O-U-T.
News: The Packers will hold the ninth overall pick in the upcoming April draft, and will receive the Jets’ third-rounder as compensation for the Brett Favre trade.
Views: Compensation could have been a second-rounder had the Jets not had their monumental collapse and made the playoffs and a first if they would’ve made the Superbowl. As far as the 9th pick is concerned, a trade down is always possible. Needs are at corner (with Harris and Woodson aging) as well as offensive and defensive line. Just to give you a quick idea, here were the players drafted in the nine spot the past five years:
2008- Bengals: *Keith Rivers, LB, USC. Rookie Stats:37 tks, 1 INT, 1 FF.
2007- Dolphins: Ted Ginn Jr, WR, Ohio State. Rookie Stats: 420 rec. yds, 3 total TDs.
2006- Lions: Ernie Sims, LB, Florida Stats. Rookie Stats: 124 tks, 0.5 sacks.
2005- Redskins: Carlos Rogers, CB, Auburn. Rookie Stats: 46 tks, 2 INTs (12 games).
2004- Jaguars: Reggie Williams, WR, Washington. Rookie Stats: 268 rec. yds, 1 TD.
* Suffered season-ending broken jaw during Week 7 game against the Steelers.
Doug Melvin finally got his man. Six years after former-Athletics’ manager Ken Macha spurned the Brewers’ offer to become the manager of the club, Macha relinquished his ties with the team Thursday, for what will reportedly be a two-year deal through 2010. The hiring came just weeks after 16-game incumbent Dale Sveum was ousted by the organization in favor of a man with longer-tenured winning experience. Among those who fit Melvin’s criteria: former Mets’ skipper Willie Randolph, ex-D-Backs’ manager Bob Brenly and Macha. All three were interviewed and seemingly in contention for the job until this past week, when rumor had it Macha would be the choice. Aside from the interest he drew from management six seasons ago, Macha’s proven track record in the AL proved to be the kicker. The man with 35 years of major-league experience (both playing, coaching and broadcasting) complied a 368-260 record as head man of the A’s from 2003-2006, winning the AL West twice.
The staunch-demeanored Macha said in his press-conference Thursday that he and Melvin have begun to discuss potential coaches who can fill out the staff, with Sveum’s name on the top of the list. Melvin said Sveum has expressed in returning with the club in some capacity, most likely as the bench or third-base coach. Other vacancies left to fill are the hitting and possibly pitching coaches, with Mike Maddux’s contract due up tomorrow. Maddux will likely show interest in the Rangers’ pitching coach position in large part due to the close proximity to Texas El-Paso (his alma-mater), Houston (his last stop in the majors), and AA-Round Rock (where he spent three years on now-Ranger bench coach Jackie Moore’s staff).
With the managerial position now filled, Melvin’s primary focus will shift to the Hot Stove, which begins with the annual GM Meetings next week in California. On the immediate docket for Melvin will be how much to offer CC Sabathia (who is primed for a $100 million + contract this winter) and whether to extend a $10 million team-option to center-fielder Mike Cameron.
Other potentially burning questions yet to be answered:
1) What to do with J.J. Hardy, who has “blocked” top-prospect Alcides Escobar’s job?
2) Will Prince Fielder be a Brewer next year, and if not, where could he land?
3) How to shore up an almost certain, “Eric Gagneless” bullpen next year?
Anger. Joy. Sloppiness. Heroics. All interchangeable words that emcompassed last night into early Sunday morning for Wisconsin sports fans. Lucky for us, in the prime-time California twinbill for the Brewers and Packers, the game that actually meant something was a success. While the Packers stumbled around in Candlestick Park, the Brewers held off the resilient Dodgers, backed by 53,000 fans, in dramatic fashion 380 miles southeast at old Chavez Ravine. Here are some positive and negative observations from both teams’ performances:
1) Defensive clinic. What else can you say? Mike Cameron has shown that he is deserving of his fourth Gold-Glove every night. He was so convincing to Matt Kemp after his first two great catches that Kemp froze at first on a booming shot by Andre Ethier in the tenth, and was only able to advance to second; a game changing play. The catch by Gabe Kapler is without a doubt the greatest catch I’ve ever seen on live television. Simply amazing-another game changing boost for the Crew.
2) Braunny’s back. In his return from intercostal muscle spasms, Ryan hit a pinch-hit bloop single in the eighth and had the good sense to keep on chugging to second with a hustle double. He later struck-out on a 97 MPH heater in his second at-bat against fireballer Jonathan Broxton in the tenth. Overall a great sign to see Braun back healthy.
3) Snappin’ out of it. If you thought you were going to have a heart-attack in the later innings of the game, just think what J.J. Hardy must be feeling. He snapped out of a 2-23 drought at the plate dating back to August 10th with a 3-5 effort including a go-ahead, two-run homer in the eighth, followed by another go-ahead base hit to score Ray Durham in the tenth to seal the win. Unfortunately, they were sandwiched by an ugly error in the Brewers’ rough ninth, which he completely misplayed. J.J. came through though. Whew!
4) Gagne sharp; Riske not so risky. In his return to Dodgers Stadium, Eric Gagne had a efficient 12-pitch 1-2-3 inning with some help from his outfielders. Gagne reached a season-high in velocity, lighting up the gun at 95 MPH. Good to see. David Riske, who entered the tenth in relief of Salomon Torres, also had good command, striking out Manny Ramirez to end the wild 5-4 contest.
1) Managing. A couple more horrible decisions by Ned Yost tonight. First of all relying on Ray Durham to hit Braun over to third base. Ned, lay a bunt down please. Braun saved Yost from that embarrassment with his speed. But as always, bad managing eventually hurt the Brewers in the ninth inning. Clutching his precious match-up cards, Ned elected to start the inning with Brian Shouse against the lefty Ethier. Of course, Shouse walks him, and the weight of the world is put on the real closer Torres with no outs and a man on first. It was a miracle he only gave up one run.
This was by far the best win of the season for the Brewers. A huge momentum shift into tomorrow’s game with a chance for a 4-2 West Coast road trip heading back home (how big would that be?). If I had to pick a defining game for this season this would be it. Hopefully they can string together some wins and slowly reel in the Cubs.
1) Return game revitalized? It has been 12 years since the Packers had the likes of Desmond Howard returning kicks, but could the next great one at last be here? Jordy Nelson was the only statistical bright spot for the Packers against the 49ers, returning two kicks for 57 and 58 yards, respectively. He has all but solidified his spot as a returner for Mike Stock, the team’s special teams coordinator, and Mike McCarthy.
1) Incohesive offense. The offense didn’t click all night long. Completely out of sync. The team gained an abysmal 182 total yards to the 49ers’ 355, an astounding differential to the team who ranked dead last in the NFL in total yards per game last season. The offensive-line looked particularly vulnerable, allowing six sacks.
Look for Mike McCarthy to whip his team into serious shape at practice Monday after the pathetic 34-6 showing against his old team. The Packers are now 0-2 this preseason.
And how can I forget about American Michael Phelps, who is now the greatest Olympian of all-time obtaining his eighth gold medal in the Beijing games, surpassing fellow U.S. swimmer Mark Spitz’s mark of seven golds in the 1972 Munich games. Congratulations to Mr. Phelps.
With yesterday being the 122 game of the year for the Brewers, 40 remain. I’ve decided to begin a series called “Farm Fresh,” documenting one of the team’s top prospects each Saturday through the September 1st call-ups until the end of the season. I’ll give you the skinny on selected players (alternating hitter/pitcher) and when their chances of making it up to the majors will be. I will post the running list and the date on the bottom. Hope you enjoy!
Name: Alcides Escobar (AA Huntsville)
Age: 21 (Signed as ’03 non-drafted free-agent)
Birthplace: La Sabana, Venezuela
MLB Comparison: Orlando Cabrera, SS, Chicago White Sox
Minor League Accolades:
- 2007– Futures All-Star Game Selection.
- 2008– Southern League Mid-Season All-Star.
- 2008– Two-time Southern League player-of-the week.
- 2008– Rated as the club’s best infield arm and best defensive infielder (Baseball America).
- 2008– Rated as the most “exciting” player in the Southern League (Baseball America).
What he’s about: Escobar, as the only Double-A player on the 40 man roster, is arguably the best prospect in the Brewers’ system. He’s a lot like [Orlando] Cabrera and incumbent shortstop J.J. Hardy, as their consistent glove work has allowed them all to be successful despite the fact they don’t have elite power. Through 112 games in Huntsville this year, Escobar has posted a stellar .969 fielding percentage, a stat that earned him the nickname “Inspector Gadget” and should allow him to suit up in a big league uniform yet this season. Escobar has been a mainstay in Huntsville’s lineup along with catcher Angel Salome and third baseman Mat Gamel, batting .343 with a .378 on-base percentage and 31 stolen bases. It would be because of his excellent speed that he could contribute immediately on the base paths for the Brewers should he be called up come September.
Future outlook: With Hardy eligible for arbitration next year, Escobar is the likely candidate to replace him unless management chooses to lock up J.J. long-term. If they do, it’s unlikely Hardy will stay at short, with a possible move over to the hot corner. Look for Escobar’s full-fledged call-up in the spring of ’09, possibly even sooner.
“Farm Fresh” Prospect List:
August 16: SS Alcides Escobar, AA Huntsville Stars.
(more if the team makes the playoffs)
As was thought to be the case, Bucks’ GM John Hammond wasted no time trading guard Mo Williams, who was rumored to be on the move before the draft, as part of a six-player deal earlier today. Williams, the centerpiece of the three-team swap, will head to the Cavaliers and team up with LeBron James, itching for a secondary scorer, while Damon Jones will be headed back to the Milwaukee along with Luke Ridnour and Adrian Griffin. Joe Smith and Desmond Mason will head to Oklahoma City (formerly Seattle). Further details here. And ESPN’s John Hollinger’s analysis here.
At first glance, the return value does not appear to be anything spectacular if you’re a Bucks fan, considering Williams averaged over 17 points a game last year. But the fact is, Mo’s value was not as high as many (including myself) anticipated it would be, and this trade reiterates just how much the Bucks’ organization thought of him, that being, not much. Perhaps the best part about this deal was dumping his horrible contract (he resigned last season for 6 years, $52 million) and also acquiring two more expiring contacts in Griffin and Jones. No, they didn’t get adequate compensation, however, Skiles is determined to bring a more defensive-oriented mindset to this team, and Williams was not by any means a juggernaut when it came to opposing his man. And even though Ridnour, Griffin and Jones aren’t either, they have a history of being good locker-room guys (something Williams was not) and the potential to be role players.
I have no problems whatsoever with the ridding of Williams. The part of the deal that upsets me and unevens the trade is parting ways with Desmond Mason for the second time in three years. Remember he was shipped off to New Orleans in ’05 for bust Jamaal Magloire? In his time in Wisconsin, Mason was nothing short of a consummate professional, and a genuine basketball fan can not help but feel for this guy. I wish him the best back home in Oklahoma.
Now here’s a look at the Bucks’ up-to-date projected depth chart:
PG: Ramon Sessions- Luke Ridnour- Tyron Lue
SG: Michael Redd- Charlie Bell- Damon Jones
SF: Richard Jefferson- Joe Alexander- Adrian Griffin
PF: Charlie Villanueva- Luc Mbah a Moute- Malik Allen
C: Andrew Bogut- Francisco Elson– Dan Gadzuric
* Elson has now officially signed according to JS Online.
I give Sessions a slight leg up on Ridnour for now because he has better familiarity with the team. He should be given every opportunity to run the show, however a time share between the two is possible barring another move. You may think I’m crazy for saying this, but I’m still not convinced Hammond is done. There are essentially five guys who can play point if you include Bell and Jones (remember Jones played point quite a bit in his last stint in Milwaukee). There is still reshaping that needs to take place as bench depth is putrid. The next man potentially on his way out via trade? Charlie Villanueva.
UPDATE: Courtesy of Wisconsin Journal Times’ friend Gery Woelfel, Hammond intends to start Ridnour. Hammond was on Milwaukee’s sports radio 1250 WSSP this morning discussing the trade. He seemed happy with the current mix of players but left the door open for more movement if the right deal presents itself.
For the first time since the Packers drafted him in 2005, Aaron Rodgers will finally get his first start on a national stage, albeit the preseason, against the Cincinnati Bengals. And yes, in all likelihood Brett Favre will be tuning in to ESPN from his new dwelling in the Big Apple. Here are five areas to keep an eye on during tonight’s game:
1. QB Aaron Rodgers. How can you not focus on him? This is his chance to finally prove to his doubters that he can take the reigns and lead the Packers back to the playoffs. It will be interesting how his chemistry with the first-string wideouts has progressed, although he may be playing without one of them as Greg Jennings is questionable to play with a knee injury.
2. LB Abdul Hodge. What a great story this has been. He didn’t play all of last year with chronic tendinitis in both knees, and was on the verge of getting cut. But after surgery and training this off-season in Arizona, he’s back. More on his battle back here. He should be getting a lot of reps tonight, especially with teammate Desmond Bishop questionable with an Achilles’ injury. If he can prove to coaches he is back to his former-ball hawk self when at Iowa, he may land one of the final spots on the team. The linebacker competition should be fierce.
3. Nickelback spot. Charles Woodson and Al Harris have their starting spots locked up again this year, but after that, the third spot is really up for grabs. Tramon Williams and Will Blackmon both showed flashes of brilliance last year, mainly returning kicks. After those two, Patrick Lee, one of three second round rookies from Auburn, should make a strong case for candidacy as well. And don’t rule out Jarrett Bush in that mix, although many green and gold fans probably would like to.
4. [Backup QBs] Brian Brohm and Matt Flynn. Rodger’s will probably get a quarter of work, give or take a few minutes, but other than that it will be up to draftees Brohm and Flynn to take the rest of the snaps. Brohm was a surprising pick in the second round by Ted Thompson after he had taken an unexpected fall down the draft board. Flynn was taken in the 7th round. They will be working with the second and third teamers, meaning Jordy Nelson and Jermichael Finley, also high picks, could be likely targets.
5. Young O-Lineman. All I keep hearing out of Packer’s camp is how much coaches all in love with Allen Barbre, Josh Sitton and Brent Giacomini. Scott Wells, Junius Coston and Orrin Thompson are all questionable, leaving extra time for these three to impress. Barring serious injuries, Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher will secure the tackle spots, Wells center and Daryn Colledge/Junius Coston left guard. Of all five spots, Jason Spitz could be the one fighting for his starting job.
Because this is a rarity, I thought I would savor the moment for Brewer fans and bask in CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets’ masterful outings the past two nights. Here are their lines, you decide which is more impressive:
Sabathia: 9 IP, 5 H, 1 BB, 9 Ks, 103 pitches (77 strikes)–>Overall: 12-8, 3.11 ERA
Sheets: 9 IP, 5 H, 0 BB, 6 Ks, 113 pitches (78 strikes)–>Overall: 11- 5, 2.95 ERA
Obviously Sabathia was more efficient, but I’ll tell you what, I struggle to think of another pitcher with as dominant a pitch as Ben Sheets’ curve ball. Unbelievable. Either way, both very impressive performances by these guys. National’s manager Manny Acta probably won’t be getting much sleep tonight.
Just to put this this whole feat into prospective, the Brewers are the first team to record back-to-back shutouts since the Twins did it in 2004 (Brad Radke’s 4 hitter followed by Johan Santana’s 3 hitter).
The last time the team did it was in 1992. That was courtesy of Cal Eldred’s 4 hitter and Chris Bosio’s 5 hitter.
Seven starts in and CC Sabathia has proved to every Wisconsinite he is the horse that management traded Matt LaPorta for him to be. He has created such buzz that regardless of who the Brewers are playing on a given night, even the cellar-dwelling Washington Nationals, the box office is guaranteed a sell-out crowd. How dominant can this guy be? Seven starts, a 6-0 record, an average of 8 1/3 innings per start with a 1.58 ERA. Finally, the Brewers look to have the kind of pitcher that can carry them into October. And just to throw in another stat, after tonight’s most recent complete game, Sabathia has notched the most complete games, four, among all National League pitcher’s, all in just over a month’s work.
But the lingering question that will creep into Brewer fans’ minds as the season winds down is will CC-mania continue in Milwaukee for years to come? He will be the marquee free-agent come the off-season, and if the team fails to make the post-season, questions will be asked as to why Brewer’s management has been willing to deal future pieces for half-season rentals (Scott Linebrink last year). Are Owner Mark Attanasio and GM Doug Melvin just that desperate for a playoff berth? Or are they seriously considering making a run at Sabathia when he tests the market? For now, only time will tell, because CC has said he will not openly express his thoughts on free agency until that times comes. But if one thing is certain: the reigning AL Cy Young winner will not be cheap. And the Brewers will have to contend with the big-boys: the Yankees, the Red Sox, the Dodgers. Can they do it? Who knows. But a hidden indicator may be upcoming next weekend, when the team travels to L.A. to square off against the Dodgers.
Sabathia, who turned 28 in July, is from Vallejo, California, just under 400 miles northwest of Dodger Stadium. He will be wooed by multiple teams, but of all of them, L.A. may be the most attractive option for the very reason he would return home. Granted, Vallejo is vastly different than the second largest U.S. city, with a mere 120,000 residents to L.A’s four million. While Sabathia won’t be pitching in the three game set against the Dodgers, it may be a good thing. This will probably be the only shot the “CC-less” Brewers have at making a statement to the Big Man that, “we’re better than these guys, sign with us.” If the Brewers should take the series or perhaps even sweep, maybe, just maybe, the door opens for CC to consider a return to Brew Town.
Another plus is the team will be also be freeing up around $45 million next season, assuming Ben Sheets, Eric Gagne, Mike Cameron, Guillermo Mota, Ray Durham, Derrick Turnbow and Chris Capuano, among others, aren’t brought back. And there are some who will undoubtedly ask, why pay CC a boatload more when Big Ben could be had for less? Since 2001, Sabathia’s rookie season (excluding this year), he has logged close to 200 innings in every season, including 241-innings last year en route to his Cy Young with Cleveland. In that same time, while Sheets has also racked up impressive totals, he has not nearly shown the durability to complete a whole season, at least not enough to trust resigning him long-term. Bottom line: CC is a true, dependable ace. And the loss of Sheets would not be nearly as painful (no pun intended), especially since Milwaukee will have a healthy Yovani Gallardo back next year, along with Manny Parra, Jeff Suppan, Seth McClung and Dave Bush already fixtures in the rotation.
While it may be a long shot, as the contract would need to be somewhere near the $15-20 million a year range for him to even consider an offer, the way Sabathia has pitched thus far it would definitely be worth it. And who knows? If the team can perform well in L.A and down the stretch, the hefty-lefty might even consider a discount.
After a draft-day trade sent Yi Jianlian to New Jersey for star forward Richard Jefferson, it seemed apparent GM John Hammond was going for it. Jefferson offers versatility, and is the perfect compliment to Michael Redd, and Yi finally got his wish to go to a bigger market. But even after the big deal netted the Bucks their coveted small forward, and Joe Alexander and Luc Richard Abah a Moute were welcomed into the fold on draft night, the pieces to the roster puzzle still don’t seem to fit. The problem lies at the point guard spot. Ramon Sessions played so well in his time at the point, putting Mo Williams’ long-term future in Milwaukee in jeopardy even after his extension. Despite all trade rumors that swirled around Williams, none came to fruition. Now the Bucks are in a tough spot. Trade Williams to allow Sessions to take over? Or, keep Williams and let the big three (Williams, Redd and Jefferson) fend for themselves?
Whether you like it or not, the answer is to trade Williams. Look at the guy play. Mo Williams is not a true point guard. He is a shoot first, pass second player. That won’t fit with Redd and Jefferson. There just isn’t enough ball to go around. Solution? Trade him to Miami, along with Charlie Villanueva and Dan Gadzuric for Shawn Marion. As crazy as this speculation may sound, this deal makes sense. Miami, who has shown interest in Mo, is desperately in search of a point so they can move Dwayne Wade to the 2. And Mo still has four years remaining on his deal, allowing to Heat to put off negotiations for several years. As far as Marion goes, he’s is a cash cow, making a hefty $17 million dollars a year. The catch is, he will become a free-agent after this upcoming season. So the Heat front office would be wise to move him now while he still has value.
The Bucks do this because everbody wants to return to the playoffs. With Redd, Jefferson and Marion, a trip to the postseason would be all but a lock. And because Marion has only one year left, the deal is low risk, high reward. Next year he would walk for more money elsewhere, allowing a more experienced Joe Alexander to assume the 4 spot in ’09. They also would dump Dan Gadzuric’s awful contract, and let Sessions, a pass first player, take the reigns at point.
One thing is clear: after signing Tyronn Lue to a 1-year, $2.5 million deal as the third point guard, do not be surprised to see Hammond wheeling and dealing again before November.
Now for a concrete rumor: HoopsHype has reported the Bucks are very interested in signing center Francisco Elson as a backup center to Andrew Bogut. The 7-footer averaged three points and three boards a game last year for the Spurs, but what appeals to the Bucks’ front office is his ability to play aggressive defense and shoot very well from the free-throw line.