Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Round Two, Coming At You

Ok, second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Let's make this brief: I went an ok 6 for 8 in the first, due to an overabundance of optimism for Pittsburgh and Nashville, but those are understandable mistakes. I mean, it's not like I made any stupid picks like the Islanders over Buffalo or something.

Moving on, I'mma take Buffalo over the Rangers (they'll get their act together), Ottawa over New Jersey (begrudgingly), San Jose over Detroit (they manhandled Nashville, and Detroit had some problems with l'il ol' Calgary) and Anaheim over Vancouver (because, duh?) for round two.

Gotta run,


Friday, April 20, 2007

Oh Yes, Their Will Be Boos.

It's a beautiful piece symmetry, the Raptors first playoff appearance in forever is. The basketball gods have given Toronto a final chance to once and for all expunge Vince Carter from its sports concsiousness, in the form of a first round match up against VC's New Jersey Nets. Chris Bosh and the one-for-all Raptors get to play the last man to call the Raptors his franchise, get to finally show that Vince Carter was the problem with Toronto, and not the other way around.

Sure, maybe a date with the collapsing Washington Wizards might have be easier, but a play-off with New Jersey is custom ordered drama.The first round doesn't really matter, but here are two teams who will go at it like it was a championship series. They spilt their season series 2-2, both teams winning their home games, which gives the higher seeded Raps maybe an advantage in that category.

Game one is Saturday at the ACC. Oh yes, their will be boos.


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Suk On That, Daisuke

I admit, I was soaking in the schadenfreude after watching the Blue Jays defeat Boston earlier today. It was the the gyrating gyroballer himself, Daisuke Matsuzaka on the mound for the Sawks against our always enigmatic (though slightly less now that his shades are transparent) Gustavo Chacin. The Jays won 2-1.

Here's what I love about it. Daisuke pitched an amazing game. He gave up just three hits all night and struck out 10 batters (Frank Thomas and Adam Lind combining for 12 of them). In short, he was as good as anybody would have expected. He matched his hype. 'Cept Chacin was better.

Where the two pitchers seem to differ (Daisuke only has four MLB starts to extrapolate from, but I feel confident that my limb will hold) is that Chacin (2-0) always seems to find a way to win, no matter what comes off of his glove where Dice-K (1-2) can throw masterful stuff, and still lose. Chacin throws too many pitches, doesn't last enough innings, gives up too many runs - and has an overall winning record lifetime. He pitches to the situation, and the runs seem to show up when he needs them.

Anytime your third string pitcher can out duel a man worth $100 million and who commands a larger press following than say, our prime minister, you can say it's been a good day.

Game 2 of the series is tomorrow, and it's the Jays' turn to send a Japanese pitcher to the mound in Tomo "I'm Not Bitter" Ohka. I'm trying to imagine what it would be like if they had faced each other. Imagine the orgasm of reporters in both clubhouses, and imagine the Japanese swear words coming out of Ohka's mouth ("Tomo, Kyoto Daily Evening Standard Reporter Times. Do you feel any extra pressure today facing Daisuke, knowing that all of Japan will be watching?").

Let's talk injuries now. The Jays have 'em. Lots of 'em. Two weeks in, and the Jays have already lost two of their everyday position players in Troy Glaus and Reed Johnson, and their ace closer, B.J Ryan. Troy Glaus won't be gone too, too long and his replacement is a combination of defensive ubermensch John MacDonald and some stiff named Jason Smith. Reed Johnson is done for until at least the All-Star break, but this is a funny injury because it paves the way for Adam Lind, a promising kid who was this close to making the roster out of spring training anyway. The question for Reed is, will he even have a spot in outfield to come back to?

B.J's injury causes the most problems, because it's not like the Jays didn't have problems in the bullpen already. He'll be gone for six weeks or so, which isn't as bad as it could have been, since the alternative rhymed with Mommy Gone Burgery, and involved no more B.J(s) till 2008. In the meantime, we have Jason Frasor as closer, and he did look pretty confident sitting down David Ortiz on way to his first save.

The season is not lost yet. The replacements, hinging around Frasor, can more than tread water while we wait for healthier times.



Monday, April 09, 2007

The Playoffs, Sans Maple Leafs, Again

Don't blame New Jersey for not starting Martin Brodeur, blame Toronto for not beating the New York Islanders when they had the chance last week. Thanks to that 5-2 loss, the Leafs' heroic performance on Saturday was meaningless. The better of the two teams made it, frankly. That's all I have to say on that.

With that, let's make some predictions on the Stanley Cup Playoffs.


Buffalo (1) vs New York Islanders (8)

Here's what all the fuss was about, a chance to lose to the league's best from Buffalo. The Islanders, who have done amazingly just to make the playoffs, will be wiped away by Buffalo with no problems. Buffalo just keeps getting healthier, and the Islanders will be relying on someone named Dubielewicz in net. The faster New York is gone, the happier I'll be. Buffalo in five.

New Jersey (2) vs Tampa Bay (7)

Sweet Lou surprised everybody by firing his coach with just days remaining in the regular season. The last time he did that, it resulted in a Cup victory. New Jersey is still missing some top players I believe, Martin Brodeur is really the only guy they need. Tampa Bay has this year's Rocket Richard Trophy winner in Vincent Lecavalier - the top goal scorer vs the top goalie. Goaltending wins out, and New Jersey wins in six.

Atlanta (3) vs New York Rangers (6)

This is a tough series to call. Atlanta is playing in its first ever playoffs, which has to count for something. Both teams played well down the stretch, Atlanta after acquiring Keith Tkachuk and Alexei Zhitnik; New York after picking up Sean Avery of all people. I'm going to give the edge to the Rangers who will win it in seven.

Ottawa (4) vs Pittsburgh (5)

This will easily be the most interesting series to watch. Sidney Crosby and the rest of the NHL's future square off against the NHL's most notorious chokers. I have a hunch that the the Pens will dominate the Sens, and that while it will be great to watch, the result won't be so great for Ottawa. Pittsburgh in six.


Detroit (1) vs Calgary (8)

Another year of playoffs, another year of Detroit in the number one seed, and another year taking on a team from Alberta, except this time, if they lose, it won't be quite as surprising. That's not to say that they will, because Calgary has been anything but impressive over the final stretch, but they will definitely put up a fight. I can't see Detroit allowing itself to be bounced in the first round again, so I'm saying Detroit in six.

Anaheim (2) vs Minnesota (7)

Anaheim is no one's underdog's this year, after putting up a consistently impressive season. Teemu Selanne keeps improving, the rookie's are scoring, the defense is solid and the goal-tender already has a Conn Smythe to his name. Minnesota, from here on out, the "darkhorse team", won't go quietly, having put up a very impressive final few months largely on the backs of the wonderful play of Marian Gaborik and rookie journeyman goaltender Niklas Backstrom. However, I'm always skeptical of flash-in-the-pan goalies like that, so I'll give it to Anaheim in five.

Vancouver (3) vs Dallas (6)

I don't see any reason to be excited about this Dallas team who is stocked with a great goalie with a bad playoff reputation. Of course, Vancouver's goalie has no playoff reputation at all, but Roberto Luongo is more or less why Vancouver is here in the first place, making this probably the easiest Western match up to call. Vancouver in six.

Nashville (4) vs San Jose (5)

This is an exact rematch of last year's 4th vs 5th seeds, in which San Jose manhandled a goalie-less Nashville team in just five games. It won't be so simple this time around, Nashville is much, much better now, and San Jose is still good without being great. It's time for Peter Forsberg to prove his worth and propel Nashville past the Sharks in seven games.

And that's that. I'll also go out on a limb and put Nashville and Buffalo in the finals, with the decision going to...... Nashville.

While we're with predictions, some matters of ego to attend to. Looking back to October, I called five of the eight teams in the East (somehow missing the upcoming horror show in Philadelphia, and mediocrity in Carolina and not surprisingly missing the miracle on ice on Long Island). In the West I (ready for it?) I went eight for eight, which isn't really that special considering the drop off in talent after ninth place.

That's all for now,


Sidenote - One year anniversary as of yesterday. Celebrate.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Clash Of The (Less Than) Titans

It's set. Montreal and Toronto both followed their scripts earlier tonight, and have set up Saturday's Hockey Night In Canada as the game to decide everything. Eighty-one games played, and it all comes down to the last one. Montreal leads Toronto by a point, meaning the Leafs need to beat the Canadiens in regulation to make the playoffs. Overtime will not do, because a tie in the standings would favour the Habs.

Both teams lost their games in New York, which is a rather deflating way to set up the most important game of the season, but really, the process doesn't matter right now, only the end result. The Leafs could have done themselves a favour by beating the Islanders today and eliminating them from contention, because technically that half of New York is still in the hunt with two games remaining, which could ultimately make all this Toronto-Montreal posturing purely academic.

Enough with the needless pessimism - the Islanders will stumble, my storybook ending says they have to. Saturday should be great. I don't want to get too optimistic, Montreal has been playing slightly better than Toronto, and we do have to win in regulation, which is something the Leafs haven't actually done since March 27. Going in the Leafs favour is that the game is in Toronto, where they have an eight game win streak going.

Decision: Maple Leafs? I hope so, so hard.


Too Hot For TV

You won't see this Blue Jays' ad on TV, because the Man is all about curtailing our right to see 275 lb. men hit small children. But don't worry, 64 Years and Counting is all about saying "up yours" to the Man, so in the spirit of the revolution, here's the ad that was too "violent" for TV:

Speaking of the Jays, their game in Detroit was colded out today, niether side apparently man enough to risk a little frostbite in the quest for October. I guess we know which teams won't be winning next fall.

Toronto has split their stillborn series with the Puddy Cats so far, winning game one 5-3 in extra innings, and then losing the next 10-9 - which isn't so bad when you consider that they were in danger of losing 9-0 at one point. Roy Halladay played his usual rock-your-socks game, A.J Burnett was sketchier, lasting less than three innings, but on the other hand, the Jays' oft questioned offense did show up. So, the jury is still out, in other words.


Sidenote - The game is rescheduled for the 10th... of September.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

McCabe Baby, They Love You Again

It was only a short time ago the Air Canada erupted in boos every time Bryan McCabe touched the puck. After tonight, there's not a Leafs fan in the Golden Horseshoe who wouldn't bear his children if he asked.

With another must win game sent in to overtime, this time against Philadelphia, it was McCabe's 14th that saved the Leafs' season (and John Ferguson's job?) for at least one more night. It was, as power play point shots go, a pretty one, a tic tac toe between Sundin, Kaberle and McCabe that went on just long enough to scramble Phillie's three defenders. It was merciful that the Leafs won this one, because it's one thing to have the Flyers end your season in the second round of the playoffs, but it is an entirely different thing to have your season ended by a Philadelphia team in last place.

Montreal also won their game, a gimme against Boston, which is actually a good thing, well sort of, because it keeps both teams on pace for an epic clash next Saturday in Toronto, when both teams should duke it out for that final playoff spot, an entire season in one game. Standing in the way of that epic Hockey Night in Canada clash, is a pair of Thursday night games, both as it happens, in New York. Montreal draws the Rangers, who appear to have locked down their spot, and the Leafs get the Islanders, who are more or less done with the news that Rick Dipietro's season is over (Speaking of over, Carolina is 100% done, teaming up with the plummeting Oilers to combine as the first Stanley Cup finalists to both miss the next playoffs).

If the Buds and Habs follow the script, they should both win - or both lose even, to ensure that there is something to play for on Saturday. Montreal sits at 91 points, Toronto 90. This is going to be a great finish.


Monday, April 02, 2007

Spring Training Is Over, You Can Pay Attention Now

The longest month in baseball - March, is over, thankfully bringing an end to Spring Training, and a return to meaningful baseball.

From a fan's standpoint, the dog and pony show that is Spring Training is pretty useless. You can't watch the games, and even when you can, you don't want to. Managers and GMs may find it useful to jerk around the hopes and dreams of a bunch of aging reserve utility men and career minor leaguers, but really, the whole thing is largely a waste of time.

The Jays were particularly bad this spring, posting a batting average that ranked only ahead of Florida's - good for 29th. It doesn't matter though. March success has as much to do with regular season success as actual vocal talent has to do with winning American Idol.

The Jays have a lot to live up to this year. They are coming off an 87 win, 2nd place finish in one of baseball's toughest divisions. Last season was their, "Hey, look at us!" season, as they tried to remind the baseball world that there were more than two teams in the AL East. Unfortunately, our Jays will be in tough to challenge Boston and New York again.

Unlike baseball's twin Evil Empires (face it Boston, if you can pay $100 million for a pitcher who has never played in the MLB, you are an Evil Empire too), the Jays did not improve in any noticeable way. Born again Frank Thomas was the only headline grabbing news, the rest of JP Ricciardi's moves were more of a back-page blurb nature.

Veterans Royce Clayton is our new starting short-stop (which means our favourite Jay, John MacDonald is back on the bench), and aging Canuckle outfielder Mat Stairs will contribute depth.

On pitching, the Jays missed out on free agents Ted Lilly (unfortunately) and Gil Meche (thankfully) which left spots four an five open. Ricciardi went with the, toss everything on the wall and see what sticks approach. On said wall he tossed a motley crew of youngsters and vets looking for a second, or third chance, including Victor Zambrano, less than a year off Tommy John surgery, John Thompson, oft injured, Tomo Ohka, the Jays' embittered answer to Dice-k, Josh Towers, who I kinda thought would never ever pitch for Toronto again, Casey Jansens, who mildly impressed last year as a rookie and Shawn Marcum, who still has time to turn into something special.

Ohka and Towers stuck, with Zambrano putting up a good fight. Whether a rotation of Halladay-Burnett-Chacin-Ohka-Towers is capable of stringing together any number of wins is questionable, and the result of which will entirely determine the fate of this team.

Offensively, Toronto is more or less the same. The Big Hurt will provide more homers (speaking of Thomas, the man is huge. I used to think Troy Glaus was pretty big, but after seeing the two stand next to each other, Glaus seriously looks like he's made of matchsticks), and more strikeouts as well. Scoring runs isn't where these guys will run into problems.

I don't really care for the '07 Blue Jays, they are just a paler version of last year, but if you're not optimistic on opening day, than you really shouldn't be watching this sport. I predict the Jays will take the AL wildcard in a daring late September push.

Other predictions:

American League

EAST: Yankees win the division as the team becomes healthy at the right time of the season, that is, the end of it. Boston's pitching staff implodes, and Daisuke's gyro ball actually kills a man. Baltimore still sucks, but less so, and Canadian ace Eric Bedard makes it really, really hard to cheer against them. Tampa Bay still really sucks, except for that Kazmir guy, and their so called best outfield in baseball.

CENTAL: Detroit gets it right this time and wins baseball's new toughest division. The Indians still aren't as good as everyone wants them to be, and Minnesota and Chicago continue to be good without being great. Kansas City continues to bolster every other Central team with easy wins.

WEST: Los Angeles of Anahiem wins the division as they get all of their pitchers healthy, and Gary Matthews wins the AL MVP (Hah, just kidding). Oakland does nicely, and makes Mike Piazza a very rich man in the off season, but with another team. Texas quickly regrets their Sammy Sosa experiment, and Seattle gives no reason for Ichiro to re-sign next year.

WILDCARD: The Jays win it in the final days of September, beating out strong pushes from the Red Sox, White Sox, Twins and Oakland. No, I'm serious.

CY YOUNG: Roy Halladay pitches a full season, which as per the terms of his contract, automatically ensures him a Cy Young. Sorry Santana.

MVP: Alex Rodriguez wins another one, and Yankee fans are only too glad when he doesn't renew his contract.

National League

EAST: The Mets win this one, of course, but Philadelphia makes it close. Atlanta gets to reflect on life outside the postseason for one more year, while Washington treads water, and Florida comes no where near repeating last season.

CENTRAL: St. Louis wins this division again, but it's more because no one else is good enough than because the Cards deserve a chance at repeating. The Cubbies do not live up to the hype - gasp - Milwaukee, Houston and Cinncinati are all in the wild card hunt and Pittsburgh... still has Jason Bay.

WEST: Los Angeles wins this division, which is slowly improving as a whole. With Randy Johnson returning, Arizona slowly starts to remember what having a championship team was like, and in San Fransisco, Barry Bonds suffers an unfortunate "accident" involving cement shoes and deep water before he can commit his final act of sacrilege... Meanwhile, Colorado and San Diego continue being teams we know absolutely nothing about.

WILDCARD: Philadelphia takes it, and dreams of a Phillie-Toronto rematch stir up inside of absolutely no one.

CY YOUNG: The NL's winningest pitcher wins more than 16 games this time, and the award goes to Chris Carpenter, who is really the only thing we like about St. Louis.

MVP: Jimmy Rollins, baseball's anti-Bonds, hits a whole bunch of homers, and gets a whole bunch of MVP awards.

Check back in September when you shall be astounded to find every single prediction has come true. I promise.



For the Raptors that is, and for the first time in five years too. The only player left from that team is Morris Peterson, and he does all of his work off the bench these days.

The Raps have put together a solid second half of the season, and have catapulted themselves into contention. Can they win the title? Not too many people will put the championship anywhere else but in Dallas, but then again, not too many people put Tornto in the playoffs to begin with. The Raptors have nothing but good vibes emanating from them, and a long playoff run is easily within their grasp.

And now's a great time to be building that skeptical Toronto fan base up, because it is increasingly looking like the Raptors will be the only Toronto team playing meaningful games this spring.

Also, Sam Mitchell for Coach of the Year.