Saturday, April 26, 2008

2008 NFL Draft...semi-live diary

Hello, NFL fans and Sandlot readers. I had promised a live draft diary of this year's first round draft, but it looks like I'm only going to have 60-90 minutes of live blogging. Family obligations require me to leave the house later this afternoon. But at least I'll get the Rams at #2 and hopefully most of the first ten picks. Here we go...

#1—Miami Dolphins
Jake Long, OT, Michigan—The least suspenseful number one in history. At least Bill Parcells knows that a winning team must begin with a dominating left tackle. I've heard concerns about Long's pass-blocking skills, but as a run blocker, he's like a bulldozer, and since Parcells prefers a run-oriented balanced offense, and because Miami doesn't have an established, quality QB yet, there was really no other choice at the top.

#2—St. Louis Rams
Chris Long, DE, Virginia—I'm just thrilled about this pick. Chris is just freaking HUGE, and his family pedigree is impeccable. Howie Long is an NFL hall-of-famer, and Chris should bring the same intensity to the Rams defense. The defensive line in St. Louis just got faster, stronger and more intimidating. Chris is wearing his Rams cap on ESPN right now. Looks great. Outstanding pick! As a Rams fan, I'm very excited.

#3—Atlanta Falcons
Matt Ryan, QB, Boston College—Another total no-brainer. Atlanta has to have a new franchise QB to replace the face of the franchise from Michael Vick to Ryan, who just looks like the young Dennis Quaid character in the movie "Everybody's All American." I bet the pre-draft interview went something like this: "Do you like animals? What about dogs? Do you own a dog? How big is your dog? Is your dog...aggressive?" Atlanta fans (cough, cough) need to be patient. Ryan will stink for two years, just like every other rookie starter (including future HOF Peyton Manning), and there are many other holes to fill in the wake of the Vick catastrophe.

#4—Oakland Raiders
Darren McFadden, RB, Arkansas—This is a stupid pick, in my opinion, with Glenn Dorsey still available. Did anyone watch Missouri's defense shut down McFadden in the Cotton Bowl back in January? They totally overpaid for someone who's not going to make nearly the impact that Dorsey would have playing in the middle of the Oakland defensive line. Typical Al Davis—going for style over substance. Quote me on this: McFadden will not have the same kind of rookie season as Adrian Peterson had in Minnesota. Why not? Offensive line, of course.

#5—Kansas City Chiefs
Glenn Dorsey, DT, LSU—Great pick for the Chiefs, the cornerstone of a rebuilding defense. He'll love playing for Herm Edwards, and Edwards will build his team around Dorsey. If he stays healthy, he'll be a perennial pro bowler on the defensive line. He would have been a good fit for any of the first four teams as well, but sometimes need trumps talent. The folks in KC should be celebrating right now.

#6—New York Jets
Vernon Gholston, DE, Ohio State—A monster pass rusher, the only question is whether he can play with consistent intensity throughout an entire pro game. In the Jets 3-4 defense, he'll play outside linebacker but also be heavily involved in rushing the QB. Jets head coach Eric Mangini is a defensive guy, and he knows that in order to beat the Patriots in the AFC East, you have to start with the defense. Solid pick for the J-E-T-S.

#7—New England Patriots
traded pick to New Orleans Saints...

#7—New Orleans Saints (traded from New England)
Sedric Ellis, DT, USC—Simple matter of need once again. The Saints stunk on defense last year, and just like Dorsey for KC, Ellis should be a cornerstone in the center of the Saints defense from this point on. Obviously there is a lot of quality in the top half of this year's draft. No team has done anything really stupid so far.

#8—Baltimore Ravens
traded pick to Jacksonville Jaguars...

#8—Jacksonville Jaguars (traded from Baltimore)
Derrick Harvey, DE, Florida—I'm not sure why Jacksonville traded all the way up from 23 to 8 to get this pick. His draft stock had risen this week; he's tall and fast, but seems a bit undersized for a pro DE. Jacksonville took this guy for one reason, I think: to beef up their pass rush in the AFC South against Peyton Manning and Vince Young. Time will tell if this turns out to be a good pick for the Jags.

#9—Cincinnati Bengals
Keith Rivers, LB, USC—Cincinnati is a mess; the only real consideration here is whether this is a high-character individual. The Bengals need to winnow out the thugs and replace them with honor students, and reports indicate that this is what they're getting in Rivers.

#10—New England Patriots (traded from New Orleans)
Jerod Mayo, ILB, Tennessee—This sends a clear signal about next year's Patriots: the key to their defense is their linebackers, and Bruschi, Vrabel and Seau are all too old to get the job done. Belicheck's going younger, and based on past success in the draft, I'm certainly not going to argue with this pick.

#11—Buffalo Bills
Leodis McKelvin, CB, Troy—Because someone in the AFC East has to be able to cover Randy Moss and Wes Welker. McKelvin also has the ability to return kicks, though he's also been prone to fumble.

#12—Denver Broncos
Ryan Clady, OT, Boise State—Denver needs two things on offense: pass protection for Jay Cutler and run blocking for the usually effective Denver running game. Clady is an impressive physical specimen at 6-6, 309 lbs., and he should be a good fit for a young Denver offense. As I've said before, winning is predicated by the offensive line, and the O-line starts with the left tackle, and Clady was the best one on the board.

That's it for me for live blogging...I'll be back tonight or tomorrow with the rest of the first round picks and my commentary. Thanks for joining me for an exciting NFL Draft first round!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Blech! Bad weekend for the Dreadbirds

Oh, so this is the Cardinals team most of the rest of the sports world expected to see: rotten starting pitching, anemic offense and Little-league caliber defense. After an 11-1 spanking of the equally rotten San Francisco Giants, the Cards spit up two ugly losses in a row, dropping out of first place in the now-quality NL Central and heading to Milwaukee and Pittsburgh for two games each against division foes.

My last post talked about bouncing back after a tough loss. Now the Cardinals have had two tough losses in a row at home. Sometimes getting on the road can be good for a ballclub. Getting away from home, distractions, bonding as a unit, all these things can benefit a winning team.

But who exactly are these guys? Are they the team that started 12-5, or are they the team that lost ugly the past two days? Yes, it's still early in a long season, but by the time we get to August and September, the standings can make a fan ache for the one that got away back in April and May. And since the Cardinals obviously do have some holes in their roster and some serious questions about long-term endurance this season, nothing other than a 3-1 road trip is going to allay those nagging doubts that the team brought about this weekend.

There is hope on the horizon, of course. Mark Mulder pitched six shutout innings in a rehab start, and Chris Carpenter is scheduled to throw BP soon. They could take starting spots in the rotation from whoever is struggling, be it Looper—who, let's face it, was overdue for an ass-kicking like yesterday's—Piñero or Wellemeyer. Don't overlook GM John Mozeliak's ability to trade for a big bat or infield help, either. The biggest difference between this year and last year is that we actually have options for change.

Two losses won't ruin the season, that's for sure. But the team looked tired and listless, and that's a bad sign. Let's hope Tony can push the right buttons tonight up in Cheesehead Land.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Cardinals Bounce Back

What's surprising about the St. Louis Cardinals so far in the first month of the season, at least to me, is how much I look forward to watching the games. I didn't follow the team at all last year. They were boring, listless, lifeless; they gave away outs and games like they didn't care. The knock on them this year was all the players who had left. It turns out most of those players were dead wood. This team is exciting to watch because they are clearly competing in every aspect of the game.

I was especially interested in seeing how this team bounced back after puking up what should have been a sweep of division challengers Milwaukee in a disappointing day game loss. Instead of licking their wounds, the Cardinals took out their frustrations on San Francisco starter Matt Cain, who had just pitched a no-hitter into the 7th inning last week against the Redbirds. Cain was gone by the fourth inning, giving up eight runs, including homers by Chris Duncan and Phat Albert Pujols.

Once again, Cardinals pitching was dominant. Dave Duncan reclamation project Todd Wellemeyer threw seven strong innings, only giving up one sloppily manufactured run in the third. Nomadic reliever Ron Villone got the cleanup duty and finished the eighth and ninth without incident.

This club may lack the names that attract the attention of the Boston-New York obsessed national sports media, who only speak of the Cubs when they speak of the NL Central at all, but these players are all exceeding even the most unrealistically optimistic expectations of die-hard homers in Cardinal Nation.

The middle infield, which was supposed to be as weak as George Bush's economic policies, has looked like Ozzie Smith and Tommy Herr so far. Cesar Izturis and Adam Kennedy are playing the type of defense that made their reputations, except they haven't played that way since 2004. No one could have expected the highlight-reel quality of their defense so far. And they're both producing offensively as well.

Troy Glaus hasn't gotten on track with his bat yet, but the fact that he can catch and throw at all makes him an improvement over all-DL-all-the-time Scott Rolen. When Glaus finally breaks out and hits for his usual career numbers, the middle of our lineup—Ankiel, Pujols, Glaus, Ludwick—is just going to be plain scary. Speaking of those couple of outfielders, the "starting five"—Ankiel, Ludwick, Duncan, Schumaker and Barton—are ranked at the top of most offensive and defensive categories as a group of outfielders.

All in all, there's no reason to think this start is a fluke. Let's see if they can figure out SF ace Lincecum today, who shut down the Birds last week on the West Coast. Cardinals starter Joel Piñero is overdue to join in the parade of unexpected success.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Lazy Friday

Oh, it's a lazy, lazy Friday here at The Sandlot. All my professional colleagues have headed off for an early start on their weekend, leaving me alone to goof around on the Internet. Granted, this isn't really different from any other Friday afternoon for me, but at least I can watch YouTube videos without looking over my shoulder with my mouse poised on the "pause" button. (Check out the Weird Al Yankovic collection, faves are "Ebay" and "White and Nerdy." Just hysterical.

Most of you who read this blog already know this, but if not, I live in Tyler Hansbrough's home town, Poplar Bluff, MO. Most people around here are going nuts with the NC gear--my first grader was asking if he had a power blue shirt to wear to his school today for "North Carolina Day." Sorry, but I subscribe to Bill Simmons' idea that unless you went to that college, work for that college or pay for your kid to go to that college, you can't wear the gear. I'm Mizzou black and gold, through and through.

That doesn't mean I'm not pulling for Carolina. Their my bracket pick to win it all, and I feel confident that they should beat Kansas by double-digits. I also picked UCLA to beat Memphis, but I'm getting such a good vibe from Calipari's bunch this year. I felt that same vibe before last year's tourney and picked Memphis to make the Final Four in every single bracket they played. I think that made me a bit gun-shy this year, along with the way they got pushed around at home by Tennessee, a team I never thought highly of. So despite my brackets, I think Monday night will be North Carolina vs. Memphis. When's the last time both teams scored more than 100 points each in a college championship? Never...the only team that broke 100 was UNLV in 1990.

I know it's still early—really early—in the baseball season, but let's take a peek at the standings in the NL Central, shall we?

Somebody needs to alert the fans in Chicago to put those World Series victory parade plans on hold for just a day or two. Would somebody please explain the national fascination with a team that hasn't won Jack Schmidt in 100 years? No wonder we elect morons as our national leaders. Who ever heard of a culture that celebrated incompetence and failure like we do? I'd almost be happy if they did win a title just so everyone would shut the heck up about them. At least we don't hear about that stupid Red Sox curse anymore. Nah, I take that back. I hope the Cubs lose for another 100 years.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

This is why I don't ever vote Republican

from the case files of the morality police...

This story contains the shocking news that young, handsome, single, multi-millionaire NFL quarterback Matt Leinart was photographed drinking beer and soaking in a hot tub with young, beautiful single women.

It's a shame that young, handsome, single, multi-millionaire NFL quarterbacks are no longer allowed to use their age, looks, availability, money and fame to have a good time while they're young enough to enjoy it.

The continued existence of "party pics" from the University of Missouri from 1986-1990 effectively eliminates any possibility of my running for elective office. Way back when Dennis Miller was both funny and relevant, he asked an audience, "When did this country become Gladys Kravitz from 'Bewitched'?" Good question.

And yes, I have daughters. What if they were in the picture? First of all, I may not approve of the drinking, but if they were 21, all I could do is counsel for common sense and using a designated driver. As far as the hot tub goes, they all have swimsuits on, and last time I checked, this wasn't a Muslim nation. My girls could definitely do much worse than catching the eye of a young, handsome, single, multi-millionaire NFL quarterback.

Is this all we have left to be outraged about? Aren't we getting our asses kicked in two wars? Aren't we planning--that's right, actually planning--on paying $4 a gallon for gas this summer? People want to get worked up about this? "Young rich guy parties with pretty girls!"

Evidently this is what passes for offseason news for the Arizona Cardinals. Karma dictates we cannot pick them to finish above .500 this fall, does it not?

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Several reasons why the Cardinals aren't going to suck as much as all the pointy-headed experts want you to think...

Whenever the gurus at the Eastcoast Sports Promotion Network or their competitors at Sports snobs Illustrated (we know more than all you rubes) start rubbing their oracles about how dismal the St. Louis Cardinals will be this year (one imbecile predicted them to have the worst record in the NL, below Pittsburgh and San Francisco!), my heart fills with hope.

You see, St. Louis is a proud franchise with a tradition of success and excellence. Those other bottom feeders, like the previous teams mentioned, plus Tampa, Baltimore and Kansas City, haven't even had winning seasons since Reagan was napping in the Oval Office. The Cardinals are just two seasons removed from winning the World Series.

Sure, this is a rebuilding year, but I don't see anything but good news ahead from this point. One of the prime criticisms of the "experts" is the loss of veterans such as Jim Edmonds (old, slow, can't hit), David Eckstein (can't hit or get on base), Scott Rolen (bitter and broken-down), Juan Encarnacion (can't hit or catch fly balls), Kip Wells (corpse) and Walt Jocketty (last great trade: Larry Walker, four years ago).

In their place, we have a group of young players with all the potential in the world for breakout seasons. Yes, the outfield is still a defensive adventure, especially wherever Chris Duncan is involved. But Rick Ankiel is fast, and you can't teach fast. He'll learn and improve. Add his bat, Duncan's power and Skip Schumaker's emerging skill as a lead-off hitter, and it's a stronger offensive outfield than last season's.

The infield corners are solid. Troy Glaus will outshine Scott Rolen both offensively and defensively simply by showing up every day to play and avoiding the disabled list, where Rolen's name might as well be written with a Sharpie marker. And as long as Albert Pujols shredded elbow doesn't explode in a shower of blood, bone and ligament tissue, he'll continue to be Phat Albert. Don't underestimate his leadership and competitiveness; Albert hates to lose and won't accept anything else from his teammates but maximum effort.

Yes, the middle infield stinks, but I expect Cesar Izturis to either produce or sit down in favor of Brendan Ryan. Adam Kennedy will either regain his Anaheim-era skills or give way to Aaron Miles. We could still see a trade for a better shortstop—think Anthony Reyes—before summer is half over. And don't forget that we still have the best defensive catcher in baseball with Yadi Molina. If he can even hit .250, he's a huge asset.

Okay, the pitching staff. We've got Wainwright, Looper and Lohse. Those are three quality starters. The four and five slots are Brad Thompson and Todd Wellemeyer. Before the All-Star break, it is conceivable that those spots will feature Mark Mulder and Matt Clement. If that happens (and yes, it's a big if), we still have Joel Pinero looking for a spot after his rehab. Assuming the staff takes shape (of course it's a huge assumption), this takes the pressure off Chris Carpenter to return too soon from Tommy John surgery. We still have a solid bullpen, and we still have a healthy Izzy to close games.

Either way you look at it, our pitching is better up and down than last year, plus we have prospects in Memphis who could fill a slot. Last year was a pitching disaster; it's unlikely this year will be as bad. Finally, the front office all has something to prove. Tony LaRussa loves overachieving in the face of low expectations, and his competitive drive will be akin to Lou Brown's from "Major League," who was in favor of "wasting sportwriters' time" and serving them all a big s*** sandwich. I expect TLR shares those sentiment. New GM John Mozeliak wants to prove he was the right choice to follow the successful tenure of Walt Jocketty. Even lead owner Bill DeWitt wants to show St. Louis fans that he still wants to win. (Aside: It's stupid for fans to criticize Cardinals ownership as "cheap"; they have a $100 million payroll, for Pete's sake. Be grateful you don't root for the Florida Marlins.)

Last night's opener was all rolling the Cardinals' way, with a 5-1 lead in the third, two RBI for Rick Ankiel, a homer for Albert and a promising start for Adam Wainwright. Too bad none of it counted after the rains came. But it was a portent, I believe, of sunnier days ahead for Cardinal Nation. And if that's not enough to make you happy, consider this...the experts anointed 2008 World Champion Chicago Cubs lost their home opener to Milwaukee. Happy 100th Anniversary, small bears!

p.s. My good friend Tuck posted this excellent cartoon about the aforementioned "chosen ones" way back in February. You can view the cartoon by clicking HERE.