Sunday, October 19, 2014

Reverse Survivor: Update #3

Last week I provided an update as the Reverse Survivor competitors decreased from eight to three. I figured we’d have another week or three until a champion was ultimately crowned.

I was incorrect.

Three teams – Idaho, Kent State, and SMU – entered play yesterday without a win. When the dust had settled, only one remained.

Idaho: The Vandals welcomed New Mexico State to Moscow and jumped out to a 20-10 halftime lead. They went on to win, 29-17, to become the second team in as many weeks to escape the Reverse Survivor competition against the Aggies: Troy beat them on October 11, 41-24.

Kent State: One week ahead of a head-to-head meeting with 1-7 Miami of Ohio, the Golden Flashes went ahead and beat Army on Saturday, 39-17. It was 20-17 with just over nine minutes left in the third quarter before Kent State scored the final nineteen points to finish off the Black Knights.

SMU: And finally, the champion. I noted last week how the Mustangs had been outscored 247-36 through five games. They did nothing to help their cause in game six, dropping a 41-3 decision to Cincinnati.

It may seem that there is no reason for a bottom-dwelling college football fan such as myself to continue paying attention to the season. I respectfully disagree and point to SMU’s futility as my proof. The Mustangs have scored 39 points this season, by far the fewest in Division I – only conference-mate Connecticut (77) has yet to reach triple digits.

It would be one thing if they were in possession of a stout defense that kept scores low and allowed them to steal a game on occasion, but as noted above, that’s not the case: SMU has allowed 288 points through six games, the third-highest total in Division I (North Carolina has given up 303 and New Mexico State has allowed 290).

That Points For total, though…that’s where it’s at. I went back through the expanded standings on ESPN.com, and since 2002, no team has scored fewer than 100 points over the course of a full season. The bottom five are as follows:

Temple, 2005, 107

Buffalo, 2005, 110

Florida International, 2006, 115

Miami of Ohio, 2013, 117

Florida International, 2013, 117

First of all, I loved that old Florida International team; along with Western Kentucky, they remind me of the early, Wild West days of blogging. Good times.

Second of all, and more pertinent to what we’re dealing with here: through six games, the 2005 Temple Owls had 63 points and ended up averaging 9.7 per game for the season. Through six games, SMU has 39 points. If that average holds, they will finish with 78 points scored; if they hit Temple’s average of 9.7 per game, they will finish with 117 points.

It’ll be very interesting to see how this plays out over the course of the next several weeks.

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Sunday, October 12, 2014

Reverse Survivor: Update #2

When I last checked in for Reverse Survivor, there were eight teams in play: SMU, Rice, Massachusetts, Miami of Ohio, Kent State, Fresno State, Troy, and Idaho. That was several weeks ago, however, which means it’s time to take another look and update the standings.

First, teams that (SPOILER ALERT!) have won at least one game and are no longer part of the competition:

Troy: Started 0-5, including a 66-0 loss to then #13 Georgia on September 20, before blowing out New Mexico State on Saturday, 41-24.

Fresno State: The Bulldogs were in the midst of a 56-16 drubbing of FCS squad Southern Utah when I hit publish on the previous post, then went on to beat both New Mexico and San Diego State before losing to UNLV in overtime last Friday.

Rice: After losing three straight to start the season (including games against then #17 Notre Dame and then #7 Texas A&M), the Owls have won three straight over Southern Miss, Hawaii, and Army.

Miami of Ohio: Started 0-5 before narrowly edging Massachusetts on October 4, 42-41. The Redhawks trailed 41-14 with two minutes remaining in the first half. (Worth noting: In 2013, the Minutemen’s only win came against Miami.) The win snapped a 21-game losing streak for Miami.

Massachusetts: One week after blowing a 28-point lead in a loss to Miami of Ohio, the Minutemen took out their frustration on Kent State, turning a 10-7 deficit into a 40-17 victory.

Those are the winners. There are still three teams out there in College Football Land that haven’t won a game and therefore are still in the running for the prestigious Reverse Survivor crown:

Kent State: The Golden Flashes currently sit at 0-5 after the aforementioned loss to Massachusetts. Their best chance at victory may be in two weeks when they travel to Ohio to take on Miami. It would be somehow fitting if the three bad MAC teams all took turns beating one another without beating anyone else.

SMU: The Mustangs are 0-5 and have been outscored 247-36 this season (it was 202-12 through four games). Those numbers are slightly deceiving, however: three of their opponents (Baylor, Texas A&M, East Carolina) have been ranked in the top ten at the time they played.

Idaho: The Vandals (if nothing else, all three remaining teams have cool nicknames) are 0-6. Their passing offense is currently ranked 15th in FBS, so if they can ever get any sort of a running game going (current rank: 121) and stop giving up so darn many points (current rank: also 121), they might have a chance.

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Friday, October 03, 2014

Ranking the Potential 2014 World Series Matchups

During baseball’s Division Series last year, I compiled a ranking of the potential World Series matchups. It was fun to consider the history (or lack thereof) behind each matchup, so I thought I’d take a look at the eight teams remaining in this year’s postseason and do the same thing.

1. Kansas City Royals vs. St. Louis Cardinals – It would be fun to see the Royals reach the Series after being such a disaster for nearly thirty years, and playing the Cardinals (the team they beat in the 1985 Fall Classic) would be sort of poetic.

2. Los Angeles Angels vs. Los Angeles Dodgers – I know baseball is a team sport and one-on-one matchups have less bearing on the results than, say, basketball, but I love the idea of watching a Series that pits the best player in the game (Mike Trout) against the best pitcher (Clayton Kershaw).

3. Baltimore Orioles vs. Los Angeles Dodgers – In 1966, the Orioles ended the career of Dodger great Sandy Koufax, scoring four runs (only one earned) off the lefthander in six innings of his Game Two start (his opponent, Jim Palmer, pitched a complete-game four-hit shutout). I’d love to see the greatest Dodger lefthander since Koufax receive a chance to avenge his ancestor’s loss.

4. Baltimore Orioles vs. St. Louis Cardinals – There are two potential regional matchups at play in this postseason (Los Angeles vs. Los Angeles and Baltimore vs. Washington), but this one fascinates me because it would be the first World Series meeting between the team that used to call St. Louis home and the team that still does.

5. Los Angeles Angels vs. San Francisco Giants – I’m learning that I tend to derive the most interest from rematches and potential dynasties. This meets both criteria, as the Giants would be looking both to avenge their 2002 loss and to win a third World Series in five years. The latter would put them in a class with the Red Sox and Cardinals as the best teams of the 21st century.

6. Detroit Tigers vs. St. Louis Cardinals – Rematches, potential dynasties, yadda yadda yadda. A Cardinals appearance would be the organization’s fifth in eleven years; a win would be their third in nine seasons. A Tigers win would give each organization two wins in head-to-head World Series competition (St. Louis won in 1934 and 2006, Detroit won in 1968).

7. Baltimore Orioles vs. Washington Senators – Regional matchups are cool too. Also, you could say that this is interesting because both are relocated franchises.

8. Kansas City Royals vs. Washington Nationals – A matchup of 1969 expansion franchises. The Royals enjoyed plenty of success from the mid-70s to mid-80s, while the Montreal Expos had a nice run in the 1980s and 1990s before moving to Washington and becoming the Nationals in the mid-2000s.

9. Detroit Tigers vs. Los Angeles Dodgers – Two original franchises that have never met in the World Series. At its best, it could feature a series of remarkable pitching duels.

10. Detroit Tigers vs. San Francisco Giants – Again with the two original franchises thing. I put this one lower because the Giant’s rotation isn’t as sexy as the Dodgers’.

11. Kansas City Royals vs. Los Angeles Dodgers – I think this marks the point where nothing immediately stands out with any matchup in particular. This one is here because I’d like to see the Royals make a nice run.

12. Kansas City Royals vs. San Francisco Giants – See above.

13. Detroit Tigers vs. Washington Nationals – The Nationals too.

14. Los Angeles Angels vs. Washington Nationals – Ditto.

15. Los Angeles Angels vs. St. Louis Cardinals – What would Joe Buck come up with to commemorate the Cardinals’ mini-dynasty?

16. Baltimore Orioles vs. San Francisco Giants – I actually wouldn’t mind seeing the Orioles take home the championship trophy. The fact that this matchup is last is a testament to the strength of the others on the list.

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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Reverse Survivor

A few years back, I used to do an annual series here called “Reverse Survivor,” in which I would await and ultimately celebrate the last Division I college football team to win a game. I tracked it last year but never ended up posting (there were multiple winners, if memory serves),

I’m not sure yet if this will be tracked consistently this season or if updates will be more sporadic (smart money is on the latter). After realizing last week that we were a couple weeks into the season, however, I figured it would be worth at least a look-see.

There are currently eight teams in Division I that have not won a game (as I write this, Fresno State is leading Southern Utah, an FCS team):

SMU, American Athletic, 0-3

Rice, Conference USA (West), 0-3

Massachusetts, Mid-American (East), 0-4

Miami (OH), Mid-American (East), 0-4

Kent State, Mid-American (East), 0-3

Fresno State, Mountain West (West), 0-3

Troy, Sun Belt, 0-4

Idaho, Sun Belt, 0-3

Of these, only a few can actually finish winless. SMU, Rice, and Fresno State don’t play another winless team. The three MAC teams all play one another, meaning only one can fail to win a game (and making it more likely that each will emerge victorious at some point), while the two Sun Belt squads square off late in the season.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Pedro's Run

The other day, I posted something on a Reddit thread about which season was better: Pedro Martinez in 2000 or Clayton Kershaw in 2014. Like most of my fellow respondents, I felt that Pedro was the clear winner, though I still noted that Kershaw has been “remarkable” and “sensational.”

That wasn’t enough for one person, who pointed out that Kershaw has a lower batting average than ERA, the implication being that I was somehow downgrading the Dodgers’ lefthander.

That response made me curious, and I headed off to Baseball-Reference to check out Pedro’s offensive numbers. For his career, he hit .099 with no home runs, 18 RBI, and 190 strikeouts in 434 at-bats. His OPS+ was -32.

Most of his plate appearances came when he was in the National League (1992-97 and 2005-09). During his seven seasons (1998-2004) with the Red Sox, however, he came to the plate 21 times – once he delivered a sacrifice bunt, once he walked, and ten times he struck out, part of the 19 times in total that he came to the plate and sent back to the dugout without recording a hit.

It was the sort of futility you would expect from an American League pitcher trying to play by National League rules, and I was all set to walk away and go about my business when I noticed something that struck me as interesting: despite not hitting safely in those 19 at-bats, Pedro managed to score a single run in seven years.

It came in 2002 – on June 20, 2002, to be specific – against the San Diego Padres. Matched up against the immortal Kevin Pickford, Pedro began the game in typical Pedro fashion, striking out the first five Padres he faced (all of them swinging) before allowing two runners to reach without consequence. In the top of the third, Pickford hit Lou Merloni before giving up a sacrifice bunt to Pedro. Lou was stranded, however, and the game remained scoreless through four.

In the top of the fifth, Pickford struck out Trot Nixon and got Merloni to ground out to third. The rookie was rolling, with only two singles and a hit batsman on the negative side of his ledger, and the opposing pitcher coming up to the plate.

Of course, Pickford didn’t know it at the time, but Pedro Martinez the batter had his number. I mentioned above that in his time with the Red Sox, Pedro delivered two positive offensive outcomes. The first was the sacrifice bunt that moved Lou Merloni over to second in the third inning; the second was the walk that he drew with two outs and nobody on in the fifth.

The next batter, Rickey Henderson, singled to center field, moving Pedro to second and putting two men on for Johnny Damon. Damon demonstrated to Pickford why it is a bad idea to issue a two out walk, especially to the pitcher, tripling to right-center field to score both runners and give the Red Sox a 2-0 lead. Pickford was given one more batter to right the ship, but a walk to Nomar Garciaparra sealed his fate and he was removed in favor of Rodney Myers; he would pitch one more month for the Padres, mostly out of the bullpen, before being shipped back to the minors.

Pedro flied out and struck out in his final two at-bats of the day, but the damage was done: the Red Sox won the game, 5-0, meaning that on the finest offensive day of his time in Boston, Pedro Martinez scored the eventual winning run. (He also allowed just two hits and struck out eleven batters in eight innings pitched, which at that point was really just another day in the life of Pedro Martinez.)

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Monday, June 30, 2014

Forty Is The New Thirty: 2014 Mid-Season Update

It’s about time for my annual update on the teams that have gone the longest without a 40-home run hitter in the lineup. Last season saw the removal of the fifth-longest tenured team on the list when Baltimore’s Chris Davis hit his 40th home run of the season on August 2, the first Oriole to do so since Rafael Palmeiro in 1998.

We currently have eight teams that are working on at least twelve seasons without a 40-home run hitter. Some of them could see that streak end this season; most of them will not.

Kansas City Royals

Last 40-Home Run Hitter: None

Current Leader: Salvador Perez/Alex Gordon (9)

When I started this project several years ago, I wish I had chosen to ironically title it “The Steve Balboni Project” or something like that. It would have been much catchier, as well as paying homage to the man who may forever hold the Royals’ single-season home run record (unless I’m mistaken, Balboni also set Kansas City’s single-season record for strikeouts that year, a mark that was broken in 1989 by Bo Jackson).

That’s a really long way of saying that unless Mike Moustakas ever figures out what the hell he’s doing at the plate, Balboni may remain the holder of one of baseball’s most interesting records for quite some time.

Minnesota Twins

Last 40-Home Run Hitter: Harmon Killebrew, 1970

Current Leader: Brian Dozier (15)

Some day, Miguel Sano will return from the elbow injury that tried to ruin him. He will return, and he will hit all the home runs, and Killebrew’s mark will fall.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Last 40-Home Run Hitter: Willie Stargell, 1973

Current Leader: Pedro Alvarez (13)

In most cases, if a player on a team has 13 home runs halfway through the season, I write it off as a “not gonna happen” and move on. For some reason, though, Alvarez just feels like the kind of guy who could go crazy and hit 27 homers in three months.

Miami Marlins

Last 40-Home Run Hitter: Gary Sheffield, 1996

Current Leader: Giancarlo Stanton (21)

One of these years, it’s gonna happen for Stanton. I’d say barring injury, but in 2012 he went deep 37 times despite missing 39 games, so getting hurt really isn’t even a barrier.

Oakland Athletics

Last 40-Home Run Hitter: Jason Giambi, 2000

Current Leader: Brandon Moss/Josh Donaldson (18)

This is a fun one. You have to believe that if a guy can hit 18 in half a season, he can hit 22 in half a season. But at the same time, we’re talking about Brandon Moss and Josh Donaldson, a couple of good players who aren’t exactly known as mashers. It really could be interesting to watch this one down the stretch.

Seattle Mariners

Last 40-Home Run Hitter: Alex Rodriguez, 2000

Current Leader: Kyle Seager (13)

I honestly don’t know when a Mariner will hit 40 home runs in a season again. It could be a while. How’s that for expert analysis?

Colorado Rockies

Last 40-Home Run Hitter: Todd Helton, 2001

Current Leader: Troy Tulowitzki (18)

Tulowitzki has looked like a potential 40-homer guy for a while now; he’s gone over 30 a couple times and it didn’t seem unreasonable to think that he could add a few more in one or two special seasons. He’s in that Moss/Donaldson group from above, except I’d be slightly less surprised if Tulo busted out 22 more bombs before season’s end.

Los Angeles Angels

Last 40-Home Run Hitter: Troy Glaus, 2001

Current Leader: Mike Trout (18)

It’s amazing that a team with Albert Pujols, Mike Trout, and Josh Hamilton is working on its 13th seasons without a 40-homer guy (and they also had six seasons of Vlad Guerrero in there). Hamilton’s not getting there, at least not this year; Pujols might, if he kicks it up a notch or three; Trout is yet another level above Tulo in the “currently has 18 home runs” club, mainly because it feels like he is capable of anything. Forget 40 home runs – he’s a 40-40 season waiting to happen.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

I Should Probably Just Stop Listening To Sports Talk Radio

1) I don’t often listen to WEEI’s Dennis & Callahan morning show for any length of time, but this morning I happened to change the station while the two (along with co-host Kirk Minihane) discussed the Luis Suarez incident from Tuesday (in which Suarez, playing for Uruguay in the World Cup, bit an Italian player on the shoulder). My timing allowed me the opportunity to hear them call Suarez a psychopath, a sociopath, and – my favorite – “Aaron Hernandez without a gun.”

2) On the midday show on 98.5 The Sports Hub, Scott Zolak and Dan Shaughnessy were discussing LeBron James, with Shaughnessy bringing up Game 1 of the NBA Finals, which James left near the end with leg cramps. Both agreed that sometimes there are things that happen that you just can’t play through; Zolak even mentioned LaDainian Tomlinson missing part of the 2008 AFC Championship game with a sprained MCL. I usually enjoy Zo – he brings the sort of over-the-top enthusiasm and energy to the job that makes him fun to listen to – but thought it strange that he let things like this slide after constantly going after Stephen Drew in recent weeks for missing time with an oblique injury.

3) Later on during “Gresh and Zo” (which was short a Gresh today), Zo and Hardy, I think it was, ran down the likelihood that various Red Sox players would be traded. One of those mentioned was Drew, who was recently re-signed by the team after sitting out the first couple months of the season. Zolak said that given everything that has happened with Drew thus far – his signing forced Xander Bogaerts to third, which made some people unhappy – there’s no way they trade him.

This isn’t so much a criticism as me wondering if he’s missing the long view here. The Sox extended Drew a qualifying offer in the offseason and he turned it down, meaning that when he signed a contract elsewhere, Boston would receive a draft pick as compensation. He never did, and with the draft approaching (and the loss of their compensation looming), the team re-signed him to a one-year deal, prorated for the amount he had turned down over the winter. I think they did this for two reasons: one, they like Drew and hoped he could help bring something to a team that was struggling, and two, it kept alive the possibility that they could receive some compensation for his services (by dealing him to a contender further on down the line).

Maybe it’s crazy to think that the Sox would pay him however many millions just to take a chance on receiving something (probably a low, low level prospect) in return, but I also think it’s crazy to suggest that they would never consider trading him.

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