- The Season's Over -

TWIETB Notes: Checking in With Preseason Predictions for Four Forgotten Veterans

May 27, 2010

Adrian Beltre 2010 All-Star

Adrian Beltre Photo Credit: Icon SMI

By: Andrew Thell

Back in late May I picked out four former MLB stars who were looking to regain some of their lost luster and made a case for why they just might do so. The four players in question were former sluggers Adrian Beltre and Vladimir Guerrero and erstwhile aces Ben Sheets and Francisco Liriano. So far those gentlemen are doing pretty well on the whole. Let’s take a peek under the hood.

Ben Sheets is always an injury concern, but the move to the Oakland Coliseum, a spacious park with some of the most generous foul territory in baseball, and his natural talent gave reason for optimism. The results so far have not been good – a 5.04 ERA, 1.57 WHIP and .278 BAA aren’t paying the bills. However, a closer look at the game log reveals that Sheets gave up a combined 17 runs, 19 hits and 5 HRs in back-to-back starts on the road against AL East offensive powerhouses Tampa Bay and Toronto. Pitchers don’t get to take starts back, but if a fantasy owner would have benched him in those extremely unfavorable matchups he’d have gotten a 2.65 ERA out of Sheets to date.

Perhaps more appropriately given the initial reason for the optimism, Sheets has thus far put up a 2.50 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and 2.14 BAA with 32 Ks in 36 IPs at home. Sheets has been a disappointment, but that’s a split worth exploiting if you have the roster space. He’s likely a free agent in your league, and while he’s been a bust overall to this point, Sheets is still worth spot starting in juicy matchups at home.

The other pitcher, Francisco Liriano, is coming off a strong 7-inning, 7-strikeout, 2-run performance against the Yankees and has a much more friendly overall line on the season. After a dominant winter ball and spring training, there was optimism Liriano had finally regained the pre-Tommy John surgery form of 2006. Nine starts into the season the Twins’ 26-year-old has a 3.17 ERA, 1.29 WHIP and 59/19 K/BB ratio in 59.2 innings pitched. Not too shabby. As a Twins fan I can tell you that Liriano passes the eye test as well. He still gets flustered and loses his focus, but I haven’t seen Frankie hit 95-97 on the gun with his fastball or induce so many strikeouts looking with the slider and change since that 2006 campaign. It doesn’t look like luck, either. Liriano’s .339 BABIP is slightly above his career .314 mark and his 3.36 xFIP is only a hair above his current ERA. The force of nature we saw in 2006 may never return, but the 2.87 BB/9, 48.8 GB%, 75.8 LOB% and 8.90 K/9 make Liriano only a bit worse and still an upper-echelon starter. Health is a concern, but if you own Liriano it’s probably time to play the matchups and just sit back and enjoy the ride.

Looking under the hood of Vlad Guerrero and Adrian Beltre, after the jump …

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No CommentsPosted by Andrew Thell on May. 27, 2010 at 8:44pm in MLB, MLB Fantasy News

Reading is Great! Featuring the Latest Coach of the Year Curse Casualty, Mike Brown

May 25, 2010

Lil Wayne reading the ETB Annual

- Hoops Karma – ETB’s good friend Zach Blott with the latest Coach of the Year Curse victim.
- Ball Don’t Lie – The esteemed Kelly Dwyer has a curious choice for ATL: Dwane Casey.
- NOLA.com – Meanwhile, the Hornets look to poach Celts’ defensive guru Tom Thibodeau.
- NY Daily News – Eddy Curry has no problem cashing checks; paying bills is another story.
- Orlando Sentinel – Hakeem reached out to Dwight; the young man responded in Game 4.
- Basketball Prospectus – DP’s Kevin Pelton puts recent coaching decisions into context.
- Celtics Blog – ETB fav Tony Allen is settling into his role with the streaking Boston Celtics.
- ESPN – Knicks plan a) LeBron and Bosh, plan b) Wade and Bosh, plan c) Wade and LeBron.
- NY Post – The quiet feud between James Dolan and Marv Albert continues to rage.
- Chicago Tribune – Rumours of Chicago reaching out to Phil Jackson were overstated.
- Yahoo! – The Woj, rightly, says Orlando doesn’t have the heart to rally past Boston.
- Hoops Karma – Free agents who won’t command max deals but will be very useful.
- AZ Republic – “He’s a twin, isn’t he? His brother can play. He’s got to do something, right?”

No CommentsPosted by Andrew Thell on May. 25, 2010 at 8:10pm in ETB Articles

Elite Reserves on Elite Teams Getting It Done

May 24, 2010

Tony Allen Guarding Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant and Tony Allen Photo Credit: Icon SMI

By Zachariah Blott

We all know how Kobe Bryant, Rajon Rondo, Dwight Howard, and Steve Nash have been performing during the playoffs, but oftentimes a club’s bench play can swing a few postseason games in directions the fans didn’t expect. Each team left standing sports at least one elite reserve capable of providing an offensive spark or some heady defense to keep things rolling.

Let’s break down the top bench player on each remaining squad and how they’ve helped their teams in the playoffs to this point.

Tony Allen, Boston Celtics, G/F

Allen is an explosive athlete who can pressure opposing defenses with his aggressive drives to the hoop or opposing offenses with his tenacity on or off the ball. Through 14 playoff games, he’s shooting 53% (37 for 69), chiefly by taking it to the hole to bank in lay-ups or for short jumpers. Or to make a statement. On top of that, he’s done a decent job getting to the line when he recognizes a mismatch against a slower defender. In the Second Round against Cleveland, Allen shot six free throws in the clinching Game Six, plus another six in the series’ turning point, Game Four. His attacking presence on offense allows the Celtics to keep their foot on the gas when necessary without having to rely on Rajon Rondo to do so for the entire game, similar to Kyle Lowry’s presence on Houston last year in the post-season.

On the defensive side, Allen’s speed and size (6-4, 215) allow the defensive-minded C’s some flexibility in their lineups and versatility in their matchups. He will guard point guards, shooting guards, or small forwards depending on which other green shirts are out there with him. His ball-hawking skills have resulted in 18 steals in the playoffs, second on Boston only to Rondo, the league’s steals leader, who has 30 (though it should be noted that Rondo has played 587 minutes to Allen’s 253).

Mickael Pietrus, Orlando Magic, G/F

Pietrus is the perfect reserve for Orlando: He shoots lots of threes at a high percentage and he can play defense. During the regular season, Pietrus connected on 38% of his triples for the league’s top long-range shooting squad, hitting 1.6 per. So far in the playoffs, he’s second on the team with 24 trifectas (just behind Jameer Nelson and Rashard Lewis’ 25) at a blistering 47%. Pietrus has rung up multiple threes in 8 of their 11 post-season games, but he’s only 3 for 10 against Boston through two. Besides shooting, he’s been smart with the ball, only turning it over six times in 232 minutes.

Orlando’s other calling card is defense, and the 6-6 athlete doesn’t disappoint there either. He has the length, quickness, and intelligence to stick whomever the Magic need him to guard. He’s recorded sevel steals and four blocks, which rank fifth and third on the team respectively.

Checking out the other top teams’ top reserves, after the jump …

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No CommentsPosted by Andrew Thell on May. 24, 2010 at 2:19am in NBA

TWIETB Notes: Jay Bruce and Travis Snider Slugging, Tommy Hanson Dealing

May 17, 2010

Travis Snider Slugging

Travis Snider Photo Credit: Icon SMI

By Andrew Thell

- After am abysmal start to the season post-hype extraordinaire candidate Jay Bruce has quietly turned his season around in short order. Things bottomed out in late April when Bruce went 0-for-3 on the 24th to bring his line down to .180/.261/.377. Speculation of a demotion to the minors was in the air, but that was the last day Bruce would have an OPS below .700. Bruce busted out with 3 hits (2 doubles) the next day and closed out the last five games of April with 10 hits against just 2 Ks. One of the truly elite hitting prospects of the last five years there’s hope Bruce can continue to build on the turnaround – but he’s going to need to figure out left-handed pitching at some point if he’s ever going to make good on all that promise in the long run.

The splits leave a lot to be desired, with Bruce raking against righties to the tune of .299/.382/.583 but still doing a Nick Punto impersonation against southpaws with a .205/.311/.348 line. While Reds fans desperately hope their promising youngster can close that gap, fantasy owners can work with it. Most leagues have enough bench space to platoon one or two guys, and if you make Jay Bruce one of them you’re getting a star-caliber player two out of every three days.

- Speaking of elite prospects making good, Toronto’s Travis Snider was as hot as nearly any player in baseball prior to spraining his wrist over the weekend. The top power prospect in the minors a year ago, Snider had turned a dismal .155/.277/.338 April into a spectacular .378/.404/.711 May with 3 HRs and 10 RBIs through 12 games. Expectations need to be tempered for the 22-year-old, but make no mistake: Snider can be a fantasy asset this season. The notoriously conservative PECOTA pegged him for 21 HRs, Baseball Forecaster projected 23 HRs and Bill James, showing his characteristic optimism, expected a generous 26 HRs, 82 runs and 90 RBIs. The Toronto offense is better than anybody expected it to be, so if those numbers hold value in your fantasy league Snider is well worth stashing on the DL – the wrist injury doesn’t sound serious at this point.

- The Travis Snider injury stung a bit, but it was nowhere near the swift kick to the sac that was Andre Ethier’s freak broken finger in batting practice on Saturday. It doesn’t sound like anything serious, Ethier might even be able to avoid a DL stint if he can play through the pain, but it could not have come at a worse time. The Dodgers were rocking as a whole, but Ethier in particular had been on the tear of a lifetime. The Los Angeles right fielder‘s May looks like this so far: 12 games, .490 average, .537 OBP, .980 SLG (!), 1.517 OPS (!), 5 HRs, 13 runs and 19 RBIs. Overall, Ethier is leading the league in batting average, slugging, OPS and RBIs. He’s carrying fantasy squads right now, mine included, so let’s hope this dinged finger doesn’t sap any of that power he was flashing.

Checking in with two young stud pitchers, after the jump …

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No CommentsPosted by Andrew Thell on May. 17, 2010 at 9:57pm in MLB, MLB Fantasy News

LeBron’s True Colors Are Coming Into Focus

May 16, 2010

By Zachariah Blott

LeBron James PrimadonnaLeBron James may have played his last game as a Cavalier, and it was a stinker. A triple-double stinker. He had 27 points (but on 38% shooting), 10 assists (but also 9 turnovers), and 19 rebounds. Not much to complain about with the 19 rebounds, but did anyone else notice he went out of his way to make even the most routine defensive boards with no Celtics around look like superhero grabs? James leapt over teammates who have obviously been trained to let him get the 50-50 ricochets, then he’d turn and sprint to half-court like he was playing capture the flag.

And that in itself illustrates the issue that many people suddenly have with James: he appears to be a lot more show than substance at times. It’s not like there weren’t signs all along. He slept below posters of himself while in high school. He hijacked KG’s pre-game white powder ritual and made sure everyone was watching him and only him while opponents were huddling up – you know, being a team. His well-known goal is to be a billionaire athlete; I’ve never read a quote by James concerning how many rings he’d like. He kept everyone in suspense for an entire year about the Slam Dunk competition he eventually skipped. You can bet he’ll drag out this summer’s free agency process for as many headlines as he can get.

So it’s officially the end of Year Seven of the most recent Next Jordan timeline, and again the Cavaliers have very little to show for James’ efforts. He won an MVP award for his individual play, but again Cleveland is out of contention sooner than they should be. Here’s a quick recap of Cleveland’s past seven years:

2003-04: James’ rookie season was a great success. The Cavs improved from 17 wins to 35, and James won the Rookie of the Year award by averaging 21 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists per.

2004-05: James amps it up, putting up pers of 27, 7, and 7 as the Cavaliers improve to 42-40, losing a tie-breaker to the Nets for the final playoff spot in the East.

2005-06: With an ensemble cast that resembles Iverson’s Sixers in 2001, Cleveland finishes fourth in the East, losing to the top-seeded Pistons 4-3 in the second round. Down 2 games to 1 in that series, James has a not-so-hot remainder of the season, shooting 41% (40 for 97) and collecting 21 assists to 20 turnovers.

2006-07: King James finally arrives in the Finals with the help of conference-wide ineptitude. In possibly the worst showing ever by the Eastern Conference during their decade-long status as second-class NBA basketball, Cleveland is one of only two teams in the East to win 50 games (Cavs 50, Pistons 53). The 41-41 Wizards were the 6 seed, the West won the All-Star Game by a zillion and it wasn’t even that close, and the Spurs swept the Cavs in the Championships. In the final series, James shot 36% (32 for 90) and had at least 5 turnovers in each of the four games. James shot a measly 42% for the entire playoffs, including 28% from deep.

2007-08: James’ individual numbers in the regular-season continue to amaze (30-8-7), and the Cavs finish fourth in the East that is suddenly dominated by KG’s Celtics. After squeaking by the 43-39 Wizards in the first round, the Cavaliers put up a valiant fight against the eventual champs, going down 4-3 to Boston. James shoots a horrid 35% (55 for 155) for the series with several games that looked like his recent Game Five turd. James averaged 6 turnovers in their 4 losses.

2008-09: James wins his first MVP award as Cleveland surges to finish an NBA-best 66-16 with a really well-paid lineup that LeBron had some say in. The Cavs are surrounding him with talent he gives the OK to, and they sweep through to the Eastern Finals to face the third-seeded Magic. After James buries a dramatic Game Two triple at the buzzer to tie the series, he shoots 43% the rest of the way (43 for 101) as Orlando wins relatively easily in six.

2009-10: Again he’s the MVP, and again Cleveland sports the NBA’s top record with one of the highest paid squads. James wants Shaq. Done. James wants Antawn Jamison and gets him, even though it requires a trade-and-re-sign diss to 11-year company man Zydrunas Ilgauskas. The Cavs get by the 41-41 Bulls in the First Round and then face the aging, up-and-down Celtics. Cleveland loses in 6 (and was the lesser team in Game One) with James shooting 37% (25 for 68) and turning it over 24 times versus 29 assists in the four losses. After his much talked-about Game Five crapfest, James tells reporters that he spoils fans with his great play and feels bad for himself.

Speculating on LeBron James’ future, after the jump …

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1 CommentPosted by Andrew Thell on May. 16, 2010 at 3:13pm in ETB Articles, NBA

Here We Go Again: Rajon Rondo Ripping it Up in the NBA Playoffs

May 11, 2010

By Zachariah Blott

Rajon Rondo Triple DoubleFor the second straight year, Celtics PG Rajon Rondo is following up a very good regular season with a tremendous postseason. The diminutive speedster went off on Cleveland Sunday night in Game Four of the second round, putting up a Oscar Robertson-esque 29 points, 18 rebounds, and 13 assists in a series-tying 97-87 win.

Although this single performance was historically noteworthy, his averages and individual lines during the entire playoffs are downright intimidating for a 6-1, 170-pound point guard. In five first round games against Miami, Rondo averaged 15 points, 6 rebounds, and 10 assists per. He also picked up 12 steals in the series, snagging at least 2 in every game.

Then it was onto the real challenge: Cleveland in the the second round. Through four games, he’s filling the stat sheet like an old lady with a bingo pen to the tune of 19 points, 8 rebounds, and 13 assists per. He has 5 steals against the league’s top team, and he’s shooting 52%.

Behind Rondo’s outstanding big-game step-up-manship, Boston has LeBron’s squad locked in a dogfight that’s now a best-of-three series.

If Rondo was putting up numbers like Chris Paul during the regular season, this would all look like superstar business as usual. That’s not the case, however. Rondo’s season was a respectable 14 points, 4 rebounds, and 10 assists per, which earned him his first All-Star Game appearance, but it certainly was no clear harbinger of what was to follow. Beyond the suddenly increased averages, he already has 1 triple-double in the playoffs after recording only 2 in his 81 regular-season contests.

Last year went the same way for Rondo. His regular season pers were 12 points, 5 rebounds, and 8 assists. Once the playoffs hit, he was a do-it-all machine, averaging 17, 10, and 10. Again, he only recorded 2 triple-doubles before the playoffs, but he went for 3 in 14 post-season games. Even with a veteran squad filled with plenty of players more than capable of contributing in every which way, Rondo has shown a penchant for taking over when it really counts.

If there’s one thing every coach would give his left arm for, it’s players who are good enough to get you to the playoffs who then really step it up once you’re there. This type of player ends up with championships and with the tag of “winner” bestowed upon him by fans – guys like Bill Russell, whose career 15-22-4 became 16-25-5 in the post-season (because it was harder to get credited with assists back in the 60′s, Russell’s assist totals often lead his team during the post-season; Bill Walton wasn’t the only one) are known as winners. Then you look at someone like Wilt Chamberlain, and his averages of 30-23-4 on 54% shooting dipped to 23-24-4 on 52% once it really mattered. The one has 11 rings, the other has 2 and was labeled a “loser” for most of his career. Guess why.

Throw in the stellar defense Rondo has displayed early in his career (he was just named All-Defensive First Team), and Boston arguably has the best point guard in the NBA right now.

Let’s take a quick look at how he stacks up against the other top 1′s around the league.

Where Rondo ranks among the NBA’s point guards, after the jump …

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2 CommentsPosted by ETB Contributor on May. 11, 2010 at 5:16pm in NBA

NBA All-Defensive Teams: Where Outright Stupidity Often Rules

May 7, 2010

LeBron James eyes Kobe BryantBy Zachariah Blott

The NBA All-Defensive teams were announced on Wednesday; as expected, we saw some big names on the First Team who have no business being named at all, and there was the annual exclusion of some obvious selections any half-knowledgeable fan would make.

The First Team was comprised of Dwight Howard, Gerald Wallace, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Rajon Rondo. The Second Team was made up of Tim Duncan, Anderson Varejao, Josh Smith, Thabo Sefolosha, and Dwyane Wade. The coaches, who vote for the All-Defensive Teams, never disappoint when it comes to picking stars who they’re supposed to pick, basically big-name players who get grandfathered in just like MLB’s Gold Glove winners.

There is a reason that a) NBA coaches are constantly fired and usually have very little influence over a team’s success in hindsight, and b) the Cavaliers and Lakers signed defensive specialists on the wing to start next to James and Bryant. Kobe and LeBron have no place on these teams, and plenty of less well-known defenders (i.e. guys who don’t compile lots of blocks and steals, ESPN’s idea of the end-all-be-all for measuring the defensive worth of a player) never seem to get their due.

Issues With The First Team

Just so no one gets the wrong idea, I do not think Bryant and James are bad defenders. In fact, both have shown the tenacity to lock down their man in one-on-one situations when they absolutely have to. The problem is, they’re seldom in these situations. Both of their clubs hire defensive artists to do the tough work for 90% of the games that matter.

Ron Artest is the leauge’s premier wing defender, displaying the size, strength, belligerent attitude, and determination to wreck any opposing player’s night. During the six games in the First Round, Kevin Durant was tested by Artest and pestered into shooting an abysmal 35% from the field and only 29% from three. His shooting percentage topped 46%, the league average, for only one game during the series, and that was a 6-for-12 performance that yielded only 22 points. There’s a reason Artest is asked to make life hard for the NBA’s top scorer and Kobe guarded Thabo Sefolosha for four games and Russell Westrook, who has no outside shot and can be backed off of (why 3 of Westbrook’s 5 trifectas came with the Mamba on him), for two contests.

Not only is Bryant clearly not the best wing defender on LA, Lamar Odom is second to Artest in terms of defensive versatility and competence on the Lakers. He gets a lot of tough assignments down the stretch of games because he’s able to handle just about any player in any spot on the floor. Consequently, some of the more advanced defensive numbers rank Odom very highly. His Defensive Rating was fourth in the league (100.4) and his Defensive Win Shares were sixth (4.9), both well ahead of Kobe, who ranked fourth and third on the team in these categories.

In LeBron’s case, he leans on Anthony Parker to do most of the heavy defensive lifting on perimeter scorers for the majority of the game. There’s a reason Cleveland picked up the 6-6 shooting guard to displace Delonte West, a much better offensive option, from the starting lineup. Between Parker taking the tough assignments and the presence of veteran 7-footers and the splendid Anderson Varejao in the paint, James regularly gets lost in the mix, sagging off some harmless opponent, waiting to poach poor passes that his teammates’ pressure created.

As with Bryant, it’s hard to argue that James ranks higher than third on his own team in terms of defensive impact. Parker was hired to do the work so James doesn’t have to, and Varejao brings the grit and Red Bull energy to his multi-faceted post defense, doing such a good job that he was named to the Second-Team and finished in the top-10 of Defensive Player of the Year voting while coming off the bench.

Mr. Blott picks his NBA All-Defensive team, after the jump …

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1 CommentPosted by ETB Contributor on May. 7, 2010 at 1:54pm in ETB Articles, MLB

Wolfie Takes a Trip Into the Dugout

May 7, 2010

Baseball mascots: all they want to do is entertain us with their zany antics. They don the oversized, uncomfortable costumes in the dead heat of the summer months and trot around stadiums across the country performing their oversized hearts out with the sole intention of lightening the spirits of child and working man alike. Their only payment is the smile on a child’s face and the roar of the crowd (well, that and a paycheck, but let’s not sully their craft with cold economics).

So why do we want to see them suffer? Why do we hate them so? Well, they’re kind of obnoxious. Kind of really obnoxious. And they look stupid. And they can be real jerks, too. And, in my experience, their playful distractions and pranks are often less-than-welcome. I mean, seriously guy, get out of my face with your plush butty dance. I’m trying to watch a game here. My team is getting their collective asses handed to them and I’m not exactly in the mood to play along with your game of keep away with my favorite hat. It’s cute, I get it, but you have no idea how close you are to spilling down those steps …

Anyways, here’s some footage of a mascot taking a nasty spill and maybe getting seriously injured.

Enjoy.

No CommentsPosted by Andrew Thell on May. 7, 2010 at 5:37am in Miscellaneous, MLB

TWIETB Notes: Prince Fielder Slumping, Kelly Johnson Having a Coming Out Party

May 6, 2010

Prince Fielder Strikes Out

Prince Fielder Photo Credit: Icon SMI

By Andrew Thell

- Prince Fielder’s fantasy owners and Milwaukee Brewers fans alike are in a tizzy over the bulky first baseman’s sluggish start, but it’s being a bit overblown. Don’t get me wrong, when a 25-year-old coming off a 46-home-run season and with a .543 career slugging percentage ends the first month of the season slugging .360 with just 2 homers it’s incredibly disappointing.

Slow starts are always a cause for concern. The fear here isn’t that he’ll have a bad season, just bad by his considerable standards. Is it possible this year Fielder hits .270 with 32 HRs? Sure, but I don’t see that happening. He’s too talented, and we’ve seen this before. Although players like Mark Teixeira and Adam LaRoche have much more well-publicized poor April splits young Mr. Fielder is no stranger to coming slowly out of the gates. In 2009 he hit just 3 blasts in April, in 2008 he belted just 4. For his career Prince has a modest .470 SLG in the month of April, by far his worst month. It might not be the 50+ HR season some were hoping for, but I think Tons of Fun will be just fine. And yes, the references to his weight might be kind of tired, but have you seem him lately? I love Fielder, but the guy is huge. You’re a professional athlete man, get it together.

- So Kelly Johnson, eh? Did not see that coming. I drafted him in my friendly fantasy league because I thought the dude has some talent, he was undervalued after one rough season, his new ballpark is great for lefty hitters, I thought the lineup surrounding him in Arizona could only do good things for his bottom line and I waited far too long to grab MI talent in a league with 3 MI slots. So I was what you might call optimistic, though that was somewhat precipitated by desperation. I thought there was 20-23 HR, 10-15 SB upside here, and I was admittedly being very generous with my own guy. Never in my most desperately optimistic dreams did I imagine Johnson would smack 9 home runs in April.

There’s absolutely no reason to think he can keep this up, but there’s also no reason to think Johnson can’t have a career year either. He’s entrenched himself atop the potent Diamondbacks lineup, so he should see pitches, get plenty of opportunity to run and cross the plate with frequency. The home-run pace has slowed in May, but Johnson has stolen 2 bags and if he can just stay active on the bases and average 3-4 HRs per month from here on out – what I initially pegged him to do – we’re looking at 25+ HRs, 10+ SBs and 90 runs. Not bad for your late-round gamble. I don’t see this as a sell-high opportunity as much as a chance to cash in on a career year. Besides, it’s not like your league mates are likely to pay full freight on Johnson’s current numbers – they likely hate the man at this point.

- The Minnesota Twins roster is as well-constructed and balanced as it’s been in nearly 20 years. Outside of third base they have the chance to have productive hitters in every spot in the order, which means nobody has to press to produce offense. It’s resulted in a team on-base percentage of .363, which is second only to the Yankees of New York. The man at the center of it all is Justin Morneau, who leads all of baseball with an absurd .483 OBP. His 24 walks tie Yanks first baseman Nick Johnson for most in baseball, but Morneau is getting a bit more production out of his at-bats – 20 runs, 6 HRs, 19 RBIs and a tidy 1.129 OPS. With so much support behind him in the lineup and quality table-setters like Denard Span, Orlando Hudson and some guy named Joe Mauer in front this has the makings of a huge year if Morneau’s balky back can hold up.

Checking in with the San Francisco Giants starters and Milton Bradley, after the jump …

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No CommentsPosted by Andrew Thell on May. 6, 2010 at 9:29pm in MLB, MLB Fantasy News

Only Two Teams Are Playing Like Champions: The Orlando Magic and San Antonio Spurs

May 3, 2010

Tim Duncan and Dwight Howard

Tim Duncan and Dwight Howard Photo Credit: Icon SMI

By Zachariah Blott

Best-of-seven series in the NBA can drag on a long time and take a lot of twists and turns. They force teams that want to win to control momentum, steal a few wins on the road, and to dominate match-up disparities they should dominate. Only two teams have come out and looking like championship material, showing that they can do all of these things in the early part of the playoffs: the Orlando Magic and San Antonio Spurs.

Don’t extrapolate what I’m saying too far. I’m not about to put any money on these two when the league and its advertisers have been bombarding us with LeBron vs. Kobe, Cleveland vs. Los Angeles plot lines for two solid years. It’s not 1979 anymore; I’ve come to expect the sexy teams to win.

That being said, here are the tremendous post-season resumes of Orlando and San Antonio through the first round, plus some notes on what the other contenders have lacked up to this point.

Orlando Magic

For starters, they’re the only team to sweep their first-round series, which has to count for something. That means they won two in Charlotte, where the Bobcats were 31-10 during the regular season. Game Three was particularly telling in this series after the Magic had won both home games by carrying double-digit leads through most of the two second halves.

Charlotte lead by five at the half in the third game, and were holding even going into the fourth quarter before succumbing 90-86. The key reason Orlando had to grind out a tough final period to effectively end the series was that their customary trifectas weren’t falling. They hit only 9 of 30 deep balls (30%) in the contest, so they turned to plan B, which was dominant rebounding (43-33) and stellar defense (holding Charlotte to 42% FG and 22% 3FG). Even with their main offensive calling card neutralized, they had enough counter-punches to get the win.

Orlando re-found their downtown touch in Game Four (13-33 from three, 39%), controlling the second half on the way to a series-ending 99-90 win, making them one of only two teams to win two road games in the first round (The other? Phoenix). The Magic have shown that if they have at least one of their three strengths working for them in any given contest—three-point shooting, defensive rebounding, and team defense—they can win the tough games. Sound familiar, Cleveland fans?

San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs were the only underdog to win in the first round (a 53-29 Jazz squad beating a 53-29 Nuggets squad doesn’t count). It came against a 55-win Dallas team that was sporting some new talent, Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood, and fresh off an 8-2 finish down the stretch. The Mavericks looked to have the West’s best chance of knocking off the loaded Lakers, and their prospects appeared to be decent against an aging Spurs team. Especially one with the recently re-activated Tony Parker coming off the bench and their big free agent grab, Richard Jefferson, contributing his worst scoring and three-point shooting numbers since he was a rookie (12 points per, 32% 3FG).

Dallas threw around its muscle in Game One, outrebounding Duncan and Co. 45-37 and getting to the line 20 more times than SA (34-14). The result was a barely gratifying 100-94 victory. The Spurs know what to do in the playoffs, though, and they came through with one exploited match-up after another, shooting 48% over the next three games while holding most of Dallas’ talent in check; Nowitzki was the only Mav to both score and shoot well for the series (27 points per, 55% FG). The Spurs took all three, came out with a rest-the-starters stinker in Game Five (Duncan, 24 minutes; Ginobili, 18; McDyess, 14; Jefferson, 24; Hill, 29) without relinquishing momentum. They went home with a 3-2 lead and nearly put it to bed by the end of the first quarter (22-8) in Game Six. They rode out a run-and-gun fourth to a 97-87 win, clinching the series.

The Spurs would like to remind everyone that they always turn it on in the playoffs, regularly get big performances out of secondary guys (over the last four games, George Hill scored 20 per, shot 55%, and hit 7 of 15 bombs), are the most intelligent team by a mile, played without Parker for 26 games and without the way underrated Matt Bonner for 17, went 18-8 to finish the season, and just dismantled one of the NBA’s four best teams.

Sizing up the rest of the field, after the jump …

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4 CommentsPosted by Andrew Thell on May. 3, 2010 at 6:21pm in NBA

     

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