Straight Out of the Onion?

And it turns out that people flocked to my blog right before that Favreapalooza on Monday night. Go figure. But I’ll take the page hits!

Anyway, my current work schedule, has somewhat kept me from posting. Well, that and not having timely material for when I would otherwise have put up a new entry. But, let’s see if the upcoming weeks and months are a bit friendlier towards regular updates.

This morning’s events finally forced me to post. I’m absolutely stunned, just like the President was when he found out, and frankly most of the press too. The Nobel Committee’s reasoning is fair enough, including a comparison to Mikhail Gorbachev in 1980 (before glasnost really took hold), and Fareed Zakaria seems to think along the same lines (‘America rejoining the world’).

I guess most people assume that the prize is a lifetime achievement award. That has always been what I was led to believe, too. Plenty of joke fodder already, some on the right, and of course quite a bit of it is absurd hyperbole, but even Obama surely knows that he has to go earn this with his and our country’s actions in the next few years. If not, you can be sure this “rockstar” theme is going to come up again in 2012, just like it did after his tour of Europe in 2008.

Even non-conservatives might be concerned about this development. It could have both positive and negative implications for Obama’s policy-making efforts, particularly on foreign policy. Chris Cilliza expands on this and some of my other points.

Hey, it makes for a nice wake-up call though, if you can get it. Enjoy the award, Mr. President, I’m not going to say you need to turn it down by any means. But as you said in your press conference today, don’t dare let this award get to your head. There is a lot of work to be done, and everyone will be watching you more closely than before (if that’s actually possible).

The fun begins withi figuring out what to do in Afghanistan. And then reconciling Congress and the nation on healthcare (no disrespect to Sen. Tom Harkin, but try to minimize the government’s direct involvement) without actually using reconciliation. Oh, and don’t forget the “Es”- economy, environment, and education…


USA-Brazil Second Half Blog

Teams are back out, and the U.S. is set to kick-off the second half. Remember to hit “refresh” to get these updates, because I don’t think WordPress updates automatically.

46th Minute- Goal, Luis Fabiano gets Brazil off to a perfect start, nice ball into him, he turns Jay DeMerit and hits a perfect shot low past Tim Howard. Great play by Luis Fabiano, who is now on course to win the tournament’s golden boot. 2-1 U.S.

50th Minute- Donovan passes to Feilhaber, who dribbles to the goal line, and while his shot is stopped by Julio Cesar, it may have gone out before that.

52nd Minute- Donovan runs it up the field and finds Davies, but his pass to Altidore is knocked away.

53rd Minute- DeMerit is caught out of position but Feilhaber keeps the ball away from Ramires in the U.S. box long enough for Howard to grab the ball.

54th Minute- Feilhaber fouls Kaka, setting up a free kick in a dangerous position. Maicon fires in and Altidore heads away. A subsequent effort from Brazil fails to find Luis Fabiano.

56th Minute- Another foul by Feilhaber on Kaka. Free kick Brazil. It hits the wall and deflects up. Felipe Melo is flagged offside as he jousts with DeMerit for the ball.

59th Minute- Lucio gets a free header off a corner kick, but Howard reacts quickly to palm it away. Gilberto Silva gets to the follow-up but fires high under some pressure. Brazil definitely smelling blood right now.

60th Minute- Whoa! Great cross to the back post finds Kaka. His header is stopped by Howard, but Brazil screams that he and the ball were over the line. Not given, replays unclear at the moment. One replay suggests yes, another indecisive.

63rd Minute- Another Maicon corner is deflected away by Howard. Davies and Ramires scrap for the ball, and Brazil controls.

64th Minute- Some chaos in the U.S. box, but one of the assistant referees flags Brazil for something.

65th Minute- Davies dribbles forward, then passes back to Clark to ease pressure. He finds Donovan, who shoots from outside the box and Julio Cesar makes a decent save.

66th Minute- Dempsey gets a sniff of goal and Julio Cesar palms away. Daniel Alves comes on for Andre Santos. He scored on a great free kick to beat South Africa in the semifinals. Elano also checks in at the expense of Ramires. Brazil thinking offense here for sure. Quarter of the game left to play.

67th Minute- Nice play by DeMerit to beat Luis Fabiano to the ball and draw a foul. He has been really good throughout the tournament.

69th Minute- Lucio booked for arguing with referee Martin Hansson.

71st Minute- DeMerit clears away a cross, but moments later, Luis Fabiano beats everyone and the offside trap, only to see Howard come off his line and smother the ball.

72nd Minute- Davies takes on several Brazilian defenders and nearly prevails with some nice touches of the ball, but Luisao as the last man knocks it away before he can get to Julio Cesar.

74th Minute- Goal and it’s Luis Fabiano again. Robinho heads off the crossbar from a Kaka cross, and Fabiano heads home at the opposite post for his fifth of the tournament. Howard was down in trying to stop Elano and had no chance. Tied at 2. Nice burst of speed by Kaka to set it up.

76th Minute- Bob Bradley brings in Jonathan Bornstein and Sacha Kljestan. Feilhaber and Altidore exit.

78th Minute- Kaka decides to shoot from long distance. Doesn’t get much on it and it rolls harmlessly wide.

79th Minute- Felipe Melo fouls and he needs to be careful because he was already booked. Good free kick from Donovan, and Julio Cesar grabs it just before Clint Dempsey can pounce.

80th Minute- Bornstein decides to shoot. He’s a bit off-balance, although the technique is good, and the ball flies wide.

82nd Minute- Robinho fires high and wide after a few moves.

84th Minute- Goal.DeMerit stops Luis Fabiano from getting a scoring chance. Elano hits a corner and from it, Brazil scores. Lucio outjumps Dempsey and has what amounts to a free header, which he doesn’t miss, firing into the lower-left corner. The players all mob Lucio but credit also to Elano for a perfect set piece. 3-2 to Brazil, and that is surely the winner. A comeback worthy of the sport’s greatest champions.

88th Minute- U.S. corner. Conor Casey on for Ricardo Clark in Bob Bradley’s last throw of the dice. Donovan puts it into the box and Onyewu gets to it but heads over the bar. In fairness, not a bad miss, as he wasn’t that close to goal.

89th Minute- Kaka tortures a U.S. defender and then fires just past the far post.

90th Minute- Dempsey stumbles in chasing down a Donovan pass, but it was probably hit too high and far for him to reach it anyway. Three minutes to be added on.

92nd Minute- Quiet injury time so far. Brazil just about keeping hold of the ball.

93rd Minute- Daniel Alves shoots high and wide. Howard restarts quickly but Brazil sweeps it away in midfield. Moments later they win a throw-in. Foul on Bocanegra and that should do it.

94th Minute- And that is it, as Martin Hansson blows the whistle right off the free kick. The Brazilian team races onto the field to celebrate a record third Confederations Cup title. Would defeat have cost Dunga his job? He will never have to find out. The U.S. can be very proud of its performance overall, even if they know they did let the game get away from them in the second half. The lessons of this tournament should serve them well going forward.


Image Courtesy of The Guardian/Getty Images

Image Courtesy of The Guardian/Getty Images

So much for “just having fun,” eh?

4th Quarter Punts sums it up as well as anyone. Just a shocking result. Not the World Cup, but a statement win, all the same, and completely deserved, despite all the chances Spain created. Our defenders were immense, as was Tim Howard. We created maybe three good chances and converted two. So often in soccer, that can be the bottom line.

The reward is probably a rematch with Brazil, although since South Africa is hosting the Confederations Cup, you can’t entirely rule out another upset. Again, it’s all gravy since this isn’t World Cup qualifying or the Finals themselves, but if the players can ride the confidence a win like this supplies, who knows where things will end up come next June? Every fan can be proud of this moment.

One aside though, sympathies for the family and friends of prominent Iowa high school football coach Ed Thomas, who was shot dead this morning inside his school’s weight room. Four NFL lineman played under him, and he mentored countless others.

Just a Typical NY Weekend

Yankee Stadium opens up and plays like a bandbox every day. Is it the weather, bad pitching, an actual product of the design? We’ll find out soon enough, but it’s definitely not something anyone saw coming. Listen, it looks really nice, but home-run havens can be tough to win a lot of games in. Took the Astros and Phillies a few seasons before they were in the playoffs after moving into their bandboxes, while Colorado got there in 1995 but not again until after they added a humidor to Coors Field.

On the field, a four-game split between the Indians and Yankees isn’t bad either way- although both teams will hate the manner in which their losses occurred- because they each definitely have talent (as I noted in the preseason predictions), and I won’t be completely shocked if they meet in October, although let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Especially when the Yankees have to figure out Chien-Ming Wang and their middle relief first- and fast– while Cleveland has to make sure Cliff Lee and Fausto Carmona are really up to the job. Luckily for them, nobody’s running off with the AL East or Central so far (I haven’t really seen enough from Toronto yet, though if Ricky Romero pitches anywhere close to as well as he did on Sunday, it would sure help them win games not started by Roy Halladay). I saw the Posada home run as it happened and then the numerous replays and just couldn’t tell what the right call should be, so the umpires probably got it right simply by leaving it as made on the field.

Oh, and about that weather. We could not have asked for a nicer Saturday and Sunday around here. Everything the meterologists hyped it up to be. Okay, maybe I’m a little bit of a hypocrite here, because I hate big snow storms as I’ve said here before, but I do enjoy a day turning out even warmer and sunnier than expected! Plus, great to see some friends from school on Friday night in the city- some of whom I hadn’t in several months.

Rangers are 2-0 after they blanked the Caps on Saturday (see above). Lundqvist stood tall again. Yes, he’s good. No, I didn’t expect him or them to win two games in Washington and play as strong a defensive game as they did in the second one. Mark Herrmann was a little surprised too. Still have to finish the job, and to that end, Game 3 at MSG will be huge on Monday night. Elsewhere, looks like Boston, Detroit, and Vancouver each have a foot in the next round. Didn’t think Anaheim would match the Rangers and win two on the road though. They’re arguably a better team, but were playing San Jose, who racked up the most points of anyone during the regular season and lost five times in regulation at home. I still expect that San Jose and Calgary, who is down 2-0 to Chicago but going back home for Games 3 and 4, will not go quietly into the night.

Don’t worry, at least a few more posts over the next several days.

Overdue AL Picks:

But definitely not stale.

AL West: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim/The OC/somewhere in So. Cal.- Yes they lost Mark Teixeira and K-Rod (plus lifer Garret Anderson, but his production has been fading for year). They’ll be without three All-Star-caliber starting pitchers to start the season. No, Bobby Abreu won’t be all the protection Vlad Guerrero needs. But they’re still the strongest team in the division- unless John Lackey, Ervin Santana, and/or Kelvim Escorbar misses more time than expected. Oakland and Texas might have the lineups to contend, but they probably don’t have the pitching even now.

AL Central: Cleveland Indians- Really, you could make a case for any team in this division. And it might not take more than 90 wins to be in the playoffs because all of the teams have serious question marks. But the Tribe was a win away from the World Series in 2007; the main problems a year later were an off-year for the bullpen and the future of C.C. Sabathia (resolved, of course, by Cleveland trading him away). Cliff Lee might not have another other-worldly year, but the additions of Mark DeRosa and Kerry Wood should help strengthen the lineup (which already had Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner, among others) and closeout games, respectively. A decent campaign from Fausto Carmona, now a year removed from elbow surgery, could put them over the top- and in October too.

AL East: Tampa Bay Rays- You were expecting me to pick the Orioles or Blue Jays? But seriously, of the three powerhouses in this division, I’m not someone who thinks what Tampa did was a fluke in 2008. BJ Upton and Evan Longoria haven’t even hit their full potential. And while the extra innings from last season’s run may take their toll on some pitchers, the (re)introduction of David Price in a month or two could be a huge factor. Boston has a great rotation and a potentially formidable lineup, led by defending MVP Dustin Pedroia and possible MVP-of-the-future Kevin Youkilis, but age and health are question marks here. Can Mike Lowell and David Ortiz still play and post big numbers for a full season? Will they get anything from John Smoltz, Brad Penny, Takashi Saito, or Jason Varitek? For the Yankees, how will newly-added Sabathia, Teixeira, and A.J. Burnett fare in New York? What will they get from Hideki Matsui, Jorge Posada, and of course, A-Rod? Will Robinson Cano live up to the contract extension he got last year, and will the overall defense be significantly better than it was last year?

Wild Card- New York Yankees- Boston and at least one AL Central team will be in this race. But as long as the starting pitching lives up to its obvious potential and Mariano Rivera continues to an incredible ninth inning weapon, the Yankees should score enough runs on a consistent basis to make the playoffs. Whether they can make any noise in the playoffs is another matter, especially against Cleveland or Los Angeles, both of whom have shut down their bats in recent Division Series meetings en route to victory.

AL Champion- Angels over Yankees- My heart wants to believe that the Yankees finally have the right players in their lineup, and more importantly, on the mound. But something else inside is telling me that the Angels’ brand of fundamental baseball, led by too often unappreciated manager Mike Scioscia, might still be in their heads. Maybe it’s just the Angels’ aforementioned starting pitching.

World Series- Angels over Phillies

Hopefully some of these picks actually look smart at season’s end.

Game, Set & Match (NCAA Championship Instant Reaction)

Ty Lawson celebrates a good play

Ty Lawson celebrates a good play

Source: UNC’s Athletic Department website.

Wow, North Carolina made that look easy.

55-34 at the half, the highest point total and lead any team has ever had in the title game. Michigan State had more turnovers (14) than field goals (12) in the first half, and for the game it was 22 field goals to 21 turnovers. Raymar Morgan, Delvon Roe, and Travis Walton all held to under five points apiece. A double-digit UNC lead from virtually the first TV timeout-on. Boom. Good night; the 89-72 score being mostly window-dressing and an opportunity for players to pad their stats in the final period.

Seriously though. You gotta give the Tar Heels credit for this performance. Everybody stood out tonight. Ty Lawson had to be stopped for Michigan State to contend. Result? 21 points, a final game record eight steals, six assists, and one turnover. MOP (aka “MVP”) Wayne Ellington- 7-12 on field goals and 19 points total. Oh, and that Hansbrough kid? Yeah, he signed off on college pretty nicely, grabbing 18 points. He also leads a class of seniors that won a school-record 124 games. Thanks to Lawson’s spectacular performance (and you could have made as good an argument for him as MOP as for Ellington), he was once again not very many people’s focus. A reality which pretty much tells you how close to unstoppable North Carolina was in this one- and throughout the tournament. They won every single game by double figures; uber-rival Duke was the last team to do that back in 2001. As Jim Nantz said near the end of the game, North Carolina trailed in games for less than 10 minutes total. Both of those stats are mind-boggling in a tournament known for parity, close games, and upsets.

So let the coronation begin of a team that actually lived up to the hype, both prior to and during the season. And as I write this, wild parties and street celebrations have broken out in Chapel Hill which undoubtedly will last into tomorrow and maybe beyond (update: they actually cleared out around 2 or 3 AM, per local police). While President Obama picked the ‘Heels, and I didn’t on my facebook bracket, I did have them in The Beer Lodge league and made a late rally to finish second, two points behind. As for facebook, I finished in the Top 14% but unfortunately outside the top-50,000 people. All things considered, I guess my friends are right about me having decent sports knowledge, at least compared to most Americans. But obviously I still have a long way to go! And based on percentile, Obama only finished in ESPN’s top-20%! Okay, I don’t think I could fare as well as him at his day job.

Baseball Predictions Sure to Fail

What theyre all playing for (besides the money).

What they're all playing for (besides the money).

Image Sources: MLB’s website (opening day logo) and Justin Hall.

Okay, the season has finally arrived, so here goes. We’ll do the National League tonight.

NL West: Los Angeles- Mannywood is the story, but they can pitch too. Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw should only get better as they mature, while Hiroki Kuroda should win more games than his 2008 total of 9 if the offense gives him more support. His ERA, WHIP, on-base against and slugging against were all pretty good last year. Actually, Arizona and San Francisco may have better pitching, especially now that Derek Lowe left Hollywood for Atlanta, but neither’s offense is nearly as good. With Manny on board for a full season, watch for Andre Ethier, James Loney, and/or Matt Kemp to hit the 20 HR/100 RBI mark or more. If so, the rest of the NL better lookout.

Will Manny Ramirez galvanize the Dodgers once again?

Will Manny Ramirez galvanize the Dodgers once again?

NL Central: Chicago Cubs- Definitely still the best team in the division and possibly in the NL. At least, that’s until October begins. Milton Bradley and a healthy Rich Harden (okay, how often has that actually been the case?) could be the difference between another early exit and something far better. Kevin Gregg as closer seems like a question mark; his numbers in Florida were okay but he did have a bunch of spectacular meltdowns too.

Could this really be the Cubs year?

Could this really be the Cubs' year?

NL East- Philadelphia- The Mets made headlines with the additions of K-Rod and J.J. Putz to solidify the bullpen. But their starting rotation is far too dependent on question marks like Oliver Perez (now making big money to boot) and Livan Hernandez. They should score runs with Reyes/Wright/Beltran/Delgado, and even Gary Sheffield could help out. But Philly has three MVP-caliber hitters, and at least this year, Raul Ibanez shouldn’t be too much of a downgrade from Pat Burrell (like the author in the linked article, I don’t trust him over the long-term though, and he does make the lineup a bit vulnerable to left-handed pitching). Their pitching is also strong, practically from top-to-bottom. Atlanta and Florida could both be in the mix with young but very talented lineups and rotations, but I just think the Phillies’ core players are all in their prime years, and they have been through too many battles over the past couple of years to give up the crown easily- both during the regular season and playoffs.

Can potential MVP candidate Chase Utley lead the Fightin Phils to another championship?

Can potential MVP candidate Chase Utley lead the Fightin' Phils to another championship?

Photo source: Delaware County (Pa.) Daily Times

Wild Card- Mets- I’m really on the fence about this, but I think the wild card will come from the NL East, and while Atlanta and Florida might have better pitching, I think the Mets can field and hit better than the other two. They could win quite a few 7-6 games (even though Citi Field should favor pitchers)- or descend into clubhouse cliques and bickering. If the new-and-improved bullpen holds leads as it should, I’ll bet on the former.

NL Champion- Phillies over Cubs- Cole Hamels once again stars in October, and this time the Phillies even get some good postseasons from Utley and Howard.

AL Predictions tomorrow.