Friday, May 8, 2009

Free Kicks: Manny, O's, and NBA Playoffs Edition

Why am I Not Surprised?
I was not one of those baseball fans who cheered with glee when A-Rod finally admitted to his steroid use, and didn’t yell a quick “A ha!” when Selena Roberts’ upcoming book asserted that he has used for years even after his move from Texas. As such, when it was discovered that Manny Ramirez had been suspended for 50 games for use of a banned substance I simply shook my head. I, like many baseball fans, simply want all of this to be gone. Honestly, I don’t want to know anymore which players were juicing or whatever other chemicals were in their system. I am tired of every great hitter being attached to substance violations in one way or another. Bonds, Sosa, McGuire, A-Rod, Palmeiro (who was my favorite player growing up), and now Manny? I want to believe Albert Pujols when he defiantly goes out and says he has never and will never use performance enhancing drugs, but unfortunately for him I just can’t believe it anymore.

Is the Commissioner’s office partly culpable? Absolutely- Selig could have put a stop to this early but chose to ignore it, riding the waves of popularity in the sport before reality hit. Are doctors responsible? Partly. They sometimes gave their patients these supplements and assured them they were legal under the drug policy, only later finding out they were badly mistaken. But in the end it comes down to the players. Three years ago this would have been huge news. How sad it is that it is now just something to shrug about and move on.

An Uncomfortable “Sweep”
A two game “sweep” is a bit of a misnomer considering the Orioles won their first two games of their first two series and failed to take the third. But if I get to say that the Orioles swept the Twins I will take it, and I do think we learned a lot over this game and two-thirds (considering the first was called after 6 innings). The good news is that the top of the order doesn’t necessarily have to run the show, as Jones, Markakis and Roberts all went hitless in last night’s ballgame. Additionally, Lou Montanez and Gregg Zaun have started to come around, with Zaun getting a hit in 8 of his last 19 at-bats and Montanez driving in a game winning run in the 8th. We should also be pleased that Brad Bergesen is settling into about where we expected- he could have easily been blown up on his call up to the majors. Sure, his 4.98 ERA is not ideal and his WHIP is higher than it should be, but he has shown consistency in his last two starts, going 6 innings and giving up 3 runs in each. That is more than one can say about Mark Hendrickson, who has yet to pitch 6 innings this season. The bad news is that the bullpen is still not solid, with Dennis Sarfate going on the DL with a circulatory problem that could threaten his career. All things considered this could be the right way to open up a homestand against the struggling Yankees, even with the return of Alex Rodriguez to the lineup.

NBA Predictions
Okay, I have long lamented the lack of an NBA presence on this blog, for the simple and irreconcilable reason that Baltimore does not have a rooting interest anywhere. I would never root for a DC team, and most Baltimore fans couldn’t care less about my team (the 76ers). However, there is nothing quite like the NBA playoffs, and so I had to share some thoughts on the conference semifinal action:

Cavs lead Hawks in the series, 2-0: Honestly, I figured at some point they would tack on an extra win with the way the Cavaliers have beat down on the Hawks. At first I had this series going to 6 games… now I can’t see anything but a sweep. This team is on a mission.

Lakers tied with Rockets in the series, 1-1: I really like the way the Rockets are performing in the playoffs. Yao Ming has been so physical inside (which had been a problem in the playoffs in the last few years) and Ron Artest, when able to produce offensively is one of the best overall players in the game. The loss of Derek Fisher will hurt the Lakers more than they think, and Aaron Brook’s sharpshooting will give the Rockets a win in game 3. This one will go to seven, with the Lakers taking one in Houston and game seven at home.

Celtics tied with Magic in the series, 1-1: I am very worried if I am a Magic fan about game 3. Without Rafer Alston, the Magic lack the floor general required to distribute the ball to Orlando’s sharpshooters and create opportunities for Dwight Howard. This could get ugly if the Magic simply force the ball inside and aren’t able to move the basketball around the perimeter. I think Orlando is the better team, but Boston has the playoff experience to take game three tonight.

Nuggets lead Mavericks in the series, 2-0: I like the Rockets, but I love the way the Nuggets are playing right now. Having lived in Michigan (and about to move back there), I have had my share of experience watching Chauncey Billups and I loved the trade for Chauncey from the Nuggets side of things. He has provided a solid leadership figure, a confident clutch performer, and a desire to play great defense to this Denver squad, something they never had before he arrived. He has given this team a little bit of Detroit grit and they are showing it in the playoffs. Expect this series to end in 5, with the Mavs pulling it all together for just one game.

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