Friday

2008 MLB Season, Fin


Hello again everybody...

Happy Halloween to you all. I hope you've come up with a creative costume. Me? I'm dressed as a "WCCO Studio Coordinator who's had his vacation day rescinded". It's more about the attitude than the outfit, but I think I pull it off nicely!

Today's my last word on baseball. Well, until the "hot stove league" begins over the winter anyway. But today I look back on the season that was in Major League Baseball. So off we go!

"A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort."
- Herm Albright (1876-1944), American author


That might be the best argument for positivity I've ever heard!

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The 2008 Major League Baseball season. Where to begin? I guess at the beginning right?

March: Spring Training. The annual rite where baseball brings the feel of spring, even if the weather conditions disagree. Unfortunately for me, the season got off to an awful start.

Each March for the last several years, I've taken a trip to visit my parents down in Phoenix and take in a handful of Spring Training games. The last two years haven't gone terribly well. Two years ago my dad got violently ill. So much so, it required a trip to the emergency room. An IV-bag of fluids and some antibiotics later, he came through it okay. But obviously it put a damper on the trip.

March 2008 was even worse. I hadn't even left the airport in Minneapolis, when I found out that my 90-year-old Grandmother was gravely ill and had been taken to the hospital. At my parents' insistence I made the trip to Phoenix anyway, but had to return early when she passed away a couple of days later. Losing a member of the family is always traumatic, but I was comforted by the fact that Grandma Cook was as ready to move on to whatever that next phase of existence is as anyone I'd ever known.

So yeah, it was a tough March. But it led to...

April: The regular season begins.

Also at my parents insistence, I made a "make-good" trip to Phoenix for a 4-day weekend in April. This allowed me to attend a couple of Diamondbacks games for the first time in several years.

I saw two games in which the D'backs worked over the Colorado Rockies - 2007's darling team. And those games cemented my decision to adopt Arizona as my "other favorite team" for the 2008 season. I got my Brandon Webb jersey and took the picture you see at the top-right of the blog.

My adoption was obviously helped by the red-hot start the D'backs got off to (20-8) in the month of April. I also felt good about it considering the 13-14 record my original favorite team, the Minnesota Twins, started with. I felt compelled to add another favorite team, because I didn't want to suffer through what I felt would be a rough season for the Twins without something else to sustain me.

May: The newness of the season has worn off. The comforting routine begins.

This was the first time I'd purchased the MLB "Extra Innings" package. That gives you access to nearly every televised MLB game in the country. This was fantastic because it allowed me to watch D'backs games as well as Twins games. Plus, if there was a must-see pitching match-up on a given night, I could tune that in as well.

It turned out to be better in theory than in practice however. While I'm a big fan of my standard work-hours (1pm-9pm, M-F), it does impinge on prime-time TV viewing. And this year I learned it meant that any game on the East Coast was one I either had to DVR or not watch at all. So while I re-learned to love the dulcet tones of Vin Scully calling a Dodgers game, I didn't feel like I got as much out of the investment as I would've liked.

The D'backs went 12-17 in May, while the Twins went 18-15. That was sure to turn around though, right? Right?!

June: Summer arrives and baseball fans bask in the glow of the warm sun. At least those fans whose teams play in a ballpark without a dirty tarp for a roof. (Come on 2010!!!)

June brought my Dad back into town to do some work for the Sheriff's Office. It also allowed us to attend a game between the Twins and the D'backs at the Metrodome. Despite my adoption of Arizona, I remained solidly a Twins fan for the 3-game set, and was rewarded with a Minnesota sweep. (Thanks has to go out to my main-man Logan, who attended the Sunday game and helped finished off the sweep for the Twins, resulting in one of the greatest pictures I've ever seen!

The D'backs went 10-16 in June. The Twins went 14-9. My two favorite teams were headed in opposite directions in a hurry!

July: Mid-summer. The mid-summer classic. Baseball passes the midway point and the contenders start positioning themselves for playoff runs.

The All-Star game was won by the American League once again, meaning that the ALCS winner would have home field advantage in the World Series. I still hate this rule, but it isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

But I think the game itself was overshadowed by the one skill competition that still captivates people, the Home Run Derby. There was a run of years when the Slam Dunk competition during the NBA All-Star festivities competed with the Home Run Derby (thank you Michael Jordan). But those years a long past.

This year's Derby saw a mammoth first-round performance by the presumptive favorite for this year's Comeback Player of the Year award - Texas OF Josh Hamilton. Hamilton powered a record 28 home runs out of Yankee Stadium to set a new single-round record. Unfortunately for Josh, only the first and second rounds are cumulative. Everybody goes back to zero for the Finals, and that's where Hamilton ran out of steam and was beaten by Minnesota 1st baseman Justin Morneau.

So I was conflicted. I loved the fact that one of my guys won the contest. But my glee was mitigated by the fact that Morneau's victory would be quickly forgotten amongst the well-deserved hype generated by Hamilton's record-setting night.

The D'backs went 14-11 in July. The Twins went 15-10. Suddenly it was looking like both my teams might make the playoffs! Ahhh, baseball nirvana.

August: The dog days of Summer set in and baseball fans start to wish the playoffs would just get here already!

The non-waiver trade deadline was July 31st, so I started August cringing. The Dodgers had added Manny Ramirez, so the D'backs chances just got a whole lot slimmer. The White Sox had added Ken Griffey, Jr. I didn't think that was as costly to the Twins as the Ramirez addition was to the D'backs. But considering that neither of my teams made a significant addition, I wasn't feeling all that great.

The Twins began an epic road-trip at the end of August to make way for the Republican National Convention. While it was widely proposed that this road-trip would define their season, it really didn't as they went 5-9 on the trip but remained in contention.

The D'backs went 13-15 in August. The Twins went 17-12.

September: The home stretch. A crispness enters the air. Who's in the playoffs and who's out of the playoffs gets decided.

Perhaps the most disappointing month of the season for me. The D'backs went 13-13 and stood pat while the red-hot Manny-Ramirez-led Dodgers passed them by. The Twins stumbled to a 11-14 finish which forced them to play a play-in game versus the Chicago White Sox to determine the AL Central Division winner. A game the White Sox won, sending the Twins home for the off-season.

But there was a shining light that came through in the end. The Tampa Bay Rays had gone from the worst record in 2007, to AL East champions. A truly terrific story that had played out over the course of the entire year. Let's face it. I was just thrilled that the Red Sox (whom I hate) didn't win the division.

October: A month of playoff wonder. Even for those of us who's teams didn't make the post-season, we can still pick a team or two to follow and root for!

For me the playoffs became a case of praying that the Dodgers and the Red Sox (whom I hate) didn't both end up in the World Series. It would be a shame to be forced to avoid the Fall Classic.

Fortunately it didn't turn out that way as the Philadelphia Phillies cruised through the NL playoffs to the World Series. And they were joined by the Rays after a hard-fought battle with the Red Sox (whom I hate) in the ALCS.

Unfortunately, the Fall Classic wasn't so classic. Not only did it end in a Phillies victory after only 5 games, but 2 of the 5 games were marred by weather. Game 3 didn't start til late at night after the rain stopped. And as we're all aware, Game 5 took place over 40+ hours after being suspended midway through the 6th inning.

All in all, it was a heck of a season. Some ups, some downs. Some excitement, some dull stretches. Sounds kind of like life in microcosm doesn't it?

I think that's one of the reasons I like baseball so much. It's like a companion that's there for you 8 months out of the year. Nearly every day for those 8 months you can open a newspaper, or log onto a web site and there's baseball. You can pay rapt attention if you like. Or you can tune out for a while and it'll be there whenever you choose to return.

When asked how to follow a losing team with interest, legendary Detroit Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell once said, "It's easy. Just remember that every day you go to a ballpark, you might see something you've never seen before."

That's sort of how I experienced the 2008 baseball season. Writing this blog has forced me to watch and research the game in ways I never have before. And if it was possible, it's increased my love for the game.

I hope you've enjoyed taking the journey with me. And hopefully you'll hang around so we can do it all over again next year!

That's all for this week. Have a safe and spooktacular Halloween! I'll be back on Monday with the Post-Mortem on my college football picks. Until then, thanks for reading!

Thursday

Congrats to the Champs, ST Top 10 Poll & Week 10 picks


Hello again everybody...

I'm on the front-end of a 11-hour as I write this, so I'm working to stay positive. That's a little tough because the Wild suffered their first regulation loss last night, getting worked by the Dallas Stars 4-2. That may not sound like a blow-out, but trust me, it wasn't as close as the score may indicate. Oh well.

On the plus side, the Wild have a chance to get right back after it tonight, as they return home to face Les Habitants. That's right, the Canadiens are in town, and the Hammer is giddy. I can't help it, his giddiness is infectious.

Also we've got new World Champions in the world of baseball. So while my "last word" on the 2008 baseball season will come tomorrow, I want to offer my congratulations to the Philadelphia Phillies. Game 5, part deux, last night was pretty exciting. Plus, since it was only 3.5 innings, it cruised along really quickly. And congratulations should also go out to the Tampa Bay Rays. While the Phillies won the series, the Rays won the hearts of a significant number of baseball fans, and their story is one which deserves to be lauded.

But today is college football day here at the Sports Take. So we've got the 6th edition of the Sports Take Top 10 College Football Poll. And then it's time for my 2008 College Football Picks: Week 10. So let's get after it!

"There are two cardinal sins from which all others spring: Impatience and Laziness."
- Franz Kafka (1883-1924), Austro-Hungarian fiction writer


Ummm, no comment?

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This week brings us the 6th edition of the Sports Take Top 10 College Football Poll. Several dedicated ST readers have voted in their Top 10 teams in college football, and here are the compiled results: (the comments in italics are from random pollsters)

Rank) (first place votes) - Points - Last Week's Ranking

#1) Texas (10) - 100 - 1
Two real challengers left: an explosive Air Raid offense, and a schizophrenic Jayhawk.

#2) Alabama - 87 - 2

Yes, all they do is win, but I can't help but feel an upset lurking within the tough SEC.

#3) Penn State - 81 - 3
It wasn't a pretty win over Ohio State, but they did what they had to do. Barring a series of injuries, they should run the table.


#4) Oklahoma - 61 - 4
They have to be the best 1-loss team in the country.

#5) Texas Tech - 50 - 7
Your schedule has three Top 10 teams: Horns, Cowboys, and Sooners. Prove you belong!

#6) Florida - 43 - 8
63-5 over Kentucky?! If that wasn't a statement game, this week versus Georgia should be.

#7) USC - 38 - 5
They need to blow people out to make their case and they didn't do that versus Arizona. Hence the drop in the polls.

#8) Georgia - 35 - 9
After this week, it'll be UGA or FLA representing the SEC East.

#9) Oklahoma State - 18 - 6
Is it possible to move up with a loss? If Texas keeps winning big, these guys look even better.

#10) Utah - 17 - NR
Their only ranked opponent this year is TCU in two weeks.

Others Receiving Votes: Boise State 15, Ball State 2, Missouri 1, Ohio State 1, TCU 1, Tulsa 1

So there was no upheaval in the top 4 teams, but all kinds of shake-ups in the back half of the Top 10. Anyone see anything that looks out of whack? Attach a comment and let us know!

Finally today, it's time for my Week 10 picks from the world of college football. Two weeks in a row of +.500 performance. Can I keep it up? Can I hit on a Flier Pick after whiffing the last couple of weeks? Let's see!

As always, if recreational gaming were legal and were I to have the wherewithal to make a worthwhile wager, these are the games I'd be betting on:

First off...

Minnesota -7 versus Northwestern (11am): The Gophers are 7-1 (4-1). The Wildcats are 6-2 (2-2).

Does this line seem kind of small to anybody else? I was expecting -10 or something. Especially considering that Northwestern QB C.J. Bacher is questionable with an injury.

The Gophers have been solid defensively and are no longer at a disadvantage against the Wildcats' offensive scheme, since they practice against a very similar attack every day.

Here are some words I never thought I'd say: I love the Gophers in this game. It's their homecoming, so there should be a raucous crowd ready to make a ton of noise. And that turns the Metrodome into a serious home field advantage.

So let's give the 7 and root for the Gophers! (Lon, this is working splendidly!)

Next...

Notre Dame -4.5 versus Pittsburgh (1:30pm): The Irish are 5-2. The Panthers are 5-2 (2-1).

Pittsburgh's coming off a 54-34 upset loss to Rutgers. Getting popped in the mouth by a team you were supposed to beat is one thing.

Having to go on the road to one of the more legendary stadiums in the country after getting popped in the mouth by a team you were supposed to beat, is even worse.

If Notre Dame can get up a couple of scores early, I think they walk with this one.

So we'll give Pitt the 4.5 and wake up the echoes...

Thirdly...

Alabama -23 versus Arkansas State (2pm): The Crimson Tide are 8-0 (5-0). The Red Wolves are 4-3 (2-1).

Quick. Off the top of your head. Can you name the conference that Arkansas St. plays in? I couldn't.

'Nuff said. Alabama names their score here. We gladly give the 23 and roll Tide!

Lastly...

Texas -4 @ Texas Tech (7pm): The Longhorns are 8-0 (4-0). The Red Raiders are 8-0 (4-0).
*This game is this week's Sports Take Flier Pick of the Week!

Ball State is off til Nov. 5th, so I can't use them this week. So I had several different games I could've gone with for the Flier Pick. I finally settled on what will be the most watched game this week (Georgia/Florida being a close second).

Tech proved me wrong last week, so I'll give them respect. But I give Texas more. I think it's fairly clear at this point that they're the best team in the nation. I hear folks say that either Texas or Alabama are destined to lose a game. If that's the case, I think it's 'Bama. Because I don't see anybody beating the Longhorns.

So I'll lay the 4, cross my fingers and hook 'em horns! (Actually, I'll have to use two hands to make that work. Which is going to make operating the remote a real pain! The sacrifices I make!)

So there are your 4 picks this week. See anything you disagree with in there? Speak now, or forever hold your peace! Well, maybe not forever, but at least until Monday!

That's it for today folks. I'm back tomorrow with my final word on the 2008 Major League Baseball season. Until then, thanks for reading!

Wednesday

Game 5, Part Deux & DFTU


Hello again everybody...

I thought today I'd be talking about the end of the World Series, or previewing Game 6. Turns out I'm talking about the first suspended game in the history of the World Series. Opinions and speculation abound. Then it's this week's version of the DFTU. No dilly-dallying. Let's go!

"Play: Work that you enjoy doing for nothing."
- Evan Esar (1899-1995), American Humorist


I'm asked from time to time if I ever expect the blog to start generating money or turn into a second career. My answer? I haven't the foggiest idea why anyone would want to pay me to do this because it would feel like stealing money from them if they did. Don't get me wrong, I'd do it. But this has never felt like work. It's much more like... play!

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Speaking of play...

(that's what we in the business call a "professional segue")

... play resumes tonight in Game 5 of the World Series. For those of you who missed it, a veritable monsoon parked itself over Philadelphia for the last two days, forcing MLB officials to suspend a World Series game for the first time in history.

Think about that. The World Series has been an annual event since 1903. In all that time, never, not once, has a game been stopped and then re-started on a different day. Obviously there's been weather situations before this, but in those cases, the game was never started and was postponed til another day. In 1989 Game 3 of the World Series was postponed 10 days because of the Loma Prieta earthquake. But because it hit prior to the first pitch, even an earthquake didn't suspend a game already in play.

So the question on the minds of many people this week was, should Game 5 of this year's Series have even been started Monday night? Or should MLB officials have postponed it rather than put themselves in this position?

We all know that weather forecasts are fickle. So to those that say that MLB should have decided during the day not to play, I don't think that was ever a viable option. What trapped the folks in the commissioner's office was that there was a potential for the heaviest rain to hold off til 11pm or later. Combine that possibility with the fact that the forecast for Tuesday was even worse than what they were facing on Monday, and I think that MLB can hardly be blamed for trying to get the game in.

It became obvious fairly early on in the game however, that the weather conditions were not going to allow the game to be played to its natural conclusion. So the second question becomes, when should the game have been stopped?

I think Tampa fans are elated that they had the opportunity to tie the game up before it got stopped. Conversely, there are plenty of Philly fans who are screaming bloody murder that the game was allowed to go as long as it was.

There's no easy answer here. Once Tampa tied it in the top of the 6th, it became obvious that the game needed to be stopped right there. Anyone who saw B.J. Upton stumbling around 3rd base as he scored the tying run, could come to no other conclusion.

No, MLB wasn't required to wait until the game was tied. The commissioner has the discretion to suspend a World Series game, even if it's gone past the requisite 5 innings regardless of the score. But once Tampa tied the game, it became far easier to stop play.

Bottom line, they pushed it as far as safety allowed and stopped it when they had to. I don't really have a problem with starting the game and trying to get it in. And I don't have a problem with stopping it when they did. It was a no-win situation to be sure, but I can't think of a better way that it could've been handled based on the information that MLB had.

So what happens tonight? The first pitch of the bottom of the 6th is scheduled for 7:37pm central time. Grant Balfour will be on the mound. At least until Philadelphia's first batter is announced, when it's assumed that manager Joe Maddon will bring in rookie sensation David Price. Why the convoluted switch? Balfour was the pitcher of record when the game was suspended, so by rule, he has to be on the mound when the game is started. However, once the first batter is announce, the game has officially resumed and Maddon is free to make whatever substitutions he likes.

Does either team have an advantage with the suspension? Well, clearly the Phillies have the advantage of the extra half-inning. Because the game was suspended in the middle of the 6th, the Phillies have 4 at-bats, while the Rays have only 3.

On the other hand, the Phillies had their ace, Cole Hamels, on the mound and with the suspension, they lose his services. But I'm not sure this is really that much of a disadvantage for the Phillies. If you recall in my preview, I said that the Phillies had a distinct advantage in terms of their bullpen. So if this second part of Game 5 is going to be bullpen versus bullpen, then shouldn't Philadelphia be favored?

Look, there's no history to fall back on here. Therefore I have no earthly idea how this is going to shake out. I've been rooting for the Phillies though, so I'll continue that tonight.

If you want to say you witnessed sports history, tune in tonight for the first ever "second half" of a World Series game!

Finally today, it's time for everybody's favorite segment: Dan's Favorite Teams Update!

Wisconsin Badgers: The Badgers are 4-4 (1-4 in the Big 10).

Finally! Off the schneid in the Big 10! Thank the maker.

For those of you who missed it, the Badgers defeated the Illini 27-17 this past Saturday. Junior QB Dustin Scherer finally stepped up and made an impact, throwing a TD to David Gilreath and running for another on his own.

The defense was also a huge part of the win, picking off Juice Williams 3 times to help set the offense up with short fields.

I don't know where this version of the Badger football team has been for the last four weeks, but it's nice to finally see them. Welcome back fellas!

The biggest bonus of the win over Illinois is that it sets the Badgers up pretty well for bowl eligibility. The rest of the schedule is: @ Michigan State, @ Indiana, vs. Minnesota and vs. Cal Poly. I think we can be fairly confident in wins over Indiana and Cal Poly, and those two wins gets the Badgers to the magic number of 6.

The biggest negative of the win over Illinois was losing TE Travis Beckum for the rest of the year. Beckum broke his left leg and had surgery this week to repair the damage. This is sort of a double-whammy for Beckum. Travis was considering entering the draft last year, but decided to come back for his senior season. So not only does he lose the rest of this season, but he's on a tight schedule now if he wants to rehab in time for the NFL Combine. Forgive the pun, but that's a tough break for him. (Damn you Lon!)

As mentioned earlier, the Badgers are on the road this week, facing the Michigan State Spartans (7-2, 4-2) at 11am on Saturday. On paper Michigan State is certainly the favorite here. But the Badger fan in me wonders if the whipping they took from Ohio State a couple of weeks ago perhaps took some of the fight out of them. We shall see!

Minnesota Wild: The Wild are 6-0-1, 13 points, and in 1st place in the Northwest division.

Minnesota has earned the distinction of being the only team left in the NHL without a regulation loss. That's obviously mitigated by the fact that they have a loss in overtime. But the NHL's bizarre standings rules aren't the Wild's fault, so Wild fans should feel just fine about touting that distinction!

I'm still not sure exactly how the Wild are pulling this off. With all the scoring they lost in the off-season, and with Marian Gaborik still on the shelf with an injury, it's incredible to me that they're winning at this pace.

The main reasons for this surge as near as I can tell?

1. Mikko Koivu - the man that earned the C for the month of October may very well be in line to become the Wild's first full-season captain. Koivu is amongst the league-leaders in assists and has been, without question, the Wild's best player.

2. Antti Miettinen - the winger has been one of a pair of significant free-agent acquisitions. Most fans had no clue who the guy was when he joined the Wild, but since scoring 6 goals in the first 7 games, they sure know who he is now!

3. Andrew Brunette - the only mistake Doug Risebrough has ever admitted to making was letting Bruno go a few years ago. Now the power forward is back and once again a part of the Wild's top line. 3rd on the team with 7 points, the move to bring him back is paying off.

4. Niklas Backstrom - his .932 save percentage is 5th amongst goaltenders with more than 5 starts, and his 1.98 goals-against average is 4th. It makes things remarkably easier on your defensemen when you have a stopper like Backs between the pipes!

The Wild shoot for their 7th win on the year tonight as they visit the hated Dallas Stars at 7:30pm central time.

(Aside: I'm wearing a Minnesota North Stars sweater today. This has drawn some questioning looks around the ST offices. But at this point, I consider the North Stars and the Stars as two wholly distinct and separate franchises. My loyalties clearly still lie with the Wild.)

After tonight's tilt in Dallas, the Wild return home to face Montreal tomorrow night before heading back on the road for a west-coast swing which starts Saturday in Phoenix.

That's all for today folks. Be sure to tune in tomorrow for the Top 10 Poll and my Week 10 Picks! Until then, thanks for reading!

Monday

World Series Games 3 and 4 & Week 9 Post-Mortem


Hello again everybody...

Back to the start of another work-week. And a frustrating one it is for me. I was supposed to have this coming Friday off, but one of the other Coordinators messed up his knee and is out for another full week at least. Unfortunately for me, the brain-wizards who run this place have seen fit to under-staff us to the point that I had my vacation day rescinded.

Normally that would annoy me in and of itself. But because apparently God got bored again, it gets worse. I found out late last week that the Coen brothers (No Country For Old Men, O, Brother Where Art Thou?, etc.) are going to be filming a portion of their new movie at the Synagogue across the street from my apartment building. You guessed it... starting Friday. And just to add insult to injury, they're all evening shoots, from 5-9pm. How late does Dan have to work? Yup, til 9pm.

Yes, this is my life.

But enough of my grousing. The World Series is on the verge of conclusion, so today I'll go over what happened over the weekend and then preview tonight's potential clinching game. Then it's time to dissect how my college football picks did in a little segment I like to call the Week 9 Post-Mortem. So let's get to it!

"It is well to remember that the entire universe, with one trifling exception, is composed of others."
- John Andrew Holmes, author


Doesn't it just grate on you when people get all wrapped up in their own drama?! Yeah, me too.

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If you didn't see the World Series games over the weekend (and judging by the ratings, you didn't - copyright Harry Doyle), you missed out on a whale of a Game 3 and an unexpected blowout in Game 4.

Game 3: Philadelphia 5, Tampa Bay 4

If it wasn't for the sloppy defense at the end, this would've been one of my favorite World Series games from the last 5 years. You had the young lion (Matt Garza) squaring off against the cagey veteran (Jamie Moyer), and both had outstanding performances.

Garza didn't have the same kind of outstanding stuff that he did in Game 7 of the ALCS and the Phillies were able to score 4 runs off of him over his 6 innings of work. Moyer on the other hand took his "slow, slower and slowest" approach and held the Rays lineup to 3 runs over his 6 1/3 innings of work.

I loved watching Moyer guile his way through this game. The guy's 45 years old and in his first career World Series. Most people, including yours truly, had penciled his start as the one that the Phillies would lose at home. Instead he threw every piece of junk he could get his hands on (I'm pretty sure there was a porcelain fixture sighting in there somewhere) to hold the Rays line-up down.

I just wish it had been those two performances that decided things. But the Rays scored the tying run in the 8th when B.J. Upton stole 3rd and then scored when the throw to third went into left field. The Phills then scored the winning run when a Tampa miscue put a Philly runner on third, which was followed by one of the ugliest infield, dribbler singles you'll ever see.

So the Phills took a 2-1 series lead heading to...

Game 4: Philadelphia 10, Tampa Bay 2

This one was all but over by the 5th inning. Ryan Howard's bat finally woke up as Philly's slugger hit 2 home runs including a prodigious blast in the 8th inning to help salt the game away.

Rays starter Andy Sonnanstine wasn't able to get out of the 5th inning having given up 5 runs, though only 3 of them were earned.

Phillies starter Joe Blanton was not only solid on the mound (6 IP, 4 H, 2 ER), but also hit a solo home run to help give his club a lead they'd never relinquish.

This one was never all that close, which was disappointing because the Rays needed this game badly to make this a close series.

Instead the Phillies own a 3-1 series lead as we head to...

Game 5: Scott Kazmir (TB) vs. Cole Hamels (Phi)

I'm not going to say this is a lock win for the Phillies, because it's not. But consider these numbers:

Cole Hamels is 4-0 in the playoffs with a 1.55 ERA.

Scott Kazmir is 1-1 in the playoffs with a 4.15 ERA.

Hamels is young, and there have been some questions about the shape his arm is in this late in the year.

Kazmir has been shaky at best, but the Rays have David Price sitting in the bullpen ready to come in if Kazmir struggles early.

That all being said, I think the Phills will be popping the champagne at the end of the night. Either way, I just hope it's a good game. I was hoping that this Series would be more tightly contested than it has been so far. So even if it ends tonight, I'd like to see it go out on a high note if at all possible.

7 pm is the scheduled starting time. First pitch, as usual, won't be til closer to 7:25 pm.

Next up, it's time for my Week 9 College Football Picks Post-Mortem!

Last week was a nice bounce back for the picks, but could I continue it this week? Did my magical "+ .500" season continue? Would I just get to the damned results already? Okay, okay, settle down!

Minnesota -1 @ Purdue: Final Score - Minnesota 17, Purdue 6.

Once again, the Gophers defense stepped up. Giving up only 6 points to a Boilermaker offense that has the potential to put a bundle of points on the board is an impressive effort, especially on the road. Granted, Purdue QB Curtis Painter got hurt and couldn't complete the game. But if you consider where the Gopher defense was last year versus the performances they're giving this year, it's still damned impressive.

What Dan Learned: Minnesota's pretty good. They're clearly behind both Penn State and Ohio State, but you could argue that they're the 3rd best team in the conference. 3 out of their next 4 games are at home. And it wouldn't surprise me a bit if they're favored in all 4. No, I'm not saying they have a chance at a Rose Bowl (the loss to Ohio State will probably preclude that), but a New Year's Day bowl is suddenly very much in reach.

1-0 and feeling good about the day.

Kansas -1.5 vs. Texas Tech:
Final Score - TX Tech 63, Kansas 21

Woops.

ST reader "Lon in Forest Lake" accused me of being on a controlled substance when I made this pick. No Lon, that's the fella at that other radio station.

But I will admit to being glaringly wrong in my assessment of this game. I'm still not sure that Tech is totally for real, but suddenly I don't think that the Longhorns can name their score against the Red Raiders this coming week.

What Dan Learned: "The first rule of poker is leave emotion at the door" - Rusty Ryan, Ocean's 11.

I picked this game because I wanted to be right about Tech being a fraud, not because there was evidence that Kansas could actually beat them. That was a mistake. No more emotional picks! Unless they're Flier Picks that is!

1-1, but my darling Ball State Cardinals will come through for me, right?

Ball State -25 vs. Eastern Michigan: Final Score - Ball State 38, E. Michigan 16
*This was the Sports Take Flier Pick of the Week.

Dammit. 3 measly points from a push. One freaking field goal.

Oh well. Vegas was going to over-estimate Ball State sooner or later. Hopefully we'll get a more reasonable spread this week.

Thank God for the Flier Pick. Still 1-1 and needing Alabama to pull through!

Alabama -6.5 @ Tennessee: Final Score - Alabama 29, Tennessee 9.

Whew.

Here's the thing. Bama's #2 in the BCS, but #3 Penn State is getting all the predictions for the Title game.

How's that work? All Bama does is win. Maybe they're not blowing people out of the water. But they're not exactly nail-biters either.

What Dan Learned: Phil Fulmer better have that resume updated. He saved his job late last year, but I don't think he'll pull it off two years in a row. Sorry Jon.

So 2-1 this week brings my season total to 21-13 (.618). We're making money baby! Well, we would be if we were actually betting on these games. But still, I feel good!

That's all for today folks. Remember, check out tonight's baseball game. It may be the last one you'll see till February! I'll be back on Wednesday, with perhaps a baseball season-wrap, and at least a solid DFTU effort! Until then, thanks for reading.

Friday

World Series Games 1 & 2


Hello again everybody...

It's almost the weekend, though for some of us it'll be shorter than for others. I don't mean to grumble, but one of our guys went down with a knee injury and won't be back for a couple of weeks. And the wunderkinds that run this place have so understaffed us (thank you crappy economy) that those of us who are healthy enough to work, are being saddled with all kinds of overtime, including having vacation days rescinded. Joy.

But enough of my whining. We have a 1-1 World Series and it looks like this one might go the distance. That's nothing but good for baseball. So today I'll talk a little bit about what we've seen in Games 1 and 2 and what's on tap for this weekend.

Onward!

"The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you're still a rat."
- Lilly Tomlin (1939- ), American actress, comedian, writer and producer


Yeah, not feeling real kindly towards the job at the moment. Can you tell?

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So we're two games into the 2008 World Series and it's tied at 1 game apiece.

First of all, I have to call out my father. Mind you, I love the man dearly and have nothing but the utmost respect for him.

But there's only so far I can be pushed before I have to push back.

You'll recall I laid out my reasons for rooting for the Phillies back on Wednesday. Well not long after that I got an email where my father stated that I ought to be rooting for the Rays since he was born in St. Petersburg. Seems like a reasonable request, doesn't it?

What my dad wouldn't tell you is that he's an army brat (that's not my term - I'd never refer to my father directly as a brat), and spent like 15 minutes in St. Pete before they moved off to the next army base. So it'd be like telling me I can't root for Maple Grove since I was technically born in Golden Valley. Even though the family moved to Maple Grove before I was old enough to have a clue about what a city even is!

What he also won't tell you is that prior to these playoffs, he'd seen exactly zero Tampa Bay Rays games. And even at this point, he couldn't tell you 5 players from the team without using the Internet to cheat.

So I'm rooting for the Phills and anybody who'd like to insinuate that I'm going against the family can kindly shove it!

Sorry Dad, I needed to get that off my chest.

So about the actual games...

Perhaps the most remarkable stat of the Series so far is that Philadelphia hitters are 1 for 28 with runners in scoring position (RISP).

1 for 28?!

I guess on the upside, that means that the Phills are getting plenty of guys into a position to score. But to have that level of failure at bringing them in is flat-out astounding.

The Rays on the other hand, proved last night that they don't have to hit home runs to win. With runners on 2nd and 3rd and nobody out in the bottom of the first, they executed two straight ground balls to the right side of the infield, bringing in 2 runs and jumping out to a 2-0 lead. It isn't flashy and chicks don't dig the "ground ball out rbi", but small-ball can win baseball games, and Game 2 was a huge win for the Rays.

The bottom line analysis for Games 1 and 2 is that even with their RISP failures, the Phillies managed a split in the first two games, which gives them a chance to close it out at home if they sweep the 3 games in Philadelphia.

I doubt that'll happen, but there's at least that opportunity.

Instead, I'm forecasting a 2-1 breakdown in favor of the Phills. I like Tampa's chances in Game 3 with Matt Garza on the mound, but I see the Phillies taking the next two behind Joe Blanton in Game 4 and Cole Hamels in Game 5.

The teams are off today as they travel back to Philly. Games 3-5 are Saturday through Monday at 7pm. There may be some weather on Saturday which could make things interesting. When was the last time we had a World Series double-header? Okay, I doubt they'd actually do that, but how much fun would that be?!

So tune in if you can, or check back Monday for my thoughts on Games 3 and 4!

That's all for this week folks. As I said, I'll be back on Monday. Until then, thanks for reading!

Thursday

ST Top 10 Poll (5th ed.) & 2008 College Football Picks: Week 9


Hello again everybody...

Thursday's here and that means we usually get right to the college football goodness. But with the World Series having started, I have to at least mention Game 1.

I'll have more on the Series tomorrow, but for today, suffice it to say that I thought Game 1 was close, but with all the runners stranded on base, not terribly dramatic. Both pitchers threw relatively well, but neither was truly dominant. All the pressure's on the Rays now though, as they really can't afford to go to Philadelphia down 2-0.

As I said, more baseball tomorrow.

One other quick note... Today marks the 100th edition of The Sports Take. Sweet, I qualify for syndication! (What? That's only for TV Series?! Somebody get my agent on the phone! What? I don't have an agent?! Dammit!)

Today, it's college football. That means we get the 5th edition of the Sports Take Top 10 College Football Poll. Then it's more of the finest in college football prognostication as I give you my picks for Week 9! Off we go...

"Humor is the only test of gravity, and gravity of humor; for a subject which will not bear raillery is suspicious, and a jest which will not bear serious examination is false wit."
- Aristotle (384 BC - 322 BC), Greek philosopher


Any quote that can work in the term "raillery" is good by me!

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First off today it's the 5th edition of the Sports Take Top 10 College Football Poll. 10 loyal Sports Take readers have grouped together and voted to bring you their Top 10 teams in the nation. Comments for each team come from a random selection of pollsters. Without further ado, here are the results:

Rank) Team (1st place votes) - Points - Last Week's Ranking

#1) Texas (9) - 99 - 1
Handily beat Missouri 56-31. Still several tough tests ahead. But any doubts about their ability to bounce back from an emotional win over Oklahoma were definitively answered.

#2) Alabama (1) - 88 - 2
They need to focus on the games at hand, not LSU in 3 weeks.

#3) Penn State - 78 - 3
If they win in Columbus this week, they'll play for the National Title.

#4) Oklahoma - 61 - 4
Essentially two games behind Texas in the Big 12 South, they are the best team in the nation with no shot at playing for the National Title.

#5) USC - 43 - 8
Absolutely dismantled WASU 69-0. Running up the score? Probably. But it's what they have to do to get themselves back in the title hunt.

#6) Oklahoma State - 37 - 9
If the Cowboys can find a way to win at Texas this week, Mike Gundy is not only a man... he's THE man!

#7) Texas Tech - 34 - T5
This is mostly because I can't make myself vote for USC or Florida yet... and Minnesota doesn't have a signature win yet.

#8) Florida - 32 - T5
Crushed an overrated LSU team in the Swamp. Possible let-down this week versus Kentucky as they look ahead to Georgia.

#9) Georgia - 25 - 10
Could be a Top 5 team with wins at LSU and versus Florida in the next two weeks.

#10) Ohio State - 24 - NR
National Championship here we come! (unless Penn State beats us, then they'll go)

Others Receiving Votes: Utah 12, Boise State 9, LSU 6, Ball State 2

So there you have it. Not much change at the top, but the middle sort of jumbled itself up. Do you see any great injustices? Anyone that's way too high or way too low in your opinion? Add a comment below and tell us why!

Finally today it's my 2008 College Football Picks: Week 9!

It was a struggle to come up with lines that I thought were off this week. So I'm out on a limb with a few of them. That could mean my first 0-fer week of the season. Or it means that I could keep things rolling. Who knows?!

So as always, were recreational gaming legal, and were I to have the wherewithal to make a worthwhile wager, these are the games I'd be wagering on:

Minnesota -1 @ Purdue (11am): The Gophers are 6-1 (2-1). The Boilermakers are 2-5 (0-3).

In the spirit of Lon from Forest Lake's advice, I'm going with the Gophers here. Minnesota's had two weeks to prepare for what's still a potent Purdue offensive attack. The Gopher defense has been playing with more speed and aggressiveness this year, which accounts for a large part of their turnaround.

The Purdue defense on the other hand, has been woeful. So I think the Boilers are going to have a devil of a time slowing down the Weber-to-Decker express. And if Minnesota gets the passing game rolling, that will open plenty of holes for running back DeLeon Eskridge.

I expect the Gophers to win by at least 10 points. So we'll give the one and root for the Gophers!

(I'm taking an awful risk here Lon, this had better work! - copyright Grand Moff Tarkin)

Next...

Kansas -1.5 vs. Texas Tech (11am): The Jayhawks are 5-2 (2-1). The Red Raiders are 7-0 (3-0).

I've believed all along that Tech is a fraud. They run a gimmicky offense that can score a lot of points, but they haven't faced a team that also scores a lot of points. That ends this week.

Kansas isn't quite as strong as they were last year, but they can still go.

I think the home field advantage comes into play and Kansas edges this one out by a field goal. So we'll give the 1.5 and rock, chalk, Jayhawk!

Thirdly...

Ball State -25 vs. Eastern Michigan (11am): The Cardinals are 7-0 (3-0). The Eagles are 2-6 (1-3).

This is the Sports Take Flier Pick of the Week.

25 points is a huge number. But Ball State's had two weeks to get ready for a barely-breathing Eastern Michigan squad. And they get them at home.

Ball State's the ST darling team, so what the hell, give the 25 and make them the Flier pick!

Finally...

Alabama -6.5 @ Tennessee (6:45pm): The Crimson Tide are 7-0 (4-0). The Volunteers are 3-4 (1-3).

The entirety of this game hinges on which Tennessee team shows up. Will it be the team that got smoked by Florida 30-6 at home? Or will it be the team that worked over a tough Mississippi State defense 34-3 at home?

With a potent offense like Alabama's visiting Knoxville, I have a feeling it'll be the former. Yes LSU is a big game in a couple of weeks, but I think there won't be much looking past the Volunteers. Nick Saban's way to good of a coach to allow that.

I think the Tide's revved up and sticks it to Tennessee here. (Sorry Jon)

So we'll give the 6.5 and roll Tide!

So there you have it. Feel free to add a comment with your thoughts/feelings about them below. At least we'll have a solid idea of how I'm doing early in the day!

That's all for today folks. I'll be back tomorrow with a quick look at the first two games of the World Series (go Phillies!). Until then, thanks for reading!


Wednesday

World Series & DFTU


Hello again everybody...

It's a gloomy Wednesday here in Minneapolis weather-wise, but that's okay because tonight begins my personal favorite spectacle in all of sports. That's right, the World Series begins tonight in Tampa Bay.

So today I'll have my World Series Preview and tell you who I'm rooting for and who I think will win. Then it's this week's version of the DFTU. So no dawdling, let's have at it!

"I have never met a man so ignorant that I couldn't learn something from him."
- Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), Tuscan physicist, mathematician, astronomer and philosopher


I've talked to several that have called into WCCO radio, but I've never actually met them.

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So tonight it begins. The World Series. Game 1. Though I'm certain the executives at Fox Sports are cursing the fact that it's not a LA/Boston (whom I hate) Series, I'm looking far more forward to the Phillies/Rays match-up that we'll see tonight.

And that's because the teams are so evenly matched. At least on paper. And as we all know these games aren't decided on paper. But paper is all we have to go on at this point, so in that vein, here's my breakdown:

Hitting: Both teams showed the ability to score runs in the run-up to the World Series. For the Phillies, Shane Victorino has been their clutch hitter. Not the source Philly fans would've predicted headed into the post-season, but I'm sure they'll take it. As for their big guns? Ryan Howard and Chase Utley started slowly in the LDS and LCS, but started to come on in the late stages, and are in a position to peak at the most important time.

For the Rays, there hasn't really been a single "clutch" hitter. They've shared the wealth. And that's really the story of their entire season. At any given point, it's been a variety of players that have stepped up to do the job. Their big guns? Evan Longoria, Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton have all stepped up at various times, though none of them have dominated over long stretches.

Advantage: I give a slight edge to the Phillies here. And I say that because I anticipate big things from Howard and Utley. If they don't track like I expect, then this could change in a hurry.

Starting Pitching: Again the teams are fairly evenly matched. The Phillies rotation looks like this: Cole Hamels, Brett Meyers, Jamie Moyer and Joe Blanton. Hamels going in Games 1 and 5 is a natural. Meyers and Moyer have been a touch shaky in the post-season. And Blanton has been a good anchor to the rotation.

The Rays counter with: Scott Kazmir, James Shields, Matt Garza and Andy Sonnanstine. Kazmir was supposed to be the Rays ace coming into the playoffs, but has struggled mightily with his control. Shields has probably been their best starter over both the LDS and LCS. Garza, of course, was your ALCS MVP. And while Sonnanstine was probably the 4th best starter amongst the 4, he's been fairly solid.

Advantage: Gotta give this one to the Rays. While we've seen over the years that dominant starting pitching isn't the end-all/be-all of winning the World Series (Atlanta Braves anyone?), it's a strong component of a champion. And while neither staff is unworthy of winning, I think it's pretty clear that Tampa has the stronger foursome.

Relief Pitching: The closer for the Phillies is Brad Lidge, whom I believe has converted something like 45 of his last 45 opportunities. None too shabby.

The closer for the Rays is... undecided? Troy Percival closed much of the year, but there are questions as to his health. When he was out during the year, Dan Wheeler closed. But as they say, as a closer, he made a heck of a set-up guy. In Game 7 of the ALCS, rookie David Price closed the game for the Rays. So certainly he's an option in the Series, but he is a rookie.

Advantage: Clearly the Phillies have the edge in the bullpen. Their roles are more clearly defined. And as a group they've had more success than Tampa. If the games are consistently close, then Philly has a definite advantage.

Defense: You don't make the World Series if you're weak on defense. That being said...

Advantage: The Phillies have slightly better numbers in the post season. 2 fewer errors. 4 less stolen bases allowed. 1 more outfield assist. These aren't large differences, but taken in totality, they do tip the scales towards Philadelphia.

Managing: Tampa's manager Joe Maddon has a career record of 251-286 and is 7-4 in the playoffs.

Philadelphia's manager Charlie Manuel has a career record of 574-484 and is 9-8 in the playoffs.

Advantage: Push. Yes, calling it even is something of a cop-out, but both of these managers have been pretty terrific this season. Maddon is clearly going to win the AL Manager of the Year award, and Manuel will certainly get consideration in the NL. While Charlie has a slight edge in terms of experience, their playoff opportunities are similar if you consider the time that Maddon spent in Anaheim working with Mike Scioscia. If I was going to look for any crack in either armor, I might suggest that Maddon made some curious pitching decisions in Games 5 & 6 of the ALCS. But I'd also have to point out that he pushed every correct button in Game 7 pitching-wise, so it's hard to find any advantage for either team here.

So if you add all that up, who wins the World Series? I say Philadelphia. Neither team has a distinct advantage over the other, so I expect that this Series will go at least 6 games if not the full 7. And that should create plenty of tension and drama. All of which is good for baseball. But I have to make a pick, so I'm calling it for the Phillies in 7.

Game 1 is tonight at 7 pm (if the first pitch gets thrown before 7:25, I'll be shocked). And remember, in the last 11 World Series, 10 times the team that won Game 1 won the the whole thing, including the last 5 in a row. Yet another reason to favor the Phills. Cole Hamels is the best pitcher the Phillies have. The same can not be said for Scott Kazmir and the Rays.

The final question is, "Who's Dan rooting for?" Believe it or not, it's also the Phillies.

I know many of you would think that I'd root for the Rays. And there are plenty of reasons to like Tampa. If they won the Series, they'd become the first team in baseball to go from the worst record one year to World Series champion the next. And I likes me some history. And then there's the fact that they beat the team I despise more than any other. Both wonderful reasons to pull for Tampa.

But I have far more personal connections to the Phillies. My former radio employer and one of my best mentors, Mike Sullivan, is a big-time Phillies fan. And one of my closest female friends has a good friend who's father is a scout for the Phillies. Sure that's kind of convoluted, but this friend of mine is seriously attractive, and if you don't think that counts for a lot, you're kidding yourself!

So in the end, the personal ties won out over the "good story" element and I'm pulling for the Phills! And in saying that, I really hope I haven't put the whammy on them.

We'll see how it goes!

Finally today, it's time for everybody's favorite segment: Dan's Favorite Teams Update!

Wisconsin Badgers: The Badgers are 3-4 (0-4 in the Big Ten).

I said on Monday that I needed advice as to how to deal with your college football team sucking the bag. And there can be no question at this point that the Badgers are pretty awful. Fortunately, my good friend and loyal ST reader, Lon in Forest Lake, came through with flying colors. If you didn't see the comment he attached to Monday's column, here it is:

Lon said...

Counseling from a Husker fan, on how to get through a season where your team sucks the bag:

1. Once conference play starts, start reciting, "Well, there's always next year."
2. Get a hobby. One with no sharp instruments (woodworking = not so good...knitting = marginal...coloring books = good)
3. Follow the local small-town papers in the state, who tout their local talent as "Ready to help the College team next year."
4. Become fans of your conference's biggest rival. Then, after you cheer them to victory, you can say, "We beat the stuffing out of them 30 years in a row, you know."

...I really wanted a 5th, for 5 years of Coach Alienation (Callahan), but other than "learn how to mask weeping with hysterical laughter", I couldn't come up with anything.

Solid advice I think. So I guess I have to start reminding myself, "There's always next year!"

And let's see... hobbies? I haven't played much poker lately. I suppose I could pick that back up.

Helping the team next year... I hear there's a freshman quarterback they like a lot.

Fan of the rival... I really have to root for the Gophers?! Okay, I guess I can find some sort of middle ground there. So enjoy your season Gopher fans. You're playing really well and I hope you beat Purdue this week. And I'll even grant that you're likely to beat the Badgers on November 15th. Of course, that'll be only the 4th time you've won "Paul Bunyan's Axe" in the past 15 years.

You're right Lon, I'm feeling better already! Thanks!!!

Minnesota Wild: The Wild are 4-0-0, 8 points, and tied for first place in the Northwest Division.

Since I last wrote about the Wild, they finished off their 3-game road trip by beating Florida and Tampa Bay (shootout win). They haven't played since Saturday and will take on Buffalo at home tomorrow night.

But the story that's been dominating headlines lately is the contract status of winger Marian Gaborik. It appears that Gaborik and the Wild have hit an impasse in contract negotiations, which means that trade talks have begun in earnest.

This sucks.

No, Gaborik isn't on the same level as Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, but he isn't that far behind. And he's also the only remaining member of the first ever Wild line-up. He's by far the best player the Wild have ever had, and losing him would create a gaping hole in thier offensive production.

All that being said, if he doesn't want to sign here, then there's not much choice for general manager Doug Risebrough but to trade him. Sadly, when you trade a superstar player, you're never going to get equal value for him (unless you're Dallas trading away Hershel Walker). So the prospects that the Wild get in return won't do much to mollify the fans who'll be sorry to see Gabby go.

But what can you do? Personally, I trust Risebrough to get the best deal he can.

The only question is when does a deal get done? Technically the deadline for deals is March 3rd, so this could definitely drag on for a while. My hope, however is that if a deal has to get done, that it gets done sooner than later. 4-0-0 is a great start to the year, and I'd hate to see such a good start get spoiled by having this cloud hanging over the club all season long.

The Wild are on a 3-game home stand as they host Buffalo tomorrow night, Columbus on Saturday and the Blackhawks on Monday.

That's all for today folks. I'll be back tomorrow with the 5th edition of the college football poll as well as my Week 9 picks. Until then, thanks for reading!

Monday

Don't Call it a Conversion & Week 8 Post-Mortem


Hello again everybody...

Welcome to the beginning of another week. I hope you had a wonderful weekend. Mine was okay. I think that my sinus infection/plague may finally be starting to work it's way out of my system (insert Dan knocking on every potentially wooden service in Studio 6 at WCCO here). So hopefully I'm back to my usual entertaining, coherent self. Although admittedly, I'd settle for coherent!

So today it's time to catch up with things that happened over the weekend, including my mother thinking for a second that I had become truly religious. And then it's the Post-Mortem on my Week 8 College Football Picks. So let's get to it!

"To be able to fill leisure intelligently is the last product of civilization, and at present very few people have reached this level."
- Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), British philosopher, historian, logician and mathematician


I think we can safely include ourselves in the "very few people who've reached that level", don't you?

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Wow, what a weekend. Numerous big wins in college football. A weird, wild shootout between the Vikings and Bears. And the Wild won their 4th straight game to open the season.

But all of that pales in comparison to what happened in the American League Championship Series.

Dial back your clocks to Thursday night. Tampa and Boston (whom I hate) had reached the 7th inning stretch with the Rays leading 7 to 0 and contemplating the first World Series run in franchise history.

And then the unthinkable happened. Suddenly the Red Sox (whom I hate) of last season showed up. A Big Papi home run here, a J.D. Drew home run there and a Coco Crisp single to cap it off and in 3 innings, the Red Sox (whom I hate) had scored 8 runs and won the game.

I can't even describe how painful this was to watch. After Ortiz's home run to make it 7-4 it wasn't difficult to read the writing on the wall. And not just in terms of Game 5. Not only did it appear likely that the Red Sox (whom I hate) would win that game, but suddenly what had seemed a sure thing series-victory for the Rays was seriously in doubt.

Saturday was Game 6. The Rays were back at home. Surely their fans would pump them up and push them over the top and save the club from having to face a Game 7 for the first time ever.

Or not.

Tied at 2, Kevin Youklis came to the plate and with one swift stroke sucked all the life out of Tropicana Field and gave the Red Sox (whom I hate) a 4-2 victory.

So now the series was 3-3 and nobody, yours truly least of all, would've been surprised if the Rays folded up shop and rolled over in Game 7. When you've never been in a series of that magnitude before, and you lose a game like the Rays did in Game 5 (one of my favorite writers, Bill Simmons, calls it a "stomach-punch game". That seems pretty apt to me) you're allowed to sit there in stunned disbelief as your opponent punches their ticket to the World Series.

But a funny thing happened along the way to the Red Sox (whom I hate) coming back from their second consecutive 3-1 deficit in an ALCS. Namely that Matt Garza wouldn't allow it.

Yes, former Twins prospect Matt Garza started Game 7 and gave an MVP performance. Holding the Red Sox (whom I hate) lineup to 2 hits over the course of 7 innings. Knowing it was all or nothing at that point, Rays manager Joe Maddon then used every bit of his bullpen to match up against Boston (whom I hate) hitters and shut them down the rest of the way.

Included in that cavalcade of relievers was David Price, winner in relief of Game 2, who came in to finish the game. The trick? It was only his 6th appearance in a Major League game in his career! And in picking up the save, the dominant left-hander became only the 3rd pitcher in history to pick up a win and a save in a single LCS.

In microcosm, Game 7 was the story of the Rays season. Nobody's quite sure how it happened, but just when you were sure the Rays were down and out, they came back with a brilliant team performance and won their way into their first ever World Series. Absolutely incredible.

My last word on this series will be a series of text messages I exchanged with my mother:

Dan: Red Sox lose! There may be a God after all!

Mom: You've seen the light! Hallelujah!

Dan: Well let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Mom: Do the Rays have to win the world series for you to have your conversion?

Dan: No. If the Red Sox's (whom I hate) plane had exploded in a fireball on the way to Game 6, that might have done it.

Mom: Sometimes you frighten me a bit.

Dan: That's probably fair.

Moving on...

Time to check how I did on my Week 8 College Football Picks. Last week was rough. Would I rebound? Would I come back and right the ship? Or had the bad mojo from last year already returned with a vengeance? Let's find out!

Georgia Tech -2 vs. Clemson: Final Score - Georgia Tech 24, Clemson 17

This was an interesting game. Had Clemson not shot itself in the foot repeatedly they certainly could have won.

When a team fires their coach mid-season it can result in a modest turn-around, or in the players quitting on the club completely. I don't think the Tigers' kids quit. I think there's just not enough talent there to get the job done.

What Dan Learned: Georgia Tech is going to be a huge pain in the tail for the rest of the ACC in years to come. As well as they've done so far this year, it's clear that they've got a ways to fully assimilate head coach Paul Johnson's offense. But when they do, look out. We'll be very careful with them the rest of this year. But we'll keep a close eye on their improvement for next year!

Okay, 1-0. That's a good start to the weekend. Now let's see if we can get things turned around for the Badgers!

Wisconsin +3.5 @ Iowa: Final Score - Iowa 38, Wisconsin 16

This was this week's Sports Take Flier Pick of the Week. Thank God.

Oof. This just sucked. Yes, Iowa running back Shon Greene is good. But the Badger defense made him look like a Heisman Trophy candidate.

The scary part as a Badger fan is that you're not sure where the next win is coming from. If you look at their schedule: vs. Illinois, @ Michigan State, @ Indiana, vs. Minnesota and vs. Cal Poly, I can only see 2 wins in there right now (and no, one of them *isn't* Minnesota... dammit). And 2 more wins won't get Wisconsin to a bowl game.

What Dan Learned: How to weep silently.

The only saving grace of this game is that it was the Flier Pick. So I don't have to count it. So, still 1-0 and moving on...

Penn State -23 vs. Michigan: Final Score - PSU 46, Michigan 17.

This one almost didn't work out. I mentioned in my preview that there was some chance that Penn State would be looking past this game to their big tilt with Ohio State next week. Turns out there was more than some chance.

There was no doubt that the Lions came out flat and the Wolverines took full advantage running out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter and 17-14 lead at halftime.

Unfortunately for Michigan, the second half score was 32-0 in favor of Penn State. Hmmm, I wonder how that halftime speech in Penn State's locker room went? I'm setting the over/under on curse words at 52.

What Dan Learned: Combined with Ohio State's 45-7 thrashing of Michigan state, this game set up an enormous show-down next week at the Horseshoe. Currently the Lions are a 2-point favorite. This one appears so close, that I'm not sure you'll be seeing it in the Week 9 picks!

Back on the horse! 2-0 and trying to go undefeated on the week!

LSU -3 @ South Carolina: Final Score - LSU 24, S. Carolina 17

Yes! 3-0 baby! Woo!

Okay, admittedly this one didn't go how I figured it would. I thought that LSU would jump all over South Carolina as payback for the drubbing they took from Florida last week.

That turned out not to be the case. In fact, the game went right down to the wire and it was a 4th quarter touchdown that gave LSU the lead for good.

What Dan Learned: South Carolina's better than I thought. One of the big SEC contenders is going to slip against this team and it will be very costly. Florida, I'm looking at you!

So I finished the week 3-0. I'd feel a lot more celebratory about it if it wasn't for that stinkin Badgers game. I may need to see counseling from a Gopher fan on how to get through a season where your team sucks the bag. Unfortunately, I've yet to meet one that's interested in doing anything more than rub their success in my face. Oof.

This week's 3-0 makes me 19-12 (.613) on the year. I'm back to feeling quite comfortable. Will I take some risks this week then? Tune in on Thursday and find out!

That's all for today folks. I'll be back on Wednesday with my World Series Preview. Will the ST offices be decked out in red (Phillies) or blue (Rays)? Some of you may have an idea, but tune in Wednesday to find out for sure! Until then, thanks for reading!

Thursday

ST Top 10 Poll, Week 8 Picks & DFTU


Hello again everybody...

It's Thursday and kind of an odd day for me. I'm off of work tomorrow (hence no column), so this is the end of my work week. But since I was out sick on Monday, it turned into a 3-day week for me so even though it's the end, it feels like the middle. Add that to the various medications I'm taking, and I barely know my own name at this point.

But I'll try and bring you a solid column anyway!

Before I get to the rest of the docket, we here at the Sports Take would like to offer our congratulations to the Philadelphia Phillies on dispatching the Dodgers and getting to their first World Series in 15 years. More on baseball on Monday.

Today I've got the 4th edition of the Sports Take Top 10 College Football Poll. Then I'll bring you more of the finest in college football prognostication - well I'll bring you my Week 8 picks and you can decide the quality of them! And finally it's this week's version of the DFTU. So let's get to it!

"Personally I'm always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught."
- Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965), former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom


You can always count on Sir Winston for a solid quote. I don't know when the last biography was written on him, but I'm hoping Walter Isaacson (author of the recent Einstein, Franklin and Kissinger biographies) picks him as his next subject. Fascinating stuff.

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First up today, it's the 4th edition of the Sports Take Top 10 College Football Poll. Lots of upheaval from last week when the top 3 teams all lost. Let's see what the voters decided to do! (The comments following each pick are randomly selected from various pollsters.)

Rank) Team (First Place Votes) - Points - Last Week's Ranking

#1) Texas (8) - 98 - 5
The Horns beat #1 ranked Oklahoma in a great game. Their reward is back-to-back-to-back games versus offensive powerhouses Missouri, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. Have fun with that.

#2) Alabama (2) - 86 - 4
Bet they're glad they didn't play this week!

#3) Penn State - 78 - 6
Dominated a lousy-looking Wisconsin team on the road. Any question as to who's the best team in the Big 10 should be settled in two weeks when PSU visits Ohio State.

#4) Oklahoma - 65 - 1
The Sooners now need Texas to lose twice to conference foes to have any chance to play for the title.

T#5) Florida - 41 - NR
Made a statement versus LSU that the Gators belong in the Nation Title conversation. Their November 1st contest versus Georgia will decide the SEC East.

T#5) Texas Tech - 41 - 7
Nebraska loses 52-17 at home to Missouri and Tech needs overtime at home to beat the Huskers. Tech isn't even close to the 5th best time and will lose 3 regular season games this season. Until that happens, I guess the Red Raiders belong here.

#7) BYU - 37 - 9
This year's Boise State? Or is Boise State this year's Boise State?

#8) USC - 31 - 8
Shut out a pitiful ASU team 28-0. I'm still not sure there's a big enough win left on their schedule to move them into BCS Title contention, but if everybody above them keeps losing, who knows?!

#9) Oklahoma State - 27 - NR
I'M A MAN! I'M 40! The Cowboys ruined Missouri's season. A letdown versus Baylor this week? Hmmm...

#10) Georgia - 15 - 10
Solid, though unspectacular win at home versus Tennessee. Still not a team I expect to see at the top of the Polls this year.

Others Receiving Votes: Ohio State 10, Missouri 8, Utah 5, Boise State 4, LSU 3, Ball State 1


Just for the record, even though Ball State is the current official Sports Take bandwagon team, I wasn't the one that voted for them. Though I love the fact that somebody did!

So what do you think? Anything in there seem criminal to you? Post a comment below and let us know!

Next up it's time for my 2008 College Football Picks: Week 8! My confidence is a little shaken after last week's 1-3 outing. Maybe that's why it felt difficult to find games that I thought had skewed enough lines to bet on. But I think I've cobbled together 4 picks that'll get me back on track! (I hope)

Georgia Tech -2 @ Clemson (11am):

Let's see. Clemson fired their coach, benched their quarterback and I think their running back is now dinged up too. And Tech's only giving 2 points? Yes please!

Yes, the game is at Clemson, but as poorly as this club's been playing, I think they might prefer to play on the road as often as possible. At least you expect fans to be hostile on the road.

The line's been sliding towards Tech all week, so let's get on the bandwagon while we can, give the 2 points and root, root, root for the triple-option!

Wisconsin +3.5 @ Iowa (11am):

This is this week's Sports Take Flier Pick of the Week.

Okay, I've resisted picking Wisconsin games all year because I didn't want to have to root against the Badgers and I've never trusted them to cover.

But after 3-straight losses to open the Big 10, I feel like I need to change the mojo somehow. So I'm picking them to cover. This game is vital to their chances. The Badgers still need 3 wins to be bowl eligible. And while they have on in their pocket against Cal Poly late in the year, they still need to get on a roll to avoid the indignity of the Motor City Bowl.

Iowa's coming off of a big win over Indiana, so they're feeling some confidence. But that confidence is tempered by the fact that people are still calling for their coach's head. Combine those two factors and the stage is set for an upset at Kinnick Stadium.

Yes, the Badgers are a road dog, but allowing for crazy picks is why I invented the Flier Pick in the first place!

So we're taking the 3.5 and praying that Wisconsin can get off the schneid!

Penn State -23 vs. Michigan (3:30pm):

I'm loathe to pick the team that just laid the wood to my beloved Badgers, but this one has 45-7 written all over it as well.

After their emotional win over the Badgers, the Wolverines have lost two straight including a 13-10 gut-punch from Toledo last week. The team's just a mess. They don't have the tools to run head coach Rich Rodruigez's offense the way he wants, and he steadfastly refuses to change his scheme to fit his talent. The result is inconsistently on a level seldom seen in Ann Arbor.

But this game isn't even in Ann Arbor, it's in Happy Valley. And that makes a Nitanny Lion rout even more likely. There's a slight chance that the Lions look past this game to their showdown next week with Ohio State. But Joe Paterno's been around way too long for that to be much of a risk.

No, I think that Penn State rolls in this game and that giving 23 won't be any kind of problem.

LSU -3 @ South Carolina (7pm):

I know the Tigers just got worked by Florida last week, but they only give 3 against a mediocre South Carolina team?

Seems off to me.

I see coach Les Miles throwing the 4th string kicker in a closet somewhere and swearing to the rest of the team that he'll only feed the kid bread and water until they start playing to the level he expects.

(I also expect the kicker to be in on the bit and be getting all the food he wants, for kicking back and watching some DVD's in the closet all week.)

In any case, the Tigers will be fired up this week and run one up on South Carolina to try and get some of their credibility back.

We'll give the 3 and hope that kicker got a good selection of movies!

So there's your 4 picks for the week. Let's see if I can get back on track!

Finally today, here's everybody's favorite segment Dan's Favorite Teams Update!

Wisconsin Badgers: The Badgers are 3-3 (0-3 in the Big 10).

I was afraid of this. After two heartbreaking losses to open the Big 10 campaign, the Badgers took a good ol' fashioned "behind the woodshed" beating last week as they lost 48-7 to Penn State.

(Aside: Why is the woodshed such a popular place for people to take a beating? Is it just the privacy of it? Or is it the ready availability of blunt instruments? And after a while, wouldn't you get suspicious when somebody asked you to go back there? Kind of like how a dog gets agitated when it recognizes the route to the Vet's office? Yes, these are the things I wonder about.)

The offense is a mess. Quarterback Allan Everidge is playing with zero confidence. And it's to the point where he's listed as "co-starter" with junior Dustin Scherer. And it wouldn't surprise me a bit if Dustin started on Saturday.

And when your QB is so unreliable, it's easy for defenses to throw 8 or 9 men in the box and completely shut down your running game, which is what the entire Badger offense is predicated on in the first place.

It's just not good.

And even though they gave up 28 points, I didn't think the defense played all that poorly. They're just limited in what they can do, and when their offense does nothing, they end up in situations where they're simply over matched.

So yeah, I took them in my picks this week. But that was purely a "remojofication" pick. If they lose this week, this could snowball to Gopherian depths! Not good. (Wow... two new terms in one paragraph!)

Minnesota Wild: The Wild are 2-0-0 and tied with Calgary and Vancouver for first place in the Northwest division.

Well the good news is that the Wild won their first two games and did so by getting offense from unexpected sources.

While you expect offense from Mikko Koivu, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Marian Gaborik, when points start coming in bunches from the likes of Andrew Brunette, Eric Belanger and Antti Miettinen, that's the start of a balanced offensive attack. And that's something the Wild have been sorely lacking in past years.

The bad news comes on the injury front. Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Owen Nolan and Marek Zidlicky have all been sent home from the current road trip to have their injuries evaluated by the Wild medical staff in St. Paul. These aren't minor losses. At Nolan's age, it's no surprise that he's dinged up this early. But the Wild are counting on a solid year from Bouchard. And Zidlicky was an important free agent addition. Take those guys out of the lineup and the bench gets thin in a hurry.

The one upside to these injuries is that it allows the Wild to call up the second greatest hockey-name in team history: Cal Clutterbuck. Read it out loud a couple of times. Just rolls right off the tongue!

(Note: For those of you wondering, "Lubomir Sekeras" is still and likely forever the greatest hockey name in Wild history.)

The Wild continue their road trip tonight in Miami as they take on the Panthers then they travel to Tampa to ride the Lightning. Then they get a nice 4 day break before they return home to face the Buffalo Sabres. Hopefully that break will allow them to get healthy quickly!

That's it for this week folks. I'm off to Hudson, WI, to help call a high school football game tomorrow night, so most of tomorrow will be spent preparing for that. Yes, for one night only, it's the re-teaming of Dan Stevens and John Hanson for the finest in Wisconsin high school football action! Or, the best we can muster after not having done this in years! If any of you are curious, kick off is at 7pm and apparently you can "Listen Live" at SportsRadio 1400's website.

I'll be back on Monday with a World Series preview and the Post-Mortem on my Week 8 picks! Until then, thanks for reading!

Tuesday

Baseball Update & Week 7 Picks Post-Mortem


Hello again everybody!

First of all, let me apologize for not posting yesterday.

Quick background: I've been fighting against what apparently is a sinus infection (it's either that, or the bubonic plague, I can't decide) for the last three weeks. I've also always been one of those people who thinks, "if it ain't broke or bleedin', I'm not going to a doctor."

Well last week, the discomfort got bad enough that I decided to set aside that rule. So I went to a doc and got some antibiotics. Unfortunately, they didn't take. So yesterday I took another day off of work and went to my primary physician and he gave me a different antibiotic, so hopefully that will finally kick this thing out of my system. Hopefully...

So I spent yesterday in various states of consciousness, which precluded me from writing anything worth reading. But I'm back today and feeling relatively better (insert Dan furiously knocking on some sort of wood-based product here), so it's time to play catch-up.

Today I'll bring you up to date with the two League Championship Series and where they go from here. Then it's the Week 7 Picks Post-Mortem. Not the best of weeks for the ol' picks, but that was coming sooner or later. So let's get to it!

"The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable."
- John Kenneth Galbraith (1908-2006), Canadian-American economist.

Sounds about right to me...

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First to baseball...

Philadelphia Phillies lead the Los Angeles Dodgers 3-1:
Well I was way off on this pick. This one now has Philly in 5 or 6 written all over it. Bottom line, Philadelphia's offense has been clicking and L.A.'s hasn't. In fact, if you remove Manny Ramirez from the equation, the Dodgers wouldn't have much in the way of offense at all.

I said in my initial breakdown of this series that clutch hitting would go a long way towards indicating the victor and that's turned out to be true. It just wasn't the clutch hitter I'd imagined it would be. Manny Ramirez has hit well mind you, but the rest of the Dodgers haven't put him in situations where he can win a game.

Instead the clutch hitter who's emerged is an unlikely hero named Shane Victorino. Victorino's only hitting .267 this post-season, but has several clutch hits including a Grand Slam in the LDS against Milwaukee and a huge home run last night versus L.A. Toss in 11 RBI, and Victorino's clearly been the clutch hitter in the NL this post-season.

The series is off today as the two teams travel back to Philadelphia for Game 5. Tomorrow night Philly sends Cole Hamels (winner of Game 1) to the mound to face Chad Billingsly (loser of Game 2). Clearly this sets up for the Phillies to put this series away. Which is exactly why I'm not going to predict that it will happen. It certainly could, don't get me wrong. But in this year's playoffs, just when you think you've got them figured out, they throw a curveball at you.

Tampa Bay Rays lead the Boston Red Sox (whom I hate) 2-1:
Color me surprised. After the two clubs split the first two games in Tampa, I figured for sure that Boston (whom I hate) would take the 2-1 lead after Game 3. First game of the ALCS in the city of Boston... rowdy fans... Jon Lester on the mound... it all set up for a Red Sox (whom I hate) win.

Unfortunately for Bostonians, the Rays line-up had different ideas. After a solid first inning from Lester, the Rays jumped on him in the 2nd inning, scoring 4 runs and grabbing a lead they'd never relinquish.

Game 4 is tonight. Knuckleballer Tim Wakefield heads to the hill for Boston (whom I hate) while Andy Sonnanstine hits the bump for the Rays. Both pitchers are making their first appearances in the ALCS, and for Wakefield, it's his first appearance in this year's post-season. But does a knuckleballer ever really get rusty? Hard to say. Sonnanstine defeated the White Sox in their ALDS series. And since he only went 5 2/3 innings in that game, he should be fully rested.

Both teams will are hoping their starters can carry them late into the game, but will be willing to go to the bullpen early if necessary since it gives Tampa an enormous advantage if the Rays win this game.

First pitch is at 7:07pm central time.

Next it's time for my Week 7 Picks Post-Mortem. Two straight weeks of 3-1 records led to this. Could I keep it rolling? Let's find out!

Vanderbilt -2.5 @ Mississippi State: Final Score - Mississippi State 17, Vanderbilt 14

And just like that, I'm back off the bandwagon. I'd finally started to believe that Vandy was for real, and they turn around and amass a whopping 107 yards of offense against a suddenly stingy Bulldog defense.

I guess that shouldn't be a total surprise after MSU held down a suspect Auburn offense earlier this year (a game Auburn won 3-2). But I really thought Vandy had what it took to beat a team that should be an SEC also-ran.

What Dan Learned: Look, the SEC is tough enough to predict when you're dealing with the top teams. We're not messing with the middle or bottom of the league any more. Unless the line's way out of whack that is!

Okay, so I was off to an 0-1 start. Time for the comeback to begin!

North Carolina -7.5 vs. Notre Dame: Final Score - UNC 29, ND 24.

Close, but no cigar.

This was the only one of the 4 picks that I actually got to watch some of on Saturday. And I wasn't really ever in contention. Give the Golden Domers credit, they hung right with North Carolina throughout the game. But the Tar Heels finally took the final lead in the 4th quarter. There was enough time left where I thought they had a chance to add on a field goal and cover for me, but it was not to be.

What Dan Learned: I'm not going to say Notre Dame's for real, but they are a dangerous football team. I'm not sure they'll be an underdog in any of their games until they meet USC in late November. And if they are, it shouldn't be by any more than a field goal. If it is, I think we have to take them!

Oof... 0-2 and begging for Auburn to come through!

Auburn -19 vs. Arkansas: Final Score - Arkansas 25, Auburn 22

What the !@#$?!

From what I've read, this was a simple matter of Arkansas' defense showing up, while Auburn's didn't.

Still, this is a truly horrible loss for Auburn. Not is it the first time they've lost back-to-back SEC games in five years, but Arkansas is about as bad as it gets in the SEC. Meaning that the road's not going to get any easier for them the rest of the year.

What Dan Learned: !@#$ Auburn. I'm done with them.

0-3 and now the "Flier Pick" has to come through just so I don't go 0-fer!

Ball State -16 @ Western Kentucky: Final Score - Ball St. 24, WKU 7

Thank God for the Cardinals!

They started slow, but once again adjusted at halftime and squeaked out my one win of the week.

Sounds like MiQuale Lewis is making a play for "best college running back you've never heard of" as he surpassed 100 yards rushing for the 6th straight game.

What Dan Learned: I may be relying on the Cardinals for the rest of their season. They're a Top 25 team now and that will bring some pressure with it. But as long as the lines remain reasonable, they may have become the "Flier Pick" staple for the rest of the season!

So that's what a 1-3 week feels like. Suddenly memories of last year have come flooding back. But I'm not going to hang my head! I'm still 16-12 (.571) for the year, which remains a vast improvement over last season. Time for a comeback next week!

So that's it for today folks. It's looking like this is a two-column week as I'll likely be throwing the Poll, Picks and DFTU at you on Thursday and call it a week. Until then, thanks for reading!