Sunday, April 29, 2012

2012 NFL Draft

It is done.  All 32 NFL teams have made their picks.  I am by no means an expert on the college players taken but do want to take a few words and address what my teams did to address their needs and of course touch on any other draft notes I think are worth touching on.  Buffalo was all over the place but I like their picks.  The first round brought a cornerback in Stephen Gilmore (pictured) who should help in today's pass happy league.  On defense they also picked up two linebackers as well as another defensive back.  On offense they went heavy on the offensive line drafting three to hopefully help protect Trend Edwards and open up holes for Fred Jackson.  Their last pick is a kicker with a big leg who would be a kickoff specialist.  Good idea but I'm never quite sure if these types of players are worth taking up the roster slot.  Overall I'm happy with their picks and think they address the needs of the team.

The Falcons big splash in this draft was trading for Asante Samuel of the Philadelphia Eagles for a seventh round pick.  They will have to suck up his contract and he isn't what he used to be but he is still a guy you can put on the outside by himself to defend any wide receiver.  Great pickup considering the price.  Atlanta went offensive line with their first two picks with a center and tackle.  They then took a fullback.  I like that as Michael Turner can always use another blocker to help free him up for runs.  They then went with two defensive lineman and a safety.  Atlanta didn't have a first round pick due to last year's draft day trade for Julio Jones but I thought the Falcons did well addressing concerns the team has at this point.

Since I'm near St. Louis and hear about them quite a bit through local radio and my buddies at work I'll look at their draft.  Not getting receiver Justin Blackmon in the first round was huge to local fans.  They zeroed in on him since day one wanting weapons for Sam Bradford.  The fact they traded down and went with the very unsexy pick of defensive tackle Michael Brockers had fans questioning their new coach.  If he hadn't addressed receiver in the second round I'm sure fans would have been jumping from rooftops. I would have liked to see them stay at the number six position in the first round and taken cornerback Morris Claiborne.   Otherwise the team's needs were addressed pretty well.  Still the conversations on Monday should be interesting.

The Redskins pick of QB Kirk Cousins in the fourth round made no sense after picking up RG3 with the second overall pick.....Cleveland taking another quarterback in the first round seemed to be a reach.  I understand if Colt McCoy isn't the answer but I have a hard time believing Brandon Wheeden is and I thought they could have addressed some of their many other needs.....New England finally traded up in a draft and went defense with their two first round picks.  They also took the Nebraska cornerback who was arrested for assaulting a cop in the seventh round.  He was projected as a second round pick so there could be some big upside to this pick.  Belicheck's defensive draft picks have not worked out that great as of late so he needs these guys to pan out..... The Titans draft a kid at tight end who has never played the position.  Taylor Thompson played defensive end his entire career at SMU.....

Hawks vs Celtics - NBA Playoffs Round 1

The Atlanta Hawks are the fourth seed in the NBA's Eastern Conference and will have home court advantage against the Boston Celtics in their best of seven series.  Boston won the season series two games to one.  Both teams averaged 86 points a game with all three games being close.   Atlanta made the playoffs for the fifth year in a row this year, three of those making it to the second round before losing.  Atlanta is led by Joe Johnson and Josh Smith with Jeff Teague running the point.  Marvin Williams, one time starter, is now providing much needed points off the bench. 

Boston's Ray Allen is a game time decision.  Still I believe the Celtics have more weapons.  The "Big 3" of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Allen are aging but still provide a formidable lineup.  Rajon Rondo runs the point and can put up big points when needed.  Brandon Bass is also having a career year adding some needed youth to the group.  Glen Rivers has showed some creativity by moving Garnett to center at times causing match up issues with the slower bigs in the league.  As a coach I think he is very good at making the right moves to put his team right there for the win. 

Still the Hawks are younger and I believe overall more talented. Star center Al Horford is out with an injury having only played 11 games this year.  While I don't see it as a positive it has provided JoshSmith some extra space in which to work on offense.  Johnson is averaging 18 points a game and hitting the three well (.388).  Point guard Jeff Teague made big strides this year more than doubling his points and assists per game totals.  This team has lacked good point guard play in the past so he may be the answer they've long been searching for.  He also shoots well from the floor (.477).  Again, Marvin Williams has moved to the bench and found a three point shot the Hawks have not seen from him in past seasons.  While center Zaza Pachulia won't make anyone forget about Horford he has filled in admirably. 

This series worries me.  Atlanta played well this season but I don't think they are really feared.  As in past years they haven't shown maturity in their play and it comes back to haunt them in the playoffs when they tend to fall on their face even if they do make it to the second round.  I think they are looked at as a team that will never make it past the second round as they are currently constructed but that is another post.  I think Boston's veterans will push them past Atlanta in the first round.  Heck the Celtics weren't even worried about home court advantage as they rested their starters late in the season.  Atlanta can definitely play with Boston and athletically play with almost anyone.  They can also spread the defense a little better this year but I think it will come down to the veterans of Boston performing at a better level come crunch time.  I shouldn't be such a defeatist and I hope I'm wrong but it just seems like a tough road ahead.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

2010-2011 Paninin Rookies and Stars Basketball Cards

Picked up a pack of these cards today and I'm glad I did.  I've never seen them before but thought what the heck?  The card front has a "decorative" background with the player photo in the forefront.  I'm normally not a fan of cards like this but this design is something I like.  The series logo is in the upper left and the team logo is in the upper right.  The player's name goes vertical on the left side of the card while his position is also vertical in the bottom right of the card.  Not sure exactly what catches my eye on these cards but the players and the team colors really stand out against the muted black and white background.  
The backs once again have a muted background with a portion of the photo from the front in black and white at the top.  Color in the form of the team's primary color is added for a splash.  Included are the players stats from the last year and the player's career totals.  Height, weigh, birth date, draft position and college are just above that.  Below the stats is a paragraph about the paragraph that I found not to be the normal shtick.  Not saying you this is Pulitzer prize material but just a little bit different.  Would have liked to have seen a different photo on the back as well as stats from additional years but otherwise it is a solid looking back.

The only insert was a Kobe Bryant card from a series that featured him.  I wasn't impressed.  It had two words on the front that took up 75% of the card leaving little room for his picture.  Nothing special.  The rookie cards were posed shots as opposed to the action shots for other players.  I really like these cards.  Sometimes I can't pinpoint exactly why but I'll definitely pick up some more. 

Easter Weekend

I'm a little late on this but Easter weekend was a fun weekend for us and I just wanted to share.  Friday was a day for errands but still fun as I got to hang out with my daughters who live with their mom about a half hour away.  They were up for the weekend.  We celebrated the 17th birthday of our 3rd oldest daughter that Saturday.  We ate out at Olive Garden which didn't disappoint.  Afterwards we did the presents and cake and ice cream which no one is ever hungry for after the large birthday meals.  A tradition gained when I married my wife is we hide the birthday presents and the child whose birthday it is then searches for them as their brothers and sisters do the hot/cold thing.  Kinda corny but they still get a kick out of it as they've gotten older.  Our daughter is headed to Florida with the school band this week so we stuck to money for her gifts which is something I'm not a fan of.  I love finding gifts the youngins have asked for but I think they'll love.  The kids all ended up at movies late Saturday night but otherwise we just hung out. 

For Easter the kids were up by mid-morning.  They then did the egg search thing.  Yes even at their ages - the oldest was 20 youngest 11.  They each got an Easter basket with tons of candy and a nice gift.  I did have some leeway on the gift so that was fun.  Just a wonderful time.  Maybe nothing too special but we really did have a great weekend and I couldn't keep it to myself. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Atlanta Braves - 2012 Preview

2011 was disappointing to say the least for the Atlanta Braves.  They did win 89 games and were poised to be the National League Wild Card team even though they finished 13 games back of the Philadelphia Phillies.  Then came September...when they lost 18 of their final 29 games including a 13 inning heart breaker to the Phillies on the final day of the season.  I don't think you can finish a season in a much worse fashion.  As a fan it was heart wrenching.  One win is all it would have taken to reach the playoffs and who knows what can happen at that point.  Just ask Cardinal fans.  Living near St. Louis I heard it.  I still hear it!  Ugh. 

Still as most fans do I went into the offseason looking forward to seeing what the winter held for this team.  I can't say I've done any back flips since October as the only significant changes are a new shortstop in Tyler Pastornicky and the departure of Derek Lowe.  Not much to write home about.  Still this team won 89 games last year with that horrible September.  There is hope. 

This is where many fans, including myself, wish we had seen some changes after last season.  The Braves' offense ranked 26th in batting average and on base percentage, 21st in slugging, 22nd in runs scored and 8th in homeruns.  Dan Uggla can't hit .236 this year.  He can hit 36 homers again.  He is a real power threat who should anchor the middle of that order.  Hitting .236 doesn't scream anchor.  To his credit he was below the Mendoza line for much of last year before coming on strong at the end.  Likewise Jason Heyward can't hit .227 and must hit more than 14 homeruns.  Brian McCann a had another good year and I expect no different this year from the all-star catcher.  Michael Bourn is that speedster at the top of the lineup they really haven't had since the Otis Nixon days.  He won't lead the league in average or on-base percentage but he is still a respectable hitter who makes the lineup that much more dynamic.  In his rookie year Freddie Freeman showed he is a major league hitter.  Just need him to avoid that sophomore slump (see Jason Heyward) this year.  Chipper Jones is a big unknown.  He had surgery last month on his meniscus in his left knee.  He returned in 17 days from the same surgery last year but I'd be surprised if he returns before this May.  If Chipper hits .270 and gives the Braves 15 homers and 65 runs batted in I think it is a win-win for Atlanta who has no real replacement if he goes down for an extended amount of time.  Martin Prado will play left field and is reliable if nothing else.  The offense has the players to be not just good but very good.  I think if they can get their average up the runs will follow.  That will be the key.  I do think they will be better and look forward to actually thinking the Braves can outscore their opponent. 

Pitching was deflinitely the strenth of this team in 2011.  Their 3.48 ERA was good for 4th in the majors and were 3rd in runs allowed.  Nice.  Hard to argue much with those stats.  There were grumblings that the dynamic young duo of Craig Kembrel and Johnny Venters were used too much (77 and 88 innings respectively).  They had great years and I hope they can put up numbers close to last years.  Ace Tim Hudson is out until May after back surgery.  The rest of the rotation is Tommy Hansen, Jair Jurrjens, Mike Minor and Brandon Beachy.  One through five this is a good rotation.  Randall Delgado will hold down the #5 spot until Hudson returns.  Eric O'Flaherty and Kris Medlan are also keys to the bullpen.  I'll put this pitching staff against about any other.  Philly's is hard to beat but I think this one is in the discussion.  Again I'm counting on the sophomore slump not hitting Kembrel and Venters.  It is a luxury going to bullpen knowing you have guys you can count on. 

While this may not directly impact how the Braves do, Chipper's retirement will be there in the background.  Probably more for fans but I know the team and management would love to send him off the right way.  I for one love Chipper and will miss him greatly.  This team is built to go to the playoffs.  They need some things to go right and they'll do just that.  Get that average up and hope the pitching staff resembles the 2011 staff.  Will it?  Only time will tell.  I think this team matches the 89 wins of last season.  With the perennial favorites Philadelphia and the Miami Marlins who made significant changes this winter in the same division making the playoffs even as a wild card is no easy task.  Of course there will be two wild card teams this year so that alone helps the Braves out.  I am excited about this year and expect nothing less than a championship!  Just kidding...I just want to have an exciting season to send Chipper out on. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Joey Votto Signs 10-Year $225M Extension

Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds signed a 10-year $225M extension.  This came up in the office today and some saw it as too much.  I don't agree.  Votto is 27, already won and MVP trophy, has a career .313 batting average and .405 on base percentage, and has hit 24, 25, 37 and 29 homers the last four seasons while attaining 100 plus RBI's in two of those seasons.  I think teams are smart to lock up players while they are young giving them a core to build around in the future.  Pittsburgh has done that to some extent and teams that don't will continue to have rosters that are traded away ala Kansas City (I have love for KC but it is so true).  Waiting until Votto hit the free agent market in two years would only mean Cincy would have to pay more.  All the more reason to lock him up now.  The Reds payroll last year was 19th at $76M so this is a big signing for them.  Assuming he doesn't get injured or otherwise fall off the face of the earth I think this contract will look good in 10 years when who know how much those big bats at first base will be getting.  And for the record he is receiving just about $1M less per year then Prince Fielder got with his big payday.  Bottom line - good job Reds.   

Kentucky Wildcats Win National Title

I'm not the biggest college basketball fan but I follow it during the season at a distance and like many others across the country I really get into it come tourney time.  I watched quite a few games this year and I couldn't have asked for more.  There were all the requisite close games and upsets.  That is what it is all about. 

I did watch the Final Four games Saturday night.  What I took out of those was Kentucky is the better team and should have won last night which they did.  I was happy Kansas made a game of it late after trailing by double digits for most of the game.  Still, sloppy play in the final minute was the undoing in their comeback bid.  Don't get me wrong.  Kentucky won this game.  Anthony Davis definitely made Kansas leary of coming inside and in doing so I think they couldn't execute.  Too many times at the end of the game I just saw Kansas players setting perimeter screens for each other but not really getting open as Wildcat defenders knew they had great defensive help behind them.  I was rooting for Kansas, my buddie's favorite team, so there was some dissapointment but it was an enjoyable game to watch.  I am happy for John Calipari.  He is no angel but he recruited well and took his team to a championship.  You can't ask more than that.  This game won't go down as an all-time great but I enjoyed it and the rest of the tournament.  Now I can't wait until next year.