Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Tyler Kennedy is a spaz

A few notes on the first two games of the Stanley Cup Finals:
  • Every time I've ever live-blogged a game involving a team I actively root for, it ends in disaster. This goes back two or three years, when people were paying me to do this kind of thing, and Pitt football would get absolutely shellacked by powerhouses like Michigan State. In fact, looking back over my old site, I hadn't live blogged a game since last year's Stanley Cup Playoffs, when the Pens went down to Ottawa in five. This is going to stop immediately.
  • All Tyler Kennedy does is forecheck and shoot. I'm not sure anyone has told him there is anything more to hockey than forechecking and shooting. This is because he forechecks like a madman, and every time the puck comes within 24 inches of his stick, he shoots. Back home, Tyler Kennedy is what we like to call a "spaz." Also, and this is definitely worth noting, he looks like an inbred Sidney Crosby.
  • There are three Penguins who are honestly holding up their end of the bargain right now: Jordan Staal, Max Talbot and...yeah...Marc-Andre Fleury. Of the seven goals Fleury has allowed in the first two games, he's been straight up beat on three of them. The others have directly resulted from turnovers in front of the net, crappy defense, guys being way out of position, and one last night on a straight up prayer/miracle hybrid.
  • Last night, Ryan Malone played hockey like a dyslexic three-toed sloth.
  • Chris Osgood hasn't looked outstanding in net for Detroit, but the Pens haven't had a decent shot on net in two games. So it's hard to tell.
  • Geno has been absolutely abused to this point.
  • Michel Therrien should consider scratching Hal Gill and dressing Darryl Sydor to add some extra speed to the lineup. At this point, its certainly worth trying, and it's not like Hal Gill has contributed a whole heck of a lot to this point.
  • Detroit is a better hockey team than the Penguins.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Game 1 LIVE, Part 3

10:12: Penalty killed, but a Malkin turnover leads to Fleury getting beat off a rebound. I'm just going to focus on drinking from here on out.

10:41: Ah, jeez. Ah... Dammit.

Game 1 LIVE, Part 2

9:10: I have zero desire to see the new Adam Sandler movie.

9:18: Pens bring an awesome penalty kill to open the second. Great job.

9:20: CROSSBAR?! WHAT IS GOING ON!?!?!??!!!

Replay: Fleury, you lucky bum. You lucky, lucky bum.

9:20: The PK looks great. My buddy Geoff, tending bar here at Spice, is a Flyers fan. "When did Rob Scuderi start playing on the kill?"

"All season, man."

"I wouldn't know. Flyers never had a power play."

This is immediately followed by a group of about nine frat boys entering the bar. They get in, look around, laugh, and one of them says, "What? This isn't Jack's! Oh, my bad." Then they all left.
(For non-Pittsburghers, Jack's is a bar on the South Side -- several miles away -- that's frequented by jackass fratboy types who never went to college. Also, Ben Roethlisberger.)

9:27: Great chance for Dupuis, but Osgood is holding strong.

9:36: Wrap-around. Fleury was WAY out of position and nearly kicked the puck in himself. All that probably occurred beceause the Pens were so desperate for a line change. 1-0 Detroit.

9:48: The Pens don't really look bad, but they're getting forechecked into next week. The bar is starting to fill up with the usual Satruday night crowd. Less than two minutes left.

9:50: Thirty seconds and change left and Geno gets called for a trip. The Pens will enter the third killing again. End of two, 1-0 Wings.
Ceremonial first faceoff. The Joe Louis Arena PA announcer just called Sidney Crosby "Steven Crosby," apparently mistaking him for an amalgamation Stephen Stills and David Crosby. Also, there are octopuses all over the ice, and that's freaking disgusting.

First real faceoff goes to the Pens.

8:20: Georges Laraque and Darren McCarty are already jawing at each other. How good an idea is a fight in the first period of Game 1? I'm asking. I'm really not sure.

8:25: Letang gets two for interference, then Tomas Holmstrom gets a slashing call. Four-on- four leads to a nice looking possession for the Pens. Two good shots, one from Hossa. I missed the other because I was paying more attention to my burrito than necessary. The Spice Cafe burritos are really, really delicious.

8:27: First Bud Light commercial. The over under of these for the series is currently at 940.

8:30: Six-and-a-half minutes in, and Fleury looks amazing.

8:34: Jarkko Ruutu is jawing at someone. Lots of back and forth so far, and not too many good scoring chances. Something needs to happen soon.

8:36: Great scoring chance from the first like, Dupuis to Hossa, right in front of the net. No dice. Stoppage in play, followed by a shot of the crowd watching from inside Mellon Arena. Shaving cream commercial.

8:38: Commercial break check of ESPN.com reveals the Pirates are up 2-1 over Chicago in the 6th! Also, Nik Lidstrom to the box for hooking! Power play!

8:44: Pens basically had a 5-on-3 for a bit when one of Detroit's players lost a stick. Still couldn't get it in. Chris Osgood is looking like the the best goalie the Pens have had to face so far. The power play doesn't look bad, though. They're getting their shots off, they're cycling the puck beautifully, and they're controlling the play. Nothing outside Detroit's zone. So it's at least a little encouraging.

8:47: Nik Lidstrom puts a wrist shot right past Fleury. Shit. Shit shit shit.




The NHL must want the Pens to win this series. That's, what? Three, four goals against the Pens these playoffs that have been disallowed? Jesus.

8:50: Back on the PP, Malone beats 73-year-old Kris Draper for the puck off the faceoff.

8:52: Kronwall levels Malone, Malkin JUST misses.

8:54: Penalty killed.

8:56: I've switched from Hoegaarden to Blue Point Summer Ale, and another lonely Pens fan has entered the bar. My buddy Travis, who doesn't care at all about hockey, just got done telling me a story about seeing some guy he knows in a gay porn film and has now gone off to play the MegaTouch in the far corner of the bar. Under a minute left.

8:59: One period down, 0-0. You get the idea that these two teams are still just kinda sizing each other up. Looks like just as predicted by lots and lots of people, we're going to have a heavily defensive series that could be decided on power plays and breakaways. Not terribly exciting hockey so far, but decidedly good hockey.

Game 1 LIVE!

Pittsburgh's abuzz, and with good reason. For the first time in at least three weeks, the temperature climbed above 60 degrees, and we've had a strikingly beautiful day. Also, there's some kind of hockey game tonight.

I'll be watching Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals tonight and making notes all along the way, posting them when it becomes convenient for me to do so -- hopefully at the end of each period. If scheduling, battery life and accessible Wi-Fi allow, I'd like to be able to do this for every game of the finals, and from a different location for each game. Tonight I'm at Spice Cafe in Oakland -- a dark and colorful basement bar in the shadow of the University of Pittsburgh. It's been a pretty solid and steady location for hockey-watching during these playoffs, and there are usually a fair number of Pens fans here, mixed with the college students who stay in town over the summer. Tonight, I'm one of four people in the joint. I don't know where everyone else is, but if I had to guess, they're split between the Mellon Arena and a variety of crappy chain bars Downtown and on the South Side. But I'm mainly here because my buddy is the bartender, and that works well for me.

Okay, Marc-Andre Fleury just fell down coming out of the tunnel, and I've got a beer and a burrito coming my way. More after the first period.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Get to know your future disabled list occupants

The June regular phase of Major League Baseball's first-year player draft is just two weeks away, and the Pirates sit comfortably at the No. 2 slot, ready to turn some young man's lifelong dreams of playing professional baseball into a painful, Pyrrhic realization.

The Bucs' new front office has said that it won't hesitate to take the best player available, regardless of expected cost or slotting, so there's an excellent chance we won't have a repeat of last year, when with his third-to-last gasp of fresh air, Dave Littlefield passed on Georgia Tech catcher Matt Wieters -- generally agreed to be the draft's best player -- to take Clemson reliever Daniel Moskos. In Moskos's defense, he hasn't bombed yet (3-1, 7 GS, 36.3 IP, 3.72 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 20/8 K:BB), but he wasn't anywhere close to being the best player on the board, and the Pirates were starving for a catcher with Ronny Paulino being Ronny Paulino and Ryan Doumit splitting time between catcher, first base, right field and the 15-day DL.

So for now, we're just telling ourselves that the apparently much more competent team of GM Neal Huntington and scouting director Greg Smith will do the right thing and select the best player, and that it might be a sign of sound decisions yet to come. Wishful thinking? Maybe, but we can't worry about that now. All we can worry about now is which player our front office will make a trivia question out of, or which stud pitcher will put the Mets over the top in the NL East when the Pirates trade him there in July of 2015 for a 35-year-old Ryan Church and a bag of Garden Salsa Sun Chips.

Here, according to a generous amalgamation of sources, are some players the Pirates are considering selecting with the second overall pick in this year's June draft:

Tim Beckham, SS, Griffin HS (Ga.)
MinorLeagueBaseball.com's scouting report on Beckham is glowing:

Beckham has a good feel for the game, but he's got some mechanical flaws to his swing, most notably not turning on the ball the way he should right now. The ball does jump off his bat and he's got tremendous bat speed...power is more a projection right now, but he's got average to plus power potential...Athletically gifted, he also has a good sense of what to do on the basepaths...He's not a finished product, with some fundamental things to iron out...A bonafide five-tool player at a premium position, there's a reason why Beckham is at or near the top of draft lists everywhere. He's got tools galore, with some idea of how to use them. He'll need to iron out some things mechanically and fundamentally, but he's got the ability and potential to hit, hit for power, steal bases and stay at shortstop at the big-league level.

The Pirates could certainly use a shortstop, as they have almost zero depth at that position within the organization, and Jack Wilson is no spring chicken. You'd certainly like to think that some combination of a healthy Wilson and later Brian Bixler could hold down shortstop with the big club until Beckham would be big-league ready. That is, if Tampa Bay doesn't take him with the first overall pick. Regardless of whether Beckham goes first or second, he's going to command a signing bonus in the realm of $7 million. If he's there when the Pirates pick, he'd be a tough player to pass up, and the organization would do well to have him. But he wouldn't be ready to play for at least three or four years, and even that would require him to absolutely fly through the Pirates system without a setback. A more realistic estimate might be five years, which would make him the everyday shortstop in time for 2013.

Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Vanderbilt University
This guy might be the best player in the draft -- at least, the best player not named Tim Beckham. He doesn't appear to have the upside, the potential or the upside potential that Beckham does, but he looks to be the closest to major-league ready of all the position players in this year's crop. Again, MiLB.com:
"As safe a bet as there is, Alvarez is a polished and poised hitter and should hit for average in the big leagues...He's got power now and should have at least average power in the future...Alvarez is a pretty big and strong left-handed hitting third baseman who plays with a bounce in his step..."

Difference here is that there are some red flags:

"He's got below-average speed...Base running is not really a key part of his game...He's got an average arm at third...He should be OK to stay at third. If needed, he'd probably make a pretty good first baseman...He has average range...A broken hamate bone forced him out of action for more than a month. The power has been slow to come back...Some lingering concern about him getting back to full strength following the injury."
Oh, and his agent is Scott Boras, who will be seeking between $8.5 and $9 million up front from the team that drafts him. Great. Unless that rookie contract includes club options at the veteran minimum until Pedro is eligible for an AARP membership, or exclusive rights to extract his DNA and clone unlimited Pedros, I'm not sure how sound a financial decision drafting this kid might be. Even if he's big-league ready in two years, there's a very real chance he winds up being a defensive liability at third. If he winds up playing first, you've paid out the ass for a guy who can hit, but becomes less valuable by virtue of playing a less difficult position. That he's a third baseman now is probably the only reason his draft stock is what it is. For a guy to project only average power and be mentioned as a potential top-five pick, he'd better be a catcher, a shortstop, a second baseman or a center fielder.

Just as good closers are often starters who never developed a workable third pitch, power-hitting first basemen often become power-hitting first basemen after being relieved of playing a position that requires them to be quick, limber and agile. Albert Pujols and Jim Thome started out playing third base. Todd Helton? Lance Berkman? Outfielders. Paul Konerko and Carlos Delgado were catchers. CATCHERS! Point is, you've got a much better chance of turning a good hitter into a first baseman than you do of turning anyone at all into a third baseman, and $9 million is a lot to shell out up front for a 20-year-old kid with questionable power. That said, if Beckham is gone when the Pirates pick, I hope they take Alvarez. Their 2011 runs scored/runs against can be 921:1247, and they can finish 57-105.
Seriously, drafting Pedro -- who, it's worth noting, will never, ever, ever, ever be referred to by his last name, which will lead to a veritable blizzard of stale 'Napoleon Dynamite' references -- would be a great way for the Pirates organization to show its fans that it is interested in fielding a competitive product through developing elite talent.

Aaron Crow, RHP, University of Missouri
Of the eight pitchers the Pirates have taken in the first round over the last 12 years, six have undergone Tommy John surgery before logging three full years of Major League service time. The record is two seasons by Benson, and the only two of the eight who haven't had the surgery at all are Paul Maholm and last year's first-rounder, Daniel Moskos.

If Neal Huntington decides to test what I think should be called "The Curse of Anna Benson," a guy he might choose to do it with is Aaron Crow. I'm not going to break down Crow, because the fine scholars over at Saber-Scouting have made him the subject of as fine a mechanical analysis as you'll see of a ballplayer, but suffice it to say, there are some hitches in his motion. One thing they didn't mention, though, is that the mechanical flaw they do highlight might lead to Crow tipping his pitches if it's not corrected before he hits the majors. Look at how far back he brings the ball before he even begins to bring his arm toward the plate. You don't think some of the better and/or smarter hitters in the game are going to be able to pick up the lay of the seams and deduce what pitch they're getting before they get it? That's a concern, to be sure. Also the high-stress delivery could be a thing.

Buster Posey, C, Florida State
Ain't gonna happen. Sure, the Pirates would do well to have another catching prospect in the system, just to complement the zero legitimate catching prospects they currently have, and the 1.5 adequate catchers who exist somewhere in the universe of their 40-man roster/Disabled List. But when was the last time you heard of anyone with a name like Buster Posey being taken seriously in any facet of life? How could the opposing pitcher avoid laughing before throwing right at his head every time?

Consider that there have been ten players in the history of Major League baseball to go by the name "Buster," and that the last one, Washington Senators' pitcher Buster Narum (whose given name was Leslie Ferdinand Narum) retired in 1967 after a glorious five-year career. Of the 18 players in ML history who have gone by or have been nicknamed "Buster," 13 ended their careers before 1950, and 10 were out of baseball before World War II.

For whatever it's worth, he did play all nine positions in a single game earlier this month. Maybe that counts for something.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Linkey teim!!!!!!11

Sports are rigged. All of them. I'm okay with this, because occasionally, it means things like the Pens dropping Game 4 in Philly so that they can have the extra day off, Gary Roberts has time to get over pneumonia, and the team can close out the conference finals at home on network TV.

So with two days off and relatively little going on, here are amazing, enjoyable, time-killing links to things.

The only people it's easier to hate than the Flyers are Philly fans. The Penguins agree.

The goof ball roll on Manny Ramirez is 28 minutes long, says Karl Ravech. This is one of the most enjoyable segments BBTN has done in some time.

Madden 2009 is amazingly gorgeous.

Former Pirate Josh Fogg learned why it's never a good idea to spot Junior Griffey that $1500 bucks.

I haven't gotten sick of this yet, and I doubt I ever will.

More next week, when hopefully the firestorm of office duties subsides.