Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Catching Lightning In A Bottle

The key for the Chargers in 2011 will be this guy, Vincent Jackson.
   The NFL lockout lasted 132 brutal-days; but personally, I enjoyed the fact that every time I checked my phone today I was bombarded with ESPN alerts about a new recent signing or trade. It actually made me wish for another lockout (but I can wait 10 years). And as a Chargers fan, the day was extra-special.

The "Pre-Free Agency" 2012 Super Bowl Odds pinned the Packers and Patriots as early favorites, both at 7 to 1, following right behind them are my Chargers at 10 to 1 odds. Most online books have taken down these numbers and will repost the updated figures once teams' rosters are more definite. But after just one day of free agency I think San Diego should be the perennial favorites in the NFL, or at least the AFC. New England's RB situation is still murky and the only significant change in there roster is that everyone is one year older.

Last season San Diego had the best overall defense (ranking #1 in defending the pass and #4 against the ground attack); now imagine how dominate they will be after adding inside linebacker Takeo Spikes and veteran safety Bob Sanders. Sanders brings over a lot of honors and achievements, most of which were accumulated during the 2007 season. In 07 he won AP Defensive Player of the Year and earned his second Pro Bowl and All-Pro selections, while capping off the career-year with a Super Bowl ring. But since that season, Sanders has been burdened by injury, only playing 9 games over the last 3 seasons (6 in 2008, 2 in 2009, and 1 last year). If he can return to pre-injury form, it will be tough for teams to throw on the Chargers. Especially since the second half of this duo, Eric Weddle, just inked a brand new $40 million deal ($19 mill guaranteed); keeping him in San Diego for the next 5 seasons. Yes, he now makes more money than Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu combined; but that's how things work in the NFL. Weddle was garnering a lot of interest from the Texans, Jaguars, and Cowboys, which added pressure onto the front office to lock up their secondary. The loss of Cromartie last season was thought to be devastating but Quentin Jammer, and his 10 year-18 interception experience, helped lessen the blow.

Shaun Phillips and Takeo Spikes are absolute monsters in the 3-4 set, let's just hope Larry English can get rid of that "bust" label and actually start contributing. Teams will have to pick their poison when deciding between pass vs. run but I think they'll minimize their risk and chose the latter. But running against Castillo and Cesaire on the ends is like running into a wall, a bad idea. A lot of their core guys on defense are "old" but the team is in win-now-mode, year after year we have seen the Chargers dominate in the regular season (and the stat book) but seem flustered come playoff time. Philip Rivers is a stud at QB, had a MVP-caliber year in 2010 and is only looking to get better. The most exciting thing is now he has a healthy Antonio Gates and (hopefully) Vincent Jackson for a full season, despite the imminent loss of WR Malcom Floyd, I think this #2 rank passing game will be just fine. Looking for the team to work on their one weakness: the run game, where they rank 15th. The maturation of Ryan Matthews and mixing in of the speedy Darren Sproles should be enough to keep defenses honest and allow Rivers to air it out. When it comes down to it: adding veterans means adding experience, so I'll take the tradeoff and worry about rebuilding after we raise the Lombardi Trophy.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Cy Young Watch

American League:

1. Justin Verlander

2. Jered Weaver

3. James Shields

4. CC Sabathia

5. Josh Beckett

National League:

1. Clayton Kershaw

2. Roy Halladay

3.  Jair Jurrjens

4. Cliff Lee

5. Cole Hamels

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Unknown All-Star Team

American League:

C- Alex Avila (DET) .287, 10 HR, 46 RBI, 3 SB:

This guy ended up sneaking past Russell Martin in the fan vote to earn the starting catcher position, but his leap to All-Star status is as shocking as any story this season. Avila's average has been hovering around .300 (.303 as of July 1st), hopefully his current 1 for 16 July slump will end after the All-Star break. Among eligible catchers; his 10 homers tie him for 6th in the league, while his 46 RBIs are the most among AL catchers and are just two behind Atlanta's Brian McCann for the MLB lead. Even his speed has been underrated, Avila is yet to be caught in all 3 of his attempts, which ties him with 4 other catchers for second in the league (well behind Russell Martin's 7). This has been an absolutely atrocious season for catchers; Mauer, Soto, and Napoli have all been huge disappointments and Buster Posey seems to be done for the season. With Victor Martinez playing DH for the Tigers, the only proven hitting catcher left is Avila's counterpart: National League starter Brian McCann.

1B- Mark Trumbo (LAA) .253, 14 HR, 37 RBI, 8 SB:

Cases could be made for Adrian Gonzalez, Mark Texiera, or Miguel Cabrera to be start at first base for the American League; but Gonzalez won the fan vote and Cabrera made the team as a reserve (leaving Texiera as one of the biggest snubs). But the next tier of players consists of two guys who have really rebounded from bad seasons and criticism: Paul Konerko and Adam Lind. Both these guys are in the top 5 among AL first basemen in both homers and RBIs, while also sporting averages above .300. But it's the Angel's Mark Trumbo who deserves this spot; the rookie was thrown in to replace Kendrys Morales, who suffered a fluke injury while celebrating a walk-off HR, and has flourished batting 6th for the Angels. His 14 HRs and 37 RBIs before the All-Star break are outstanding numbers, especially for a rookie. He is 6th among American League first basemen in HRs and his power, freak-situation, and youth earn him this recognition.

2B- Ben Zobrist (TB) .272, 10 HR, 42 RBI, 58 Runs, 8 SB:

The top 3 second basemen in the AL are all familiar names: Robinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia, and Ian Kinsler; but after that the list includes some lesser known guys, such as Howie Kendrick and Ben Zobrist. Like the aforementioned Mark Trumbo, Howie Kendrick has been a surprsing spark in the Angels' lineup; but he's also been a very versatile fielder (playing 17 games in LF, 15 games at 1B, and 50 games at 2B). Kendrick has been a great hitter all season: batting .307 with 8 HRs, 29 RBIs, 42 runs, and 9 SBs. But Zobrist's ridiculous start to the season gave him the edge over Kendrick on my list, despite the sub .300 average. Since the true test of an "all-star" is solely first half performance then we have to look at April 28th, when the Rays had a day-night doubleheader against the Twins. Zobrist had 5 runs, 7 hits, 2 HRs, 10 RBIs, and a stolen base in those two games (including 8 RBIs in the first game alone). Frankly, that stat line alone makes him deserving of this spot, even though he has only 1 home run since the month of April and none in the entire month of June. Yesterday, on the road against the Yankees, Zobrist showed just how dangerous he could be: finishing a double away from the cycle (hitting a homerun, single, triple and walking all before the 7th inning stretch). Among true-everyday AL second basemen, Zobrist is 3rd in both homeruns and RBIs. Although he did not win the "Final Spot Fan Vote", falling to Paul Konerko, Ben Zobrist has proven that he has the support of his team, the fans, and the entire city of Tampa.

SS- Asdrubal Cabrera/Jhonny Peralta

3B- Alex Gordon

OF- Curtis Granderson, Adam Lind, Brennan Boesch


C-Miguel Montero/Jonathan Lucroy
1B- Michael Morse/Gaby Sanchez
2B- Danny Espinosa/Neil Walker
SS- Starlin Castro
OF- Michael Bourn
3B- Placido Palanco