The Sports Report

A Statistical Take on Sports and Politics

The Boots (October 14, 2008)

Boot Up: Ohio State’s Upcoming Schedule – After back-to-back ugly victories, the Ohio State football team finds itself at 6-1 and as the #13 team in the nation. Are they deserving of such a high ranking this week from the Harris Poll after failing to produce an offensive touchdown against Purdue? That is debatable, but the important aspect of the Buckeyes so highly ranked is that they have two extremely important games in the next two weeks. This week, the Buckeyes take on #18 Michigan State, a team that is 6-1 thus far this season mostly because of the incredible talent of Dayton Chaminade-Julienne graduate Javon Ringer. Their star 5-9 senior running back already has 1,112 yards and 14 touchdowns in seven games this season, and could very well be the first running back selected in the NFL Draft next year. He ran for 124 yards and two touchdowns last week in the Spartans victory over previously unbeaten Northwestern, and had a ridiculous 282 yards in a game against Florida Atlantic earlier this season. This will not be a very easy road game at all for Ohio State, and they must be able to get their offense back on track if they are going to contend with Michigan State for a full 60 minutes. They will not be able to rely upon a “bailout” from Terrelle Pryor as they did in the game against Wisconsin.

After that game this week in East Lansing, the Buckeyes have the extreme pleasure of hosting the #3 Penn State Nittany Lions. Joe Paterno’s crew is standing tall at 7-0 this season, and they look like the most logical team to stop Ohio State in their path to the Rose Bowl in 2008. I know it is not wise to overlook the road game this week against Michigan State, but this one should not be a walk in the park at all either. Senior Derrick Williams was one of the top recruits in the nation coming into Penn State four years ago, but has only just started to blossom for the team this season. In addition, it looks like this team utilized addition by subtraction through the graduation of Anthony Morelli, who had a less than stellar two full years as the starting quarterback. This game will make or break the Ohio State season, as a win in this game could easily propel them back on the national championship radar, along with putting them in line to win the Big Ten.

Following those two games, the Buckeyes finish the season with games against Northwestern, Illinois and Michigan. All three teams have shown signs of potential at different times this season, but are all starting to mellow down somewhat. Northwestern was living large at 5-0, and ranked, but their world came crashing down with their 37-20 loss to Michigan State last week. They should still find a way to get to a bowl game, and a shout out is due to Akron Hoban High School graduate and senior Tyrell Sutton for the recent success of this team. Illinois looked rather impressive after a very resounding 45-20 victory over Michigan a week and a half ago, but then lost to Minnesota on Saturday. Juice Williams remains an erratic starter as a junior, but he could be extremely dangerous back in Champaign. Then, to end the season as always, Ohio State plays Michigan on November 22. This should be an extremely fun game to for all Buckeye fans, no matter what happens the rest of the season, as their loss to Toledo this past weekend was downright amusing.

Boot Up: Indians Utility Options – So here is the run down. Grady Sizemore is the only true lock in the Cleveland Indians future outfield, as he proved his value yet again this season with a seemingly easy .268 average, 33 home run, and 38 stolen base mark. As a 26-year-old with seemingly immeasurable potential, he is one of the best players in the American League, and will be the leader of this offensive unit for many years to come. After that, answering who will be starting alongside him gets a little confusing. I illustrated in my outline of the Indians organization hitters not too long ago that there are plenty of options for the Indians to consider, especially in the outfield. Not only will the Indians have to make a decision between recently acquired Michael Brantley and Matt LaPorta, but they will also have to decide among Shin Soo-Choo (the AL Player of the Month for September has a little problem coming up soon with the South Korean government), Ben Francisco, Franklin Gutierrez and David Dellucci. That is just our outfield situation…

In terms of the infield, the Mark Shapiro and the rest of the Indians organization will have the honor to make the decision between Ryan Garko, Kelly Shoppach, Victor Martinez, Travis Hafner, Asdrubal Cabrera, Josh Barfield, Jhonny Peralta, Jamey Carroll, and Andy Marte. All of those players have spent significant time in the Major Leagues, but it is unlikely all will remain on roster come March. I would love to see the entire Indians organization spend the money to sign all of these players, but it does not seem logical for the organization to continue with the entire group that was somewhat responsible for the collapse earlier this year. These are the kind of moments that somewhat drag down my long desire to be the eventual replacement for Mark Shapiro (take a look at this Q&A with Baseball Prospectus from February 2003) as the Indians General Manager, but it seems that there has to be some good out of this. The fact that the Indians are in such a great situation in the first place, where they have so many decent veterans, and promising young players, is definitely a better situation than that for most teams in baseball. Now here is the lineup that I want to see the Indians have at some point next season:

C: Victor Martinez or Kelly Shoppach – it would be tough to lose Kelly

1B: Ryan Garko or Victor Martinez – I love Garko, I always have

2B: Josh Barfield – hey, at least he is better than Marte

SS: Asdrubal Cabrera – he is future stud, be ready

3B: Jhonny Peralta – it is gonna happen soon, even though he is a decent SS

LF: Shin Soo-Choo – he deserves it after last season

CF: Kenny Lofton – just wrote that to make sure you were paying attention… it’s Sizemore

RF: Ben Franklin or new player – Francisco and Gutierrez have had plenty of opportunities already

DH: Travis Hafner or Matt LaPorta – this is Hafner’s roster spot to lose

Boot Down: Cavaliers at the top of the East – Where would you put in the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference outlook for 2008-2009? Certainly, the Boston Celtics will remain the team to beat in the East, and with Rajon Rondo (the most underrated player in the NBA according to Dave Berri), Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen, it will be difficult for any team to beat them on any given night. I fully expect them to remain the #1 seed all year, and easily amass 55 wins. After that, the situation gets somewhat murky, but still not too promising for the Cavaliers, who finished fourth in the conference last season despite a 45-37 record.

The Detroit Pistons made relatively few moves in the off-season, despite plenty of rumors that they would finally ship out one of their stars. They are not getting any younger, but Chauncey Billups, Tayshaun Prince, Rasheed Wallace and company should probably be considered a given for 50 wins no matter what. The other team to beat out the Cavaliers in the East last season was the Orlando Magic. I am firm believer that they are going to improve exponentially sometime soon, as Dwight Howard turns only 23 this December. The rest of their roster does not look too threatening, but the complementary combination of Jameer Nelson, Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu definitely seems solidly above average. Next alongside those three teams, who all won at least 52 games last season, are the Philadelphia 76ers. They are everyone’s favorite up-and-comer in the Eastern Conference, and have incredibly high expectations after their acquisition of Elton Brand. He should have success playing with Andre Igoudala, Andre Miller, Louis Williams, Samuel Dalembert and everyone in Philadelphia, and they definitely should be among the Eastern Conference’s best teams.

With all of these talented teams, it is difficult to see where the Cavaliers really fit in terms of a projection for this conference. Bringing in Maurice Williams, and having Sasha Pavlovic, J.J. Hickson, and Anderson Varejao along for the whole summer should help this team improve upon their record from last season. In addition, LeBron James played at an incredible level this summer during the Olympics, and nobody can ever doubt his competitive desire to make his team as good as possible. I think that 45 wins is the floor for this team, but I still doubt whether they will be able to be a top three seed in the conference. I believe that the Eastern Conference improved during the offseason, and the conference will be better than their record against the West last season. The goal for the Cavaliers this upcoming season, however, should not be to expend energy on getting the #3 seed over the #4 seed; we simply need to worry about getting LeBron and company ready for the playoffs.

Boot Down: Status Quo in MLB Playoffs – To this header, I expect many of you are saying to yourselves, how could this possibly be? In a year where the Tampa Bay Rays, Philadelphia Phillies and ESPN’s new upstart sweetheart Dodgers all made the LCS, the unexpected has become the expected in the baseball world… Well, that is almost true. Except for those pesky Boston Red Sox (no pun intended). Despite the Red Sox struggling somewhat in the opening stretch of their series with Tampa Bay, I fear the inevitable. I fear a third World Series championship in five years for America’s most miserable former losers. In the year of the underdog, the looming anti-Cinderella remains a viable and incredibly logical threat to win the World Series. On that note, here are my projections for the rest of the league championships:

As much as the LA Dodgers are an intimidating bunch led by Rafael Furcal and Manny Ramirez, I expect the Phillies to prevail in an epic seven-game battle. ESPN has reminded me several times that Los Angeles is a loose bunch of players modeled after the hard-playing Red Sox in 2004, but I do not think that they have the pure firepower that Philadelphia has. With the last two MVPs in the National League on roster in Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins along with young ace Cole Hamels they seem to be the best team punch for punch in the National League. If it were not for a similarly talented but much less focused New York Mets team, I think they would have had a better record than even the Cubs. The Dodgers on the other hand, have been only that impressive for the last month and a half. On August 29 they were 65-70 and looked unorganized after two big deadline deals brought in hitters Ramirez and Casey Blake. After that point, they went on a 14-2 run, which helped them to fend off the Arizona Diamondbacks in the miserable NL West. I believe that in the end, the firepower and big game experience of the Phillies will eventually prevail.

(Update: With the Phillies up in the series 3-1, this series is just about as good as over. They hosted games 1 and 2 in Philadelphia before losing game 3, and then winning game 4 last night. Over the last 22 years of the 2-3-2 championship series there have been 15 instances in which the original home team led 3-1 after four games of the series. Only three times has the original road team come back to win, with that most recently occurring in 2004 when the Red Sox actually came back from down 3-0 to beat the Yankees, and in 2003 when the Marlins, aided by Steve Bartman, went on to defeat the Cubs. With history saying that the Phillies have an 80% chance of winning this series, I am switching my prediction to the Phillies winning in six.

I am not looking forward to the end of this Rays and Red Sox series. Sure, it was great to see Tampa Bay pull off that 9-8 eleven inning, five and a half hour win over the Red Sox on Saturday night, but we cannot expect that to continue to happen against such an immensely talented Boston team. When you have so many impressive hitters and pitchers on one team (even though Josh Beckett has not been at his best this postseason, and Mike Lowell is hurt), it is only obvious that they will eventually pull it out against America’s new Cinderella. I would love to see Tampa Bay win this game, and eventually the World Series, but I do not think that they will be able to match Boston over the course of a seven-game series. They should be able to win one back at home here, but I think that Boston is just the superior team and will prevail in six games.

(Update: The Rays, the original home team in this series, are now up 2-1 after thrashing the Red Sox 9-1 in game three last night. Over the past 22 years, there have been 19 instances where the original home team was up 2-1 in the championship series. Out of those 19 times, the original home team went on to win the series 14 times. Thus, the odds of the Rays finishing off the Red Sox in this series are about 74%, which would probably make me change my prediction to the Rays winning in seven games.)

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October 14, 2008 - Posted by | The Boots | , , , , , , ,

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