Tuesday, July 7, 2009

National League All-Star Ballot

Yesterday, we looked at my picks for the American League All-Star team.

Now is the senior circuit's picks, at least how they should be:

First base: Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals
Prince Fielder of the Brewers puts up a pretty good fight with a .306 average and 20 home runs, as does the Rockies' Todd Helton with a .312 BA. But Pujols' .337 average and 30 home runs (as of July 2) are the closest we get to a gimme up on the National League side.

Second base: Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies
Solid choice (.301 BA, 17 HR) in a weak field.

Shortstop: Hanley Ramirez, Florida Marlins
A bright spot for a team that has had its troubles.

Third base: David Wright, New York Mets
Ordinarily, the Cubs' Aramis Ramirez would have been the gimme pick here, especially with a .366 average. However, that came before he went on the disabled list on May 9, and he hasn't returned until this week. That leaves David Wright and his .340 average.

Catcher: Bengie Molina, San Francisco Giants
A tough pick in an extremely weak field. Molina's only batting .259, but his 10 home runs and 46 RBIs puts him in.

Outfielders: Justin Upton, Arizona Diamondbacks; Carlos Lee, Houston Astros; Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers
All three are hitting over .300. Lee has been killer for some time, and shines as a testament to a bad trade by the White Sox. Ibanez's .312 average and 22 HR and Upton's .309 BA and 14 HR put them in.

Copyright 2009 - Wait Til Next Century.

Monday, July 6, 2009

American League All-Star Ballot

Next week is the 2009 edition of the Major League Baseball All-Star Game.

Selections for both teams often are controversial because they are picked by the fans, leaving it more of a popularity contest rather than one based on the merits of the players.

With that, this is the ballot I submitted last week on the fan balloting on MLB.com before voting closed at the end of the day Thursday, July 2. Today we will cover the American League, and tomorrow the National League.

First, the junior circuit:

First Base: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
This was somewhat of a tough call between Cabrera and the Red Sox's Kevin Youkilis. Both have comparable stats (Cabrera: .331 batting avrage with 16 home runs, Youkilis: .314 BA with 14 HR). It could be made even more complicated with Minnesota's Justin Morneau (.309 average with 19 HR) thrown in the mix.

In the end, I used the Most Valuable Player criteria. Could the Red Sox do as well without Youkilis? More than likely. The Tigers don't do as well without Cabrera.

Second base: Aaron Hill, Toronto Blue Jays
This is based on overall skill and best stats. Hill has a .301 average with 19 home runs. The Yankees' Robinson Cano comes close (.300 average and 12 home runs).

Shortstop: Derek Jeter, New York Yankees
We'll call him the sexy choice, because he has been consistently good (.309 BA, 9 HR this year) for several years. It was hard to ignore Tampa Bay's Jason Bartlett's .362 average, but the three-week stint on the disabled list kills his selection.

Third base: Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays
Purely statistically driven in a weak field. Longoria's .297 average and 16 home runs puts him over despite the Blue Jays' Scott Rolen's .333 average.

Catcher: Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins
No contest here. When you got a player hitting to close .400 (.392 as of July 2) like Mauer, he must be picked, no questions asked.

Outfielders: Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle Mariners; Torii Hunter, Los Angeles Angels; Johnny Dye, Chicago White Sox
Ichiro and Torii Hunter were gimmes, but Dye was a tougher pick over the Yankees' Johnny Damon and the Orioles' Andruw Jones.

Tomorrow we will look

Copyright 2009 - Wait Til Next Century.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Running laps around the Web...

-- A Cubs fan in Buffalo Grove, Ill., has taken drastic measures to turn around the Cubs' season, vowing to eat only 500 calories a day until the Cubs either win five games in a row or end their season. It might be a long rest of the summer.

-- A detailed look at the frustrations of following this year's Cubs (Warning: Strong language).

-- A more positive look at the Cubs' season: They are only 2.5 games out of first after last night's 9-5 win over the Brewers, the same distance they were on May 8 when Aramis Ramirez went on the disabled list with a dislocated shoulder.

-- Sports Illustrated takes a look at Aplington-Parkersburg High football coach Ed Thomas, who was gunned down last week while supervising his team's off-season workouts.

-- A debate on how the Blackhawks have done in the free agent market so far, especially in light of signing Marian Hossa to a 12-year deal.

-- Former Bulls and now Pistons guard Ben Gordon takes some parting shots at his former club.

-- The Bears apparently have given up chasing troubled ex-Giants WR Plaxico Burress.

Copyright 2009 - Wait Til Next Century.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

U.S. soccer gain respect

The U.S. soccer team made a big splash last week when it snuck into the semifinals of the FIFA Confederations Cup in South Africa.

After losing 3-1 to Italy and 3-0 to Brazil, the U.S. looked dead in the water, and calls began coming in for the job of coach Bob Bradley. Going into its last game on June 21, the Americans would need a miracle to advance in that they had to beat Egypt by at least three goals and hope Brazil beat Italy by the same margin.

That miracle did, with the U.S.A. and Brazil both winning 3-0, and the Americans found their way into a semifinal match-up on June 25 with top-rated Spain, who were riding a 15-game winning streak and a 35-game unbeaten streak that dated back to the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

The miracle happens again, as the U.S. stunned the Spaniards 2-0 on goals by Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey, prompting headlines in the Spanish media such as "The United States destroys the legend of Spain" in El Mundo.

The difference-maker, however, was goalkeeper Tim Howard. A star with Everton in the English Premier League, Howard stopped 29 shots and what seemed to be a constant possession of the ball by the Spanish to help lead the U.S. into its first ever final in a FIFA tournament against Brazil on Sunday.

Lightning almost struck again as Altidore and Landon Donovan struck during the first half, giving the Americans an unlikely 2-0 lead at halftime. Could it happen? Could the U.S. actually beat the world's best, even if it was a tournament that is somewhat lightly regarded because it was seen more as a warm-up for next year's World cup and a test to see whether South Africa could actually pull off a world-caliber tournament?

Alas, as one reader mentioned in an e-mail to ESPN's Bill Simmons, the barrage of bullets finally struck Tim Howard. Brazil scored its first goal of the game barely two minutes into the second half, deflating any momentum the Americans had. Another Brazilian goal by Luis Fabiano came at the 73rd minute, and the game-winner followers 11 minutes later, sealing the victory and Brazil's third Confederations Cup title.

What does this mean for U.S. soccer? Does this mean the Americans can finally compete on the world stage, like was thought after the 2002 World Cup when the U.S. advanced to the final eight? That elusive tournament title remains out of reach, but if anything, the Americans gained respect.

However, to keep that respect, Bob Bradley and company are going to have to figure out a way to keep possession of the ball a little longer. Brazil kept the ball for most of the game, launching 35 shots at the goal. Eventually, Howard is going to crack, and he finally did in the final. Most winning teams, no matter the sport, tend to hang on to the ball. F.C. Barcelona, for example, tends to have possession of the ball for anywhere from 60 to 70 percent of the time, and that had to have helped them win the UEFA Champions League, Spanish League and Spanish Copa del Rey titles this past year.

Simply put, you can't score without the ball, and you can't win unless you score. It doesn't get much simpler than that, and Bradley and company will have to figure out how to solve that problems if they expect to first qualify for next summer's World Cup back in South Africa, and advance far, even possibly, miracle of miracles, winning that elusive trophy and stunning the world once again.

Copyright 2009 - Wait Til Next Century.