Archive April 2008

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MLB Notes

Manny Ramirez is off to a fantastic start this season, entering Tuesday with a line of .347/.413/.643. All the extra offseason work seems to have really paid off, and itís apparent his career isnít in such the decline last year suggested. That said, his .424 BABIP is the second highest in all of baseball, and his contact rate and walk rate are the lowest theyíve been over the past five years, so he has been fortunate. Ramirez is in such a good situation in Boston I wouldnít call him a sell-high, but heís unlikely to have another month this season that matches his April.

Itís safe to say the Angels were on the wrong end of the Jon Garland/Orlando Cabrera trade. Garlandís 5.94 ERA and 1.73 WHIP are ugly, but his 9:12 K:BB ratio over 36.1 innings is hideous. He more than doubled his season K total with five punchouts during his last start on Monday.

After further review, and by review I mean Iíve seen it 58 times on HBO, ďThe DepartedĒ has to be one of the worst movies ever to win Best Picture. Donít get me wrong, itís totally entertaining and completely rewatchable, but Jack Nicholsonís performance is mind-boggling, and the ending is embarrassing.

Blindly believing in talent, I like Delmon Young as a buy-low right now. The numbers arenít pretty (.258/.287/.309 with zero homers), and itís disconcerting that heís never slugged better than .440 in any month during his career. In fact, heís slugged less than .400 in five of the seven months heís been in the big leagues. Still, the fact he already has six stolen bases is a great sign, and his swing produces so many line drives he should post a solid average despite the high K rate. Heís a future 30/30 hitter, and he still might reach 20/25 as soon as this year.

Barry Zito is the highest paid middle reliever of all-time. Whatís going to happen when he doesnít straighten things out? This situation is only going to get worse, and itís put the Giants (and Zito) in one of the more awkward positions ever.

Itís never easy to trade a catcher, but Geovany Soto is officially a sell-high candidate. After basically coming out of nowhere last year, he has a fine .927 OPS for his career. However, heís followed last yearís ridiculous .486 BABIP with a .407 mark this season, the fifth highest in the game. During his previous three years in the minors, he was consistently in the .320-.330 range, so this canít possibly last. Heíll provide good pop for a backstop, and his improving ability to walk is a plus, but Soto is due for a crash.

The opposite is true for Robinson Cano, who has the second lowest BABIP (.165) in the majors. He got off to a slow start last year as well, hitting just three of his 19 homers over the first three months. Someone making contact 88 percent of the time simply should not be batting .153. With terrific lineup support around him, Cano has the upside of a top-25 fantasy player. Go get him.

Nothing would surprise me when it comes to Roger Clemens at this point. If he had just stepped up and apologized to begin with, none of this would have ever came to light, and heíd be out of mind, out of sight by now. I mean really, 15 years old?!

Looks like Johnny Cueto is going to have some bumps in the road, after all.

My take on Gavin Floyd? Sell, sell and sell. The former top prospect has a pretty 2.84 ERA and 1.03 WHIP, so on the surface it might appear as if heís finally living up to his potential. Unfortunately, those numbers are accompanied by a poor 14:12 K:BB ratio, and only Cliff Lee has a lower BABIP (.161) in all of baseball. If thatís not enough, he also sports an inferior 0.67 groundball to flyball ratio while pitching in the ALís best park for homers. Donít get off the phone until youíve traded him.

If youíre interested in the fantasy football draft I previously mentioned, here are the results.

MLB Notes

Any chance of buying Josh Beckett relatively low vanished with Sundayís brilliant performance. He doesnít come without some questions healthwise, but since heís never had any arm issues, heís not a huge risk. Beckett now has 29 strikeouts over 26.1 innings and remains my choice to win the Cy Young this season. Johan Santana and Jake Peavy are the only two pitchers Iíd rather own.

Ryan Garko is now hitless over his last 19 at-bats, bringing his season average down to .238. With a 13:13 K:BB ratio, itís not like heís being overmatched, so heís a good buy-low. Thereís still major RBI potential in that lineup.

Sticking with the buy-low theme, Iím targeting Phil Hughes right now. The 10 walks are ugly, but this is a pitcher with serious talent who will consistently receive plenty of run support. His BABIP (.390) and strand rate (.55) are both ridiculously unlucky, and his schedule has been awfully tough, including four straight road starts. Go get him.

Itís becoming increasingly possible 2006 will go down as Jose Reyesí career-year. Heís running less, his slugging is down and his strikeouts are up. Heís still going to be an extremely valuable fantasy player, but itís surprising just how much heís regressed. Here are his OPSs by month, since April ended last season: .697, .829, .770, .733, .612, .652.

If I own Alex Rodriguez and can get Hanley Ramirez for him, Iíd do it without hesitation.

Shawn Chaconís ERA and K:BB ratio are mutually exclusive. Seriously, how can someone post such an impressive ERA (2.45) and WHIP (1.27) while walking as many batters as heís striking out? The short answer: a .232 BABIP. I would say sell-high, but that would be an insult to your leagueís intelligence. Stay far, far away.

Last week I said ďCliff Leeís trade value will never be higher.Ē Oops. Another complete game shutout later, Iím grubbing on some crow. Lee can be viewed as nothing other than a sell-high with those numbers, but unless you are getting elite talent in return, might as well hold onto him. Heís currently throwing better than he ever has, including 2005. An incredibly easy schedule has helped, but Lee is off to the best start by a starting pitcher in the last 50 years.

When Barry Zito signed the richest contract ever for a pitcher, I thought it was going to look bad over the second half of the deal. That it already looks like the worst deal in the history of sports with six years and $106 million remaining puts the franchise in quite a rare position. The team canít possibly dump him like the Pirates did Matt Morris, but Zito is a huge liability every fifth game, and something needs to change before long.

Listening to sports talk on the radio often leads to me narrowly avoiding accidents. When evaluating pitchers, about 90 percent of the time hosts or local newspaper reporters bring up win/loss records. There is not a more irrelevant stat in all of sports.

Did ESPN really use the word ďshockingĒ when reacting to Josh Howard admitting to smoking weed during the offseason? Really, NBA players do that sort of thing? In other news, the government will ask for taxes, you will eventually die and water is wet.

Speaking of ESPN, how come they kept missing so many picks during the NFL Draft? Each pundit seemed far too busy worried about getting face time than the actual picks themselves. And Iím not big on the new trends of knowing who the top-5 picks are going to be beforehand and watching the players put on their new teamsí hats before the pick is announced. Whereís the drama?

Jonathan Sanchez, AKA ďDirty Sanchez,Ē simply cannot be left unowned in any fantasy league right now. After an absolute gem Friday (10:1 K:BB ratio), heís now fanned 36 batters over 28 innings this season. Heís always had plus stuff, but maybe now heís also figuring out how to pitch. Youíd still like to see fewer walks, but heís awfully tough to hit and has the ballpark and division working for him.

If youíre bored Monday night, Iíll be representing RotoWire in a fantasy football draft that can be watched live here. I have the sixth pick, so keep your fingers crossed Edgerrin James slips.

Cubs Running This Season

From the Chicago Sun-Times: Entering Saturday night, the Cubs had 27 steal attempts in 23 games. Only San Francisco (33) and Houston (30) had more in the National League. That puts the Cubs on pace for 190 attempts this season.

They've also been thrown out more than 1/3 of the time, but their manger is undeterred:

''A lot of good things are happening that basically are not noticed by the casual fan,'' manager Lou Piniella said. ''Pitchers are slide-stepping against us a lot more. Infielders are holding runners, which is creating more holes. And catchers are calling more fastballs. Those are some pretty good advantages that you don't see necessarily.''

Not sure what the merits of Piniella's claim are, but either way, this is good news if you own Fukudome, Theriot, Lee, Reed Johnson, Felix Pie, Alfonso Soriano (assuming his legs get back to full strength) or anyone else who might run.

MLB Notes

Itís too late in most leagues, but Felipe Lopez needs to be picked up. Thursday marked the seventh straight start for him, so heís now entrenched in the lineup. Heís not going to help your batting average, but thereís some solid stolen base and power potential from the middle infielder. RFK really limited Lopez over the past two years, so thereís some upside here.

Pitching with a damaged shoulder and soon to turn 41 years old, John Smoltz has been as good as ever this season. A 31:6 K:BB ratio over 23 innings with no homers allowed is about as dominant as it gets. A favorable schedule has helped, and heís going to remain an injury risk, but fantasy owners might as well hold onto Smoltz and enjoy the ride.

David Ortiz is having an awful year, but he is on pace to still finish with 135 RBI.

In this installment of the clueless Joe Torre, did he really have Andruw Jones batting second and Nomar Garciaparra hitting cleanup Wednesday? I really think Major League Baseball managers might collectively be the dumbest profession in the United States. Want another example? Charlie Manuel decided to bring Cole Hamels out for the eighth inning Wednesday even though he had already thrown 118 pitches. Iím also not too big on Lou Piniellaís decision to skip Rich Hillís turn in the rotation for inferior options like Jason Marquis and Ryan Dempster.

How is Barry Bonds unemployed right now? This is a national crisis and an outrage that deserves an inquest.

Itís pretty obvious Jeremy Bonderman is pitching with an injury. I was down on him entering the year, and heís been even worse than I feared. Issuing 21 walks through 27.1 innings is staggering. Expect a DL-stint to arrive shortly.

Lance Berman is unconscious right now, batting .325 with six long balls and four steals. Heís also drawn seven walks to just one strikeout over the last seven games. Heís not going to suddenly steal 30 bases, but the Astros are running wild this year, so a career-high in the category should be expected. With an improved lineup also around him, Berkman is in line to obliterate last yearís numbers.

Jimmy Fallon to replace Conan OíBrien once he takes over for Jay Leno? Get ready for Chevy Chase, Part 2.

The Vikings and Chiefs trade looks win-win to me. Minnesotaís defense is going to be a force adding the leagueís best pass rusher in his prime next to the NFLís best interior. That team is a quarterback away from winning the NFC. Of course, quarterback is the most important position in football. I also applaud Dallasí decision to go after Pacman Jones. Sure, thereís plenty of risk involved, but any time you can get a top-5 defensive player for a fourth rounder, you do so. When on the field, Jones is more valuable than any player in this yearís NFL Draft.

Iím beginning to think Francisco Liriano isnít 100 percent recovered from his Tommy John surgery.

I would say that Brett Favre becoming the next cover boy of ďMaddenĒ would solve the jinx problem, but thereís always the chance he comes back. Still, itís pretty fitting.

Iím not saying I predicted Manny Corpas losing the closerís job mid-April, but last yearís 6.6 strikeouts per nine innings didnít exactly scream dominant stopper. The .260 BABIP and .85 strand rate did, however, suggest he was lucky. Heíll turn it around, but this is another example of how fluid closing situations become because of small sample sizes.

Look Look. Thereís a picture of Chris Liss and me on How exciting!

Morgues should be preparing for Gary Sheffieldís arrival, because he looks just about done. At age 39, his body is simply failing him. That said, American League pitchers beware, the rest of this Tigers lineup has officially awoken.

Might as well take a flier on Eric Hinske. His .327/.403/.727 line canít be taken too seriously, but remember, the former ROY was a pretty good prospect back in the day. And after what Carlos Pena did last year in a similar situation in Tampa Bay, Hinske canít be completely ignored. He might be a pretty good asset against right-handers this year.

Mock Draft

Iím fully aware this is an exercise in futility, but I just canít help myself. The following is what I predict will happen not what should happen during the NFL Draft this weekend. And Iím only going top-15, which is a crapshoot enough as is.

1. Miami Dolphins: Jake Long Ė A done deal.

2. St. Louis Rams: Glenn Dorsey Ė A trade is possible here, but Dorsey seems like the safest and best player in this draft. Adam Carriker would then move to end.

3. Atlanta Falcons: Chris Long Ė Now this could ruin the rest of my mock if Atlanta goes Matt Ryan instead. Long hasnít really even been linked to the Falcons, but they certainly could use the defensive help, and Atlanta feels they can address the QB situation in Round 2. Still, ownership may push for Ryan here.

4. Oakland Raiders: Darren McFadden Ė Especially if Michael Bush returns healthy, Oakland has quite possibly the deepest RB corps in the league right now. However, there isnít a lot of money tied up in the position, and Al Davis is enamored with speed. Make no mistake, Davis has final say and personally makes all the Raidersí draft selections. He canít help himself and takes McFadden.

5. Kansas City Chiefs: Ryan Clady Ė Kansas City is after players who can start right away and has done a nice job compiling numerous picks in a deep draft class. They might address defensive line here after dealing Jared Allen, but they have a bigger need on the offensive line, and Clady can help immediately.

6. New York Jets: Vernon Gholston Ė Gholston is all about upside with eye-popping measurables. However, heís also been accused of being a workout wonder. He set the Ohio State record with 14 sacks last season, but he recorded seven in two games (Michigan and Wisconsin), disappearing in many others. The Jets will look at what the Giants did to stop division rival Tom Brady and the Pats last year and address the D-line, but thereís some bust potential here.

7. New England Patriots: Branden Albert Ė One of the biggest risers in this yearís draft, Albert can play any position on the offensive line and will turn into the better pro than Ryan Clady, which means heíll naturally be drafted by the Patriots. He was only moved to guard at Virginia because DíBrickashaw Ferguson was playing left tackle. New England could go Sedrick Ellis here, but you can be sure theyíll take a lineman either way.

8. Baltimore Ravens: Matt Ryan Ė Ryan may or may not turn into a franchise quarterback, but Baltimore canít afford not to find out. Ryan might slip a bit, but thereís no way he takes a Brady Quinn type plunge. There are too many teams in need of QB help, with Baltimore at the top of the list.

9. Cincinnati Bengals: Sedrick Ellis Ė After losing Chris Henry and soon to lose Chad Johnson, the Bengals may have gone WR here, but there really isnít one worthy of being selected this high. Rashard Mendenhall is another option, but after getting consistently burned with early RB selections in the past, Cincy addresses their weaker side of the ball and takes Ellis.

10. New Orleans Saints: Leodis McKelvin Ė The Saints really want Sedrick Ellis but will settle for McKelvin instead. New Orleans is desperate for help in the secondary.

11. Buffalo Bills: Devin Thomas Ė He might be a bit of a reach, but the Bills have never shied from drafting based on team needs (see: Donte Whitner). Wide receiver is a glaring need, and Thomas has the size and speed the offense is missing.

12. Denver Broncos: Rashard Mendenhall Ė I know, the Broncos never take a runner this high, and Iím certainly not saying they should, but this is a team that hasnít had an elite RB since Clinton Portis left in 2003. Mendenhall fits the Broncosí system perfectly; a patient back whose style is one-cut and go, which is ideal for their zone scheme. Fantasy owners salivate.

13. Carolina Panthers: Derrick Harvey Ė Harvey has been linked to Carolina so often, maybe itís a case of smokescreening. For now, Iíll take it at face value and predict the Panthers select the defensive end from Florida.

14. Chicago Bears: Jeff Otah Ė The Bears have an aging defense and need serious help at quarterback, wide receiver and running back. While taking a running back also makes sense here, offensive line is as big of a need, and the team can address the RB position later on.

15. Detroit Lions: Jonathan Stewart Ė Thereís a strong chance Detroit takes Jerod Mayo instead, but the Lions typically have a hard time passing on offensive skill positions. Stewart underwent toe surgery this offseason, but he should be fine for the season and could ultimately turn out to be the best back from this yearís class.

MLB Notes

Josh Hamilton is going to be an absolute force this season if the early returns are any indication. After striking out 22 percent of the time last year, heís all the way down to 12 percent this season. Moreover, after posting a .222/.296/..292 line against lefties in 2007, heís mashing southpaws this year (.400/.435/.600). He hasnít even begun taking advantage of hitter-friendly Ameriquest Field either, posting an OPS nearly 150 points higher on the road. Hamilton is also enjoying batting in the middle of Texasí lineup, as heís on pace to drive in 154 runs. Donít be surprised if heís a top-20 fantasy pick next year.

Those in deeper leagues, go ahead and pick up Adam Lind. With Frank Thomas jettisoned, Lind should get all the starts against right-handers as soon as heís recalled, which is imminent. He posted a 1.092 OPS as a 22-year-old in Triple-A in 2006 and is slugging .630 there this season. Lind struggled in the majors last year, but he got valuable experience in the process and did knock in 46 runs in just 290 at-bats. Heís worth grabbing.

Like Fox News, Microsoft Works and delicious fastfood, a healthy Rich Harden has officially become an oxymoron.

Iím trying to sell Cliff Lee right now. The former prospect put together a quality season in the big leagues back in 2005, and injuries can be partially blamed on last yearís disaster, but anyone who thinks heís suddenly a top-30 fantasy pitcher is going to be disappointed. The 20:2 K:BB ratio is awesome, but an incredibly easy schedule has really helped out. No one thinks heís going to maintain a 0.40 ERA, but the .90 strand rate and unfathomable .154 BABIP reveals someone even luckier than whoever marries Natalie Portman. I have no doubt Lee can finish with the second best numbers of his career in 2008, but he gives up too many flyballs and will never have higher trade value than now.

If youíre a Chad Cordero owner, and you can get a six-pack of Sierra Nevada for him in a trade, Iíd do that deal five minutes ago.

Carlos Delgado is done. There are at least 20 other first basemen Iíd rather own in fantasy leagues. Itís not really the .206 batting average that scares me; after all, his 14:10 K:BB ratio is actually quite decent, but his .294 slugging percentage is downright grotesque. Four extra-base hits in 72 at-bats wonít get it done. At age 35, thereís very little reason for optimism. His current swing often looks like he forgot to take the donut off the bat at the on-deck circle.

I would say Matt Morris is pitching poorly, but that would be an insult to poorly. Five homers allowed over 20.2 innings? How about a hideous 8:6 K:BB ratio with a 9.15 ERA and 1.98 WHIP? Because of his obscene contract, the Pirates are likely to stick with him. Thereís a very real possibility he loses 20-25 games this season if given the opportunity.

Memo to restaurants: If your caesar salad doesnít contain anchovies, itís not a caesar. No menu item gets more consistently butchered than the caesar salad.

Corey Patterson may already be falling out of favor in Cincinnati, as heís found himself on the bench during four of the past six games. Even more distressing was the fact that two of those games came against right-handed starters. Funny thing is, heís actually playing much better than the numbers suggest. Heís sporting a superb .933 contact rate with a .10 walk rate. His .135 BABIP is simply unheard of, but with Jerry Hairston Jr. now up, Pattersonís luck better turn around fast.

Is Joe Torre really batting Nomar Garciaparra third? Torre has officially gone from right guy in right situation, to a bit overrated, to now a full-fledged liability.

Chase Utley is flat-out punishing the baseball. Only an injury prevented him from winning the MVP award last season, and there appears to be no stopping him this season. Of his 28 hits this year, a whopping 18 have gone for extra bases. Teammate Pat Burrell is another nominee for player of the month.

Bernard Hopkins is Unwatchable

It's amazing that Hopkins was able to coax a boring fight out of Joe Calzaghe. I've never seen so much running and grabbing and leading with his shoulder and head after one punch. And one of the judges even gave the fight to him.

Calzaghe-Pavlik would be a good fight, and even Roy Jones, Jr. would be exciting, though I think Calzaghe would knock him out pretty easily. Would have been cool to see the Jones of eight years ago fight him - that would be sick.

I wonder how much these guys can move up and down in weight. Is Mayweather-Pavlik possible, Mayweather-Calzaghe, Calzaghe/Pavlik vs. Cotto?

Hopkins is the kind of guy you want to see fight someone you don't like. Almost nothing good can come of a fight with him.

MLB Notes

Matt Cain has been dropped by 5,899 teams in Yahoo Leagues. Whaaat?! Iím as frustrated with the 23-year-old as anyone, but these leagues are either as shallow as Paris Hilton, or people are acting a bit rash, no? Cain posted a 23:17 K:BB ratio last April and a 5.28 ERA during the first month of the 2006 season. Heís going to be just fine.

Nick Blackburn is a nice story and the 4:1 K:BB ratio is very good, but few can sustain success with such a low strikeout rate (4.26 K/9 IP). The other shoe will drop.

Even though I was high on him entering last season and typically recommend targeting last yearís scrubs, Travis Hafner scared me entering 2007 and so far, heís done nothing to ease my concerns. Maybe there wasnít a hidden injury curtailing his power last year after all, because his slugging has dropped all the way to .394 this season. Considering his strikeouts have increased and his walks decreased, thereís plenty of reason to worry.

Like a butterface, Rickie Weeksí stats look great until you come across his batting average.

Bengie Molina scored from second base on a single Sunday for the first time in two years. Staying with the Giants, Jonathan Sanchez has to be owned in all deep leagues. Heís likely to be inconsistent and pitches for a terrible team, but the 26 strikeouts in 20 innings means he has to be taken seriously. A career mark of 9.7 K/9 IP is no joke.

Iím going to go ahead and say it. ďForgetting Sarah MarshallĒ is better than both ďKnocked UpĒ and ďSuperbad.Ē

Rafael Furcal looks fantastic this season. Heís taking the opposite approach to his walk year than Andruw Jones did. His bat speed is back, and heís walking at a greater rate than he ever has before, also chipping in four steals already. All those injuries from last season are officially behind him, and Furcal looks like a top-40 fantasy player.

Julio Lugo, on the other hand, looks dreadful. A decent second half last season (rightfully) gave fantasy owners hope for the 2008 campaign, but he looks as lost as ever, already committing an unacceptable six errors in the field. The Red Sox canít put up with a poor defending, sub .300 OBP shortstop who is getting caught on 50 percent of his SB attempts much longer.

Iím beginning to think the Lakers got the better end of the Pau Gasol deal.

Typically not a fan of Emo, I simply cannot get ďI Will Possess Your HeartĒ by Death Cab For Cutie out of my head.

Sunday was a microcosm of the current state of Chipper Jonesí career; two more hits raised his MLB-leading average to .458, but he also left the game with a strained quad. Despite turning 36 years old later this week, Jones is currently one of the three best hitters in baseball. It would be interesting to see what he could do with 600 at-bats.

Is it too early to start a Conor Jackson for MVP campaign? I say no.

Top-5 Late Night Hosts: 1. David Letterman 2. Conan OíBrien 3. Jimmy Kimmel 4. Craig Ferguson 89. Jay Leno

Randy Wolf is going to be a major fantasy asset for as long as he stays healthy this season. Before an injury derailed him last year, Wolf posted a 71:19 K:BB ratio over 66 innings during April and May, with a 3.40 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP. He still walks too many batters to be a big help in the WHIP department, but since Petco really helps his biggest weakness Ė allowing homers since he gives up so many flyballs Ė and heís in baseballís best division for pitchers, a big season could be in store. However, since he canít be counted on to stay healthy, he might be an excellent sell-high in 2-3 weeks.

Four for History

The NBA playoffs are finally here! I am excited for many reasons, but one of the things Iíll be watching is for players to change how history sees them. The playoffs are where players make their legaciesÖwould anyone know who Robert Horry was if not for his big shots in the playoffs? Would Jordan still be considered by many the greatest all-time if he didnít have any championships? The regular season was fun, but the postseason is the REAL season.

So who has the most to gain or lose in this playoffs? I believe that there are four players to watch above all others that have the opportunity to dramatically change their legacies.

ē Tracy McGrady. Few seem to remember it these days, but it wasnít too long ago that McGrady was mentioned in the same breath as Kobe Bryant as dominant perimeter players. Injuries and an 0-for-6 record of getting out of the first round of the playoffs have robbed McGrady of much of the luster that he had back when he was averaging 32 points, 6.5 boards and 5.5 assists in í03. If McGrady can carry a Yao-less Rockets team past the Jazz in the first round this year he wonít return to Bryant-esque status, but he would at least re-gain the mantle as one of the better impact players in the league.

ē Dirk Nowitzki. Over the last couple of seasons Nowitzki has flirted with joining the Pantheon. He was THAT close to winning a title in í06, then he followed that up with an MVP campaign in í07. He was not quite on the level of Tim Duncan, an All-time great, but Nowitzki was very close to etching his name onto the next tier down. Unfortunately, the great collapse in the í06 finals followed up by the even bigger calamity of losing in the first round to an eight seed have completely changed Nowitzkiís fortunes. Another first round loss while playing on a good team alongside a Hall-of-fame point guard would go even further to make the general public question Nowitzkiís former glory. On the other hand, if the Mavs can make a sustained playoffs run this year it would vault Nowitzki back to the top of the league.

ē Kobe Bryant. For Bryant, this is his opportunity to join THE list. Bryant won three championships with Shaquille OíNeal during the Lakers dynasty earlier this decade, but history remembers those as Shaqís titles not Kobeís. But if the Lakers win the title this season with Bryant as the unquestioned leader and likely MVP it vaults him into the conversation with the greatest players ever. He already has the numbers, he would have four titles, and with the Lakers so young and talented he would have the opportunity to forge his own dynasty. 2008 could very well be remembered as the year that Bryant made the leap.

ē Kevin Garnett. Garnett is probably the one player with the most to gain and the most to lose during this playoffs. Even more than Nowitzki, Garnett would be considered on the level of Duncan were it not for his lack of titles. The argument for years has been whether Garnett could win like Duncan if he had the talent around him that Duncan has had, and this year could help answer that question. On the other hand, if the Celtics come up short Garnett could very easily be remembered as someone that doesnít come through when it counts. But if the Celtics win title #17 under his watch then, like Bryant, Garnett would be vaulted into the conversation with the All-Time Greats.

It all begins today. NBA actionÖit is faaaaaan-tastic!

Round One Preview

No. 1 Boston Celtics (66-16) vs. No. 8 Atlanta Hawks (37-45)

Comments: The Celtics have had the luxury of preparing for the playoffs pretty much since the All-Star break, so they should theoretically enter fresh. Their 42-win improvement from last season is nothing short of remarkable, and their stout defense is the main reason why. Itís nice that Atlanta made the postseason for the first time since 1999 (and ending the NBAís longest drought in the process), but with a 37-45 record, the Hawksí feel good story will be short-lived. Think they still donít regret taking Marvin Williams over Chris Paul? Boston won all three regular season games when these two matched up and all by double figures. Expect more of the same.

Prediction: Celtics 4-0

No. 2 Detroit Pistons (59-23) vs. No. 7 Philadelphia 76ers (40-42)

Comments: Philadelphia was a pleasant surprise this season, and it would have been ironic had they made the postseason and Allen Iversonís Nuggets didnít. Still, the 76ers ended the season losing four straight, while the Pistons finished with a four-game winning streak and 9-2 over their final 11 games. Detroit does lose focus at times and only split the season series with Philadelphia (2-2), but the intensity the playoffs bring should largely curtail that. Andre Miller had one of the best seasons of his career at age 32, but in the end, the Pistonsí stifling defense will overwhelm the outmatched 76ers.

Prediction: Pistons 4-0

No. 3 Orlando Magic (52-30) vs. No. 6 Toronto Raptors (41-41)

Comments: The Magic are one of the most disregarded 50-win teams in recent memory, and Toronto does have a sizeable advantage at the point guard position. If Chris Bosh can negate Dwight Howard, things could get interesting. Still, thatís easier said than done, considering Howard is one of the five best players in the league. Hedo Turkogluís 19.5, 5.0, 5.7, 45.6% line was the single most surprising in the NBA this season, and the Magic did take two out of three against Toronto on the year. Jose Calderon ended the year handing out 45 assists without turning the ball over once and posted a sick 78:2 assist:turnover ratio over the seasonís final 10 games. He became just the 11th player since 1989 to record a ratio of better than 5:1 in a season with his sparkling 5.53:1 mark in 2007-08.

Prediction: Magic 4-2

No. 4 Cleveland Cavaliers (45-37) vs. No. 5 Washington Wizards (43-39)

Comments: The fact these teams split their four games against each other during the regular season is irrelevant, since Gilbert Arenas was out for all of them. Finally healthy, Washington is certainly more dangerous than its record indicates. And the Cavs were mediocre at best after completing a major trade midseason. Homecourt should play a big role in this series, and LeBron James is the type of player who can single-handedly win four games all by himself. This is the third straight year these two teams meet in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, and this one ends the same way the first two did, with Cleveland prevailing.

Prediction: Cavaliers 4-3

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers (57-25) vs. No. 8 Denver Nuggets (50-32)

Comments: The Lakers won the season series 3-0, and that was before Pau Gasol came to L.A. No Andrew Bynum hurts, but Gasol, Lamar Odom and Kobe Bryant form a trio capable of winning it all, evidenced by their No. 1 seed in one of the most competitive conferenceís in NBA history. To illustrate this point, the Nuggets were just seven games worse than the Lakers this year yet barely reached the postseason as a No. 8 seed. In the Western Conference playoffs this season, there is no such thing as an upset.

Prediction: Lakers 4-1

No. 2 New Orleans Hornets (56-26) vs. No. 7 Dallas Mavericks (51-31)

Comments: Last year, it was Dallas as the No. 1 seeded favorites getting bounced in the first round. This year, they are the lower-seeded squad easily capable of pulling off the ďupset.Ē The Hornets are a very good basketball team but probably not quite as good as their 56-26 record suggests. Chris Paul was the NBAís most valuable player this season, and he should be able to abuse a slowing Jason Kidd. However, the Mavs are deeper, and Dirk Nowitzki played the final month with determination, which should lead to Dallas coming out on top.

Prediction: Mavericks 4-2

No. 3 San Antonio Spurs (56-26) vs. No. 6 Phoenix Suns (55-27)

Comments: A terrific matchup to begin with gets added intrigue by the fact had Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw not been suspended for Game 5 when these two teams met in the semifinals last year, the Suns might be the current defending champs. Phoenix went 3-1 against San Antonio this season, including 2-0 after acquiring Shaquille OíNeal, who was brought to the desert in no small part to defend Tim Duncan. With most of the superstars involved aging, this might be one of the last times these teams meet with so much at stake, and this matchup could easily qualify as NBA Finals worthy. Manu Ginobili, who was the best crunch time player in the league this season, is the difference maker, as San Antonio wins it.

Prediction: Spurs 4-3

No. 4 Utah Jazz (54-28) vs. No. 5 Houston Rockets (55-27)

Comments: Despite being the lower seed, Houston has homecourt advantage because of its superior record. Still, Utah was able to win in Houston during Game 7 last year in the postseason, and while the Rockets have had a fine season that included a 22-game winning streak, they enter shorthanded with no Yao Ming. The Jazz posted a remarkable 37-4 record at home this year, but the fact they have to win at least one road game could be an obstacle, as they finished with a subpar 17-24 mark away from home. Still, Deron Williams is probably one of the 10 best players in the league, and Tracy McGrady enters ice cold, having shot worse than 44 percent from the field in each of the past six games, including 28 percent (14-of-50) over the seasonís last three contests.

Prediction: Jazz 4-2

MLB Notes

If Felix Hernandez stays healthy, heís going to finish the year as a top-5 fantasy pitcher. Heís actually been a little lucky so far, walking too many batters and posting an unsustainable strand rate (.912). Still, few can match his strikeout ability and propensity to induce groundballs. It was a minor mystery how the league hit .281 against him last season, but this yearís .241 BAA is much more indicative of his pitching ability. Remember, he just turned 22 years old, and last yearís disappointing campaign had a lot to do with the .337 BABIP. He doesnít have a ceiling.

Iím beginning to think Adam Wainwright is the real deal. The transition to the starting rotation wasnít smooth at first, but after a rough first half last season, he posted a 2.71 ERA and 1.25 WHIP after the All-Star break. Heís followed that up by pitching even better this season, highlighted by a sparkling 16:3 K:BB ratio. Dave Duncan really does get the most from his pitchers. Wainwright is likely to go down as a bargain in most fantasy leagues.

C.C. Sabathia would have to post a 2.38 ERA over the next 223 innings in order to match last yearís 3.21 mark. Put differently, heíd need to reel off 58 straight scoreless frames to bring his current ERA down to where he ended the last two seasons. Velocity is an important aspect of pitching, but command trumps that by a long shot.

Ryan Church, one of my favorite end-game targets this year, is proving to be an even better value than I expected. The .395 BABIP obviously isnít going to last, but his career mark is .331, and he is still in his prime. His contact rate is the best of his career, and the fact heís guaranteed playing time for the first time ever should help him relax and not press when the first inevitable slump arrives. The Metsí lineup is a great place to hit no matter where in the order, but if he continues to bat second, heís going to be a seriously good fantasy player.

Michael Bourn is on pace for 97 steals so far this season. Heís now been successful on 27 of his past 28 attempts. Heís never hit more than six homers in any year during his professional baseball career, so the two early bombs are mostly a fluke, and heís probably going to be a batting average drain for the most part. That said, all these steals are no fluke, and the increased walk rate is a great sign for the future. Treat him like a top-15 fantasy outfielder right now.

Even with a solid 9-6 record, the Cubs canít be feeling too good about themselves. Alfonso Soriano suffered yet another leg injury, and both Ted Lilly and Rich Hill have looked nothing short of awful. For those in NL-only leagues, Reed Johnson has become a savvy play, and at least Derrek Lee is proving that heís finally over his wrist woes, as he now has 22 homers over his last 319 at-bats.

Itís looking like thereís a zero percent chance he plays in Cincy and about a 20 percent chance Chad Johnson doesnít play football during the 2008 season.

There are 30 teams in Major League baseball, and Iíd have a hard time coming up with half that amount when counting closers Iíd feel even remotely comfortable owning right now.

Conor Jackson, or CoJack, as I like to call him, is fast becoming a superstar before our very eyes. His counting stats are a little misleading because heís missed a few games with fluke injuries and illness, but heís basically averaging a run and an RBI per game, as the cleanup spot has treated him well. While most worry about his power potential, this is someone who hit eight homers over his final 130 at-bats last season and slugged .555 after the All-Star break. Heís continued that trend with a .564 slugging percentage so far this year, also clobbering both of his homers at pitcher-friendly AT&T Park, so the power is definitely developing at an accelerated rate. The 2:7 K:BB ratio is as impressive as Kristen Bell in a bikini.

MLB Notes

Iím not sure if Joe Torre follows baseball all that closely. Forget the fact heís playing the supremely inferior Juan Pierre over Matt Kemp, but why does Andre Ethier get automatically penciled into the lineup over Kemp as well? Sure, heís better than Pierre and the current incarnation of Andruw Jones, but Ethierís got a career OPS of .820 and was the inferior prospect to begin with. I just donít get whatís going on in L.A.

Donít look now, but Ervin Santana might be figuring things out. Heís off to a fine start, but even more encouraging is his work on the road, where he has posted a 9:3 K:BB ratio with a 1.08 WHIP in two outings, including one at hitter-friendly Ameriquest Field. Remember, he did record a 2.96 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and 30 strikeouts over 27.1 innings during the final month of last season. Santana has to be owned in all fantasy leagues.

Since May ended last year, Chone Figgins is batting .379 with 43 steals. Heís also walking at a far greater rate so far this season, which is good news for his future stolen base totals. Despite offering very little in the power department, heís a top-30 fantasy player.

Sticking with the Halos, Casey Kotchman currently looks like an All-Star. Heís a terrific defender, can hit both lefties and righties and has struck out a miniscule three times during his first 54 at-bats this year. While his upside was once considered limited because of his lack of power, Kotchman has already clobbered four homers and is slugging over .600. If he can stay healthy, heíll finish the year as a sure-fire top-10 fantasy first baseman.

If you own Tony Pena waiting for the inevitable Brandon Lyon implosion, might as well make the switch to Chad Qualls if possible. His 8:6 K:BB ratio is ugly, but while both Lyon and Pena sport ERAs north of 7.0, Qualls has yet to allow a single run this season. Heís been a pretty effective pitcher throughout his career.

Hunter Pence looks lost at the plate right now. Fourteen strikeouts in 52 at-bats wonít get it done. Heís sure to turn it around but hitting sixth in Houstonís lineup only allows for so much fantasy value. Pence has now gone without a homer in his last 68 at-bats.

Rickie Weeks is hitting .213 on the season, but entering Tuesday night, he was on pace to finish the year with 41 homers and 54 steals with 176 runs scored. Imagine if he upped his average to the .225-.230 range!

Prince Fielder, Ryan Howard and David Ortiz are hitting a combined .171 (24-for-140) entering Tuesday. Itís hard not to make a connection to slow starts and body type here, but maybe thereís nothing to it.

Tickets to a Giants game: $33
Parking: $30
Polish dog, garlic fries and a beer: $20.75
Brian Sabean: Worthless

I was pretty aggressive with my FAAB this week on guys like Hong-Chih Kuo, Todd Wellemeyer and John Bowker. Patience is a virtue I apparently donít posses, but I figure itís better to overspend in April than to do it in August. Of course, itís all in context, as these specific leagues are extremely deep Ė either an 18-team format where nearly all prospects are taken or an NL-only league.

Kuoís stuff isnít quite the same after two major arm surgeries, and heíll probably be hurt by the time May rolls around, but anyone pitching in the NL West with a career 10.2 K/9 IP mark needs to be gambled on.

Wellemeyer, meanwhile, is flashing improved command and has struck out 7.9 batters per nine innings since coming to St. Louis last season. And if not for a hideous scoring change ruling a glaring error a hit three innings after the fact, his ERA would currently sit at 2.0 for the season, and thatís likely to improve with the Giants next up on the schedule.

Speaking of the Giants, Bowker has to be added in cavernous deep NL-only leagues. He hit .307 with 22 HRs and 90 RBI in a pitcher-friendly environment last year in Double-A and is second on the Giants in both home runs and RBI after playing two games for them. Thereís currently not a starting spot open for Bowker, but between a banged up Aaron Rowand, middling options like Randy Winn and Fred Lewis and the fact heís learning to play first base as well, Bowker could make an impact.

Sports Porn Coming to Network TV

I'm a little surprised that CBS and NBC agreed to televise MMA fights.

I could see Fox doing it, but it's basically the male equivalent of porn. What's a woman good for? Sex. What's a man good for? Ass-kicking. It reduces the participants to their most primitive and objectified status.

Not that I'm saying you shouldn't watch MMA or porn - the viewer is like someone who buys cigarettes - it's probably not great for your mind to be taking in too much of that stuff, but it's legal, and you're just an individual consumer. But if NBC starts televising porn or MMA, then they're like the cigarette companies - making an unwholesome product widely available.

I've smoked in the past, and I've watched MMA and porn in my time (if Showtime would get rid of those stooges announcing, I might even watch more), so I'm not judging anyone. Just making the point that the "who can bludgeon who into submission" contest crosses the line between sport and a kind of violence pornography, and apparently CBS and NBC don't see that. (Or maybe they do, but don't care). I guess you could argue boxing is on that line, too - but boxing has far more rules, and those restrictions make it quite unlike a street brawl. It's also not about which is more violent - the NFL is pretty violent, too, but that violence is just a part of the game along with play calling, route running, passing accuracy etc. MMA is purely about the violence. I think you could draw the same distinction for art-house flicks with explicit sex in them - it's not the sex that makes porn pornographic - it's that there's nothing else.

I'm sure MMA defenders will talk about the skills of the fighters, but I don't see it. Some have more than others, but it's usually just a graceless slugfest, or one guy has the other on the ground and is trying to club him to death with his forearms or elbows or whatever else he can get through the guard.

Bring in Bruce Lee or Jet Li, and I'll change my tune. But I don't think the sport has enough art yet to be anything but a human cockfight at this point.

Of course, that doesn't it mean it won't be hugely successful - porn grosses as much as mainstream cinema I think (or at least close to it).

But I'm just surprised NBC and CBS are airing it - they might as well air the network premier of Forrest Hump.

MLB Notes

Tim Hudson has looked flat-out dominant early on. I gambled on him in numerous leagues last year but was afraid he wouldnít have continued success this season with a 5.3K/9 IP mark. Well, it helps that heís allowed just 1 homer every 24.5 at-bats since 2006. He simply gives up very few extra-base hits, allowing him to succeed despite the sub-par K rate. With the way heís throwing, Hudsonís not someone you should be trying to sell-high right now.

Iím starting to get the feeling the Jose Reyes vs. Hanley Ramirez preseason debate is going to look awfully silly come seasonís end.

There are plenty of guys I wish I hadnít drafted this year, but I sure am glad C.C. Sabathia and Roy Oswalt arenít on any of my teams. Oswaltís K:BB rate is fine, but the five homers allowed in 16 innings is eye-popping. Heís going to improve, obviously, but no one should be surprised when he turns in his worst season of his career; the warning signs have been apparent.

How about Fausto Carmonaís 8:17 K:BB ratio? He and Sabathia arenít going to fall off a cliff, but since one jumped 160 innings and the other jumped 70 innings last year from the previous season, itís going to be an uphill to battle to match last yearís production.

If you are referred to as a ďprofessional hitter,Ē itís not a compliment.

Carlos Pena is having one of the most productive seasons youíll ever see from someone hitting .209. He entered Sunday with an isolated power of .450, which is better than good. Anyone who considered last yearís outburst a fluke is going to look foolish at seasonís end. In fact, you can have any American League hitter you want, and Iíll take Pena to finish with more homers. Any takers?

David Ortiz is currently sporting an .070 average (3-for-43), which is the lowest in the major leagues. He is hitless in his last 17 at-bats and is 1-for-29 over the last eight games. Maybe heís been inadvertently jinxed.

When I was 20 years old, I was drinking terrible beer out of kegs and eating Jack In The Box at 3 in the morning. Justin Upton, meanwhile, is leading the National League with five homers while batting .400 playing Major League baseball. The high K rate suggests he should still be shopped around in redraft leagues, but if there are no believers, might as well sit back and enjoy the ride, because even when his average comes crashing down, heíll supplement that by stealing 20-25 bases. Siblings are both going to be top-10 fantasy picks for years to come.

This article is simply fantastic. And it was written by Mose Schrute!

Bought Guitar Hero III over the weekend, and itís safe to say youíll see fewer articles from me over the next couple of weeks. Not only is it time consuming, but Iíve already developed full-blown carpal tunnel syndrome.

Max Scherzer is an obvious own in all keeper leagues, but heís now warranting consideration as someone to stash in deep redraft formats with roster space. After flashing a 10.6 K/9 IP mark last season, Scherzer has fanned 18 batters over 12 scoreless innings in Triple-A this year. Heís also increasing his groundball rate. With Doug Davis sidelined indefinitely and only Edgar Gonzalez in his way for a rotation spot, Scherzer should get a shot before too long. And thereís always the possibility Randy Johnson doesnít hold up also.

I want to have Tim Lincecumís children. After all, he is a beefcake.

Donít look now, but my boy Anthony Reyes is thriving in the pen. Yes, itís a tiny sample size, but would a 6:0 K:BB ratio and a 0.71 WHIP interest you? He canít bring much fantasy value as a middle reliever (although his save Saturday assured me from not finishing with zero in the cat in a couple of leagues), and the Cardinals actually do have numerous options in the rotation, so a trade would be for the best.

Miguel Cotto nearly murdered poor Alfonso Gomez on Saturday night. The fight between Antonio Margarito and him will be very good. And the one after that against Floyd Mayweather (if Pretty Boy doesnít keep ducking him) will be even better, with the potential to be the fight of the decade.

Troy Tulowitzki owners, especially those who drafted him as high as the third round, are likely to be left disappointed at seasonís end. Of course heís going to bounce back from the dreadful start, but his .256/.327/.393 line away from home last year revealed he wasnít quite as good as the counting stats suggested. Heís also been caught on eight of his 19 stolen base attempts throughout his career. That doesnít mean Coors Field still canít make him a fantasy star, but the 23-year-old with the propensity to strike out played a bit over his head in 2007.

MLB Notes

Iíd be lying if I said I wasnít concerned about Edwin Encarnacionís dreadfully slow start. Not only did he enter Thursday with an .083 average, but heís also committed three errors already. He hit .221 with no homers last April, so slow starts are nothing new to him. Still, a day off Wednesday and extra work in the cage may have done Encarnacion some good, as he clubbed his second homer of the season Thursday. Looking deeper, there are some other encouraging signs; heís already walked more than a quarter (10) of his total last season (39) in 475 fewer at-bats, so his pitch recognition is really improving. Of course, Dusty Baker probably views this as a negative.

Staying with the Reds, forward thinking owners might want to stash Homer Bailey now, even in shallower leagues. Heís shown a big improvement in the command department during his last two starts in Triple-A and still possesses major strikeout potential. On a team thatís employing Josh Fogg in the starting rotation, there really should be no hesitation to make the switch if Baileyís control continues to progress.

When Iím driving and go out of my way to let you in my lane, a courtesy wave of acknowledgement really is required. I mean, is that too much to ask?

Donít look now, but ESPN poster boy Bobby Crosby is off to a fast start. Heís still an obvious injury concern and not displaying the kind of power most thought would develop, but after striking out once every 4.7 at-bats during his career entering 2008, heís fanned just once during 36 ABs this year. No one should count on him staying healthy, but there is some upside here.

Brett Favre hasnít been retired for more than a month, and we are already subjected to will he come back rumors? This feels like an SNL skit or something.

Iím not sure what to make of Zack Greinke. Heís got upside, but he probably isnít quite as good as his second half last year (2.42 ERA, 1.17 WHIP). But with his mind finally right, there was potential entering 2008, and after allowing just one run against terrific Tiger and Yankee offenses, optimism is abound. However, that accompanying 5:4 K:BB ratio suggests heís been mighty lucky.

Adam LaRoche got on the board with his first homer of the year Wednesday, but his history in April is remarkable. Throughout his career, heís now hit .174/.271/.341 during the first month of the season. That comes with a staggering 96 strikeouts over 299 at-bats.

Chuck James is getting overlooked right now. Sure, heís pitching with a damaged shoulder, but thatís also true with many pitchers, and he feels much better after an offseason of rest. He posted a legit 2.75:1 K:BB ratio over the second half last season with a 1.21 WHIP. He gives up too many flyballs, but his changeup is nasty, and the shelling during his season debut Wednesday came in Coors Field and with another stellar K:BB rate. Let him get the cobwebs out after a truncated spring, but James shouldnít be unowned in any deep league right now.

Iíve never been more excited about someone who was born in the 1990s, but Angel Villalona is Babe Ruth and Jesus Christ wrapped into one.

Whether or not Austin Kearnsí power will ever return is up in the air, but his component numbers are very encouraging early on. Dating back to last season, his strikeout and walk rates are both moving sharply in the right direction. Heís going to have quite a bit of RBI opportunities if Nick Johnson somehow stays healthy this season.

If Ned Yost removes Manny Parra from the rotation instead of David Bush once Yovani Gallardo returns, then heís even more inept than I gave him credit for. He should be fired on the spot if this takes place.

Top-5 Rap Songs:

1. ďAmbition Az A RidahĒ (2Pac)
2. ďJuicyĒ (Biggie)
3. ďIt Was A Good DayĒ (Ice Cube)
4. ďTriumphĒ (Wu Tang Clan)
5. ďAdrenalineĒ (The Roots)

One of the worst trades in recent memory that doesnít get a lot of play involved Adam Eaton, Akinori Otsuka for Adrian Gonzalez and Chris Young. Of course, the ballparks do skew some of the pitching stats, but imagine what Gonzalez would do out of Petco.

Francisco Liriano seems to be dealing with some psychosomatic problems. The team says heís perfectly healthy, but heís afraid to go all out with his fastball and is throwing far too many sliders. This is hardly rare for someone coming back from TJ surgery, but for the good of baseball, hopefully Lirianoís velocity eventually comes all the way back.

The Giants are looking for a left-handed hitting first baseman and are active in trade discussions, but club officials said they have no interest in Dan Johnson, whom the A's designated for assignment. Of course they donít! Why would a rebuilding team want to take a cheap flier on a 28-year-old with a career .298/.388/.517 line in the minors and a 1.07:1 K:BB ratio in the majors when they have Rich Aurilia? Also, Johnsonís disappointing last couple of years can at least partially be blamed on injuries. Brian Sabeanís legacy as GM is turning into an even bigger train wreck than this.

MLB Notes

In my main league, I drafted Ryan Howard and David Ortiz with the first two picks. They are a combined 8-for-57 (.140), giving me a major leg up in the batting average category early on.

Dice-K looks awfully good so far. Nine walks in 18.1 innings are far too many, but 22 Ks and just eight hits allowed suggest his stuff is better than ever. With a full season under his belt, maybe he wonít fatigue like he did last year. If he improves his command, a run at the Cy Young isnít out of the question. Then again, the same is true for a dozen other guys.

Jose Reyes has now gone 21 consecutive games without a steal, attempting just two swipes during that span. In fact, heís been caught in five of his past nine attempts. Itís probably not something to worry about, but itíd be nice if he started running again sometime soon.

T-minus 21 days until Mario Kart drops on the Wii.

The 1962 Mets finished 40-120, the worst record ever in the modern-day schedule. I will bet anyone even-money the Giants post a worse record this season. Iíve been offered free tickets (great seats) and a ride to a game in SF next week, but unless they drastically lowered the beer prices, Iíll probably stay home and do something more entertaining instead. Like laundry.

Speaking of Bay Area teams, Iíd like someone to explain something to me. As a subscriber to the MLB Extra Innings package, my ďlocalĒ teams are blacked out. Well, the Oakland Aís fall under this category, yet they arenít telecasted by my cable company quite frequently. How does this make sense? Out of 30 teams in major league baseball, the one I canít watch on TV is the team located closest to me? Huh?

If Joe Saunders is still available on your leagueís waiver wire, join a new one.

Little known fact: Cueto means Cy Young in Spanish.

Joakim Soria is a machine. Over his last 16.1 innings, heís allowed two runs with a sparkling 22:1 K:BB ratio. Iím thinking the Padres regret leaving him unprotected in the Rule 5 draft.

Iíd rather eat fast food (although barely) than ever gamble on Daniel Cabrera again. Iím throwing in the towel. I give up.

I could beat a score of 37 while bowling left-handed and blindfolded.

Todd Wellemeyer has looked good during back-to-back outings to start the year, fanning 13 batters over 12 innings. Moreover, heís a must-start against the Littles during his next two games.

Speaking of Wellemeyer, if I hadnít won him in FAAB in NL-only LABR thanks to a tiebreaker, Jonah Keri would have, and he was dropping Barry Zito as a result. If youíre getting dropped in a league so deep that guys are fighting over the likes of Tim Redding, Odalis Perez and Kyle McClellan, then itís time to start sending back that paycheck.

Kosuke Fukudome and Hiroki Kuroda (is that bad to lump them together?) both look like real deals early on. Even Ichiro Suzuki hit .243/.317/.306 during his first month of major league baseball. Fukudome, meanwhile, has looked like he belongs the moment his lackluster spring ended. He still might not amount to a fantasy superstar, but with that eye at the plate, heís going to really help the Cubs. Moreover, Kuroda looked simply fantastic during his first start. As long as he pounds that strike zone, heís going to experience quite a bit of success this season, especially the first time teams see him.

MLB Notes

Iím not that worried about the Tigersí dismal start. The fact Miguel Cabrera, Gary Sheffield and Curtis Granderson are all injured is some cause for concern, but Iíd still take them over the Indians in the Central at even money. Dontrelle Willisí recent line of no-hit ball through five innings with a 0:7 K:BB ratio is one of the strangest youíll ever see.

With Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez looking legit, the Reds have to be taken seriously. If Homer Bailey develops, thereís a chance Cincy could boast the best 1-5 starting rotation in major league baseball during the second half of this season. They have the upside to win the National League.

Matt Kempís continuous exclusion from the starting lineup is simply inexcusable. Maybe thereís some politics involved not wanting to show up a GM who signed Juan Pierre for $45 million, but if Joe Torre truly is making this decision from a baseball standpoint, heís officially lost his mind. Or maybe thatís already happened, and itís only now becoming glaringly apparent.

Chris Young, who allowed a perfect 44-of-44 successful stolen base attempts against him last year, is already ahead of the curve, as he picked off James Loney on Sunday.

Will someone please inform Travis Buck the season began. Heís started the year in an 0-for-21 slump with a 9:0 K:BB ratio. Thatís not very good.

Without a doubt, there is not a more annoying commentator than Ron Santo.

Justin Upton is batting .333 with three homers already but with nine strikeouts in 24 at-bats, he makes for a better sell-high than anything else. Of course, in a keeper format, that doesnít apply, as he could go 35/35 one day.

When Fred Lewis is your teamís No. 3 hitter, you know youíre in trouble. Good thing the Giants combat that with an awful infield defense. Iím going on record right now: the Giants wonít win 50 games this season. Forward thinking owners might want to pick up Justin Germano now for his Wednesday start against the Littles. Same with Kyle Lohse after that.

Last season, J.D. Drew didnít hit his third homer until June 8. This year, he has two bombs in four games played. Additionally, his 6:0 K:BB ratio might be construed as a good thing, as it shows heís taking a much more aggressive approach at the plate. Heís going to go down as a serious steal in fantasy leagues.

Jered Weaver and Ian Snell are two young pitchers ready to post monster 2008 seasons. Donít forget, Snell entered last yearís All-Star break with a 2.93 ERA and 1.17 WHIP before wearing down in his first 200-inning season. Weaver, meanwhile, was hampered by a loss of velocity after a spring training injury last season. Now that a few extra mph has returned, heís going to be extremely difficult to hit, especially against right-handers.

I wouldnít be too concerned with Josh Beckettís poor first start; his stuff was there, and he was bound to be shaky early on after a stunted spring. If someone in your league is uneasy with his health and bad outing Sunday, go make a legitimate offer.

Two for the Money

I know it wasn't a very good movie, but I had the guy it was based on, Brandon Lang, on the show today. (Matthew McConaughey's character).

He makes his final four picks on the show.

MLB Notes

The more I think about it, the more I like Corey Patterson this season. Itís not ideal that the Reds have plenty of outfield options, but Patterson is a very good defender, and his average should stay afloat starting mostly against righties. Moreover, his relationship with Dusty Baker dating back to the Chicago days should lead to a long rope, as Baker sees him as one of his guys and likes his style of play (the .297 OBP wonít be clogging up the bases). Playing in a bandbox, a 20/50 type season isnít out of the question, even though heíll be hurting the Reds in the process.

Injuries are a part of the game, but theyíve been a little ridiculous in the early going. Gary Sheffield wasted no time this season.

Anyone who watched Eric Gagneís season debut also likely picked up David Riske. Gagne simply looked brutal, and one shouldnít be too optimistic for a turnaround. If youíre a Gagne owner and can get Riske straight up right now, Iíd do it in a nanosecond. Kerry Woodís shaky start, meanwhile, is far less worrisome. Heís touching 98 mph on the gun, and while heís never had great command, Wood should be a very successful closer as long as health permits.

Ron Gardenhire is mistakenly considered a great manager by most, but his irrational decision to start Craig Monroe over Jason Kubel versus a righty suggests just the opposite. That better not happen again this season.

Put a fork in Trevor Hoffman, heís done. Since the end of July last year, he has a 6.26 ERA and 1.87 WHIP. Doesnít matter how good your changeup is if your fastball is the same speed.

Iím avoiding all players slated to start their year during the ESPN Sunday night opening game next season. Last year, Chris Carpenter got rocked and hasnít thrown a pitch in a game since. This year, Chad Cordero gets shut down in the bullpen during a save opportunity with what sounds like a potentially long-term injury. Itís the ESPN Sunday night opening game curse.

Forget Rookie of the Year, itís Johnny Cueto for Cy Young. Cueto was flat-out dominant during his first big league start Thursday, posting a 10:0 K:BB ratio and allowing just one baserunner over seven innings. Of course, the 22-year-old is bound to be inconsistent with his command over the course of this season, but the Reds are obviously holding a winning lottery ticket. His fastball/slider combo is pretty much unhittable.

Daltonís weekly SF Giant rant: Aaron Rowand batting sixth? Donít get me wrong, I think thatís where he belongs in a normal major league lineup, but the Giantsí barely resembles a Triple-A squad, and if they thought he was worth $60 million, surely heís one of their five best hitters, correct? True story: Bengie Molina couldnít score from second base on a soft single even when it was during a hit-and-run Tuesday. After a 1.5 hour rain delay Wednesday, San Francisco thought itíd be a good idea to bring Tim Lincecum back into a game in wet conditions. In a season destined to finish with the worst record in baseball? Words canít describe how poorly ran San Franciscoís franchise is.

After a dominant spring, Joe Saunders looked very good in his season debut against the Twins on Wednesday. After working hard all offseason, Saunders canít be ignored. A lefty who induces that many groundballs needs to be picked up in deeper leagues.

Iíve told you once, but itís worth reiterating, donít "sleep" on Pacman Jones.

If you need middle infield help, look no further than Jose Lopez, who is a major candidate to break out in 2008. Coming off a second half that saw him hit .213/.238/.281 last season, heís easy to overlook, but Lopez is still just 24 years old and is batting second in the Mariners lineup. Heís also taking a different approach this season, concentrating on going oppo and cutting down on the strikeouts. If heís still available in your league, he wonít be for long.

Fantasy and MVP challenge: Bryant vs Garnett

Last week I made cases for LeBron James and Chris Paul as real life and/or fantasy MVP. This week I will do the same for Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett, and at the end I hope you will chime in on whether Paul, James, Bryant or Garnett get your MVP votes

Kobe Bryant

Bryant is the Tiger Woods of the NBA, combining outstanding physical gifts with a computer-like knowledge of the game and a singular will to win. He is taller, quicker, bigger, and/or jumps higher than almost everyone that guards him and he is ruthless about exploiting those advantages to score at will. Bryant is a late-game assassin, with cold-blooded execution in crunch time situations that makes him one of the most feared players in the NBA when the game is on the line. He is also an excellent 1-on-1 defender, likely to add an eighth NBA All-Defensive team award to his trophy case this year. Bryant has been given credit for keeping the Lakers at the top of the ultra-competitive Western Conference despite injuries to Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, and also many consider it a correctible oversight that he has never won the MVP trophy. Thus, if the Lakers finish the season at the top of the West, Bryant has a good chance to win his first MVP.

Fantasy-wise, Bryant is second in the NBA in scoring at 28.7 ppg, and he is one of only two players in the league averaging at least 25 points, six rebounds and five assists per game (LeBron James). Where Bryant distances himself from James is at the free throw line, where his 7.6 FTM/game at 84% shooting is second only to Kevin Martin in terms of roto free throw impact.

Kevin Garnett

Garnett has been the catalyst for a historic season in Boston, with the Celtics using a stifling defense (2nd team ever to lead NBA in points allowed, FG% allowed, and 3-pt % allowed) to improve by an NBA record 36 games with two weeks still left in the season. Garnett has been the focal-point of that defense, using his extremely long 7-foot frame, great quickness and excellent technique to shut down his own man while also giving strong help defense to his teammates. On offense, Garnett is a versatile threat that is able to command double-teams from opposing defenses on the blocks or consistently knock down the jumper with range out to 20 feet. He is also arguably the best passing big man in the NBA, which combines with his other offensive talents to foster an extremely efficient offense in which six of the top eight rotation players are shooting a career high EFG%. Garnett has infused this Celtics team with intensity, defensive edge, and unselfishness and is widely credited as the biggest influence that has made them championship contenders.

Garnettís MVP candidacy depends a lot upon the Celtics record: you have to go back to 1960 (Wilt Chamberlain) to find the only time in NBA history when a team with the best record by more than six games did not have the MVP winner. The Celtics currently have the best record by 6.5 games, so if they maintain that margin history says that KG has a good chance to win his second MVP trophy.

Fantasy-wise, Garnett is one of only two players in the league averaging at least 18 points while shooting 53% from the field and 80% from the line (Amare Stoudemire). He is one of only three players in the NBA averaging at least 9.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists (Lamar Odom, Brad Miller). And he is one of only two players averaging at least 9.0 rebounds, 1.4 steals, and 1.3 blocks/game (Shawn Marion).

LeBron James. Chris Paul. Kobe Bryant. Kevin Garnett. Who is your fantasy MVP? Who is your real-life MVP? And why?

Bill James Q &A in the NY Times

Some good stuff in here:

Q: Generally, who should have a larger role in evaluating college and minor league players: scouts or stat guys?

A: Ninety-five percent scouts, five percent stats. The thing is that ó with the exception of a very few players like Ryan Braun ó college players are so far away from the major leagues that even the best of them will have to improve tremendously in order to survive as major league players ó thus, the knowledge of who will improve is vastly more important than the knowledge of who is good. Stats can tell you who is good, but theyíre almost 100 percent useless when it comes to who will improve.

Q: Is clutch hitting a repeatable/retain-able skill?

A: I donít know.

Q: Shouldnít in-game strategic decisions be made by a computer? Or, more to the point, isnít there always a correct choice?

A: It is totally impossible to isolate the correct strategic choice in almost all real-life situations, for the simple reason that all real-life strategic situations involve dozens of variables, many of which have not been thoroughly tested by trial. People who think that they know when a manager should bunt and when a manager should pitch out and when a manager should make a pitching change are amateurs. People who have actually studied these issues know that the answer disappears in a cloud of untested variables.

But it's worth reading the entire chat.

Paul for MVP

Many have been debating whether Chris Paul, LeBron James or Kobe Bryant deserve the 2007-08 NBA MVP award, but not only am I here to declare the winner, Iím here to say there really shouldnít even be a debate to begin with.

When all is said and done, LeBron James will be viewed as one of the two or three best players in the history of the league. His line this season Ė 30.4 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 7.3 apg, 1.8 spg, 1.0 bpg, 48.4 FG% - is downright fantastic and would be worthy of MVP honors in most other NBA seasons. However, his team currently sits 17.5 games out of first place in an inferior Eastern Conference, good for fourth place. He also commits 3.4 turnovers per game and shoots just 71 percent from the line.

If my life depended on someone scoring during one final possession, Kobe Bryant would be my choice with the ball in his hands. The fact heís yet to win a single MVP award is nothing short of a travesty, and his 2007-08 campaign has been one of his most impressive yet. Still, take him away from this current Lakers squad, and theyíre still a playoff team, likely in the top-4 in the East.

Paul, meanwhile, is simply having the best season at his position in the history of the NBA. His 4.56/1 assist/turnover ratio is flat-out amazing. To put that in perspective, during John Stocktonís NBA-record 1989-90 season in which he handed out 14.5 assists per game, his ratio was 4.15/1. Paulís not just the best passer in the league, but heís also the gameís best perimeter defender, evidenced by his league-leading 2.7 steals per game. Here are Paulís averages from 15 games in the month of March: 24.0 points, 13.3 assists, 2.7 steals, 1.5 3-pointers on 55.3 percent shooting from the field. The guy made 46.0 percent of his three-point attempts!

David West is a good player, but with Morris Peterson, Peja Stojakovic and Tyson Chandler rounding out the starting five, itís simply incredible Paul has the Hornets currently leading the Western Conference. In the history of the league, only one team won 44 games and failed to make the playoffs; the current Western Conference features a Denver Nugget team that is on pace to finish with 50 wins and yet out of the postseason. In short, during the most competitive season in NBA history, Paulís efficiency, defense and ability to take control of a game has led an otherwise moribund franchise to the top of the standings. Paul has been the NBAís most valuable player this season.

Crystal Ball

NL MVP: David Wright Ė What doesnít he do well? Wright plays defense, runs the bases and has a terrific batting eye. He had a .364/.465/.596 line after the All-Star break and even if you take away the entire month of April, posted a 30/31 season last year.

AL MVP: Miguel Cabrera Ė I probably wouldnít be batting him fifth, but in a lineup as loaded as the Tigersí, itís unlikely to matter much. Itís easy to forget, but Cabrera is still just 24 years old. Itís only a matter of time before he posts a gigantic .330-50-150 type season, and it very well may arrive in 2008.

NL Cy Young: Johan Santana Ė Boring, but Santana is the clear front-runner. Jake Peavy may be an equal pitcher, but heís got more health concerns, and Santana has a solid offense supporting him as well. The switch to the NL could result in an extra 60 strikeouts.

AL Cy Young: Josh Beckett Ė Justin Verlander will be major competition, and Beckettís increasing workload and health need to be monitored, but heís also become possibly the gameís best pitcher. Over the final three months last year, he posted a 111:20 K:BB ratio.

NL Rookie of the Year: Kosuke Fukudome Ė Kind of boring since heís 30 years old and all, but when you combine opportunity with skill set, he should finish 2008 with some pretty solid numbers. Johnny Cueto and Manny Parra are his main competitors, but itís harder to learn the art of pitching than it is hitting.

AL Rookie of the Year: Evan Longoria Ė Like Ryan Braun last year, Longoria is going to have to make up for a lost six weeks after starting the year in the minors, but he has the stick to do so. Clay Buchholz and Joba Chamberlain are the obvious contenders.

NLCS: Mets over Dodgers

ALCS: Yankees over Red Sox

World Series: Yankees over Mets

American League Central Preview

1. Detroit Tigers

Offense: The Tigers enter 2008 competing with only the Yankees as the best lineup in baseball, and they are likely the favorites. Magglio Ordonez isnít going to hit .363 again, but Gary Sheffield should make more of an impact, and Carlos Guillen is one of the more underrated hitters in the game. The team also drastically improved defensively with Guillenís shift to first base. It will be interesting to see if Pudge Rodriguezís power surge this spring carries into the regular season, and he became just the seventh player in the history of major league baseball to walk fewer than 10 times in 500 at-bats last season. Itís scary to think what a sculpted Miguel Cabrera can do in his prime and in this lineup, but Iíll set the over/under for MVP awards at 2.5 for his career.

Pitching: As good as Detroitís hitting is, its pitching is equally as bad. Justin Verlander should contend for the Cy Young this season, but the bullpen is a complete mess; Todd Jonesí 4.39 K/9 IP over the last two years is almost unfathomable. Jeremy Bonderman has shown glimpses of greatness, but the end results have left a lot to be desired. Heís also a huge injury-risk moving forward. Kenny Rogers and Nate Robertson should be mediocre enough to let the offense carry this team. Dontrelle Willis, on the other hand, is a major liability.

Outlandish fantasy prediction: Miguel Cabrera hits 50 homers with 160 RBI.

2. Cleveland Indians

Offense: The Indians were one win away from being the likely World Series champs last year, but because of that deep run, itís a team that should struggle to reach the postseason in 2008. The lineup is solid, with Grady Sizemore, Travis Hafner, Ryan Garko, Franklin Gutierrez and Asdrubal Cabrera all in line for improvement. Itíd be nice if Andy Marte finally lived up to expectations, as Casey Blake is an uninspiring option at third. Whether Hafner goes back to hitting like he did in 2005/2006 or if last year was the beginning of a true decline will go a long way in deciding the Indiansí season.

Pitching: Sometimes, looking at pitchersí workload and then predicting future break downs based upon it can be overrated and misleading. However, C.C. Sabathia threw nearly 70 innings more last season than he ever had during his career. Fausto Carmona experienced a similar increased workload. This is a major concern for Clevelandís 2008 season. Jake Westbrook may prove to be a decent No. 3, but the rotation is ugly after that. Joe Borowski is likely no better than the fourth or fifth reliever in Clevelandís pen, but the fact the Indians have him acting as closer really shouldnít affect the standing too much.

Outlandish fantasy prediction: Ryan Garko drives in 100 runs.

3. Chicago White Sox

Offense: The White Sox have a potentially dangerous lineup, especially if Alexei Ramirez takes hold of the second base job and Carlos Quentin sees extensive action in the outfield. The Orlando Cabrera addition improved both the defense and offense, but the sooner the better that Josh Fields gets recalled and replaces Joe Crede at third. Nick Swisher is a 40-homer, 100-RBI candidate with the move to the homer-friendly ballpark, and despite his low batting average, heís a big help thanks to all the walks.

Pitching: Like most teams, Chicago has plenty of question marks with its rotation. Whether John Danks and Gavin Floyd can take the next step remains to be seen and has become increasingly less likely, while Jose Contreras looks just about done. Thatís what happens when you turn 50. Itís anyoneís guess which Mark Buehrle shows up this season, but a soft tosser playing in that ballpark means a campaign resembling his 2006 is more likely than his 2007. The bullpen is actually a strength, but counting on Javier Vazquez to repeat last yearís performance would be unwise.

Outlandish fantasy prediction: Jim Thome hits 50 bombs.

4. Minnesota Twins

Offense: Despite losing Torii Hunter and Johan Santana over the offseason, Minnesota is no doormat and would likely be a major threat in the AL West. As is, the Twins will be in the middle of the pack in a tough Central division. Delmon Young is going to be a monster, but heís still likely a year or two away from accomplishing it. The team has to hope last yearís collision at home plate was the cause for Justin Morneauís precipitous drop in power; he had 28 homers through July and three over the final two months. Speaking of power, it sure would be nice if Joe Mauer developed some one of these years; Iím still a believer.

Pitching: Francisco Liriano is likely to have an up-and-down season, especially with his control after coming back from TJ surgery, but whether his velocity fully returns is all that really matters to the Twinsí franchise. Boof Bonser has a better name than pitching skills, and trotting out Livan Hernandez as your Opening Day starter is hardly ideal. Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey arenít bad back-end options, but allocating so much budget to Joe Nathan, who is already 33 years old and can only make so much of an impact as a reliever, will prove to be a mistake.

Outlandish fantasy prediction: Carlos Gomez steals 60 bases.

5. Kansas City Royals

Offense: At least they have Billy Butler and Alex Gordon. Not much to like after that, but those two could be starting in the same All-Star game in the near future.

Pitching: Although thereís nothing in the form of depth, thereís some optimism at the top of the Royalsí rotation. Zack Greinke was extremely effective from June on last season, and his stuff is legit. Gil Meche was similarly a pleasant surprise. Joakim Soria should already be considered one of the 10 best relievers in baseball. Still, expect yet another last place finish in Kansas City.

Outlandish fantasy prediction: Alex Gordon is a top-5 third baseman.

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