Monday, March 31, 2008

Let's Play Ball! Opening Day In-Game Blog!

We're now just over an hour away from the 2008 Marlins season, and I'm already getting excited. Can Mark Hendrickson shut down the potent Mets lineup? Will the Marlins rattle Santana in his first NL start? They're certainly the underdogs, but I have a good feeling about today.
Also, it was nice to see Miggy knock his first homer for Detroit. They seem to love him there.

The first pitch is approaching soon. I'm sure Mark Hendrickson had no idea he'd be starting Opening Day, but I kind of like that. Hendrickson has his limitations, but he had a great Spring, and he could be motivated to come out firing. Anybody can win a baseball game on any given day.
I think it will be critical for the Marlins to score early. Santana could feel some jitters, so that bottom of the 1st is crucial (assuming the top of the 1st goes according to plan, of course).

Very classy moment for Jeff Conine. The quote that stands out: "I always considered myself a Florida Marlin." A nice applause for the dapper Conine (who could look better only in uniform). Thanks for all the memories Jeff!

We're underway!

Top of the 1st:
Hendrickson strikes out Reyes to start things off. You couldn't ask for a better opening. Then walks Luis Castillo (who always had a great eye. It's hard to root against him). Hendrickson showing some impressive heat early on. Luis Gonzalez makes an adventurous putout on David Wright (demonstrating the popular view that he's the worst fielder in MLB). 2 out. Hendrickson's thrown a couple good curves too (great first strike on Beltran).
Oh no...Cody Ross proving why CF may not be such a good idea. A horrible defensive play on Beltran's fly to center. He stayed back on the ball too long, then made a feeble attempt to dive for it. If Hendrickson doesn't get Delgado out, this run's on Cody.
Whew! Hanley catches an "unlucky blooper" if there is such a thing. Take a deep breath.

Bottom of the 1st:
Let's see what Hanley can do leading off here. Santana looks awfully tough. Hanley goes down looking. Uggla a lazy fly to right. Jacobs pops up the first pitch (not smart. He should be patient when facing a guy like Santana). Not the early push I was hoping for.

As we go into the top of the 2nd, it looks like the Marlins benefit from a low-scoring affair. Keep it at 1-1 and let the improved bullpen try to win it.

Top of the 2nd:
Quick first out on popup to catcher. Treanor shows good patience. Hendrickson denied what should have been strike 3 on Church. It doesn't matter, because he gets an easy dribbler to the mound. Hendrickson looks fantastic...could he be this year's Carl Pavano? Another popup to Treanor. I'm very impressed so far.

Bottom of the 2nd:
Can the Marlins put up a better showing this inning? The bottom of the lineup is going to be a question mark all year, especially now without Hermida. It's critical for Willingham-Cantu-Ross to have career years. Willingham starts it out with an average fly to center. These aren't good ABs. Cantu needs to learn more patience at the plate. He lofts another lazy fly to center. I have a good feeling about Ross today. Let's see what he does. Weak grounder down the first base side. Great pitching, poor hitting the story through 2.

Top of the 3rd:
Nice to have Santana leading off. (Apparently Santana is a good hitter, they say). Ross makes the catch in CF, but looks uncomfortable out there. I'm worried. Reyes hits it hard his second time up, but right to Willingham. This is the worst defensive alignment in MLB, no question. Look for a lot of balls to drop in.
Oh, Luis. A bunt just like the old times. Gets on with 2 outs. He could be running. Yep, and he takes second on a high throw. I miss the old Castillo days. Ross makes another play and we move on. Marlins dodge a possible run. Good work.

Bottom of the 3rd:
I've been very critical of the Luis Gonzalez signing. I just didn't see how it made sense with this team. I hope he proves me wrong, though. He flies out to center, but not a bad at-bat. Here's Treanor (what a likable guy), known as Mr. Misty May to some. He flies out to right. The Marlins aren't exactly among the league leaders right now at 0-8. Hendrickson looks completely out of place at the plate, but we'll give him a bye. He goes down after a slight battle. Still scoreless.

Top of the 4th:
Beltran ropes a double to left. The first well-hit ball of the day. Marlins in trouble here. Hendrickson gets a tough no-call on a 3-1 curve, then walks Delgado. We're hearing the usual Let's Go Marlins followed by Let's Go least the Marlins' one lasts longer (but is it louder?). Pagan unties this game with a hard shot down the third-base line. Mets lead 1-0, 2nd and 3rd with no outs.
Another RBI, this one from Church. 1st and 3rd, nobody out. Hendrickson suddenly getting smacked around. Jacobs with a great stab at a liner, almost gets two (Church just evaded the tag). It would really help to keep this 2-0. Santana squaring to bunt (would only advance runner from first to second...guy on third would likely stay put). After two strikes, he gets him swinging! Two outs. Reyes knocks in another. 3-0.
Castillo walks (on base all 3 times). Wright breaks the game open with a bases clearing double. 6-0 Mets. Beltran lines out, but the damage is brutal.
Mets 6, Marlins 0

Bottom of the 4th:
How do you score six runs against Santana? The Marlins have to chip away (right now, just get a guy on base). Can Hanley start a rally? What began as a dominating performance for Hendrickson turns into a disaster. Very poor 4th inning. Bad pitch selection, inconsistent control. This guy - much as we wanted to believe it - is not a viable opening day starter. He's a fine 5th in the rotation guy. Why should we have expected more out of him?
Hanley earns a walk. Good job! Will he be going here? Uggla with a soft grounder to the right, Hanley to second. Jacobs with a weak popout to second. 2 down. Willingham needs to deliver here. The Hammer HOMERS!!!!! First hit of the game is a HR! Marlins trail 6-2! That's the "chipping away" I was talking about. They'll need to keep doing it. Cantu retired. Still, a good inning.
Mets 6, Marlins 2

Top of the 5th:
Delgado grounds out. Pagan flies out. So does Church. Perfect rebound inning for Hendrickson. Now the Marlins have to score some more.
Mets 6, Marlins 2

Bottom of the 5th:
They get Jeff Conine in the booth, who exhibits his usual class. Cody Ross pops out for the first out. The Marlins bullpen is getting warmed up. Luis Castillo with a rare bad fielding play. He throws it late and almost into the Marlins dugout. Schneider makes a fantastic play to keep Gonzalez on first (blocks it from reaching the dugout). Gonzo gets to second after all on a wild pitch. Treanor draws a walk. Good eye. 1st and 2nd with 1 out. This could be a big chance. Jason Wood comes in to PH, ending Hendrickson's up-and-down day. The stat sheet won't be kind to Hendrickson, but it was only one bad inning. That's the way it goes.
Wood strikes out (somewhere Amazin' Amezaga is having a laugh. He has been critical of Wood since Day 1). Can Hanley come through? Not this time. The Fish waste a good opportunity.
Mets 6, Marlins 2

Top of the 6th:
Nolasco now in the game. He should be the 5th starter once the Marlins begin a natural rotation. Schneider grounds out. Santana hits a decent fly, but he's retired. Reyes singles. He tries to run and he's caught! If nothing else, the Marlins get Reyes his first CS of the year and help Hanley get to the All-Star game (though Reyes should get it regardless because of the NY fans).
Mets 6, Marlins 2

Bottom of the 6th:
Uggla with a very poor AB. Caught swinging badly for the third strike. Santana now hits the 80s in pitches, so he could be out soon. If they can stretch out this inning, maybe he'll be done after 6. Jacobs not helping the cause. He joins Uggla in the K factory. Willingham grounds to short on the first pitch. Both a bad inning and a foolish one.
Mets 6, Marlins 2

Top of the 7th:
Nolasco still in. He gets Castillo to ground out to second. Wright comes through with another double. The Marlins can't allow him to score here if they want any chance. David Wright caught stealing 3rd! Treanor now 2 for 3! He gets Beltran on strikes. Good inning.
Mets 6, Marlins 2

Bottom of the 7th:
Cantu starts things off with a single. Ross flies out. Why not show some more patience? This hasn't been Cody Ross's finest day. A guy in Polo pours onto the field going after a ball. Now that's the Opening Day spirit (Do the Marlins know that?)! Gonzalez grounds into fielder's choice. Treanor, in yet another weak Marlin at-bat, goes down swinging. Side retired.
Mets 6, Marlins 2

Top of the 8th:
Nolasco comes out for a third inning. It makes sense, since he won't be starting for two weeks. Delago opens it up with a pop out to short. Nolasco looks very sharp with his offspeed stuff. He's starting to look like the 2006 know, the one who actually pitched. Nice battle going here with Pagan. Pagan outlasts him, takes Ball 4. Ryan Church is robbed by Hanley (not known for his defense). Still, it probably would have been an easier out for a better SS. Pagan out at second, Church at first on the fielder's choice. Schneider hits the ball fairly well, but within Willingham's reach. Nolasco throws 3 scoreless innings.
Mets 6, Marlins 2

Bottom of the 8th:
Outs becoming a factor here. The Marlins need to score four in two innings. Is it likely? No. Can it happen? Certainly, and it's most likely to happen here in the 8th, with a PH and then the top of the order. Alfredo Amezaga steps to the plate! Let's face it...the Marlins have a weak bench.
With Matt Wise coming in for Santana, the time is now. How about Amezaga! He starts it off with a base hit. That must make Amazin' Amezaga very proud for his namesake. Hanley disappoints again with a popup to Reyes. A substandard day for Hanley, to say the least.
Reyes makes a poor decision, trying to get Amezaga out at 2nd when he should have gone to first. Both runners are safe. 1st and 2nd with 1 out. We have a rally, and Wise gets taken out.
Scott Schoenweiss, MOT replaces Wise. He gets Jacobs to hit a weak grounder to first. This is the rare case of Jacobs benefiting from his own ineptitude, as something harder may have been a double play. Marlins have 2nd and 3rd with 2 out. Jorge Sosa will now come in for Wise. Willingham will have to try and be the hero again. He goes down swinging. Ugh.
Mets 6, Marlins 2

Top of the 9th:
Matt Lindstrom gets the call. I'm expecting a great year out of him. Let's see how he performs in his first game (against his former team). He gives up a soft single to Marlon Anderson (who came on strong last year after joining the Mets midseason). Treanor throws out Reyes at first, Anderson to second. TERRIBLE PLAY! Wild pitch that Treanor throws away when attempting to get Anderson at third. Anderson comes all the way around to score. 7-2 Mets. AWFUL! Castillo chops out to second. David Wright walks. With a full count on Beltran, Uggla makes a diving stop to his left and throws him out at first.
Mets 7, Marlins 2

Bottom of the 9th:
Last dance. Last chance, for a win...against Heilman, who has dominated the Marlins in the past. The Marlins' hopes lie with a questionable Major Leaguer, Jorge Cantu. Cantu doesn't help his case by striking out on a bad pitch. At least he has a hit today. Cody Ross can't say that for himself, as he swings right through strike 3 as well. Luis Gonzalez bounces one to Heilman for the final out. Game over.

Final Score: Mets 7, Marlins 2

Final Thoughts: Not a particularly exciting game, and not one the Marlins should feel any pride for either. A lackluster effort on offense, matched with a decent showing from Hendrickson outside of the 4th inning. Having one bad inning isn't an excuse, though.

Ricky Nolasco may have been the lone bright spot. He pitched three scoreless innings, giving hope to the Fish Faithful of a return to prominence. Kudos also to Matt Treanor (even though he flubbed the play that led to the 7th run), for throwing out two runners, including Reyes.

A disappointing game, to be sure, but just one of 162. A win tomorrow and they're right back at .500. Let's not be hasty. As for the Mets fans, they have to be feeling good about Santana. What a great pickup.

Thanks for following along with me. All comments are appreciated.

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

Tomorrow is Opening Day for the Marlins, in their old, non-baseball stadium, and I couldn't be more excited to be going. It reminds me of the feeling I used to have as a kid growing up in Queens, practically within sight of the "Big, Beautiful, Shea" when it first hosted the not so marvelous Mets in 1964. As a kid, I really did not care too much whether the Mets finished first or even last, just so long as I could be there and root for a team that played practically a centerfielder's throw from my backyard. Twelve year olds think that way. They go for the game, for the feeling, for the dream.

Well, now I am a Marlins fan, living here in south Florida, a venue I always associated only with spring training and the "Grapefruit League." I rarely even go to a spring training game these days, waiting patiently for the real thing, and it is a special treat for me that my Marlins, the Mets of the new millenium, are playing the new New York Mets in their home park on Opening Day. I suppose I should have stayed loyal to my childhood team after all these years, but there is something to be said for supporting your community, even if the team does play a good hour away from my Florida home and will soon be called the Miami Marlins.

Not to say that I am not at least a little optimistic about the upcoming season. Sure, we have the lowest payroll in baseball, and yes, we did trade away our two most famous and spirited players, but at least we still have our team, and a stadium of our own seems almost a reality. The Marlins have certainly been an excellent Opening Day team over their 15 years of existence, going 7-4 at home and 8-7 overall. We have already beaten the Mets once before at home on Opening Day, 6-2 in 1999, before a very partisan New York crowd as I recall. We have also done just a little better than the Mets in winning a couple of World Series over that time span, including that remarkable win over their crosstown hated rival. I would not count the Marlins out so fast, at least on a particular day such as tomorrow, when an underdog team takes the field against the mighty Mets and their newly purchased ace.

I will be at that game tomorrow around two hours early, hoping to perhaps catch a batting practice ball off the bat of Mike Jacobs in the right field bleachers. I'll be talking baseball with my son, who is now 17 but was there at the age of 2 on the first Opening Day back in '93 when the upstart Marlins upset the heavily favored Dodgers 6-3. And you can be sure I will be back again next year for Opening Day, regardless of the score tomorrow or where they finish in the standings when October finally rolls around.

Yes, it's that time of year again, and I kind of feel like a kid of twelve, hoping to snag a foul ball off the bat of some future superstar. You just never know.

My 2008 MLB Prediction

As a follow up to ASponge's predictions, I have come up with my own.

NL East:
NY Mets 96-66
Philadelphia 90-72
Atlanta 83-79
Florida 77-85
Washington 68-94

NL Central:
Chicago Cubs 93-69
Milwaukee 84-78
St. Louis 77-85
Houston 76-86
Cincinnati 74-88
Pittsburgh 60-102

NL West:
Colorado 93-69
LA Dodgers 88-74
Arizona 88-74
San Diego 77-85
San Francisco 59-103

AL East:
Boston 101-61
NY Yankees 89-73
Toronto 86-76
Tampa Bay 75-87
Baltimore 59 -103

AL Central:
Detroit 104-58
Cleveland 92-70
Minnesota 80-82
Chicago WS 67-95
Kansas City 67-95

AL West:
LA Angels 87-75
Seattle 85-77
Texas 76-86
Oakland 73-89

Mets over Rockies
Phillies over Cubs

Redsox over Indians
Tigers over Angels

Mets over Phillies
Tigers over Redsox

World Series:
Tigers 4, Mets 2

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Marlins Final Lineup Prediction

I was fairly accurate in my previous hypothesis for the opening day Marlins lineup. Now I have devised a more likely arrangement (still the same players but in a slightly different order). I'm fairly confident that this will hold as true:

1. SS Hanley Ramirez
2. 2B Dan Uggla
3. 1B Mike Jacobs
4. LF Josh Willingham
5. 3B Jorge Cantu
6. CF Cody Ross
7. RF Luis Gonzalez
8. C Matt Treanor
9. P Mark Hendrickson

I'll be at the game tomorrow. Hey, miracles can happen.

Marlins Need Aretha Franklin

What have the Marlins never received? As Aretha Franklin astutely says, "R-E-S-P-E-C-T." Not once. In 1997 they were written off. In 2003 they weren't even considered in the discussion. This a franchise with two World Series Championships for crying out loud!

So it came as no surprise to me that ESPN experts predicted the Marlins to finish last in the NL East and second worst behind the Giants in the whole National League. This is par for the course. In response, I'm going to make my own predictions:

NL East:
NY Mets 96-66
Atlanta 88-74
Philadelphia 85-77
Florida 79-83
Washington 70-92

NL Central:
Milwaukee 88-74
Chicago Cubs 83-79
St. Louis 79-83
Houston 77-85
Cincinnati 75-87
Pittsburgh 64-98

NL West:
LA Dodgers 91-71
Colorado 88-74
Arizona 88-74
San Diego 81-81
San Francisco 58-104

AL East:
NY Yankees 98-64
Boston 93-69
Tampa Bay 82-80
Toronto 81-81
Baltimore 59-103

AL Central:
Detroit 101-61
Cleveland 85-77
Minnesota 81-81
Chicago WS 70-92
Kansas City 68-94

AL West:
LA Angels 86-76
Seattle 83-79
Texas 79-83
Oakland 74-88

Mets over Rockies
Dodgers over Brewers

Tigers over Red Sox
Yankees over Angels

Mets over Dodgers
Tigers over Yankees

World Series;
Tigers 4, Mets 3

Opening Day News, Preview

Just a few quick notes about Opening Day. As Fish Stripes reports, the ill-fated injury to Alejandro de Aza will ensure that Cody Ross gets the start in CF. That's a decision we're happy about here at The South Florida Fan, and we imagine they're happy at as well. Of course, we also feel sympathy for de Aza.

My only concern was over Cody Ross's ability to play defense. The offensive numbers have been shockingly good. Here was his performance in 173 AB last year:

.335/.411/.653 (an amazing 1.064 OPS), 12HR, 39RBI.

For those who worry about Ross's ability to hit while playing CF:

.320/.388/.563 (.951 OPS)

He also demonstrated versatility against righties and lefties:

Lefties: .385/.474/.738 (1.212 OPS)
Righties: .306/.372/.602 (.974 OPS)

Is he likely to keep this up in 2008? Of course not, but the CF position battle should have been a no-brainer. I'm still wondering why it was even in doubt.

I'll be coming out with an Opening Day Preview later, and tomorrow I'll be doing an inning-by-inning journal of the kickoff game. Follow along with me (DSponge will be at the game).

Marlins Nightmare Team

I've spent a good part of this week reviewing the best of the Marlins franchise, including a piece on the Marlins Dream Team lineup and one on the Marlins Best Defensive Team.

In the interest of comedy (and general speculation), I now give you the Marlins Nightmare Team. The rules are the same as for the Dream Team: individual seasons are the measure, the player must have been the regular starter for most of the year, and no repetitions. Prepare yourself for a truly ineffective, air-swishing, weight-room-defying squad of misfits and desperate fill-ins (who managed to last most of the year).

1. Alex Gonzalez, SS (2000) - .200/.229/.319, 13BB
2. Gregg Zaun, C (1998) - .188/.274/.292, 29RBI
3. Darryl Whitmore, RF (1993) - .204/.249/.300, 24R, 19RBI
4. Luis Castillo, 2B (1997) - .240/.310/.270, 0HR, 8RBI
5. Reggie Abercrombie, CF (2006) - .212/.271/.333, 6SB/5CS
6. Terry Pendleton, 3B (1996) - .251/.298/.357, 30R
7. Derrek Lee, 1B (1998) - .233/.318/.414, 120K
8. Todd Hollandsworth, LF (2003) - .254/.317/.421, 3HR, 20RBI
9. Mark Redman, P (2003) - .016/.032/.016, (1-61)

Total HR: 48 (5.3 avg.)
Total RBI: 275 (30.6 avg.)

Amazing how close Lowell's horrid 2005 season came to making this squad. What happened to him that year? It's also interesting to see how Luis Castillo (1997) and Todd Hollandsworth (2003) were both replaced by playoff time in World Series Championship years.

Congratulations to Mark Redman, for just edging out Charlie Hough for worst-hitting pitcher. I'll have the pitching side of things soon. Comments appreciated as always.

Marlins Stadium Info

Yesterday, I offered a few essential links for the 2008 Marlins fan. Those focused on the playing aspect of the team, including the farm.

For those intrigued by the business side of affairs (and let's face it; that's what the Marlins are concerned with), here is a cant-miss analysis of where the Marlins stand. It's a brilliant four-part series, with comprehensive diagrams, in-depth commentary, and general business savvy.

We at The South Florida Fan are extremely interested in the stadium issue (after all, it was the topic of our inaugural post). We will be keeping ourselves informed through Fish or Cut Bait throughout the season, as should you.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Defending the Shaq

Shaq has come under a blitz of fire lately for throwing the Heat under a bus. This is nothing unusual for him, as he's just as well known for his destructive exists as his mammoth entrances.

I'm not going to defend Shaq's actual comments. You can read about them here. DSponge, a respected member of our staff, had his own share of criticism for Shaq, and I vowed to launch a retort.

Does Shaq have emotional problems? Absolutely, and they're not the kind Dr. Phil can solve in Scary Movie 4. Has he burned bridges with his former teams? Yes. Did he do the same with the Heat? Yes.

But slamming Shaq for sharing a few plain words about the state of the Heat is a poor use of verbiage. Everything he said about Chris Quinn, Pat Riley, and the Heat this year just happens to be the truth. Pat Riley is equally no stranger to throwing his former teams under the bus (see Lakers, Knicks, Heat prior-to-Stan Van Gundy), and what he did to Stan Van Gundy is worse than anything Shaq ever said.

Let's also not forget how Shaq was berated this year. The guy is old! What more motivation would you expect from the large, detiorarating cyclops of charisma on a last place team? Between his wife cheating on him, the blame directed his way, and now the love he's receiving in Phoenix, I think we can understand why he'd make some of those comments.

Is he to be admired for them? No. Should he be forgiven? I say yes. Go Suns!

From Mermaids to Manatees?

The Marlins, who recently staved off their own extinction by getting a stadium deal, will try to extend a fin for endangered manatees.

Why is this story noteworthy? Because on Opening Day, the Marlins will be sporting some CasualXL-Big&Tall-heavy-hitting MALE cheerleaders who average something like 300 pounds (and this story is corpulent enough to make it all the way out to the LA Times).

I've never been a fan of the Marlins Mermaids. Call me a purist, but I think of cheerleaders for football and basketball. It just makes the Marlins look amateur to me.

I absolutely love this manatee story, though, because it's truly ingenious, it's novel, and it supports a good cause...and it will be hilarious. I can't wait to see them on Opening Day. I'm sure they'll be hard to miss.

Marlins Dream Team Takes the Field

Popular demand has called for an all-franchise defensive team, and who am I to deny the will of the public? This will be much shorter and simpler, based on my observations throughout the years (and with a little help from Baseball Prospectus). Please challenge my picks, I encourage you!

C - Charles Johnson: Pudge may go down as one of the best defensive catchers in the history of the game, but Charles Johnson was just as good. Pudge was better at throwing out runners, but Johnson cleaned up around the plate more effectively, rarely allowing passed balls and calling better games.

1B - Derrek Lee: This was an easy decision. No other Marlins 1B comes close. In their defense, neither does the rest of the league (Lee should have 10 gold gloves by now).

2B - Luis Castillo: Another obvious choice (and please, don't anybody say Dan Uggla). Castillo was great when going to his left, and he showed good range. His arm was always strong and accurate, especially in double-plays, and his only weakness was to his right.

SS - Alex Gonzalez: He just edges out a skillful Edgar Renteria. Who can forget Gonzo's spectacular stabs up the middle and unbreakable concentration on double-plays? Watching him play defense was a treat.

3B - Mike Lowell: Possibly the most underrated defender of the modern era, Lowell was the most sure-handed 3B in the history of the game. That's not hyperbole. Look it up.

LF - Cliff Floyd: The mediocre (and at one point atrocious) Floyd still gets the nod. How? The other options are even worse. Conine was slow, Willingham below average, Alou aging, Millar a converted 1B. A truly horrendous group to pick from.

CF - Chuck Carr: My first instinct was to give it to Devon White, but Carr was very effective in the Marlins' inaugural season. Juan Pierre had great range and speed, but his arm was too weak to merit serious consideration here. Congratulations to Chuck Carr!

RF - Mark Kotsay: Unlike the LF crop, the Marlins have had a few solid defenders out in right. Kotsay just takes the lead over Juan Encarnacion and Jeremy Hermida. Perhaps Hermida will make it a question again after this season.

I hope that meets your satisfaction. I'm sure there will be a few disagreements. Let's hear them.

In my next edition, I'll be coming out with the Marlins' worst franchise lineup (using regular players). That should be amusing for everyone involved.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Preparing for the Marlins

The 2008 Marlins season is upon us, and I think we're all excited about leaving the hapless Dolphins, Heat, and slightly-less-hapless Panthers behind. It's been a rough year for sports fans in South Florida, but there's no reason to believe the bad luck will continue. That would be - as economists call it - gambler's fallacy; just because you land tails five times in a row doesn't mean the odds change.

Before the season starts, I want to recommend a few essential links for keeping pace with the 'Fish. I'll be consulting all of these for my own postings, and I strongly recommend that you subscribe/visit them often.

1. Marlins Today - An outstanding blog, with a well-textured mesh of pure information and intelligent commentary (these blogs are a lot like bar soda, where a little too much carbonation or syrup can taint the taste. Marlins Today - unlike the Dolphin Stadium concessions - has just the right concoction).

2. Future Fish - There is no team who (for better or worse) makes more use of its farm than the Marlins. This is a wonderful resource for getting an early start on the future of the franchise. Don't be surprised if you see some of them by June, and just enjoy the eloquent reporting style.

3. Fish Stripes - Likely the premier blog for all things Marlins, I very much enjoy Craig's commentary. There will be a lot of references here, as Fish Stripes has the first scoop on all the inside news.

4. Fish@Bat - An excellent conglomeration of Marlins facts, opinions, and general know-how. These posts are fairly unique in their design, so I wouldn't want to miss out.

If there are any other resources worth mentioning, please comment on this post below. I'm open to working/promoting with any blog, so please consider us as a resource as well. Let's play ball!

Panthers Still Mathematically In

The good news: The Panthers are still mathematically in the playoff hunt.

The bad news: Their odds are now 0.1%.

Let's call it a great close to the season and get excited about next year. At least the Marlins are coming back. I don't think I can take more losing.

Shaq, It's Time to Move On

Yesterday, Shaquille O'Neal was interviewed by the Boston Globe before his game with the Celtics. He had this to say about his time with the Suns and his former team, the Miami Heat: “We have professionals who know what to do. No one is asking me to play with Chris Quinn or Ricky Davis. I’m actually on a team again.”

Give me a break! I understand that he felt he wasn't given enough playing time recently under Pat Riley and they obviously had a disastrous falling out. But 5 weeks after the trade, a trade that sends him to a championship contending team, Shaq has to call out Chris Quinn! Of all people! Quinn does not look athletic and certainly is not a star, but he has done everything in his power to make himself a better player. The Notre Dame guard is succeeding in the NBA and I guarantee you that he and Ricky Davis have handled themselves more "professionally" than Shaq is by making these absolutely unnecessary comments.

Shaq also called out the Miami Heat medical staff and other various team officials. I truly believe this is an example of pure arrogance and egotism. Why complain now? The Suns are a great team and Shaq should be savoring this opportunity to play with them.

And getting back to that press conference after the trade, nothing was said of Dwyane Wade or the 4th Championship that Riley won with him. Apparently Shaq and Wade don't have that buddy-buddy, jedi-apprentice, relationship that they used to.

Please. Have some respect. Can Shaq just recognize all of this at some point? Can he leave a team without being bitter. So far he's 0 for 3. The Magic, Lakers, and now the Heat, are non-existent in his memory.

Look, I do appreciate what he has done, after all, you have to say he fulfilled his promise to bring Miami its first ever NBA Championship. But I respectfully disagree with ASponge. While I will not root against Phoenix, I will definitely not go out of my way to root for them. No sir, not after the way Shaquille O'Neal has dissed the Heat officials, players, and most of all, fans.

Panther Playoff Hopes Come to an End

Tonight the Florida Panthers lost to the Atlanta Thrashers 3-2, a game in which the Cats had many chances and just could not convert them. The Panthers are now 7 points back of the 7th and 8th seeds, Philadelphia and Boston, and of Carolina for the division lead.

In order to make the playoffs, Florida must not lose any of their remaining 4 games. In addition, one of the three teams previously mentioned must not win another game or lose a game in overtime. Also, Buffalo and Washington stand in between and are very capable of making the playoffs.

Unfortunately, the Panthers are done. They played well down the stretch, but apparently not well enough.

On the other hand, let's give this team some credit - Unlike the other 3 professional franchises in Miami, the Panthers made a legitimate run and there was something to root for up until the last few games of the season.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Top 10 Marlins Catchers

What follows below is Part 1 of an 11-part series examining the top Marlins players all-time, position-by-position. Given the franchise's short history, many of these findings are fairly obvious, but I think this is a fairly interesting exercise anyway. And it's fun.

The rankings are purely statistical -- essentially taking the average of a player's Marlins WARP score (Wins Above Replacement Player, which factors in both offense & defense) and the player's peak, his three best seasons. Baseball Prospectus readers will recognize this as an adaptation of the popular Hall of Fame JAWS score.

Without further ado, the top 10 catchers in Marlins history:

Next five: 11) Bob Natal / 12) Steve Decker / 13) Paul Bako / 14) Mike Piazza / 15) Ron Tingley

Charles Johnson ('94-'97, '01-'02) is a slam dunk as the top catcher in Marlins history. Not only did he spend the most seasons as Florida's starting backstop, but anyone who had the talent to rival him (Ivan Rodriguez, Benito Santiago, Paul Lo Duca, Mike Piazza) wasn't in teal & black long enough to remotely threaten his spot. Johnson's career year actually came in 2000 -- when he split the season between the White Sox and Orioles and had a huge year with the bat -- but his 1997 season with the Fish comes in a close second thank to an above average year at the plate (.250/.347/.454) and a stellar one behind it.

Mike Redmond ('08-'04) was the Marlins' No. 1 or No. 2 catcher for seven years, which is enough to garner the second spot despite no real standout seasons. 2002, when he started 68 games to Johnson's 77, was his career year both offensively & defensively. I suspect most Marlins fans have a soft spot in their hearts for Redmond, who despite having little power, always posted nice batting averages and was one of the better backup catchers in the league during his time with the Marlins. In fact, he still is now as Joe Mauer's caddy in Minnesota.

Unsurprisingly, Ivan Rodriguez's ('03) lone year with the Marlins was also the best the franchise has ever received from a catcher. Pudge's 7.8 WARP score outshines Johnson's best by almost a full win. This was actually the third-worst season of Rodriguez's career defensively, but his fifth-best offensively. (Interestingly enough, he went on to have his best year offensively and his worst defensively with the Tigers in 2004).

The club's most recent catcher, Miguel Olivo ('06-'07), takes the fourth spot. Olivo took a lot of heat from fans due to his utter lack of plate discipline and resulting awful on-base percentages. He possessed above-average power -- hitting 16 home runs in each of his two seasons as a starter -- but even that wasn't enough to salvage his offensive game or Marlins career; he was non-tendered after last season. Olivo's durability -- 109 and 111 starts in '06 & '07, respectively -- and solid defense were enough to get him a top-five showing.

Benito Santiago ('93-'94) came to the Marlins fresh off five-straight All-Star appearances with the Padres, which earned him a lucrative $7.2 million, two-year deal -- good money in those days. It's fair to say Santiago was a disappointment as a Marlin, particularly in light of his awful '93 campaign. He had never been much with the bat (respectable home run totals led to some very undeserving Silver Slugger Awards in San Diego) and his glove continued its descent following a three-year Gold Glove run from '88-'90. Santiago responded with a much improved '94 season, but Florida was still all too happy to say goodbye after the year ended. He went on to enjoy his offensive peak with the Reds & Phillies the next two years.

To think how far Paul Lo Duca's ('04-'05) star has fallen since his Marlins tenure. Lo Duca was part of the controversial deadline deal in 2004 with the Dodgers in that he was a huge fan favorte in Los Angeles. Marlins fans soon figured out why, thanks to Lo Duca's good situational hitting and blue-collar fire (probably fueled in part by 'roid rage). In truth, Lo Duca's perceived value was much higher than his actual value during his year and a half wit hthe Marlins. He was never a strong asset in Florida -- the power he showed with the Dodgers in 2001 and 2004 never materialized and he had never been a very good defensive receiver. Part of the Marlins post-'05 firesale, Lo Duca was traded to the Mets for pitching prospect Gaby Hernandez, who is in line to make his big-league debut sometime this season.

The Marlins' backup the last three years, Matt Treanor ('04-'07) is known as "Mr. May," but not exactly for the right reasons. Treanor is a perfectly fine backup -- he's solid defensively and has improved at the plate each season he's worn a Marlins uni. Unfortunately, the team has read into that the wrong way and he's in line for significant playing time as part of a catching combo with Mike Rabelo this year. Don't expect good things.

Another Marlins backup backstop extrodinnaire, Gregg Zaun has always been a hitter who's known how to take a walk, ensuring his Major League salary in spite of a below-average glove. One of the outspoken Zaun's better years at the dish came in 1997 (301/415/441), when the Marlins won their first championship, and for that he'll always be remembered fondly. Unfortunately for Zaun, he turned a great '97 season into an execrable '98, taking over as the Marlins' starter after first Charles Johnson and then Mike Piazza were traded and hitting an anemic 188/274/292. He effectively blew his chance at a starting job with that peformance, not getting another shot until 2003 with the Blue Jays in his age-33 season. To Zaun's credit, he took advantage and has been a fixture in Toronto ever since.

It's hard to believe perennial third-stringer Ramon Castro ('99-'04) played parts of six seasons with the Marlins given he only totaled 466 at-bats across those six years. The team's return for Jay Powell in the '98-'99 offseason, Castro showed real flashes of power during his brief stints with the Marlins, but was never given a real chance. Management finally gave up on him, and he's since shown the team exactly what they were missing all those years as one of the best-hitting backups in the league with the Mets. If he can stay healthy, he'll be in store for the most playing time of his career this year as he splits time with Brian Schneider for the Amazin's.

Jorge Fabregas ('99) -- what a note to end on. 1999 was the third-straight year in which Fabregas donned the tools of ignorance for two teams. He played 1A to Redmond's 1 that season (thought it was more like 1F given that Jorge couldn't hit his way out of a paper bag). He was genuinely a defensive asset that year though, and that's enough to give him the edge for the 10th spot over everyone's favorite early-era punchline, Bob Natal.

Marlins Dream Team Continued

Yesterday, I put together my take on the Marlins' greatest lineup. It was based on the best individual seasons in a Marlins uniform, with no repetitions:

1. Luis Castillo, 2B (2000) - .334/.418/.388, 62SB, 101R
2. Hanley Ramirez, SS (2007) - .332/.386/.562, 51SB, 125R, 29HR
3. Gary Sheffield, RF (1996) - .314/.465/.624, 42HR, 118R, 120RBI, 142BB
4. Miguel Cabrera, 3B (2006) - .339/.430/.568, 26HR, 50 doubles, 112R, 114RBI
5. Cliff Floyd, LF (2001) - .317/.390/.578, 31HR, 123R, 103RBI
6. Jeff Conine, 1B (1995) - .302/.379/.520, 25HR, 105RBI
7. Pudge Rodriguez, C (2003) - .297/.369/.474, 16HR, 90R
8. Juan Pierre, CF (2003) - .305/.361/.373, 65SB, 100R

Here is my proposed Bench:

1. 4th OF (LF, RF, 1B, 3B) - Kevin Millar (2001) - .314/.374/.557, 20HR, 39 doubles
2. IN (3B, 2B) - Mike Lowell (2003) - .276/.350/.530, 32HR, 105RBI
3. IN (1B) - Derrek Lee (2003) - .271/.379/.508, 31HR, 21SB
4. 5th OF (CF) - Preston Wilson (1999) - .280/.350/.502, 26HR, 11SB
5. IN/PR (SS) - Edgar Renteria (1996) - .309/.358/.399, 16 SB/2 CS
6. C - (C) - Charles Johnson (1997) - .250/.347/.454, 19HR

Now it's time to look at the pitching side of things. I'll be going with 5 starters, 5 true relievers, and a spot starter (who could pitch in relief or start in place of injury, as is common on many rosters):

1. Kevin Brown (1996) - 17-11, 1.89 ERA, 159 K, 3 CGSO, 0.944 WHIP, 233.0 IP
2. Dontrelle Willis (2005) - 22-10, 2.63 ERA, 170 K, 5 CGSO, 1.134 WHIP, 236.3 IP
3. Carl Pavano (2004) - 18-8, 3.00 ERA, 139 K, 2 CGSO, 1.174 WHIP, 222.3 IP
4. Al Leiter (1996) - 16-12, 2.93 ERA, 200 K, 1.263 WHIP, 215.3 IP, No-Hitter
5. Josh Beckett (2005) - 15-8, 3.38 ERA, 166 K, 1.181 WHIP, 178.7 IP


Closer: Armando Benitez (2004) - 1.29 ERA, 47 SV, 62 K, 0.818 WHIP, 69.7 IP
Setup: Brian Harvey (1993) - 1.70 ERA, 73 K, 0.841 WHIP, 69.0 IP
Middle Relief: Robb Nen (1996) - 1.95 ERA, 92 K, 1.060 WHIP, 83.0 IP
Long Relief: Todd Jones (2005) - 2.10 ERA, 62 K, 1.027 WHIP, 73.0 IP
Lefty Specialist: Vic Darensbourg (1998) - vs. lefties, .168/.264/.206
Spot Starter: Alex Fernandez (1997) - 17-12, 3.59 ERA, 183 K, 1.187 WHIP, 220.7 IP

This is a phenomenal team with few weak spots. Of course, many of these players had fluke years (Millar, Pavano, Todd Jones, Darensbourg). Let's break down the years of representation:

1993 - Brian Harvey
1994 - (Strike Year)
1995 - Jeff Conine
1996 - Gary Sheffield, Edgar Renteria, Kevin Brown, Al Leiter, Robb Nen
1997 - Charles Johnson, Alex Fernandez
1998 - Vic Darensbourg
1999 - Preston Wilson
2000 - Luis Castillo
2001 - Cliff Floyd, Kevin Millar
2002 - None
2003 - Pudge Rodriguez, Juan Pierre, Mike Lowell, Derrek Lee
2004 - Carl Pavano, Armando Benitez
2005 - Dontrelle Willis, Josh Beckett, Todd Jones
2006 - Miguel Cabrera
2007 - Hanley Ramirez

(All non-strike years represented except 2002)

Just how well would this team stack up in today's league? I say they'd win 120 games and become the best team of all-time. What are your thoughts?

Stay tuned for a position-by-position breakdown from Amazin' Amezaga over the next couple weeks. We'll find out how much he agrees with me.

Let us know your thoughts!

Panthers in Dire Skates

I hesitated to put up the daily Panthers playoff chance update because I didn't have the heart to. I'm still depressed about last night's crushing loss to the Lightning, 3-1.

As of right now, the Panthers have a 2.5% chance of making the playoffs. If they win all 5 of their remaining games (5-0), they have a 46.7% chance. Not looking good.

Marlins Lineup Hypotheses

DSponge just gave his rendition of the Marlins' opening day lineup (a hypothesis just as stirring as it was accurate). In the interest of fun, I'm going to put together a hypothesis of my own...four actually (making them hypotheses).

Hypothesis #1: The current team's optimal hitting lineup (in my opinion, of course):

1. Hanley Ramirez, SS
2. Dan Uggla, 2B
3. Jeremy Hermida, RF
4. Josh Willingham, CF
5. Mike Jacobs, 1B
6. Cody Ross, CF
7. Dallas McPherson, 3B
8. Matt Treanor, C
9. Scott Olsen, P

Hypothesis #2: The current team's optimal fielding display (no small matter, considering this figures to be the worst fielding team in MLB)

C - Matt Treanor
1B - Mike Jacobs
2B - Alfredo Amezaga
SS - Alfredo Amezaga
3B - Alfredo Amezaga
LF - Alfredo Amezaga
CF - Alfredo Amezaga
RF - Jeremy Hermida

Is anyone sensing a pattern here? It's a sad state of affairs when one guy is the best at five positions, and he can't even hit.

Hypothesis #3: The current team's potential lineup if they had budgeted themselves like the Yankees or Red Sox:

1. Juan Pierre, CF
2. Hanley Ramirez, SS
3. Miguel Cabrera, LF
4. Derrek Lee, 1B
5. Jeremy Hermida, RF
6. Mike Lowell, 3B
7. Dan Uggla, 2B
8. Pudge Rodriguez, C
9. Dontrelle Willis, P

That is one scary lineup!

Hypothesis #4: For a little extra fun, here's my opinion on the all-time greatest Marlins lineup (no repetitions):

1. Luis Castillo, 2B (2000) - .334/.418/.388, 62SB, 101R
2. Hanley Ramirez, SS (2007) - .332/.386/.562, 51SB, 125R, 29HR
3. Gary Sheffield, RF (1996) - .314/.465/.624, 42HR, 118R, 120RBI, 142BB
4. Miguel Cabrera, 3B (2006) - .339/.430/.568, 26HR, 50 doubles, 112R, 114RBI
5. Cliff Floyd, LF (2001) - .317/.390/.578, 31HR, 123R, 103RBI
6. Jeff Conine, 1B (1995) - .302/.379/.520, 25HR, 105RBI
7. Pudge Rodriguez, C (2003) - .297/.369/.474, 16HR, 90R
8. Juan Pierre, CF (2003) - .305/.361/.373, 65SB, 100R
9. Dontrelle Willis, P (2007) - .286/.348/.508, 3 triples, 2HR

Toughest call was at 1B, between Jeff Conine's 1995 season, Derrek Lee's 2003 season, and Kevin Millar's vastly underrated 2001 campaign. Also, as tempted as I was to pick one of Preston Wilson's 1999/2000 seasons for CF, I couldn't ignore the plethora of strikeouts and Pierre's role in winning the 2003 World Series.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

That NBA Team that Plays in Miami

One question: Who are these guys?

When your most well-known starters are Ricky Davis and Chris Quinn (and maybe Earl Barron) you know that things have gone in the wrong direction. You also know this when you've only won more than one game against one NBA franchise this year - and it's the 24-45 Milwaukee Bucks. Oh, and of course, their record is 13-57 and they are 42 games back of the Boston Celtics.

Things sure have gone badly. At least the season's almost over.

Marlins Opening Day Lineup Prediction

Here it comes, the moment you've all been waiting for: The 2008 DSponge Florida Marlins Lineup Prediction!!!!

Ok, perhaps I hyped that up just a bit too much. Nevertheless, here it comes:

1. Hanley Ramirez - SS
2. Dan Uggla - 2B
3. Josh Willingham - LF
4. Mike Jacobs - 1B
5. Luis Gonzalez - RF
6. Jorge Cantu - 3B
7. Cody Ross - CF
8. Matt Treanor - C
9. Mark Henrickson - P

Stellar lineup, isn't it! And when I say lineup, what I really mean is #1-4. After that the team is just horrific.

In all fairness, I assumed that Jeremy Hermida, still nursing an injury, will not be ready for opening day. If he were to be ready, he would probably land somewhere around the top of the lineup, possibly in the 3rd position. In his place is 74 year-old veteran Luis Gonzalez playing in right field, which is not his natural position (not that it matters; his fielding can't really get any worse).

Also, if Cody Ross is not ready for opening day, Alejandro De Aza would be in his place.

The #5-9 spots very likely could be different in that they are all equally satisfactory - so don't go betting anything on this prediction.

By the way, does anyone sense a tone of sarcasm in this blog entry?

Panthers Loss a Major Setback in Playoff Race

Today the Florida Panthers suffered a devastating 3-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, those vicious cross-state rivals to the west. The Panthers now trail the 8th seed, Boston, by 5 points with an one fewer game left to play.

This was one of those games that you want to forget immediately but for some reason you can't. A must-win game against a terrible team - and a loss. I guess I'm being a little hard, after all, the Panthers did just gain 17 of a possible 18 points in their previous 9 games. Arghhh.

Frustration is the word I'm looking for. The Panthers have played their best hockey of the year, but once again, it's most likely too late.

They cannot lose another game. Period.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Daily Panther Playoff Update

As promised yesterday, I'll be giving a daily update on the Panthers' playoff predicament, using as my reference.

There were no games last night that impacted the Panthers, so their odds still remain at 10.6%

Tonight, there will be a tremendous shakeup. Games to watch:

Boston at Toronto
Washington at Carolina
Philadelphia at NY Rangers
Ottawa at Buffalo

and of course

Florida at Tampa Bay

Results by potential impact (independent of each other):

Florida wins +6.1
Bruins lose +1.9
Philadelphia loses +1.5
Buffalo loses +1.1
Washington beats Carolina +.3
(Carolina beats Washington +.1)

If all of these happen, the Panthers will be in a considerably better position (It's more than simple addition. All these outcomes are predicated on the premise that the other teams aren't playing).

Pitching Rotation Falling into Place for Fish

The beginning-of-the-year pitching rotation for the Marlins is becoming more and more obvious. It was a certainty that Mark Henrickson would pitch opening day (as previously mentioned) but now more information has been released. Florida will probably start with a 4-man rotation consisting of the following pitchers:

3/31 - Mark Henrickson
4/1 - Rick Vanden Hurk
4/2 - Andrew Miller
4/4 - Scott Olsen

Later Ricky Nolasco will join the rotation, likely in the series against the Houston Astros, but he is not necessary right away since there are two rest days in the first week of the season.

Way down the road, things will get interesting when Sergio Mitre comes back. It is unclear whose place in the rotation he would take or whether he would fit in at all. That will entirely depend on the way the Marlins starters pitch up until that point.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Marlins Center Field Race Coming to a Close

It would appear that the race for the center field position on the Florida Marlins is becoming more clear. On Tuesday the Marlins optioned Cameron Maybin to Double-A Carolina thereby eliminating him from contention for the highly prestgious position. The young Maybin (sent over from Detroit in the deal with Andrew Miller) was batting an awful .188 in Spring Training but certainly has a bright future in baseball. Cody Ross will most likely start on opening day against the Mets only because lefty Johan Santana is the starter . Ross and Alejandro De Aza appear to be the front-runners for center but Alfredo Amezaga could potentially get some starts over the course of the season.

My prediction is that the Marlins will shuffle the position between the De Aza, Ross, and Amezaga with De Aza and Ross receiving the majority of the starts depending on the opposing pitcher.

Marlins Reveal Opening Day Starter

After weeks of debate, Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez announced that newly-acquired veteran pitcher Mark Hendrickson would get the nod to start on opening day, Monday, March 31st against the New York Mets. This comes as no surprise, at this point, considering the fantastic spring he has had and also the injuries that have plagued the rest of the Marlins pitching staff.

If someone were to ask who the likely opening day starter for the Marlins was back in February, the answer would have been undoubtedly either Scott Olsen or Sergio Mitre. Unfortunately, Olsen and Mitre are injured with Mitre on the disabled list and likely out until June. Olsen should be back to pitch the fourth game of the season against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Panthers' Playoff Chances

I've done a lot of speculating in previous posts about what the Panthers need to do to make the playoffs. With 9 games to go, I said 6-2-1. At 6 games, I said 5-1. Thanks to a truly wonderful site (, we can actually evaluate this on a statistical level.

According to them, the Panthers currently have a 10.6% chance of making the playoffs. Of course, this doesn't account for the Panthers' streaky play, which could vault them much higher. Here is the breakdown among relevant teams:

Carolina: 94.3%
Philadelphia: 82.6%
Boston: 69.1%
Washington: 21.9%
Buffalo: 19.4%
Florida: 10.6%
Toronto: 4.5%

Looking further, the Panthers have a 2% chance at the 3rd seed (division title over Carolina), 2% chance of the 7th seed, and a 7% chance at the 8th seed. These aren't promising numbers, but don't despair yet.

Here is a breakdown of the Panthers' chances by record:

6-0-0 (12 pts): 95.1% (3rd seed 42%; 6th seed 4%; 7th seed 27%; 8th seed 22%)
5-0-1 (11 pts): 75.8% (3rd seed 23%; 6th seed 1%; 7th seed 15%; 8th seed 37%)
5-1-0 (10 pts): 56.4% (3rd seed 10%; 7th seed 9%; 8th seed 37%)
4-0-2 (10 pts): 38.8% (3rd seed 6%; 7th seed 5%; 8th seed 28%)
4-1-1 (9 pts): 18.4% (3rd seed 2%; 7th seed 1%; 8th seed 15%)
3-0-3 (9 pts): 8.5% (3rd seed 1%; 8th seed 7%)
4-2-0 (8 pts): 7.3% (8th seed)
3-1-2 (8 pts): 2.3% (8th seed)
2-0-4 (8 pts): 1.0% (8th seed)
3-2-1 (7 pts): 0.4% (8th seed)
2-1-3 (7 pts): 0.1% (8th seed)
3-3-0 (6 pts): 0.1% (8th seed)

Notice how going 5-1 instead of 4-0-2 makes such a difference. It shows the importance of winning the Total Win tiebreakers.

I should also point out that I was pretty accurate in my estimates. I just thought 4-1-1 would be a little bit higher.

The Panthers know what hurdles they have in front of them. Come away with 11 points and they should be in. 10 and they'll need help. 9 or less and they'll need a lot of help.

(We'll be tracking their percentages after each night from now on).

Jose Castillo Gone? WHAT???

I have no reservations whatsoever about Jose Castillo losing the third base job, but the way it happened has me scratching my head. The only thing harder to imagine than why the Marlins ended the Jose Castillo 3B experiment after a career-improving .273/.293/.418 (AVG/OBP/SLG) Spring performance is why the Giants wanted him.

Let me recap the situation a bit. After trading Miguel Cabrera, the Marlins looked to Jorge Cantu, Dallas McPherson, and Jose Castillo to plug the hole at 3B (three horrible options, if I may say. The only one with any promise is Dallas McPherson, and he's still hurt).

Here are Jose Castilo's career lines, courtesy of

2004 Pitt. 129 383 44 98 15 2 8 39 141 23 92 3 2 .298 .368 .256
2005 Pitt. 101 370 49 99 16 3 11 53 154 23 59 2 3 .307 .416 .268
2006 Pitt. 148 518 54 131 25 0 14 65 198 32 98 6 4 .299 .382 .253
2007 Pitt. 87 221 18 54 18 1 0 24 74 6 48 0 0 .270 .335 .244

There is nothing here whatsoever that would suggest Jose Castillo as a viable offensive option, yet the Marlins gave him a chance because of his superior defense. Then he goes out and has a marvelous Spring by his standards and gets released.

Did the Marlins simply discover the foolishness of their original move to sign him, or were they just clearing a roster space? Either way, the Marlins' loss is the Giants' gain...or is it more that the Marlins' gain is the Giants' loss. I think the latter.

Cabrera $150 million, Hanley $200?

It's not Miguel Cabrera's new $150+ million (last reported at $152 million) deal that has me up in arms. No, if anything, Marlins fans who have followed Miggy's illustrious career might claim he's worth even more than that. After all, it's easy to speculate on how much a former player deserves.

What scares me is this piece from Buster Olney's blog, which highlights Hanley Ramirez as the next $200 million dollar player (interesting how praiseworthy so many columnists are, yet Hanley was somehow left off last year's All-star team...disgraceful). Are those kinds of funds going to come from the coffers of the cost-conscious Marlins?

Even with a new stadium deal in place, Hanley's price may prove too steep. Loria may loosen his wallet, but he's not about to rip it apart. My advice to Marlins fans; enjoy Hanley while you can.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Panthers Return to Winning Ways

Wednesday night's OT loss to Carolina was disappointing, and as DSponge pointed out, it probably ended their hopes of a division crown.

The 8th seed, however, is looking alive and well, especially after a solid 4-2 victory over the Lightning tonight. This puts them at 8-0-1 in their last nine games...not too shabby.

I predicted that the Panthers would need to go 6-2-1 in their last nine games to qualify for the playoffs. They have since gone 2-0-1, but the OT loss was in the worst situation (to division leader Carolina).

With six remaining games, the requirements go up a bit. Could 4-2 do it? Possibly, if one of Boston or Philadelphia goes on a losing streak, but that's asking for a lot. I'm inclined to think 5-1 (or 4-0-2) is more likely the antidote for playoff ills, with 4-1-1 also in play.

No matter what happens, the Panthers deserve our respect and praise.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

8th Seed More Likely for Panthers

After losing 2-1 in a crucial shootout on Thursday to the division-leading Carolina Hurricanes, the Florida Panthers now find themselves 8 points out of first place in the Southeast. The loss was crushing, ending a 7 game winning streak and great momentum. Its frustrating on many accounts considering that Florida outplayed the Hurricanes with many more scoring chances, especially in the 2nd period. Unfortunately, Cam Ward was outstanding in net for Carolina and allowed just 1 goal on 37 shots. Furthermore, the Panthers would have been 6 points instead of 8 points behind those Hurricanes with an extra game to play.

Now barring a total collapse from Carolina, it would appear that Florida's best highway to the playoffs is via the 8th seed. They remain just 4 points behind Boston in 8th place and 5 behind Philadelphia in 7th. Also, the collective remaining schedules for the two teams mentioned are much more difficult than that of the Panthers.

Boston - Montreal once, Ottawa twice, Buffalo twice, Toronto twice, New Jersey once.

Philadelphia - NY Rangers once, New Jersey twice, Pittsburgh twice, NY Islanders twice.

Compare that to Florida's relatively easy remaining schedule:

Florida - Carolina once, Washington twice, reeling Atlanta and Tampa Bay twice.

Although there is still Washington and Buffalo separating Florida from the 8th spot, Florida can take care of the Capitals. And the Sabres...well, they have an extremely difficult remaining schedule as well.

It's safe to say that tomorrow's game against the Lightning is a must-win.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Can Miami Make a Run in the Big Dance?

I think so.

The #7 Miami Hurricanes defeated the #10 Saint Mary's Gaels 78-64 in Little Rock, AR today in the South Region of the NCAA Tournament. Miami continues to fulfill and exceed expectations with their recent play. Dazzling and versatile scorer Jack McClinton cashed in a whopping 38 points and 10 straight at the beginning of the 2nd half to drive Miami back from a 32-27 halftime defecit.

Next up is a difficult game against #2 Texas on Sunday. But if McClinton can keep up his hot shooting, Miami can certainly pull of the upset. The key is for Miami to get out to a good start and try to hang tight to the end. If its close in the final minutes, I give advantage -Canes. Over the years it has been dynamic scorers that lead unlikely teams far in the tournament. Miami has that guy and perhaps they can make it far, ideally the final four. Since the South bracket is weak with the best teams being #1 Memphis, #3 Stanford, and#4 Pittsburgh (maybe #5 Michigan State), Miami has just as good a chance as anyone.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Dolphins Shouldn't Take a QB

A few days ago, I espoused on who I thought the Dolphins should take with their first overall pick: OT Jake Long. Since then, I've been hearing a lot of great things about the other Long (Chris), the versatile DE/LB from Virginia, and I think he'd be an excellent choice too.

My main assertion is that the 'Fins shouln't waste their pick on a QB. Matt Ryan and Brian Brohm don't look like the next Peyton Manning or Tom Brady (a 7th round pick, you may recall). Early QB picks are risky endeavors, with many being surpassed by those bypassed for later rounds.

The great folks at expressed a similar sentiment:

"While I am in agreement with most analysts in that we are in dire need of a franchise quarterback, I am not convinced that Ryan is it. Not looking at what they've done in the NFL, but if Eli Manning, Vince Young, Carson Palmer, or even Matt Leinart were available in this draft I would say to go for it."

(I can't recommend enough, both for their informative pieces and articulate style. Really a must-subscribe for Dolfans worldwide.)

In sum, I'd support the drafting of anyone named Long (save for old Heat fave Grant Long), but NOT a QB in the first round.


Yes, there's a South Florida sports team hidden within the word PATHETIC. Can you guess what it is?

Let me help you.


That's right. Heat, as in the Miami Heat who just lost 96-54 in a real NBA game.

Call me clairvoyant for saying the Heat had "no chance in hell, let alone Canada" tonight, but even I can't take credit for predicting such a stinkbomb.

Earl Barron? 1-10
Daequan Cook? 3-19
Points in the 4th quarter? 9

Yes, that's PATHETIC.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Hurricanes Need More Open Water...But...

On Friday, the University of Miami Hurricanes will begin their pursuit of an NCAA Basketball championship in the granddaddy of all tournaments. Their chances of winning the whole shebang are slim, surely, but their road may not be as fettered as some others in similar predicament.

Throughout the year, the 'Canes have shown an ability to beat top teams (Duke, for example). They'll need that magic to come in spades here.

They should beat #10-seed St. Mary's in the first round. It's the second game, likely against #2-seed Texas, that will be their most difficult stumbling block. If they can somehow escape that game, the path gets a lot friendlier.

I like Miami's chances against any of Marquette, Kentucky, Stanford, or Cornell (don't count out Cornell, a team far better than its 14th seed ranking), and by my estimation, they won't be playing Memphis for the Houston finals. Memphis benefited from an exorbitantly soft Conference USA schedule. I expect them to fall in the Sweet 16 to Pittsburgh or Michigan State.

Once in the Final Four, anything can happen (and anyone can be there). So is it likely the Hurricanes will take the cake? No, but is it possible? I say yes.

Heat Triumphant!

Yes, we bloggers are prone to hyperbole, and this is certainly one of those cases. That being said, how about the Heat pulling out a March win in Milwaukee, giving the franchise its twelfth win of the season.

As far as I'm concerned, 12 wins is better than 11, and there are a few things to get excited about:

1. Shawn Marion looks like he's adjusting to the system. Even in a game where he played hurt, he still managed 12 boards, deferring to teammates when advantageous.

2. Jason Williams shows signs of life. Could he be gaining enough value to be part of a sign-and-trade this summer? Doubtful, but worth keeping an eye on.

3. Bobby Jones (no, not the golfer), Joel Anthony, and Chris Quinn going 13-15 from the field (86.7%) for 35 points. They were the difference in this game.

So do the Heat have a chance tonight in Toronto? Not a chance in hell, let alone Canada, but hey, let's celebrate the wins when they come.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Why I'm Rooting for the Suns...and Tigers

Whether fans of a player's former team should root for his current team has been a question as divisive as the Clinton-Obama race.

Normally I take a stance of ambivalence, wishing well for my former favorite while shifting my attention to my team's current players. That general principle goes out the window, however, in the case of superlative performers (or more specifically, when they brought your team a championship).

The Heat would not have won a title without Shaq. Wade may have become the star, but he wouldn't have had the supporting cast, nor the open lanes. Shaq's name alone brings in veteran discounts like Alonzo Mourning and Gary Payton, and it makes the team more attractive for role players as well.

Shaq has taken his lumps lately. The vast majority of media has called him finished, Pat Riley has taken a few shots, and his wife cheated on him. The Big Aristotle may be tough, but he also has some thin skin. He deserves better.

I want the Suns to win a championship for Shaq, for his legacy and because he's one of the most entertaining athletes we've ever had. Let's always be appreciative of what he did for Miami and root for him until he retires.

Following this logic, I've also adopted the Detroit Tigers as my second MLB team. Miguel Cabrera, Dontrelle Willis, Gary Sheffield, Edgar Renteria, Todd Jones, Jim Leyland, Dave Dumbrowski...all former Marlins. Sometimes, you have the luxury of all your former favorites ending up on the same team. Hence, Go Suns, and Go Tigers!

More on Conine

Yesterday, I waxed poetic about Jeff Conine retiring a Marlin. I was quite pleased with the Marlins organization, and apparently I wasn't alone.

Let me direct you to this beautiful piece by the guys at FishStripes (I highly recommend their blog). I especially enjoyed their recap of Conine's 1995 All-Star game performance. Take a look.

Heat-Mavs Not What it Was, or Was It?

On June 20, 2006, the Miami Heat defeated the Dallas Mavericks 4-2 to take the NBA crown. Any soothsayer on that day would have predicted that last night's matchup would have meant something (the only way it wouldn't have is if both teams had already clinched their highest spots).

How could the Heat fall from grace so quickly? So badly, in fact, that the Heat trailed by a whopping 35-12 after 1 and lost by 25 (thanks to a strong garbage this team never-say-die or what?)

There are three legitimate reasons and one uncomfortable truth. Let's start with the reasons:

1. Aging. As Toby Keith would say: "I'm not as good as I once was, but I was once as good as I ever was." Such is the story of the Miami Heat, who clearly aren't as good as they once were, but reached their pinnacle there. Shaq aged, Jason Williams aged enough to have bad knees, Gary Payton aged to the point of forced retirement, Alonzo Mouring aged to the point of career-ending injury...the list goes on and on. This team didn't just lose a step...they lost a giant leap, as if summoned back from the moon on an inoperable Apollo 13 LENS.

2. Pat Riley. Riley knows how to turn a great team into a champion, but his coaching this year has been nothing short of apocalyptic. You mean to tell me Stan Van Gundy couldn't have gotten 25 wins out of these guys? Riley never adjusted his message, even when it clearly wasn't working, and the players became exasperated.

You see, I have a theory that professional sports teams need a constant switch from discplinarian to players' coach, to disciplinarian, to players' coach. Why do coaches never last forever? Eventually, the disciplinarian wears thin, and eventually the players' coach gets too lax. The Heat have reached that point where they need a calmer influence (Spoelstra perhaps?).

3. Dwyane Wade. Wade hasn't been above 70% all year, and that's the biggest reason the Heat have been so horrendous. A healthy Wade puts this team in playoff contention (not title contention, but playoff contention in a pathetic East).

Now for the uncomfortable truth:

The Heat weren't all that much better when they beat the Mavericks in '06. They just had a lot more hunger, more depth, but most importantly, a superhuman Wade. People conveniently forget how the Heat were almost embarrassed 4-0 before Wade turned the series around with one of the greatest performances ever. Take Dwyane Wade out of that Game 3 4th quarter, and the Heat lose by double digits there too.

Some might call it sacrilege to say that, but what we should be doing is revering Dwyane Wade. Don't forget how phenomenal he was, and how he good he'll be again.

The Scott Olsen Turn-around

I have nothing against the guy. In fact, I'm more thilled than anyone that he's still with the Marlins and an essential part of the rotation. It's just that I find it truly amusing how quickly fans, and the media, change their minds as time trickles by. This is the same Scott Olsen who was in numerous brawls with former and current teammates - (Sergio Mitre for one) and was arrested for resisting officers in a DUI on July 21, 2007. At that time I remember watching, as a concerned fan, the discussions about whether or not it was appropriate for the team to suspend him for his disorderly conduct in order to "teach him a lesson." I even heard some cries for Olsen to be tossed away altogether since he was such a distraction off the field and not living up to the expectations on the field. One thing for certain was that at the end of the year he would no longer be a Marlin.

Well, today, Olsen is not only one of the "veteran" members of the Florida Marlins pitching staff and projected #1 starter going into the 2008 season, but he is also one of the biggest advocates of the Florida Marlins probable stadium deal and seems to have cleaned up his act altogether (he finished his sentence of community service as of Feb. 22). The Scott Olsen story serves as a perfect example for why not to listen to what people are saying at any specific moment. Anyone can recover at any time from any infamous reputation. Just look at Andy Pettite (who had admitted to taking HGH in a previous year); this guy looks like a saint after the whole Roger Clemens fiasco.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Marlins Show Rare Touch of Class for Conine

The Marlins are an organization known for many things, from two world championships to three firesales, from low fan support to the highest attendance ever at a World Series game. One thing they have not been accredited with, however, is class.

Johnny Damon expressed that very sentiment on March 17, 2005, when the Marlins made the Red Sox travel for a rained out game (just a little anecdote for the old faithful). He claimed that the Marlins didn't have the class of the Red Sox (interesting that the "classy" owner of the Red Sox was the same John Henry who once butchered the Marlins. A lot of class there).

But getting to my real point, the Marlins are honoring the true Mr. Marlin, Jeff Conine. He'll be signed to a one-day contract so he can retire a Marlin. In addition, he'll be throwing out the first pitch and have an award named after him.

For those of us who loved watching Conine play, from his All-Star appearance in 1995, to the World Series victories in 1997 and 2003, this is truly a banner day for the franchise's premiere player.

MLB appearance

It Was a Hockey Night in South Florida

I can't remember the last time I was this excited for a Panthers game. Certainly not since the strike year. Certainly not since the Panthers were irrelevant (about a decade). Certainly not in any regular season.

And boy did they give me a reward. If you're counting, that's now seven straight wins. Carolina and Washington both won, but that didn't spoil it for me. Philadelphia lost, putting the Panthers two points back of the playoffs.

Now we wait four days until March 20, when the Panthers try to take down those Hurricanes. And that...will be an even better night, I hope.

What a Saturday for the Georgia Bulldogs

I know this isn't necessarily "South Florida sports" but it is the SEC and I think it is worthy of a blog entry. Who would ever have predicted that Georgia, last in the SEC East (4-12), would be going to the SEC Championship Game with a solid chance at the NCAA big dance? Not me, thats for sure.

Listen to this:

Because of the horrible tornadoes in the metro-Atlanta area, the Bulldogs would have to leave the Georgia Dome (exterior damage) and play in front of 1500 people against Kentucky (1400 being Kentucky fans) at Georgia Tech's stadium.

But thats not all.

By squeezing by Kentucky in overtime, Georgia had to play SEC West leading Mississippi State...on the same day, merely hours later! And they beat them too.

Ok, so your saying to yourself, well thats wonderful, but their gonna lose to 4th-ranked Tennessee on Sunday anyway: it was a nice run. Wrong, because Arkansas stunned the Vols 92-91 in the final seconds of the other SEC final.

So now Georgia is in remarkable shape to advance to the field of 65 and take away an at-large spot from another bubble team. I'm not by any means arguing that Georgia deserves to be in the tournament, but you have to marvel at their recent achievements. Having said that, I wish it had been the Florida Gators I had written this post about.

March 16 - An Eventful Day for the NHL's Southeast Division

Florida, Washington, and Carolina all play tomorrow, a rare occasion for a Sunday afternoon. While Carolina and Washington face playoff-bound Ottawa and Boston, respectively, the Panthers square off against struggling Atlanta. It's one of those days where you'd like to see the Panthers pick up a game on the Caps and possibly get within 3 of those irritating Hurricanes.

Yankees-Rays Squabbles a Shakespearean Affair

Yes, another Yankees post. How do they keep getting onto this blog?

I just had to say something about the recent animosity between the Yankees and Rays. Doesn't it resemble Romeo and Juliet? Let's go through the casting:

Capulet - Joe Girardi, the strategizing head of household

Montague - Joe Maddon, the calmer head of household

Tybalt - Shelley Duncan, the fiery prognosticator who takes a fall (in this case, a suspension)

Mercutio - Akinoru Iwamura, the unfortunate middle-man of a retaliation

Romeo - Johnny Gomes, the pal who sticks up for his friend Mercutio and slays Tybalt

Juliet - Alex Rodriguez, for...I'll let you decide

Benvolio - Elliot Johnson, for being a Montague, yet acting with good intentions

Paris - Francisco Cervelli, the innocent groom-in-waiting who got burned

Friar Lawrence - Stu Sternberg, the Rays sympathizer

Rosaline - Lou Piniella, the old flame

Apothecary - Bud Selig, for poisoning the game

Prince Escalus - Hank Steinbrenner, a loudmouth not very adept at keeping the peace

A glooming peace this morning with it brings;
The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head:
Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things;
Some shall be pardon'd, and some punished:
For never was a story of more woe
Than this of A-Rod and his Gomes.

The Marlins Have No Pitching

When I say the Marlins have no pitching, I mean it a lot more literally than you would otherwise think. It's not that they don't have good pitchers, but that they're all hurt. Let's take a look.

Josh Johnson - Tommy John surgery, might return in August

Annibal Sanchez - Arm soreness, out until the All-star break, perhaps longer

Sergio Mitre - Forearm strain, out until at least June 1st

Scott Olsen - Arm soreness, probably out until at least the second series

In 2006, the Marlins had the makings of a great young rotation, with Willis-Josh Johnson-Olsen-Nolasco-Sanchez

Now, the only one ready for opening day is Ricky Nolasco, and he hasn't pitched well since he got injured last season.

With all the talk of the Marlins needing to fill Cabrera's hole at 3B, the real question will be the pitching; namely, how the committee of Andrew Miller, Mark Hendrickson, Rick Vanden Hurk, Chris Volstad, Gaby Hernandez, Burke Badenhop, and Daniel Barone plug the holes.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Panthers Skate with Playoff Mindset in Victory Over Rangers

It was truly a well-played hard-fought game for both sides of Friday night's hockey game with major playoff implications.

The panthers entered this game having one 5 games in a row, but NY had been 10-0-3 in their previous 13 games...they had not lost a game in regulation since February 7th against the defending champion Ducks of Anaheim.

The first period was back and forth with many chances for each side but it seemed that the Rangers had the advantage (the shots agree (11-6 Rangers)). That is why it was so uplifting when Bret Mclean skillfully fed Rostislav Olesz from behind the goal for a one-timer to put the Panthers up 1-0 with 7:11 left in the period. "Rosti" shot a perfect wrister top-shelf to get the puck past Ranger's goalie Henrik Lundqvist. Unfortunately the relentless Rangers came back late in the 1st and it was 1-1 going to the 2nd.

At the start of the period the Panthers had a full 2:00 of a 5 on 3 penalty to kill off, which they did...for a while...but in the end it was futile because Scott Gomez managed to fire one past good-old Thomas Vokoun giving NY a 2-1 lead. But the new-look Panthers, not intimidated and determined to win at any cost, tied it up as Jassen Cullimore (an unlikely hero) scored from the point on the powerplay with 8:18 left to go in the 2nd.

For quite a while, in fact, well into the 3rd period, there was back and forth momentum with a lot of play in the neutral zone yet no legitimate scoring chances. Eventually, however, Olli Jokinen, the captain and leader, said enough is enough and grabbed a rebound on the powerplay to slide the puck in the net for a 3-2 lead. And that was it. No blown lead this time. The Panthers stayed agressive and with the help of superb goaltending and excellent penalty-killing, they held of the streaking New York Rangers. The New York point streak finally came to an end and the Panthers now find themselves in the thick of a truly exhilarating playoff race.

With 9 games left in the season, all against division opponents, the Florida Panthers can essentially determine their own destiny with wins. The question remains, is fate with the Panthers or will this be another dissapointing finish to the season and year for Florida sports.

Panthers Representing So. Fla. Sports

It hasn't been a good year for sports in this area. Scratch that. It's been an abominable year for South Florida sports. Let's recap:

1. The Dolphins go 1-15, despite expectations of reaching .500.

2. The Heat have the worst record in the NBA, and they were supposed to be a championship contender!

3. The Marlins finish with a losing record and trade both Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera.

4. The Hurricanes were blown out in their last game at the Orange Bowl.

5. The Gators, heavy favorites, lose a secondary bowl game to Michigan.

And now, thanks to the Panthers, we have something to root for. "It was an awesome game to play in," Panthers center Stephen Weiss [of a playoff-type game in front of a sellout crowd]. "There was a lot of emotion. It's nice to come out with two points."

Pull yourselves out of that lugubrious slumber and discover that "audacity to hope" again. Say it with me. Goooooooo Panthers!

Panthers Ferocious Again, and Gain

Another game, another win for the Panthers. It's been a common theme in the month of March, this time over the equally hot NY Rangers. Down 2-1 in the second period, the Cats clawed back to score twice (once in the second and once in the third). In this improbable rise from the ashes, last night may have been their most formidable win.

But of even greater significance is that Carolina finally lost! Six straight wins and the Panthers gain just two points. Still, they're now within five of Carolina's total, and with two games left against the Hurricanes, they can narrow it to one. All they need is a win to a Carolina OT loss, or an OT loss to a Carolina loss. Things are looking up in Pantherland.

Let's break down their remaining schedule:

3/16 Atlanta
3/20 Carolina
3/22 Tampa Bay
3/25 at Tampa Bay
3/27 Atlanta
3/29 Washington
4/1 at Atlanta
4/4 at Carolina
4/5 at Washington

All nine games are against the abysmal Southeast Division, with five against the freefalling Thrashers and Lightning. The Panthers must come away with at least seven points in those five games (3-1-1). The Capitals are also surging for the division lead (tied with the Panthers with an extra game at hand), so the Panthers can't afford to go any worse than 1-1 there. The two games against Carolina are must-win, barring a Hurricane collapse.

So by my estimation, the Panthers' only room for error is a 6-2-1 record (13 points). Considering the competition and the head-to-head nature, they now have a shot, and 13 points might just get them the 8th seed as well.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Who's #1?

Getting the #1 overall draft pick may be the only bright spot from last year's decrepit 1-15 season (that and Greg Camarillo), so naturally there has been a lot of discussion over who the 'Fins should take.

Many believe Parcells has been actively shopping the pick. If he could get a couple later 1st rounders for it, I would do it. Let me point out, fans, that the hidden curse of the #1 overall pick is the money you have to pay your draftee. It's not like the NBA or MLB, where there's a structured system in place to keep rookie contracts down. These first rounders take up valuable cap space, and the teams drafting in the mid-to-late round benefit most (you can still get the top CB or S and pay less for it).

With that being said, let me swing all of my endorsements towards Michigan OL Jake Long. I'm not one to stick up for Michigan these days, but I've become a firm believer that offensive linemen in the draft are the surest things. Taking QB Matt Ryan, for instance, is a huge experiment, whereas Long gives the Dolphins a staple of their offense for years to come.

If you don't believe me, watch what happens to Pittsburgh without Alan Faneca this year (signed with the Jets). Their running game will run into its own steel curtain.

I know Jake Long is not the consensus pick, but in my humble opinion, he's the one to take.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

It's Over - An NIT Bid for the Gators

Am I dissapointed? You betcha...but to quote asponge, my brother, friend, and colleague of many years, "The Gators will be just fine if they enter the NIT, maybe even better off (they could win it)." A shocking statement from such a devoted Gator fan. I'm incredibly impressed that he was able to gather the words to say so about such a heart-breaking 80-69 loss to the Alabama Crimson Tide in the first round of the SEC Tournament. Unfortunately, I can't say the same for myself. So thank you for stating what all Gator fans should be thinking to themselves. It's been a good run of 9 consecutive NCAA Tournament bids, but I'm not gonna lie. I'm devastated that it's all over. Gotta go - Lipstick Jungle is coming back on.

Must-Win for Gators?

Is tonight's first-round SEC matchup with Alabama a must-win? It depends on how you look at it. Sure, it's a must-win if they're going to qualify for the Big Dance, but is anything in sports truly a must-win, especially when it involves academic athletes in pursuit of things far beyond an NCAA title?

The Gators will be just fine if they enter the NIT, maybe even better off (they could win it). Also, it's not as if this team has been cursed lately, winning the last two titles. Gator fans, don't be too sorrowful if they lose. Just reach into your back pocket and pull out your tri-championship banner.

Can the Panthers Somehow Squeeze into a Playoff spot?

I don't know about you, but for me it seems like the Florida Panthers have been on a roll, winning 5 games in a row, over the last couple do I still feel like they are in the same position they were then when they had their streak of unbearable "inability to hold a lead" losses. Well, that is because they are in just as bad or worse shape than before. As of March 1, 2008, the Panthers were 28-31-8 and now they are 33-31-8 and almost in an identical position (if you don't count passing the free-falling Atlanta Thrashers) with regard to the division leading Carolina Hurricanes.

So, why the pessimism after a series of exciting Panthers wins? Because those wins are meaningless. The difference between the Panthers of March 1 and the Panthers of today is that there are fewer games left in the season to catch any form of a playoff spot. Ok, so the point is that the 5 game winning streak is unimportant unless the Panthers can win at least 8 of their remaining 10 games left (including beating the Capitals both times and the Hurricanes twice as well).

Still, I refuse to give up hope entirely on a playoff year. In my opinion the Panthers' season begins tomorrow against the New York Rangers. Of the remaining 10 games, the majority are at home and against sub-par teams like Atlanta and Tampa Bay. And because Carolina and Washington are on that schedule 4 times, I think they can still pull off the division (which in my opinion is more likely than catching the 8th playoff spot in the east because of the extra game played over the Flyers and the other teams in the way). That Carolina blown loss on Feb. 16 is still eating away at me though. That would have been a 4 point turn around and the Cats would find themselves 3 points away from a division lead. Oh well. (sigh). Now it's crunch time.

May the panthers do what they have previously not accomplished in a quite a long while - win games when they have to.

Billy Crystal is Pride of the Yankees

Technically, Billy Crystal getting an AB for the Yankees isn't really South Florida sports, but Spring Training is, and as such, I'm calling it relevant.

Crystal has always been one of my favorite comedians, and I couldn't help but share a few words on his first - and only - MLB appearance.

It was a strikeout, but he did make contact (a foul down the first base line). For a man of 60 years, that's pretty darn good. The Yankees may not be deserving of praise all the time, but let's hand it to them here. This was clearly more an homage to Crystal than a publicity stunt, so let's commend them for it.

Oh, and we can remind them of that '03 series too.

Panthers Win, but so does Carolina...Again

The old adage goes that if you don't capitalize on your opportunities, they will come back to haunt you. It's proving all too true for the Panthers, who despite a string of solid victories, find themselves no closer (7 points) to Carolina and first place in the Southeast division.

It was another inspiring performance from the cats, scoring three times in the third period to clinch a season sweep over the hapless Islanders. It also marked their fifth win in a row and an undefeated month of March. Very, very impressive.

Unfortunately, Carolina boasts exactly the same resume. They're also 5-0 in their March campaign and are 8-1 over their last 9 games. You can't blame the Panthers for failing to gain points against impossible circumstances, but you can look back on a number of blown third period leads in February and scratch your head.

Even so, there are a number of reasons to stay optimistic. For one thing, the Panthers are now the only South Florida team to sniff .500 this year (even if it's a weighted +.500 from OT losses). They also have the luxury of playing Carolina twice in their last 10 games, so they can cut the 7 point lead to 3 singlehandedly (mark 3/20 and 4/4 on your calendars).

Perhaps the best news, however, is that the Panthers have played their way back into the eighth seed discussion. Two weeks ago, it appeared that a division championship would be the only road to the postseason, but now they trail 8th seed Philadelphia by only 5 points (though with an extra game). The Panthers may not be able to catch Carolina, but they can still qualify with a little help from Philadelphia. Stay tuned for an exhilarating finish.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Dwyane Wade's Season (or lack thereof)

If we're going to talk about Dwyane Wade's season, let's first keep in mind that there isn't one anymore. He's been effectively shut down, leaving the already embattled Heat to slim pickings (apologies to Shawn Marion, Udonis Haslem, and the artist formerly known as Jason Williams).

This move should come as no surprise, and many have been opining about it for some time. Reggie Miller, for one, could not have been more vehement during the last Lakers-Heat matchup. It was clear to him that Wade was 70% at best, and that the Heat were risking his health by continuing to play him.

Many Heat fans are frustrated (including myself) that they won't have the pleasure of seeing Flash dazzle anymore. Why else would you watch this cracked shell of a team? Is it just me, or does the prospect of Marcus Banks (the Suns' former excessive contract) doing a give and go with Earl Barron just not have the same mystique? As Bill Simmons would say, "Blount! Quinn! The NBA on Sun Sports!" Seriously, Eric Reid must be having a heart attack by now.

But let's be smart about this. In all truth and wisdom, Wade probably should have been shut down a month ago, and if you want to see the real Flash again, let him rest up. It's easy to forget just how dynamic a player he can be.

The Marlins Have a Stadium

What topic could be more fitting for an opening piece than the Marlins getting a stadium, an odyssey that lasted only 15 years (take that Ulysses!).

And yet in spite of all the waiting and deliberating, the Marlins - in typical fashion - have still managed to offend much of what was left of their fanbase. Here's a short list of the complaints:

1. Dade County and Miami shouldn't be bailing out cheap owners with a ridiculous payoff on the stadium.

How does one argue against that? You really can't, but faced with the possibility of our beloved Marlins leaving (look at Seattle), I can't help but cheer. Exploitation of resources for public works isn't a new concept, and if Miami wouldn't have built it, someone else would have (see San Antonio, Las Vegas). Let's rejoice that we still have a team!

2. It's a bad area.

True, but it's not as if they'll be checking weapons at the gate (shotgun, #31...pick it up after the game). Besides, if Miami has any competence, they'll be cleaning up the area by 2011 (maybe I'm giving them too much credit). Either way, this situation is salvageable.

3. The traffic will be a nightmare.

Um...I don't really have an answer for this one. Anyone who's traveled US-1 during rush hour knows how sluggish things can get, and I can't imagine ballgame traffic helping. Let's hope for good public transportation.

4. There won't be any parking.

That's if you ever get to the stadium. All joking aside, the traffic and parking quandary is so obviously untenuous that there has to be a new plan. Think of this on the bright side; if traffic and parking were only anticipated as slight problems, little action would be taken. The problems are so blatant that we'll get something major.

5. The team won't make money anyway.

Ahah! That's where you come in, and let's really prove those naysayers wrong. I'll see you all at the game!