Friday, August 31, 2012

Tim Duncan or Kobe Bryant? Who has had the better career?

It's no secret that THE GREAT MAMBINO features a number of Simmons disciples here. We drink the Kool-Aid, heavily so, and listen to the musings of a man who spends an impossible amount of time thinking about basketball as a mere hobby.

Of course, with a false prophet, you've got to have the good book. And of course, in this sacriligious perversion of an analogy, the bible is The Book of Basketball. For the uninitiated, Simmons wrote a mammoth 700 page dissertation, the premise of which was that the Basketball Hall of Fame should be organized into a pyramid. In this concept, Simmons sets 96 players into five groupings, moving numerically upwards from several-time All-Stars, to the immortals of the NBA. In other words, Bill found a neat, clean (and profitable) way to rank the greatest ballers of all-time from bottom to top, with justifications, disguised as chapters, for each man.

It shouldn't surprise any loyal reader of MAMBINO that we'd naturally gravitate towards the particular ranking of one Kobe Bean Bryant. Simmons begrudgingly respects Kobe, though every part of his green and white being is dead set against ever truly liking the Black Mamba. Thus, when I read the updated paperback rankings in 2010 after the Lakers' 16th championship, I was surprised to see that Kobe had been elevated from the 16th spot, all the way to number 8. Just behind Tim Duncan.

And thus the debate started. While I have the utmost respect for Tim Duncan, who rightly wears the Barkley-ian badge of "Best Power Forward Ever" proudly upon his lean shoulder, I simply don't believe that he could ever outrank Kobe on the pyramid. The King, an infrequent contributor to MAMBINO and Boston-area scumbag, heartily disagrees.

This debate raged throughout the playoffs, and as both men were unceremoniously dumped from contention (is there any other way?), the stage was set for a late-August post where we scrap for any reason at all to talk about basketball. So here it is: Kobe or Duncan? Who has had the better career?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Monday Night RAW recap: Long Live the King...Or Not

Location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Announcers: King and Cole

Opening Segment

Leading up to RAW, we were lead to believe that HHH was going to start off show, and address his status with the company. You would think I would be thrilled when that did not happen. 

Unfortunately, we had to continue the CM Punk vs 62 year old commentator Jerry Lawler instead. 

CM Punk came out sporting a fresh cut, hearkening back to his new Nexus days. Or rather maybe he was trying to channel his inner Walter White. Punk went on to a faux apology, which was amazing. He ripped into King quite effectively:

"I'm sorry that to get into the WWE Hall of Fame all it takes is to beat a bunch of no bodies from Memphis."

I hate this feud, but damn, that was a great opening promo (really though, how hard is it to get into the WWE Hall of Fame? Pete Rose and Drew Carey each have been inducted). The close was one of the best displays of unintentional comedy I've ever seen. After Punk challenged King to a fight later on RAW, Lawler's rebuttal was just fantastic. 

Camera close up on Jerry Lawler

Cue Lawler dramatic face

Lawler: Hey Punk......I'll think about it!

Monday, August 27, 2012

How could the Lakers NOT Win the NBA Title?

For the past few weeks, I've been a part of a series of Lakers roundtable posts by the fine folks over at Silver Screen & Roll. In the long, droning pace that's the NBA offseason, we've debated a number of subjects, but lately focusing on what could hinder this glamorous All-Star-laden starting five from doing anything besides parading down Figueroa in June. Here they are, aggregated and expanded upon. Check it out!
Injuries. Plain and simple.

As I ran down a couple weeks ago, you really can't consider the Lakers the clear favorites for the Western Conference because quite frankly, there's too many variables before this famed new starting five even hits the hardwood together. This team's potential is vast; not just as a regular season juggernaut, but as a historically unprecedented vehicle for postseason glory. Thus, my prediction for their current standings had nothing to do with what I think their ceiling is. Far from it, in fact.

Out of everything regarding the Lakers potential deficiencies, team chemistry isn't a factor I'm worried about. The Lakers are facing a season of massive adjustments just in their starting five alone, from Steve Nash playing with the most talent he's ever had on a basketball court (all due respect to Marion, Amar'e and Joe Johnson, but we're talking about Kobe, Gasol and Howard here), to Dwight and Kobe getting less touches than they've ever gotten in their careers to Pau's role as a glorified Brad Miller-esque role as a facilitator and rebounder in the lane (that wasn't meant to be an insult..for real reals). However, these two biggest mitigating factors makes me think that these changes in on-court philosophy are miniscule compared to the task at hand:

A Fantasy Football Blurb

A week before this past Friday, Grantland announced a contest to all of its readers in its search for a fantasy football writer.  Pick the 5 best fantasy players and 1 sleeper within the unbelievably difficult task of 750 words, and the 10-12 best submissions would be invited to join a league for the upcoming season. The season would contain certain challenges; dude or girl with the most points at the end gets a one-year contract to write on Simmons' love-child.

Below was my submission to the website, which, if you haven't figured it out by now, presents an easy and lazy way for me to double up and contribute to THE GREAT MAMBINO this week.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Instant Trade Analysis: Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford to the Los Angeles Dodgers

Los Angeles Dodgers get: 1B Adrian Gonzalez, SP Josh Beckett, OF Carl Crawford, IF Nick Punto

Boston Red Sox get: SP Rubby de la Rosa, OF Jerry Sands, IF Ivan de Jesus, 1B James Loney , SP Allen Webster
After the Los Angeles Dodgers were sold to a new ownership group including former Los Angeles Lakers point guard Earvin "Magic" Johnson, former Atlanta Braves President Stan Kasten and investor Mark Walter, Kasten repeated over and over that business in Chavez Ravine was going to change. For the past seven years, the team had been beset by management that didn't have the capital to back up the massive responsibility that came with running a league institution like the Dodgers. Fans became disillusioned and bitter, and after several seasons of seeing the best players being eschewed from their dreams of playing in Dodger Blue because of bigger paychecks in not just places like New York and Boston, but Detroit and Milwaukee, simply stopped showing up to the Stadium.
From day one, Kasten repeated that the Dodgers would take their rightful place on the iron throne that they molded out of the ingenuity of Branch Rickey and the sweat of Peter O'Malley. Over and over, he said that the Dodgers would no longer operate like a small-market team whilst sitting in the middle of the nation's second-biggest media market. Stan Kasten, with Magic's infectious smile beaming a little bit brighter than usual, proclaimed that the Los Angeles Dodgers would be the New York Yankees.

On Friday, August 24th, the Los Angeles Dodgers have become the New York Yankees.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Life and Times of Andrew Bynum

Immature. Strange. Dominant. Lazy. Enigmatic. Brash. Uncompetitive. Headstrong. Captivating. Passive. Disrespectful. Talented.

All those are words to describe the new Philadelphia 76ers center and yet, a muddled jumble of seemingly unconnected adjectives couldn't come close to painting the portrait of the irrepressible Andrew Bynum.
In sixty years of Lakers basketball, whose history spans from the blue collar mid-western sprawl of Minneapolis/St. Paul to the glamorous lights of Los Angeles, the franchise hasn't seen many players that closely fit the profile of Drew. We've covered him extensively on MAMBINO, including this article that made us the middling featherweight sports blog that you've come to at least know, if not love.
In his seven seasons with the Lakers, the term that would most accurately described Drew is "a walking contradiction". Which man is he? The guy who involuntarily entered JJ Barea into a midget shotputting contest, put off knee surgery to attend the World Cup or the player who has recognized a weakness in his game each offseason, and has worked extremely hard to improve himself year after year? He's a fragile player who has undergone no less than three major knee surgeries since being drafted in 2005, and yet, has diligently toiled to bring himself back from what has to be a demoralizing medical chart. He has often visibly tuned out teammates and coaches, and still, the most competitive athlete in the NBA, Kobe Bryant, raves about his work ethic and desire to win.
At the essence of Andrew, I truly believe that he is a competitive person who perhaps just doesn't care about basketball as much as he cares that it's something he's extremely good at. I'm not sure that the concept of a "team" or the franchise is all that important to him, but I am certain that he enjoys being dominant and exerting what can be a mammoth hand print all over a contest.
All that being said, the road to where he is today--2nd Team All-NBA honors, a starting All-Star berth, averages of 19/12 on 56% shooting--is an accurate reflection of Bynum; a paradoxical series of events, ranging from the hilarious to the disappointing. Maybe, adding judgment to any descriptive word about Drew isn't appropriate. Perhaps we should just value him for being what he is; fascinating. Presenting The Life and Times of Andrew Bynum.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

MLB Dog Days of Summer Check-in: What's Gone Wrong with the Detroit Tigers and Miami Marlins?

KOBEsh: The Detroit Tigers are one and a half games behind Chicago for the AL Central lead. D-Town was supposed to run away with the division this year, but a lot of pretty obvious holes have reared their head - an awful infield defense and a very subpar rotation beyond Verlander. 

What would you say is the most overlooked problem with their team? Were they just never that good to begin with?

Mr. Marquez: Defense – Looking strictly at fielding percentage the Tigers have actually overachieved expectations. Miguel Cabrera was previously moved to first base for an obvious reason, but third basemen for the Tigers this season are in the top five in all of baseball. I know, I’m shocked. Actually, the worst they are at any position in terms of field position is at first base, but even there they are not that bad. Any team with Prince and Miguel on the corners deserves further inspection though, and that’s where the 21st Century comes in.

The Tigers UZR (ultimate zone rating, which determines how well a team gets to hit balls and fields them) is indeed the fifth worst in all of baseball. Among 17 qualifiers, Miguel is 14th best among his peers and the Tigers as a team are in the lower fifth of baseball at third base. The Tigers are also below average at second base and (no surprise) first base.

Ultimately though, we see all of this coming. The offense that a team with Prince and Miguel should have been able to overcome this problem.

Grade: Met Expectations

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

New Knicks Unis Leaked!

Courtesy of, possible new uniforms for the 2012-13 New York Knickerbockers have been leaked. Take a gander:

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Was Johan Santana's No-Hitter Worth a Mets Playoff Run?

On June 1st, 2012, it only took two hours and thirty-five minutes to erase 50 years of frustration. 

For the first time in New York Mets history--over 8,000 games, four National League pennants and two World Series title since 1962--a pitcher had thrown a no-hitter. Johan Santana, the team's ace, had put down 27 batters while registering zeroes all along the St. Louis Cardinals' side of the scoreboard. The setting couldn't have been more perfect; in front of 27,000 fans on a cloudy summer's night in Queens, Johan threw a career-high 134 pitches on his way to the franchise's first-ever no-no, striking out reigning World Series MVP David Freese. Santana, who had not led the the Metropolitans to the playoffs since his acquisition in a blockbuster trade with the Minnesota Twins in 2007, came back from a lost 2011 season in which he hadn't thrown a single pitch. SNY broadcasters and franchise mainstays Keith Hernandez and Gary Cohen, admitted after the game that they both truly believed that they'd never live to see a Mets' no-hitter. Grown men were crying in the stands, jumping into one another's arms as if the Mets had won the World Series. For many of them, the feeling might have been just as joyous. 

Our man Pucklius was one of the masses that night that yes, jumped into a stranger's embrace and high-fived bartenders. While the excitement of that night will eternally warm the hearts of Mets faithful, reality has set in on the rest of New York's 2012 season. 

At the time of Johan's no-no, the Mets were 29-23, tied for the Wild Card lead with one third of the baseball calendar in the books. Somehow, they had broken through the restrictions of their infamous payroll squeeze and a rebuilding movement that had stripped a once-formidable squad down to its studs. Though perhaps inevitable, the Mets have careened back down to Earth from their lofty perch at the top of the standings. One of the primary reasons? Johan Santana. 

Since June 1st, Santana has gone 3-7, with a sky-high 8.27 ERA and allowed at least six runs in his last five starts. In fact, he's only managed two quality starts in that time span, giving up an astonishing 68 hits. Some members of the media are laying his decline on the fact that Johan had been left to throw an enormous amount of pitches after coming off major shoulder surgery for a torn capsule, a rare injury that effectively ends careers. There's no concrete evidence to suggest that this one particular game set off Santana into statistical hell. After taking a year off, perhaps throwing well into the summer months was never in his future. However, the proof is there, and it's not a large logical leap to say that this no-hitter was the beginning of the end not just for Santana, but also the Mets' 2012 season and playoff hopes. 

That being said, we've asked Pucklius to weigh in on all issues pertaining to the Mets' first-ever no-hitter, as well as the fascinating psyche of the fanbase.

Monday, August 20, 2012

WWE Summerslam Recap

Location: Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
Announcers: Jerry "The King" Lawler, Michael Cole

United States championship
Santino Marella (C) vs Antonio Cesaro w/Aksana 

This match took place on the Youtube pre-show. Odd to see two wrestlers of foreign descent battling over the United States championship, but it's not like it means anything anyway. We finally saw the Cobra effectively countered as Cesaro knocked it away and then proceeded to rip it up. His valet Aksana provided the distraction on Santino after he pulled out a back up cobra. Front piledriver from Cesaro and we have a new United States champion. I don't know much about him other than the fact that he can speak five different languages and he doesn't use a sock puppet as a finisher. Consider me a fan. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Five Stages of Grief: Musings on Dwight Howard from an Orlando Magic Fan

(A week ago, the Orlando Magic traded Dwight Howard to an undisclosed location. It have been CSKA Moscow or something, because I haven't heard any information since then. Anyway, MAMBINO contacted the only living Magic fan outside of central Florida, our own El Mariachi, to give his thoughts on the trade. Having had a week to mire in his his own blue and white pit of despair, we asked him to get a pulse on the feelings of the beleaguered Orlando fanbase) 

The Five Stages of Grief : End of an Era

The Magic are idiots. All I can say is don’t worry, in 8 years when the Magic are good you’ll feel so good about your loyalty.”

11:00pm August 9th – D-12 Day

That was the text I received from my friend while getting in to bed that night. Say what you will, but I didn’t feel the urge to turn the computer and read everything I could about the trade. Instead, I closed my eyes knowing that it was finally over, Dwight was gone and now we, as a fan base, can move on.

I awoke to a nightmare.

Denial [dih-nahy-uhl] - disbelief in the existence or reality of a thing.

What you have to understand first and foremost is that I am happy Dwight is gone. To have such a cloud hovering over the organizing made watching any Magic game unwatchable. I would have the games on mute just to block out the endless commentating on where Dwight would end up. Unless Marv Albert was commentating. I would never mute him. He is a living deity.

So with this trade came a sense of relief, though fleeting as it may be. Because once reality sets back in, the fact that you just lost your only hope for the foreseeable future is like a swift kick to the nuts. And the fact that we literally got NOTHING back for him is like a full blown castration. And our wife has left us. And we’ve lost our inheritance. And our dog was run over.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

USA Soccer Wins in Mexico

At one point, due to the NBA lockout, I tried to follow the Premier League. Didn't work out. Games were played at odd hours, I couldn't pick a team without feeling like a phony, and I didn't want to put the time in to learn who all the players were.

It's different with USA soccer. Patriotism presents an easy foundation for fandom, and coupled with my born-again love for playing the sport, it got easier and easier to become a real fan. Throw the Olympics in there and fandom goes bonkers. In London the men's team failed to qualify, which might have actually helped me. I was able to fulfill my soccer quota with the United States of Alex Morgans. (She played well all tournament and looked good doing it. Seriously, name five girls right now who look better with no makeup and full of sweat.)

Last night the men's team took the pitch in a friendly against Mexico in the infamous Estadio Azteca. The Americans haven't won south of the border in 25 matches, and of the last 49 goals scored between these two teams in Mexico, the Taco Bell chihuahuas have scored 45 of them. For the first time in our national team's history, the red, white, and blues defeated Mexico with grit, luck, and Tim Howard.

Henry Abbott, the Lakers, and the Limits of the New Labor Agreement

I have a conflicted relationship with Henry Abbott, of Truehoop and Laker hater fame. The incredible writing of FreeDarko that drew me into the blogging world initially, but I used to read every line TrueHoop published. Nowadays I don’t find myself reading it on a regular basis. Abbott’s refusal to own his palpable bias irritates me, but it's more that he can be purposefully narrow to create controversy and has become unbelievably predictable. In May, Kobe hit a clutch shot and I wrote: “I’d bet the farm that my Kobe-Nemesis Henry Abbott is already planning a huge post to talk about the merits of hero ball.” TrueHoop put up that exact post several hours later.

I try not to pay much attention, but Abbot’s latest Laker bashing is too much. Lamenting the Dwight trade, Abbott lashes out without fury or purpose. If I may summarize:
1) Like flies in your house (??), this is just how the world works and who are we to fight nature?
2) The NBA is STILL broken guys, and we can kind of blame the system. Damn stars!
3) But the Lakers are spending too much money!
4) Alright, fine, the Lakers have played their hand pretty well...
5) But the Lakers are overrated anyway and don’t believe the hype.

If there were a cogent point to all this, maybe it’s his last sentence about the Lake Show: “If it works, it’ll be despite, and not because of, the NBA’s ‘system.’” As you can imagine, Henry and I do not agree.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Hard Knocks: Looking for Some Talent

It's been a minute since I've posted on the best sports blog you've never read, and to most of my commenters, maybe that's a good thing. YOUR New York Knickerbockers are waiting for the season to start, YOUR New York Yankees play a sport that bores the living daylights out of me if I can't watch it at the ballpark, and the files on top of my desk at work may reach the ceiling at some point.

But no matter what happens, there's always room for TV. And since I've been basing my Manny Pacquiao fight previews on HBO's glorious 24/7 series, it's pretty hard to keep me away from the tube when HBO does their thing.

Hard Knocks goes behind-the-scenes of a real NFL training camp. It started out in 2001, took a break after 2004, then kickstarted again in 2007 when HBO realized that barely anybody watches the network for its movies. In 2010, it landed a hit when the New York Jets hopped on board. We were treated to a litany of amazing clips and soundbytes, featuring head coach Rex Ryan and cornerback Antonio Cromartie:

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Monday Night RAW review: One week til Summerslam

Location: Dallas, Texas
Preface: Last RAW before Summerslam

RAW kicked off with a match for a change.

CM Punk vs The Big Show

I guess I need to get over the disrespect the WWE shows their champions not named John Cena. The champion needs to be introduced LAST. We saw this again in the tag team match later on with Punk coming out before John Cena. They are too set in their ways at this point, their ideology isn't likely to change. 
As for the match, it was good while it lasted. Well, good for Big Show standards. For some reason Daniel Bryan inserted himself into this match, attacking CM Punk with no provocation. I love Daniel Bryan and want him to be on television at all times, but doesn't he have a match with Kane at Summerslam? Kane wasn't even on RAW last night. 

After the match Daniel Bryan attacked CM Punk and put him in the "No lock." Then our all American boy scout John Cena came down the ring to make the save. AJ Lee gave us her best Teddy Long impression and told us that later on we would be getting a tag team match playa.

Big Show is only one of 3 men to hold all active WWE Titles. He is also the only man to have personally closed 3 Waffle Houses

Are the Lakers the Clear-Cut Favorite for the Western Conference Title?

Expanding on an earlier post from Silver Screen and Roll, do the additions of Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks make the Los Angles Lakers the clear-cut favorites to win the Western Conference?

In a word, no. But let's go a bit further.

The two horses in this race are clearly the Lakers and the defending Western Conference champions, the Oklahoma City Thunder. It's easy to see why anyone would see this more like a lopsided Usain Bolt sprint rather than an actual fair competition: the Lakers imported two players who are one of the five best at their position and heavily fortified their biggest weakness in bench scoring. However, Lakers fans have to temper their expectations. Why? There's just so many variables:

Nash's age, Kobe's age, Jamison's age, Metta's age: Out of these four players, Metta World Peace is the youngster of the group at age 33 in November. Kobe will be 34 later this month, Jamison just turned 36 and Nash is of course 38 years old. Each of these men are still highly effective, competitive players, but are all on the downsides of their careers. I'm not so much worried about their skill level depreciating, as they all still are goodato excellent major league NBAers, but with advancing age, so increaess the risks for injury.

Dwight's back: Unbeknownst to many before his press conference last Friday, Howard admitted that he might not be ready for the beginning of the 2012-2013 season in November (even if he were to be cleared by the doctor today, he's looking at a two to three month rehabilitation period). His injury, originally thought to be a relatively minor hernia surgery, could keep him out of action for up to six months. Obviously back surgeries are a very serious matter, but if the Lakers were willing to give up a major piece like Andrew Bynum (albeit a piece who has injury concerns of his own), Dwight's injury can't be that serious. Right? Either way, it's going to be hard to tell how and at what strength he comes back at.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Basketball World Cup vs. Olympic Games vs. Champions League? A MAMBINO Debate

For the past 20 years, the Olympic tournament has been the preeminent form of international basketball competition here in America. However, over the rest of the world, the FIBA World Championships, held two years in between Summer Olympic Games, is held in the highest esteem as the most important international tourney. 

As player salaries increase and the competitive balance for basketball around the globe evens, several once-dormant debates have arisen around the advent of the recent games on London. Several NBA owners, as well as the Commissioner David Stern, have publicly called for a NBA-sponsored tournament, which would be a re-branded FIBA World Championship event, so that basketball could be given it's "proper focus", rather than lost amongst the myriad of Olympic events in a two week span. Most importantly, such a tournament would give the NBA control over the finances and profits of the "Basketball World Cup", which would surely put owners at ease when watching their million-dollar assets take the floor in a non-profit making enterprise known as the Olympics. 

The debate rages on the airwaves and on the internet, and of course, MAMBINO is no different. A few of our writers are on an immense NBA e-mail chain whose length is literally thousands of e-mails long over several years. We've all wasted countless hours raving and ranting about our beloved L on this supreme procrastination tool, but from it arises pointed debates like the following string of call and responses. Read on as our argument spans the pros and cons of  World Cup of Hoops, a basketball "Champions League" and the proposed Under-23 rule. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

Manu Ginobili - Greatness Wasted or Greatness Fulfilled?

Against some of the best players the United States had to offer, Manu Ginobili, then a mere one-time NBA champion, far from the man thrice coronated with crowns of locker room champagne, looks coldly across the floor in Athens, Greece. The Argentinian national team had stood toe to toe with the number one ranked team in the world, taking a double digit lead early in the semifinal matchup. The US team had looked shaky during the entire tournament, falling twice in pool play, doubling the losses that the United States basketball program had ever endured in Olympic play. Ginobili, then 27 years old, only added to their misery. Over and over again, he killed the US with back breaking jump shots and momentum stopping lay-ins. Manu ended the semifinal with a game-high 29 points, as Argentina took down the highly-vaunted United States men's basketball team. Two days later, he would score 16 points, with 6 assists and 6 rebounds, to lead Argentina to its first Olympic basketball medal, Gold. Ginobili wasn't just the best player on his team - for two weeks, he was the best basketball player in the world. The question is: could have been the best player in the NBA as well?

Instant Trade Analysis: Dwight Howard to the Los Angles Lakers

Los Angeles Lakers get: C Dwight Howard, PG Chris Duhon, SF Earl Clark

Orlando Magic get: PF Moe Harkless, C Nikola Vucevic (from Philadelphia), F Al Harrigton, SG Arron Afflalo (from Denver), 3 1st round picks (from Philadelphia, Denver and Los Angeles), 2 2nd round picks

Philadelphia 76ers get: C Andrew Bynum (from Los Angeles), SF Jason Richardson (from Orlando)

Denver Nuggets get: F Andre Iguodala (from Philadelphia)

In a trade that had become so apparent that it eventually became surprising again, the Orlando Magic have finally traded Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers in a four-team deal that immediately changes the face of each franchise.

To break this mammoth deal down, let's go city-by-city:

Los Angeles: Suffice to say, this trade was a complete "win" for the Lakers organization. But, it's important to note that this isn't at all out of character for a franchise that prides itself on staying competitive year after year with little segue between eras of success.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Game Recap: USA vs. Australia, Olympic Quarterfinals

What, me struggle?
     After watching the Russians, Spanish, and Argentinians advance to the semifinals, the US men’s team went out and took care of business against Australia, a repeat of the chippy quarterfinals in 2008. On paper, it was a 119-86 drubbing where the US dominated with 22 threes, 13 steals, and 18 forced turnovers. In reality, however, it was the third straight game where the Red, White, and Blues played only sporadically with the requisite focus and let their opponent hang in the game well into the second half. Thanks to LeBron’s steady triple double and the Black Mamba’s 2nd half explosion, the game never felt as close as the scoreboard indicated. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

MLB Dog Days of Summer Check-in: How bad is it in Boston and Houston?

You know your perennial All-Star first baseman? He's not turning it around. Hoping that your bullpen can start to hold down leads? It's not happening. Praying that your center fielder is going to regain that sock in his bat? Switch religions. 

It's the "dog days of summer". If your team isn't playing to how you thought they would, then what you see is what you got.  Baseball is over 100 games into its season, so hoping for a late season surge has gone from unlikely to damn near impossible. Sorry kids, time to start saying "well, there's always next year."

The only good to come out of this desolate section of the summer? The playoffs are right around the corner, and the herd is rapidly being thinned out. As the air has gotten thicker and the temperature has risen to record heights, teams throughout the league start dragging and the true core and character of your favorite squad has begun to rise to the top. We know who the contenders are, and sadly for some, who will be selecting in the upper half of the MLB draft next season. Over the next few days, MAMBINO will be taking a look at what has gone horribly wrong with some teams, but unsuspectingly right with others.

The Red Sox are nine games back of the Yankees in the AL East but only four and a half games back of the Tigers, Orioles and A's for the Wild Card. They're pretty far away from being dead in the water, but if you were to listen to the national media, you'd think that they were absolutely toasted. My first question is, in a season of incredible lows, what's been the worst part of it for you as a Sox fan? And do you think that they can make the playoffs, and will make the playoffs?
Mr. Marquez: Before 2004, we lived by the same mantra as Cubs fans do today: “There’s always next season.” After 2004, things were never going to be the same for a whole generation of Red Sox fans. Nor should they be. The passion isn’t the same - the pain of a loss, the scrutiny of a manager, the anticipation of a Yankee game, the desire to be inside Fenway – it isn’t on the unhealthy obsessive level. When a goal has been accomplished, it’s easy to lose motivation.

Since then we have continued to be spoiled as a city. Four months after the Red Sox swept the Cardinals, Tom Brady won his third Super Bowl. Two years after that the Red Sox won again this time with a core that was younger and primed to be a perennial juggernaut. Jon Lester threw only 63 innings that year after beating cancer. Dustin Pedroia was an MVP in his second season. Jacoby Ellsbury was in his first year and didn’t start in center field until the World Series. Clay Buchholz was left off the post-season roster after throwing a no-hitter in his third career start. The Patriots became the first team to go undefeated since the Dolphins (hey, they made it to the Super Bowl, okay?). The Celtics acquired Ray Allen and KG and won immediately. The Bruins somehow even managed to sneak in and win a Cup two summers ago. And the Patriots made it to a fifth Super Bowl in eleven years – maybe the most impressive team accomplishment of the 21st Century.

When you are spoiled though, expectations do get higher. When Jonathan Papelbon blew the save and Evan Longoria hit the home run, it brought out comparisons of Bucky Dent and Bill Buckner. THAT wound opened up. The Red Sox blew a 9 game lead with only 27 left. Think about if Seattle came back to take the Wild Card right now. It wouldn’t be worse than what the Red Sox did last season. The moment that Longoria touched on home plate it was one of those "let’s get them next season" moments.

And that’s why the worst part of this season has been every attempt by management to side with the players. It started when John Henry made a spontaneous appearance in the studio of The Sports Hub where Michael Felger and Tony Massarotti were predictably teeing off on everyone in the organization for chicken, beer, and choking. Henry had the opportunity to show the fans, the team, and the rest of the front office that he was drawing a line. And he didn’t. He defended everyone except Carl Crawford. The team had failed, and they did it in a way that painted an awful picture for how important winning was in this town. Here's a couple of other ways this has happened:

  • The Red Sox responded by first “firing” Terry Francona and replacing him with Bobby Valentine. Bobby V is considered a brilliant baseball mind by all accounts, but was brought in especially with an eye toward getting in players faces rather than coddling them. But there was one slight problem with the whole idea:  new GM Ben Cherington didn’t want Bobby V. He wanted the guy that old GM Theo Epstein hired in Chicago, Dale Sveum. Thus something was probably worked out behind closed doors and the rest of the staff were not really "Bobby’s guys". It's not surprising at all then that of course the coaches don’t all get along.
  • While the team parted ways with Jason Varitek and Time Wakefield (it wasn't exactly a difficult decision as neither guy drew interest from any of the other 29 teams) and Jonathan Papelbon, the players at the center of the team’s collapse in September – John Lackey, Jon Lester, and of course Josh Beckett - were all still here.
  • Fast forward to the season. Bobby V criticizes veteran Kevin Youkilis for not showing any fire at the plate and immediately becomes a symbol of evil among the players. Cherington jumps to Youk’s defense and Bobby has an awkward apology. Meanwhile, the fact that Youkilis is not performing is completely lost on everyone. Is a professional athlete really this fragile that he can’t hear a little criticism from his manager?
  • Then there’s Beckett. The former 2007 ALCS MVP has turned into a guy with no redeeming qualities. He has missed a turn in the rotation, but been healthy enough to golf. He won’t talk to the media. And if you ask anyone in the organization about him you would think they had him confused with Missy Franklin. 
Will they make the playoffs this season? No. The Tigers are better. The Angels are better. And since the Rays get Longoria back, they are better too. It also doesn’t help that the Red Sox play 32 of their last 50 on the road. They have won in my lifetime, but this will make it three straight years that they have missed the playoffs and four straight that they will not have won a playoff game. 

I think I’m ready to be emotionally invested again. 

The Houston Astros are 7.5 games back of the Chicago Cubs. They are the worst team in baseball's worst division. Next year they move to the American League. How did things get so bad? Will they be the first team to win 25% or less of their games since the 1962 Mets next season?

KOBEsh: Lets get into the most intriguing part of this discussion which is: just how bad is this Astros team? Well, they're pretty awful. At the beginning of the season, MAMBINO asked if this Astros team could be as bad as the 2003 Detroit Tigers, losers of an American League record 119 games. We said that the team wasn't quite that horrific, but it wouldn't be far off: 110 losses sounded just about right.
111 games into it, the Astros haven't gone 0-111, but they're not far off. The Astros are playing at a .324 clip, on pace for....52-110. Spot on! I'd feel great about this if nailing the record of a bad team was an Olympic sport.
The root of this no doubt historical season for the Astros is all the major problems you'd expect with a major league organization that's played to a record 77 games under .500 since going to the World Series in 2005. The Astros started their rebuilding in the middle of the 2010 season, when they should have started two years earlier.  Their returns for trading Roy Oswalt, Wandy Rodriguez, Lance Berkman, Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence could have left with them with something substantially better than the 18th-best farm system in the Majors. Instead, the Astros are stuck with a young team, which isn't always a bad thing, but when the ceiling for these young players is a .327 winning percentage, it's a really, really, really bad thing.
Which leads to the second part of the problem: the Astros, while winning in the middle of the last decade, weren't drafting nearly as successfully as their on-field team was playing. Players like Bud Norris, Jordan Lyles, Chris Johnson, Brian Bogusevic and Jason Castro haven't turned out nearly the way that the team had projected. Houston's scouting has been awful, and this putrid team of over the hill one-time prospects expresses that out loud. Moreover, because the major league team was winning, they continually were signing high-priced free agents, at the cost of compensatory first round picks coming from their draft. So while the squad in Houston was experiencing nearly unprecedented success, the farm system was slowly withering away.
That all being said, it's going to be difficult for even the Astros to lose more than three quarters of their games, but not completely out of the question. The team has been playing .324 ball, but with veterans like Brett Myers, Wandy Rodriguez and Carlos Lee being traded away, Houston is getting less experienced and though those players aren't elite, they certainly are starting-caliber major leaguers.
Looking at their schedule, the Astros have just about 39 games left, and 27 of those are against teams that are .500 or better. Let's say that they lost to all of the winning teams and beat all of the losing teams (who, including the Cubs and Brewers, have sub-.500 records that are better than the Astros'), they'd finish at 49-113, which leaves them with a .302 winning percentage. They'd have to lose 36 games and only win 4 more to come close to the Mets' 1962 record.  Combining the difficulty of their schedule and loss of their veteran players, it's still possible, but improbable. They're the awful team we forecasted, but not that awful. I expect the Astros to lose around 110 games, which would be "just" the worst in franchise history, rather worst in MLB history.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Monday Night RAW recap: HBK appreciation night

Location: San Antonio, Texas
Announcers: Jerry "The King" Lawler, Michael Cole

These three hour RAWs are killing me. I had my television on for the entire 3 hours, but I can't say I really watched with intensity. Good for the Neilson ratings, bad for writing RAW reviews. You're slowly going to see these reviews morph more into my RAW thoughts and much less on what actually happened in the ring.

RAW opening segment

I know it's only been two weeks, but I'm out on AJ as the RAW GM. Bring back Laurinaitis, give it to William Regal or let Vince come back and be the owner of both shows. To me AJ has been nothing more than a Stephanie McMahon clone, a petulant child making decisions to please a whimsical audience. The WWE has bastardized her character in an attempt to capitalize on her mounting popularity. I don't really watch Smackdown so I could care less that Booker T was announced general manager over there. And I suppose I could go the "anybody but Teddy Long, Vicky Guerrero or Stephanie McMahon route" but I'm not satisfied with AJ as the RAW GM. Give me Lord Steven Regal or give me death.

These were the best options?
To recap the segment CM Punk apologizes in the most condescending way possible. Cena comes out and gets creepy with AJ and the Big Show was in Mike Rupp's words, irrelevant out there. Being the new queen of RAW interactive AJ gave us the choice of #PunkRey, #PunkMiz, or #PunkKane. Wow. What options. Where was #PunkLesnar, #PunkAustin, or #PunkFunaki? The WWE was obviously baiting the audience to choose Punk/Rey Rey. Here I am talking like the votes were actually calculated.

"You smell great." John Cena, you creeper

CM Punk vs Rey Mysterio 

Solid match while it lasted. Can we stop pretending that Rey Mysterio is a heavyweight wrestler? Actually with all the weight it looks like he gained while he was away, he probably qualifies now. I'm tired of watching bigger wrestlers have to sell his offense. Does anyone remember his matches against Tajiri? All of them were total classics. Why? Because his offense was believable and smaller wrestlers can properly sell what he does in the ring. 

Rey Mysterio wrestles in a shirt the same way a fat kid wears one to go swimming. 

Wade Barrett promo

I'm going to be patient on this one and give Wade Barrett a second chance. Take my eyes (but not my shirt) before making me ever watch Randy Orton vs Wade Barrett in the ring again. 

Christian vs Alberto Del Rio

So after declaring that he would not wrestle again until his championship match, Del Rio immediately had a match on Smackdown and then again tonight on RAW. That's a shame because everything he said was true last week. What is the point of having him wrestle annihilate Santino Marella on a regular basis, when he has a title match lined up at Summerslam. When you secure the number one or two seed, you rest your players at the end of the season. You don't go all out against inferior competition. 

On another note, another RAW without a US title defense or any mention of it's champion really. You would be better off throwing the belt in the trash at this point, it wouldn't make a lick of difference. 

Christian deserves better than this. I thought I read somewhere that he is close to retirement. Give him one more title run on Smackdown and then let him retire so he can go hiking and kayaking with Edge in Colorado. Del Rio with the victory after a Ricardo distraction.


Oh Sheamus stole Del Rio's car......on national television. At this point Del Rio can either: 

1. Call the police and report his car stolen. All he has to do is tell them to look for the pale, Irish, Beaker-looking asshole in a Ferrari.

2. Relax because he has theft insurance.

3. Realize that he's the Mexican version of JBL and that if he's as rich as the WWE wants us to believe, he still has 900 other $200,000 cars that we've seen him drive onto the Smackdown set. 

This was incredibly stupid. I spaced out for a bit, but I'm pretty sure it ended with Sheamus defecating in his pants. Sheamus, you sir, are no Stone Cold Steve Austin

Remember kids, in WWE, they don't call the cops when a law is broken, they settle it in the ring. This ain't new. 

Big Show vs Randy Orton  

I won't lie to you loyal viewer(s). I did not watch this match. Apparently it ended in a double count out and after the match Randy Orton laid Show out with an RKO. So wait, you had the Big Show close RAW holding the WWE title up high after knocking out the 8 month champion, but they couldn't let him get a clean victory over Randy Orton? Worse yet, Randy Orton got the better of him after the match? Excuse my language, but how in the heck does that happen? 
Not as bad as Randall Orton

This result shows that they value Randy Orton higher than the Big Show or their champion CM Punk. The Big Show is in your main event at Summerslam (presumably). Randy Orton doesn't even have a match on the PPV or any general direction for that matter. Yet Orton receives better treatment? I don't get it. Someone slip Randy a poppy seed bagel backstage so that he fails his third drug test and they can ship him off to that wrestling wasteland known as TNA. 

In case you aren't clear about my feelings towards the Viper. I hate him with a passion reserved for Betty DraperLori Grimes and Joffrey Baratheoon

Ryback vs Tyler Reks and Curt Hawkins

Did we not already have this exact match before? Listen I want to like Ryback, I really do. But give him some direction. I'm begging you, let him wrestle just one established star in a competitive match. And I'm glad that it appears the Goldberg chants are somewhat dissipating, because now you can feature the man on RAW instead of hiding him on a tape delayed Smackdown where they edit out the chants. 

Speaking of Goldberg. Do you remember when they told William Regal that he had to go out and job to Goldberg. And he was like "frack that, I'm a lord." Well Regal went out there and gave Goldberg one of his best matches he's ever had. Goldberg showed that he could wrestle in an actual match against a different style of opponent. He looked strong because he beat an established wrestler and Regal looked good because he didn't get pinned in a twenty second squash match against the man who was receiving a monster push. 

Employ this logic with Ryback. You know what has potential to be good.....or absolutely horrible? A Ryback and Kane feud. Kane is pretty mobile for a big man and could help legitimize Ryback as a wrestler instead of being known as the guy who beats up on house show talent.

Epico/Primo vs Prime Time players

Good to see AW was mic'd up again this week. I thought there was a pretty decent chance that he would be fired over last weeks indiscretions. The tag champs came out and this led to a distraction and a victory for the Rosa-less, Epico and Primo. The tag team division needs more wrestlers. Long gone are the glory days of the Dudley Boys, Edge and Christian and the Hardys, but tag team wrestling can still be good. Throw Tyson Kidd on a team with somebody. Bring back Sheldon Benjamin and Charlie Haas. Make the tag titles relevant again. 

Brodus Clay vs Damien Sandow

Sandow attacks Clay's leg before the match starts. Fine. This accomplishes two things. Helps put over Sandow and give him more television time. It gets the Funkasauras off of television for a bit. I am okay with all of this.

Kelly Kelly vs Eve Torres

Welcome back! Welcome back!
Oh how I have missed hearing holla, holla, holla. Good to see Kelly Kelly back. The girl can't wrestle worth crap but I would rather watch her and Eve flail around in the ring than be subjected to anything featured Randy Orton. 

So all my girls in the back say ho.
Cause you know just how we do.
Side to side, and front to back.
If you ain't taking that. (Holla. Holla.) 

Kelly Kelly returns to revive Diva division, which leaves for a few weeks but comes back stronger than ever, like a cold sore

HBK/Brock Lesnar/HHH segment

They really wasted one of Brock Lesnar's limited appearances on this? He came out with Paul Heyman, who did all of the talking thankfully. And then Brock Lesnar tells HHH that he'll see him at Summerslam and he'll see Shawn Michaels sooner than that. 

Shawn Michaels is my second favorite wrestler of all time, but I do not like him involved with this match at all. The only object for this match should be to put over Brock Lesnar. HHH is no longer an active wrestler, a loss for him does absolutely nothing. Shawn Michaels is retired. While I love seeing the Heart Break Kid back on television, I do not want it to be in this capacity. 

Brock Lesnar needs to be booked as the new baddest man on the planet. True he lost to John Cena in his first match back, but he dominated him in the ring. No excuses, he needs to pin HHH cleanly in the middle of the ring at Summerslam. I do not want to see any botched Shawn Michaels interference of any other bullshit that lets HHH save face. HHH is always talking about doing what's best for "this business". He needs to put his money where his mouth is and prove this by putting over Lesnar. Also, Paul Heyman is just awesome.

Dolph Ziggler vs Alex Riley 

Alex Riley with an appearance on RAW was the shocker of the year. On top of this, they let him get a victory over Ziggler. As an unabashed Ziggler fan, I'm not too happy with this result. Whatever, keep building up the feud between him and Jericho. Their match at Summerslam is one of the few things I'm looking forward to on that PPV.

Kane vs the Miz

Kane wins in a short match. This ends Miz's re-push and his insanely long de-push. That was fast. Still digging the republican haircut however. How did this match help sell Kane vs Daniel Bryan at Summerslam? You know, the two guys who are wrestling one another in two weeks. Serious question, is Freddie Prince Jr. still on the creative team?

Main Event
Daniel Bryan vs John Cena

Daniel Bryan is so hot right now he could take a crap, wrap it in tinfoil, put a couple of fish hooks on it and sell it to Queen Elizabeth as earrings. So hot right now. That being said, I have to 100% completely agree with @titowrestling on this one. 

Are you kidding me,  / ? Giving away John Cena vs. Daniel Bryan for FREE?!? That's 1 unique feud you haven't done yet, but oh well

You're just pissing money away by not building this up. THIS is why Stone Cold walked out of the company at one point. The creative geniuses at the World Wrestling Entertainment wanted to randomly have Brock Lesnar beat Stone Cold on an episode of RAW with zero build up. I've got to agree with Austin's decision on that one. It's just like WCW giving Hogan vs Goldberg away for free on Nitro. Were they actively trying not to make money? Daniel Bryan vs John Cena is a match that could make the WWE money. If booked right, it could be a PPV main event. Why they would give it away for free is beyond me. 

As for the actual match; it was very good. They had them wrestle as if they were on an equal level instead of a glorified Cena squash. I can't believe they gave us a finish to this match either. They had Daniel Bryan get pinned cleanly in the middle of the ring. IF you are going to pair these two together, DON'T give us a finish. Have someone interfere. Anyone really. 

Daniel Bryan and Kane have a match at Summerslam; logic would dictate that they have some sort of interaction before then. Have Kane attack Bryan in the middle of his main event match. 

John Cena has a championship match against CM Punk and the Big Show, have one of them attack Cena to cause a disqualification. It would have played off CM Punk's opening promo proclimation that he is the one who knocks....or closes the show. 

There goes Cena, no selling like Wille Loman 
 (A Death of a Salesman reference? Pure gold.)