Cleveland Browns 2015 Draft Day…..Here we go again

When draft day is the biggest day of your season, you aren’t a very good team or organization. For the Cleveland Browns, once again, draft day is the biggest day of their season as they try to build a team that can compete for relevancy. Yeah, I said it. I don’t think the Browns are in a position to compete for a championship. This organization needs to succeed in this draft to put themselves in a position to be relevant. For the past several seasons the Browns have been that dude who tells you how great he is, but can’t show you.

The Browns miscues on draft day are epic. Cleveland has not had a franchise quarterback since Bernie Kosar, and yet they continue taking major gambles on draft day to try to find that signal-caller that can lead them. The problem is this franchise doesn’t seem to understand that what they really need are pieces that can complement a serviceable quarterback. That is the first step to relevancy.

With 10 picks in this years draft the Browns, ONCE AGAIN, have the chance to bring in some quality players that can give them talent and depth at key positions. Cleveland has their own pick at #12 and they have the Buffalo Bills pick (2014 draft day Sammy Watkins trade) at #19. This would be an exciting proposition if we didn’t see this team completely screw up their two-1st rounders last year. You remember last year ? The Browns had a top-five pick and Watkins, the Clemson star receiver was sitting there. The Browns traded that pick for the Bills #9 and this year’s 1st round selection. Not a bad deal until you saw what the Browns did with #9. They chose corner Justin Gilbert who was so badly over-matched in his rookie season that Cleveland had to bury him on the bench. Then the Browns traded up from #26 to take quarterback Johnny Manziel at #22. It was flashy. It was exciting and Browns fans went crazy. Then they watched those two players actually take the field. They went crazy again.

Train-wreck

So now the Browns are presented with a similar scenario. Two-1st round picks and numerous holes to fill. The problem is we are hearing rumors that General Manager Ray Farmer and the front office are lusting for Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. Yep, another quarterback. Analysts say the Browns love Mariota’s make-up. The former Oregon Duck is the anti-thesis of Manziel. He doesn’t party. He is down-to-earth and is someone the Browns can develop and build around. It would take the two-1st rounders to get him, and even then it may not be enough. The Browns could trade to move up and get him and then flip him to the Eagles and possibly get Sam Bradford in return. While this rumor has been alive and well for weeks, it doesn’t solve the numerous other issues the Browns face with their personnel.

Lets look at Cleveland’s horrific history of drafting quarterbacks since re-entering the league. It started with their first overall selection in Tim Couch. While Couch may have worked out, the Browns didn’t get him an offensive line to protect him and nearly got the guy killed. Over the last eight years the Browns have moved up to select Brady Quinn, Brandon Weeden and Johnny Manziel all to play quarterback. Quinn and Weeden were disastrous selections and Manziel was headed that way before his long stay in alcohol rehab this off-season. I will give the kid another chance. I am not willing to close the door on a kid that was good in college just yet. Early reports say Manziel has been going in early and staying late to try and put himself in position to play the position. For that reason I don’t think the Browns should gamble again and take Mariota or any other quarterback early in the draft.

I believe the Browns need to hang on to their picks. Here are Browns trouble spots that MUST be addressed over the next three days.

First, the Browns must get a defensive tackle that can stop the run. The Browns ranked last, dead last in run defense last year. It was the Achilles heel of a team that features a strong secondary and better than average linebacker corps. The Browns must use one of those two first-rounders to get a multi-faceted defensive tackle. Danny Shelton from Oregon meets all the criteria. *Most prognosticators believe this where the Browns go if they don’t trade the pick* Malcolm Brown from Texas fits the bill. Michael Bennett from Ohio State would fit as well. This position must be addressed. While Phil Taylor is a beast on that defensive line he just can’t stay on the field and that is hurting this team. The injury prone Taylor can not be relied on for consistent production. The Browns primary need is a run stopping upgrade on their defensive line.

Second, the Browns have a very solid offensive line, but when center Alex Mack went down last year the Browns season went down the tubes. Mack is vital to this team’s success. With Mack the Browns were averaging nearly 4 yards a carry. Without Mack the Browns barely averaged over 2 yards a carry. His health is paramount and all reports suggest he is good to go. Mitchell Swartz is not getting it done at guard so Cleveland needs to look at offensive line. There should be some great options in the first round. Interior lineman aren’t sexy on draft day but it’s how you build your team, from in the inside out. The guts of your team needs to be addressed, then you have the protection for your skill guys. Cleveland has no depth on their defensive line or offensive line and those positions need to be filled and strengthened.

After those positions are addressed then and only then do you try to get some depth at wide receiver. Dwayne Bowe is now a Brown and he will help along with Brian Hartline. But, the Browns need more youth on the outside. Taylor Gabriel was a nice pick-up last year and became a reliable option but he is 5’8. Bowe gives the Browns size despite his age and Hartline as that gritty receiver who can go over the middle. While it would be nice to get an Amari Cooper or Kevin White at number 12, those two receivers will not be there. The guy who might be there is Davante Parker from Louisville. That would be a great selection, but it would come at the expense of an even greater need in the trenches.

If the Browns feel they must get a quarterback there will be some solid options late in the draft in the 4th and 5th rounds. Josh McCown is slated to be the Browns starter and that is fine. With Johnny Manziel getting his nose clean in rehab maybe he finally shows the Browns something and improves. In my mind quarterback is not a priority in this draft. With 10 selections the Browns should just stay put and *gulp* trust their scouts and draft for need and depth.

Strength in Numbers will be tested without Curry

So now we know. The defending and most likely two-time MVP Steph Curry will miss AT LEAST the next two weeks with a sprained right medial collateral ligament in his right knee.

The rallying cry for the Golden State Warriors for the last two seasons has been “Strength in Numbers.” All along the Warriors have embraced their greatest strength, incredible depth. That depth will be tested with the loss of the best player in the NBA.

During this great run by the Dubs they have never used injuries, match-ups for a poor performance and they are not about to start now. As Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green said after Sunday’s win over the woeful Houston Rockets, the Warriors were assembled and built for THIS. THIS doesn’t mean the post-season, THIS means “next man up.” Just because the doubters are coming out of the woodwork like cockroaches sensing a meal, the Warriors will not yield.

Only Warriors lifers could see the look in the eyes of their team in the 3rd quarter on Sunday. The Dubs relished the opportunity to pick-up their mate bring home a victory. The Warriors weren’t going to let the guy who has meant so much to them down in a game that had that ominous feeling. Green knocked down three straight three’s and taunted the Houston crowd. Iguodala left the fish-hook follow through on his trifecta and Klay Thompson held up the double “3” sign with a furrowed brow as the Warriors blew the Rockets out of their own building. These dudes are a different breed, been there done that.

So, as teams salivate at the chance to take a bite out of the Warriors, this group sees more doubters and chance to shut even more people up. The Warriors should beat the hapless Rockets. If indeed they meet the Clippers in the second round it would be epic match-up between the newly engaged antagonists.

Factory of Pain: Browns tortured history of trading down in the draft

The Cleveland Browns are being almost universally lauded for trading the second overall selection in this weekend’s NFL Draft for multiple selections this year, next year and in 2018. On the surface it looks like a shrewd move that will help this languishing franchise replenish their talent pool and become relevant. But, trading down doesn’t necessarily guarantee success. Just ask the loyal Dawg Pound faithful….

Three times over the past seven years the Cleveland Browns have traded a top-ten first round draft choice to move down in the draft and garner multiple selections. And, almost every time the Browns screwed it up.

2009

In 2009 the Browns had the fifth overall selection in the draft. Sitting on the board were several key players including USC quarterback Mark Sanchez. The Browns traded the pick to the New York Jets for their first round selection (#17 overall) and the Jets second round selection (#52 overall) plus three players including Kenyon Coleman, Abram Elam and Brett Ratliff.

With the first round selection which eventually turned into the 19th pick the Browns selected center Alex Mack out of Cal. Roundly considered one of the best centers in the league, Mack was a lynch pin for the Browns offensive line for several seasons before signing a free agent contract with Atlanta this off-season. The Browns chose linebacker David Veikune out of Hawaii with the second round selection. Veikune played only 10 games for the Browns before being released.

Coleman was a solid performer, a defensive end for the Browns for two seasons but then left after two years signing with Dallas. Safety Abram Elam played one year for Cleveland and played well before leaving  for Dallas as a free agent. Ratliff was Cleveland’s third-string quarterback and never saw the field.

In analyzing this deal, I think Cleveland did fairly well. Alex Mack for Mark Sanchez was a steal and even though Veikune was a flop, the Browns got some nice production from Coleman and Elam. This trade was not a slam dunk for the Browns but I believe they definitely won this trade. As you will see, this is as good as it got

2011

In 2011 there was new regime at the helm and they realized they needed depth. They made what they thought was blockbuster deal that would fill several holes. Whoooops !

The Browns had the #6 overall selection and Cleveland was in desperate need for a wide receiver. Sitting on the board was Alabama stand-out Julio Jones. Instead of taking Jones the Browns traded the pick to the Atlanta Falcons for Atlanta’s first round selection (#27 overall) the Falcons second rounder (#59 overall) their 4th round selection (#124 overall.) Cleveland also got Atlanta’s first round pick in 2012 (#22 overall) and their 4th rounder.

This trade was hailed as a heist for Cleveland. Most analysts believed the Falcons mortgaged their future for Jones and they weren’t wrong. While Atlanta was a Matt Ryan interception away from going to the Super Bowl,  the last few years have not been kind to the Falcons. Their lack of interior line help and defensive depth has hurt them badly. But, in the end they win the trade because Cleveland so badly botched their selections.

With the 27th overall choice the Browns chose Baylor NT Phil Taylor as they looked for a lineman who could stop the run. Taylor played well when he was on the field, but he couldn’t stay healthy and was released in 2015. He is now out of football. With the 59th selection Cleveland chose a player who had some of the worst hands we have ever seen on a wide receiver….EVER. Greg Little out of North Carolina. Little had an amazing body with great strength, there was just one tiny problem. HE COULDN’T CATCH THE BALL. He was released by Cleveland in 2014 and in January signed a contract with the Buffalo Bills. Good luck with that Buffalo.

With the 124th selection Cleveland chose Stanford line-backer/running back Owen Marecic. One of the enticements about Marecic is he could play offense and defense. Sadly for Cleveland he couldn’t do neither at the professional level. Marecic was out of football by 2013 and is currently finishing his pre-med requirements at Stanford where he will get into medical research. Good for him, bad for the Browns.

With Atlanta’s 2012 first round selection the Browns chose quarterback Brandon Weeden out of Oklahoma State. Yes, I know what you are thinking here……it just gets worse and worse, well, you are right !!!! Never mind that the guy was almost 30 years old, the Browns thought he was their quarterback of the future. Weeden played two years for the Browns showing a cannon arm but no feel for the position. Sometimes he left fans wondering if he had any peripheral vision. He spent two years with Dallas, starting several games after Tony Romo got injured. Dallas fans will also tell you he might have some peripheral vision problems. In January Weeden signed a two year deal with the Houston Texans.

The 4th round pick Cleveland got in the Julio Jones trade was flipped in the Trent Richardson deal to Indianapolis……guh !

So, if you are keeping score at home the Browns got Phil Taylor (out of football) Greg Little (hands of stone) Owen Marecic (in medical school) and Brandon Weeden (no peripheral vision) and Atlanta got Julio “freaking” Jones. Uhhhh, that would be a win for Atlanta. MAJOR WIN for the Atlanta Falcons.

If you thought the Browns had learned their lesson and decided not to trade down again, you don’t know or understand Cleveland’s fascination with misery. in 2014 there was a completely new regime in charge of football operations and they decided to put their money on the roulette table and try this trade down thing as well (they are like addicts.)

2014

In 2014 the Browns had the number 4 overall selection and once again they needed a wide receiver. On the board were Sammy Watkins and Odell Beckham Junior. Instead the Browns traded the #4 pick to Buffalo for the Bills number one pick #9 overall AND the Bills first round pick in 2015 and their 4th rounder in 2015. Buffalo chose Watkins, when the Browns pick came they selected a guy who many felt was a reach at number 9. The “many felt” were right, the Browns brass was wrong. With the #9 pick the Browns chose Oklahoma State defensive back and kick returner Justin Gilbert. Put Gilbert’s face on a milk carton. He has been MIA since he arrived in Cleveland. He has been plagued by sub-par play and questions about his work ethic. The Browns could have had up and coming receiver in Watkins or superstar Beckham, instead Gilbert. Horrendous selection.

In 2015 the Browns completed the trade by choosing Florida State offensive lineman Cameron Erving with the 19th pick of the first round. The choice made sense since the Browns assumed Mack would be leaving via free agency this year, which he has. Cleveland believed Erving was the heir apparent at center, which he probably isn’t. In Erving’s first year he was over-matched and out-played and looked out of his element. He could barely get on the field.

The Browns new regime, feels Erving had a great off-season and are prepared see what he can bring this year at either center or tackle……Yeesh ! With the 4th round pick the Browns chose Vince Mayle a wide receiver from Washington State. Mayle was released by the Browns before the season even started after it was discovered he had a broken thumb that was mis-diagnosed. He spent 2015 on the Dallas Cowboys practice squad. Wow !

So, in the seven years I analyzed the Browns have had numerous drafts with plentiful picks and have moved down three times. Only once it can be argued did they win that trade. And, even with that victory, Alex Mack has moved on. The Browns are on their fourth different front office regime since 2008. This isn’t stratomatic people, this is the Cleveland Browns way !

After reading this I hope you understand why Cleveland’s trade that netted them picks number 77 and 100 in this weekend’s draft and an extra first round pick next year to go along with a second round selection in 2018 doesn’t titillate me.

Cleveland has 6 picks in the top 100. They have 12 picks in this draft, tied for the most in the league. While all of that is good news, it doesn’t do any good if you have the Three Stooges making selections.

Do I have any faith that Cleveland will have a great draft and they will net several All-Pro performers ? No. Do I have any faith that Paul DePodesta and his analytics nerd boys will pull the Browns out football’s abyss ? No. Do I have any believe that the Browns football franchise and their owner have any clue of what they are doing ? No.

I have reached the point where platitudes and talk ring hollow. They need to show me. Show me on the field that you know how to run a football team. Show me that you aren’t completely devoid of any football knowledge. So, while some Browns fans cheer the accumulation of draft picks, forgive me while I sit back, put on a wry smile and expect to see some guy walk across the stage who will probably be flipping burgers in 24 months.

 

A Sobering Dodger Reality

I know we are seven games into a 162 game season but let’s get real. Right this very moment the San Francisco Giants are a better baseball team than the Los Angeles Dodgers. It doesn’t hurt to say this. The truth is the truth.

As good as the Dodgers are offensively (and they are damn good) they don’t have the rotation depth and bullpen to compete for 162 games with the San Francisco Giants. Many of us saw the iceberg and were accused of being alarmists and not “true fans” for sounding the alarm.

How do the Dodgers fix their problem ? This is the million dollar question and it doesn’t have any easy answers. The bullpen should have been fixed in the off-season, it wasn’t and now the club pays the price. Here are some possible remedies, but they aren’t sure-fire fixes….

  1. Bring up Jose De Leon and Julio Urias to pitch out of the pen. Personally I DESPISE this solution. But, it was one that was broached to me so I thought I would address it. De Leon and Urias are being groomed as starters and in my opinion any deviation from this plan would be fool-hardy. But, it’s an option, that instantly makes the Dodgers better in the pen. Make De Leon and/or Urias your long relief men out of the pen. Closely monitor their innings. I don’t like it. I wouldn’t do it. But, I addressed it.
  2. Expedite the path to the big leagues for off-season acquisition Frankie Montas and his 99 mile per hour fast ball. He has electric stuff and is seen as a can’t miss back-end relief pitcher.  Of course the Dodgers will have to wait on Montas because of the stress reaction injury in his right first rib that he had to have removed. When he is ready in mid-late July they may be forced to bring him up sooner rather than later. And remember, just because he has an electric arm doesn’t mean he can get guys out (See; Baez & Hatcher)
  3. Bring up Dirty Dale Thayer from Oklahoma City. Thayer had three good years in the Padres pen before they released him. Thayer saw significant drops in his hits per nine innings and strikeouts per nine, but he when he is right, his fastball can get on top of hitters and his secondary pitches he can throw for strikes and can get swing-throughs.
  4. This won’t be able to happen NOW, but within the next couple of months shop some of the arms in this amazing farm system for some bullpen help. The problem for the Dodgers is they don’t just need one or two pitchers. They need a complete overhaul in that pen. It will be impossible to completely overhaul the bullpen when it’s been so completely ignored and marginalized by this front office.

With all of this said I do realize we are only seven games into the season. This front office KNEW our rotation was not going to be as strong as last year, for them to think the bullpen would suddenly be better is mind-boggling. Having only one left-handed pitcher to start the season who tops out at 85 and struggles with inherited runners is not an answer from the left side.

The bullpen needed to be fixed, preferably in December. For the Dodgers brass they will have to try to fix it in-season and that is difficult. Not impossible, but difficult. If they do decide to go the trade route they better be judicious in the kids they give up for a problem that could have been solved by a few extra dollars.

Keep Bleeding Dodger Blue !

In brutal loss Dodger fans asking wrong questions

The lunatic fringe, known as Dodgers Nation, is obsessed with Dave Roberts’ decision to pull Ross Stripling with one out in the bottom of the 8th inning in a game where he was throwing a no-hitter. I get the consternation but we can’t overlook the facts here. Stripling is two years removed from Tommy John surgery and this was his first major league start. He had just walked a hitter with one out in the 8th and had hit the magic 100 pitch count. In my mind, no-brainer, you pull the kid, shake his hand and tell him, “we are going to need you 25-30 more times this season, great job.” END OF STORY.

Ahhhh, but all the amateur GM’s are hammering Roberts for his decision. That’s OK Dave, roll with it. They know not of what they speak.

In the wake of this Friday night debacle Dodgers fans are asking the wrong questions. Quit questioning the move to pull Stripling and start questioning, what in the world Friedman/Zaidi and Byrnes are doing in that front office. This is the third straight year the Dodgers have entered a season with an unproven bullpen. I have heard all the arguments from my twitter friends, “but they are trying to get arms, Chapman deal was in place, we offered O’Day more money, we offered Gregerson more money.” I hear you loud and clear. But, you are missing the point. As an architect the people who live in the building don’t want to hear about the high quality steal you “could have” had, they want to hear about what you have. And, what the Friedman, Zaidi and Byrnes crew has given us isn’t Rearden Steel. Instead its a cheap imitation that melts in extreme heat.

The big leagues is not a place for pitchers to learn their secondary pitches. That is for the minors. Pedro Baez has one pitch. It’s a 98-100 mile per hour fastball, certainly a great attribute but he can’t consistently locate it and his secondary pitch is a slider which he can execute at roughly a 20 percent clip. That isn’t good. Personally, his act has grown tiresome. His post-season foibles are tough to forget. I would be willing to let bygones’ be bygones if he had a serviceable second offering…..he doesn’t have one.

Chris Hatcher supposedly has a change-up. We all know he has a great fastball, but to quote the great Teddy Ballgame in Ed Linn’s great book, Hitter, “I am so good at hitting the fastball that if it doesn’t have any run on it and it is straight, I will hit. I could hit a bullet out of gun if its straight.” Hatcher’s fastball is straight, his change-up is inconsistent. Don’t ask me, look at the hitter’s measure Hatcher and Baez.

To continue sending these guys to the mound in leveraged situations without other options or even addressing this ongoing bullpen problem is negligence. I have written too many blogs about this topic. Why ? One, is I have too much late night-time on my hands, but two, this team can not and will not win a pennant, let alone a World Series with this bullpen.

Friedman and company have had two years to address this bullpen and they continue with the same group of one pitch wonders. Evidently there is some analytic that tells these guys that Baez and Hatcher are essential. The Dodgers needed to address this bullpen issue, not with would’ve’s and could’ve’s but they needed a strategic plan to make it better. Make O’Day an offer he couldn’t refuse. Make Andrew Miller an offer he couldn’t refuse.

The Royals and Giants have been winning World Series with strong lights-out bullpens. I am not sure why the memo hasn’t gotten to the Dodgers.

So, in closing, while the fringe debates Roberts’ move, the rest of us here in the world of sane people continues to wonder why we continue running the same guys out there who cough up games year-after-year out of that bullpen

Chico State Baseball: Arms control vital for late season run

The road trip from hell is over and now the Chico State Wildcat baseball team can circle the wagons and get ready for the stretch run.

Going 3-3 on their most recent 96 hour two-city road trip was wicked difficult. The ramifications of rain-outs are usually taxing, more so when you are team that doesn’t live in an urban center. Chico State’s weekend travel included a flight to San Diego, a three game set against Cal State San Marcos on Saturday and Sunday. A delayed flight late Sunday night back to Sacramento which meant they didn’t get back into Chico until 3am.

Twelve hours later the Cats had to hop back on a bus and head to East Bay where they would finish a suspended game from March 4th (a loss) and then play the rescheduled double-header from a March 5th rain out (15-13 win; 10-9 extra inning loss).

Before you shed a tear for these Cats I do recognize these young men are playing baseball. I do get that. As head coach Dave Taylor told me during Tuesday’s pre-game from Cal State East Bay, “it’s not like we are digging ditches for a living, we’re playing baseball.” All true, but to perform at your highest level I am firm believer in physical rest and mental clarity. I believe the body’s biorhythms must be in sync. Young or not, the body and mind needs rest and these Wildcats didn’t get any last weekend and into Monday and Tuesday.

Chico State now sits at 23-9 overall and 13-7 in the CCAA. This year is far cry from the angst of the 2015 campaign. We are certainly thankful for the resurgence of this proud program.  These 2016 Wildcats are one of the best hitting teams we have seen in Chico State history. They simply rake. One-through-nine in the order this group seeks out their pitch and when they get it, they haven’t been missing it. I rarely see hitters on this squad put themselves at a disadvantage by swinging at bad pitches early in the count. This team’s plate discipline is stellar. They seek out the mistake and then pounce. Amazing collective approach by these hitters. A week ago they surpassed the 2015 team’s runs total for the year. They did it in about roughly 25 fewer games.

As a team Chico State is hitting .335 on the year with an on-base percentage of .416. They are second in the conference in extra base hits (Monterey Bay is 1st) although the Otters batting average is nearly 40 points lower than the Cats. The offensive prowess of this team ranks with some of the great offensive teams we have seen here at Chico State, especially clubs we saw during the “live ball” era 1997, 1998, 2000, 2002 and 2006. Offensively this team is good enough to win a West Region title.

To be the team they want to be, and to reach the goals they want to reach the Wildcat pitching staff needs to ratchet it up a notch. While the Chico State arms rank second in team ERA for the season (3.64), their production during conference play has taken a huge dip (4.72)

Despite being away from the team for much of March, one problem that has persisted with this group is not throwing strike one. By not getting ahead in the count the Wildcat pitchers are putting themselves at a tremendous disadvantage. Both San Marcos and East Bay were two of the top three hitting teams in the CCAA. The Cats spent the entire four-day stretch falling behind these quality hitters. This is no way to live. And, it wasn’t just one or two guys, other than AJ Epstein’s five inning relief stint on Tuesday, not one Chico State hurler could consistently get ahead in the count.

Also, not one Wildcat starter went more than five innings. In the three game San Marcos series Wildcat starters went 14.2 innings and walked 11 hitters. For the entire 27 inning series Wildcat pitchers walked 19 Cougars. Not good.

While many may point to the struggles of Chico State’s bullpen, the starters need to shoulder a ton of the blame. Eventually a team and a pitching staff will have to pay the price for starters who constantly have deep counts, walk hitters and don’t go deep in contests. In this competitive conference a team can survive maybe one sub-par start a weekend. When they get three less than average starts, good luck. By the time Tuesday came around the Wildcat bullpen was spent. The Wildcat starters need to pitch deeper, when they don’t, it stretches the bullpen thin.

Was last weekend a blip on the screen, an aberration ? I do believe last weekend and into Tuesday were your atypical grouping of games. We all knew it would be tough against two of the better hitting teams in the conference and it was. The Wildcats are capable on the mound, but the time for talking about it is over. It’s time for the entire staff to take ownership of their performances. Five innings from the starters is not good enough. Average teams have starters that go five innings. Great teams have pitchers who get through seven. Throw strike one, get ahead in the count. quit nibbling. Attack the hitters, believe in your stuff.

It sounds simple, we know it’s not. This team can hit. They rank right up there with some of the more complete offensive teams to wear the Cardinal and White. Even with some pitching slippage at San Marcos and East Bay blowing 7-2 and 8-2 leads, this group of arms is certainly talented enough to get the Cats where they want to go. But, the time for toughness is now. No excuse making, no lamenting ones’ role. Every great Chico State team has faced that put up or shut up moment and that time is fast approaching. It’s time for this group to dig deep and show the toughness  we believe they have.

*PHOTO COURTESY OF CHICO STATE ATHLETICS AT http://www.chicowildcats.com

 

 

Record or not Dubs make history

Whether the Golden State Warriors set the all-time regular season wins record or not does not matter to me. This Warriors regular season will go down in history as one of the great feats in professional sport.

Critics continue to routinely criticize the Warriors over their superior run arguing about the style of play and the competition. In the big picture these arguments run hollow and only diminishes those that don’t give credit where credit is due.

Never in the history of NBA basketball have I seen so many legends from the games’ past go out of their way to belittle a current crop of players. These embittered grey hairs are playing the collective role of “grumpy old men” reminiscing about yester-year and how the game was better “back in my day.” The criticism is beneath the likes of Oscar Robertson and Scottie Pippen, two of the greats of the game.

We all know the game has changed. Is it the Warriors fault that the powers-that-be wanted to bring consumers a more free-flowing game ? In basketball as we see in life, many times when people don’t understand something, instead of appreciating and trying to understand it, it’s easier to rip it. The Warriors style and imprint is certainly relished by those that watch them on a nightly basis. Those in the DubNation appreciate what they do.

For 35 years I watched this team fumble all over themselves. Once Franklin Mieuli passed, they had horrible ownership, bad players and the likes of Dave Twardzik making basketball decisions. The Warriors were the butt of jokes for ineptitude in professional sports. The Dubs were the Cleveland Browns before the Browns were synonymous with failure.

This 70 win season is a credit to owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber, to the front office of Bob Myers and Jerry West and to the players and coaches who have become only the second team in the history of this game to win at least 70 in a regular season.

This club will not be judged on this historic regular season. The gauntlet known as the NBA Playoffs is on the horizon. The Warriors record-setting year will be a mere footnote if they stumble in their quest for back-to-back championships. The Dubs know the deal. The 82 game schedule is the appetizer. The main course begins next weekend and for Golden State it’s how they will be judged.

Title or not, they will continue to have their detractors. That is OK. The Warriors embraced the dis-respect of Doc Rivers, James Harden and the old codgers that continue to rip them, I expect them to embrace the challenge before them now. As Warriors fans we do need to stop in our tracks for a moment and realize we are witnessing some once-in-a-lifetime type of stuff here. No need to hate on the haters, enjoy the ride friends.

It’s not hard to understand; Trump supporters are not our best and brightest

I am going to try to refrain from name-calling and belittling, but just being honest here, it is going to be really really tough.

Far be it from me to be the guy that casts aspersions on people who are out-spoken in their support of a political candidate. During my maturation process I have made several verbal mis-steps that I sincerely regret. In looking back I can say I was immature and my worldview was quite narrow. As I’ve grown into adult-hood I now see the value in critically thinking about all things. I try to take emotion out of any political stand, which has landed me firmly in the Libertarian camp. Not saying it’s right for everyone, but I know it’s right for me. The beauty is that I am not led by party affiliation. If it’s a good idea, if it makes sense, I will support it.

With soul-searching, study, research and truly understanding issues I have come to the conclusion through intense critical analysis that this is the best path for me. This brings me to the case that is Donald Trump.

His popularity and emergence is one of the great phenomenons in the history of politics. I understand how mad and angry people are at the status quo and our leaders. I totally get it. But people who support Trump actually believe that his dictatorial style will play if he ever won the presidency. He is outlandish and unconventional while also being simplistic and rude. He is fiery and firm convincing his followers his word is sacrosanct, yet he can not explain in detail one of his policies is on record for flip-flopping on dozens of policy matters. He has yet to explain in a comprehensive believable fashion how he would pay for the southern border Trump Wall ( no Mexico will not and does not have to pay for it,) for his revamped universal health care package, or his insidious protectionist trade deals that are worse than California’s 15 dollar an hour minimum wage.

His style is crass and it only appeals to the deepest fears in each of us. I found it very difficult to take him seriously when he first starting running for president, I actually thought it was some kind of  conspiratorial move to ensure that Hillary got elected.  But, the more divisive he became the more popular he became. A popular phrase among his supporters is, “he says what he thinks, and I like that.” You know who also says what they think ? 4 year-old children or 92 year-old seniors with early on-set dementia. Saying what you think and offending people is not a trait, it’s a lack of self-control that needs to be quelled. It is not dignified, it’s embarrassing. It’s juvenile and not representative of the great country we live in.

Deep in my soul I can’t believe Trump actually wants to become president. From insulting entire ethnicities of people, to lacking any comprehension of how true leadership works in a Democratic Republic, to ruling in a “it’s a my way or the highway” fashion. I don’t believe Trump wants to be president. I believe it has to do in part with the edification of his enormous ego. Yet, lo’ and behold, here we sit, with Donald Trump leading a major ticket for president.  How is this happening ?

Well, here is my hypothesis. Trump supporters are suffering from some internal synapse  meltdown which prevents them from critically analyzing a situation to completion. To put it in language that they might be able to understand, it’s as if a part of their brains have actually turned off. They have been caught off-guard by the bright shiny object in the mirror. They have wrapped their arms around what is convenient, the big TV reality star, and they can’t use deductive reasoning to actually “think” straight. They have been blinded by their disgust, hate, disappointment and disillusionment from all politicians, so they are supporting what is simple and feeble minded. In fact, supporting Trump doesn’t take a lot of effort. Since their candidate is short on details, so are they.

It doesn’t take much brain power or smarts to understand what Trump is selling. He is not that complicated. He is a simple man. We all lead such chaotic lives none of us wants to have to break down policy or seek out the details. Trump treats politics as a 4th grade teacher treats sentence structure. “Give me the who, what, where and how in two sentences. No details, no adjectives or adverbs.”

So there it is. An electorate that has been mesmerized by a screaming carnival barking psychopath with an inability to rationalize, critically analyze, decipher or reason. I am not saying Ted Cruz, John Kasich, Hillary or Bernie Sanders are all that appealing, but they aren’t dangerous. It’s time for the adults to grab a hold of the wheel. The time for the simplistic neophytes is over

 

Dodger fans may need to show some patience

Close your eyes and visualize your happy place. Breathe deep focusing on the inhalations. When you exhale focus on the stream of breath emanating from your diaphragm, through your mouth and out into the universe.

“Yes,” this is what it has come to for Dodgers fans leading into the 2016 season. Dodger fans should probably take a refresher course in their yoga and meditation skills, they will need it.

I am not down on the Dodgers. It may sound like it, but I’m not. I believe it’s important to be a realist. Right now the Dodgers starting rotation is Kershaw and a bunch of question marks and the bullpen is a collection of guys who have thrown well in March, but we have no idea if that will translate to June and July.

The offense has me encouraged. I believe Dave Roberts will instill a brand of baseball that is more conducive to post-season success. For whatever reason Don Mattingly could never get this team to buying into the value of moving runners and situational hitting. It’s clear that has been more of an emphasis for Roberts, and that is a good thing.

Defensively I am stunningly shocked at how bad the Dodgers are playing in the spring. After leading the National League in fielding last year, the Dodgers rank 24th out of 30 teams this spring in defense. They have committed 25 errors in 23 games, including a couple of 4-error games. What the heck ??? This can not continue, especially with a suspect rotation.

Scott Kazmir concerns me. You never know when a player will “lose it.” It appears Kazmir’s fastball has disappeared. For a guy to be penciled in as the Dodgers number two starter, to be suddenly topping out at 86 miles per hour is troubling. Hopefully he “finds it” and finds it soon.

The injury to Andre Ethier hurts. Ethier who was primarily a platoon player under Mattingly was going to win the left field job before fracturing his tibia last week.  Ethier is a professional hitter that would have given length and veteran leadership to the line-up.

With all of this said there are plenty of positives but they may require Dodger fans to not expect immediate gratification. Yeah, I know we have had to wait 27 going on 28 years for a World Series title, well we may have to wait a bit longer.

The farm is an ocean of talent. I praise Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi for making the accumulation of talent a priority. Despite some of their foibles in their first year running the team, the one thing they have done is make a strong farm system even stronger. They have also refused to trade, what they perceive as “can’t miss” talents for a high-priced quick fixes. Julio Urias, Jose DeLeon, Grant Holmes and others are still in the fold. This is a big reason why the Dodgers were not willing to go above and beyond to bring back Zack Greinke at 206 million dollars for six years at the age of 32. The replacements and reinforcements are waiting in the wings. I certainly wouldn’t want to be locked into that Greinke contract in two years.

I am encouraged by Dave Roberts utilizing small ball. His emphasis on getting an extra 90 feet and manufacturing runs. The sample size is small but I am excited by the brand of baseball Roberts brings to the Dodgers. I think it will help the Dodgers win games, especially close games.

I am encouraged by the Yasiel Puig’s spring. He came to camp having lost 20-25 pounds and appears lean and ready to get after it. I was in favor of trading him for whatever the team could get after his less than stellar 2015 campaign. It wasn’t just his bad season but it was the general malaise that Puig was showing, his weight gain and lack discipline. Well, if you can lose 20-25 pounds, that is step number one in showing the discipline needed to get back to being a stand-out ball player. I am willing to give this Puig reincarnation another shot.  If we can get a motivated and sane Puig, I will be excited to see some colossal bat flips.

I predict Corey Seager will be the face of the franchise for years to come. This rangy and angling short-stop has the “IT” factor. You watch him play and you are just captured by his natural fluidity for the game. He is a natural. I am not comparing Seager to Derek Jeter, but every franchise looks for a Jeter like presence in their organization. I think the Dodgers have found theirs. The Giants have Buster Posey, the Yankees HAD Jeter, the Red Sox have Big Papi. Time will tell but I think that Seager will be special for years to come.

This may truly be a year where the Dodgers take a bit of a step back before they step forward. There are still glaring weaknesses that need to be fixed or improved. But, I do like the direction.

For Dodger fans that lament the Dodgers starting pitching situation, remember it could be worse. They could have spent 426 million dollars on Greinke, Cueto and Samardjiza……No Thanks !

Impression from DAY ONE of Men’s D-II West Regional

It ranks right up there with one of my favorite sports days of the year. I wouldn’t get to experience it if it weren’t for the success of my hometown Chico State Wildcats, and for that I want to thank them for another great season and a fifth straight NCAA Tournament.

Cal Baptist and Pomona

This game did not disappoint. I went into day one thinking it could be the best game of the day and it was. The contrast in styles between the electrifying Lancers and the lock-down match-up zone Broncos. We had a one point game with under two minutes to go but give the Lancers credit, they made the big plays when they had to.

Michael Smith was brilliant. The star point guard for the Lancers navigated his way through the big bodies to get to the lane and get to the bucket for some big buckets. Even though Gelaun Wheelwright scuffled with his shot, he made the one that counted with the score knotted at 53 with five-and-change to go. It would be a lead the Lancers would never relinquish.

The key to the game in my mind was Pomona’s inability to establish Jordan Faison in the block. Faison took three three’s in the first five minutes and that was a bad sign. Faison is a beast on the block but it never got established by the Broncos. It might have been something Pomona wanted to establish but Faison picked up two quick fouls in the first 24 seconds of the second half and he had to sit. Give some of the complimentary pieces credit in Jordan Ogundrian, Jeremy Dennis and Barry Bell for giving the Broncos a chance.

The Lancers showed they can win that type of knock down drag out game, where scoring is hard. They love the three. They rely on the three. They will face a team in San Diego that holds teams to 28 percent shooting from beyond the arch. Should be a great match-up.

UC San Diego and Chico State

Almost a month to the day from when Chico State knocked off UC San Diego in La Jolla the Tritons repaid the favor in the biggest of games. You could tell early on this would be a different story. On February 12th the Wildcats did a masterful job of face-guarding and not allowing Drew Dyer to get any touches or good looks. He had more good looks in the first three minutes of Friday’s quarterfinal than he did the entire game on Feb 12th.

From the outset San Diego took the fight to Chico and it showed. The Tritons jumped out to an early 7-point lead and would never look back leading this game for nearly 38 minutes of play.

Being a Chico guy I could lament on all the things Chico didn’t do well but that would short-change how well San Diego played. Dyer and his partner in crime Adam Klie played great basketball. The two leaders showed why they are two of the best competitors in the CCAA. Dyer and Klie combined for 42 of UCSD’s 76 points. Throw in the contributions of center Chris Hansen, Grant Jackson and George Buaku the Tritons laid it on the Cats.

For Chico they could never recapture the magic, that through 26 games, had been one of the best seasons in Wildcat history. They seem to wear down at season’s end and as the final horn sounded there was clear disappointment on the faces of the Cats. The life-blood of the Chico club had been defense all year but their defensive miscues over the last few weeks were glaring. For Chico to win they had to dig in defensively and get stops, but those were too infrequent over the final few weeks. The offense, which had been a mixture of cutting and moving and passing became stuck. And, when the ball sticks, and people don’t move, bad things happen. Most of the key components for Chico are coming back and when you throw in a strong recruiting class and some reserves who will get more playing time the future will continue to be bright for Chico. Still a great year, although not the finish they were hoping for, but a lot to build on.

Azusa Pacific and Seattle Pacific

Azusa Pacific put any thought of their team being down for the count to bed with Friday’s performance in beating Seattle Pacific. I certainly wasn’t buying the 37-point loss as some type of indicator that their NCAA fortunes were in jeopardy. The Cougars come at you in waves and it proved to be too much for the Seattle Pacific Falcons on Friday.

Azusa Pacific had at least 10 players PLAY at least 14 minutes, but not one player logged more than 29 minutes. That is depth people, that is depth and the Cougars have the deepest team in this tournament. The Cougars have so many interchangeable parts that they are truly tough to defend and scout because of the varied skills sets. They showed that against a perennial power.

The Cougars were led by Corey Langerveld who scored 17. LyDell Cardwell came off the bench to score 14 and I’m convinced Cardwell would be the focal point of most teams’ offenses in the region if he was the go-to guy. How good and deep is Azusa ? Their leading scorer Bruce English scored 6 points on 2-of-8 shooting in only 14 minutes.

For Seattle Pacific they could not recover from being on the short-end of a 16-0 run in the final 6 minutes of the first half. A 24-20 lead turned into a 36-24 deficit at the break. Mitch Penner, who has been such a great player for the Falcons scored 19, including 13 in the second half. Bryce Leavitt scored 14 with 12 of those coming in the second stanza. Seattle Pacific just couldn’t get enough consistent offense to keep up with Azusa Pacific. It was the 12th straight season the Falcons went dancing. An amazing accomplishment for the team with the longest tournament streak in the nation.

Western Oregon and Humboldt State

The night’s final game had a boisterous crowd and two teams that won their respective conference tournament championships. The top-seeded Western Oregon Wolves and the Humboldt State Lumberjacks. The Wolves would not let their crowd down beating Humboldt 82-65.

Watching Western Oregon is like listening to that finely tuned car that runs smoothly, almost to the point that it’s a soulful sound. Five pieces that act in concert making the whole thing sound like symphony. The more I watch GNAC Player-of-the-Year Andy Avgi  the more I love the guy. It was the third chance I had to see him in person and sixth or seventh time this year. What a player. He seems to have great basketball instincts and surprisingly a great first step. He scored 15 on the night

The guy who may be playing the best basketball on the team right now could be Tanner Omlid. Omlid scored 18 points to go along with 6 rebounds, three assists, two blocks and a steal. No turnovers for Omlid in 32 minutes of play. He is making some big plays for the Wolves and has really stepped up his game in March.

Devon Alexander was great scoring 16 on 7-of-11 shooting. Every time the Jacks were on the precipice of a run, it was Alexander hitting a big time base-line fall-away. Julian Nichols was his solid self again scoring 17 points along with 5 boards and a team-high 4 assists.

Western Oregon could not really shake Humboldt. The Jacks showed the offensive prowess that made them one of the best offensive teams in the region. Malik Morgan kept this team afloat at times in the second half. The sophomore point guard scored 20 points on 9-of-11 shooting. Rakim Brown had a double-double going for 20-and-10 on 8-of-16 shooting. The Jacks needed their third wheel  but Thomas Witzel had an off night going 1-of-8 and scored only 6 points.

The Jacks were down 14 but whittled it down to six mid-way through the second half. The problem is even as they kept scoring they just couldn’t get a stop and that proved to be their undoing.

IMPRESSION

I’m a CCAA guy but my eyes aren’t deceiving me. The CCAA got taken to the pea patch on Friday. Four teams in the tournament and 3 teams heading home. Not good. But, I will say this. Based on the criteria that the NCAA puts forth the committee got the selections right. It’s not who is hot at end of season, the tournament teams are based on the BODY OF WORK. So, in that respect they got it right.

The Pac-West’s participants and the two teams that played in the West Region Final last year Azusa Pacific and Cal Baptist look very strong. The problem for the Pac-West is they have too many sub .500 teams and it waters down their schedule and records therefore hurting their RPI and Performance Indicator not giving bubble teams a chance to get in the tournament. It hurts a conference to have seven teams with sub .500 records.

Cal Baptist and UC San Diego at 5pm today. It should be a good one. As San Diego showed, despite their injury woes they still have a tremendous core that can defend, shoot and compete. Cal Baptist will not have to face that Pomona match-up zone, but they will have to deal with a strong perimeter defense in San Diego. Michael Smith is going to be very tough for San Diego to handle. The Tritons must also do a Pomona-like job on Wheelwright.   Cal Baptist has to close out on Dyer and stop Klie from the dribble attacks.

The Western Oregon and Azusa Pacific games bring us two heavyweights that will battle it out in the regional semis. Western Oregon behind a raucous crowd and APU with the championship pedigree. Azusa certainly has the depth to throw bodies at the Wolves. Western Oregon has the cohesiveness on both ends to get stops and make it hard on the Cougars. This will be a tremendous game and I can’t wait to see it at 7:30 tonight.

You can watch the games on http://www.gnacsports.com