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.