The Footballoutsiders 2010 Almanac comes up today (presumably). The second most important book you can buy this offseason all always elicits a week long response from me. That means that very soon, I'll be switching back to all football all the time. For today, however, I want to discuss the Cincinnati Reds, specifically why Indianapolis needs to get behind this team.
Why should Indy get behind the 2010 Reds? Let me tell you...
1. Scott Rolen is a Hoosier hero.
Rolen had long been one of my favorite non-Reds. The Jasper, IN native is exactly the kind of gritty, play-the-game-the-right-way players that is easy to love. His clubhouse presence (and All-Star offense) have altered the Reds dramatically in the past year. Rolen is the kind of guy anyone can get behind.
2. The Reds are the closest team to Indianapolis
You can be at a Reds game in two hours flat. Think about that. You can work until 5, bust tail down to Cincy and still catch the first pitch most nights. The Reds don't require a day off of work. Just hop in your car and go!
3. Joey Votto
Have I mentioned that you should vote for him? Votto is one of the best young hitters in baseball. He's a home-grown MVP candidate, and on top of everything else, is a pretty brave guy. Votto is one of the chief reasons you can know the Reds are legit. To be a contender, a team needs a dynamic bat. Votto is that, and has been almost from his first day in the big leagues.
4. The Reds have a history in Indianapolis
I know that the Indians farm for the Pirates right now, but Indy has traditionally been the top farm club for the Reds. In fact from 1968-1983, some of the best Reds ever came through Indy. George Foster, Ken Griffey, Eric Davis, and Dave Concepcion all are Reds Hall of Famers who played in Indianapolis.
5. Brandon Phillips is as good a defensive player as there is in baseball
Where are all the good young African-American players? One of the best plays second base for the Reds. Phillips has finally found a home at the top of the order for the Reds, but where he has never been in doubt is in the field. Phillips is arguably the most electric defender in baseball right now (scroll down and check the Web Gems leaderboard). You never know what kind of spectacular play he is going to make.
6. The Reds are buyers not sellers.
Cincinnati is actually one of the leading teams in the market for Cliff Lee. That says it all right there. This is a team looking to win now. Management is desperate for the playoffs, and they will do what it takes.
7. Have I mentioned they are in first place?
The Reds now have a season high three game lead over the Cardinals. Jump on the bandwagon and back a winner, already.
8. Arthur Rhodes is older than you are.
Seriously. I don't care how old you are. Rhodes is older. He's your freaking grandpa.
Oh yeah, he also just made the All-Star team for the first time in his career. The addition of Rhodes two years ago was brilliant. It was exactly the kind of under the radar free-agent signing that smart teams make. He's been the rock in the middle of the Reds bullpen.
9. The Reds are never out of it.
Cincy leads the majors with 26 come from behind wins, many in their final at bat. The Reds have power all over their line up, and it makes them a tough team to beat. As opposed to rooting for a team with a crappy bull pen where no lead is safe, the Reds offer the promise of a dramatic comeback every night.
10. Because you like to see offense.
The Reds have scored the 4th most runs in baseball (behind 3 DH ridden AL clubs). If you like home runs and you like to see scoring, the Reds ought to be your team. Great American Ball Park gives up the most homers in baseball so if you dig the long ball, you want to see games there.
11. Because you like pitching.
The Reds rotation is anchored by Bronson Arroyo and Aaron Harang, but every other starter they have is under 25. With budding stars like Cueto and Leake the Reds sport the deepest collection of young pitching talent in the big leagues. They have so much good young pitching at the moment that former All-Star Edison Volquez might struggle to crack the rotation when he comes back from the DL soon.
12. They left Chapman in the minors.
The fact that the Reds even bid for Chapman was amazing. The fact that they WON that bid showed they were serious about winning. The fact that they have let him season in AAA shows that they are serious about building for the long haul and not just trying for quick fixes. This is a team on the rise, and they are going to be around for awhile.
13. The games are always on the radio.
The Reds are on locally on XL 950, but for those who are out of range, you can always count on 700 WLW. This is why I'm a Reds fan. I grew up with my AM radio tuned to 700 every night. To hear a Cubs game, you have to stand on your head with foil on the antennea. The Reds come in crystal clear every summer evening.
14. Reds fans have a kickin' blog.
Redlegnation.com is one of the best sports blogs out there. If you wonder what kind of site I visit for fun, go no further. Fans of 18to88 will feel very at home there.
15. Because Marty won't lie to you.
Marty Brennaman is more than a Hall of Fame broadcaster. He's a truth teller. Acerbic and harsh? Maybe, but you can count on Marty not to sugar coat anything. He'll tell you who stinks, and when he starts getting excited, you know it's legit. Guess what? Marty's getting excited.
16. Their pitchers can hit.
Do you hate the DH like I do? Then the Reds are your team. Lead by Mike Leake's .344 average, the Reds have one of the best hitting staffs in baseball.
17. Because Jay Bruce is legit.
I had my reservations about Bruce, but he has become a professional hitter. His batting average and on base percentage have both risen this year without sacrificing power. He's working on becoming a complete player, which is something I questioned if he'd ever become.
18. Because football season is still weeks away.
Sure, training camp starts soon, but then there is a month of unwatchable pre-season games. Follow the Reds. It will give you something to flip over to once Curtis Painter gets into the games.
You know it's the dead of July when I write about the Pacers.
A few days ago, Bob Kravitz ran down the list of recent Pacers draft picks, and questioned Larry Bird as a talent evaluator. I wanted to examine recent drafts to see if that criticism was fair or not. We all know that it doesn't matter if a pick doesn't pan out unless there was actually someone better that could have reasonably been selected. The NBA draft is notoriously thin, so it's possible to go years without even getting the opportunity to take a good player.
2004 Pacers take David Harrison C, 29th overall.
Who they passed on: I recognize three names taken later than Harrison. The first was the next player taken, Anderson Varejao (8.6 ppg, 7.2 ppg). Also Chris Duhon (39th, 8 ppg, 2.5 rpg) and Trevor Ariza (44yj, 6.9, 3.8) were taken.
Verdict: Harrison was a risky pick, but I don't think it's one that can be criticized. Yeah, he was a nut job, but he had some potential, and the three guys the Pacers passed on are nothing more than competent role players. It's hard to rip Bird for this pick.
2005 Pacers take Danny Granger 17th overall
Kravitz calls this a choice so easy a monkey could have made it. Maybe so, but it was brilliant and a home run. Let's be fair.
2006 Pacers take Shawne Williams (17th) and James White (31st)
Who they passed on: All world guard Rajon Rondo was taken 20th. Jordan Farmar went 26th.
Verdict: Obviously taking anyone ahead of Rondo was a mistake. That one pick could have saved the last several seasons for the Pacers. However, Kravitz needs to let go of James White. In looking over the rest of that draft, I see no one of consequence. Boobie Gibson? Really?
2008 Pacers take Brandon Rush (13th) and Roy Hibbert (17th)
Who they passed on: Robin Lopez (15th), Courtney Lee (22nd), George Hill (26th)
Verdict: The jury is still out on these picks. I suppose you could argue that Hill and Lee are ahead of Rush, but I don't know that the final chapter has been written there.
Overall, taking Williams over Rondo is such a massive mistake that it tips the scales. In most of the other seasons, however, I don't think it is fair to rip Bird's selections. You can only take the players who are available, and the Pacers just haven't had good players available.
When evaluating drafts, we can't only consider if the players taken were successful. The only fair way to grade drafts is to look at who was passed over. The NBA is not the NFL. The draft is simply not the way to build a franchise. The Pacers already caught their lucky break this decade in taking Granger. Consider the Celtics. They got their break in nabbing Rondo late, but without Garnett and Allen they don't have a ring either.
I've been punch in in anti-spam verification codes for the past three days as I keep voting for Votto.
I sit here and watch the Reds game, and every few seconds type in a few numbers and hit enter.
I've probably voted for Votto at least 60 times already in the past few days.
Seriously, I feel like I'm in the hatch on Lost. Every so often I get an alert from Redlegnation and I dutifully push the button.
If I don't, the world might end.
The World Cup semi-finals start today, not that I can muster the strength to watch.
I still care what happens, and I still pull hard for Uruguay, but after Argentina lost on Saturday, I need time to recover. It's been a rough several months for me as a sports fan. Don't get me wrong, I'm relishing the renaissance of the Reds, but I'm not about to pretend that the Super Bowl and the World Cup defeats don't get me down.
The two losses illustrate the diverse ways in which various kinds of losses can affect you. The Super Bowl was a narrow loss to a good team. There was a lot to be proud of, but eventually the what ifs start to drive you insane. Again, people outside Colts nation made such a big deal about the Pick Six play, but for Colts fans that's not the play that hurts. The drop, the 3rd and 1, the onside kick, the Collie pass at the goal line, the field goal, Freeney being hurt...that's the stuff that gets me.
The big bright side however is that the Colts are about to start a new season. They are still loaded, still awesome. I have every reason to expect them to finish this year what they started last year. In another month, they'll be playing again, and I'll be ok. In the long run this won't sting like the two Steelers losses did in 1995 and 2005.
Argentina's loss, however, that's a different kind of bitter. If you have to lose a big game, getting blown clean out of the building is the way to go. You don't stress over each mistake. You just have to shake the whole thing off and let it go. It's not about any one of a half dozen little things that went wrong. It's about a systemic problem inherent in the team structure. Ok, I can live with that. Sometimes you just aren't good enough. Whatever.
The problem with the World Cup, however, and what makes it so compelling is that there is no next year. Four years is a long time to wait. Sure, qualifying starts all too soon, but redemption stands aloof. To make matters worse, the next "Mundial" is in Brazil. If you know anything about the history of World Cups, you know that it will be nearly impossible for anyone but Brazil to win it regardless of whether they are the best team or not. Realistically, we are talking about 8 years before Argentina has a serious chance to win a cup.
So even though it's better to lose a blowout than a close game, somehow I still feel worse about Argentina than the Colts. Sports is about hope.
The Colts give me plenty. The Celeste y Blanco give me none. "Wait 'til next year!" might be a despressing way to root, but at least there is a next year.
Last night I finally got to see my friend Tim.
He and his wife Julie gave me an awesome gift. It's a wallet made out of fabric from the roof of the Hoosier Dome (RCA does not own the rights to my memories). I've gushed about how important the Dome was to the city of Indianapolis, and it appears that the building is not finished giving back.
The wallets are made by the group People for Urban Progress. People UP is trying to come up with creative and useful applications for the fabric of the roof that once sat on top of the Dome.
So, if you are looking for an affordable and socially responsible souvenir from the Dome, make sure to check them out.
Make sure to check out my interview about Blue Blood on the Ride with JMV today at 3:30 PM on 1070 AM. (NOTE: that is a time change)
For a moment, I don't care if you are a Reds fan or not.
It's time to right one of the worst injustices in All Star Game history (and no, I'm not exaggerating even a little).
Votto is in the top five in RBIs, Batting Average and HRs in the National League. He's having unarguably the best season of any first baseman in the NL. This would be the first time since 1952 that an NL player didn't make the AS team while in the top 5 in all three triple crown categories (Boog Powel got snubbed in '66 in the AL).
When I say that the omission of Votto for guys like Ryan Howard and Adrian Gonzalez is a historic gaffe by Charlie Manuel, I mean it.
Do the right the thing. Prove you are smarter than Manuel and VOTE VOTTO!
I was hoping to get this post up last night, but the campground that I'm at didn't have wifi their quite as accessible as I has hoped. I guess it wouldn't be camping if you didn't have to walk to the offices to use the Internet...
We can only hope that the next two quarter final games are as exciting as the two that just took place yesterday. Not many people had the Netherlands getting past Brazil. I picked them to get to the final, but that pick was half heart, half head. The safe pick was Brazil, but who could have foreseen them falling apart in the second half like that? Now we won't get to see Kaka and Lucio both tearing their shirts off after the final to prove who's undershirt bears the more evangelical slogan. Tears.
As for Ghana and Uruguay, I don't know that there's a more cruel way to lose a game. Suarez's blatant, two-handed goal line clearance in the 121st minute was, in many ways, a worse kind of villainy as Maradona's hand-of-god goal. What happened after the act was as much as could happen to punish him in the game. The ref gave Suarez a red card and Ghana a penalty kick, which Gyan incomprehensibly launched off the top crossbar and into the annals of World Cup infamy. You knew that Ghana didn't stand a chance in the shoot out. The announcers told us no fewer than six times during the game that Uruguay's keeper made his reputation stopping penalty kicks and Ghana never looked up to that task. He only stopped two of the four that Ghana attempted (only 50%, I know), but he dove the right way each time. Holland better hope they don't play Uruguay to a draw next Tuesday. On to the tomorrow.
Germany - Argentina - Saturday, 10AM
My take: The robot that just learned how to feel vs. an embarrassment of riches
OK, so Die Mannschaft has never been as robotic or emotionless as everyone makes them out to be. They've had some great creative players through out their history, but they've also always had a logic and efficiency in their game that fits the national stereotype. So far, they've been one of the biggest surprises of the tournament, playing a with skill and flair that has looked more Rio than Berlin. Skilled, young players like Otzil and Muller have stepped up big time and announced their arrival on the world's biggest stage. They've played some very impressive flowing and creative soccer. Clinical finishers Klose and Podolski always save their best play for the international game and, as Thomas Muller said after they sent England packing, Germany are a tournament team. More and more, Germany's game reflects the diverse immigration that has hit the country in recent decades, with players boasting Turkish, Polish and African heritages.
Argentina boast what is arguably the most skilled rosters in the tournament. Their options off the bench would be first choices for a number of teams still left in the tournament. They've got so much talent on hand that they are hardly even playing Diego Milito, the guy who scored both goals for Inter Milan in the Champion's League final. The only place that Argentina shows any possible dip in talent is their central defenders, but they're still both top class. Brazil is the only other team that had that kind of depth, but they got served by Holland yesterday.
How they got there
Germany spanked Australia, lost to Serbia, and then beat Ghana to win their group. They then easily dispatched England in the round of 16. Yes, I know that England had a legitimate goal disallowed, but the final score was 3-1 and Germany ran the game. Argentina won all three games in their group pretty emphatically and then handled Mexico pretty soundly in knockout round. Yes, I know that Argentina should have had one of their goals disallowed, but the final score was3-1 and Argentina ran the game. Jeesh, that sounded repetitive.
Things to watch for
Can the Germans take Leo Messi out of the game? Shutting down Messi isn't the only thing that Germany will need to do if they want to beat Argentina, but it would go a long way toward accomplishing the task. The German's have the defensive tools to do it, but if Messi is allowed to pull the strings like he did against Japan, let alone start scoring goals, then they'll be in for a long night.
Will DiMichelis and Burdisso be able to fend off Klose and Podolski? Like I said earlier, Klose and Podolski both seem to step up for their national team bigger than they ever have for their clubs. Both are big, strong and dangerous with their heads and feet. Argentina has a sterner test than they've had so far in the tournament and the one place they've looked susceptible is their central defense and Germany has the tools to take advantage.
2-1, Argentina. Germany puts up a valiant effort, fighting to 1-0 at the half, but ultimately falls as Messi picks up his first two goals of the tournament. Tempers flair toward the end of the match. Bastian Schweinsteiger gets into a shouting match with Argentine defender Gabriel Heinze, claiming that he shouldn't be allowed to have a German sounding last name if he doesn't play for the Fatherland. After the match, Lucas Podolski cries tiny, cubic tears of despair.
Paraguay - Spain - Saturday, 2:30PM
My take: A bunch of guys I don't know anything about vs. the Virgin Mary
Who? Paraguay? In the quarterfinals? What am I supposed to do with that? The only thing I know about Paraguay is that they don't have a navy, the country is vaguely shaped like a 'P', and they compete in a bi-annual, multi-event sporting competition against Uruguay to determine who's the better guay. I don't even have any well known national stereotypes to fall back on for this one. I know that they did really well in CONMEBOL qualification, topping the table at one point, but something kept me from ever learning a single thing about them. OK, so I know that they've got stand out striker Roque Santa Cruz on their team (Blackburn and Man City in the EPL). See what happens when I try and write this stuff without an Internet connection?
Talk to some and you'll get the idea that Spain are the unblemished, incorruptible saints of the soccer world. They play the game the way it was SUPPOSED to be played; gallantly, with poise, beauty, and honor. No cynical tackles or bootball here. Midfield maestro Xavi Hernandez epitomizes this ethos. Orchestrating their attack so sublimely he makes Andrea Pirlo look raucous. Personally, I've never bought the hype, but Spain play a nigh unstoppable possession game and are have been the team to beat since they won the European championship in '08.
How they got here
Spain was upset by Switzerland and then dispatched Honduras and Chile in the group stage. They knocked out regional rivals Portugal in the round of 16. Paraguay drew title holders Italy and New Zealand and beat Slovakia emphatically in the group stage. In the second round they played Japan to a scoreless draw and then won on penalty kicks.
Things to watch for
Will Paraguay be able to touch the ball? Spain win their games dominating possession. Its a pretty smart plan. If your opponent never gets the ball, its pretty hard for them to score. The more you have it, the better your chance of scoring becomes. Paraguay's passing was pretty sub-standard against Japan in their last match. They could get run off the field if they aren't able to ever get some kind of rhythm with the ball.
Could Paraguay pull off another textbook upset against Spain? Bob Bradley laid out the game plan in the Confederations Cup last year; press high and disrupt Spain's passing lanes to their back line, bunker down in your own half, dominate balls in the air, score on the counter or off of free kicks. Switzerland employed the same tactics when they beat Spain in the first round. Jose Mourinho led Inter past half of Spain's starting lineup when they beat Barcelona in the Champion's League using the same tactics. Does Paraguay have the chops to do it? Honestly, its probably the only chance they've got. One would think that Spain only need to play their game to get a win here.
4-0, Spain. Paraguay bunker from the get go, but Spain finds a goal before half time. After play resumes, the flood gates open up as Xavi and Iniesta unlock the Paraguayan defense. After scoring the fourth goal himself, Xavi is so elated that he tears off his shirt, revealing a pair of silvery wings protruding from his back. This finally confirms what many of us have suspected for quite sometime, that he is, in actuality, a some type of pixie. Paraguay appeals to FIFA for Spain to be ejected from the tournament for fielding a magical creature, but Sepp Blatter denies their request under on the grounds that such action would violate FIFA's "Say No to Racism" campaign.
So, the US is out of the World Cup. It sucks, to be sure, but there are lots of other reasons to stay tuned to the action in South Africa. Many of my 18 reasons still hold true, not the least of which is skipping out of work tomorrow to watch the first two quarterfinal games.
Brazil - Netherlands - Friday, 10AM ET
My Take: David vs. Goliath, sort of
Can the greatest also-rans in World Cup history (the Dutch) knock off the winningest nation in World Cup history (Brazil)? In nine World Cup appearances, Holland has only failed to make it out of their group twice, the last time being in 1938. They've gotten knocked out in the Round of 16 twice, the quarterfinals twice, and the semifinals once. In 1974 and 1978 they made it to two consecutive finals with one of greatest teams in the history of soccer and lost both games (to host nations Germany and Argentina, respectively). Brazil has won the World Cup a record five times and has qualified for every World Cup (including the 2014 edition). They are perennially the team to beat in the World Cup and have been since the 60's.
In actuality, the Netherlands aren't that much of a David in any other way than their record. They went undefeated in their qualifying campaign, boast one of the most potent attacks in Europe, and are on a 23 game unbeaten streak. Brazil is, of course, Brazil. They don't really play the jogo bonito like they used to. Now they big, athletic, organized, and balance a tight defense with a killer counter attack. They can still break out the flair and style that made them world-wide fan favorites, but its not an integral part of their game
How they got here
Both teams won their groups. Holland did it winning all three of their games while Brazil won two and then drew Portugal in their third. Holland knocked out an tough Slovakian side 2-1 in their last game and Brazil spanked Chile 3-0, who had been one of the most exciting sides of the tournament.
Two things to watch for
Will the Dutch wingers be able to dominate, or will the Brazilian fullbacks shine through? Holland's wingers play high up on the field. If Robben and Kuyt can be dangerous enough to keep Maicon and Bastos hemmed in and unable to open up space in the attach, the Dutch can throw a big monkey wrench into Dunga's game plan. Conversely, if the Netherlands concede the high ground and the Brazilian fullbacks are allowed to wreak havoc in the final third, the Dutch defense will be hard pressed to hold up.
Can the Dutch defensive midfield pairing of de Jong and van Bommel shut down Brazil's counter attack? The Dutch duo will be tasked with negating a nigh unstoppable Brazillian attack led by Kaka. They need to be ready to support a Dutch back line that looked a little shaky in their game against Slovakia when Brazil break down the field.
2 - 2. The Netherlands advance on penalty kicks. The Dutch attacking quartet of Kuyt, Robben, Van Persie and Snyder run rampant on the Brazillian back line for two goals in the first half. Brazil pulls one back on the counter and then off a corner at the end of regulation time. A grueling 30 minutes of overtime keeps the scoreline at 0-0. Holland ices all of their penalties, but Lucio skies the final kick for Brazil over the bar and devours Dutch keeper Maarten Stekelenberg in a fit of rage. In the most spectacular post-match spectacle ever, a weeping Ricky Kaka is swept up into the sky upon a flaming chariot that is suspiciously emblazoned with the Nike swoosh.
Uruguay - Ghana - Friday, 2:30PM
My Take: The has-been versus the last hope
Can Uruguay recapture past glory or will Ghana keep the hopes of an entire continent alive? Uruguay have won the World Cup twice. Not too shabby a record, but the problem is their trophy was in 1950. For the later half of the twentieth century they seemed to be on a downward spiral and failed to either qualify or make if out of their group since 1994. A win tomorrow could take them back to their glory days, putting them in the semi-finals for the first time since 1970.
For Ghana, is only competing in their second World Cup. Their first appearance was four short years ago in Germany where they beat out the US and the Czech Republic in their group, only to get whooped by Brazil three to nil in the in the knock-out round. Now, they are in the quarterfinals for the first time and are the last African team left in the first ever tournament to be held in Africa. Now, if the popular narrative is to be believed, they're carrying the hopes of an entire continent on their shoulders.
How they got here
Ghana made it out of a very tough Group D, with one win, one draw, and one loss against Serbia, Australia, and Germany, respectively. They knocked out the US in the Round of 16 in extra time. Uruguay went undefeated in their group, beating Mexico and South Africa and drawing France. They defeated a well organized South Korean side in the Round of 16.
Things to watch for
Can Asmoah Gyan continue to put the ball in the back of the net for Ghana? Gyan have scored three of Ghana's four goals and is emerging as a world class striker, but Uruguay boast a stout back line that have only conceded one goal thus far. If Uruguay can neutralize Gyan, Ghana could have a hard time finding other scoring options.
Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez have been the striking pair of the tournament and not only score goals, but also generate a substantial amount of Uruguay's offense. Can Ghana's speedy centerback pair of Mensah and Mensah find a way to neutralize them? If given any time on the ball or a look at goal the two could punish Ghana very quickly.
My Prediction2-0, Uruguay. Ghana put up a tough defensive fight, pressing Uruguay high for possession and coming close to scoring more than once. Uruguay looks to be on the ropes as they head in for halftime, 0-0. As the second half wears on, cracks begin to appear in the Black Stars defense and Uruguay begins to dominate possession. Forlan and then Suarez each bag a goal apiece in the second half. In a last minute act of desparation, Ghana attempts to sub on German internaitonal and half-brother to Kevin-Prince Boateng, Jerome Boateng. In their defense of the heinous act, the coaching staff claims to have been confused by having two pairs of players that share the same last name, but yet aren't related.