This Week in Betting, A to Z
by Trevor Whenham - 04/08/2008
A - Andy Roddick. It took long enough, but the top American tennis player finally got a win over Roger Federer after 12-straight losses. It took the worst slump of Federer's career to give Roddick the opportunity to win, but if he can ignore that and just focus on the win then it could give him some much-needed confidence heading into the heart of the tennis season.
B - Beckett, Josh. It was not a good spring for Boston's ace thanks to injuries, and the regular season didn't start off much better. He took the mound in Toronto on Sunday with a chance to avoid a sweep by the Jays, but five earned runs in less than five innings was far from what was needed to do that. Roy Halladay got the win, but Boston wasted an opportunity in the battle of the aces since Halladay wasn't at his best, either.
C - Colonel John. It has taken a while for the clear stars to emerge in this year's class of three-year-old thoroughbreds, but a third horse has joined Big Brown and Pyro as the clear stars in the group. Colonel John won the Santa Anita Derby with a monstrous stretch move. He looked like he had been shot from a cannon as he made his move under Corey Nakatani. Though he certainly looked like the real deal, caution is still advised - California horses haven't fared well at the Kentucky Derby in a while, and it's unclear how the horse will do when he moves from the synthetic surface of Santa Anita to the dirt in Kentucky.
D - Detroit. Am I wrong, or were the Tigers supposed to be unbeatable this year? The team with a massive payroll and some fancy new players started the season off by getting swept by the Royals, and they must have liked the experience because they got swept again by the White Sox. Suddenly, one of the World Series favorites is the only winless team in the league. Oops. It will turn around, of course, but this is definitely a bit odd.
E - Edwards, Carl. There were backflips in Forth Worth this weekend. Edwards won his third race of the year at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday. That should have him firmly at the top of the standings, but he's not thanks to his failed inspection at Las Vegas that cost him 100 points and a six-week suspension for his crew chief. Still, it's a good sign for him and his team that he can still win despite the setbacks. It's even better news that he managed to pass this inspection.
F - Florida. How bad are the Marlins? Mark Hendrickson was their opening day starter. I'm more than a little surprised that Hendrickson is still in the bigs, never mind that he was the best that Florida had to start the year. Of course, when your entire roster gets paid less than A-Rod does it's not like you have a lot of blue-chippers to choose from. If anyone actually cared about baseball in Miami then it could get depressing by the end of the year. On the other hand, they are leading their division a week in, so I guess anything could happen.
G - Garrard, David. The Jaguars have clearly made their choice at quarterback, and they had better hope that they are right. No Jaguar has ever made more than the $60 million, seven-year deal that Garrard signed this week. He played well last year, but that's a big investment for a 30-year-old with a track record of one proven year as a starter. On the other hand, it's not like there is a better choice out there, so if that's what it cost to keep him then it makes sense.
H - Huh?!? Quick, which major league team has the best record and the longest winning streak after the first week of the season? If you didn't know, how many guesses would you have needed before you came up with the Orioles? After an opening day loss to Tampa Bay, the O's haven't lost again. They swept the Mariners in four games, and they head into their first road trip at the top of the overpaid AL East. Not bad for a team that still has the look of a 110-game loser on paper.
I - Illegal substance? The story should have been that Jake Peavy threw very well against the Dodgers to record the first complete game of the year in the majors. Instead, everyone wants top know if the black substance on his hand that the cameras caught is something questionable. You can guess what the parties are saying - the Dodgers are outraged that he cheated, while Peavy and the Padres deny any wrongdoing.
J - Johnny Cueto. The Reds' rookie starter came into the season with a big reputation and some high expectations. He certainly didn't disappoint in his first start. In fact, he put on a clinic. He allowed just one hit and one earned run in seven innings, and he struck out 10 without a walk. If he can continue to pitch even half that well then it could be quite the season. The Reds could use the pitching help.
K - Kansas. I will admit that the Jayhawks were the team I liked least in the Final Four. That was an excellent call, wasn't it? They were mostly incredible against North Carolina, and they managed to pick themselves up when they were down and out late in the final game. Their defense contained Hansbrough and Rose, two of the most impressive players in the tournament, and their offense did what it needed to do when it needed it. I didn't see it coming, but they are certainly deserving champs.
L - Lopsided. When four No. 1s made the Final Four, and all four were playing very well, it didn't seem unreasonable to assume that we were in for two tight, exciting games on Saturday. Not so much. Memphis slowly and systematically demoralized UCLA, while Kansas jumped out to an impossible early lead, gave most of it back, and then ran away with it again. The two unlikely blowouts seemed fitting in this year of one-sided games.
M - Memphis. The Tigers came within 10 seconds of a storybook ending, but instead they will be lucky if they ever forget what happened to them on Monday night. They were up by seven and cruising when Kansas started fouling with two plus minutes left. Then the bottom fell out. Memphis couldn't shoot, Derrick Rose didn't step up when needed, and Memphis blew the lead and then looked totally defeated in overtime. Ouch. At least the sportsbooks were happy - action was heavily tilted towards the Tigers.
N - Nowitzki, Dirk. The big German has made it harder for his critics to complain that he's too soft. He came back from his leg injury faster than expected, and he has been very good since his return. His minutes and points were good in his first game, and have been better each of the two games since. That's more impressive considering that he clearly isn't at 100 percent. He is much needed by a team that is fighting for its' playoff life.
O - Ovechkin, Alexander. If it wasn't clear that this guy is a superstar before this season, it's unquestionable now. The 22-year-old Washington Capitals star set an all-time record for left wingers with 65 goals, and he led his team to 11 wins in their last 12 games to not only jump into the playoffs, but also to clinch their division title on the last day of the season. That means that Boston is the poor team that has to try to stop the inevitable Hart Trophy winner in the first round of the playoffs.
P - Parity? There obviously isn't much to worry about on the parity front in major league baseball, but the first week of the season has produced some surprising results that would make you wonder. It took only four games for every team in the league to lose once, so there will be no long undefeated streak to start the year like we often see. The Red Sox and Tigers are at the bottom of their divisions, and the Orioles and Marlins are at the top of theirs. That will all change soon, but just looking at it as it is now is a bit odd.
Q - Quick starts. A couple of older Japanese rookies got their careers of to good starts this week. Kosuke Fukudome, who turns 31 this month, is already a Wrigley Field favorite after starting off hitting .421 with five RBI in six games. The Dodgers' 33-year-old pitcher Hiroki Kuroda allowed just three hits and one run in seven innings while striking out four without a walk when he faced San Diego.
R - Redux. Where have we heard this one before? After a mostly wasted year last year, hopes were high for Pedro Martinez this season. That didn't last long. Ramon's brother looked pretty bad for three innings in his season debut, and then he left the game with a leg injury. He could be out for a couple of months, and he leaves a gaping hole in the Mets' rotation. Can Santana start every other day?
S - Shocking. The Brewers and the Cubs opened their seasons with a bizarre game filled with a shocking number of storylines. Cubs' starter Carlos Zambrano left the game with a strained arm. Fukudome was a machine. Kerry Wood was terrible as the new closer for the Cubs, allowing three runs in the ninth to give the Brewers the lead. Eric Gagne was just as bad and he sent the game into extra innings by allowing three runs of his own. In a bit of statistical insanity, Gagne ended up with both a 27.00 ERA and a win because he was still the pitcher of record when his Brewers went ahead for good in the 10th. You don't see that many interesting stories in a typical week.
T - Tom Crean. The former Marquette coach is either really brave or really stupid - he decided that the coaching gig at Indiana was a job worth taking. Normally, it would be a major promotion and a no-brainer. Times are not normal in Bloomington, though - Eric Gordon went pro, two starters graduated, and two more were kicked off the team, so Crean is starting with pretty much nothing and the potential for sanctions, too.
U - Ugly. The Nuggets had everything going for them - the Warriors are struggling, the Mavs are hurting, and they had a cupcake weekend. If they did their jobs they would have been in a very comfortable position in the playoff race. Instead, AI and the boys dropped back-to-back games to Sacramento and Seattle. Now they face two easy opponents, two tough ones, and a massive game against Golden State. If they don't make the postseason it will be entirely their own fault after this weekend.
V - Value? You might question whether David Beckham has been worth the gajillion dollars he has made for playing in the silliest pro league in the U.S., but the argument just got harder to make. He scored a goal this week. Just one, mind you, but that infinitely increases his career MLS total since he had never scored one before. Of course, the impact of the goal would have been much bigger for the league if more than six people in the country realized that the league's season had actually started.
W - War Pass. There were a few excuses that could be made for the winner of last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile when he finished second to Tale of Ekati in the Blue Grass Stakes on Saturday, but the truth is probably coming clear - the horse hasn't recaptured the magic of last year and would be very hard pressed to compete in the Derby. The distance and the running style will quite likely keep him out of the field in May.
X - Xavier. It was a great ride following the mascots of this column all year, but it ended on a bit of a sour note. Drew Lavender, the tiny engine that drove the team to its' great heights, did his best impression of a Cleveland Brown this weekend. He was charged with disorderly conduct and marijuana possession on Sunday morning after police arrested him because he wouldn't leave the middle of an intersection despite being asked to several times.
Y - Yawn. The Buckeyes finally won something. Ohio State has done a great job in recent years of making it to the biggest of games, but they have yet to come through when it matters most. Until now. Sort of. The Buckeyes beat UMass to win the NIT. It would be a more meaningful victory, of course, if anyone other than the fans of the NIT winners actually cared about this tournament anymore.
Z - Zito, Barry. This was supposed to be the year that Zito started to earn his massive contract for the Giants. It's too early to judge him yet, but so far it doesn't look good. He's had two good starts, and he has looked awful. He has given up 16 hits in 10 innings, allowed seven earned runs, and only struck out four. Something isn't right with the lefty, and it's not just that his team is lousy and doesn't know the meaning of the words run support.