This Week in Betting, A to Z
by Trevor Whenham - 06/17/2008
A - Alfonso Soriano. The Cubs have the best record in baseball and their fans are dreaming of the end of the World Series curse, but not everything is perfect. Soriano, their star leadoff hitter, will miss about six weeks of action after he broke his hand when he was hit by a pitch. It's a blow, but it could be worse - the Cards are chasing them, and they will be playing without Albert Pujols for at least three weeks after he was hurt as well this week.
B - Boston Celtics. Few people, myself included unfortunately, gave the Celtics much of a shot against the Lakers. Oops. The Eastern champs did as they were supposed to do and won two games at home, then they went into L.A. and won one game there and made two more interesting. They've done that despite not having nearly the scoring power of the Lakers, and while suffering injuries to Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins.
C - Curlin. There is absolutely no doubt who the best horse in the world is right now. Last year's Horse of the Year made his first start off the Dubai World Cup win in the Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs on Saturday, and he was an absolute monster. The field assembled was strong, and he was carrying much more weight than anyone else in the handicap, but he toyed with the other horses in cruising to an easy win. Next up for the super horse is a grass race the second week in July to see if the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, Europe's top race for older horses, should be the ultimate target at the start of October.
D - Donaghy, Tim. I'm not going to spend much time dwelling on the whole fixed games scandal because enough ink has been spilled on that topic already. As a sports bettor, though, I do want to know one thing - where do I get my refund for the games in which I bet on the teams the refs didn't want to win? I guess there's a good reason I pay more betting attention to a lot of other sports before the NBA.
E - Earnhardt. Dale Jr. is probably the most popular driver in NASCAR, but he certainly isn't the most successful. He finally won a race on Sunday. Finally is the right word in this case because he hadn't won in 76 races. He needed some luck to win in Michigan this time. He was able to coast over the finish line under a caution flag, and he ran out of gas right after. He wouldn't have won if the race had finished under green. This isn't how it was supposed to go for Hendricks Motorsports this year - the all-star team has only won two races.
F - Favorites. It's always hard to find a price with value for the Tar Heels during basketball season, but it became absolutely impossible on Monday. The team became the practically prohibitive favorites to win the ACC, and only slightly less favored to win it all, when Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green all opted out of the draft. That means that they team returns their top six players from last year, including national player of the year Tyler Hansbrough, and they add a top five class of freshmen.
G - Giants, New York. Plaxico Burress, the Giants' No. 1 receiver is a nice player. I want to say that up front before I call him an absolute moron. He is refusing to practice at the Super Bowl champs' first mini-camp because he thinks he is severely underpaid. He has three years left on a six-year deal that will pay him an average of $3.5 million a year. That might be a little bit below market value (though not a ton), but I am sick of players dealing with these things in this way. At some point one of their heads is going to get so big that it will explode.
H - Hamels, Cole. I am a long way from being a major league pitcher, but I think I can imagine the frustration Cole Hamels must have felt on Wednesday night. The Phillies ace was in the zone - 13 strikeouts in eight innings and just one walk. The problem is he has nothing to show for it. The usually potent Philadelphia offense managed just one run while he was in the game, so he left without hope of a decision. To make matters worse, his bullpen gave up a Dan Uggla walk-off grand slam, so the entire effort by Hamels was wasted. In a sign of his class as a pitcher, he bounced back nicely next time out with a win against the Red Sox.
I - Interesting. I'm a big fan of tennis, and it is just fascinating on the men's side these days. The top two players, Federer and Nadal, are so much better than everyone else that it is ridiculous. The two have met in the last two Wimbledon finals and the last three French finals. Nadal is the undisputed king of clay, but he is not as strong on grass. In fact, he didn't have a tournament win on the surface until this week when he won at Queen's Club. Yet again, he beat up on Novak Djokovic to take the title. Djokovic has lousy timing - he would be the best player in the world if he hadn't come along at the same time as the top two.
J - Javon Walker. The Raiders can't seem to catch a break (not that that's the most important thing in this story). They signed Walker to a big six-year deal, but they can't be sure of his status after he wound up in the hospital in Las Vegas. He was found unconscious on a street just off the Strip, and was believed to have been the victim of a robbery. He's in fair condition, and more information will surely come along with time.
K - Kobe Bryant. I wasn't convinced it would happen, but the Celtics have managed to control Bryant. At least as much as that is possible. He's scoring less than he has through the playoffs, and his shooting percentage has dropped significantly. I respect the way he plays more than pretty much anyone, but I can't help but wonder how long it will take Bryant to start whining and demand changes if they don't win.
L - Logano, Joey. If you like to watch NASCAR at all then remember this name, because he may very well be the future. The near future. He's an 18-year-old driving phenom that people in the know have had their eyes on since well before he should have been driving a car. He recently made his debut on the Nationwide Series, and he won in just his third race. Based on the hype and the performance to back it up, Logano could be racing on Sundays as soon as later this year. He runs for Joe Gibbs, and is almost certain to take over for Tony Stewart when he leaves for greener pastures.
M - Mariners, Seattle. The Mariners fired their general manager, Bill Bavasi, this week. They had to do something after putting together the worst record in baseball despite spending $117 million on players. Seattle is a very frustrating team. It's not that they don't have incredible talent - on paper they should pretty much be the best in their division. It's just that Bavasi has managed to assemble the biggest group of whining losers in the history of sports. Don't look for Bavasi to land anywhere else in a hurry.
N - Niklas Lidstrom. There is little doubt that the Detroit Red Wings' captain is the best defenseman in the NHL, and one of the best of all time. As proof of his dominance, he was awarded the Norris Trophy, given to the league's top blueliner, for the sixth time in eight years this week. In doing so, though, the NHL proved yet again that they can't quite get their act together - they had young kids wearing the jerseys of each of the award winners, but Lidstrom's name was spelled incorrectly - Lindstrom.
O - Out. Predictably, there was an exodus of players out of the NBA draft this week at the deadline for players without agents to withdraw. Besides the three from UNC, big names returning to school included A.J. Abrams of Texas, Memphis' Robert Dozier, Gonzaga's Jeremy Pargo, Arizona's Chase Budinger, and Ronald Steele of Alabama. The biggest non-withdrawal surprise to me was Luc Richard Mbah a Moute of UCLA. I would have thought that another shot at a deep run with the best freshman class in the country would have been more attractive than a likely second round pick.
P - Pyro. Many horse racing bettors may have written off Pyro after back-to-back poor finishes in the Blue Grass Stakes and the Kentucky Derby. The horse that looked like he was going to be the Derby favorite back in April has shown that he isn't done just yet, though. He beat a solid group of three year olds in the Northern Dancer at Churchill Downs on Saturday, and he did it in impressive fashion. That shows that he will again be a force to be reckoned with in the big races over the summer and beyond.
Q - Qualifying. The last World Cup was a disappointment, and the critics are lined up to suggest that U.S. Soccer is in trouble. That may be the case, but they certainly got the qualification process for the next World Cup off to a strong start. The U.S. totally destroyed Barbados, 8-0, to move one small step closer to World Cup 2010. It's way too early to get excited, but it is a sign of an almost inevitable future - the Americans would have to work really, really hard to not qualify out of their pathetic group.
R - Roger Federer. The top-ranked tennis player in the world had yet another humiliating loss to Rafael Nadal at the French Open, but he rebounded very nicely when he returned to his favorite surface - grass. Not only did he win the Gerry Weber Open, a key Wimbledon prep, but he didn't lose a set or even a serve along the way. The win is a good omen - the last four times he won this tournament he went on to win Wimbledon.
S - Scott Baker. This Minnesota Twins' starter did something not many can claim to have accomplished in the past - he struck out four batters in one inning. He was playing Milwaukee, and it came against the heart of the order. He struck out Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, but the catcher mishandled the last pitch to Fielder and the runner reached first. Undaunted, Baker struck out Russell Branyan and Mike Cameron to end the inning to become the first Twins hurler to accomplish this rare feat. Brad Penny was the last player to do it in 2006, and it hadn't happened in the AL since 2003.
T - Turkey. It seems that the Euro soccer championships always has a massive underdog that makes noise. Last time it was Greece that came from nowhere to win it all. The Turks have a long way to match that performance, but they have made the crucial first step - they are on to the second round. After a predictable opening loss to Portugal, Turkey took care of their business against the Swiss, and then they shocked the Czech Republic to move onto a second round game against Croatia. If they keep playing like they have then that one is winnable.
U - Upset. Croatia beat Germany in their first round game at Euro 2008. That's not an upset on the scale of Buster Douglas over Mike Tyson, but it's still a very surprising and unexpected result. It was exciting, but it really doesn't mean that much since both teams were likely to get through to the next round anyway. The biggest consequence is that the super showdown between Portugal and Germany comes in the first round of the playoffs instead of the second.
V - Vegas. The World Series of Poker is underway in Las Vegas. The epic series of tournaments lasts almost two months, and is billed this year as a battle between the old time pros and the new, young online studs. The youngsters are favored by many (especially themselves), but the pros are showing why they are the household names they are. Guys like Erick Lindgren, Daniel Negreanu, Barry Greenstein, Mike Matusow and David Singer have all won events, and Lindgren, Negreanu and Greenstein are in a three-way race for Player of the Year so far.
W - Wang, Chien-Ming. The Yankees' ace is one heck of a pitcher, but apparently his running isn't quite of the same caliber. Wang was forced to run the bases on Sunday because he was playing an interleague game in Houston. As he rounded third he pulled up lame, and he will now miss up to 10 weeks to recover. Leave it to Hank Steinbrenner to come up with the reasonable insight - he says that the National League needs to come out of the Stone Age and get the DH.
X - eXit. The surprise wasn't that Willie Randolph got fired from his post as manager of the Mets. The surprise was that it took so long. The Mets have an all-world lineup, yet they can manage to play .500 baseball. Oops. The organization might not be good, but at least they are classy - Randolph's firing was announced in a press release sent off in the middle of the night. At least Randolph isn't alone - his pitching coach and first base coach were both given marching orders as well.
Y - Yadier Molina. The Cardinals' catcher gave us a very scary moment on Sunday when he was carried off the field on a back board and wearing a neck brace. He was guarding the plate but he was out of position thanks to an off-line pitch, so he was run over by the runner. It looked terrible, but it looks like it won't be nearly as bad as it could have been - he has whiplash and a concussion, but he appears to have escaped serious injury.
Z - Zing! Was that U.S. Open exciting enough for you? Tiger Woods won yet again, but it was perhaps the most interesting victory. He clearly struggled physically and lost the fourth round lead, but he sunk a miracle birdie putt on 18 to force a playoff with Rocco Mediate. Rocco became an instant legend when he looked Tiger in the eye after being down three strokes after 10 holes. He fought back and took a lead like practically no one has ever done against Tiger. He fell just short, though, when Tiger tied it up on the last hole of the playoff, and won it on the first extra hole. An instant classic. Both players did a lot to increase their legend.