This Week in Betting, A to Z
by Trevor Whenham - 05/04/2009
A - Atlanta. If you look out the window you might see pigs fly. Hell has certainly frozen over. That must be the case - the Atlanta Hawks won a playoff series. Not just that, but they did it by beating one of the bigger stars n the league in Dwyane Wade. Now they get the questionable privilege of playing Cleveland. That almost certainly won't go well for Atlanta, but they still deserve all the credit in the world for finally showing some progress on their trip out of the cellar.
B - Brett Favre. I'm begging you Brett - just go away. This is starting to sound like a bad, bad joke. Not long after we heard from Favre that he was done, we now hear that he is again entertaining thoughts of coming back. Apparently he hates the Packers so much that he wants to play in the NFC North so he can beat up on them twice. How did such a great, proud player become such a punch line in so little time?
C - Carl Crawford. Look out Rickey Henderson, here comes Crawford. The current stolen base king tied an all-time major league record by stealing six bases in one game. He swiped third base once and second five different times. The performance led to a Tampa Bay win, and it came at a very good time - they beat Boston, a red-hot team that had won 12 of their previous 13. Tampa was able to read the wave of momentum through the weekend, winning three of four in the series.
D - Dwight Howard. Howard is one of the four or five best players in the NBA, so he is obviously the driving force behind the Magic. Thanks to a one-game suspension Howard was given due to a vicious elbow, though, the team had to clinch their first round victory without their star. The fact that they were able to win without Howard or Jameer Nelson is a sign of just how tough this Orlando team is, and how tough they could be in the playoffs.
E - Edge. Everyone in the world seemed to know for a long time now what the Arizona Cardinals were going to do, so you have to wonder why it took them so long to do it. The Cards finally cut running back Edgerrin James. James had a good second half last year, but he wasn't the player he was supposed to be when he was signed, and with Beanie Wells in town now they just didn't need the Edge anymore. Now it remains to be seen where he lands and if he has any game left.
F - Friesan Fire. That's not how a Kentucky Derby favorite is supposed to run - the horse finished 18th in the field of 19 runners. There are excuses galore - he got a bad start, he clipped his owns heels causing a foot injury and so on. The fact remains, though, that he looked absolutely nothing like the star he is supposed to be. Not to kick the horse when he is down, but his flat, listless performance was at least a little predictable - he hadn't run for seven weeks before the Derby, and that huge layoff turned out to be as bad an idea as it seemed.
G - Greinke, Zack. Incredible. It had been obvious over the last couple of years that Greinke had some serious potential, and he is certainly realizing it now. He has been all but unstoppable this year, going 5-0 with just two earned runs, and he's had 5.5 strikeouts for every walk. For the first time in a long time the Royals look like they could be for real in a weak division, and Greinke is the biggest single reason for the success. He'll inevitably lose eventually, but if he keeps this up then he sure won't make a habit of it.
H - Hurricanes. Carolina pulled off a mild upset in their first round series against the New Jersey Devils, and they did it thanks to one of the more impressive final flurries you'll ever see. Carolina was down by a goal with a minute and a half left in New Jersey, and it looked like they were finished. But then the Hurricanes tied it up with 1:20 left, and took the lead 52 seconds later. As is supposed to happen, the team's best player - Eric Staal - was the hero.
I - Injury? There is no reason to panic when a player misses a practice. Unless it's playoff time and that player is of the caliber of Kobe Bryant. Bryant missed practice on Sunday, and still isn't 100 percent as the team gets ready to start their second round series against Houston. It's reportedly just a sore throat, but no team in the playoffs relies on one player more than the Lakers do, so anything that could have him at less than 100 percent is definitely something worth watching.
J - Joe Mauer. All-world catcher Joe Mauer finally made his season debut for the Twins this year, and he made his impact felt immediately - he popped a pitch over the outfield wall in his first at-bat. That's his only round-tripper in three games back, but he's been red hot, slapping out seven hits in 10 tries. The Twins are obviously a better team with Mauer in the lineup, but it's not showing up on the scorecard so far - they have just one win in three games.
K - Kyle Busch. Busch found one heck of a way to celebrate his 24th birthday on Saturday - by holding the lead for the last 49 laps at Richmond International Raceway to win the Sprint Cup event. He also added a Nationwide win on Friday for good measure. With the win, Busch tied Jeff Gordon for the most wins before a driver's 25th birthday with 15. He has another year left, so he should thoroughly crush the record by then.
L - Los Angeles. On paper, the Dodgers look like a pretty solid team with a few pitching problems. At home, they look as good a team can possibly look. They have played 10 home games this season, and they have yet to lose. It's a great run, but you should take it with a grain of salt - they have been blessed by the schedule makers so far. They have only played San Francisco, Colorado, and San Diego at home so far, so a good team really should have won. With Arizona, Washington, the Giants and the Mets up next, the Dodgers' home heroism could continue for a while yet.
M - Mine That Bird. Wow. Just wow. The reigning Kentucky Derby champion is a gelding that was last in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, had lost two meaningless races at a totally insignificant track this year, and is trained by a guy who had never even entered a horse in a graded stakes race before. Impossible on so many levels. As bizarre as this win is, there is one thing that we can't forget - it was incredibly impressive. The horse rallied from way back against a good, deep field, shot through an impossibly small hole on the rail, and ran away for the biggest margin of victory since 1946. I have serious doubts that this horse can do anything in the long term, but it would be a mistake to discount his performance.
N - Nuggets. It seemed like the Nuggets were giving up on their entire season early on when they traded away Allen Iverson. Instead, they have built up what is looking more and more like an unstoppable force every day. They demolished the Hornets in five games, capping it with a ridiculous 58-point win in New Orleans. Round 2 started with an easy win over Dallas on Sunday. The Lakers have long been viewed as the class of the West, and they still are, but they can't be too excited about playing this Denver squad.
O - Out. Talk about a bad day. The day before the Kentucky Derby, I Want Revenge was destined to be one of the top two choices in the field, and the style of the race was set up well for him. His connections had to be giddy. But then the trainer discovered a potential problem with the horse's ankle, and the Derby dreams were dashed - he was scratched on the morning of the Derby. A cynic could suggest that this was fate being cruel - the horse was purchased this spring by IEAH Stables, the wildly unpopular owners of Big Brown.
P - Pacquiao, Manny. Pacquiao's Saturday fight against Ricky Hatton had been promoted forever, and was widely expected to be an instant classic between two of the more interesting fighters in boxing. Instead, it was a one-sided massacre. The fight lasted just two rounds, and Hatton never had a chance. Now Pacquiao is the unquestioned pound-for-pound king of the sport, and Hatton has to lick his wounds and decide whether the time is right for him to retire.
Q - Quail Hollow. Tiger Woods had a chance to win for the second time since returning from injury this week, but he didn't look quite as sharp as he needed to be, and he fell short. That left room for Sean O'Hair to get the win. O'Hair shot a 69, and was the only player in the last nine groups to go under 70. With the win he joins Sergio Garcia and Adam Scott as the only players under 30 with at least three career wins.
R - Rachel Alexandra. The best three-year-old thoroughbred in the country is very likely not a colt. Rachel Alexandra absolutely crushed the field in the Kentucky Oaks. She settled just off the pace out of the gate, and she stayed there until the final turn. That's when she turned a switch and exploded. She won by more than 20 lengths, and she could have won by even more if there was some reason she needed to. It will go down as the most impressive single performance of this year by any horse. Her owners seem insistent that she won't join the boys on the Triple Crown trail, but here's hoping that they change their minds.
S - San Antonio. It's not very charitable of me, but I am glad that the Spurs are no longer in the playoffs. When they are still alive they have a very annoying habit of winning, but they do it in the most mind-numbingly boring, colorless fashion imaginable. As happy as I am, I can't say I expected the Spurs to get run over so convincingly by the Mavs. The Spurs had all sorts of injury problems, but they still should have been able to put up a better fight against a Dallas team that isn't exactly inspiring.
T - Toronto. Is it possible that the Blue Jays are for real? They were supposed to be a decent team, but not one that could compete with the big boys. Instead, despite a shocking number of pitching injuries and issues, they have the best record in the American League, and enjoy a two-game lead over the Red Sox in their division. Their defense hasn't been great, but they are by far the best offensive team to date, and scoring runs can hide a lot of troubles.
U - Upset. The San Jose Sharks seemed poise to finally get over the hump and make a deep playoff run this year. Their lineup was the most talented it had ever been, they had wrapped up the President's Trophy, and the playoff bracket set up well for them. Or at least it should have. Instead, they lost a tough, physical series to the Anaheim Ducks to continue San Jose's streak of playoff disappointments. Changes are obviously needed for the team, but it's not easy to change a team that already had the best record in the league.
V - Vexing. I want to believe that Roger Federer is still the best tennis player on the planet, but he's making it harder and harder to think so. He lost in Rome this week to stretch his streak of futility to seven months. That's how long it has been since he last won a tournament. It's not likely to get any better soon, either - Madrid and then the French Open coming up mean that he has to continue playing on clay, his worst surface. Rafael Nadal won at Rome for the fourth time to continue his clay dominance.
W - Wild and crazy. Who would have guessed going into the playoffs that the series between the Bulls and the Celtics would go down as one of the great first round series of all-time? It was all that and more, though. Four games went to overtime, a fifth was won with a heroic last second shot, and each one was compelling in its own way. Derrick Rose emerged as a true star, and Chicago has something to build on for next year. As for the Celtics, it's hard to see them as better than the third best team in the Eastern Conference right now.
X - eXplosion. The story was supposed to be simple - the Mets had serious bullpen woes last year, so they spent a fortune to upgrade their bullpen significantly to protect good outings by Johan Santana and the rest of the staff. It was a good plan, but it clearly isn't flawless. Santana handed the bullpen a lead on Wednesday night against the Marlins, but they blew it in the eighth. It was just another in a long line of woes for a team that is in a stunning freefall.
Y - Yovani Gallardo. The Brewers' pitcher is a very good arm that doesn't yet get the attention he deserves. If the 23 year old keeps having outings like he did this week against Pittsburgh, though, then he won't be anonymous for long. He allowed just two hits in eight shutout innings while striking out 11. Milwaukee won the game 1-0, and Gallardo contributed on both sides of the scorecard - he also hit the home run that produced the only run.
Z - Zambrano, Carlos. The Cubs are finding it hard to catch a break these days. They win when they score runs -- but they don't do it often enough -- and their pitching hasn't been consistent enough. The pitching could get worse, too - Zambrano suffered an injured hamstring against the Marlins on Sunday when he tried to beat out a bunt. Zambrano is far from a small man, so this is the kind of injury that could linger. The team is already further off the NL Central pace than they would like to be, and this situation could make it worse.