This Week in Betting, A to Z
by Trevor Whenham - 05/18/2009
A - A-Rod. Alex Rodriguez has struggled to find his stroke since being back in New York's lineup. It took him two games in his new stadium to get his first hit, but he really made it count. His two-run home run in the 11th inning against Minnesota gave the Yanks the win. The team is a solid 7-2 since he returned, but the third baseman has had just five hits in those nine games so the wins haven't happened because of him.
B - Biggest ever. The Rays have been around since 1998, but never in all that time have they had a comeback as big as the one they had on Friday. They were down 7-0 to the Indians going into the bottom of the fourth when they got their act together. They scored three in the fourth, two more in the sixth and one in each of the last three innings while tightening up on defense to win, 8-7. The night before Cleveland got out to a 9-0 lead against the Rays and barely held on for an 11-7 win.
C - Carolina. The Hurricanes have taken on the role of giant killers in the NHL playoffs this year. The No. 6 seed started out by upsetting Martin Brodeur and New Jersey in the first round, and then they got past Boston in a tough and wildly entertaining seven-game series in the second round. Carolina proved their mettle by clinching the series on the road. They now match up with Pittsburgh in a series that should be a great one. The top story line features the Staal family - older brother Eric is the best player for Carolina, while the younger Jordan is the third of Pittsburgh's three great young centers.
D - Denver Nuggets. If you said that you knew all along that the team sitting pretty and waiting for an opponent in the Western Conference would be the Nuggets then I would have to call you a liar. Denver may not look like a complete team on paper, but they certainly have played like on so far in the playoffs. They manhandled the Mavericks in the second round, though they were clearly aided by the bizarre personal soap opera that Dirk Nowitzki was embroiled in.
E - Ejected. The Angels have not been as good as they were supposed to be so far this year, and one big reason for that has been the absence of pitcher John Lackey. They got him back on Saturday. Sort of. Lackey's first pitch to Texas leadoff hitter Ian Kinsler flew behind the batter's head. The second pitch nailed Kinsler in the ribs. That was enough to get Lackey tossed from the game. The Rangers won their sixth in a row to widen the gap between the teams.
F - Federer. Roger proved this weekend that it's too soon to count him out completely. He's been in a prolonged slump while Rafael Nadal has been making the tennis world his personal play toy, but both things ended Sunday in the final of the last clay court prep before the French Open. Federer beat Nadal in straight sets in the final of the Madrid Open to end Nadal's clay court winning streak at 33 games and give Federer his first title of the year.
G - Greg Paulus. As a point guard he was good enough to start as a senior after starting the three previous years at Duke. As a quarterback he hopes that he is good enough to start in his only year at Syracuse. Paulus was a highly touted high school QB, but chose basketball instead. He has a year of athletic eligibility left, though, so he'll try to kickstart his football career. At Syracuse he'll have a good shot at seeing the field - the Orange aren't exactly a deep team.
H - Halladay, Roy. Zack Greinke might have the big, fancy numbers, but for my money Roy Halladay is the best pitcher in the American League and it isn't even close. For years now Halladay has been the model of consistency - whether the team behind him is any good or not he just goes out every five days and makes opposing hitters miserable. He works fast, he's efficient, and he's ruthless. He notched wins against the Yankees and the White Sox this week, and he allowed just two earned runs in 16 innings in the process. The guy is a machine.
I - Ibanez, Raul. Ibanez has been a great acquisition for the Phillies, and he really proved his worth on Saturday. He hit two home runs in the first game of a day-night doubleheader against the Nationals, and then he added another in the rain-shortened second game for good measure. Philly won both games. Brad Lidge got the save in the first game, and ended a bad streak that he had found himself on - this was the first time in seven games that he had not allowed at least one earned run.
J - Jason Taylor. The best dancer in the NFL is back with the team that made him a star, and it only cost him $7 million. Taylor walked away from a contract with the Redskins that would have paid him $8.5 million this year because he didn't want to spend the offseason working in Washington. Now he'll get to stay home in Florida, but his contract is worth just $1.5 million with incentives. He'd have to play better than he did last year to be worth even that much.
K - Kobe. It took much longer than it should have, and it was far from pretty, but Kobe and the boys finally dispensed of the Yao-and-McGrady-less Rockets. It took seven games when it should probably have taken five, but the last game was as one-sided as they all should have been after Yao was injured. The Lakers took control early on and never gave it up to cruise to a 19-point victory and a date with the surprising Nuggets. Denver is a much better team than the beaten up Rockets are right now, so the Lakers had better find another gear soon.
L - Legalized. Delaware has become the fourth state in the country to legalize sports betting. Hopefully they are successful and start a real trend. The state plans to operate a sports lottery, but will also allows both sports books and table games in race tracks in the state. Racing and sports betting have always seemed like a very natural fit to me, so I expect this to be a boost to both industries, and to the state's bottom line.
M - Mine That Bird. The Kentucky Derby winner didn't quite win the Preakness, but he did prove that he is for real. He dropped to the back of the pack early as he did in the Derby. The difference this time is that no horses gave him any room on the rail. Undeterred, he moved up on the outside. He ran into some trouble at one point and had to check his momentum, but he recovered and charged down the stretch. He was less than a length behind Rachel Alexandra at the wire, and would have been past her if the race was any longer. An impressive effort. New jockey Mike Smith was impressed by how brave the little horse is.
N - Nicanor. The three year old full brother of Barbaro had looked nothing like his famous sibling in his first two starts. Actually, he had looked pretty lousy. That all changed this week at Delaware Park, though. Nicanor was moved to the turf for the first time and it made all the difference. The horse took the lead early on, gradually opened up daylight, and then exploded down the stretch to win by more than 15 lengths. It will be very interesting to see what he does in a step up in class after this eye-opening performance.
O - Oops. The Rays' game on Sunday featured something you certainly don't see every day - a pitcher being forced to hit in the AL. The team filled out their lineup card incorrectly, listing two players at third base when one was supposed to be at DH. That meant that the team lost the DH and starter Andy Sonnastine had to hit third. It was the first time since 1976 that a pitcher had hit to start a game in the AL. Sonnastine made the most of the oddity, going 1-for-3 with a run scoring double in the 7-5 win.
P - Penguins. The seven-game series between Pittsburgh and the Washington Capitals was billed as a potential classic, and it more than lived up to it. It featured the two best players in the world, and both Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin were as good as they can be. In the end, though, the difference was Crosby. He seemed to want it a bit more - maybe because of the disappointment of losing in the finals last year - and he was absolutely brilliant in game seven as he led his team to a surprisingly decisive win.
Q - Quick. Michael Phelps was back in the pool competitively for the first time since Beijing, and there wasn't a bong in sight. The return, at a meet in Charlotte, mostly went well but was not without bumps. He won his first two events in meet record time, but then he barely made the 50m freestyle final and pulled out before the final was swum, and he was beaten by Aaron Piersol in the 100m backstroke. Neither setback was significant as the meet was more about experimentation than anything - he tried a new freestyle stroke, tried sprinting for the first time, and didn't shave his beard for the meet.
R - Rachel Alexandra. This is one classy filly. She didn't have her best day, and she didn't seem to like the track at all, but she still managed to hang on and win the Preakness - the first time a filly had done that since 1924. She had a remarkably easy time at the start moving from her far outside starting position to the lead, and she never lost it. The finish line came just in time, but it was a heck of a race. Early indications are that she will skip the Belmont. I hope she returns to the filly ranks and meets up with the top older horses - especially Zenyatta.
S - Slams. The Tigers haven't always found it easy to score runs this year, but they sure didn't have any problems on Friday. They opened the game with a grand slam in the first inning against Oakland, and they liked it so much that they hit another one in the sixth. Those eight runs and six more led Detroit to an easy 14-1 win. Winning pitcher Edwin Jackson must have been thrilled with the performance - he came into the game with the lowest run support in the American League.
T - Texas. The Rangers have the second biggest lead of any division leader. That's certainly not what was expected of this team coming into the season. On Thursday against Seattle they showed why they are so dangerous. Down 2-0 in the bottom of the ninth, Hank Blalock opened the inning with a home run. After acquiring a base runner, Chris Davis capped it with another round-tripper. It was a waste of seven scoreless innings from Felix Hernandez for the Mariners, and a good reward for Texas pitcher Matt Harrison who threw his second complete game in a week.
U - United, Manchester. There are a few givens in this world - the sun is going to rise every day, taxes aren't going to go away, and Manchester United is going to win the Premiership. Man U played Arsenal to a draw on Saturday to clinch their third straight Premier League title, and their 11th in 17 years. Despite getting the point they needed to eliminate Liverpool from title contention, Man U looked decidedly flat throughout the game.
V - Verlander, Justin. When pitchers wake up after a nightmare, there's a good chance they have been dreaming of the kind of night that Verlander had on Thursday. He has struggled with his command for the last year and a half, but on Thursday he was dialed in. He struck out 13 in six scoreless innings. But then the wheels fell off. He allowed two runs, his reliever allowed four more in the seventh, and Verlander's gem had turned into a loss for the Tigers.
W - What recession? The world is in financial chaos, but the NFL hasn't seemed to notice so far. The already astronomical NFL salary cap was boosted by $12 million this week. This is the last year of the current collective bargaining agreement, so this new, expanded cap could be the last one we see in a long while. I'm terrified to think what morons like Daniel Snyder, Jerry Jones and Al Davis would spend on players if there were no limits placed on them.
X - eXperienced. The Anaheim Ducks, led by a core of young players, were the upstart surprises of the Western Conference of the NHL. They upset the Sharks in the first round, and they played Detroit very tight in the second round. Eventually, though, the deeper, older, and more experienced Red Wings persevered in seven games. Detroit cruised to an easy sweep of Columbus in the first round, so this hard battle could be the wake up call they need to take their place in the finals. Detroit showed the value of their experience again in the first game of the third round on Sunday when they trounced a much, much younger Chicago team.
Y - Yikes. Big Papi has been in a season-long slump, but did you ever think it would get so bad that he would wind up getting benched? David Ortiz was benched on Friday the day after setting a dubious Red Sox record by going 0-for-7 and stranding 12 runners against the Angels. Ortiz hasn't hit a home run since Sept. 22, and that futility could land him on the bench for a few days. Am I the only one who is cynical enough t wonder if Manny and Ortiz shared a dealer when they were teammates?
Z - Zimmerman, Ryan. The Washington hitter ran his hitting streak up to 30 games this week, started to get some national attention, and promptly went hitless. It's too bad the streak ended, because no fans in the league deserve something to cheer for more than Washington's (except maybe Pittsburgh's). Zimmerman bounced back very well from the disappointment - he was 5-for-11 in the three games after ending the streak, and he scored four runs and drove in three more.