Delicious...

I learned two things this week. 1) McDonald’s serves breakfast at 4:30 AM. An Egg McMuffin tastes just as good at the ass crack of dawn 2) I hate that small smear of toothpaste that sticks to the corner of your mouth even after you’re done rinsing. You can do things to the sink that would make the most seasoned porn star shudder and it’s still there, waiting for somebody to notice it and call you out for looking like that exact same porn star after wrapping a shoot. Then you’ve gotta wipe it off after you JUST washed your hands (not clean anymore). Oh yeah, and sports. I watched sports too.

 

How was your week?

Well, at the time I’m writing this, Camden Yards is still home to a winning baseball team, so I’d say pretty damn good. Granted, the Yankees sweep was rough, but that’s going to happen. Them boys from New York are pretty good, and they pick the bones clean against lefties (.360 OBP and .467 SLG vs. LHP in 2011 – both the best numbers in MLB). If Mark Reynolds had thrown the ball from A to B, and if Jones slapped a single up the middle, then we’re listening to Skip Bayless’ genius prognostication of the Orioles winning the World Series.

Looking at my portfolio, I’m buying on Chen and Arrieta, selling on Matusz and Hunter, and holding on Hammel. If you’ve watched enough baseball over the past few years, you’ve probably created a mental checklist of things you want to see from Asian pitchers (or you do other things like talk to people and go outside). The biggest thing that I look for is “do they know how to pitch the ‘Merican way?” For those of you who don’t know, we pitch how we eat: no nibbling on the damn corners, just go after it. Chen threw first pitch strikes to 14 of the 27 batters he faced, and only got behind 2-0 to 5 of them. Test passed.

The other big thing that has gotten Daisuke Matsuzaka – and more recently Yu Darvish – in trouble is quantity over quality. There was an article on ESPN about all of the different pitches Darvish has: cutter, slider, sliding cutter, big curve, small curve, average curve with middling income but great personality.

It’s like seeing a huge menu at a diner: you get really excited seeing pancakes on one page and falafel on the next one, until you realize that it can’t all be good, or else the place wouldn’t be a damn diner. Chen kept it simple and clean: big sweeping curve, nicely spotted changeup, and a fastball that was like a hot chick at the bar: nobody could quite figure out how to pick it up (it’s all in the delivery). Overall, Chen may not be a budding ace, but he’s smart and accurate enough that he won’t dig many deep holes for the O’s to climb out of. That’s the resume of a good 4th starter, and possibly a #3. Good looks by Chen, let’s move forward.

As Jake Arrieta was battling the Yankees on Thursday, I was battling hypothermia in the centerfield bleachers, cycling Natty Boh’s in one hand and cramming sunflower seeds into my mouth hole with the other. Maybe the cold affected my brain, but I thought Arrieta’s 2nd start was much more impressive than his first. The biggest reason being how he reacted after gifting a fastball over the middle, and seeing it travel over the gumdrop rainbow 417 feet into GrandyLand.

I said it last week, stuff is not an issue with Jake, it’s whether he gets his head screwed on right, and Wednesday was an indication that it’s getting close to facing front. The ability to shrug off a mistake is definitely a big tool on an ace’s belt. Arrieta took a hard left hook in the 2nd inning, and instead of getting into trouble trying to overcompensate for his mistake, he shook it off, stuck to the game plan, and tore through a great lineup for the next 6.2 innings. Every team wants a pitcher who can stop the bad streaks and keep the good ones goin: a stopper. It’s way too early to know exactly what Baltimore has on the pitching staff, and there’s still a very good chance that an ace just isn’t in the cards. But Arrieta’s two performances just made every team at the table check their chip stacks.

I was all ready to write about Matusz deserving a second look against a lineup less imposing than the Bronx bombers, but then he did get a second chance, and the results came back nearly identical. In case you haven’t done it already, it’s time to put Matusz in the proper perspective. This was a guy who plenty of people anticipated to make the leap in 2011 because of two very good months in 2010. Outside of that Matusz has been at best an average pitcher and at worst in game BP.

It’s not a cinch that he’s going to develop into a star, and although I can only judge yesterday’s game on highlights because I was working for the Nationals, the hanging breaking balls to Encarnacion and especially Lawrie have become a worrisome Matusz calling card. The easy way out here is to say that Matusz drew another very talented lineup (Lawrie and Encarnacion are both mashing right now, though Bautista is mired in a slump). But guess what? He draws the Angels in LA later this week, and regardless of the fact that he’s had a tough road, it will be difficult to argue for Matusz over the 0-3 record and 8.38 ERA he could be staring at by the weekend.

Just a note and two quick questions on the lineup before we cross Hamburg Street: Buck Showalter finally made the move to slide Mark Reynolds over from 3rd, because calling Mark Reynolds a third basemen is like calling Taco Bell a Mexican Restaurant. Wilson Betemit may not be vacuum over at third, but he’s certainly better than a blender with the top off. I like the idea of keeping Reynolds at first where he looked significantly more comfortable last year, and his fielding percentage reflected it (2011 as 3B: .897, as 1B: .987). He may be cold at the plate right now, but Reynolds is known for erupting volcanically (that’s out of nowhere and with great force if you’re scoring at home) for 3-6 game stretches, so just wait until you start hearing some rumbles.

The questions are: As fans, what do you guys want to do with Adam Jones who is currently mauling, and occasionally interrupting dinner reservations? And do you believe that Brian Roberts has enough left in the tank to warrant replacing Robert Andino at 2B if/when he gets healthy? I say re-sign Jones, who WILL make the leap this year to a player you can build a franchise around, and Andino ‘s play at 2nd base merits pole position in any upcoming battle with Roberts. Let me know in the comments.

 

It’s getting drafty in here:

          April’s getting late early, and Mel Kiper is beginning to layer the rubber cement into his hair, you know what that means: draft time. With Michael Floyd now apparently WELL out of reach barring a trade, Peter Konz seems to me to be the most sensible pick for the Ravens. He’s got great size (6’5” 314) for an O-lineman, and ESPN ranks his awareness as a “1” in their draft profile. Birk has a year left at most, and could provide invaluable mentoring for a young center. It may not be the flashiest pick, but having a great center is an advantage I’ve often taken for granted. Nick Mangold went down for three games last year and Mark Sanchez spent three weeks getting six shades of shit beaten into him.

That’s not to say Konz can get to Mangold’s level, but having a vet like Birk to show him the ropes will certainly help to maximize his potential. I watched two tapes of Konz on YouTube (vs. Nebraska and vs. OSU), and I saw an effective but not dominant blocker whose best assets were his aforementioned awareness (his head is always on a swivel and he’s good at recognizing where a double team is needed), and a nice ability to pull outside on toss sweeps and screens.

The other name tied to Baltimore right now seems to be Alabama linebacker Dont’a Hightower. Considering he was the guy calling the plays in a very sophisticated and successful Nick Saban defense last year, it’s obvious that football smarts won’t be an issue. Hightower isn’t necessarily an explosive athlete, but he’s a very good tackler and showed an ability to get pressure on the QB. The lack of athleticism could be damning though, considering the evolution of the tight end position and two tight end offenses becoming the flavor of the week.

If I’m the Ravens I go Konz over Hightower if they’re both available because I think Konz is a better athlete at the Center position than Hightower is at the ILB.

 

NBA PLAYOFFS ARE COMING:

          Good luck to all of you Caps fans out there, but we all know what time it really is. My team’s best player and your hometown hero Carmelo Anthony nearly helped swing the upset of the Heat yesterday in New York, but at this point it looks like the Knicks have all but locked up a playoff spot. I’m really hoping that New York gets no part of Miami in the first round of the playoffs, and instead draws Chicago with a battered and bruised Derrick Rose.

LeBron and D-Wade are at their best in the postseason (insert your joke here, but remember that Philly, Boston, and Chicago were identified with dental records when LeBron was done with them last year). An injured Rose has shown some mental cracks in crunch time, and the team functions completely differently whether he’s on the floor or not. Right now they’re trying to play “Rose-ball” even though he’s not nearly at full strength, which results in eking out an OT win over a listless Detroit team.

You need superstars to win in the playoffs, that’s why Indiana, Philadelphia, and Atlanta aren’t going anywhere, and that could kill Chicago if Rose is less than 100%. 90% of role players have a tougher time seeing the basket through the intense spotlight of the playoffs, and a Bulls team full of slightly above average players will be no exception.

For the Knicks, the most important person to the team right now is their physician. Between Shumpert nursing a bum ankle, Lin rehabbing his knee, Stoudemire trying to pacify a cranky back, and Chandler gritting his teeth through about 1,000 different ailments, the doctor certainly needs to be in at all times. The success of the team as a whole really rests on Stoudemire, who had shown flashes of 2010 form before getting injured. If he’s willing to accept the fact that his already lackluster defense will be furthered hampered by his back, and accepts the role of heavily used 6th man (think Lamar Odom), the Knicks will legitimately have a chance to go far with two proven superstars, three lockdown defenders (DPOY Chandler, Jared Jeffries, and outstanding wing defender Iman Shumpert), and some instant offense (Novak and occasionally Smith). If not, they’ll go down guns blazing in round 1 with Carmelo posting at least one dominant performance.

 

Three Things to Watch:

1)   Watch Stephen Strasburg blow away the Astros tonight. I think if Strasburg didn’t have the innings cap this year, he’d be a Cy Young candidate. The only two RHP’s with better stuff in baseball are Justin Verlander and maybe Roy Halladay. Now if the Nats can just get their aces some run support, they’ll be getting somewhere.

2)   Watch Matt Kemp continue to lock up the MVP race in April. A few months ago he joked about going 50/50 this year. It’s still a ridiculously lofty goal, but I can certainly say that nobody is laughing right now (through 9 games: .487 BA, 6 HR, 16 RBI, SB).

3)   Watch this crazy video of a Tupac hologram performing at Coachella (don’t click this one at work, but if you listen to Tupac you already knew that).

 

That’s it for me, leave some comments down below about Jones, Andino, and whatever else and I’ll see you next week.