2010 MLB Playoffs; ALCS, NLCS Previews

Update 10/26/10: Check out my World Series preview.

Update 10/14/10: This update comes as the 2010 MLB playoffs have dwindled down to four teams. The ALCS begins Friday night in Texas while the NLCS starts Saturday in Philadelphia. I only predicted two of the teams to make it this far, but I like my chances of getting the World Series matchup correct. Sound off in the comments section to let me know your thoughts.

American League
Texas Rangers vs. New York Yankees

Despite opening on the road, the pressure is on the Yankees in the first two games of the ALCS. They will send CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes to the mound and won’t have to face Texas ace Cliff Lee. If the Rangers can take even one of these games, I like their chances to win the series. Why? Because Lee will start Game Three, and after stifling Tampa Bay twice, his career playoff numbers are 6-0 with a 1.44 ERA. In Game Four, Tommy Hunter opposes AJ Burnett and his 5.26 ERA.

While the Yankees do have the advantage in the opening games, it might not be as great as you think. Neither CJ Wilson nor Colby Lewis gave up a run in their starts against Tampa. They are more than capable of at least limiting the potent New York lineup. You know I prefer the other New York baseball team, so take this prediction with a grain of salt: Rangers in six.

National League
Philadelphia Phillies vs. San Francisco Giants

In Philadelphia’s sweep of the Reds, their pitching was absolutely dominant. Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels each threw complete games, and the staff pitched to an even 1.00 ERA. The Giants can match the Phillies arm for arm. Their staff is pitching to a 1.66 ERA in the postseason. We’ve got Halladay vs. Tim Lincecum in Game One. Does it get any better than that?

But when you look at the lineups, the Phils clearly have the edge. The Giants put a ton of pressure on their pitching staff as is; it’s only going to be tougher against Philadelphia’s top-tier starters. Guys like Buster Posey, Aubrey Huff, and Juan Uribe have exceeded expectations, but they don’t strike fear in the opposition like Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Jayson Werth.

I don’t expect much of a drop-off in the quality of pitching we saw in the Division Series, but the Phillies have more room for error given their multitude of sluggers. I predicted these two teams would meet before the playoffs started and I’m not changing my prediction. Phillies in six.

Michigan-Michigan State Preview

There’s a photograph from 2004 that was taken during the pre-game tailgate in which my friends and I are wearing short-sleeve shirts, our baseball caps shielding our eyes from the sun. I think if you look close enough you can even detect beads of sweat on our foreheads.

When Michigan State broke a long touchdown run to extend its lead to 27-10, it was dark and the temperature had dropped to near freezing. In Ann Arbor, the weather can change just like that. So can a football game.

When Garrett Rivas kicked a field goal (this was back when Michigan could kick field goals) to make it a two-score game, many students had already left the Big House. Even as a freshman watching only my fifth game at Michigan Stadium I knew this was unacceptable. I also had a feeling they were going to miss out on something special.

It was Halloween eve, after all, and the Wolverines had a few tricks left.

Rivas’ field goal came with 6:27 left in the game to cut the deficit to 27-13. Michigan recovered an onside kick and two plays later freshman Chad Henne found senior Braylon Edwards for a 36-yard touchdown.

Michigan got a defensive stop (this was back when Michigan could get defensive stops), and once again, two plays later, Henne hit Edwards for a long score. The first catch was probably better—he really had to go up and snatch it away from the defender—but this one was certainly impressive, as Edwards contorts his body to snag it while the defensive back waits for a ball that never reaches him. Michigan had tied the game.

In overtime, Jason Avant made a spectacular catch for Michigan’s first touchdown, but it was Edwards who sealed the deal, slanting towards the middle of the field, hauling in a pass around the 10 and racing into the endzone. Michigan stopped the Spartans and won 45-37 in three overtimes. Edwards finished with 11 catches for 189 yards and three TDs.

Looking back at the box score, I was shocked to discover that freshman Mike Hart ran for 224 yards. In the highlight reel in my head, every Michigan gain is a bomb from Henne to Edwards. Can you blame me?

In the Big House, a beautiful afternoon can quickly turn into a chilly evening. (Credit:ThatsHowIRoll)

I still enjoy watching those highlights. Mike Tirico, an Ann Arbor guy, rises to the occasion and brings great energy, despite one of the other announcers constantly questioning the referees when they rule in favor of Michigan.

But what I remember most about this game was that it lasted fours hours and 31 minutes, ending at 8:11. Before that game I had never considered what happened when Michigan had 3:30 kick-offs; the answer was of course temporary lights.

I also remember thinking that Edwards had a legitimate shot at winning the Heisman Trophy that year (he finished 10th; 9th if you don’t count Reggie Bush). He was, simply put, a man among boys. What he was doing didn’t even seem fair. The defensive backs trying to cover him looked like dwarves.

I remember noticing Henne lock his eyes on Edwards basically as soon as they broke the huddle, and never looking anywhere else as he dropped back and eventually released the ball. This probably hurt Henne at times during his sophomore season—he sometimes seemed to forget how to scan his available receivers. That is of course a small criticism in what was a remarkable four-year career, and speaks a lot towards Edwards’ impact.

Finally, I’ll remember that walk home after the game. I was still freezing, but I didn’t really care anymore. I had just witnessed one of the greatest sporting events of my life.

Michigan Football 4-0: Deja Vu or Bowl Game Bound?

I am lucky in that the two teams I follow most closely—the New York Mets and Michigan football—have very strong blog communities. I reached out to seven prominent Michigan football bloggers to get their takes on the Wolverines now that, just like 2009, the team is 4-0. Below are lightly edited (and, in some cases, abridged) versions of many of the responses.

Before the season started, you predicted a X-X record. Given the 4-0 start, is it fair to adjust that expectation? (Blogger’s preseason prediction, if one was made, appears before their answer.)

Greg Dooley, MVictors: (6-6) It’s definitely fair to adjust preseason expectations after watching Denard through four games. I didn’t expect us to get through both UConn and Notre Dame unscathed. But I’m really not convinced that the defense will pull them them through the Big Ten schedule.

Brian Cook, MGoBlog: (7-5) Yes, for a couple of reasons. They won two games that were considered coin flips (or thereabouts) before the season, so that’s a game right there. And then Denard is probably worth another game even accounting for the goofy defense. I’m now on the 9-3/8-4 borderline.

Dave Nightingale, Maize n Brew: (7-5) Honestly, no. I fluctuated between and 8-4/7-5 record because of Michigan’s defense, not because of the performance on offense. Going into the game against Indiana, I’m petrified of the Hoosier’s offense and our ability to defend it. When you’re dead last in pass defense and eighth in rush defense (in the Big Ten) going into conference play, I’m not so sure it’s prudent to start dreaming big.

Bob Agno, Big House Blog: (7-5) Yes you can. Before the season we had two big question marks: How would the defense hold up and who would be Michigan’s QB? I still think there are a number of questions on defense, but the offense is much more explosive than I expected. I expect Michigan to go 8-4 with the high still 9-3. The big test will be to see how Michigan plays against a defense like Iowa’s on October 16.

Chris Gaerig, Burgeoning Wolverine Star: (8-4) I think Michigan has a chance to win nine games this year. Every game aside from Wisconsin and Ohio State at the end of the year looks winnable and in several of them, Michigan should be the favorite. The 2-0 start was critical and gives them a bit of leeway for the eventual defensive apocalypse that will cost them a game against a Big Ten bottom feeder.

Lance Callihan, UMGoBlog: Before the season, I said we could beat or lose to anyone, yet I didn’t have much hope against Wisconsin or Ohio State. Now, anything truly can happen.

Brad Muckenthaler, Maize and Blue Nation: I guess I sort of predicted seven or eight wins, but I never picked individual games. After four weeks, and four wins, I don’t feel any need to adjust that prediction. The Big Ten season is a whole different animal, and anything can happen.

How much does last year’s 4-0 start and subsequent collapse affect how you look at this year’s team?

Dooley: It’s a heavy weight for me. I think we’ll know after the Michigan State game whether this defense can hang.

Cook: Not much. The 2009 team was getting outgained (yardage-wise) and still winning; this team has a huge yardage advantage.

Nightingale: Remembering just how bad Michigan’s been on defense the last three years (this year included) is what keeps my expectations grounded. Last season, more than anything, taught me not to overlook obvious flaws in a team just because you root for them.

Who doesn’t like watching Denard Robinson play football?

Agno: I think the offense is more explosive than it was in 2009. Even with Michigan’s fast start last year you saw the offense sputter at times. This year, Michigan’s offense has been consistently been moving the ball. It’s hard to say that the Michigan defense is better in 2010 without Brandon Graham, Donovan Warren, and Troy Woolfolk, but this defense seems to be playing smarter through four games. The other positive is that Michigan already has a road win this year. With that said, the collapse in 2009 is still fresh in everyone’s minds. Fans will hold their collective breath until Michigan has qualified for a Bowl game.

Gaerig: It’s hard to shake the feeling of last year’s team especially with the defensive collapse against UMass. Whether or not Michigan can win against the more potent offenses of the Big Ten (Michigan State, Wisconsin, Iowa, Indiana) is going to be the question.

Callihan: The differences between last year and this year are huge. This year the offense comes at you in waves, while last year there was no depth.

Muckenthaler: This team is its own team. I look at this team, especially the offense, as the beginning of what a Rich Rodriguez-led Michigan team should be. I think 2009 taught this team, and its fans, to take the season one week at a time. We got a little ahead of ourselves last year thinking we were better than we really were. Those lessons are still fresh in the mind of this year’s team. I don’t think early success this year has clouded our memories. This team seems to be as focused as ever.

Is there anything about this team that leads you to believe it will avoid the fate of the 2009 squad?

Dooley: The offense is better almost top to bottom. Kicking and punting are way down and will cost us at least one game. The defensive line is a push, the linebackers are maybe slightly improved, the secondary is worse but holding up. All told the team is at least slightly better, with the X-factor being Denard who’s obviously off the charts. If Denard is healthy Michigan is better and should win more games.

Cook: Yardage. Non-freshman quarterbacks. An offense that can do all kinds of stuff.

Nightingale: Offensive depth. Last season our offense was paper thin and injuries completely destroyed its production. Flash forward to 2010: Michigan has actual depth on the offensive line. I can’t name a deeper receiving corps than Michigan’s right now in the Big Ten. At tailback, Michigan has five guys capable of carrying the mail. Relying on an offense to outscore everyone is a dangerous proposition, but against the lower tier of the Big Ten it will garner some wins that were close losses last season. But without continued improvement from Michigan’s linebackers and a pass rush, their margin for error is pretty slim.

Agno: Yes, the defense seems to be better coached with another year under Greg Robinson. On the other side of the ball, it’s clear that as long as Denard stays healthy Michigan will have a chance to win every game they play. I also believe Tate Forcier will win at least one game for Michigan this year.

The bloggers aren’t as high on the defense, which has allowed too many of these (touchdowns).

Gaerig: Aside from Denard, no. The defense is still barren, the offense lacks true playmakers, and the schedule is arguably more difficult this year than it was last year. Michigan is going to be in a fight in a lot of these games, and winning them will depend largely on the turnover battle. Though I think 7-5 or 8-4 is more likely, I wouldn’t be at all surprised by a 5-7 or 6-6 result.

Callihan: Offensive depth. The offense needs to be the strength of this time and it will be. I’ve told people for the last two seasons to stop hoping for the defense to bail out this team. Having the defense lead the way goes against Rich Rodriguez’s philosophy.

Muckenthaler: We have a few things going for us this year that we didn’t have a year ago, like perhaps the most explosive and talented offensive player in the country. But I think the biggest thing is depth on offense. This offense thrives on lots of backs and lots of receivers. That style has created depth at those positions that Michigan has never had before. We’re going to be able to hang with anyone we play this year. That’s something that we didn’t know four weeks ago.

So what can we conclude? First of all, bloggers are smart. Nobody said, “4-0 BABY! BRING ON ALABAMA!! DENARD 4 HEISMAN!!1” In fact, the reactions were far less optimistic than I would have thought. Even for those who claim 2009 means relatively little, I have to imagine it’s fresh in their minds given their cautiousness.

A constant in nearly all responses was offensive depth. An injury to any starter—particularly on defense—would be terrible, but last year it was crippling and was a main factor in the collapse. This year it will take a lot more adversity to prevent Michigan from getting to seven wins.

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New York Mets 2010 Season Review

The New York Mets had a forgettable 2010. Not since the 2006 Mets have fans felt good about the team at season’s end, and even that year ended in heartbreak. The key difference in ’06, of course, was that there was hope.

The organization continues to preach that it won’t accept mediocrity, but actions speak louder than words. Ownership needs to commit to this winning culture it keeps talking about. It needs a plan. The Yankees have a plan, the Red Sox have one, the Rays have one, and that’s just the American League East. The Mets need not model themselves after any other team, but they sure better come up with a model and stick to it.

It was not all bad for this year’s team, however. In order from best to not quite as awesome, the five good things that came out of this disappointing season:

1. Angel Pagan
Pagan was this season’s most valuable Met if you like the Wins Above Replacement (WAR) stat. Many everyday observers, even those who don’t subscribe to advanced metrics, would say the same. David Wright is the only other Met you could make an argument for, but I think Pagan gets the edge because of his defense and perhaps because less was expected of him.

With Carlos Beltran missing the entire first half, Pagan was relied upon to fill the void. Through September 28, Pagan had appeared in 145 of New York’s 156 games, nearly all as a starter. He played mostly in center field, but when Beltran returned he moved to either of the corners, playing Gold Glove-caliber defense no matter where he was positioned.

He probably caught this. (Credit: eviltomthai)

Pagan hit in the first or second spot in the batting order the majority of the season but also hit third and sixth at times. When Jose Reyes was injured at various points, Pagan was counted on to jump start the offense. He is hitting .289 with 11 home runs, 69 RBI, and a .341 OBP.

The fact that Gary Matthews Jr., not Pagan, was the Opening Day center fielder is Exhibit A in the case against Jerry Manuel managing this team in 2011.

2. R.A. Dickey
The pitching of Robert Allen Dickey was nothing short of unbelievable this season. I say that because hardly anyone could believe it. Dickey was 6-0 in his first seven starts with the Mets but fans, media, and anyone else paying attention called it a mirage. They waited for him to fall apart. Except he never did.

Like the rest of the Mets staff this season, Dickey didn’t get much run support, so while he wasn’t piling up the wins he did carry a 2.32 ERA (through 14 starts) into August. I’ll admit, I didn’t believe it was real. His career stats screamed “Triple-A stud,” someone whose knuckleball clearly fooled minor leaguers but was futile against the big boys. But when Dickey pitched a complete game one-hit shutout against the Phillies on August 13, everyone took notice.

He has struggled a bit in September, but his ERA still has him in the top-10 in the league, ahead of Ubaldo Jimenez, Chris Carpenter, Tim Linecum, and teammate Johan Santana. The terrifying look on his face when he releases a pitch, his 12 hits and five RBI in 50 at-bats, and his eloquent post-game quotes are a few of the things I’ll pleasantly remember from this disappointing season.

3. The Kids
Whether it was done out of necessity or with an eye towards the future is debatable, but one thing is certain: The 2010 Mets season was a bonafide youth movement. Jon Niese (23 years old) will make 30 starts this year. Ike Davis took over first base in late April and has started there ever since. Baby-faced middle infielder Ruben Tejada (21) has appeared in 71 games. Left-handed hitting Josh Thole (23) became the everyday catcher in July. Pitchers Jennry Mejia (20) and Dillon Gee (24) and outfielder Lucas Duda (24) have also seen action with the big league club.

I remember watching the first game that featured Niese pitching to Thole with Davis, Tejada, Wright, and Reyes behind him in the infield—an entire infield of homegrown players. It was refreshing to see. Davis has gone through slumps (but has 18 homers). Tejada has hovered around the Mendoza Line but has shown promise of late, hitting nearly .300 in September. Niese has struggled recently (his ERA has risen to 3.95 and he sports a 1.41 WHIP), but generally speaking the results have been very encouraging.

4. Mike Pelfrey
A 3.75 ERA and 1.40 WHIP are nothing to celebrate, but Pelfrey was a legitimate ace in the first half. He was 9-1 with a 2.39 ERA at one point, but pitched to a 10 ERA in July. He has turned it around down the stretch and has won 15 games, the most of his career.

After the great start, many thought Big Pelf had taken the next step towards becoming a stud. The poor stretch was reminiscent of old Pelfrey, as his body language was terrible and he seemed clueless on the mound. But I’ve been impressed with his resiliency in 2010 and think 2011 will be a true breakout season for the Mets’ 2005 first round draft pick.

5. The Winning Streaks
If you were being honest with yourself, it was clear from Opening Day that this year’s Mets team was a .500 club. That opinion, again, if you were being honest with yourself, should not have changed at any point this season. But it was hard not to get caught up in the two eight-game winning streaks.

The Mets closed out April by winning eight in a row against the Cubs, Braves, and Dodgers, all at home (if the Mets could play every game at Citi Field, they’d be a playoff team). Sweeping Atlanta and taking both games of a double header against LA was exciting.

The next big streak came in mid-June. The Mets took the rubber game against San Diego at home, then travelled to Baltimore and Cleveland and swept both lowly American League clubs. Their eighth consecutive victory came via a shutout at Yankee Stadium, finishing a stretch in which the Mets won 12 of 13.

Meaningful July games, that’s all you can ask for, right?

And now for the five bad things that happened during the 2010 season. Yes, this started as a much longer list and had to be cut considerably. Once again, starting with the really bad and moving to the regular bad:

1. Oliver Perez
I can’t remember which, but one Mets blog I have visited has a countdown clock to when Perez’s contract expires. Sadly, that doesn’t sum up why Perez is No. 1 on this list, because that clock was in place last season. It has only gotten worse.

Despite beginning the season as part of the starting rotation, he only lasted seven starts. Unable to retire hitters—in short, those that didn’t walk got hits—the Mets were essentially forced to remove Perez from the rotation. Refusing a trip to the minor leagues, Perez has rotted away in the bullpen ever since. He has made five appearances since May and has not pitched since September 6 despite the Mets being long out of the playoff race.

The worst part? Perez is still on the books for next season, when he’ll make another $12 million.

2. Luis Castillo
Castillo is to the lineup what Perez is to the pitching staff: a useless financial drain. Castillo only makes half as much, but I think it’s fair to say that $6 million is a tad much for a second baseman with no range or hitting ability.

Castillo turned it on last year and actually finished with a batting average over .300, but has regressed to his 2008 production levels this season, batting .234. Somehow he still draws a decent amount of walks despite slugging .266.

Whoever the Mets’ General Manager is this offseason will have his work cut out for him as he tries to find takers for Castillo and/or Perez.

3. Francisco Rodriguez
I recall when the Mets signed K-Rod (I don’t even like typing that anymore; he has lost the right to have a complimentary nickname), my older brother said how non-Mets fans would hate the Mets even more. His thinking was that people already disliked the celebratory antics displayed by Reyes, and now we were bringing in the biggest showboat on the mound.

What my brother didn’t figure was that the fans who would hate Rodriguez the most would be Mets fans. But after an embarrassing 2010, Rodriguez is right up there with Perez and Castillo, and it doesn’t even have much to do with his on-field performance.

Rodriguez pitched to a 2.20 ERA and 1.15 WHIP, and while he blew the save in New York’s epic 20-inning game with the Cardinals, the Mets eventually won that game. Only twice did the Mets lose a game that Rodriguez blew, none more crushing than his July 3 collapse in Washington.

But again, it was not Rodriguez’s pitching that made him a hated man in his own city. The closer was arrested following an August 11 game for an altercation with his father-in-law, throwing a punch that led to season-ending surgery. He appeared in court earlier this month for violating an order of protection by sending dozens of text messages to his estranged girlfriend.

The Mets suspended Rodriguez without pay. It is unclear how the organization will proceed this offseason. They could try to void the remainder of his lucrative deal or explore a trade. Either way, Rodriguez has been an embarrassment to the organization this season.

4. Carlos Beltran’s Surgery
I was in Ann Arbor in January and thought it was a joke when my friend John texted me to say that Beltran had undergone knee surgery. This sparked a public feud that included the Mets, Beltran, Scott Boras, and several doctors over whether Beltran had been given the green light for the surgery.

Either way, delaying the surgery until 2010 meant Beltran would miss the entire first half. He has not been the same player this season, batting .255 and looking like one of the worst center fielders in baseball. Veteran Torii Hunter made the move to right field this season; will Beltran be willing to do the same in 2011?

5. Johan Santana’s Surgery
This was Santana’s third season with the Mets and the third one that ended with a surgery. In 2008, he pitched on a severely injured left knee in an attempt to carry the Mets into the postseason. He had surgery as soon as the season ended. His 2009 campaign was cut short in late August because of surgery to remove bone chips in his elbow.

This season’s injury was perhaps the most troubling, as this time it was his shoulder that required surgery. He last pitched on September 2. The numbers have been stellar all three seasons (2.85 ERA over that span), but you have to wonder whether the Mets will get a full return on their six-year, $137.5 million investment. Will Santana hold up for three more seasons? Mets fans and management can only hope.

Consider that I didn’t include Jason Bay (.259 BA, six home runs before being shut down in late July due to a concussion) on this list, or directly mention Omar Minaya, Manuel, or the Wilpons and you’ll get a feel for how bad this season really was.

The worst part is that while the bright spots return next season, so do the headaches. How Beltran and Santana recover from their surgeries will be critical, as will whether the Mets can find a trade partner for Perez or Castillo. My feeling is that come mid-October, someone other than Minaya and Manuel will be making these decisions.

2010 MLB Season Predictions: September Review

In March, before the 2010 MLB season began, I made my divisional and playoff predictions, which appear below. At the All Star break, I revisited those predictions. Now that the playoffs are less than two weeks away, I want to provide another update. Look for more as the regular season officially concludes and the playoffs begin.

American League
1. New York Yankees
2. Boston Red Sox
3. Tampa Bay Rays
4. Baltimore Orioles
5. Toronto Blue Jays
Thoughts: The Yanks and Rays are still battling for the title, so it’s too early to call this. Clearly I was wrong about Boston, but who could have predicted all the injuries?

1. Minnesota Twins
2. Chicago White Sox
3. Detroit Tigers
4. Cleveland Indians
5. Kansas City Royals
Thoughts: Cleveland and KC are currently engaged in a four-game series. If the Indians can take three of four, my predictions will likely be 100% accurate. If you want to think highly of me as a prognosticator, stop here, because it’s about to get ugly.

1. Los Angeles Angels
2. Seattle Mariners*
3. Texas Rangers
4. Oakland Athletics
Thoughts: I could not have been more wrong here. I should have bought into the hype surrounding the Rangers. They have dominated this division, while my wild card pick — Seattle — has the worst record in the league. Sadly, the biggest story of the season in Seattle was Ken Griffey Jr’s retirement.

National League
1. Philadelphia Phillies
2. New York Mets
3. Atlanta Braves
4. Florida Marlins
5. Washington Nationals
Thoughts: While many liked the Braves this year, I said the Phillies would coast to a fourth straight divisional title, something they have all but locked up. I was wrong about Atlanta, New York, and Florida essentially being even throughout the year, but can you blame me for breaking the tie by going with my favorite team? Mets fans were apathetic at the start, then excited about a sweep of Atlanta and the play of the youngsters, before finally wondering how the franchise had fallen so far. As for Washington, well, at least Strasmas was fun while it lasted.

1. St. Louis Cardinals
2. Chicago Cubs
3. Cincinnati Reds
4. Milwaukee Brewers
5. Houston Astros
6. Pittsburgh Pirates
Thoughts: I knew Joey Votto was good, but I didn’t realize he’d be a Triple Crown candidate all the way into September.

1. Los Angeles Dodgers
2. Arizona Diamondbacks*
3. Colorado Rockies
4. San Diego Padres
5. San Francisco Giants
Thoughts: I wish I could tell you I accidentally put these teams in the reverse order. I suppose I can’t knock myself too much over Arizona, since Brandon Webb’s injury kept him out the entire season. I can be blamed for putting San Fran and San Diego at the bottom though. Good pitching — or in their case, great pitching — beats good hitting, and maybe next year I’ll remember that.
*wild card winner

Seattle Mariners over New York Yankees
Minnesota Twins over Los Angeles Angels
Twins over Mariners
Thoughts: I’m going to get two out of four playoff teams correct, which is bad, but not terrible. And I still believe in my pennant winner, though getting past the Rays and Yankees is of course going to be extremely difficult.

Philadelphia Phillies over Arizona Diamondbacks
St. Louis Cardinals over Los Angeles Dodgers
Cardinals over Phillies
Thoughts: In the NL, it’s worse — I’m only one out of four, and my league champ isn’t going to qualify for the postseason. If the Phillies do in fact advance to the NLCS I can’t call it a complete disaster.
World Series: Twins over Cardinals

Thoughts: All my eggs are in the Twins’ basket. Bring on November baseball in Minnesota!

Denard Robinson, Michigan Beat Notre Dame 28-24

My seats were on the east side of the stadium, on the 10-yard line, behind the Michigan band, so when the sun made its first appearance of the day it blinded me. At the moment though, the action was at the other end of the field, so I didn’t have to look directly at the sun, at least not when Notre Dame quarterback Dayne Crist (who had vision problems of his own earlier in the day*) dropped back in his own endzone with just under four minutes left in the game.

When Crist heaved it downfield, however, I had to shade my eyes. The ball disappeared for a split second—perhaps the Michigan safety who was burned on the play experienced the same effect—before descending into Kyle Rudolph’s hands.

Everything about this play, from the drop back to the flight of the ball to the 55-yard run after the catch, seemed to be happening in slow motion. I heard other witnesses (fans of both teams) say this, too. I have since timed it and learned that from the snap to the pass was 4.65 seconds; the ball was in flight for just over two seconds; Rudolph’s run took 6.55 seconds and included him looking over his shoulder five times. In total, the second-longest pass play in Notre Dame history (95 yards) lasted a little more than 13 seconds.

The Irish crowd was so loud at this point that I couldn’t quite make out what the PA announcer was saying, but it was something along the lines of “That’s a 95-yard touchdown pass from Crist to Rudolph and there is a rainbow over the field!”

I was in complete shock, but given the time on the clock and Michigan’s three timeouts, I knew there was enough time for even a run-heavy drive to get Michigan in field goal range. Of course, everyone in the stadium knew a field goal attempt would likely not end well for Michigan and that a touchdown was probably needed. Denard Robinson, a trio of receivers, and a steady offensive line made sure that’s exactly what Michigan got, and the Wolverines left South Bend with a 28-24 victory and a 2-0 record. For the third straight year, and sixth time over the last seven, the underdog was victorious.

*Asked during Tuesday’s press conference about when the Notre Dame coaching staff knew Crist was hurt, Brian Kelly had this to say: “We had just got clearance from the TV tout to take the field. We were under a minute. That’s when he said, ‘Coach, I just don’t remember this play.’ You could look at him and you could tell that he wasn’t fully in charge. So that’s when we made the decision to make the change.”

Maybe Rich Rodriguez has sent a player to the playing field under similar circumstances—I have no idea—but I know for sure that Kelly did, as Crist returned for the second half. This is exactly the behavior that neuroscientists and the like are trying to combat. The NFL seems to be catching on and hopefully the NCAA will wise up as well.

It was a historical game. In addition to Notre Dame’s pass play going into the record books, Robinson broke off the longest run in Notre Dame Stadium history with an 87-yard touchdown to give Michigan a 21-7 lead in the first half. Robinson broke the school record he set last week by tallying 502 total yards (244 passing; 258 rushing). His 885 yards of total offense through two games this season is more than 87 of the 120 FBS teams, including nine ranked squads.

I wouldn’t say Robinson racked up his yards quietly against the Irish (sort of impossible when you have an 87-yard run), but the lack of a video board made it all the more impressive to discover his final stats. Apparently they were displayed at halftime, but I was too busy watching Michigan’s Lady Gaga routine. It’s a lot different when you’re watching on television and constantly being reminded of how many yards he has accumulated.

The action as I saw it right in front of me. (Credit: Andrew Kahn)

A lot of the talk after Robinson once again carried the ball nearly 30 times was that he will wear down as the season progresses or, worse yet, get injured.* Only time will tell, but Michigan’s schedule is certainly favorable in this regard. Yes, the Wolverines still have battles with Iowa, Penn State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State, but those games are in the second half of the season.

But Michigan’s upcoming games are against Massachusetts and Bowling Green (followed by Indiana and Michigan State). If the next two contests don’t provide Rich Rodriguez with the opportunity to not only limit Robinson’s carries but use other quarterbacks, it will mean Michigan has other, far more serious problems than Robinson’s workload.

*Kelly hinted at this in his postgame press conference and it sort of bothered me, especially given his decision to let Crist play after apparently suffering a concussion. “You run a quarterback 25 times, you have to have toughness,” Kelly said. “I’ll let Coach figure out if that’s the case for 10 games. Coach Rodriguez knows his team better than I do. We hit him pretty hard today, but he’s a good, tough kid.”

To me, it seems like Kelly is implying that Rodriguez is mortgaging his team’s (and Robinson’s) future in order to get some early season wins. To that I say what Rodriguez said in his Monday presser when asked about Robinson’s workload: “You coach your team; I’ll coach mine.” Rodriguez said this with a smile on his face, clearly a response to Kelly’s comments.

Of course, if Robinson were to slow down, Rodriguez can always turn to freshman running back Stephen Hopkins, who did the baseball equivalent of hitting a home run in his first at bat. His first collegiate run was a one-yard touchdown to give Michigan a 14-7 lead. He’s unstoppable.

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Michigan-Notre Dame Football 2010 Preview

The Michigan-Notre Dame rivalry is a special one for me. Sure, there’s no team I hate more than Ohio State, and I dislike Michigan State more than the Irish, but when it comes to bragging rights, the UM-ND game trumps them all.

That’s because my parents, brothers, and various aunts, uncles, and cousins attended the University of Notre Dame at some point. My aunt and I are the lone Wolverines. The Ohio State game is undoubtedly more meaningful to Michigan, but I don’t know too many Buckeye fans. When Michigan loses to ND I hear it about it from 100 different people for a year.

I’ll be attending this Saturday’s contest in South Bend. It will be the ninth UM-ND game I’ll have witnessed in person, at least according to my ticket book. I went to the 1998 and 2002 games, the four games during my college years (2004-2007), and the two since.

My alma mater has a 3-5 record in those eight games. However, the team I was rooting for holds a 5-3 record, as I must admit I was an Irish fan as a confused youngster.

It has been an interesting series, both historically and recently. Michigan leads all time, 21-15-1. The Wolverines (.737) and Irish (.734) rank 1-2 in the NCAA in all-time winning percentage, so this match-up is always important in that race.

Greg Mathews hauls in the game-winning TD for Michigan, the underdog, in last year’s game. (Credit: larrysphatpage)

The underdog has also fared well. Other than 2007—when Michigan was favored and won easily—not since 2003 has the favorite prevailed. Of the games I’ve been to, the favorite is 1-7.* That is pretty astonishing, and it’s why I’m happy Notre Dame is a four-point favorite on Saturday.

*I say approximately because I could not find point spreads for games played before 2005. However, I know Michigan was favored in 2004, and I’m pretty sure they were small favorites in 2002 and moderate favorites in 1998 (season opener after Michigan won the national championship).

The thrill of the upset has certainly added to some memorable games in recent history. Just last year I witnessed Tate Forcier lead Michigan on a last-minute touchdown drive, after Charlie Weis had made some questionable play-calling decisions. I saw “Super” Mario Manningham’s coming-out party in ’06, when the Wolverines hung 34 on the Irish…in the first half. And I saw Notre Dame’s exciting upset wins in ’02 and ’98.

What will happen in this year’s match-up? The only thing I know for sure is that my mom will get teased for not choosing a side, instead wearing a “Michigan and Notre Dame Mom” t-shirt.

One man's writing in one place.