Saturday, May 30, 2009

Stanley Cup Finals Prediction

Penguins vs Red Wings round two. I really want to say the Pens will overcome last seasons finals loss and hoist the cup, but I just don't think I can say that. Fact i9s the Red wings are better than last season and I don't know for sure if the Penguins are.

What gives the Wings the edge is overall talent one through twenty on the roster. They are better on the blue line and will run four good lines out. So will the Pens though. I like the way that they have been playing of late which will give them a better chance.

1. Sid and Malkin are playing out of their mind
2. I just feel that experiencing the loss last season in the finals that the Pens are more prepared to take down the Wings this time around.
3. Fluery won't take a tumble taking the ice this time around.
4. Malkin won't disappear this time around.

If there was ever a time to win a series, it's now. The Wings are very beat up, Datsyuk won't play game one and just don't have the depth that the Pens do. Lindstrom is also hurt and if he misses anytime, then advantage Pens.

if the Pens stick to the plan, play up-tempo and attack for 60 minutes, then advantage Pens. They have to stay out of the box and capitalize on Power plays.

With all that, the Wings are the better team. The head says take the Wings again in 6.

BUT the best team doesn't always win and I just keep seeing this situation play out. Game 7 in overtime, a Marian Hossa turnover leads to a Crosby series winner. How sweet would it be for Hossa to be on the ice for the game winning goal (I still have a feeling he will score it though).

I'm not a guy that hates Hossa. I respect his decision to leave Pittsburgh and feel if he left to win a cup, he made the right choice, but it would still be sweet to see.

Time for the prediction. As much as the head says take the Wings in 6, the heart says Marc-Andre Fluery becomes a household name and is the reason the Pens will hoist the Cup, so all the wannabe hockey fans can get off his back for good.

My pick is the Penguins in 7.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Down on the farm- Bucco's Minor league report

Let's take a look at how some of the Pirates prospects have been doing.

Indianapolis (AAA) (17-19)- Prized prospect Andrew McCutchen has really picked it up the last week. He has been on a tear, once again driving the question, When will we see Cutch in a Bucco uniform? Cutch is hitting .290 with a homer and 13 RBI's to go along with 8 steals 8 doubles and 8 triples. Steve Pearce leads the Indians in HR and RBI, with 6 and 27 and his hitting a respectable .288.

Two others that are considered prospects continue to struggle as Neil Walker is hitting .233 and Shelby Ford is hitting only .193. On the hill, Daniel McCutchen is 2-2 with a 3.90 ERA. The guy that is likely to get the first call if the Bucs need a starter is Virgil Vasquez. he has struggled a bit wit a 2-2 record and a 4.97 era.

Altoona (AA) - Shorstop Brian Friday is tearing up the league hitting over .500, only 2 homers though. Second baseman Jim Negrych is considered to have a big bat, but doesn't have a homer, but is hitting at about a .300 clip. Prized prospect Jose Tabata has been injured but got off to a good start.

On the hill for the curve, Brad Lincoln has been good despite the 0-3 record. His era is at 2.87. Jared Hughes has been even better with a 1-3 record but an era at 1.91. Daniel Moskos has 2 wins but is getting shelled with a 4.95 era/

Lynchburg (A)- Pedro Alvarez has shown power with 7 homers but has lacked plate discipline hitting around .220. Maybe Pedro just needs to hit off Moskos?

West Virginia (A)- First baseman Calvin Anderson has shown some power with 7 homers and 28 RBI's, also hitting .324. Rudy Owens has been the Power's best starter, going 4-1 with a 3.17 era.

Neil Hunnington has been busy this week, continuing to stockpile minor league players. The Bucs claimed right handed reliever Steven Jackson from the Yankees. Jackson is a hard thrower who has had good results in AAA, but hasn't gotten much of a chance at the MLB level. He was originally in the Randy Johnson deal that brought both him and Ross Ohlendorff to the Yanks.

The Bucs acquired another Yankee right hander in starter Eric Hacker, who pitched well in the past, but is off to a slow start this season. They also acquired Boston outfielder Jeff Coraletti and Indians pitcher Randy Newsom. I like the fact that Hunnington is doing this. Keep adding talent to the organization. Is this major league help? Probably not, but take a shot on people and once you might hit the lottery.

The Bucs are also seem to have the inside track on Dominican top prospect Miguel Angel Sano. The price tag is high but if this kid (only 16) is legit like everyone in baseball says. Show him the money. Not only will a top notch talent help the Bucs now, it will go a long way in signing Dominicans in the future. Without the need for a reality show.

That's a Bucco's minor league report. Hopefully some of these guys will have huge seasons and we can see them at PNC Park in the next couple of years

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Bucco Notebook- What's Wrong with Matt Capps?

After dropping 10 of 11 and looking like the Pirates we have expected, the Bucs have rebounded to take two straight series from the Cardinals and Rockies, winning two out of three from both. The two games they dropped last week just showed what glaring weaknesses this team still have.

- What's wrong with Matt Capps? He can't be healthy. His fastball jumped back to the 93-95mph range Saturday vs the Rockies, but in the five outings before that, Capps has only been hitting 88mph on the gun. The more glaring problem for him is that Capps has no control over his pitches at the moment. Matt Capps has made a living with his command, without it he just isn't that good. He is a piece that Neil Hunnington could deal later on, so it would be nice to see Capps regain it, even if that means shutting him down for a bit.

- This is such a light hitting team. A collection of singles hitters. take note in the 5-1 loss vs. the Cardinals, the Bucs had 12 hits- 11 of them singles. They also drew four walks. So out of the 16 base runners, they scored 1 run. They can't play station to station baseball. Sometimes guys need to get big hits.

Now for some positives.

- Brandon Moss has heated up. Maybe since Adam Laroche had a decent April, Moss felt he could tank it, but in the last 7 games, Moss is hitting at a .589 clip, finally hitting his first dinger. Like I said when Andy Laroche was struggling, let him play everyday. I may be among the few that think Moss can be an everyday player, but there is only one way to see what he can do. Play him through his struggles.

-On that note, please quit telling me that Monroe and Hinske should play more in right field. they are bench players and should stay that way. The Bucs actually have a good bench, which is great, but these guys shouldn't get regular playing time over Moss.

- Nyjer Morgan continues to play well, even though he tweaked his hammy. We always say that the lead off hitter needs to get on base. Well he's been doing it. The guys behind him need to start driving him in.

-Looks like May is the new April for Adam Laroche.

- Andy Laroche is starting to look like a decent big leaguer. I would like to see a little more power out of both him and Moss, but Andy is starting to drive in a few runs.

- Delwyn Young has continued to surprise. He has done nothing but hit and it was good to see him get a few starts. I would like to see him in the lineup a little more.

- J.R. has started batting Robinson Diaz 5th in the order. Good move, Diaz can swing the bat a little. Both he and Jaramillo had pretty good weeks with the bat, but did you see Diaz's base running blunder vs. St. Louis. A big play that had an impact on the game.

-The last 6 games, the pitching has been pretty good. The starters have all thrown pretty well, especially Maholm's last outing and the bullpen, other than Capps has bounced back after struggling for 2 weeks. I really like the progress Evan meek and Jessie Chavez have made, especially Meek. I also like that Russell has shown confidence in the two youngsters, using them in more meaningful situations.

-I've also heard a lot of bitching about Russell taking Maholm out. He managed the game right, by today's standards. He got the ball to his closer with a lead. Plus, Maholm isn't overpowering, it's no guarntee that he would have had sucess the fourth time through the order. Get off J.R.'s back, he's doing and ok job with what he has.

-Talk about a team needing a few breaks, the Bucs got them in their 10 run seventh inning against the Rocks on Sunday. What's even more surprising is that they took advantage of them. Hopefully that can get the bats going. it will be very disappointing if they don't beat up on the Nationals puss pitching staff this week.

-Tom Gorzallany was recalled when they put Tyler Yates on the 15 day DL. Don't get excited, a source of mine said he will likely only be up for a few days and is only up because he had a fresh arm and the pen was taxed after Saturday. The same source said Gorzo has no future here because J.R. just doesn't like him or the way he pitches. The only way to get into J.R.'s good graces is to start throwing strikes, something he is still struggling with at Indianapolis.

-Finally MLB Traderumors reported the Bucs and Mariners are talking a Jack Wilson for Yuniesky Betancourt swap. Wilson has a little over 6mil owed to him while Betancourt has about 10mil coming. Wilson is a much better defensive shortstop, but Betancourt can be an exciting player. Both guys probably would do good with a change of scenery. I say if it's true then do it.

Until next week let's go Bucs

NHL Conference Finals Preview

Here's looking ahead to the conference finals. I nailed all but the Carolina win last round even though I liked them going in. All four teams remaining are the NHL's first 12 franchises.

Eastern Conference

4. Pittsburgh Penguins vs 6. Carolina Hurricanes- This is a very tough one for me to predict. The teams are so similar. Since Feb. 15, only the Canes have had a better record than the Pens. The story line are a plenty as well. Staal vs. Staal, even Bill Cowher, now a Hurricane fan is being talked about.

In net is a spectacular match up. Fluery vs. Ward. First of all, get off Fluery's back. He's the main reason the Pens are playing still today. While Fluery gives the Pens huge saves at huge moments, Cam Ward is the best goaltender in the playoffs right now. Edge to the Canes. Ward has NEVER lost a playoff series. I give the forwards advantage to the Pens. Eric Staal has been amazing for the Canes, but Sidney Crosby is playing like the best player in the world and the Pens just have more talent top to bottom.

Give the Canes the edge on the blue line. Way to many defensive breakdowns for the Guins in the post season. Coaching is a push. Both coaches took over mid season and turned their teams around. the series will be won by the special teams. Huge edge to the Pens. The power play has gotten better and the penalty kill has been very good against two potent power plays in Philadelphia and Washington. The Canes are skilled but just aren't as skilled as the Penguins.

If the Pens play their game, an up tempo one and focus on getting the puck to the net and creating traffic in front of Ward , they should be fine. If not, Cam Ward will win this series. My pick is the Penguins in 6

Western Conference

2. Detroit Red Wings vs 4. Chicago Blackhawks- This could be a very fun series to watch. No team is more fun to watch than the Hawks. They just get after it and play 100mph for 60 minutes. The Hawks can match the Wings tempo and may even set the tempo for the series. The one thing the Hawks won't be able to match is the Wings playoff experience. The Wings in the playoffs are just a different animal to deal with.

Even though both net minders have won the Stanley Cup, Chris Osgood will be the difference. He has been here so many times before. Talk about a guy that never gets the credit he deserves. Osgood is top 10 all time in victories and has hoisted the cup on numerous occasions. The Wings talent and experience will carry them.

My pick is Detroit in 6 and that is very bad news for the Penguins.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Round 2 Thoughts- Evegeni Malkin Needs To Step Up

I can't count how many times I hear it during the playoffs, but the phrase "Your best Players have to be your best players" always seems to be true. Along with the Pens 2-0 hole, the team has to wonder if Evgeni Malkin will play like the elite player he is for the remainder of the playoffs. We have seen this disappearing act before, remember this time last season when Penguin Nation had nothing good to say about it's Russian superstar. Right on cue, it's happening again, like a little case of deja-vu.

Does Malkin need to step it up? Of course. That's the obvious. The team has other glaring weaknesses at the moment, so don't pile up on Geno just yet. He has 11 points in 8 playoff games so far, but my criticism of Malkin comes at the other end of the ice. He is a minus 3 right now and has not put forth the effort at the defensive end. Three times this series alone, he has been caught napping while his man went by him and crashed the net. All three instances resulted in goals. When Malkin dedicates himself at both ends of the ice, he is an unstoppable freight train. When he doesn't, he often just looks like a by standard just waiting for a breakout. This isn't hammering Malkin as much as it is the entire team. Fluery can't do it by himself. Things have to tighten up in their own end.

Another man who has come under a lot of heat after last night's game has been Sergei Gonchar. Something was wrong with him the last two games. He seemed to have no legs at all. I don't know if the heavy workload has caught up to him, but he is another that needs to up his game. Especially since Kris Letang, who I felt skated very well last night, looks to be lost for the series.

The powerplay scored twice last night, but in the end it was that same powerplay that cost them. With the score tied at 2, the Pens had a golden opportunity to take the lead, but a 2 minute powerplay in which they couldn't even maintain the offensive zone, much less get shots on goal changed the momentum. Malkin's penalty didn't help matter out either.

With everything to complain about, the Pens have a chance to take care of business at home and get right back in the series. They can start by crashing the net at every opportunity. Having the last change will help on Ovechkin as well. I have faith that they will. For that to happen though, Evgeni Malkin needs to become that freight train again and the Pens will be fine.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Today's Notebook- A-Rod Book Not Worth Buying

A little time on my hands so here are some thoughts for today

- Did you see the book on Ster-Rod, I mean A-Roid, I mean A-Rod has come out early. Right on time with his return. Don't buy the book. It says that A-Rod lied during his interview with Peter Gammons. (Like we needed a book to know that). It says A-Rod used steroids back in high school as well and also he continued using with the Yanks. My thoughts are Who Cares? I'm tired of the steroid stories already. Keep him out of the Hall of Fame and that is the ultimate punishment. If you are gonna keep Bonds out, no way A-Rod can get in.

- The one thing that bothers me though about the book is the allegations of pitch tipping. This bothers me a lot. In essence that is the equivalent to point shaving. Ask any baseball player if they would rather have the unfair advantage of steroids or know every pitch coming. Every single hitter would choose knowing the pitch. Do I believe the allegations? Hell, Why not? Especially with A-Rod being the most fragile superstar of all-time.

- It seems like everyone forgot about the other 103 names on that failed drug test. I really wanted to see them, but would that mean 103 more books? I don't need to know that bad, but it would sure be nice.

- I hope you got to catch some of the Bulls-Celtics series. I don't devote much space to the NBA, but this series is worth mentioning. A great 7 game series that had it all. I really enjoyed watching Ben Gordon and Ray Allen, 2 of my favorite players, go at it. I can only imagine what the pickup games are like when the alumni visit U Conn.

- The Bucs are now sitting at .500 after dropping 5 of 6 to the Brewers and Reds. Lack of hitting the whole week caught up to them and the bullpen let them down on a couple occasions. Like I said before, this trend will continue all year. Good pitching will beat this team all year. Not being able to beat the Brewers in over two years is very disturbing though.

- Another case of you don't know what you have til it's gone with Jack Wilson. I have never been the biggest Wilson supporter, but Brian Bixler looks over matched in the big leagues. The same Bixler that tears it up in spring training and in AAA, just can't put the bat on the ball in the big leagues. After a very nice debut in which he had a two run double, Bixler has looked lost at the plate ever since. At least he hasn't taken his struggles into the field with him this season. Until he can hit MLB pitching, he looks to be a Mr. March candidate.

- Mark Eaton has 3 post season goals, which is more than everyone on the team not named Crosby or Malkin. It's great for Eaton. The team needs scoring from the blue line. It's bad for the Pens though. If they don't start getting scoring from their wingers, then the Pens will be on the wrong end of a short series.

- Finally, let's discuss the Pens power play. Ha, What power play? I don't want to make myself angry by thinking about it. The Pens are 4 for 37 with the man advantage in the playoffs. Remember 3 of those gaols came in the first two games. Gotta get it fixed.

- Almost forgot to hand out my player of the month awards. National League honors go to Albert Puljos and the Pitcher of the month goes to Chad Billingsly, who has had a fantastic 5-0 start to the season. In the American League, Carlos Pena's 11 HR gives him the nod and Zack Grienke has been the most dominant pitcher in the game so far, so he gets the award.