Sunday, November 30, 2003

No Hundred Years War, but England To Meet France In Their Opener

There were many possible scenarios for the English side prior to this morning's draw for the groupings of the Euro 2004. Probably the worst case scenario was what happened to Germany, the unlucky nation from the second pot of four who were the ones getting stuck with Holland. Going into this draw, one knew straight away that whomever got stuck with Holland was going to have the toughest group because it meant Holland plus a number one seed to battle against.

England could have been stuck, in theory, with France AND Holland. Conversely, they could have lucked out an drew Sweden, Latvia and Russia as well. So other than not getting Holland from the third pot which would have sealed a group of death, the other main concern for England was obviously not to get stuck with France. They did, and they drew France as the opening match of the tournament for both nations. Sunday the 13th at the Stadium of Light in Lisboa.

In theory, England might be happy, having drawn France that they drew them as the first match of their ride. On the other hand, France, having been upset already in the opening match of the World Cup two summers ago, will not only take England more seriously than they did Senegal, but will clearly have the motivation of having something to prove as well since they were humiliated in the 2002 World Cup already and do not want a repeat performance. They've shown their resolve with a perfect qualifying record, quite a feat over 8 matches, even if it was only the likes of Cyprus, Malta, Israel and Slovenia.

Realistically, England would be happy with a draw against France, which would be enough, in a likelihood, to propel them into the second round, perhaps against Spain or Portugal. Following France, they'll meet Switzerland and then Croatia both teams they should be able to beat, in theory anyway and perhaps even on paper. I don't get any wild fantasies about Switzerland going very far. Sure, they won their qualifying group but let's face it: a qualifying group of Russia, Ireland, Georgia and Albania, is hardly a gauntlet to run. Sven says ""Swiss football is progressing very quickly - at youth level they are very strong. The Yakin brothers have been excellent for FC Basle, and Stephane Chapuisat is still a dangerous striker." but this is a lot of diplomatic bullshit. Switzerland are not scary. Perhaps compared to Latvia they are, but England should beat them readily.

Croatia are a good side with alot of young talent that have potential if they're given their chance, to create unwanted surprises. Should England lose to France, this match, in my mind, the final of the first round in Coimbra, is key. Sven notes here that "We played Croatia recently and even though we won 3-1 the Croatians showed that they are a good team. Teams from Eastern Europe do tend to be technically very solid, physically strong and are very very good at keeping hold of the ball. Their passing game is often frustrating because they can keep to ball for so long! I think that they are good - they beat Slovenia away to qualify and that is not easy so maybe they can do well in Portugal."

The early odds have England rated fifth behind France, Italy, Portugal and Spain. Considering they have to play France first and then would likely face either Portugal or Spain in the second round, depending on which one finishes first in the group. Then again, let's not count Greece out too quickly. Greece are my darkhorse team. Given Spain's history of dismal performances in tournaments and given Portugal's outrageous underachieving in the World Cup, you might see Greece squeak into second place and qualify for the next round, perhaps against France, which would leave England stuck playing Portugal in Lisboa. Not a good taste.

Local Derbys In Portugal

You might look at them as derbys, given the hatred and rivalry sure to sweat out of these nations when they meet. My favorite one will be Germany-Holland. It's a big bias but if Dick Advocaat uses his head again and keeps the Dutch team young and hungry by leaving the egomaniacs and lazy mercenary stars on the bench like he did in that second match against Scotland, I don't think Germany will win this match. In fact, they will lose this match because they are still too old and uninspired. Yes, the Germans aren't bad tournament players. They know what it takes to win in these tournaments but I don't see the demonstrations that they are so much better than they were in Euro2000. The best result would be a severe and demoralizing thrashing because if Holland wish to advance, they are most certainly going to have to beat Germany to do it. This is the first match of their group and will be followed quickly by Holland having to try and overcome a Czech team that already humiliated them once in the qualifiers while Germany will toying with Latvia. So a victory by Holland over Germany is the key to their chances.

Spain-Portugal: More neighbors facing each other straight away in the first round. Spain beat Portugal in a friendly in September, in Portugal, it should be noted, by a 3-0 margin. Sure "just" a friendly but don't doubt that Spain are always eager to kick down their lesser cousins. Unfortunately for Portugal, this match comes at the end of the round with both teams likely equal unless Greece happens to pull off an upset early on. Greece will face Portugal in the opening match of the tournament and frankly, the pressure on Portugal might be a little too daunting. Greece might very well earn a draw, keeping them on pace for a spot into the second round. Spain, who plays Greece only after meeting a Russian team that will lucky to come away with a point in this tournament, will not be as prone to upset. They are better than Greece and they are better than Russia and by then, they will be better than Portugal.

Denmark-Sweden: Peter Schmeichel seemed a little unhappy in the draw that Denmark got, having to face both Sweden and Italy as well as Bulgaria. He noted that he was worried this grouping was even more severe than the Germany, Czech, Holland Group but frankly, I don't think Sweden are going to make it out of the round and Latvia, even though they beat Turkey to get here, are everyone's best bet for worst team of the tournament. Yes, Italy will be strong and probably unbeatable but

My take on how it all pans out is like this:


Portugal and Greece tie the opener. Spain win their first two matches and draw against Portugal. Spain first with 7 points, Portugal second with 5 points.


France will beat England handily in the first match but England will be able to crawl back against Switzerland and Croatia to make it as the second place finisher.


Italy is the class of the group and will coast through unmolested leaving Sweden and Denmark to battle it out while Bulgaria tries to sneak up on everyone. Denmark, Sweden and Bulgaria all won their qualifying groups and frankly, Sweden, having to play Poland and Hungary, had the toughest entry. Sweden will defeat Denmark, just as Schmeichel seems convinced, and Bulgaria is my bet to pull of a series of ties and earn in over Sweden for the second place spot.


One would hope that Germany are pummeled not only by Holland but by the Czech Republic, as well, avenging their Euro 1996 Finals loss. The Czechs are the class of this group and even though Holland, playing to potential, could beat them as easily as they themselves were beaten by the Czechs in the qualifying round, they have some sort of disease when it comes to playing in pressure over the years. The finish will be the Czechs and then the Dutch.

This leaves the following second round matches:

Spain to play England which is a match that England could seriously win, even if Spain are confident by having made topped the host nation in the opening round. England, playing better defence, win 2-1.

Portugal would then have the misfortune of meeting France and France, who beat them on penalties the last time around in 2000, will not have as tough a time at it, winning 3-1.

Italy would then face the Dutch in what could theoretically be a beautiful match with the strong Italian defence facing the firepower of the Dutch. Italy win, 1-0, as they win all their bloody matches.

Finally, Bulgaria would face the Czech Republic and would defeat them.

Sadly, England then plays Italy. Italy breaks-a-their little hearts, winning on penalties.

France and Bulgaria meet and perhaps this time, Bulgaria pull out an upset and lose to Italy in the finals.

Crazy speculation but let's face it: after the craziness and unpredictability of the World Cup, who is going to guess that there might not be a big suprise making it to the final?

Saturday, November 29, 2003

Waiting For The Other Shoe To Drop

"I guess I hate the Yankees now," Schilling said last night following his trade to the Boston Red Sox.

It's one of those blurbs you read and think, nahh, it's just wishful thinking, vicious rumour, propaganda from Theoland. But it's true, it's official and the first shot has been fired across the bow of the 2004 season.

You might think it's too good to be true: two Yankee humiliations within a month and it isn't even Christmas yet. The humiliating shutout loss to the Marlins for the World Championship was the poke in the eye with the stick and the trade of Curt Schilling to the Red Sox for what amounts to Casey Fossum and a load of chuff is the follow-up kick to the balls. The fact that they were Steinbrenner's balls that took the blow only makes the video replay all the more delicious in slow-motion, over and over, and you must wonder what is going on in poor little Brian Cashman's mind, the repercussions of King George's wrath at the failure and humiliation of having their arch enemies sign the best player available in the off season. And make no mistake about it: Bartolo Colon and Javier Vasquez, if you look at the record books, have won zero World Series games against the Yankees and zero World Championships. They aren't going to bring the title to the Bronx and neither will Gary Sheffield.

What does the coup of Curt Schilling to Boston mean? King George twists in the wind a little longer, sputters harder, turns a deeper shade of purple and will open his little Yankee pocketbook to Overspend on the Overrated yet another season in a row. All for naught. You'd think three successive years of failure and the dismal excuse of a baseball team over in Queens would teach King George he can't buy his way to the top anymore.

I'm skeptical about the whole thing though. Same way I was skeptical about the Phillies signing Jim Thome and trading for Kevin Millwood and beating their puny little chests about what world beaters they were before they'd even had a chance to get no-hit in Spring Training. There's something a little too obvious about trading for Curt Schilling that makes me think the Red Sox are just a disaster waiting to happen.

You've still got the biggest whiner in baseball to contend with in his contract season. If Pedro were a team player, not a quitter and a loser and a choke artist and a Yankee hero, you could say that this dynamic trio, this Pedro and Schilling and Lowe, would seal the season, end the "curse", slash the misery, breath hope into the tiny lungs of Boston. But Pedro is a season-long menstrual cycle whose cramps will become more intense as the season wears on. He isn't winning material, let's face it. How many shots against the Yankees did he have last year and how many times did he fail to close the deal?

With the trade for Schilling the Red Sox have only added by one, the number of pitchers who are Yankee-killahs on the Red Sox staff. Before Boston wakes up with the smelling salts, it should remember that a staff of one does not a World Champion make.

Nevertheless, it's good to watch King George squirm in the interim.


Will someone please tell me why an aging, third-rate defensive catching liability with declining offensive numbers who refuses to do what is best for the team by moving to first base and selfishly persists on a trying to forge a false legacy, is a beloved commodity? Why is trading Mike Piazza so unappealing?

Because one thing for certain, the Mets will never go anywhere with him again and if the Met ownership werent' such sentimental fools, they'd demand Piazza be traded, they'd never have signed a washout like Tom Glavine, they'd dump Al Leiter while he still has a few gallons in the tank, and they'd hire someone to go and break Fat Mo's knees, just to make sure he doesn't get any cheeky thoughts about returning to wreak havoc on the Mets once again.

In return for Piazza we should net a few good, young pitchers and a stick. I wouldn't take any pitchers from the O's. They're all damaged goods. The O's had what, like 200 draft picks over a two year period and they used 99% of them on pitchers and 90% are already on the DL or recovering from some sort of major surgery that leaves their pitching arms dangling from their shoulder sockets by a few stringy tendons. Taking O's pitchers for Piazza would be like buying a house while watching it burn down. In fact, there is very little appeal in anything Orioles-like. And frankly, what makes anyone think they could convince Piazza to sign off on a trade to a terminal organization like the Baltimore Orioles? Would you want to play for a schmuck like Peter Angelos?

Texas has no pitchers to trade and since pitching is what they most sorely need, other than the salary relief of dumping A-Rod, Texas isn't an attractive alternative.

So where does it leave us? American League team with alot of good, young pitchers: how about the Chicago White Sox? Wouldn't Mike Like Chicago, just like the other Mike did? Mike and the implausibly redeemable Frank Thomas could trade off and on between DH and the field, Mike could catch to his heart's content when Frank is bone weary and Paul Konerko feels like hitting, and frankly, when you look at the other catching possibilities, what have you got in Chicago? The 60 year old Sandy Alomar and the .234 bat of Miguel Olivo? Imagine the batting order on a good day this would produce: Thomas (42-105 .267), Piazza (31-101 .305 in a normal season), Ordonez (29-99 .317), Lee (31-119 .291), Everett (28-92 .287), the ever-declining Konerko and the up-and-coming Crede. Not to mention the heart-warming reunion with Roberto Alomar this trade would produce. So the White Sox get a sorely-needed catcher and a big bat to add the heat to opposing pitching staffs, what do the Mets get?

Let's have a Damaso Marte (4-2 1.58 11 saves) for starters. Would the Sox squawk about giving him up? Did they squawk about heaving out our future closer in the form of Royce Ring in return for the dustbin of second base malcontents, Roberto Alomar? No, they were happy about it. So while we're at it, we'll keep our designs modest, and ask for Aaron Rowand, who the Sox have no room for in the outfield, to play centerfield at Shea and maybe dip into their Minor Leagues for a Tetsu Yofu because frankly, hasn't everyone always wanted their very own Tetsu Yofu to root for in their miserable little lives? And let's point out that he went 9-8 with a 3.50 ERA in AA last year. He could be next season's D-Train waiting to happen, who knows?

So there you have it Sportsfans: Mike Piazza to the Chicago White Sox for Damaso Marte, Aaron Rowand and Tetsu Yofu.

Now, after Fat Mo's knee caps have been dealt with and Piazza's salary has been jettisoned, the next bit of business is the pitching. Let's face it, Leiter, Glavine and Trachsel aren't going to scare anyone as a starting trio. Personally, I'd like to see both Glavine and Leiter gone. I don't care about what hard workers they are or what wonderful little community helpers they are or how much class they have. They've both seen their best years, now far behind them and keeping them around just so Wilpon can play daddy-for-hire just isn't worth it. Glavine belongs on a team where he doesn't need to be the first or second starter on the staff, somewhere he can wallow in obscurity and find himself for a final burst before the end of his career. 300 wins indeed. Ha! I'd trade him to anyone who would take him for anything they'd give us. Why not the Texas Rangers? They're a gullible lot. And Al Leiter would look very happy in St Louis and here again, I don't care what we get in return, just gut the starting rotation because it won't carry the Mets anywhere but down like a lead weight next season. Gut and rebuild and keep the sappy Mr Wilpon out of the baseball business decisions.

And while I'm on it, none of this will come to pass because like complete and unrepentant idiots, the Met brain trust couldn't be arsed to offer Omar Minaya the GM job straight up. Did they really think he was going to leave the Expos to play second fiddle to a talentless headscratcher like Jim Duquette? Sweet Jesus, that was stupid. But consistent at least. Sort of like: hey, let's fire one of the best managers in baseball but KEEP a complete drooling moron like Steve Phillips as GM because he's done such a bang-up job ruining the team with his bad decisions. It's one of the reasons you learn to love to hate the Mess Mismanagement. If there is a wrong decision to be made, by god, they will find it and they will make sure that they do it.

So it's certain that Glavine and Leiter will be at the head of the rotation, even if someone had the guts to trade Piazza. Glavine and Leiter might not be bad if you threw in Sidney Ponson. Maybe Miguel Batista is still going unsigned by the D-backs despite the loss of Schilling's salary. It's almost beginning to look like a rotation. I can't be arsed about Aaron Heilman at the moment. I'm still too excited about having Tetsu Yofu. So if you can sign Ponson and Batista or some other sod, like Shawn Estes and you've still got Trachsel to kick around and you've got a bunch of promising kids still a year or two away from the rotation, it isn't looking too pathetic. Then sign the mighty righty Shigetoshi Hasegawa to compliment the lefty Damaso Marte in the bullpen. It's a start. It isn't first division material, oh no, but it isn't hey, let's watch the Single A Mets lose another gut-churner to the effin Milwaukee Brewers again, either.

Problems in centerfield? Answered by the Piazza trade when they picked up Aaron Rowand. Solid and unspectacular and cheap. No head case. Just the sort of steadiness you need. Ideally, your CF is also fast and could lead off. Can we say that about Rowand, well, with a little luck and imagination, perhaps. But he's no Roger Cedeno out there. He isn't going to get hurt by getting hit in the head with a fly ball. In fact, I'd even venture to say that he might be another Rip Repulski out there and who can quibble with that? But you've got a must or two hanging on out there and one of them is Kaz Matsui because Kaz Matsui brings the pizazz to make up for the Piazza buzz loss and if a team in New York can't have some Kaz, they just aren't going to cut it. King George wants him too and now is the time, not next week or the week after, to go all out, recruit like your franchise depended on it, romance, wine and dine, make him feel like royalty. Now that isn't an easy thing to do when you're trying to sell a dump like Shea Stadium over the history of Yankee Stadium. If the standard deal is 3 years for $21 million, go for 5 years and $45 million. Yes, it's reckless and crazy but not as reckless and crazy as it was to give a washout like Tom Glavine a fat salary for another three years when he's already been washed up for a year and a half. Take a chance, generate a buzz, get noticed. Because otherwise, he's going to be winning for someone else down the road and it will be rubbed in the noses of Met fans for the entirety of his career. He is the cornerstone of the future middle with Reyes.

So, you've done the impossible: dumped Piazza and signed Kaz away from everyone else. Whew. You still have no power to speak of. You might have Kaz leading off and Jose Reyes behind him. You might have Reyes followed by Cliff Floyd but then you've got a big hole, like a pulled tooth, in the clean up spot. Here you will need free agent help because re-signing a stiff like Tony Clark isn't going to cut it. You won't or shouldn't or can't afford Guerrero and Sheffield is a BIG misadventure waiting to happen. You have two positions open, two positions that could supply a little power combined but not alot singularly: So you sign Tampa Bay's Travis Lee (.275-19-70) for a reasonable amount and get solid defense at first base if somewhat pedestrian production at the plate. Then to make up for it, you sign Shannon Stewart to a deal. Not this Shannon Stewart, the other one. The one who will be the leadoff hitter for the Mets.

Stewart - LF
Kaz -ss
Reyes - 2b
Floyd - Lf
Ty Wigginton - 3b
Travis Lee - 1B
Rowand - CF
Jason Phillips - C




Damaso Marte (L)
Shigetoshi Hasegawa (R)
John Franco (L)