A look at the four best-of-three series in the NCAA Tournament that begin Saturday.
The first three days of the NCAA Tournament went largely as planned, with nine top seeds advancing and five of the seven regional finales featuring the top two seeded teams. St. John’s and Minnesota were the only three and four seeds to finish the weekend 2-1 and force their regional hosts—Virginia and Cal State Fullerton—to play on Monday. Moreover, all of the top seeds made it past the first weekend, and only one national seed dropped one of their first two games, thereby having to win twice Sunday, and it wasn’t much of a test for Coastal Carolina as it drubbed Stony Brook 25-6. Two other hosts dropped their opening games and were forced to play sudden death doubleheaders Sunday as Auburn ousted Southern Mississippi and Cal State Fullerton finished of New Mexico in their respective first matchups of the day. Then, Auburn, Fullerton, and Coastal Carolina all won their nightcaps against rested foes, each forcing decisive Monday finales for their respective regions. Louisville, Miami, Arkansas, Virginia, and Georgia Tech each failed to win their only games on Sunday that could have punched their tickets to a super regional. While Coastal Carolina and Virginia managed to return to form on Monday and advance, regional host Auburn, as well as national seeds Louisville and Georgia Tech lost again Monday. Arkansas’ loss doesn’t change any travel plans, but with the brackets established to result in the winners of the Auburn and Atlanta regional meeting in the second round, No. 2 seed Clemson will host fellow 2 seed Alabama, despite not hosting a regional.
Here is the look at the four best-of-three super regionals that will be played Saturday-Monday.
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Which teams enjoy outsized advantages from playing at home?
Home-field advantage is making a little bit of a comeback this year, with the home team thus far having won 56.2 percent of major league baseball games. This is actually down a few ticks from where it was several weeks ago; at the beginning of June, home teams had won almost 58 percent of their games. Nevertheless, this is quite high by the standards of recent history. Prior to World War II (when travel was more burdensome and road trips much longer), home-field advantage was more profound in baseball, but since then it has been exceptionally stable, with the home team winning about 54 percent of games each season. So, is there something systematic that is causing the home-field numbers to increase this year? Or has it just been some kind of statistical fluke?
If you could sit down and watch a bit of every playoff race, where would you go? John's the man with a plan. Plus records, rumors, and more.
Jim Leyland has always insisted that the pennant races don't begin until August 15th. While Leyland has never given a definitive reason for why he has arbitrarily picked that date, the Tigers' manager understands pennant races, having lead Pittsburgh to three straight division titles from 1990-92 back when the Pirates still mattered, guided the Florida Marlins to the World Series title in 1997, and taken the Tigers to the World Series last year.
The Pirates are one of baseball's most inept franchises. Does the small market excuse carry any weight?
Of course, Pittsburgh is a small market club. The real question is how small relative to the other markets. Here's a revised and updated version of the population section of the "Take to Your Beds!" table:
We debut our Prospectus Notebook with a look at LaTroy Hawkins' recent arrival in San Francisco, the new-look Kansas City Royals, and a cautious introduction to Braves rookies Kelly Johnson and Kyle Davies.
How would Barry Bonds' absence affect the Giants? Who will fill out the Dodgers' rotation? And will Joe Mauer ever be an everyday catcher? This and more in today's Prospectus Triple Play.
Penny's absence looks to push lefty swingman Wilson Alvarez into the rotation, at least temporarily. Alvarez enjoyed a solid 2004, making 15 starts and relieving 25 times for a 4.03 ERA and 102 strikeouts in 120.2 innings pitched, good for a VORP of 21.0 runs. He's no stranger to injury himself, having missed all of the 2000 and 2001 seasons due to rotator cuff surgery, and his swingman role reflects the team's willingness to place only so many eggs in his oversized basket.
The Dodgers and Giants start bringing in some reinforcements, while the Twins work to keep what they already have.
'04 VORP Age Contract
J.D. Drew 78.7 29 5 yr/$55
Derek Lowe -11.5 32 4 yr/$36
Eric Gagne 28.4 29 2 yr/$19
Cesar Izturis 29.7 25 3 yr/$9.9
Odalis Perez 49.7 28 3 yr/$24
Like the moves of other sabermetrically-inclined GMs (Billy Beane, Theo Epstein, J.P. Ricciardi), DePodesta's decisions have been scrutinized more than most, with traditional media, casual fans and even statheads ridiculing, scratching their heads, or just plain struggling to keep up. A quick look at some of these signings:
The Big Three are no more, but if you think Billy Beane is unpopular, see what they're saying about Sammy Sosa.
"What I'm trying to do is set our pitching up for five years...That's something we can't do in free agency, so we have to be as creative as possible. There are risks, especially with so many young pitchers, but we have Harden, Blanton, Haren and Meyer for at least five years, Zito for two more."
--Billy Beane, Athletics general manager, on dealing starter Mark Mulder to the Cardinals (ESPN.com)