Monday, June 18, 2012

Huge Crash at Le Mans

I don't consider auto racing a sport. It's an extremely difficult, high-risk competition. These drivers have some serious stones. This was at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France on Saturday. The driver of the car/airplane (Anthony Davidson from Britain) was hospitalized with two fractured vertebrae. He then sent a few Tweets from his hospital bed.

Can Earnhardt Jr. Win the Sprint Cup Championship?

Dale Earnhardt Jr. broke a winless drought yesterday by cruising to the checkered flag at Michigan. It was his first victory in 143 races. As an Earnhardt Jr. fan, it was a great moment. And appropriately, he won the race on Father's Day, giving the late Dale Sr. a great gift.

In that 143 race drought, Earnhardt Jr. rarely showed frustration. Quite the opposite. He seems to have learned patience and consistency. Something which was lacking in the earlier stages of his career.

His average finish this season is 7.9. Last year it was 14.5. The year before it was 18.6. And before that it was 23.2. Four straight years of improvement. Earlier in his career he fluctuated up and down. He peaked in 2003 and 2004, finishing in the top 5 in points both years. But the occasional bad finish (or lack of finish) undermined his championship efforts.

In 2004, he won 6 races. Only Jimmie Johnson won more (8). But Junior wound up 5th in points. He won 2 races in the Chase, but also failed to finish 2 times.

This year, he's finished every race. He hasn't finished out of the top 20. He's had cars good enough to win, didn't get the win, but still secured a good finish. He's had cars not good enough to win, and has still managed to get a solid result. He's completed every lap this season.

So what are the chances of him winning the Cup? As good as any other contender. Maybe a bit better.

He sits 2nd in points, only 4 behind Matt Kenseth. He's grabbed that elusive win. The team isn't missing steps. Most importantly, there's no other driver or team that seems to have a better chance. There have been 11 winners in 15 races.

The door to the 2012 Sprint Cup Championship is wide open to a number of drivers. And one standing near the front of the line is Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

Euro 2012 Update*

Euro 2012 has been full of surprises already. Four teams are in the quarterfinals, not all of them expected to be there. Four teams have been eliminated. Some of them anticipated longer stays in Poland and the Ukraine.

One thing I really like is that teams are winning their way into the quarterfinals. There were no draws this weekend, no tie-breakers needed. Teams that won advanced, teams that lost were eliminated.

Czech Republic 1, Poland 0
When the Czechs are expected to do well, they fail. When they're expected to fail, they do well. It's not a complete shock that they advanced to the quarterfinals, but it is a surprise that they won their group. They'll play Portugal on Thursday.

Greece 1, Russia 0
The good news for Polish police is that the Russians are leaving. No more marches through Warsaw. Greece was in 4th at the start of this match, and needed to win to advance. That's what they did. It's amazing what happens when people have to work to get by. Maybe the Greek people will learn what a work ethic is. They'll play Germany on Friday.

Portugal 2, Netherlands 1
The Group of Death was a confused mess before Sunday's games. The permutations were too complicated for even the most advanced supercomputers to calculate. But the teams knew their jobs: win. Cristiano Ronaldo did his job: score. He netted both goals for Portugal, silencing his critics. I picked the Netherlands to win this tournament, and now they exit having lost all 3 of their games.

Germany 2, Denmark 1
The Germans won all 3 of their group games for the first time ever in this tournament. What's kind of scary is that they never played to the absolute best of their ability. Guys like Thomas Müller are still struggling to find their form. And if they do, Achtung! (warning).

Germany faces Greece on Friday in a battle between creditor and debtor. North Sea vs. Mediterranean. Work ethic vs. vacation 8 weeks a year.

Today's games:
Croatia vs. Spain
Italy vs. Ireland

Italy should beat the Irish, which would give them 5 points. Croatia and Spain each have 4 points, so a draw would give each of them 1 point. With the tie-breakers, a 2-2 draw between Spain and Croatia will see both teams advance. Both teams should and probably will play for the win. And Spain should win.

That being said, if it's 2-2 between them with 15 minutes left, don't expect to see either team take any chances. And don't write off the Irish, who could make Spain and Croatia very happy by drawing with Italy.

Red Sox Suck Less Than Cubs

I like Terry Francona, but I've never considered him funny. The giggling by the ESPN announcers last night was close to insufferable. If Francona and John Gruden jointly broadcast something with an ESPN play-by-play guy in the booth, the Guinness World Record for giggling by sports commentators would be shattered.

Franklin Morales pitched pretty well. He struck out 9 in 5 innings, allowing only 2 runs off 4 hits. He didn't walk anybody. An impressive 65 of the 80 pitches he threw were strikes. He threw more than 4 times as many strikes as balls.

That being said, the Cubs have the 4th worst offense in baseball. And they play in a hitter's park. They're 22nd in batting average, 27th in OBP, 24th in slugging, 26th in OPS. It's great that Morales shut them down, but they seem to frequently shut themselves down.

So the Sox did what they're supposed to do. They took 2 of 3 from a team that has a .333 winning percentage. If you want to build hopes on the results of this series, be my guest. But I'd hold off. The Cubs average 2 losses every 3 games. And the Sox beat them 2 of 3.

It was nice to see Morales do well as a spot-starter. And Pedroia swung well last night. If he gets hot, the Sox offense improves dramatically. Those are some positives to build on.

One thing that bugs me about the Red Sox is their frequent neglect at the fundamentals. It's as if they feel like they're too talented to concern themselves with the little things in the game. They're good enough to win just on talent, unless the win or the umpires or the schedule interferes.

In the 6th, the Sox committed two errors, and it allowed the Cubs to tie the game at 3-3. The worst was by Mike Aviles. With a runner on 1st, Pedroia was supposed to over 2nd in case the runner went. The runner went, the ball was chopped to Morales, but Aviles was charging to back Morales up. Aviles then tried to cover 2nd, even though Pedroia was already there. The ensuing drop allowed the Cubs to score, and eliminated a potential double-play.

The next half-inning, Saltalamacchia did the worst thing any baserunner can do: he assumed something. After hitting a single to right, he assumed the throw would go to home. So he decided to try to get to 2nd base. But the throw was cut off. Had it been handled cleanly, Saltalamacchia would have been thrown out. Thankfully, the Cubs suck and it was dropped.

Anyway, the Sox are back to .500 at 33-33. They're 7.5 behind the Yankees in the division, but only 4 out of the second Wild Card.

They have tonight off, then the Marlins come to town. Buchholz faces Mark Buehrle.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo