Battle of Unbeatens in New England; Kansas City Needs a Win Rick Gagliano | 10/20/04

This week's biggest game (and biggest surprise), pits the champion New England Patriots against the New York Jets at Foxboro. While the Pats 5-0 record comes as no surprise to many, the Jets have kept pace, last week coming from behind to whip the San Francisco 49ers at the Meadowlands.

The Jets spotted San Fran 14 points in the first half, but shut down Tim Rattay's offense in the second half and rallied to win, sealing the 22-14 victory on a 9-yard TD romp by Curtis Martin, who rushed for 11 yards overall and is enjoying a most productive early season. Martin leads the league in rushing with 613 yards.

For the Patriots, winning has become a habit. They won their 20th consecutive game - including playoffs and the Super Bowl - in a 30-20 home win over Seattle last week. They seek to continue their streak by ending that of the Jets and are favored to do so.

Both teams rank near the top of the league in offense and deploy adequate defenses, though the Patriots are noted for more scheming and disguising of defensive sets, a tactic that they will surely employ against one of the NFL's most promising young quarterbacks, Chad Pennington, who should have his favorite target, Santana Moss, back in uniform after sitting out the 49er game with a pulled hamstring.

Meanwhile, the other New York team that plays home games in New Jersey, the Giants, seek their fifth straight win, hosting the Detroit Lions on Sunday. Coming off their bye week after upsetting Dallas a week earlier, the Giants have the look of a definite contender, while the Lions, who started out the season 3-1, took one on the chin last week, dropping a 38-10 decision to the Green Bay Packers.

The Giants, who dropped their opener to Philadelphia, have strung together wins over Washington, Cleveland, Green Bay and Dallas behind the running of Tiki Barber, the passing of Kurt Warner, and the 4th-ranked defense in the league, which allows just a shade over 14 points per game. Detroit will be hard pressed to hold the Giants' offensive weapons in check. What may prove even more daunting a task will be finding ways to score.

Out West, Denver, fresh off a 31-3 thrashing of the Oakland Raiders, heads into Cincinnati to play the Bengals on Monday night. If this game looks like a total mismatch, it's because it is. The Bengals have returned to being the Bungles, with their only win coming in Week 2 - a 16-13 yawner over Miami. The Broncos lead the AFC West with a 5-1 record, their only loss a 7-6 squeaker at Jacksonville in Week 2. The Bronocs will deploy an efficient running game, the QB skills of Jake Plummer and the 2nd-ranked defense in the league in search of their 6th win.

The 3-3 Chargers, trying to keep pace, travel to face a depleted Carolina Panther team, whose Super Bowl appearance last season is fast becoming a fading memory. Injuries and inefficiencies have the Panthers at 1-4 and looking up in the NFC South one of the weakest divisions in the league. Carolina is next-to-last in scoring, with 77 points, while the Chargers are tops at 160. The Chargers, however, will be without Reche Caldwell, their leading receiver, for the remainder of the season. Buffalo castoff Bobby Shaw - acquired by San Diego - may get some touches in this game though the word is still out on whether or not Keenan McCardell, picked up in a trade with Tampa Bay, will see any action.

The 2-4 Raiders host the 2-4 Saints in a game the Saints may actually be able to win. While both teams suffer from a lack of defense (the Saints lead the league in points allowed - a shocking 165, 27.5 per game), they do have an occasionally explosive offense. The Raiders, lacking any sustainable offensive thrust, have lost three straight, to Houston, Indianapolis and Denver. In each game, the margin of loss has increased - from 13 to 21 to 28. If this trend continues, the Saints will win 42-7.

In the AFC South, Jacksonville looks to tie for the division lead, though they will have to beat the Colts in Indy to do so. In a rematch of an October 3rd game won by Indianapolis 24-17, little has changed for either team. The Colts' three-headed offensive monster of Peyton Manning, Eggerin James and receiver Marvin Harrison faces a solid Jacksonville defense.

On the other side of the ball, QB Byron Leftwich may be less than 100% after spraining an ankle in last week's 22-16 win over Kansas City. The Jags may have to depend more on the running of Fred Taylor to control time of possession and keep the ball out of Manning's hands. With a win, the Colts could open up a two game lead in the division and their chances of doing so look promising.

Atlanta, at 5-1 after a thrilling 21-20 home win over San Diego last week, heads to Kansas City for a tilt with the struggling Chiefs. KC's problem is clearly on the defensive side of the ball. They lead only New Orleans and San Francisco in points allowed per game while the offensive has played respectably. The Chiefs and running back Priest Holmes face an uphill battle as Atlanta sports the league's best rush defense, allowing a mere 74.5 yards per game. Plenty of highlight reel material will surely come out of this game as Kansas City will air it out early and often and Atlanta counters with Michael Vick and the unpredictable nature of his offense.

The NFC's only undefeated team, the Eagles, travel to Cleveland. The Browns demolished and demoralized the Bengals, 34-17 last week, while the Eagles did likewise to Carolina in a 30-8 home romp.

The Browns have their own winning streak on the line. They are unbeaten at home with wins over Baltimore, Washington and Cincy. The Browns' brass has been roundly criticized for acquiring QB Jeff Garcia, but he has done a credible job thus far, throwing for 1146 yards on 90 of 160 passing, with 8 TDs against 6 picks, leading the Browns to a 3-3 record. He's also scrambled for 93 yards, something he may have to do against the league's top-rated defense.

In other games, St. Louis takes its high-flying offense to Miami to face the winless Dolphins, Tennessee looks to rebound from a 20-10 home loss to Houston at Minnesota, The Bears head south to play Tampa Bay, Dallas plays at Green Bay and Buffalo looks for their second straight win in Baltimore.

While the Buffalo Bills, now 1-4, didn't impress many in their 20-13 home win over Miami last week, they did unleash running back Willis McGahee, who carried 26 times for 111 yards, and perennial all-pro Eric Moulds who caught 5 balls for 99 yards. The Bills face a Ravens team with plenty of defense, but little field-stretching ability on offense.

In Green Bay, both the Cowboys and Packers may be looking at this game as a must-win situation. The Packers are a worrysome 2-4, thanks mostly to long defensive lapses, while the Cowboys, and head coach Bill Parcells are running out of excuses after consecutive home losses to the Giants and Steelers, putting them at 2-3. The survivor of this one may make a run at a playoff spot; the loser may begin looking at potential high draft choices.

That's a wrap for this week. Enjoy all the action. For more analysis, game-by-game breakdowns, odds, stats and picks, visit Fearless Rick's Pro and College Football Picks.

World Series - Boston Red Sox (AL) vs. St. Louis Cardinals (NL)

Rick Gagliano | 10/22/04

The World series begins Saturday night in Boston. Here's the essential game dates and a positional breakdown of the two teams.

Series Schedule and Starters
Sat, Oct 23 7:35 pm EDT W. Williams vs. T. Wakefield
Sun, Oct 24 7:35 pm EDT M. Morris vs. C. Schilling
Tue, Oct 26 9:05 pm EDT P. MartĚnez vs.
Wed, Oct 27 8:05 pm EDT D. Lowe vs. J. Marquis
Thu, Oct 28 8:05 pm EDT T. Wakefield vs. W. Williams
Sat, Oct 30 7:35 pm EDT M. Morris vs. C. Schilling
Sun, Oct 31 7:35 pm EST J. Suppan vs. P. MartĚnez


1B: Boston, David Ortiz. Big, powerful home run and RBI guy, will bat 4th behind Manny Ramirez, power to all fields, not a straight pull hitter, great in the clutch, toughest out in the lineup, ALCS MVP. Will DH in Boston. Not a great fielder.

St. Louis, Albert Pujols. One of the top 3 hitters in the league, 2nd in HR in NL with 46, 3rd in RBI at 123. Deadly with men on base. Solid defensively.

EDGE: Cardinals

2B: Boston, Mark Bellhorn. Batted .264 regular season with 18 homers. Steady in the field. Can steal a base on occasion, set Red Sox record with 177 strikeouts.

St. Louis, Tony Womack. Batted .307 regular season, with 26 steals, bats leadoff. Solid in the field, good at turning double plays.

EDGE: Cardinals

3B: Boston, Bill Mueller. Nothing special about Mueller, a .283 hitter regular season, but is streaky and can get hot. OK defensively.

St. Louis, Scott Rolen. 2nd in NL in RBI, batted .314 with 34 home runs. Superb fielder, usually bats 4th behind Pujols, great bat control with power to all fields.

EDGE: Cardinals

SS: Boston, Orlando Cabrera. Slick fielder, solid hitter with some speed. Great fastball hitter, dangerous in hit-and-run situations.

St. Louis, Edgar Renteria. Solid contact hitter with some power and speed. Can and will do all the little things: move runners, sacrifice - great range at short.

EDGE: Even

C: Boston, Jason Varitek. Solid hitter with decent power, handles pitchers well and is Boston's inspirational leader.

St. Louis, Mike Matheny. Best defensive catcher in the league, but not much at the plate with .247 regular season average.

EDGE: Even

RF: Boston, Trott Nixon. Fearless defensive player and a solid hitter both for average and power. Will take pitchers deep into counts and battle.

St. Louis, Larry Walker. Future hall of famer with three NL batting titles to his credit, plus five Gold Gloves. Prototype #2 hitter.

EDGE: Cardinals

CF: Boston, Johnny Damon. Batted .304 with 20 homers and 94 RBI this year. Not bad for a leadoff hitter. Also stole 19 bags. Good speed and range in the outfield, but not much of a throwing arm - his one liability.

St. Louis, Jim Edmonds. Perennial gold glover, arguably the best defensive center fielder in the majors. Great power, especially to left, but can be fanned with pitches out of the strike zone. A free swinger.

EDGE: Cardinals

LF: Boston, Manny Ramirez. Best hitter in Red Sox lineup, Ramirez led the AL in HR with 43. Very disciplined at the plate who will not swing at anything out of the strike zone. Dangerous in Fenway where he had 23 homers, 25 doubles and drove in 72 runs. Boston's #3 hitter in the lineup. Defensively, he's a liability, with limited range and not much of an arm.

St. Louis, Reggie Sanders. Streaky hitter with some power, susceptible to good breaking stuff. OK defensively.

EDGE: Red Sox

DH: Boston, Kevin Millar. Millar is another of the Red Sox' gritty, nose in the dirt type of players that will give everything he's got, which is a quick bat and some power to right. Probably will play 1B in Boston with Ortiz at DH.

St. Louis, John Mabry, So Taguchi, Roger Cedeno, Marlon Anderson. Manager Tony LaRussa has plenty of options in the DH slot. Since he doesn't need more power in the lineup, he'll probably use Cedeno, as he gives him speed on the basepaths. Taguchi is valuable as a defensive replacement in the late innings, as is Anderson. Mabry can play 1B or the outfield and has some power, so he may be reserved for pinch hitting. Look for Cedeno to be the DH, batting either 9th or possibly 6th, between Jim Edmonds and Renteria.

EDGE: Cardinals

Starting Pitching: Boston, Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, Tim Wakefield, Derek Lowe, Bronson Arroyo. The Sox are loaded with quality starting pitching, especially if Schilling is healthy. Martinez's numbers were off this season and he wasn't dominating against the Yankees in the ALCS, and the wild card among the bunch is knuckleballer Wakefield, who can often make good hitters look silly.

St. Louis, Mike Morris, Woody Williams, Jason Marquis, Jeff Suppan, Chris Carpenter. Cards' pitching staff is experienced and solid, but unspectacular. Morris, Williams and Suppan are all capable of keeping games close and low-scoring, while Marquis struggled late in the year, but will start game one. Carpenter is on the roster but injured.

EDGE: Red Sox

Relief pitching: Boston, Mike Timlin, Mike Myers, Alan Embree, Curt Leskanic, Ramiro Mendoza and closer Keith Foulke are about as solid as it gets. They held the Yankees down in the last four games of the ALCS and were essential in winning the AL crown. Don't expect to see much of Leskanic or Mendoza, but starters Arroyo or Lowe could be used in relief. Foulke is one of the top 3 closers in either league.

St. Louis: Kiko Calero, Julian Tavarez, Ray King, Steve Kline, Cal Eldred, Danny Haren and closer Jason Isringhausen. This unit was tops in the NL regular season and came up big in the clutch against the Astros in NLCS, especially Tavarez, who will be used to set up Isringhausen, who tied Cardinals' season record for saves, but sometimes makes it an adventure. Danny Haren will see action as a long reliever if needed.

EDGE: Cardinals

MANAGER: Boston, Terry Francona. In his first season as Boston's skipper, Francona basically just let his players play and did a solid job knowing when to pull starters and use his relievers. Not noted for hit-and-run or stealing much, e really doesn't have the players to steal bases, but is solid in all aspects.

St. Louis, Tony LaRussa. One of the best managers in the game. Takes advantage of every opportunity and is a superb tactician who will hit and run, steal and sacrifice at will. Knows his players and pitchers completely and will make the proper substitution 99% of the time.

EDGE: Cardinals

INTANGIBLES: The Red Sox have home field advantage, so it will be up to the Cardinals to take one of the first two games in Boston. The Cards are brilliant at home and have NL experience which the Boston coaching staff does not, a big edge for the Cards.

Then there's the Curse. The Red Sox haven't won a World Series since 1918. They've been there four times since, losing to the Cardinals in 1946 and 1967, the Reds in 1975 and the Mets in 1986 - all in seven games. After coming back from a 3-0 deficit to beat the Yankees for the AL crown, one wonders just how much heart this team has left. Maybe a lot, or maybe they're drained.

The Cardinals battled back against a stubborn Astros team and learned what they were made of as well. The Cardinals also have three players with World Series rings, Reggie Sanders, Tony Womack and Edgar Renteria. The Sox have none.

While the Cards have the edge at virtually every position offensively and defensively, the Red Sox have pitchers who can turn the lights out on the best hitters in the league and that's the battle. If the Cardinals can get solid performances from their starters and the hitters produce, it won't be close. But if Schilling is ready and Pedro can perform up to his best, the Sox have an opportunity to erase 86 years of shame.

The biggest advantage may be off he field, in the head of manager Tony LaRussa. His knowledge and skills may be the difference in Boston, where he has options with the DH, and a corps of rested relievers.


Yankees, Red Sox, Cardinals, Astros in Baseball's Final Four
Rick Gagliano | 10/12/04

It's mid-October, so it's time for the annual ritual in Major League Baseball, the League Championship Series.

In the American League, the New York Yankees, winners of the AL East, face the wild-card Boston Red Sox in the most-anticipated series of the season. The Yanks knocked off small-market Minnesota in four games for the second year in a row, while the Sox socked it to the California Angels, sweeping the Halos to advance.

The Red Sox - Yankees rivalry is possibly the most celebrated in sports. It has endured through World Wars, depressions, strikes, hysteria, mass-marketing and media hype, but this year needs no advance billing. Both teams are offensive juggernauts, loaded with stars and mystique. While the Yanks led the race most of the way, Boston got hot in August and early September to close the gap late in the season. But, as has been the case so often, the Bronx Bombers closed out the Bosox in two critical weekend September series.

When all was said and done, the regular season ended with the Yankees on top by a scant three games. The two teams posted the 2nd and 3rd-best records in baseball, topped only by the St. Louis Cardinals over in the National League.

The best-of-seven series begins tonight in New York, with Curt Schilling on the mound for Boston and Mike Mussina throwing for the Yankees. Schilling poses a major problem for New York. He has faced them before, notably in the 2001 World Series, when Arizona stole the crown, and this season as well. This season, Schilling started three times against New York, winning two of them. His most recent effort was Sept. 26, when he held the Yankees to one hit over seven innings.

The other ace on the Boston staff is Pedro Martinez, who suffered through a very un-Pedro-like season this year, at times brilliant, but mostly ordinary. Martinez's ERA was 3.90 for the year, the highest in his 13-year career. His record of 16-9 was also the lowest winning percentage for Martinez since joining the Red Sox in 1998. Besides not being at his best, the Yankees also seem to have his number. He was 1-3 against the Yanks this season, with the lone win coming way back in April.

The keys for the Red Sox pitching staff may be Bronson Arroyo and knuckleballer Tim Wakefield. They will match up against New York's #3 and 4 pitchers, John Lieber and Javier Vazquez.

Offensively, the Yankees may have an edge. The Red Sox feature power hitters Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, both league MVP candidates, while the Yanks counter with Alex Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield. The edge comes in the form of two other Yankee starters, Derek Jeter and Hideki Matsui. Jeter brings an attitude and special ability for big moments in big games. Matsui is probably the most overlooked player in the league. In his second year, Matsui cranked out 31 homers 108 RBI and a .298 average. He has found his power stroke and has looked comfortable at the plate all season.

Both teams have excellent bullpens, with Keith Foulke closing games for the Red Sox and Mariano Rivera for the Yankees.

There isn't much separating these teams, but the Yankees have an edge overall at the plate, home field advantage, the wisdom and leadership of Joe Torre, and the intangibles, including the fabled curse of the Bambino. While the Red Sox have a very capable team, they are only the second best in the AL. The Yankees will win this series in six games or less and move on to face the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.

Cardinals look unbeatable

No team racked up more wins through the regular season than the St. Louis Cardinals. They led the majors with a 105-57 record, winning the NL Central by 13 games. The Cards clinched the division by mid-September, and coasted, going 9-8 from Sept. 15.

Conversely, the Houston Astros were all but written off by mid-season. A lackluster offense, spotty pitching and injuries dropped the Astros well off the pace in the NL Central and wild-card race, just as the Cardinals were taking off.

The key moves made by the Astros were the acquisition of outfielder Carlos Beltran in July and the replacement of manager Jimy Williams with Phil Garner. The moves didn't pay immediate dividends - in fact, Houston went 12-16 from the All Star break through August 14. They were still fading.

But, on August 15, they began to turn things around. Roger Clemens was pitching lights out. Roy Oswalt, a dismal 4-10 through June 17, had found his stuff and was pitching with authority. Oswalt, from June 23 to the end of the season, went 15-4. Beltran began hitting like an all-star. Brad Lidge was dominating in the closer role. The Astros were getting timely hitting from their big bats - Beltran, Lance Berkman, Jeff Bagwell and Mike Lamb (filling in for injured 3B Morgan Ensberg) - and started on a late-season rally of legendary proportions.

From August 15 to August 31, they went 13-3. In September they won 20 while dropping only seven, and finished winning all three games in October, clinching the wild card on the last day of the season. Overall, they went 36-10 from Aug. 15, and won their last eight to close out the struggling Giants and fading Cubs.

In the first round of the playoffs, the Astros took out the Atlanta Braves in five games, with a dramatic 12-2 win in game five for the franchise's first playoff series win in its history.

The Cardinals ousted the Los Angeles Dodgers in four games, dominating them with the exception of a stellar game 3 shutout by Jose Lima. In the Cardinals' three wins, they outscored the Dodgers 8-3, 8-3 and 6-2, and that's how they've done it all season - bludgeoning opponents with big bats from Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen, Jim Edmonds and August addition Larry Walker. Their starting pitching is solid, though unspectacular, and the bullpen is among the best in the majors. If the Cardinals are leading after 5 innings, it's usually over. They can hand the ball over to Ray King, Steve Kline, Julian Tavarez or rookie Danny Haren, who has been used in long relief and as a spot starter. In the ninth, if the game is close, Jason Isringhausen gets the call. Izzy matched Lee Smith's Cardinal record for saves this season with 47.

While the Cards sport 4 15+ game winners in their starting rotation (Matt Morris, Chris Carpenter, Jason Marquis and Jeff Suppan), their ace may be 11-game winner Woody Williams, who was 4-2 down the stretch with 5 no decisions. In four of those non-decisions, Williams gave up only 7 earned runs over 26.2 innings - good enough to win most of those games. Williams will start game 1, Wednesday night in St. Louis.

The Astros come into the series a little arm weary, as their aces, Roger Clemens and Roy Oswalt, pitched games 4 and 5 against Atlanta and need rest, so Houston will start Brandon Backe (5-3, 4.30 era) in game 1 and Pete Munro (4-7, 5.15) in game 2.

The good news is that closer Lidge didn't appear in game five and will be good to go at least two innings. It may be hollow consolation, however, as the Cardinals have been beating up on average pitchers all year - and Backe and Munro are about as average as you can get - so the games may not be close in the late innings.

With the pitching match-ups favoring the Cardinals, this one should be over in 5 games. Either Oswalt or Clemens will win a game, but that's about it. The Cardinals have an unstoppable lineup, and the pitching match-up advantage will prove to be too much for the Astros to overcome.

Seattle looks to make amends at New England Rick Gagliano | 10/13/04

The Seattle Seahawks were cruising along, leading 27-10 last week at home against the St. Louis Rams, when the Rams unleashed their offense, scoring two touchdowns and a field goal in the last 5:34 of the game to send the game into overtime. The Rams won on a 52-yard strike from Marc Bulger to Shaun McDonald three minutes into the extra session for a 33-27 win.

Letdown? Meltdown? The Seattle secondary had controlled the Rams' offense all afternoon, but Bulger never let up, the Rams' receivers never let down and the Seattle game plan was in tatters. Instead of playing tight coverages and pressuring Bulger, the Seahawks went into a shell, rushing four, playing a soft zone and allowing the potent Rams' passing attack to suddenly find new life. By the time the Seattle coaches had figured out what was going on, it was over. Ray Rhodes decision to blitz on 3rd down in overtime resulted in the game ender as McDonald got loose against single coverage with no deep help.

The loss put the Seahawks at 3-1, ended their 10-game home winning streak and raised some questions about the psyche of this team as they travel to New England in week 6 to face the 4-0 Patriots, arguably the best team in the league, and ostensibly the team with the least amount of distractions, questions or internal problems.

The teams square off at 1:00 Eastern time in Foxboro, as the Patriots attempt to extend their league-record winning streak of 19 games. Will Seattle come fully prepared, lesson learned from last week's debacle, or will the loss linger onto the field in the players' minds? At the very least, should the game be close or the Pats get behind, a couple of Patriots may remind their opponents on the field with a little well-timed trash talk, so the memory will not be erased.

While this game gets top billing, it's unfortunate that the Seahawks couldn't enter it undefeated - they should have. In any case, they have the defense (if they play the entire game) to match up well with the Pats, and the offenses are similar, blue collar types that get the job done. This one will be a low scoring affair, and likely very close. Either team can win by a field goal.

After a bye week, the Philadelphia Eagles get back into action, at home against the struggling Carolina Panthers. There's a serious revenge factor in play in this one, as the Panthers won last year's NFC championship over the Eagles, so expect the boys from Philly to not be very brotherly-lovely. In fact, this one will be very physical and nasty in the trenches.

The Panthers are pretty banged up and need a win badly, but this is the wrong time and the wrong place to be in need. Donovan McNabb and Terrell Owens have been clicking since the first snap of the season, and that will continue. The Philly defense is also just beginning to find their best stride. Coming off the bye week, the Eagles should tear up the Panthers, holding nothing back.

Other games of interest are Kansas City at Jacksonville, where the Chiefs look to capitalize on their Monday night win over Baltimore and a week off. The Jags were the surprise of the NFL until everybody noticed they were 3-0. They promptly lost the next two games, but hold on, they were playing Indianapolis and San Diego, two of the hottest teams in the league.

Oddly enough, the Chiefs are favored on the road here, but don't expect them to just run and pass through Jacksonville's defense. Sure, the Chiefs won a game, but they are still only 1-3 and their defense is porous. Leftwich and the Jacksonville offense will have a fine day and pull out a win in a shootout.

Pittsburgh, an amazing 4-1 and with a new star in QB Ben Roethlisberger, travels to Big D to tackle the Cowboys, who were embarrassed by a rejuvenated NY Giants squad, AT HOME! The Dallas fans won't want to see their beloved 'boys drop two straight, but the Steelers are looking pretty solid right now. Sure, we've all heard the praises of coach Bill Parcells, but the chanting after this one will be for another Bill, the NFL's longest tenured coach, Bill Cowher.

And speaking of overrated coaches, how ugly is it getting in Washington for Joe Gibbs? Now 1-4, the Redskins are becoming the punch line in bad jokes. After winning their opener against Tampa Bay (another bad team with another overrated coach), they've dropped consecutive decisions to the Giants, Dallas, Cleveland and Baltimore. Yes, CLEVELAND! They are on the road this week, facing the 1-3 Bears, who, despite not having much of a roster, do have heart, and that will probably be enough to overcome the gutless Redskins.

Green Bay travels to Detroit to help the Lions make the playoffs on Sunday. Monday night's spectacle at Lambeau was humiliating for the entire Packer organization. Tennessee mauled them in every aspect of the game. The truth is that the Packers have no defense and no confidence on offense. They can't tackle. A losing package and a sad situation for one of the game's best - Brett Favre, who still has competitive fire and a great arm.

The Vikings get dome-field advantage at New Orleans. Say what you like about the Vikes, but on artificial turf, their offense is outstanding. Of course, there are other artificial aspects to this game, like the Vikings' defense, Saints' coach Jim Haslett's job security, the fact that the Saints have actually won two games this season. Haslett will be fired shortly after this game, which, in NFL parlance, means after a couple more losses.

In the AFC West, Denver travels to Oakland, looking for its 5th win in 6 tries. The Raiders are just looking, it seems, having allowed nearly 24 points per game. They are perfect at home, however, with wins over Buffalo (the Bills got robbed), and Tampa Bay (so what?).

San Diego hopes to keep pace a game back, as they travel to Atlanta. The Falcons have a cushy lead in the decimated NFC South, but that may all change on Sunday. The Chargers have discovered that QB Drew Brees can put the ball on the numbers, and have opened up the offense for him. Neither of these teams sport much in the way of defense, so with Michael Vick on one side and Brees and RB Ladainian Tomlinson on the other, watch for explosive plays and a fun, wide open, wild game.

The Cleveland Browns can actually get to .500 as they host the Bengals, who look like the Bengals we all know and loathe, while the NY Jets, the worst-looking 4-0 team ever, travel to San Francisco, heavily favored. The 49ers are not as bad as their 1-4 record may indicate. QB Tim Rattay, injured in their opening 19-21 loss to Atlanta, missed two games, both losses, returned against the Rams, losing 24-14, but looked sharp in San Fran's first win, last week over Arizona. The Jets will have to play defense this week, something they haven't need to do much in wins over Cincinnati, Miami and Buffalo. In their other win, over San Diego, they benefited from 4 Charger turnovers and still only won by 6, 34-28. They may become the worst-looking 5-0 team, but it won't be easy.

Tennessee hosts Houston, in a battle of 2-3 teams, while Buffalo welcomes Miami to upstate New York. While the Titans will have more of a struggle against the upstart Texans, the Bills should be able to find their first win for new head coach Mike Malarkey.

Monday night looks like a stinker of massive proportions, with Tampa Bay visiting the St. Louis Rams. While most of St. Louis will be more interested in the baseball Cardinals, the Rams should provide comic relief in a romp over the retooled-but-still-punchless Bucs.

That's a wrap! Enjoy the games!

NCAA Week Review and Preview
Rick Gagliano | 10/12/04

Sooners Batter Punchless Longhorns, Georgia Shocked by Vols

In a week that saw five teams take their first losses of the season, the top two teams in most polls and rankings came through with flying colors. While Oklahoma and USC continued to roll towards a dream match-up in January, the Georgia Bulldogs suffered a complacency letdown and fell victim to a well-prepared, tenacious Tennessee Volunteer squad.

Just the week before, the Bulldogs looked unstoppable, battering LSU, 45-16, while the Vols were being manhandled, 34-10 at home by the Auburn Tigers. The Vols came into the game seeking redemption and got it by mercilessly hammering Georgia's running backs - holding them to a combined 96 yards rushing - and harassing QB David Green, sacking him five times. The final score of 19-14 was not as close as it looked, as the Vols took a 19-7 lead early in the 4th quarter and held the Bulldogs at bay, giving up a late TD to RB Danny Ware for the final tally.

With Georgia suffering their first defeat of the season, it left Auburn as the lone undefeated team in the SEC, and the Tigers were rewarded with a nice move up in the polls as others slipped.

The Big 12's annual Red River Shootout between Oklahoma and Texas was barely a contest as the Sooners overwhelmed the Longhorns on both sides of the ball. Texas' star running back Cedric Benson was humbled (if that's possible) by the Sooner defense, which held the Heisman candidate to 95 yards on 23 carries.

With the running game not going well, Texas turned to Vince Young and a trio of inexperienced receivers who were blanketed all day by Oklahoma defenders in the 12-0 whitewashing.

For the Sooners, it was business as usual, with a nice surprise from freshman running back Adrian Peterson, who ran for 225 yards and made big plays when needed.

The USC Trojans scored a 23-17 win over rival California, erasing memories of last season's 24-21 win by the Golden Bears - USC's only loss of the season.

In addition to Georgia, Texas and Cal tasting defeat for the first time this season, Minnesota saw a 24-17 4th quarter lead turn into a 27-24 loss to Michigan in the Big House, while Wisconsin easily handled Ohio State, 24-13, in Columbus, handing the Buckeyes their second loss in five games.

Coming up on Thursday, Oct. 14 is a marque match-up between Louisville (4-0) at Miami (FL) (4-0). The Hurricanes rank #1 on scoring defense, though Louisville is not far behind at #3. The Cardinals rank #2 nationally in offense, clicking for an average of 43.3 ppg, with Miami clocking in at #27, 32.3 ppg.

Saturday will showcase two more games between teams without losses. Purdue hosts Wisconsin in the Big Ten, while Arizona State travels to the coast to take on the USC Trojans.

Unbeaten Virginia is on the road to face Florida State, who escaped the Carrier Dome in Syracuse with a 16-13 win last week and has only one loss (to Miami). Oklahoma State faces a key test at home vs. Texas A & M. Homebound 6-0 Auburn takes on Arkansas. Boise State looks to remain unbeaten at Tulsa.

With the college season at full throttle, Oklahoma appears to be the favorite to capture the national championship, with Auburn, Wisconsin, Purdue, Miami and Louisville the main threats. Considering the regional TV bias, Louisville and Wisconsin may be the best teams nobody has seen, and they certainly are competitive on a very high level.

NCAA Week Review and Preview
Rick Gagliano | 10/4/04

Ranks of College Unbeaten Sure to Dwindle

Through last weekend's action, 16 college football teams remain undefeated, though over the next ten days, at least three are guaranteed to lose as Texas faces Oklahoma and USC plays Cal on Saturday, October 9, while Louisville invades Miami the following Thursday.

All of the aforementioned teams are currently undefeated and all but one (Louisville) are ranked in the Top 10, so there's sure to be some shifting and shaking in the polls over the next two weeks.

Rounding out the list of the unbeaten - in no particular order - are Georgia, Virginia, Auburn, Purdue, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Oklahoma State, Arizona State, Utah and Boise State.

This logjam of solid unbeatens means that the BCS will have its work cut out for it when it gets around to ranking the teams that will eventually play in the various bowl games and for the National Championship.

The top two squads - the Sooners and Trojans - face the most imposing schedules in their quest to remain unbeaten. Oklahoma, if they handle Texas, follows that game up with Kansas State, and then has two critical road games - Oklahoma State (Oct. 30) and Texas A & M (Nov. 6) - back to back. If they survive, there's still the Big 12 championship game after that, and the these Sooners are well aware of what can happen in a one-game do-or-die situation, especially after their debunking debacle against Kansas State last season.

The Trojans will be looking for revenge this weekend at Cal, since it was the Golden Bears who ruined their undefeated season (and chance to play in the national championship game) last year, with a 24-21 overtime victory. But the Bears will be as formidable a foe as Southern Cal faces all year. With three victories already in the books, Cal has outscored its opponents by a combined tally of 146-35. The QB-WR combination of Aaron Rodgers to Chase Lyman is among the best in the country and the Bear defense has all the gears greased, last week holding a pretty good Oregon State team to a mere seven points.

Whichever team comes out on top this Saturday, they both have to get past unbeaten and improbable Arizona State, with USC having first crack at the Sun Devils on the 16th. It's conceivable that the Trojans could go from being ranked at the top of the polls to also-ran status in just an 8 day span. Cal can certainly bruise them. Arizona State could inflict mortal wounds.

Down in south Florida, the Hurricanes are only undefeated because of their defense, which kept them in their season opener against Florida State until the Miami offense finally tied the game with 30 seconds to spare and won it in overtime, 16-10. Since then, they've limited three opponents to 16 points total, and while they are off this weekend, they'd better be ready for the high fliers from the north, Louisville, come Thursday.

The Cardinals (4-0) already have recorded shutouts against Kentucky and North Carolina, pummeled Army, 52-21, and ran roughshod over East Carolina this past week, 59-7. Louisville ranks fifth in the nation in total offense, while Miami is #2 in total defense, so this ESPN game is one not to be missed.

Most of the other unbeaten teams reside in the Big Ten and SEC, where things will get somewhat sorted out over the next six weeks. Georgia and Auburn both hammered their opponents last week, with the Bulldogs overpowering LSU, 45-16 and the Tigers putting the kibosh on the previously-unbeaten Tennessee Volunteers by a 34-10 margin. These two are clearly the class of the SEC and will meet at Georgia on November 13 and probably one more time in the SEC Championship.

Over in Big Ten country, it's a wide open affair, as both of the perennial favorites - Michigan and Ohio State - have lost already. The Wolverines were upset at South Bend weeks ago and the Buckeyes finally found out that you can't win without an offense as Northwestern picked them off in overtime last week. That still leaves Minnesota, Wisconsin and Purdue without losses and it's anyone's guess which of these will play survivor and reach the Rose Bowl, possibly the Orange.

If anybody can make it through unscathed, it could be either Wisconsin or Purdue, who meet on Oct. 16. The Boilermakers rely on the strong arm of Kyle Orton and an improving defense, while the Badgers' defense simply pounds opposing offenses into mistakes and poor field positions. With Purdue getting all the praise - especially after whipping Notre Dame 41-16 under the golden dome last week - Wisconsin has quietly run up a 5-0 record, allowing a mere 26 points overall and leading the nation in total defense at 193.2 yards allowed per game.

Or it could be Minnesota, who has the easiest schedule of the bunch. They miss Purdue and Ohio State, but have to play at Michigan this weekend and at Wisconsin on Nov. 6. The Golden Gophers have the best offense-defense balance of the contenders and they may just be good enough to capture the Big Ten title.

The odd teams in the mix include Boise State and Utah - both of which could finish the season without a loss - and the 4-0 Virginia Cavaliers, who still have Florida State, Miami, Maryland and Virginia Tech ahead of them. The Cavs will be fortunate to finish the season still ranked when the grueling ACC schedule concludes.

Sixteen undefeated teams may sound like a lot right now, but consider this - there were 20 prior to last weekend and we're only two weeks into conference play. Ohio State, Tennessee, West Virginia and Fresno State all suffered initial losses on Oct. 2nd and there's more on the way.

NCAA Week Review and Preview
Rick Gagliano | 9/26/04

USC Survives Scare, Drops to #2

Even though every team except one in our Top 25 won last week, two teams (USC, Boise St.) dropped due to poor on-filed performance and one (Boston College) dropped out. The USC Trojans, who scrambled for a come-from-behind 31-28 win against Pac-10 rival Stanford, found themselves looking up at the Oklahoma Sooners, who took over the #1 position with their dominating win over Oregon.

For Boise State, the result was to drop completely out of the Top 25, being replaced by Arkansas. While Boise was hanging on to win 28-27 against BYU - courtesy of a missed late field goal by BYU - the Razorbacks powered their way to a 27-10 home win against previously unbeaten Alabama. Arkansas' only blemish on their 3-1 record is a 22-20 home loss to the Texas Longhorns. It won't take long to determine if the Razorbacks are deserving to be in the Top 25 as they play at #21 Florida this Saturday.

Also appearing in the Top 25 this week is Michigan, with a 30-17 home win over Iowa. Michigan was out of the rankings after their loss to Notre Dame and an uninspired 24-21win over lowly San Diego State. The Wolverines got in when Boston College took their first loss of the season, dropping a 17-14 decision at Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons took advantage of three missed field goals by the Eagles and twqo long TD passes to record the win. While BC was a victim of poor kicking and a couple of game-breakers, the loss is not insignificant. Still, we're unconvinced that Michigan is a better team than BC.

Badgers and Gophers and Buckeyes, oh my!

Top to bottom, which college football conference is the best? As conference play continues, we're going to get some clues to that burning question, though the final answer will still be very much in doubt.

The power conference list this year is comprised of the usual suspects - ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10 and perennial favorite, SEC. While the Big 12 only has three teams ranked in the AP Top 25, two of them - Oklahoma and Texas - are in the top five, while Oklahoma State, at 3-0, is near the bottom of the list. But the Big 12 boasts a solid seven teams which could be considered Top 25 material. In addition to the three aforementioned, Kansas State, Texas Tech, Missouri and Colorado all have put together quality programs and winning records.

The real sleeper in the bunch may be either the Colorado Buffaloes or the Missouri Tigers, who square off this weekend in Boulder. The Buffs have been perfect thus far, with wins over Colorado State, Washington State and North Texas putting them atop the Big 12 North Division, while the Tigers hold a 2-1 record, losing a 24-14 shocker at unheralded Troy (Alabama), sandwiched in between poundings of Arkansas St. (52-20) and Ball State (48-0). Missouri was ranked #18 preseason and have since dropped off the radar, while the Buffs have gotten a stray vote here and there. Whoever wins this week's game should be considered for inclusion in the rankings.

Notably absent from any Big 12 discussion is the Nebraska Cornhuskers, and that's because they are in a rebuilding and learning mode under new head coach Bill Callahan, who brings a pro-style offense which focuses on passing rather than rushing, which has been a staple at Nebraska for longer than they've been growing corn in the fields. The 'Huskers may be able to make the transition, but making it a success this season is doubtful.

Over in the ACC, four teams have spots in the polls - Miami, Florida State, Virginia and Maryland, and if this were next season, they might have a fifth - Boston College, who will make the jump from the Big East along with Temple next season. The Eagles might have been 4-0 if not for three missed field goals in a 17-14 loss at unranked Wake Forest last week. The other ACC teams worthy of mention as potential Top 25 notice would be Virginia Tech and North Carolina State. The two met last weekend with the Wolfpack coming out on top of a 17-16 score. NC State is now 3-1, with a loss to Ohio State, while the Hokies are 2-2 with a loss to USC opening their campaign. That puts the number of quality teams in the ACC at six, making them a very solid conference.

In the Pac-10, USC, Cal and Arizona State are ranked, but after that, only Stanford and Oregon, and maybe UCLA could be considered even outsiders at cracking the Top 25 anywhere, so we'll pass on the West Coast. Besides, there's little emphasis on defense in the conference, a deficiency which likely accounts for their shoddy bowl performances over the years.

That leaves us with the two conferences with more ranked teams and better programs throughout - the SEC and Big 10. From both conferences, only Georgia ranks in the top five, but the Bulldogs may not even be the best team in their conference. Tennessee, Florida, Auburn and LSU are all ranked and any of them can go toe-to-toe with Georgia. As a matter of fact, the Bulldogs will have to prove it on the field, as they play each of those teams in upcoming weeks, in addition to Arkansas, whose only loss was to Texas, 22-20. That gives the SEC six sold squads, but after that Alabama and Kentucky are also-rans and Vanderbilt, Mississippi and Mississippi State look like the weak sisters. The SEC certainly has a quality lineup, but two of these teams - Tennessee and Florida - are light on defense, and that's going to bruise them in the rankings.

And that brings us to the Big Ten, a conference devoted to running the football and playing solid defense. Tops among the ranked teams is Ohio State, with arguably the best defense in the conference and maybe the country. The Buckeyes survived a scare against a very good Marshall team to stay undefeated and in the top ten. Following them are Purdue, Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin, with Iowa, once ranked as high as 16th, dropping out of the running after consecutive losses to Arizona State and Michigan.

After that top five, Illinois and Indiana are good, but inadequate teams, while Penn State and Northwestern will likely finish with under-.500 records.

With so much of the focus on perennial Rose Bowl participants Ohio State or Michigan, the other three ranked teams get scant attention, but deserve better. Purdue has one of the best passing attacks in the nation; Minnesota boasts a powerhouse running game and Wisconsin has allowed only one touchdown and a total of 19 points in its four wins. The big showdown here may not be the November 20 Ohio State-Michigan tilt, but November 6, when the Gophers come in to play the Badgers.

Would the Gators or Bulldogs like to come up to Minnesota or Michigan for a little game, say around Thanksgiving? Not likely. The biting cold and gusty wind might do more damage to southern squads than the ferocious hitting and 230+ pound running backs of the Big 10 teams. Big 12 schools would doubtless fare better in such an environment, and that's food for thought.

All said, the Big 10 looks like the roughest, toughest conference of all. There are no breathers in the schedule, no do-overs via conference championship games (as in the Big 12, SEC and others), everybody hits hard on defense, and by mid-October the weather can get downright nasty.

For the next few months, we'll watch the conference rivals knock heads and maybe, by January 3, we'll know not only which is the best team in the land, but which conference plays the best football. My money's on the Big 10.

NCAA Week Review and Preview
Rick Gagliano | 9/19/04

Plenty of action in the standings this week as teams begin their conference schedules and the overall picture begins to take shape. At the top, USC and Oklahoma look like a lock for the Orange Bowl National Champinship game, though, as any astute college football fan knows, quite a bit can change before January.

The thriller in Knoxville, pitting Florida vs. Tennessee, should have gone into overtime but was eventually marred by a questionable late call which swung the game in the Vols' favor. After Volunteer kicker James Wilhoit missed a PAT which would have tied the game at 28, Florida was running down the clock on third and 4 when - after the play - a side judge called a personal foul against Florida wideout Dallas Baker for punching Tennessee's Jonathan Wade which moved the ball back 15 yards and stopped the clock. The actual play went for a short gain and brought up 4th down.

What made the call so questionable was that the ref clearly saw Wade throw the first punch, but penalized the Baker and Florida for retaliating instead of calling offsetting personal fouls or the correct call - nothing. The quick skirmish was far away from and after the play. Instead of punting from their 37 and running the time down to about 25 seconds, the Gators punted from the 22 with the clock stopped at 55 seconds. Tennessee - with no timeouts left - took over at their own 39 and moved the ball to Florida's 33. With six ticks remaining, Wilhoit kicked a 50-yard field goal for the win and redeption. Florida was robbed of a huge win - not by the opposition, but by a nameless, faceless ref who made a horribly bad call.

Nevertheless, these things will happen during a season, but they shouldn't. True, Florida failed to stop the Vols on that final drive, but the Vols had an extra 30 seconds to work with and 15 fewer yards to get into field goal range. That ref and his call should be taken under review by the NCAA. The penalty was blatantly erroneous and had a direct impact on the outcome of the game. So far, no word from the NCAA, but we'll keep you udated with any developments.

A day later, even though the CBS announcers were incrdulous initially over the call, the media isn't touching it.

A roundup of action in the National Football League and preview of upcoming games. Rick Gagliano | 9/15/04

Week 1 Recap and Preview of Week 2

Best performance - The Green Bay Packers. Brett Favre and Ahman Green combined workmanlike performances to hand last season's Super Bowl loser Carolina Panthers a 24-14 loss. The Packer defense also limited the effectiveness of Carolina's offense by blitzing repeatedly and getting in QB Jake Delhomme's face, forcing mistakes.

Favre was 15 of 22 for 143 yards, a TD and no INTs, while Green carried the ball a career high 33 times, rolling up 119 yards and 2 touchdowns. The Packers capitalized on three Carolina turnovers (the big one a fumble by Delhomme at the beginning of the second half that resulted in a Green Bay TD) while playing turnover-free football themselves.

Favre and Green then led a 12-play drive to score another TD (3 yd. pass from Favre to Green) and put the game on ice with a little over 2 minutes left in the third quarter.

The Pack looks like a serious contender if not the very best team in the league right now. Their only problem my be at corner, where Al Harris is filling in for holdout Mike McKenzie, but that problem may be solved as McKenzie reported to the Packers and practiced on Wednesday. Possibly, McKenzie saw the potential of going to the Super Bowl and didn't want to miss his opportunity. Whatever the case, having him back at corner will solidify the secondary considerably.

Next up for the Pack is their home opener against the Chicago Bears, who put in one of Week 1's worst performances, losing 20-16 at home to Detroit who had previously lost 24 consecutive road games. The Bears committed 5 turnovers, the final one a last-minute Rex Grossman interception which ended a potential game-winning drive.

The Bears will be up against it in Green Bay, who bested them by an average of 13 points in the four games they played the past 2 years .

TO equals TDs for Philly

The Philadelphia Eagles also looked impressive in their home opener, slamming the NY Giants, 31-17. Terrell Owens, picked up from San Fran in the off-season, grabbed three TD passes from Donovan McNabb and the defense held off a couple of late NY drives to seal the win. McNabb was flawless, going 26 of 36 for 330 yards, 4 TDs and no interceptions. Brian Westbrook chipped in with 119 yards on 17 carries, easing fears that the Eagles would be lacking in the running game.

In Week 2, the Eagles host the Minnesota Vikings on Monday Night, in a star-packed football fest. The Vikes come off a thoroughly dominating performance at home, smashing the Dallas Cowboys, 35-17.


The Buffalo Bills led the Jacksonville Jaguars the entire game until the very last play, as Byron Leftwich tossed a 7-yard lob to Ernest Wilford for the win, 13-10. The Bills cannot find a way to win close games. Dating back to 2002, in games decided by 5 or less points, the Bills are a dreadful 0-7. New head coach Mike Mularkey hopes to turn that trend around. This week, the Bills travel to Oakland to face the Raiders who lost on the road to Pittsburgh, 24-21, in Week 1.

Jacksonville will host Denver, who is coming off a decisive 34-24 home win over Kansas City. Bronco QB Jake Plummer looks more comfortable and confident in his second season as the Denver signal-caller and the Broncos seemingly won't miss departed Clinton Portis, as former Sooner Quentin Griffin carried the ball 23 times for 156 yards and 2 TDs, matching the performance of KCs Priest Holmes (26-151-3).

The Chiefs host Carolina at Arrowhead, a pivotal early match between two supposed contenders coming off Week 1 losses.

In Washington, Joe Gibbs returned to the NFL with a 16-10 win over Tampa Bay. The Redskins only turned the ball over once, but it resulted in Tampa's only TD, a 9-yard fumble recovery by the Bucs' Ronde Barber. Washington plays the Giants at the Meadowlands while the Bucs, who produced only 169 total yards (30 rushing) against the Skins, host the Seattle Seahawks, 21-7 winners on the road vs. New Orleans in Week 1.

In the worst performance by a winning team, the St. Louis Rams won their home opener by a 17-10 score over the Arizona Cardinals, amassing 448 yards of offense, but committing 3 turnovers and converting only 4 of 10 3rd down opportunities. The Rams head East to face Atlanta, also a winner in week one (21-19 at home over San Fran).

Other Week 1 winners included the New York Jets, the Cleveland Browns (a surprising effort on both sides of the ball in a 20-3 shellacking of Baltimore), Tennessee (over Miami, 17-7, next up, home vs. Indy), New England (a 3 point win over Indy, next at Arizona), and San Diego (a road win over Houston (27-20).

Ichiro's Run At The Record
Rick Gagliano | 9/7/04

Ichiro Suzuki total hits in season Ichiro Suzuki, imported from Japan in 2001 by the Seattle Mariners, is approaching one of baseball's longest-standing records - total hits in a season. The St. Louis Browns' George Sisler set the mark in 1920 at 257, and though many great hitters - DiMaggio, Williams, Carew, Mays, Brett - have come and gone, nobody has really come close other than Ichiro, who set the record for most hits by a rookie in 2001, with 242.

The other close high-hit marks are also ancient. After Sisler are Lefty O'Doul (Philadelphia, 1929) and Bill Terry (New York, 1930) at 254, Al Simmons (Philadelphia, 1925), 253; and Rogers Hornsby (St. Louis, 1922), 250. So Ichiro stands alone as the outstanding batsman of our generation, and his hitting prowess grows more legendary with each passing day.

After collecting two hits in a loss to C. C. Sabbathia and the Cleveland Indians last night, Ichiro is within striking distance of Sisler's mark, with 226 hits in the book and 25 games left in the season.

Can he do it? 31 hits in 25 games would, for your average player, be a pretty good month. But Ichiro is no average player. There is no month this season in which he did NOT have at least 25 hits. He started the season with 25 hits in April in only 23 games. At the end of the month, he was batting only .255 overall. Struggling. In May, 50 knocks, raising his average to .335. A cool June, with a mere 29 hits, knocked his average down to mere mortal territory of .315. In July he had 51 hits and was batting .346. Ichiro went on a blistering pace in August, with 56 hits in 121 at bats (a ridiculous .463 average) to put his season's average at .371.

Thus far in September, he's even hotter, going 14 for 25 (.560), while in the midst of a 12-game hitting streak. He's confortably atop the AL batting lead at .379. The way he's seeing the ball, Sisler's record will be toast by September 27 or 28, when the Mariners square off at Oakland with the A's. Fittingly, he'll be facing one of the league's best starters, possibly Troy Hudson, Mark Mulder or Nick Zito.

Does it matter? Career-wise, Ichiro is 3-for-7 against Hudson, 4-for-10 against Mulder and 5-for-6 against Zito. Ichiro eats quality pitchers for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even late-night snacks.

Is .400 within reach? Ichiro is unreal, but to reach .400 for the season, he'd need 53 hits in his next 100 at bats (figuring he's going to get, on average, 4 ABs per game in each of the next 25 games). It's a distinct possibility, as Ichiro has proven to be somewhat unstoppable when he sets his mind to getting on base. Notably this season, he's had five hits in a game 3 times, 4 hits five times, and 3 hits in a game an ungodly 21 times. 38 times he's had 2 hits in a game, so he's had 67 mutiple hit games thus far. He's gone hitless only 21 times this season and has had hitting streaks of 14, 16, 21, and his current 12-games. In his last 57 games, he's been held without a hit in only five times. In three of those 5 games he reached base by walking, and in one game he was hit in the head in the third inning by Kansas City pitcher Jimmy Serrano, so he's been on base in all but one game of the last 57 in which he had at least three at bats. Pretty incredible.

Check our special coverage page every day, as we count down Ichiro's run to the record with daily updates.