Forget the patriotic parades, Uncle Sam imitators and backyard bottle-rocket wars. For the Noise, the celebration of our country's conception is best known for one gluttonous event that Ben Franklin and Bernie the Brewer would equally find enthralling: Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest.
The tension for the annual sausage showdown has mounted for weeks. Joey "Jaws" Chestnut, who fell 1¾ dogs shy of Takeru "The Tsunami" Kobayashi at Nathan's last year, eclipsed the Japanese product's seemingly unbeatable 53¾ record by voraciously devouring 59½ weenies and buns in 12 disgustingly-fantastic minutes in early June.
Alongside some of the most memorable toe-to-toe clashes in sport – Ali vs. Frazier, Chuck Liddell vs. Rampage Jackson and Nolan Ryan vs. Robin Ventura – this year's highly anticipated Tsunami/Jaws frankfurter fracas could become an instant Coney Island classic.
That is, if Kobayashi, a game-time decision with jaw arthritis, can stomach the pain.
Can the Ichiro of professional eating pull a Kirk Gibson?
With a mustard-clad Chicago-style in hand, I'll be watching intently.
In honor of Nathan's 32nd sausage square-off – and to somehow swing a tie-in to fantasy baseball – I am proud to unveil my first annual "Big Noise All-Wiener Team," commemorating those Little Smokies who've dogged owners over the first-half. Processed cheese injections are optional.
C: Brian McCann, Atl
'07 Stats: .258 BA, 7 HR, 41 RBI, 24 R
Why a wiener? Barely even the best fantasy catcher on his own team – Jarrod Saltalamacchia is closing in fast – McCann has us all feeling a bit McScrewed.
MI: Rafael Furcal, LAD
'07 Stats: .275 BA, 2 HR, 29 RBI, 40 R, 9 SB
Why a wiener? With only two dingers and a lowly nine steals on the season, maybe the Dodgers front office should stand a bikini-clad Alyssa Milano behind second to entice Furcal to steal.
CI: Scott Rolen, StL
'07 Stats: .271 BA, 4 HR, 35 RBI, 32 R, 4 SB
Why a wiener? When part-timers Tony Graffanino, Ryan Ludwick and Luis Terrero have more homers, Summer's Eve commercials are in your future.
OF: Andruw Jones, Atl
'07 Stats: .199 BA, 13 HR, 47 RBI, 35 R, 3 SB
Why a wiener? The Kielbasa of the All-Wiener Team has nearly three times more strikeouts than extra base-hits this year. Oh, and when Snow has more hits on his MySpace page (see the "Notable Noise") than you do on the season, it can't help offseason contract negotiations.
SP: Roy Oswalt, Hou
'07 Stats: 7 W, 121.0 IP, 3.42 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 83:43 K:BB
Why a wiener? Tied for 58th in WHIP with superstars Kyle Lohse and Jason Hirsh, Oswalt must be possessed by the spirit of Joaquin Andujar.
RP: Chris Ray, Bal
'07 Stats: 4 W, 14 S, 37.2 IP, 5.02 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 36:15 K:BB
Why a wiener? It's only right your manager installs a BPBC when you've yielded 11 ER in your last 11 IP and are buried behind 15 middle relievers – including the all-powerful Matt Guerrier – in overall Yahoo! ranks.
Here are this week's flames, lames and stars of video games:
|'07 Stats: .266 BA, 0 HR, 4 RBI, 14 R, 13 SB, 12:10 K:BB|
|Market Value: Moderate Buy|
|Lowdown: Now that Pat "The Doormat" has almost gone the way of the Dodo, Bourn has just about become an everyday player in Philly. The 24 year-old top prospect is a line-drive hitting (21.2 LD% in 72 career at-bats) wheel-spinner equipped with a discerning eye (13.5 BB%). Scouts have noted he's a stronger version of Juan Pierre and based on his perfect 13-for-13 stolen base tally this season, they might be right. Charlie Manuel inserted the youngster behind Jimmy Rollins in the two-hole and moved Shane Victorino down to the sixth spot over the past week. Bourn responded with a pair of runs, hits and steals, which could lead to a prolonged experiment at that spot. Because he's a great contact hitter (.327 BABIP) who can draw walks and utilizes his blinding speed well, he's worth an immediate pick-up for those 12-team owners scrambling for steals. Fearless Forecast (Post-ASB): .275 BA, 2 HR, 19 RBI, 60 R, 22 SB.|
|'07 Stats: .257 BA, 2 HR, 21 RBI, 30 R, 16 SB, 32:25 K:BB|
|Market Value: Moderate Buy|
|Lowdown: Nah, na na na nah! Bartlett is the hot stepper. The 27 year-old finished off June by going a fiery 11-for-31 (.354 BA) with seven RBI and seven steals. His recent fleet-footed streak has vaulted him into the two spot, nestling him between Luis Castillo and Joe Mauer in Ron Gardenhire's order. Bartlett has always been a consistent line-drive hitter (career 22.0 LD%), but has normally lacked plate patience. This season, he's improved his BB% by 36 percent and appears to be on the brink of a behemoth second-half. If he remains a fixture in the two-spot, he'll most likely finish third behind Jose Reyes and Hanley Ramirez in total steals at shortstop. At this point, he's more valuable than Felipe Lopez, Rafael Furcal and Julio Lugo. Fearless Forecast (Post ASB): .285 BA, 2 HR, 29 RBI, 50 R, 18 SB.|
|'07 Stats: .202 BA, 13 HR, 31 RBI, 21 R, 64:14 K:BB|
|Market Value: Moderate Buy|
|Lowdown: Ross is the reason why chicks really do dig the long-ball – even when you regularly sleep with Mr. Mendoza. Since June 15, Ross has hammered seven homers and driven in 13 runs. The Rob Deer of catchers, Ross is a BA liability who typically hits homers in bunches. Despite hitting an unpalatable .188 in June, he finished the month ranked ahead of notable names Paul Lo Duca, Brian McCann and Kenji Johjima in Yahoo! leagues. Because Ross is an unmitigated fly-ball hitter (48.5 FB%) who plays half his games in the Great American Bandbox, he's an excellent second backstop for owners in search of a cheap boom-stick – if you can tolerate a .200 BA. Fearless Forecast (Post ASB): .215 BA, 11 HR, 29 RBI.|
|'07 Stats: .230 BA, 10 HR, 45 RBI, 32 R, 77:35 K:BB|
|Market Value: Strong Buy|
|Lowdown: The 200 or so hippie "Fans for Change" who actually vacated PNC Park after three innings on June 30 must have been LaRoche owners. Bummer they didn't stick around to witness his highest single-game RBI total of the season (3). The power-hitting LaRoche Pirates fans expected to solve their lefty power woes is beginning to round into form. In LaRoche's past 11 games he's posted a FB% of 48.5 and an LD% of 28.5, which indicates he's beginning to drive the baseball with more authority. With 11 hits, two homers and six RBI in his past six games, it's time to cast a lowball offer before he explodes. Traded straight up for Jermaine Dye, Ted Lilly and Jeff Francis over the past week in Y! Plus leagues, LaRoche is a Bucko bargain who could impersonate Richie Sexson after the break. Remember, he hit .323 in the second-half last year. Fearless Forecast (Post ASB): .300 BA, 17 HR, 45 RBI, 45 R.|
|Zack Greinke||RP, SP||636||4.2|
|'07 Stats: 4 W, SV, 67.2 IP, 4.52 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 55:18 K:BB|
|Market Value: Moderate Buy|
|Lowdown: If "preppie" Zack Greinke is ever given the ball in the ninth, he should enter games with this "Saved by the Bell" Zack Attack classic playing over the loudspeakers. Demoted to the Royals pen by Buddy Bell on May 10, the maligned former uber-prospect appears to have found his niche. Since June 10, the 23-year-old has posted a stellar 1.04 ERA, 0.64 WHIP and a 9.5 K/9. Greinke has added 3-5 mph to his fastball, which now can reach the ferocious 97-98 mph range. The Royals front office has already expressed interest in grooming Greinke as a stopper and with Octavio Dotel a likely trade target, Bell could ease him into the role alongside Joakim Soria come August. Follow his situation closely. He could be a sneaky source of 5-7 saves during the most important months of the season.|
|Nick Swisher||1B, OF||185||95.5|
|'07 Stats: .269 BA, 10 HR, 45 RBI, 34 R, SB, 63:56 K:BB|
|Market Value: Moderate Buy|
|Lowdown: Swish, dude, have you seen my bong? Immersed in an abhorrent 23-105 (.219 BA) slump since June 1, Swisher has puffed 35 points off his season average. Inspecting the numbers more closely, it appears the poster-child for "Moneyball" has been the victim of unfortunate luck. His solid .318 BABIP and superb LD% in June (23.1) implies his laser beams have been unable to find open spaces. More specifically, his recent 5-for-39 slide can be blamed on a touch of gopheritis as his 43.3 GB% attests. Since Swisher draws an insane amount of walks (17.1 BB%) and lays consistent wood on the baseball, he should rebound quickly. For those curious what it will take to acquire his services, he's recently commanded Placido Polanco, Mark Buehrle and Delmon Young in single swaps. Fearless Forecast (Post ASB): .273 BA, 16 HR, 46 RBI, 44 R.|
|'07 Stats: .269 BA, 3 HR, 33 RBI, 34 R, 2 SB, 50:15 K:BB|
|Market Value: Moderate Sell|
|Lowdown: I'm not sure what's more newsworthy in New York: Cano's dip in plate prowess or Mrs. A-Rod broadcasting f-bombs on t-shirts. Although Cano's BB% has increased to a mind-blowing 4.7 percent this year (3.6 percent in '06), his contact numbers have nosedived sharply, due to a 32 percent rise in punchouts. To make matters worse, Cano has also seen a significant decrease in LD% ('06: 19.9, '07: 15.3). Joe Torre flip-flopped Cano and Bobby Abreu on July 1 to stimulate the two-bagger's bat, but to no avail – he went 0-for-5 with two strikeouts and stranded five. Until he exudes more plate patience, I'm not buying he can put together another .365 BA, 11 HR, 51 RBI second-half like he did in '06. Shop him to a sympathetic Pinstripe fan who still believes he's the Dominican Don Mattingly. Fearless Forecast (Post ASB): .275 BA, 6 HR, 35 RBI, 40 R.|
|Troy Glaus||3B, SS||198||90.1|
|'07 Stats: .279 BA, 11 HR, 36 RBI, 35 R, 44:33 K:BB|
|Market Value: Hold|
|Lowdown: Glaus' maddening boom-and-bust cycles makes him fantasy's version of irritable bowel syndrome. After hitting safely in 13 of his first 15 June games, the irregular Blue Jay corner finished the month in a 7-for-35 (.200 BA) swoon. During his recent slump, Glaus has seen a distinct rise in GB% (44.4) and drop in LD% (11.1), which implies he's been too top-heavy through the zone. However, the former Bruin has showcased an improved plate approach, notching his finest BB% (14.1) since 2001 and his best K% (21.9) of his 10-year career, which means a quick turnaround is likely. With a resuscitated Vernon Wells hitting in front of him, look for Glaus to match his 17 HR, 44 RBI second-half average of the past two seasons – whether in Toronto or elsewhere.|
|'07 Stats: .234 BA, 5 HR, 19 RBI, 39 R, 9 SB, 52:30 K:BB|
|Market Value: Moderate Sell|
|Lowdown: "Nine ½" Weeks' batting average has tumbled faster than Mickey Rourke's career. The repercussions of wrist surgery last August have tormented the Brewer two-bagger. He has not homered since April 25 and it appears his value solely resides in his ability to steal bases. Interestingly, Weeks has become a more patient hitter at the dish (12.8 BB% vs. 7.7% in '06), which will help him develop into the 20/20 threat we all are waiting for, possibly next year. However, with his wrist's durability in question he will be far less valuable than say Mark Ellis the rest of the way. Since Corey Hart has blossomed into one of the deadliest lead-off men in baseball, Weeks will likely languish in the eight spot over the remainder of the season, negatively impacting his RBI and runs totals. It's time to cut him loose in shallower 12-team leagues if you have serviceable alternatives.|
|'07 Stats: 10 W, 123.0 IP, 2.20 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 98:31 K:BB|
|Market Value: Strong Sell|
|Lowdown: Grab a sharpened razor and shave Haren – along with his Bruce Sutter beard – off your team. Haren's five earned runs in five IP against the vaunted Yankees bats on July 1 was his worst outing since September 24, 2006. Similar efforts are on the horizon. Why? First, Haren has tallied a 15 percent hike in FB%, but has cut his HR/9 from 1.25 to 0.73 this year – since he's likely to face Detroit at least twice after the break, this number could rise. Second, Haren's four-leafed clover .243 BABIP means his luck will run out eventually. Finally, sprinkle in a 19 percent surge in BB/9 from last year and you've got a recipe for a significant second-half ERA jump. Because Haren, the top-rated starter in Y! games, is demanding Johan Santana-like trade value – he was dished for Ichiro, Prince Fielder and J.J. Putz in solo deals this week – now's the time for profit seekers to deal him to a blindfolded owner. Fearless Forecast (Post ASB): 6 W, 100 IP, 4.32 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 78 K.|
TRUE OR FALSE?
We've all seen these seemingly ambiguous statements on exams and quizzes since elementary school, now the classic test teaser gets a fantasy makeover. Each week, I'll tackle pressing diamond topics with a direct, succinct answer. Please, keep your eyes on your own paper.
Your boy Scott Baker has finally figured out how to pitch and is worth owning in a 12-team mixed league. – Darren, Des Moines, IA
Answer: True. Finally, Baker (0.78 percent owned) has shed his Little Debbie stigma and showcased his true mound might. In his past two big league starts against potent foes Detroit and Toronto, the same pitcher that dominated the International League with a 41:4 K:BB in 42.2 IP earlier this season was on display (15 IP, 2 ER, 7 H, 12:2 K:BB). As I stated back in late May when I flippantly labeled Baker a "strong buy," I've always been enamored with his warehouse of weapons and overall potential. His most glaring weakness this year has been leaving his mid-90s fastball up in the zone (1.34 HR/9), but his newfound command has made the natural sinking action on his heater lethal. With Matt Garza breathing down his neck, he is very motivated to perform. If he tosses a gem this week against the run-scoring inept Chicago White Sox, grab him.
Answer: True. Bills could make deep-minded fantasy owners wealthy in the second-half. In his last start against the Padres, Billingsley (9.4 percent owned) delivered seven shutout innings, striking out nine while walking none. Most impressively, he threw 77 percent of his pitches for strikes, an astonishing leap from his 60 percent strike rate in his previous '07 appearances. Bills has the stuff – a sick mid-80s slider, 92-95 mph fastball and plus curve – to be a top-of-the-rotation starter. If his pristine command continues, he could rack similar totals as Matt Cain did post-break last year (3.26 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 99.1 IP, 99 K). However, given his age (22) and overall lack of experience I would anticipate an ERA about a point higher. Regardless, he'll outshine the walk-happy Johnson.
Upset you don't have a forum to express your disdain for drafting Andruw Jones? Do you question why on earth you're not a fantasy expert? This is the place for you to vent your thoughts, tirades and frustrations. Can you bring the noise?
Brad, I just wanted to let you know that J from last week's Noise has no clue what he's talking about. I think you're the opposite of a tool. I read your columns and fantasy advice all the time and think it's very helpful. I do all of my baseball and football research through you and normally am very successful. Keep up the good work and I'm looking forward to winning another fantasy football championship with your help this fall.
Tim, Appleton, WI
Hey Evans, I'd be willing to bet you were the nerdiest kid ever. During recess in elementary school, when everyone played tag, you sat all alone and made crappy predictions about sports figures, correct?.
JT, New York, NY
Noise: Goofiest, maybe. Nerdiest, not a chance. Most of my pre-pubescent days were spent peddling Pixy Sticks out of my Transformers lunchbox to sugar addicted kids at recess and hoping the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile would randomly show up to my school – when it did, it was the greatest day of my third grade life. Honestly, my love for fantasy sports probably stems from collecting sports cards. For years I searched out rich kids who could afford to buy '86 Donruss wax packs to see if they might want to swap one Jose Canseco Rated Rookie for my collection of Wally Joyners. Once Joyner realized he was no Rod Carew after 1987, the value of my collection vanished along with thoughts of owning the much marveled Canseco. Funny, now I can get a Donruss Canseco for far fewer dimes than a ticket to see the new "Transformers" movie. As for my Joyner collection, it was rolled and smoked in college.
I've got to disagree with some of you. Evans might be slightly corny and overly attached to the use of puns as well as Rich Hill, but I get a kick out of it. Much like Brad, I prefer my pitchers to be tall, left-handed and in the NL – appearance is a mere bonus. Keep up the good work, Evans. Oh, and if you can, shoot some of those "provocative pics" my way. Ha!
Michael, L'Ville, NJ
Okay. I'm putting a stop to this. You are no longer allowed to write about "provocative pictures of Rich Hill." Period.
Chris, Burbank, CA
Noise: Dad, does this also mean I can't jog around the neighborhood in my favorite Cubby blue hot pants anymore? Chris, there is nothing inappropriate about having a borderline man-tasy for a starter who sports a 3.49 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 8.2 K/9 and .215 BAA. With the exception of his recent patch of rough starts, the guy has yielded an enormous mid-round value and has helped my staff stay afloat in the Y! Friends and Family League. Hey, I could have said "seductive snapshots of Prince Fielder in a banana hammock." Now that's a disturbing image.
Brad, are you drunk when you write this stuff? It's hilarious. I think you and your colleagues are carrying the torch of fine sports journalism. Oh, and yeah, you do come up with some insightful comments while you're at it. Keep it up. This reply is clearly written while I am drunk …
Robin, Fort Mill, SC
Noise: … And fis waz writon wile fistung a Colt 45. Fo' shizzle! Sorry. Tony La Russa hijacked my keyboard. I had no idea he was fluent in Spanish and Snoop.
What am I suppose to do with Scott Kazmir? I'm tired of his consistently average play and his sky-high WHIP. After six June starts Kazmir's 10.44 K/9 is great, but a WHIP of 1.75 is killing me. Any chance he'll turn it around? Who could I possibly get for him in a trade?
Frederick, Hightstown, NJ
Noise: The inexperienced, undisciplined Kazmir we saw in the first-half of 2005 (4.59 ERA, 1.49 WHIP) has blunderingly returned. Kazmir's BB/9 total (4.62) has regressed to an almost identical level as '05 and given his vulnerability for the long-ball this year (1.07 HR/9), his ERA and WHIP numbers have become disastrous. The good news is that his BABIP currently sits at a practically unfathomable .342, which means his ERA is likely to descend to a more acceptable number, probably in the 3.75-3.85 range by year's end. Another positive sign for a turnaround: Kazmir's historical ERA in the second-half is a half point better than the first-half. Try and exercise patience, but if you can't, he's attracted the likes of Aaron Rowand, Yovani Gallardo and Jeff Francoeur in solo Plus league trades this week.
Whoa, watch yourself buddy. Snow is anything but "former." I hear he has a new album coming out this year. Watch out for that! You know I will be. Ahem …
Mike, Toronto, Canada
Noise: If we could only unite Snow with Vanilla Ice, House of Pain and Bubba Sparxx for a worldwide "Whiteout" Tour. Until that event of musical splendor, carved eyebrows and Tommy Hilfiger advertisements comes to light, kill some time and check out Snow's highly entertaining MySpace page. Lickey boom-boom down, Mike …