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By Adam Hoff


Two days ago I started a new fantasy football column, but shut it down when I ran out of interesting material.  Yesterday, I wanted to get a few things on paper about the MLB playoffs, but couldnít find enough to fill an entire column since the ALCS has been nothing short of awful.  Finally, today I saw a Subway commercial that just had to get some airtime.  Where in the world was I going to put that? 


Ultimately, Iíve decided to just throw it all in together into one big Insider Stew. 


Beltran update.  I already went on and on about Carlos The Great in my previous column, but I need to keep a constant update on him.  Now that my favorite athlete in the world, Johan Santana, has been eliminated, Iíve turned my obsessive ways to Beltran.  After setting an NLDS with four jacks and a new mark by becoming the first player in history to score nine runs and drive in nine runs in five playoff games, he has resumed his mashing against the Cardinals.  With a home run in each of the four games, Beltran continues to shatter records nearly every time he comes to the plate.  He has now tied Barry Bonds for the most home runs in a single postseason with eight (Bonds needed 17 games, Beltran has done it in eight) and set a record for most consecutive playoff games with a home run by going deep in five straight games.  Plus, as with the ALDS, heís hitting all his home runs in HUGE spots.  The latest came in the bottom of the seventh in a tie game and proved to be the winning blast.  Add in his unbelievable range in centerfield, terrorizing speed on the bases, and ability to work the count and you are looking at the most dominant player of his generation.  The guy is downright otherworldly.


(Quick note on Santana.  How good does he look now?  Nobody on the Red Sox pitching staff can get A-Rod, Sheffield, or Matsui out and the Yanks are piling up the runs in record-setting fashion.  Then youíve got Santana who gave up one run in 12 innings in the ALDS.  But yeah, that was a great idea to take him out after five, Gardenhire.)


Shame on you, Blockbuster and Subway.  For years, companies have victimized their customers simply because there arenít any other choices.  Microsoft has been the worst (buy Macs!  Support breaking up monopolies!  Sorry about that Ö), but Blockbuster and Subway have been pretty bad as well.  If youíve wanted to rent a movie anytime over the past few decades, chances are you had to go through Blockbuster.  With that comes late fees, movies that are out of stock, and exorbitant prices.  Same with Subway.  If you were hungry for a tasty sandwich, you had to go overpay and get barked at by surly Subway employees.  Letís face it, they had us over a barrel.  Then, along came Netflix and Quiznos.  Online movie ordering with everything in stock, no late fees, and no trips to the video store.  Toasted subs full of flavor!  The monopolies were over.  So what do they do?  Change their customer service tactics?  Lower prices?  Reach out to the community?  Nope.  All they did was copy the better ideas.  Go to Blockbusterís website and all youíll see is one big Netflix rip-off.  Turn on the TV and all youíll get are Subway commercials featuring their new, innovative ďtoasted subs.Ē  Wow, what an idea.  Iím telling you, the whole thing makes me sick.   


Bad Times in ALCS Play.  Despite Bostonís valiant comeback last night to avoid being swept, the ALCS has been nothing short of a disaster.  Sure, Yankees fans are happy, but Boston fans and baseball fans in general are bummed.  By my count, that is 2-1 in favor of ďthis sucks.Ē  Regardless of how you feel about the Sox or whether you think that this whole Sox-Yankees thing is being blown out of proportion, you just canít be happy with a lame duck series.  Because thatís what weíve got; the Red Sox are Dead Men Walking right now.  Teams that go down 0-3 in a baseball playoff series are 0-25 all time.  Nobody has ever come back to win four straight.  You think itís going to start now?  I just tip my hat to Boston for even winning Game Four.  It took some serious heart to overcome that blown lead in the 6th and to scrape together a comeback against Mariano Rivera.  Now if they can get a win from Pedro at Fenway today and at least force it back to New York, they can go into the offseason with some pride left intact.  To be honest, I didnít think there was much chance of even that happening after they embarrassed themselves to the tune of a 19-8 shellacking on Saturday night. 


Good Times in NLCS Play.  As recently as last Friday, both playoff series would have gone under the same heading of ďbad times.Ē  However, the Astros came back home where they have been amazing for the past month and knotted up the series.  Houston has five people to thank for getting back in this series: 1) Beltran, obviously.  2) Roger Clemens, for turning in his best Curt Schilling circa 2001 impression in Game Three.  3) Brad Lidge, who finally got to pitch and proceeded to throw four innings of one hit ball with eight Kís.  Yeah, heís not bad.  4) Dan Wheeler, who has been the unsung hero out of the bullpen with consecutive effective middle relief appearances Ė something that didnít seem possible for an Astros pitcher.  5) Lance Berkman, for quietly raking like crazy at the plate.  Thanks to Beltran, nobody has noticed that Berkman is hitting .463 with three jacks in the series. 


Now that Houston is back in the series, can they win it?  With an offense like that, anything is possible.  However, with Brad Backe and Peter Munro slated to throw the next two games, it looks bleak for the ĎStros.  If Backe was going in Game 6, I think they would have a better shot.  Hereís why: They basically need to win one of the next two games to get the ball back to Clemens for Game 7.  (By the way, it feels like the baseball world is starting to let Phil Garner off the mat.  No!  If he hadnít blown every single decision in the Atlanta series, the Astros would be getting either four of five starts out of Clemens and Oswalt instead of Backe and Munro.  If Houston loses this series, itís because their manager never game them a chance.)  If Backe was throwing Game Six, after the traveling day, they would have Lidge ready for anything.  They could get five gutsy innings out of Backe, an inning out of Wheeler, and then three majestic innings from the best pitcher in the National League (thatís right, I said best pitcher).  Instead, they are throwing Backe in Game Five with Lidge coming off of back-to-back multi-inning saves.  I have a bad feeling they are going to go to that well again tonight and that a tired Lidge might yield.  And it does no good to get him extra rest for Game Six because I donít think Munro can A) keep the game close or B) get past the fifth inning.  In short, they need a multi-innings Lidge for the Backe start and theyíre not going to get it.  Weíll see what happens but I just donít think Houstonís pitching situation could be set up any worse than it is.  It says here that neither the Cards or Yanks lose again.


The Presidential Election.  Iím not going to tip my hand as to my political leanings or my voting interest here, but I would like to make a request of the political world.  Please, for the love of all things good and holy, give us some unbiased feedback!  Nearly every single analyst or columnist or pundit that offers an opinion is coming at things with an extreme personal slant.  After a debate, we get Democrats and liberals telling us that Kerry won easily and we get Republicans and conservatives saying the exact opposite.  Wow, what a shocker.  Why canít we get some unbiased coverage?  Is that so hard?  I mean, we donít have to flip to Baseball Tonight and hear Pro-Yankee sentiment or Red Sox blowhards spinning things all night.  They mix it up, tell both sideís story, make objective comments, rely on statistics Ö you know, the things that journalists are supposed to do.  You donít know who Harold Reynolds wants to win, right?  You only know who he thinks will win.  What he observed.  What his expert analysis leads him to believe.  Itís ridiculous that political analysts cannot be held to the same standard of objectivity.  If Iím not entirely sure about politics and want to find out who ďwon the debate,Ē I shouldnít have to be subject to a bunch of obvious and insulting toeing-the-party-line BS from the media.  Iím not sure why everyone else is willing to put up with it. 


Okay, enough about that.  (But if anyone knows of a source of truly objective political analysis, please let me know.  Iím on the hunt for the Election 2004 version of Baseball Tonight.)


Mini-Fantasy Corner.  Weíll be bringing the Fantasy Corner back for football next week and then in a big way for hoops down the road, but there just isnít enough news to warrant an entire piece this time around.  I did, however, want to get my All-Bust Team on paper now that every player has had the chance to log five games.


QB Ė Carson Palmer.  As a not-so-proud Matt Hasselbeck owner, Iíd like to point out that the Bald One hasnít been too great either, but this is Palmerís award all the way.  After a decent Week One, heís been just atrocious.  Great move by the Bengals though, going with Palmer over Kitna. 


RB Ė Domanick Davis.  Heís been dinged up so this isnít all his fault, but right now he looks like the second best running back on the Texans, after Jonathon Wells.  Not a good sign.  Add in his myriad of fumbles and lofty draft day status and you are looking at a huge bust.  Put it this way: in consecutive weeks Iíve started Emmitt Smith and William Green over Davis and been completely happy with my choices.  Ouch. 


RB Ė Kevan Barlow.  Iím not sure there are words to explain how bad Barlow has been.  Heís had less than 40 yards in a game Ö twice.  His team never runs the ball since they trail 21-0 early in every game.  He stands on the sidelines on passing downs (every down) and watches Tim Freaking Rattay pile up cheap fantasy stats.  Yesterday I celebrated like crazy because he ran for 71 yards and a TD.  Could things be worse for Barlow and his owners?  The answer is: no, not really.


TE Ė Dallas Clark.  I was going to flip a coin between Boo Williams and Jerramy Stevens, but they both had decent games two Sundays ago.  Clark also caught a touchdown pass last weekend but it was for only one yard and it was his first and only catch of the season.  He was supposed to emerge as the #3 target in the Colts passing game but is still sitting behind Harrison, Wayne, Pollard, and Stokely, not to mention James out of the backfield. 


WR Ė Jerry Porter.  What a piece of crap.  After looking absolutely awesome in 2002, Porter suffered through an injury-plagued season of disappointment a year ago.  Looking back, he was great in í03 compared to his play so far this season.  My word, what a joke.  Heís got a head coach that loves to air it out, a strong-armed QB (granted, that prefers throwing it to the other team), and the title of ď#1 receiver.Ē  So why canít he do better than three catches for 44 yards?  Beats me. 


WR Ė Santana Moss.  There have been a lot of brutal receivers this year, but considering that Moss was going ahead of fellow young wideouts like Andre Johnson and Darrel Jackson I think it is reasonable to expect more than 29 measly fantasy points out of him.  Granted, itís not all his fault since the Jets have been running the ball so much, but thereís no reason he hasnít been able to establish himself as Penningtonís primary target.  You shouldnít be sharing red zone looks with Jared Sowell and Jonathon Carter for crying out loud.


K Ė Who cares. 


Defense Ė Carolina Panthers.  If you read the latest Fantasy Corner, you know Iím a little irritated with this whole category in general.  However, after sorting through all of the scoring systems, Iím left with the distinct impression that the Panthers are the most disappointing defense in fantasy football this year.  The Cowboys give them a run based on draft status and performance, but the Panthers have just been abysmal.  They are giving up points and yards at astounding rates, they are last in the league in both fumble recoveries and sacks, and they havenít even come close to scoring a touchdown on defense.  Ouch.  Plus, with an offense incapable of moving the chains, itís only going to get worse. 


Practice?  Are you Kidd-ing me?  You all remember the Allen Iverson practice tirade of a few years ago.  How could you forget?  Any time AI does anything good it gets tainted with some wisecrack about ďpractice!Ē  Now weíve got Jason Kidd, a guy with a checkered past that seems to get glossed over, refusing to attend New Jerseyís evening practices because it ďdoesnít fit in very well with his driving schedule.Ē  Are you serious?  First he spends all summer whining about the direction the team is headed, then he starts looking for a trade despite the fact that knee surgery is scaring everyone away, and now the supposed team leader with the max contract isnít showing up  for practice.  And nobody is saying a word!  Letís go people, no double standards. 


Beware the Big 10 Undefeated.  Donít look now but Wisconsin is following the 2002 Ohio State blueprint to perfection.  Solid QB that doesnít make mistakes, dynamic running back, stifling defense, and terrific coach.  Not to mention being underrated to start the season.  Now the badgers are #6 in the BCS and looking great for the stretch run.  They donít have to play a Big 10 title game.  They already won at Purdue.  There chances of actually finishing the regular season undefeated are terrific.  Meanwhile, Miami looks completely beatable.  Florida State has a loss.  Oklahoma has games at OSU and Texas A&M remaining, as well as the always-dangerous Big 12 title game.  Auburn seems like a shaky title contender.  In fact, of the remaining undefeated major conference teams, only USC looks as likely to finish unbeaten as Wisconsin.  My ďbig conference team with a great defense and good leadership that is flying below the radarĒ pick was Virginia, but Iím more than happy to turn things over to the Badgers. 


Adam Hoff is a columnist for WhatifSports.com and a member of the Fantasy Spots Writers of America.  He can be reached at ahoff@uchicago.edu or by WIS sitemail at adamo112.

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