Division Races at the Break

Well the Mid-Summer classic is upon us baseball fans meaning it is time for many of the Boys of Summer to take a much needed break from the daily grind that comes with playing a season that last 162 games. With at least half the games in the books for every team the divisional races are starting to shape up across the boards.

Before I get to the good stuff I just have to say this is what I like about baseball. Now you can see where the strategy comes in with playing certain guys more, others less, and watching your matchups. The game becomes more than just a collection of hits, outs, runs, and strikes; it’s like the players are chest pieces with pawns like Jose Bautista kicking butt and rooks like Ubaldo Jimenez dominating whenever they play.

On to the updates

The AL East is still the toughest division in the league. Toronto has fallen off pace and the Red Sox even appear to be having trouble keeping up this year. Tampa Bay ruled the division early on, but is now shaping up for the wildcard behind the defending champion Yankees.

Chicago has made the AL Central more interesting with their 15 run explosion on Sunday launching them into first place. It had been the Tigers and Twins trading off all season long, but it seems as if the Twins might be losing gas.

I would not be surprised if it ended up being the Rangers and Yankees in the ALCS. Texas has just gotten better and better as the season goes on. The addition of Cliff Lee definitely makes them the odds on favorite to win the AL West for sure.

In the NL East there was a time were all five teams were within legitimate reach. Going into the break the Nationals are in all too familiar a place with the Marlins not doing much better than them. Both New York and Philly are within reach, but will have to overcome a combination of poor play and injuries to compete with the Braves. Hats off to those guys for making manager Bobby Cox’s last season memorable.

The NL Central is just dreadful; there is no better way to describe it. Two teams have stood out above the rest almost the entire season—the Cardinals and Reds with barely a game or two separating them most of the season. They could really go either way, but right now I would have to side with the Reds; their young pitchers are dominating, the old ones are playing up to par, and the young bats are swinging big.

San Diego in the NL West is the surprise of the season; no one expected them to dominate as much as they have. A combination of young pitchers and a little veteran talent have been one of the best starting staffs since the season started. Colorado and Los Angeles finish the season 2 and 2 ½ games back with San Francisco only 4 back. This division could very well come down to whoever gets hot at the end.

In the meantime folks it is time to sit back and enjoy the break. The Home Run Derby has a few serious long ball hitters; here’s hoping Big Papi (David Ortiz) can find the pop in his bat once again,

Beer: In honor of the Mid-Summer Classic I want to feature some of my favorite beers here. Their made by some of the more well-known micro-breweries, but don’t hold that against them.

My longtime favorite has been Pete’s Rally Cap Ale from Pete’s Brewing Company in San Antonio, Texas. These guys combine pale and wheat malts with Mt. Hood hops and lemon to create one of the most refreshing, crisp, and downright tasty beers I’ve ever had. How can you not love a summer beer with a baseball player on the label?

A more recent find (for me at least) is Samuel Adams Summer Ale from the good people at the Boston Beer Company in Boston, Massachusetts. Along with malted wheat these guys throw in some lemon and Grains of Paradise, a little extra something from Africa that helps give this beer a fruity, refreshing taste like no other.

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This Soccer Game is Alright

Last weekend at the tender age of 36 I was able to be deflowered; yes, folks, I was a virgin (sort of).

Now before your minds all start to wonder to places I can’t talk about in this blog let me clarify the situation—I was a World Cup virgin. I had never sat down and watched an entire World Cup match prior to the USA/Ghana match.

I must say that I completely enjoyed the game, and would have had I not watched it with a bunch of friends and pitcher after pitcher of cold beer. By the end of the game I felt as if I was tired just from watching these guys run across that field so much!

Sadly, the game did not end in our favor that day, and so like most fair weather soccer fans in the United States my interests returned to the Boys of Summer, mini-camp, and really fast cars (all of which happen to go great with ice cold beer; coincidence?!?).

As I sit through my fourth hour of the NFL Network live (in reruns) from somewhere talking about someone who will never make a roster my mind wanders back to South Africa. I guess over the last few weeks of following updates, reading articles, writing a few, and watching bits and pieces of games, I became a little invested in what went on over in South Africa.

So I clicked off of the suit talking about what 8-8 team is going to compete and which football player got busted for a DUI today to see how the World Cup was progressing.

Wow! Did I miss a lot! I was glad to see that England had gotten its behind kicked; from the interviews and articles I had read those guys seemed a little too smug to me. I was a little surprised to see Lionel Messi and his Argentina teammates get handled so easily by Germany. Yes, I know that Germany is one of the best teams in the world, but Argentina was no slouch either.


Since Ghana ousted the U.S. I was quite glad to see Uruguay dispose of them. The Brazil/ Netherlands match had to be something to behold. Having been the most successful team in World Cup history and one of the favored teams in the tournament getting upset by the Netherlands 2:1 had to hurt. From what I found to read it seemed as if Uruguay gave the Netherlands a good fight, but were simply out matched against the fourth best team in the world.

With the Netherlands in the Finals all that remains is for the Spain/ Germany match to be decided.

I don’t know if I would agree with the ‘beautiful game’ nickname for the game (although I would if it refers to the wives and girlfriends), but I can say that I will not wait four years before I watch my next World Cup game.

Beer: Newcastle Summer Ale from the good people at Scottish & Newcastle UK Ltd in Scotland- I love summer beers. To me they are so much more refreshing, crisper, better tasting—I’m getting thirsty just typing this out!

Recently I got to enjoy my first Newcastle Summer Ale. The taste was a little more bitter than many summer ales (the nature of Newcastle), but it was as refreshing, crisp, and easy to drink as most summer brews. I am not sure how strong it was, but I had about six and still knew what my name was.

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In previous posts I have admitted to not being a big soccer guy; I just never got into it. I can honestly say that is in the process of changing now.

The drama of an event that takes place only once every four years like the FIFA World Cup and is no picnic to even qualify for is better than any of the crap that is being presented as entertainment on television. We got guys blaming poor performances on their incredibly hot girlfriends (losers), teams going on strike, underdogs over-performing, officials making questionable calls (so basically being officials), and some outstanding finishes.

You got to just love the journey that the U.S. team has had so far. It starts off with an improbable tie against the group favorite, England. The poor goalie has to still be kicking himself for letting that one get by.

Then you have the match against Slovenia. I almost feel sorry for these guys; now they would have never been in the position to possibly get to the next round had they lost the game against the U.S. as they should have. Regardless, the second half comeback by the U.S. to get the tie (2-2) was impressive to say the least.

Advertisers had to love how this was playing out. Thanks to England playing to a draw against Algeria, the final game in the Group stage would be the deciding factor. It was not just as simple as win and you are in for the U.S.; they had to be concerned with the goal differential with England as well.

I was intrigued. As a sports guy, I love the thrill of the chase, the agony of defeat, and the urgency that comes with playing for the chance to move on. It almost made me glad to be out of work and able to watch the game on television.

Man, can it get any better?!? I think not! It was torture to watch England go up; a win would put them into the next round, but a loss would not necessarily knock Slovenia out. A scoreless tie by the U.S. in their final match against Algeria and Slovenia would win the tiebreaker (the goal differential).

With time ticking down for the U.S., I found myself wishing it was much later in the day- I wanted a beer yeah, I know- It’s five o’ cock somewhere). I could not believe that it was coming down to something like this; failing to move on without ever actually losing.

And then there was Landon Donovan. Time expired, playing on injury time, the next time play stops and the game is over, and this guy makes the lone goal of the game to send the U.S. to the next round. USA wins 1-0.

Congratulations U.S. team! Not only are you representing the never say die attitude of your country extremely well, but you are converting people like me into soccer fans. Come Saturday I will be watching the USA/ Ghana match with a cold beer in hand.

Beer: Jubilee Ale from the good people at Island Brewing Company in Carpenteria, CA- in honor of the hero of the day, Landon Donovan, this beer from his home state of California was chosen.

Malt lovers will take a liking to this beer. The sweet sent will remind you of caramel and roasted malt as will the delicious taste as you drink it down. You don’t really get a sense of much of a hop presence until the finish; there is a slight bitterness to it. This beer does go down nice and easy with a rather crisp finish. At 6.8%ABV this beer will make you feel a little jubilee after you drink a few.

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A World Cup First and a Righteous Send-Off

Bringing the FIFA World Cup to the nation of South Africa brought a first to not only the proud country, but African continent. Never had a tournament the size of the FIFA World Cup been played on the continent of Africa.

However, in doing so the nation new that they stood a chance at accomplishing another first in World Cup history, becoming the first host nation not to make the second round.

Bafana Bafana, as the South African soccer team is known as, had a tough road in order not to be the first for such a dubious distinction. France was the runner up in 2006 and the frontrunner for the group; Mexico had made it to the second round the last four Cups; and 2-time champion Uruguay would be no easy game either.

A supporter of South Africa's national soccer team "Bafana Bafana" watches their 2010 World Cup team. (Reuters)

South Africa started strong by playing Mexico to a 1-1 draw in the opening game of the tournament. It was the loss to Uruguay by the score of 3-0 that would end of being the nail in the coffin though.

Like South Africa, Mexico would end the opening round with a victory, a draw, and a loss. South Africa would lose the tiebreaker, goals allowed, by 5-2.

South America’s success in the group was not a big surprise, but what no one would have figured was the horrendous performance that the French would turn in. There really is not too much that can be said about these guys except way to figure into the international stereotype of being gutless cowards and losers. I don’t care what the coach or anyone in the organization did to upset the players. The team will move on in the end by simply cutting these embarrassments, and finding players that have enough pride in themselves and their nation to persevere through whatever difficulties there may be to at least turn in a respectable performance (be it in victory or defeat).

Instead these guys were so self-centered that they blew an opportunity to shine on a truly international stage. After being defeated by the host nation, 2-1, the coach could not be bothered to shake the opposing coach’s hand. Talk about shameful. Now the nation will have to wait another four years before it can rid itself of such a national embarrassment.

In the end, the National Federation got the last laugh on the pitiful French soccer team. They cancelled the posh, first class return flight for the team and made them ride coach for the roughly 20 hour trip; should have made ‘em swim.

Beer: Castle Lager from the good people at South African Breweries plc in Johannesburg, South Africa- out of respect for the South African team it is only appropriate to profile a beer from the company that sponsors the team.

Castle Lager was originally brewed over 100 years ago to quench the thirst of gold prospectors that had worked hard all day in the hot sun. To do that they came up with a beer that is a little crisp when you drink it with a slightly bitter taste that never comes up sweet.  At just 5% ABV it will take a few of these to turn you into a rabid soccer fan!

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Saxons win Churchill Cup

Results Are In!

For the Cup (1st) – Saxons     38 Canada     18

For the Plate (3rd) – France     24 USA     10

For the Bowl (5th) – Russia     38 Uruguay     19

The final day of competition for the 2010 Churchill Cup was spirited, bit for the most part, it was clear early who was going to win in all three matches.

Playing in Red Bull Arena, the home of the New York Red Bull of Major League Soccer in New Jersey the Saxons did not have a hard time defeating the Canadians in the Cup match between the two squads. They jumped out to a 17-0 lead before the Canadians battled back to be down 20-13 before half. When it was all said and down, the Saxons were determined not to lose in the Finals like they did to Ireland A last year. With player of the tournament Nick Abendanon leading the way, England easily won 38-18.

With the win the Saxons won their fifth Cup (out of the eight that have been played) and third in the last four years.

The most competitive match of the day came between the Eagles of the U.S. and France A. While the score would make it seem as if the French were easily in control of this one, but that could not be further from the truth.

France got out to a 7-0 lead about ten minutes into the match. After some intense back and forth competition, the U.S. was able to get on the board with about ten minutes left in the first half. France seemed to come alive then, attacking with a vengeance. The Eagles valiantly tried to counter attack after attack by the French, but the French eventually got another try (and conversion) before the end of the half to lead 14-7.

The competition would pick up where it left off in the second half with both teams battling for possession and field position. About 13 minutes in the U.S. was finally in position to take advantage of a penalty by France to close the gap to 4; France opened the gap back up to 7 just a few short minutes later though. In the end, France would seal the victory with a late try and conversion to broaden the lead to 24-10.

One of the great things about rugby tournaments like this is just because you didn’t win during competition does not mean you will not play on the final day. Neither Russia nor Uruguay had defeated anyone going into their match on Saturday in New Jersey. Uruguay had the first chance to score (which they failed to convert), but it was the Bears from Russia that dominated play. Russia would get out to a 26-5 lead at the half. Uruguay would outscore Russia 14-12 in the second half, but it was not nearly enough to comeback from the hole they had fallen in during the first half. Russia wins 38-19.

Beer: Jersey Summer Breakfast Ale from the good people at the Cricket Hill Brewery in Fairfield, New Jersey- With rugby players and fans being the semi-crazy folks that they are it would not be surprising to see them having a few cold beers with breakfast (especially since they still might be up from the night before). What better beer to drink than a breakfast beer?

Jersey Summer Breakfast Ale is a refreshing beer that is full of flavor and personality, just as fit for breakfast as it is a barbeque. A little fruity and tangy, it’s the rugger’s Hermosa. Breakfast Ale is easy to drink and perfect on a hot day (or morning) to cool you down. I’m not sure how strong this beer is, but I can tell you that 3-4 will not put you on your behind.

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Year of the Underdog

It would be easy to write about the way the U.S. team got screwed against Slovenia (still don’t know where that country is). Then again, since every writer in this side of the hemisphere is writing something along those lines I figure I’ll be the exception to the rule.

However, as a sports loving American with an outlet it is my duty to acknowledge it- yes, we got screwed.


As a soccer fan in passing, my allegiance is to my country and my country alone; so when it comes to the rest of the FIFA World Cup tournament I like to see the underdogs do well. With plenty of soccer left to go in the first stage of competition, it appears as if there may be some underdogs looking to move on.

No one would have ever thought that Slovenia would lead in Group C at any point in competition yet two games in they are the only team in Group C with a victory. A win over Algeria paired with a tie against the U.S., the Slovenian team has a two point lead over both England and the U.S. (who have two draws at this point and no victories).

United States' Michael Bradley, right, celebrates with fellow team member Herculez Gomez, center, after scoring a goal during Friday's match at Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Serbia has got to be my favorite though, mostly due to the story behind these guys. The last time they were in the World Cup they were the Serbia and Montenegro team. After kicking some serious behind in the qualifying round for the 2006 World Cup, it would not have been surprising to see these guys make some noise once competition began.

Instead, the team that only allowed one goal in ten matches had a horrid showing. To make the long, dreadful story short (and bearable) they finished dead last (32nd).

This time around they stand alone as the Serbian National Team. Not given much of a chance facing Germany, one of the top seeds in the tournament, and Ghana, widely considered to be the best team from the continent of Africa, the Serbians have done more than hold their own. A one point loss to Ghana and a one point victory over Germany has the Serbians sitting in a three team tie for first in Group D.

There have been some underdog draws and victories by teams that will likely not make the next round, but don’t be surprised to see these two squads move on.

Beer: Twist of Fate from the good people at the Moonlight Brewing Company in Fulton, CA- in honor of Maurice Edu, the guy that got cheated out of a goal against Slovenia, a beer from his home state of California was chosen for review.

Twist of Fate is an amber ale that has more than just an ironic name to it. Hops lovers will go for this beer. From the aroma to the flavor, this beer is all about the hops with just enough malt to give it a balanced feel to it. At 5.6 % ABV, it is not the strongest beer in the bar, but it has more kick than a soccer team on crutches.

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Congratulations Lakers

In case some of you forgot with all the excitement around the FIFA World Cup, there was a championship being decided in a sport that Americans actually watch every year (not just every four).

Basketball fans were not treated to the best of games last night, but the best of seven series between the two storied rivals was one for the ages nonetheless.

In case you were too busy watching Mexico upset France or Argentina destroy Korea (before you World Cup fans skewer me for getting the times wrong on these matches, no I don’t know when they played on Thursday but that is not the point) Game 7 of the NBA Finals was also played Thursday night. In the end it was the Lakers that were celebrating as they defeated the Celtics 83-79.

Now that the game is over the real interesting stuff begins.

Rumors have surrounded the Lakers the entire series, ones you would have thought they would have kept quiet since they would only serve to distract while the team was trying to win a championship. Apparently Jerry West does not like winning. How else can you explain why he would cut the salary of one of the most successful coaches of all time?

I’m no Laker fan (go Rockets!!!) so if the Lakers do not bring him back I will be one of the many glad to see them fall from grace. The way the team played through the series proved the need for the guru to stay in LA. With the exception of Kobe, the rest of the cast was rather sporadic. Artest, Gasol, and the rest of Kobe’s backup dancers did play well at times, but at other times they were non-existent.

Bryant is now one ring away from Michael Jordan. (Getty Images)

Before someone comments back with something witty about how that is proof that Phil Jackson is overpaid, I think it is because the guys knew that they were likely to be without their fearless leader any day now.

Coaches do mean a lot to a team. They set the pace, keep the team together, and provide the calm within the storm that is an NBA game. If I’m wrong then someone explain to me why Allen Iverson never won a championship?

Good luck Phil with whatever you do next (no, I don’t think he’ll return just to 3peat; his pride will not allow him to take a salary cut like West wants to give him). If you want my opinion, marry your girlfriend (Jerry West’s daughter), and then coach LeBron in Cleveland so you can kick the crap out of LA next year!

Beer:   Extra Special Ale by the good people at the Yards Brewing Company in Kobe Bryant’s hometown of Philadelphia, PA- Winning another NBA Finals MVP award is not just special, but extra special so in tribute to the LA baller, this beer review is for you Kobe!

Extra Special Ale is a tasty and refreshing way to celebrate life’s victories. At 6% ABV, you can do a good bit of celebrating before it gets out of hand too. When a beer has such a full bodied, well-balanced taste, that can be hard to do. This amber ale will make the malt lover happy (with the body of the beer), but will also please the hop lover (with the citrus-like, crisp finish). Extra Special Ale is a good beer when you want to prove to yourself or someone else that they are just that—extra special.

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