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Friday, May 6, 2011

MLB Power Rankings - Williams leaves on his own terms - Kentucky Derby 2011

Kentucky Derby 2011
Bill Turner is no stranger to a great horse with unlimited potential.
It was some 34 years ago that Turner saddled Seattle Slew to victories in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes, which earned the superstar colt acclaim as the only undefeated winner of the Triple Crown.
For much of this year, Turner saw a similar amount of brilliance in another colt that seemed to have no peers, the reigning 2-year-old champ Uncle Mo. But now, with the Kentucky Derby just days away and Uncle Mo’s Derby status in question, Turner’s faith has evaporated.
“At the start of the year, I thought Uncle Mo was the real deal, but right now I don’t have any confidence in him,” Turner said.
A gastrointestinal virus was detected after Uncle Mo, the 9-2 second choice in the Derby owned by Queens native Mike Repole, suffered a stunning third-place finish in the Wood Memorial for his first career defeat. Though his physical condition has improved, his connections are now hedging about running him in the Derby and may not make a final decision until Friday.
Perhaps, in some ways, they are seeing what bugs Turner most in the aftermath of the virus. Turner believes Uncle Mo’s last two works -- five-furlong drills in 1:01. 28 and 1:01.60 -- were unimpressive and raised questions about the colt’s fitness and ability to handle an unforgiving 10-furlong distance in Saturday’s run for the roses.
“For a fast horse like Uncle Mo, those works are not fast enough to tell you anything,” said Turner, who has a small stable of horses in New York. “Going five furlongs in basically 1:02 is not a true work for a horse like this. Put it this way, he should have been able to run faster than that without being asked for speed if he was right. Uncle Mo ran some great races at two, but you need a fit, tight horse to win the Kentucky Derby and if I was a gambler I would be concerned about him.”
Turner also had reservations about the Nick Zito-trained Dialed In, the morning-line favorite for the race, voicing concerns about his inexperience. Dialed In enters the Derby with just four career starts.
“Nick’s horse is a nice horse, but he’s lightly raced and his works have been on the slow side, too,” Turner said. “You basically have to take the trainer’s word that the top two contenders are doing well and that can be risky. That’s why this year’s Derby is a tough one to pick.”
While Turner did not offer a selection for the race, retired Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron cast his support for the morning-line choice. Speaking at the soon-to-be-remodeled Connecticut Off-Track Betting Winners Shoreline Star facility in Bridgeport, McCarron dialed up Dialed In as his choice.
“Dialed In had the most impressive prep race of the season when he won the Florida Derby,” McCarron said. “He had to overcome a speed bias on that day to catch a fast horse on a speed-favoring track and that impressed me. What I also liked is that they didn’t change his style because of the bias. They didn’t move him sooner than usual in hopes of the winning race, they let him run his race from the back of the pack and he still won.”
McCarron also backed Uncle Mo while mixing in some concern about the training time the colt missed because of the virus.
“Even with the virus Uncle Mo had to get something out of the Wood,” McCarron said.
“He had a legit excuse that day and he has a great trainer in Todd Pletcher so I think he’s still a top contender. But I agree that you cannot afford to lose any serious training time. If you want to win the Derby you have to be fit enough to climb the Rocky Mountains.”
Being a California-based rider for most of his career, McCarron offered a surprising take on the Bob Baffert-trained Midnight Interlude, winner of the Santa Anita Derby.
McCarron said he discounted Midnight Interlude’s chances because the newly installed dirt track at Santa Anita was wickedly fast.
“I can’t throw a Baffert horse out,” McCarron said, “but I can’t put a lot of stock in the Santa Anita Derby because the track is lightning fast and it’s different from what the horse will see at Churchill Downs.”
From the looks of it, in a Triple Crown chase filled with more uncertainty and doubt than usual, it seems like all kinds of dirt is now being tossed at the Derby.

Williams leaves on his own terms

COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) -- After sweating through crisp white shirts and expensive suits for more than three decades, Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams is finally ready to take it easy.
Williams announced his retirement Thursday, saying "it's the right time" for him to end a career in which he led his alma mater to the 2002 national championship.
Williams coached for 33 years, the last 22 at Maryland, where he played as a guard from 1964-67.
"My entire career has been an unbelievable blessing. I am fiercely proud of the program we have built here," Williams said. "I couldn't have asked any more from my players, my assistant coaches, the great Maryland fans and this great university. Together, we did something very special here."
His career record is 668-380, including 461-252 at Maryland. Under his direction, the Terrapins went to the NCAA tournament 14 times, won or shared three Atlantic Coast Conference titles and reached the Final Four twice.
Williams was a fiery competitor who despised losing and loved the challenge of competing against the best teams in the nation - including Duke, which usually got the best of him. But the Terrapins never went down without a fight, and rarely did Williams ever take a seat on the bench.
His frenzied style, and his propensity to sweat on the sideline more than his players, was as much a part of his legend as wins and losses.
"I love Gary. What he has done for Maryland and for college basketball is remarkable," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "He is one of the great coaches of all time. He is a coaches' coach and an ultimate competitor. His retirement is a big loss for the ACC and for college basketball."
Williams, 66, arrived at Maryland in 1989, when the program was still struggling under the weight of NCAA violations. The Terps endured two straight losing seasons before reaching the NCAA tournament for the first time under his direction in 1994, and he never had another sub-.500 season the rest of the way.
"Gary Williams is a legend," Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson said. "His accomplishments on the court have earned him a place among the elite in college basketball history. But Gary's legacy here at Maryland goes far beyond basketball. From his philanthropic efforts to his tireless work with fans and alumni to his impact with our students, Gary has left an indelible mark of excellence on this university."
Since 2004, Williams has served as the scholarship co-chair for Great Expectations, Maryland's $1 billion fundraising campaign. His efforts on behalf of Maryland students have helped raise over $240 million for scholarships at the school.
The retirement announcement comes one season after the Terrapins endured a 19-14 record and missed both the NCAA tournament and the NIT. Also, on Wednesday, standout center Jordan Williams formally entered the NBA draft with two years of eligibility left.
Williams began his college coaching career at American University in 1978. He went to Boston College in 1982 and then spent three seasons at Ohio State, from 1986-89, before coming to Maryland.
He had a chilly relationship with Debbie Yow, who served as athletic director at Maryland from 1994-2010. But Yow and Williams were both in Atlanta in 2002 when Williams guided the Terrapins to their lone NCAA title in men's basketball.
"Gary is one of the best X and O coaches in college basketball. He will be greatly missed by Terps everywhere," said Yow, now the athletic director at North Carolina State. "I trust that he will be selected to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame soon. Also, his name should be on the Comcast Center floor, as was proposed a year ago."
Williams will stay on with Maryland as assistant athletic director and special assistant to Anderson.
During his time at Maryland, Williams dueled with many of the ACC's most successful coaches. He ranks third in the ACC in wins behind only Dean Smith of North Carolina and Krzyzewski.
"Gary has been an iconic figure in the ACC," ACC commissioner John Swofford said. "His resurrection of the Maryland program to national championship status was huge, not only for the University of Maryland, but the Atlantic Coast Conference as well. His long term consistent success is what I admire the most about Gary. His accomplishments are of Hall of Fame caliber."
Williams, Anderson and University President Dr. Wallace D. Loh will attend a press conference on campus Friday for the formal announcement of the coach's retirement.
Some of the outstanding players to play under Williams at Maryland included NBA stars Walt Williams, Juan Dixon, Joe Smith, Greivis Vasquez and Steve Blake.
"What Gary did at Maryland was amazing for the basketball program, the university, but most of all for the players who he coached," said Jimmy Patsos, Williams' former assistant and now head coach at Loyola (Md.). "I would not be a head coach if not for Gary, and there are a lot of NBA players who would not be in the league if not for him.
"I think what epitomizes Gary as a coach is to look at the NBA playoffs now and see Steve Blake and Greivis Vasquez. A lot of people never expected them to be great players, even in college, but through Gary's coaching, they became All-Americans at Maryland and great NBA players."
Williams' decision to step down began a buzz that covered much of the state of Maryland.
"Gary's leadership and outstanding coaching and recruiting abilities have developed the talents and skills of some of today's best athletes, and helped them to become great professionals and individuals with confidence and character - on and off the court," Maryland governor Martin O'Malley said. "In 2001, he led the Terps to their first Final Four in school history, and in 2002, they brought home an NCAA national championship.
"Though it will be difficult to imagine men's basketball at College Park without Gary Williams, we certainly wish him much success in the future."

MLB Power Rankings
according to si.com
1 Last Week: 5 Cleveland Indians
The Indians have the sixth-best team ERA in the majors (3.35), and they've compiled that number with the youngest staff in baseball with an average age of 26.3. Indeed, Fausto Carmona and Mitch Talbot -- both 27 -- are the old men of the starting rotation, and only reliever Chad Durbin has hit his 30th birthday. Each pitcher has so little service time, in fact, that only Durbin is not under team control and will be a free-agent at year's end. Cleveland holds a club option on Carmona for $7 million, and five pitchers, including closer Chris Perez, are set for arbitration after the season. Otherwise, the young pitchers who have impressed to date are set to come back for roughly the league minimum salary.

2 Last Week: 2 Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies' four star starters are living up to the considerable hype so far -- they are collectively 13-5 with a 2.88 ERA -- while fifth starter Joe Blanton had been living down to his, going 0-1 in four starts with a 5.92 ERA before a recent trip to the DL. It's no wonder that the satirical online newspaper, The Onion, took a stab at a parody of this situation about a man who shares Phillies season tickets and is constantly stuck with all of Blanton's starts. Hope that fictional father enjoys the work of Vance Worley, who gave up just one run in six innings in his start on Wednesday.

3 Last Week: 3 Florida Marlins
There are 12 managers who are in their first full season leading their teams, and the Marlins' Edwin Rodriguez is the only one of the dozen to be on a one-year contract. He's not the headliner that owner Jeffrey Loria has lusted after, particularly with the club moving into a new ballpark next year and needs to put fans in the seats, but it's hard to argue with the job Rodriguez is currently doing in Florida. Despite his best player, shortstop Hanley Ramirez, and his two other 2010 All-Stars, catcher John Buck and second baseman Omar Infante, all off to slow starts, the Marlins are 19-10, the third best record in the majors. While one month of play isn't enough basis for a contract extension, Rodriguez ought to be in line for one if his club keeps up its pace.

4 Last Week: 1 Colorado Rockies
What a strange year Chris Iannetta has had at the plate. Despite having only 85 plate appearances this season, the Rockies' catcher is tied for third in the NL with 19 walks. In fact, among all players with at least 75 plate appearances, he leads the NL with a rate of 4.5 plate appearances per walk. But those are about the only times he's been stationed at first base. He has only a .188 average on 12 hits, of which eight have gone for extra bases. His four singles are the fewest among all players with 75 or more PAs.

5 Last Week: 12 Atlanta Braves
One widely held belief of sabermetricians is that clutch hitting does not exist -- according to some research, players rarely repeat their performances in clutch situations from one year to the next. If that's the case, Braves catcher Brian McCann better enjoy the run he's on. He is batting .600 (12-for-20) with one home run, 15 RBIs and four walks while batting with runners in scoring position.

6 Last Week: 6 New York Yankees
The tense offseason negotiations were only a start of the public hit on Derek Jeter. The aging future Hall of Fame shortstop is off to a sluggish start, batting .250 with 25 of his first 27 hits going only for singles and, as SI.com's Joe Posnanski details, 11 of them didn't leave the infield. Then an anonymous talent evaluator told the Bergen Record that it's "almost sad" to watch Jeter at this stage of his career. And then the Captain exited Wednesday's night game early with a hip injury. As effective as the Yankees have been offensively -- they lead the AL in home runs, OBP and slugging -- imagine how good they'd be if Jeter and his .308 OBP weren't batting first or second every game.

7 Last Week: 7 St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals' lineup boasts the NL's top two hitters, as rated by both batting average and OPS, and amazingly neither is Albert Pujols. The renaissance of Lance Berkman and his nine home runs has obscured Matt Holliday's outstanding start, as the latter shook off his early-season appendectomy surgery and is absolutely crushing the ball. He leads the majors with a .413 average (23 points ahead of Berkman), he's atop the NL with a .509 OBP and is tied with the Reds' Joey Votto for the major league lead with 25 runs scored. His OPS (1.150) is second only to Berkman's 1.211.

8 Last Week: 8 Tampa Bay Rays
A key part of the Rays' early-season turnaround has been their starting pitching. The entirely homegrown five-man rotation -- one more than the Giants who won last year's World Series with a homegrown four-man rotation in the postseason -- shook off Tampa Bay's 1-8 start and pitched the team to a 15-5 record over its next 20 games, thanks to a 3.04 ERA and nearly seven innings per start. And, thanks to an unprecedented bounty of draft picks in June, the Rays will have a prime chance to restock the minors with promising young pitchers.

9 Last Week: 9 Los Angeles Angels
The men playing the infield for the Angels last year ranked 29th in OBP (.293) and 27th in OPS (.661). With many of the same players this year -- Erick Aybar, Alberto Callaspo (who arrived midseason last year), Maicer Izturis, Howie Kendrick and Mark Trumbo (a late-season call-up last year) -- L.A.'s infield ranks 14th in OBP (.329) and seventh in OPS (.770). Izturis stands out above them all, as he has a .333/.328/.495 batting line, numbers so high that on Wednesday manager Mike Scioscia bumped him into the No. 3 slot of his lineup. His career OPS, however, is only .738, suggesting he won't be a long-term fit for the slot once he cools down, but it's worth riding the hot bat for now.

10 Last Week: 4 Texas Rangers
Remember that time in January when it was a debate whether Neftali Feliz would start? Or that other time at the start of March?

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