March 30, 2012
Opening Day for the 2012 MLB season is April 5 and this season promises to be one for the ages. While there are many teams that are expected to win, there are a few that are currently flying under the radar. Although merely forgotten about at the moment, these teams will be known and feared by all at the end of the season.
These teams are filled with youth who have just enough experience to make an impact for the entire 162 game season. Baseball fans should expect to see an abundance of these teams’ gear hit the streets of America by the time October rolls around.
Here are the 2012 MLB teams who will surprise all:
Kansas City Royals: This team may be the most talented young team in all of baseball. At 27 years old, Gold Glove outfielder Alex Gordon is the elder statesmen of the bunch. DH Billy Butler was once compared to Bo Jackson and is only 25 years old. Now considered veterans, these guys look to lead the way for the ridiculous talent on this team.
First baseman Eric Hosmer is going to be great this season. In 128 games in 2011, he hit .293 with 19 homers and 78 RBI. This season, don’t be surprised when Hosmer hits .315 with 30 homers and 99 RBI. 2012 is the season where he’s propelled into a superstar.
Along with Hosmer, the Royals have young third baseman Mike Moustakas—who’s only 23 years old. In 89 games in his rookie season of 2011, Moustakas struggled early, but finished strong. He ended with a .263 batting average but batted .352 in September.
Moustakas will pick up where he left off in 2011. In total, he’ll bat at least .280 with 80 RBIs this upcoming season.
With the All-Star game being played in Kansas City this season, Moustakas will make a case for himself to be among the game’s best at the mid-summer classic.
Washington Nationals: How could this team be left of this list? Stud pitcher Stephen Strasburg has recovered from injury and will be the Opening Day starter. The team also has up-and-coming talent in first baseman Michael Morse, catcher Wilson Ramos, closer Drew Storen and a 19-year-old kid by the name of Bryce Harper.
Although Harper has yet to play a game in the big leagues and won’t make the Opening Day roster, he’ll get his cup of coffee in “The Show” sooner than later. His meteoric rise to fame began a few years ago when he left high school early to go play college ball at the age of 16. Baseball hasn’t had this much surrounding a kid’s debut in the majors since “The Kid” himself—Ken Griffey Jr. Needless to say, expectations are enormous for Harper, but everything he’s done thus far is solid proof why he’s a prodigy.
With a bolstered pitching staff with the likes of Edwin Jackson and Gio Gonzalez, the Nationals are nothing to scoff at—they’ll be contenders this season.
Keep your eye on these teams as the season progresses. Can’t wait for the two sweetest words of all—“Play Ball.”
March 28, 2012
Last week, after a terrible start, my Elite Eight picks ended up 5-3. I didn’t have time to write an article predicting who would advance to the Final Four, but I am back to predict the Final Four winners and project the NCAA National Champion. The NCAA Tournament is lacking a major Cinderella, but it still has given us our share of upsets. Only one #1 seed, overall top seed Kentucky, has made it to the Final Four, accompanied by two #2 seeds. Louisville is the highest seed left at #4, but when you are coached by Rick Pitino,you aren’t the prototypical underdog. So with all of the teams seeded fairly evenly, let the predictions begin!
Louisville vs. Kentucky
The excitement kicks right off with the Battle for Kentucky. Louisville and Kentucky will be the first teams from the same state to square off in the Final Four since 1962. Louisville upset Michigan State in the Sweet 16 and proved it was capable of taking down a top seed. This won’t be Louisville’s first shot at the Wildcats, though. They played each other on New Year’s Eve and while Kentucky came out on top, Louisville gave them all they could handle. Kentucky has grown a lot since that game and has shown that they are the best team in college basketball during the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats blew out a solid Baylor team to make it to the Final Four, and put 102 points on Indiana in the Sweet 16. I think Louisville peaked at the right time and has played great basketball in the tournament, but Kentucky will be the team advancing.
Ohio State vs. Kansas
This game is also a rematch of an early season matchup. Kansas beat Ohio State earlier in the season 78-67, but Jared Sullinger didn’t play. That will make a big difference this time around, as Sullinger led the Buckeyes in points and rebounds in the regular season. Ohio State dominated their competition in the first three rounds of the tournament, before knocking out #1 seed Syracuse. Kansas has walked a finer rope this tournament, but also knocked out a #1 seed in North Carolina to make it to the Final Four. I think this game could go either way, but I also think both teams have the ability to run away with this game. Ohio State is a very talented team, but I think Kansas will take the opportunity to show that their victory earlier in the season wasn’t only because Sullinger wasn’t in the game.
Kentucky vs. Kansas
Both these teams have been highly ranked all season long, so it is not surprising that they would end up playing each other for the National Championship. Many people have Kentucky in their Championship game, but I don’t think Kansas was a favorite to make it. Nonetheless, this will be a great NCAA Championship game, with two major programs looking to notch another National Championship. In sticking with the rest of these games, Kentucky and Kansas also played earlier this season. In only the second game of the season, Kentucky beat Kansas 75-65 when they pulled away in the second half. Both teams have gotten much better as the season went on, but Kentucky might have grown more than any team this season. I don’t think Kentucky can be stopped and I don’t know what would happen if Calipari loses to Kansas again in the Championship game. I think Anthony Davis leads Kentucky to their first NCAA National Championship in the Calipari era.
March 27, 2012
My league had our MLB fantasy baseball draft recently. As always, I got some of the guys I wanted and missed out on a few as well. But since my draft has come and gone I don’t have to worry about the other guys in my league knowing who I want on my team. Therefore, I will give you a rundown of what my ideal team would look like. It’s not like I had much to worry about, anyway. Chances are none of those guys would have seen this since most of them can barely even read. (Bazinga!) Trash talking your league members is one of the best parts of a fantasy league. Anyway, here’s who I would realistically try to take going by the average draft position on the site my league uses.
Round 1 Miguel Cabrera, 1B
I want my first pick to be a sure thing. Cabrera has put up an average of .320 batting average with 33 home runs, 115 RBI and 102 runs for the last eight years. That’s as much of a sure thing as you will find.
Round 2 Carlos Gonzalez, OF
Again, I want a sure thing if I can get it. Gonzalez has had at least 25 home runs, 20 steals, 90 runs and 90 RBI to go with a .295 average for the last two seasons. He is the real deal.
Round 3 Jose Reyes, SS
Here’s a guy who has led the league in steals and in batting average. Reyes joins a Miami team that has loaded up on talent and brought in Ozzie Guillen to manage. Guillen had the White Sox running a lot and he should do the same in Miami.
Round 4 Michael Bourn, OF
Just in case Reyes isn’t 100 percent healthy and his steals come down again, adding Bourn will make up for it in a hurry. You can pencil him in for 50 steals and he gives you a solid batting average as well.
Round 5 Zack Greinke, SP
Greinke will be nearly as good as the biggest name pitchers in baseball but will cost you a much lower pick to get him.
Round 6 Carlos Santana, C
There aren’t a lot of great catchers so if you get one of them you will have a big advantage at at least one position.
Round 7 Carl Crawford, OF
If Crawford is still available in the 7th round you better jump on him. He had injury problems last year and was a big disappointment. I believe he will bounce back big time.
Round 8 Kevin Youkilis, 3B
Here’s another guy who had a disappointing year in 2011 and should be better in 2012. Youkilis could end up being a steal.
Round 9 Brian Wilson, RP
This guy is awesome. I want Wilson on my team regardless of what he does on the field but it just so happens that he can pitch.
Round 10 Josh Johnson, SP
Because of his injury history this is a high-risk, high-reward pick. Go for it. You aren’t playing for third place are you?
Round 11 Matt Garza, SP
I’m a Cubs fan. I always need a Cub. I choose Garza.
Round 12 Heath Bell, RP
He’s going to a better team which will hopefully translate into more saves.
Round 13 Brandon Beachy, SP
He averaged almost 11 strikeouts per nine innings last year.
Round 14 Torii Hunter, OF
Round 15 Ryan Roberts, 2B
You are going to have a weak spot somewhere. This is mine. And it’s not that bad.
Round 16 Emilio Bonifacio, SS
I love guys that can play multiple positions because they provide lineup flexibility.
Round 17 Josh Willingham, OF
Not a guy people will be desperate to get, but always gives you at least 20 long balls.
From this point on in the draft, grab as many high-upside players as you can. If they don’t pan out, you can always drop them and find someone else.
March 26, 2012
With the announcement that Chipper Jones will retire from Major League Baseball after the season, the Braves’ third baseman will wrap up an excellent career after this summer. Jones has not only been a pillar for the franchise, but one of baseball’s best players over the past 20 years. The question is sure to be there during the season: Is he a Hall of Famer?
One big thing that will help Jones is that he’s thus far avoided the rampant speculation of steroids that other stars in this generation haven’t. Jones has put up numbers that are widely believed to be honest and therefore, will stand out even more than many of his peers. About those numbers – heading into this season, Jones has amassed 454 home runs, 1,561 RBI, and 2,615 hits. He’s a career .304 hitter, won an MVP award in 1999, and also took home a batting title at the age of 36 in 2008.
Another thing to like about Jones’ credentials is that he finished in the top ten in Most Valuable Player voting six times over his career. Jones wasn’t only voted the league’s best player through that 1999 Award, but he’s been among the top players for a good portion of his career. That’s also evidenced by his seven All-Star selections.
Jones was somewhat of a quiet superstar. He never put up mind-boggling numbers compared to some of his contemporaries such as Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Ken Griffey, Jr., Sammy Sosa, or Alex Rodriguez, but his consistency was his allure. He had eight seasons with at least 25 home runs and 100 RBI. That consistency also included staying healthy. In eight of his first nine full seasons, he played in at least 150 games. In addition, other than the strike-shortened 1994 (when he missed the full season due to injury) and 2010 when he played 95 games, Jones has reached the 100-game mark in every other season of his 18-year career.
And for everything that Jones has done in his career, there’s also what he didn’t do that was significant. In an era when 100 strikeouts is commonplace for power hitters, Jones never reached that mark.
Then there was the winning. Few, even Jones himself, would likely argue that the Braves underachieved when it came to winning World Series titles. From 1995 – 2005, the Braves reached the playoffs 11 consecutive times, but won the championship only once (1995). While that’s a bit disappointing, to even reach the postseason that many times is ridiculous. Atlanta did that largely behind strong pitching from future Hall of Famers Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, and Tom Glavine, but Jones’ performances had a lot to do with it and in many of those seasons, he was the team’s biggest offensive threat.
I’ll be the first to admit that Jones doesn’t have monster Hall of Fame numbers. Barring an unbelievable 2012 season or a postponement of his retirement, he’s not going to get to 500 home runs – the long-time standard for induction before the steroid era. He also doesn’t have 3,000 hits or 2,000 RBI – both big milestones. But Jones’ numbers are surely good enough in my opinion and his track record in helping Atlanta to so many postseason appearances should put him over the top.
March 23, 2012
Last night’s NCAA Tournament games went terribly wrong for both my picks and my bracket. I went 1-3 with my picks last night, so of course I have to try and regain some dignity with a better showing in this version. I went heavy on the Big Ten yesterday, and the pain they put me through leaves me wondering if I can trust Indiana. There are three double-digit seeds playing tonight which make things very interesting as well. Without further delay, here are my (most likely incorrect) picks for tonight.
Xavier vs. Baylor
Xavier pulled a small upset over Notre Dame to start the tournament, then took down Cinderella hopeful Lehigh in the second round. They now get their toughest test to date in Baylor, while ironically being the toughest test Baylor has faced in the NCAA Tournament as well. This game should be an absolute shootout, with both teams having scored 80 points on multiple occasions. One advantage Baylor will have is their blinding neon green uniforms they are wearing during the tournament. In all honesty though, I do think Baylor is the better team and should find a way to advance to the Elite Eight.
Ohio vs. North Carolina
Speaking of high scoring, there is only one team in the nation that has scored more PPG than North Carolina. That may take a hit this game though, with point guard Kendall Marshall expected to miss the game after having wrist surgery. Even more importantly, Ohio thrives on steals, and the Tar Heels will need to take extra care of the ball without Marshall in the game. Ohio isn’t nearly as explosive on offense, but they have proven deadly for teams like Michigan and South Florida, who have fallen on Ohio’s trip to the Sweet 16. Everyone likes to root for the underdog, but I can’t imagine Ohio making it past North Carolina. If North Carolina doesn’t come ready to play, which includes stopping D.J. Cooper, Marshall could have a lot longer to rest before their next game. While Ohio has shown that the MAC shouldn’t be taken lightly, I will take North Carolina to take care of business.
Indiana vs. Kentucky
This isn’t the final game of the night, but make no mistake about it, this game is the main event. These two historic basketball programs will give us a rematch of an amazing game earlier this season. Then unranked Indiana gave then #1 Kentucky their first (and only) loss of the regular season on a ridiculous buzzer beater, winning 73-72. Kentucky, now the overall #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, would like nothing more than to avenge that loss when it matters most. I stuck with the Big Ten all day yesterday and said I think it was the toughest conference in the nation this year. The Wildcats will truly be tested by Indiana who, sticking with the trend in all of these games, can score at will. Kentucky will need Anthony Davis to take over this game and prove why he is the best player in college basketball. I think this game will come down to the wire, but Kentucky gets the nod from me and will play in the Elite Eight.
North Carolina State vs. Kansas
With the amount of times I have mentioned high scoring teams in this column, maybe defense doesn’t win championships. North Carolina State and Kansas both average scoring in the mid 70’s, and have the ability to explode to as high as 100 in Kansas’ case. With that being said, the Jayhawks struggled mightily against Purdue in the last round, coming dangerously close to a loss. Add to that a shocking loss to VCU last NCAA Tournament, and I don’t think they will come into this game assuming anything. Nor should they, as NC State has beaten San Diego State (predicted to be a potential Cinderella) and Georgetown on their way to the Sweet 16. Kansas is in a much higher class than the two aforementioned teams, however, and will look to run the court for quick baskets on the Wolfpack. I hate to have all three high seeds lose in my picks, but I just don’t think they will win tonight. I will take Kansas and if last night was any foreshadowing, we will have a high-seeded Elite Eight!