August 1, 2013

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MLB Contenders Post Trade Deadline

By: Matt Bowen

Now that the dust on settled on the July 31 MLB non-waiver trade deadline, we can focus our attention on the true contenders. It’s now August, this is the time where the cream rises to the top. MLB GM’s believing that this is their year have spent the last couple of weeks trying to feverishly hammer out deals to put their team on top when it’s all said and done. As baseball fans we now get to sit back and watch the drama unfold. The next two months will be pure entertainment as every division except the NL East is up for grabs.

So, what is to be expected down the stretch? Who were the real winners at the deadline?

AL East: Per the usual, the AL East will be one of the most interesting races until the end. The Boston Red Sox, Tampa Bay Rays, and Baltimore Orioles are all in contention.

The Rays were the quiet, only acquiring left reliever Jesse Crain from the Chicago White Sox. Crain is currently on the DL, but has electric stuff out of the bullpen. This was a low-risk, high-reward kind of deal for the Rays—if Crain returns healthy they win, if he doesn’t, the compensation towards the White Sox will be next to nothing.

The Baltimore Orioles proved to their fan base that they plan on winning now and forever. They traded for starting pitchers Scott Feldman from the Chicago Cubs and Bud Norris of the Houston Astros along with reliever Francisco Rodriguez from the Milwaukee Brewers. Nice work from the Orioles front office.

While the Orioles made plenty of noise, the Boston Sox stole the show in the division. The acquisition of pitcher Jake Peavy from the Chicago White Sox made headlines as the Red Sox appear to be legit. They also picked up left-handed reliever Matt Thornton from the White Sox. For a team that lost 93 games in 2012, they have certainly changed their course. The Bo Sox have Boston buzzing at the moment.

AL Central: This division is a two horse race that won’t be settled until the final days of the season. The Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers are the two best teams in the Central and only got better at the deadline. Both teams picked up necessary relief help with Marc Rzepczynski headed to Cleveland from the St. Louis Cardinals and Jose Veras to Detroit from the Houston Astros.

In the end, it was the Tigers who made out best though. They were involved in the trade with the Sox, both White and Red, that sent the aforementioned Peavy to Beantown, shortstop Jose Iglesias to the Tigers and young prospect Avasail Garcia to Chicago, along with others.

The Tigers need a shortstop with the suspension of Jhonny Peralta seeming imminent. Peralta, who is involved in the Biogenesis mess, is also a free agent as the end of the season, so picking up the talented 23-year-old Iglesias now is a stroke of genius.

While the Tigers will benefit the most now in the division, the White Sox may have gotten the best player out of the deal. Garcia has star written all over him, but with a crowded outfield in Detroit, it was a price that had to be paid.

Regarding the race in the Central, neither the Tigers nor Indians will quit. As of August 1, they’re two of the hottest teams in all of baseball. The two teams face each other seven more times in 2013 with the last game on September 1.  Both teams won at the deadline, but who will win the division?

AL West: Still in disbelief that the Oakland A’s are truly good? Don’t be, this team is for real, but did the division leader do enough? They swapped a minor leaguer for infielder Alberto Callaspo from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to shore up their defense. Where they swung and missed is in the pitching department. For decades the A’s were sellers at the deadline and this year, when they needed it most they couldn’t land a prized trade target to take the hill.

This means their rival the Texas Rangers were the true winners in the division at the deadline. They got starting pitcher Matt Garza from the Chicago Cubs and seem to be in a groove right now. True, the A’s are still the team to beat, but the Rangers won’t go away. Now that the A’s seem to have crosshairs on their back, can they hold onto the West?

NL East: No contest here—the Atlanta Braves have a double-digit game lead in the division and the small and subtle acquisition of reliever Scott Downs from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim only made them better. Overall, the NL East has been a dud this season. Maybe 2014 will bring more competition. The Braves will skate into the playoffs.

NL Central: Baseball’s best division had an interesting trade deadline this time around. While the Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs were heavy sellers, and for good reason, the top three teams were rather stagnant. This is a very peculiar situation, the Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals, and Cincinnati Reds were all quiet. The Pirates, who currently lead the division tried but could not land a big-name right fielder. The Cardinals didn’t make a splash and the Reds needed a viable two-hole hitter to bolster their lineup but did next to nothing. Content with what they have, all teams are now on board with their current rosters. This was disappointing on all accounts. If a winner had to be chosen, it would have to be the Cards, who seem to always find a way to win.

NL West: Let’s not forget about the NL West—there’s no west coast bias here, but the deadline proved that only the Los Angeles Dodgers are the real thing. They snatched up coveted pitcher Ricky Nolasco from the Miami Marlins and had the luxury of signing charismatic reliever Brian Wilson. Since rookie Yasiel Puig was called up earlier in the year the team has been on fire. In just 50 games Puig is batting .364 as of August 1—most importantly he’s instilled some swagger in the Dodgers’ clubhouse.

The Dodgers payroll may be bigger than many small countries’ annual GDP, but they are now looking like they are worth every penny. Move over Hollywood, the Dodgers are now the big stars in town.

May 22, 2013

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MLB’s Emerging Stars

By: Matt Bowen

Major League Baseball has a brilliant future. Fans everywhere should be ecstatic for the next decade.  Scattered throughout the league, even teams currently below .500 have budding stars.

Sure, every generation of players has their own crop of cornerstones, but this is different. The league is stacked. The competition will be fierce. Playoff races will come down to Game 162. Interest throughout will reach a fever pitch.

We all know the likes of Bryce Harper and Mike Trout are the leaders of the pack when it comes to the “next-generation”, but they are not alone. They’re joined by a bushel of future heroes. Some of which are a touch older than the young 20-somethings, but a star is a star, no matter how long it takes to shine so bright.

Bryce Harper is already a household name for MLB fans.

Here’s a quick rundown of players to fall in love with:

Catcher: Wilin Rosario, Colorado Rockies

This kid has pop at the plate and in the thin air of Colorado he’ll find the cheap seats with ease. A catcher who can hit for average is always a plus and Rosario is holding his own this season. Even though his numbers have dipped in May, he’ll be just fine. The Rockies have smooth sailing ahead of them with Rosario in their lineup for years to come.

First Base: Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks

Fans may not have had a chance to catch Paul Goldschmidt much due to proximity, but he’s a stud. By season’s end he’ll be in the NL MVP conversation. Possessing power, average and enough speed to motor around the bases, he also helps his team with a stealthy glove at first base. The Diamondbacks are in good hands thanks to Goldschmidt. Yes, he’s currently 25 years old, but it’s never too late to be one of the best.

Second Base: Jose Altuve, Houston Astros

The Houston Astros may own a dismal record, but with Jose Altuve on their side better days are in store. At 5’5” he may be undersized, but he shouldn’t be underestimated. The dude can do it all and is the key to the future in Houston. He’s more than fun to watch and should be respected and feared by all.

Shortstop: Jean Segura, Milwaukee Brewers

Whoa baby! Jean Segura of the Milwaukee Brewers puts up silly numbers in the box score. Blessed with plate presence and speed to burn, Segura is a nightmare for the opposition. Just checking his numbers makes one want to move to Milwaukee and watch this guy in person 81 times a year. With the skills he has, it’s almost not fair. Cheers to Segura. Expect him to be an All-Star this season.

Third Base: Manny Machado, Baltimore Orioles

Talk about a cornerstone, Manny Machado is it in Baltimore. He’ll be manning the hot-corner for the next 15 years for the Orioles and has yet to scratch the surface of his true talent. He’s only 20 years old. Diehard O’s fans have to be drooling when thinking of the future. Dare I say he’ll be the most beloved in Baltimore since a guy named Cal Ripken, Jr. Machado is the man. Come September, expect heroics.

No Surprise Here, Bryce Harper and Mike Trout Made the list:

It’s safe to say that the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are set in terms of a superstar. Bryce Harper and Mike Trout will bring fans out in droves until they retire. Some may argue that they aren’t “emerging” stars, but let’s be real—they are so young it’s not fair to say we’ve seen or that we can comprehend their “ceiling.” They are the future. Embrace it.

Rounding out the Outfield, Starling Marte, Pittsburgh Pirates:

The Pittsburgh Pirates have been begging for a winner since neon slap bracelets and Nickelodeon slime were in style. Now, with the emergence of Starling Marte to compliment star Andrew McCutchen, the Pirates are built to win.

Marte looks like he’s on skates in the outfield and handles himself well at the plate. He bolsters and gives the Bucs lineup much needed depth. There should be nothing but smiles from the Pirates faithful these days after decades of futility. Marte is the difference in Pittsburgh.

Pitcher: Matt Harvey, New York Mets

While it’s tough to pick just one pitcher, have you seen Matt Harvey on the mound? The 24-year-old is off to a ridiculous start to his career. He looks like Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers and future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux wrapped into one.

A fine blend of power and finesse, Harvey may be considered the best pitcher in baseball by the end of 2014. His fastball is tough enough to blow back hitters while his offspeed arsenal makes them weak in the knees.

After just 19 career starts, he’s being considered a legend. Watching him is a must.

January 10, 2013

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What I’ll Remember About 2012 – Part 1

By: Joe Williams

Every year we see things we never thought we would and things we never want to see again. We see everything from the incredible to the inspiring to the sad and hilarious. Here’s what I will remember about 2012.

January 1 – Matt Flynn and Matthew Stafford combine for 971 net passing yards in 45-41 Green Bay win.

January 8 – The Denver Broncos make short work of the new NFL overtime rules, scoring an 80-yard touchdown on the first play of overtime to beat the Steelers 29-23 in the first round of the AFC playoffs.

January 9 Alabama actually scored a touchdown in its rematch with LSU in the BCS Championship Game, winning 21-0.

January 14 Tom Brady shredded the Denver Broncos for five touchdown passes in the first half and another in the third quarter to tie the postseason single-game record in a 45-10 win.

January 14 – The 49ers and Saints combine for 34 points in the fourth quarter and four lead changes in the final five minutes as the 49ers outlasted New Orleans 36-32 and advanced to the NFC Championship Game.

January 22 – Joe Paterno passed away.

January 22 – The Baltimore Ravens had a dropped pass in the end zone that prevented them from winning the AFC Championship Game in New England and then missed a 32-yard field goal that would have sent the game to overtime.

January 22 – The New York Giants advanced to the Super Bowl with a 20-17 overtime win against the 49ers after a fumbled punt set up the game-winning field goal.

February 4Jeremy Lin came out of nowhere and led the New York Knicks to a win with 25 points, five rebounds and seven assists in the first of an incredible 13-game stretch in which he averaged 22.3 points and 7.4 assists. His heroics were celebrated worldwide and he ended up on the cover of Time and Sports Illustrated and one of the biggest celebrities in the league.

Jeremy Lin was one of the biggest stories of 2012.

February 5 – The New York Giants beat Tom Brady and the Patriots in another Super Bowl, 21-17, led by Eli Manning and another fourth-quarter comeback.

February 5 – Tom Brady’s wife, supermodel Gisele Bundchen, gets caught on camera blaming Patriot receivers for New England’s Super Bowl loss, saying that her husband cannot throw and catch the ball at the same time.

March 8 – The Indianapolis Colts announced that they will release future hall-of-fame quarterback, Peyton Manning.

March 13 – The First Four was worth watching on this night. First, Western Kentucky rallied from a 16-point deficit with 4:51 to go and beat Mississippi Valley State 59-58. Then BYU followed that up by erasing a 25-point deficit and beat Iona 78-72.

March 16Duke and Missouri, both No. 2 seeds in the NCAA tournament, go down on the same day. Norfolk State upset a 30-win Missouri team 86-84 and then later that night Lehigh defeated the Blue Devils 75-70. Only four No. 15 seeds have ever knocked off a No. 2 seed in history before it happened twice that day.

March 20 – Peyton Manning picks the Denver Broncos.

March 21NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell laid down the law on the New Orleans Saints for their bounty scandal, effectively ending the Saints season before it ever got started. This story never went away due to the continuous appeals of the suspensions.

March 26 – The Denver Broncos trade Tim Tebow to the New York Jets.

March 11 – Tiger Woods withdrew from the final round of the WGC Cadillac Championship with an injury. The blimp that was covering the golf tournament then followed Tiger as he left the golf course, a scene usually reserved for a high-speed chase.

April 1 – I.K. Kim takes the honor for worst golf shot of the year after she missed an 18-inch putt that would have won the LPGA’s first major of the year, the Kraft Nabisco Championship. She ended up losing in a playoff.

April 2 – John Calipari and his Kentucky squad that consisted of six future NBA players wins the national title, beating Kansas 67-59.

April 3Baylor completed a perfect season at 40-0 and won the women’s national title, beating Notre Dame 80-61.

April 8 – Bubba Watson hits one of the greatest shots in Masters history; a miracle 40-yard hook shot out of the pine straw on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff with Louis Oosthuizen. Two putts for par later and Watson was wearing the green jacket.

April 21Phil Humber pitches a perfect game at Seattle, striking out nine in the White Sox 4-0 win.

April 26Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III are drafted by the Colts and Redskins.

May 8 Josh Hamilton hit four home runs and had eight RBI against the Baltimore Orioles.

June 3 – Tiger Woods hit an incredible flop shot from behind the green on 16 that trickled into the hole on his way to winning the Memorial Tournament.

June 7 – LeBron James overwhelms the Boston Celtics with a 45 point and 15 rebound performance in a 98-79 win over Boston on the road to force a Game 7 in South Beach.

June 7 – Novak Djokovic outlasted Rafael Nadal in a grueling marathon in the Australian Open final (5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7 (5), 7-5) in a match that took five hours and 53 minutes and didn’t end until 1:37 a.m.

June 11 – The Los Angeles Kings win their first Stanley Cup in 45 years after barely squeaking into the final playoff spot in the West and going on one of the greatest runs in playoff history.

June 13Matt Cain pitched a perfect game in a 10-0 San Francisco win over the Astros.

June 21 – LeBron James and the Miami Heat win the NBA championship after beating the Oklahoma City Thunder 121-106 in game five.

June 27 – A four-team college football playoff was formally approved to begin in 2014.

June 30 – The third round of the AT&T National was played with no spectators on the golf course because of safety concerns after a powerful wind storm left trees uprooted all over the golf course.

September 6, 2012

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2012 MLB Darlings: Baltimore Orioles and Oakland A’s

By: Matt Bowen

The 2012 MLB season is the embodiment of what fans love to see. With just about a month left in the regular season there are some surprises in the standings.

As of September 6, both the Baltimore Orioles and the Oakland Athletics are the Wild Card leaders in the American League. How could this be? Both teams lack payrolls skyward of $100 million. In fact, in the A’s case, they have the lowest payroll in all of baseball.

Not many people were expecting the Baltimore Orioles to make it to the playoffs from the AL East.

Both teams are currently 76-60 because of top-notch management within their organization from the GM to the manager on the field. These teams mimic the definition of hard work. They are the true meaning of a team. Without the money to fork over $200 million contracts to big-named free agents, they have forged their identities elsewhere. They are the antithesis of buying a championship.

Sports fans were treated to the feature film Moneyball in 2011, highlighting the methods of A’s GM Billy Beane, who has mastered playing professional baseball on a budget. He’s up to it again in 2012 as his team has MLB fans everywhere quietly rooting for the A’s.

While the Orioles payroll is roughly $30 million more than the A’s this year, they’re playing under the blueprint set by Beane. Being that they play in the rugged AL East amongst the likes of the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, they too have the momentum of the underdog.

If it weren’t for Nick Markakis of the Orioles, neither team would have an everyday player who’s hitting north of .300. These teams lack stars that will receive massive endorsement contract in their lifetime, yet their players are heroes within their own small market communities.

Behind Adam Jones, Matt Weiters, the aforementioned Markakis and the up-and-coming Manny Machado, the Orioles have a bright future. The same can be said about Yoenis Cespedes, Jemile Weeks, Jarrod Parker and Josh Reddick for the A’s.

Both of these teams may have been former breeding grounds for big teams to pluck their best players in free agency, but this will happen no longer, they are contenders. With optimistic fan bases for both sides and a cult following that is growing daily worldwide, there’s plenty to love about the Orioles and the A’s. They simply give hope to all the Davids living in a Goliath world.

June 1, 2012

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MLB Division Leaders

By: Junior

If you would have told me on Opening Day that on June 1st the Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles would be leading their divisions, I would have laughed at you and likely offered you a sizable bet to the contrary. Luckily for me, nobody around me thought that possible. Yet that is exactly where the MLB standings are at right now. So I thought it would be interesting to go through each division and predict whether the current leader will still be there when it matters, in September.

American League

The Orioles have been a big surprise this season. Can they keep it up?

East: Baltimore Orioles & Tampa Bay Rays (Tied)

The Baltimore Orioles have been an amazing surprise this season, but have started to slump. After losing their last 5 games, they are now tied with the Tampa Bay Rays, a team a little more believable. But where are the powerhouses of the AL East? The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox have to rebound, right? Even the Toronto Blue Jays were supposed to be contenders this season. My prediction is with the Orioles already slumping and the Rays with only a 1.5 game lead, the Yankees will make a run and claim the East.

Central: Chicago White Sox

The division claimed to be one that would be easily dominated by the Detroit Tigers is currently up for grabs. The Tigers have been disappointing as of yet, with the Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians playing some inspired baseball to this point. However, the Indians jumped to a HUGE lead last season before slumping, so in my mind I think it will come down to the White Sox and Tigers. Being a Tigers fan, I have to hope that the Tigers right the ship and win the AL Central.

West: Texas Rangers

The Texas Rangers may not only be the best team in the AL West, but in all of baseball. The Rangers have been very impressive to start the season and, coming off to back-to-back World Series losses, many are saying the third time is a charm. The Los Angeles Angels brought in Albert Pujols to try and catch the Rangers this season, but so far it doesn’t seem like it will be enough. I think the Rangers will hold on to their spot atop the AL West.

National League

East: Washington Nationals

The one thing that may be more surprising than the Washington Nationals leading this division is that the Philadelphia Phillies are in dead last. Now, that is still only 3 games back, but I don’t think anyone thought of the Phillies as a bottom dweller. This is a very competitive division, with the Miami Marlins right on the heels of the Nats. If Giancarlo Stanton can keep powering the Marlins they could take the crown, but I am going with a dark horse and picking the Atlanta Braves to win the division.

Central: Cincinnati Reds

The NL Central really isn’t the division it once was, not to take any credit away from the Cincinnati Reds. The St. Louis Cardinals without Albert Pujols and Milwaukee Brewers without Prince Fielder haven’t been as good as they were last season. With the Chicago Cubs already 10 games back, fans in Chicago may already be looking forward to next season. The Pittsburgh Pirates pose the biggest threat, but until they put a full season together, I won’t be a believer. Cincinnati should be the division champions this season.

West: Los Angeles Dodgers

The Los Angeles Dodgers were terrorizing the league to start the season, but injuries are closing the gap with their competitors. They still own a 5 game lead over the San Francisco Giants, but have lost 4 in a row and need to get back on track. The Arizona Diamondbacks won the West last season, but haven’t been able to recapture the magic so far this year. San Francisco should make the Dodgers sweat, but ultimately the West belongs to Los Angeles.