February 26, 2013

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NBA Playoff Races To Watch

By: Joe Williams

With about 25 games to go in the NBA regular season, we’ve got a pretty clear picture of the teams that will make the playoffs and the ones that will be in the lottery. What we don’t know is who will face who once the playoffs get started. And that will go a long way toward determining what happens in the NBA playoffs. Here are a few races I’ll be keeping my eye on as we inch towards the final game of the regular season.

Will the Lakers make the NBA Playoffs?

The Heat will be the top seed in the East. We know that. But the second and third seeds could go to Indiana, New York, Brooklyn, Chicago or Atlanta. These teams ought to be desperate to finish second or third. That will get them home-court advantage in the first round, but that doesn’t really matter too much. The important thing for these teams is to get on the other side of the bracket and avoid a second round meeting with the Heat. You don’t want to face the defending champs any sooner than you have to.

Speaking of avoiding the Heat…Boston and Milwaukee shouldn’t be too worried about anyone below them stealing a playoff spot. But they will be battling to get the seventh seed and avoid the Heat in the first round.

In the West, the final playoff spot is getting all the attention. Can the Lakers squeak into the playoffs? That’s what all the talk is about, but I’m not counting out Dallas or Portland yet. All three teams are tied with 30 losses at the moment and are going to have to get red-hot to catch Houston or Utah. On second thought, after looking at the Blazers schedule, I’m counting them out. Their final 16 games are against teams in the playoff race. If they find a way to get in, nobody will be able to say they didn’t earn it.

Of course, whoever does get that final spot is going to be facing the team with the best record in the NBA, San Antonio. It would be quite the series if the Lakers do end up as the eighth seed.

The Clippers and Memphis must keep winning to stay in the top four and get home-court in round one. With so many good teams in the West, home-court will be important.

One more race that is a little bit interesting will be to see which team finishes with the worst record and gets the most ping pong balls in the lottery. It looks like this will come down to Charlotte and Orlando.

November 7, 2011

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Who Deserves Veterans Committee Votes for the Baseball Hall of Fame?

By: Anson Whaley

Major League Baseball’s Veterans Committee will again be under the spotlight and decide if any players passed over several times for Hall of Fame induction should be enshrined. Eight former players will get another shot, but the question (as always) is: Who really deserves to be inducted?

Ken Boyer: Boyer spent 15 seasons in the majors, mostly with the St. Louis Cardinals. From 1956 – 1964, he was one of the top third basemen in baseball. He won the Most Valuable Player award in 1964, but other than that, didn’t do quite as much as another candidate, Ron Santo (who I’ll get to in a bit). The reason Boyer hasn’t had more consideration is what he did with the rest of his career. From 1965 – 1969, his offensive production dropped considerably and he retired at 38. In my opinion, Boyer didn’t do quite enough to warrant consideration.

Gil Hodges: Hodges was undoubtedly one of the best power hitters of his era as he slugged 370 home runs, hitting at least 25 on nine separate occasions (including two 40-homer seasons). He was an eight-time All-Star and won three Gold Gloves. Hodges has always had strong consideration for the Hall and in his final year of eligibility in 1983, received 63.4% of the vote. Hodges also won two World Series championships as a member of the Brooklyn / Los Angeles Dodgers. The thing that sets Hodges apart, in my opinion, is the World Series title he won as a manager for the 1969 Amazin’ Mets. That gets him over the top and he deserves to be voted in.

Jim Kaat: When Kaat’s Hall of Fame credentials are brought up, most detractors will point to the fact that his 283 career wins came over a very long career that spanned 25 seasons. What isn’t usually mentioned is that in seven of those seasons (1959 – 1960 and 1979 – 1983), he started less than 15 games. In the 18 years he started more than 15, he averaged nearly 15 wins per season. He topped 20 wins three times and maxed out at 25 in 1966. As if that weren’t enough, Kaat is also considered possibly the greatest fielding pitcher of all-time, winning an amazing 16 Gold Gloves. Sure, that might be the equivalent of being the career leader in blocked shots for a point guard in the NBA, but it’s still impressive. His career ERA of 3.45 was also respectable, so he gets my vote.

Minnie Minoso: A career .298 hitter, Minoso was also one of the best batters of his generation. As a third baseman and outfielder, he never put up big power numbers, though, finishing with less than 200 home runs. Minoso was a nine-time All-Star and won three Gold Gloves, but to me, he falls just short. He epitomizes a very good, but not great, player – so I’d vote against him.

Ron Santo: Santo was a nine-time All-Star and played 15 seasons – mostly with the Chicago Cubs. He finished in the top ten in home runs in seven different seasons and finished with a total of 342. Santo also earned five Gold Glove awards for his defensive play over his career. Despite all of that, he never got all that close to being inducted, receiving only 43.1% of the necessary 75% in votes. Santo may be the toughest player to decide upon, but I’d lean on putting him in.

Fans at Wrigley Field were treated to years of outstanding play from Ron Santo.

Tony Oliva: Oliva played 15 years all with the Minnesota Twins and is another interesting player. Like Boyer, he had a stretch of about eight seasons when he was one of the best players at his position. Oliva, surprisingly, may have had his best season as a rookie in 1964 when he hit 32 home runs, drove in 94 runs, and batted .323. That earned him Rookie of the Year honors and he went on to win three batting titles. Oliva also played well in the postseason, compiling a .314 average over three series. The only problem is that he didn’t do it long enough. He was a career .300 hitter, but never reached even 2,000 hits – far below the 3,000 that is generally seen as the number needed for a guaranteed induction. I’d lean towards voting against Oliva.

Allie Reynolds: You may never have heard of Reynolds, who played for 13 seasons with the Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees. But he was a big-time pitcher in the 1940s and early 1950s and one of the hardest throwers of his era. Reynolds is perhaps best known for being a staple of six New York Yankees World Series championship teams. He wasn’t just along for the ride, though. Reynolds went 7-2 and had an ERA of 2.79 of those series. Amazingly, he batted over .300 in the postseason, compiling eight hits in 26 at bats. Reynolds also tossed a couple of no-hitters and was a six-time All-Star. This is a tough call for me, but ultimately I’d leave him out. Reynolds does have 182 wins in the short span of only 13 seasons, but he played on some excellent Yankee teams that helped his stats a bit.

Luis Tiant: Tiant won 229 games over 19 seasons and was a three-time All-Star. He garnered little consideration over the years and it’s difficult to make a compelling case for him. Tiant had several excellent seasons (most notably, his 21-9 / 1.60 ERA 1968 season), but a few good years does not a Hall of Famer make. I’ve got to say no to Tiant.