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.

July 30, 2013

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The Week in Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Alfonso Soriano returns to Yankees: In desperate need of offense with so many injuries to key players, the New York Yankees turned to a familiar face, trading for outfielder Alfonso Soriano. Soriano began his career in New York as a second baseman before later playing for the Texas Rangers, Washington Nationals, and most recently, the Chicago Cubs. The outfielder is past his prime, but a recent hot streak was proof that he can still provide a surge of power. After hitting only nine home runs in the first three months of the season, Soriano has hit nearly that many already in July with eight this month heading into this past weekend.

Jeremy Maclin out for year: NFL training camps are underway and that can only mean one thing – injuries won’t be far behind. The biggest casualty thus far may be the Eagles’ young wide receiver, Jeremy Maclin, who is out for the season after tearing an ACL in a practice. With perhaps their best wideout injured, Philadelphia’s season gets off to a rocky start. The team still has DeSean Jackson at receiver, but Maclin’s loss gives rookie head coach Chip Kelly less to work with on offense – his area of expertise.

Jaromir Jagr signs with New Jersey Devils: Even at 41, Jaromir Jagr isn’t ready to hang up his skates. After playing for the Boston Bruins and Dallas Stars last year, the winger has signed a one-year $2 million deal with the New Jersey Devils. Jagr isn’t the player he once was, but still has a little left in the tank after scoring 35 points (including 16 goals in 45 games this past season). Plus, with Ilya Kovalchuk leaving New Jersey to play in Russia, the team was in desperate need of scoring. Jagr ranks eighth all-time among NHL players in scoring and his 681 career goals are good for tenth overall.

Lebron > Kobe in ESPN poll: When it comes to the most popular player in the NBA, LeBron James passed up Kobe Bryant for the first time in a few years according to an ESPN poll. Bryant had beaten out James the past few seasons, but after his second consecutive title, James overtook him last week. Really, it’s just proof that time heals all wounds. Immediately after the much-scrutinized “Decision” broadcast where James announced his intention to leave Cleveland for Miami, he took a huge publicity hit and was even viewed as a villain by many. But after a few years with the Heat and winning a couple of rings, liking LeBron is once again okay.

101 Russian women set a skydiving record: Yeah, I’m not even going to try to add anything to this. Feel free to watch for yourself.

Matt Garza pickup costly for Rangers: Matt Garza may not quite be a household name, but the pitcher could be the best starter that gets dealt before baseball’s trade deadline this season. At 7-1 with a 2.87 ERA, Garza is having a career year and was heavily desired by contenders before he was traded to the Texas Rangers by the Cubs. Garza didn’t come cheap, however. He cost Texas two of their top prospects entering this season, pitcher Justin Grimm and first baseman Mike Olt. Both have struggled to a degree this season, but Grimm has seven wins with the major league team while Olt has 12 home runs in the minors. The trade also cost the Rangers C.J. Edwards, a flamethrower who has dominated Rookie League and Class A in the minors the past two seasons. Also, keep in mind that Garza could only be a rental player as he’s due to become a free agent after this year. All things considered, the Rangers need to not only make the playoffs, but maybe even reach a World Series for this trade to come out in their favor.

Tim Hudson injury hurts Braves: Atlanta Braves pitcher Tim Hudson suffered a devastating injury last week when his ankle was broken by the Mets’ Eric Young, Jr. in a collision at first base. The injury was a big one as the veteran will miss the rest of the season. That hurts Atlanta’s playoff chances at least a bit and the team is already looking around for a potential trade. The Braves hold a comfortable lead in the NL East, but should the team hold on for a playoff spot, Hudson’s veteran presence will be sorely missed in the postseason.

Matt Harvey likely to end season early: Similar to what the Washington Nationals did with prized young pitcher Stephen Strasburg, the New York Mets are planning to keep Matt Harvey on a limit for the rest of the year. Mets manager Terry Collins has said Harvey has about ten more starts left instead of the 13 or so he may reach if he continued to pitch every fifth day. While similar to Strasburg’s situation, though, it’s a bit different considering the Mets aren’t likely to be in the playoffs as the Nats were. One thing that will be interesting, though, is to see if the loss in starts costs Harvey when it comes to the Cy Young voting.

June 24, 2013

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The Week In Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Miami Heat repeat as NBA Champs: The Miami Heat won Game 7 of the NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs and, in the process, brought home their second consecutive title. The Heat didn’t always play well this postseason, but when all the chips were down, they stepped up and denied the Spurs a fifth championship. LeBron James won the MVP Award of the Finals and rightfully so. He started the series slowly, scoring less than 20 points in each of the first three games. But he saved his best performance for the end, averaging 34.5 points, 11 rebounds, and 7.5 assists over the last two games. Winning three titles in a row won’t be easy but if there’s one player that can do it, it’s James – the best player in the league.

Colin Kaepernick doesn't only throw footballs well. He threw an 87 MPH first pitch over the weekend.

Carlos Lee retires: Carlos Lee quietly retired from Major League Baseball after sitting out since the end of last year. Seeking a multi-year contract when his current deal expired last season, Lee didn’t get one and has officially left the game last week. Lee never quite reached superstardom as other players in his era, but he was a legitimate power threat for more than a decade. From 2000 – 2010, Lee had at least 24 home runs every season and was one of the game’s feared power hitters. He finished his career with 358 bombs and unlike other home run hitters, never struck out 100 times in a season. While he won’t make the Hall of Fame, the three-time All-Star was a very good player for a long time.

Introduction of Deacon Jones Award: The NFL reached into its past to honor the deceased defensive end, Deacon Jones. The NFL’s league leaders in sacks will be given the new award. Jones, long regarded as one of the league’s best in that category despite it not becoming an official statistic until after he retired, passed away earlier this month.

Francisco Rodriguez picks up 300th career save: Milwaukee Brewers closer Francisco Rodriguez earned his 300th career save over the weekend. He nearly didn’t get the chance, though. After a 2-7 record and an ERA well over 4.00, K-Rod was released by the Brewers after last season and was out of baseball for a little while. But Milwaukee gave him another chance and Rodriguez has been perfect in save opportunities this season. And at only 31 with an ERA under 1.00, he could still have plenty left in the tank.

Johnny Manziel ‘can’t wait to leave’ Texas A&M: Heisman trophy winner Johnny Manziel tweeted last week that he couldn’t wait to leave Texas A&M after an apparent incident. The reason for his displeasure wasn’t known, but Manziel quickly deleted the tweet, later saying he loved the school. Far too much was made of the initial tweet by fans criticizing him. Manziel is a college sophomore with a much higher profile than he had before. There are going to be times when he’s frustrated by … whatever. Almost all college kids think they could be in a better situation at some point in their time in school and that applies to athletes, too.

Colin Kaepernick ready for majors?: San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has a bright future in the NFL. After taking over as the team’s starting quarterback, he led the team to their first Super Bowl in nearly 20 years this past season. But on Friday night, the young player showed off his skills. On a baseball field. Kaepernick, a late-round draft pick of the Chicago Cubs a few years ago, hit 87 miles per hour throwing out the ceremonial first pitch before the San Francisco Giants’ game against the Miami Marlins. That’s pretty impressive and to say he’s got a cannon for an arm would be an understatement. But (and yeah, I’m playing the heel role here) man, was that pitch wild. Kaepernick’s fortunate the catcher snared that ball since it wasn’t all that far from a completely relaxed cameraman. My guess is that he shouldn’t quit his day job.

Doc Rivers to Clippers: After an on-again/off-again status, the Los Angeles Clippers’ attempts to hire coach Doc Rivers away from the Celtics appear to have finally been successful. Rivers is under contract with the Celtics, but will reportedly leave the franchise for a first-round draft pick. Boston didn’t want to just give away their head coach, but in the end, the Celtics were better served by letting Doc walk and taking any compensation they can get for him. Even if they don’t think they’re getting enough in return, few things could be worse than having a coach around that doesn’t want to be there. Rivers could have decided not to return and opted for retirement, but then Boston wouldn’t get anything in exchange. A ‘trade’ was the Celtics’ best option for the franchise.

June 6, 2013

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10 MLB Teams That Will Miss The Playoffs

By: Joe Williams

It is hard to believe, but the MLB season is already one-third of the way over. Obviously, nobody has locked up a playoff spot yet, but several teams have dug themselves into such a big hole that they won’t be able to climb out of it. Therefore, it’s time to eliminate a third of the teams. Who are the 10 teams that aren’t going anywhere in 2013?

After signing Josh Hamilton in the offseason, the Angels would be disappointed to miss the playoffs.

Miami Marlins

We knew the Marlins would be bad after another fire sale sent their top talent elsewhere, but did we know they would be this bad? They are on pace to lose 120 games and are starting to make the Astros look pretty good.

Houston Astros

Speaking of the Astros…switching leagues hasn’t seemed to help their winning percentage and they are again headed for a 100-loss campaign. On the bright side, the worst they can finish in the AL West is fifth, instead of sixth like they were in the NL Central last year.

Milwaukee Brewers

The Brewers went 6-22 in May and were outscored by 50 runs. They weren’t just losing games. They were getting crushed. And now things could be getting worse with the news of a possible suspension coming for Ryan Braun.

Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays are currently in last in the A.L. East. They are under .500 at home. Their pitching staff is near the bottom of the league. All the big-name acquisitions have been disappointing and the division is too tough.

San Diego Padres

They have not been the same since the 2010 season when they blew the lead in the N.L. West and missed the playoffs by a game. The Padres aren’t the worst team in California, but they aren’t going to the playoffs.

Los Angeles

The “honor” of worst team in California is a tie between the Angels and Dodgers . Both teams entered the season with world championship aspirations and are playing .440 ball and well back in the playoff chase. The superstar signings haven’t paid off and it’s going to be a long summer in a city that is used to seeing meaningful games in October.

Chicago

Speaking of big cities with disappointing teams…why can’t the Cubs or White Sox get anything going? Neither team has been to the playoffs since 2008 and it’s not happening in 2013 either. But it does look like they’ll battle for best team in Chicago all season long.

New York

I might as well go all-in on the big market clubs being left home this October. I’m not going out on a limb to say that the Mets won’t be playing past game 162, but I’ll throw the Yankees in that boat too and make it 11 teams that aren’t going to be in the playoffs this year. Sure they’ve had guys stepping up for their injured stars all year and have guys coming back, but I’ll take the younger and fresher teams like Baltimore, Tampa Bay and Cleveland to hold off the Yankees in the AL East and Wild Card races.

May 13, 2013

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The Week In Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Tiger Woods wins The Players Championship – Tiger Woods won his fourth tournament of the year on Sunday when he captured The Players Championship. The event went down to the wire as Woods held off Sergio Garcia and David Lingmerth. Lingmerth missed a long birdie putt that would have sent it to a playoff, but it was Garcia and Woods who were the hot topic of discussion over the weekend. Garcia claimed Woods removed a club from his bag, which drew a roar from the crowd during his backswing, causing him to hit an errant shot. He and Tiger had a verbal back-and-forth spat through the media about the incident and the intensity increased as both were in contention on Sunday. But Garcia, tied for the lead at the time, hit an incredible three shots into the water on the 17th and 18th hole, and completely fell apart. His two gaffes on No. 17, gave him a quadruple-bogey, ending his chances of winning the title. The two have a long history of disagreements and this will only make any future pairings that much more uncomfortable.

Off to a 1-5 start, Strasburg is off to a slower start than many expected.

Phil Jackson reportedly says ‘No’ to New Jersey – Even though no one has been successful to date, that hasn’t stopped a steady stream of NBA teams in pursuit of the services of coaching legend, Phil Jackson. Jackson has been chased by a number of suitors but hasn’t been intrigued enough to take on his next challenge yet. Word is that he is seeking either a coaching job with some control over personnel decisions or a front office job in more of an administrative role. Jackson will only take the right job at this stage in his career. He’s obviously not hurting for money and his legacy is firmly intact. But my guess is we’ll see him back in some capacity down the line. The coach is already involved to a degree, reportedly helping the Detroit Pistons with their head coaching search after they dismissed Lawrence Frank.

Stephen Strasburg drops to 1-5 after another loss – The Washington Nationals’ ace Stephen Strasburg got off to a quality start this year with an Opening Day victory, but he hasn’t gotten into the win column since then. The starter is 1-5 on the season and lost another game this weekend against the Chicago Cubs. But if you’re ready to write Strasburg off, you’ll want to think again. He gave up four runs in that game, but none were earned due to an error. Strasburg’s ERA is still a more-than-respectable 3.10 and his 51 strikeouts placed him in a tie for seventh in the National League after the game. His biggest problem has been getting offense out of the rest of the team. In six of his eight starts, Washington has scored two runs or less. The Nats have given him only 2.25 runs per game and that’s not much to work with. As long as Strasburg keeps pitching well, though, the wins will come.

Kobe Bryant could battle mom in court – You read that correctly: the Mamba and his mother could head to court over some of the star’s memorabilia from his high school days and early years in the NBA. The “Cliffs Notes” version of the bizarre story is that the items (including jerseys, awards, autographed memorabilia, and more) have been at his mother’s house and that she moved them to storage to convert Bryant’s old bedroom into a playroom for her grandchildren. Somewhere along the way, she made a deal with an auction house to sell Bryant’s old belongings and received a $450,000 advance on the items, which were appraised at $1.5 million. She claimed that Bryant gave her permission to do what she wanted with the items, but the player says that’s not true. I don’t even know where to go with this – going to court with your parents isn’t an option most of us can fathom. The auction has been delayed recently by a court, so hopefully some degree of common sense can be restored.

Rumors of an ACC Network heating up – The Atlantic Coast Conference hopes to make a splash with a television deal, similar to the Big Ten Network, according to recent reports. The conference already has a deal with ESPN to broadcast games that will pay each ACC school $13 million to $17 million. But now the conference has its sights set on a separate ACC Network. That network could air football games not picked up by ESPN, games from low-revenue sports, and other conference content. The deal isn’t done, but it’s believed it would add millions more to member schools. To be honest, I’m surprised other conferences haven’t already gone that route. Getting cable companies to make the package readily available may not be the easiest thing to do, since it would represent an increased amount they need to charge customers. But in the end, all of the major conferences will likely have their own network at some point since there’s too much money to be made.

New Rutgers’ basketball coach Eddie Jordan reportedly without degree – Eddie Jordan was hired to take over the head coaching duties for the men’s basketball program after embattled Mike Rice was dismissed. But last week, a new twist emerged when it was learned that Jordan may not actually have graduated. The university says a degree is not required for the position, but the problem is that the school’s official bio for Jordan says that he possesses one. Jordan, for his part, reportedly took classes at Rutgers from 1973 to 1985 and claims that he didn’t get a diploma because he wasn’t registered properly. But that’s a pretty vague statement and it’s not yet known if Jordan deceived administrators when he pursued the job. One thing’s for certain – regarding all of the hiring flaps over the years with resume errors, it’s a bit odd that schools aren’t yet at the point where they’re fact-checking background information a bit more thoroughly.