September 26, 2013

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Billy Hamilton Steals “The Show”

By: Matt Bowen

There’s a phenomenon occurring in Cincinnati and his name is Billy Hamilton. The Reds rookie outfielder has made his long awaited MLB debut and wasted little time displaying his gift.

Reds fans can look forward to watching Billy Hamilton steal plenty of bases at Great American Ball Park.

The 23-year-old from Collins, Mississippi is the fastest man in baseball at the moment. One day he’ll arguably go down as the best base-stealer of all time. This is a bold statement considering Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson holds the record with 1,406 career swipes, especially when one considers that as of September 25, Hamilton is currently sitting on a robust 13 steals.

This is where curiosity creeps in and takes over this article. You see, Hamilton has only played in 11 Major League games. Quickly, his legend is growing. Throughout ball parks and office conversation throughout the land baseball fans are asking each other, “Did you see what Billy Hamilton did last night?”

When one thinks about legendary players and some of the stories told many are hard to fathom. As badly as we want to believe all of the feats players from Babe Ruth to Bo Jackson are said to have accomplished, it’s hard. Someday, the same type of tall tales will be spoken of about Billy Hamilton and in his case, like the greats ahead of him, they’ll all be true.

His speed is remarkable—it’s something we’ve never seen.

Speed is nothing new to Hamilton; in 132 minor league games in 2012 he stole a record 155 bases. This is not folk lore, rather fact.

Fans almost have to watch him in slow motion to appreciate the true beauty of what he brings to the game. His marquee game in his short but illustrious career came on September 18 against the Houston Astros when he stole four – yes four – bases. This is where his status grows amongst the legends—he stole second base on a pitch-out.

What?!

Even when the opposition knew what Hamilton was going to do, even when they strike to mow him down they failed to do so. Remember this feat as you’ll one day hear, “Did you know Billy Hamilton once stole second one a pitch out?” Of course it’s been done before, but it doesn’t happen often and it’s something we may only see from him again.

Hamilton brings back speed to the game, an element pure baseball enthusiast miss dearly. No one has stolen 100-plus bags in the majors since Vince Coleman of the St. Louis Cardinals did it in 1987 with 109. They aforementioned Henderson holds the modern-day record with 130 in 1982. Just to show how “The Show” has veered away from stolen base paths, this year’s winner will likely be Jacoby Ellsbury of the Boston Red Sox. Right now, he has 52. Hamilton has 25 percent of Ellsbury’s total in just 11 games.
The Reds have been waiting for Hamilton to blossom into someone who can consistently make his way on base and that time is now.

In those 11 games he’s 6-for-14 with two walks, eight runs scored and just one strikeout. While the sample size may be small, it sure is promising.

The Reds have been looking for a spark all season. There may have never been a 90-plus win ball club who lacked a fire-starter quite like this Cincinnati club. As the trade deadline came and went fans wondered why they didn’t make a move, in the end the front office knew Hamilton would be called-up in early September and here to stay.

Now, because of the 23-year-old phenom they have an added dimension, a weapon every team desires but few have—speed.  Hamilton is a star waiting to shine bright. He’s the difference between a 90-plus win team and a true World Series contender.

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 31, 2013

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In Case You Missed It

By: Joe Williams

We all know about the Aaron Hernandez situation, Dwight Howard taking his talents to Houston and Ryan Braun getting suspended, but that’s not all the crazy stuff that happened in July. In case you actually have a life, here are a few stories that you may have missed.

Longtime New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur actually got to draft his son Anthony Brodeur for the Devils during the NHL draft.

During last week’s RBC Canadian Open, Hunter Mahan withdrew from the tournament to attend the birth of his first child. Mahan was leading the tournament and didn’t pull out until just before he was supposed to begin his third round, leaving his playing partner John Merrick playing in the final group by himself.

Not only did the Cincinnati Reds play a game in San Francisco as the home team, but during one of the  four-game series between the teams, the Giants grounds crew had a bit of trouble lining up the batter’s box. You shouldn’t have much trouble finding a photo of the screw up online.

When former Florida State offensive lineman Menelik Watson received his championship ring for the team’s win over Georgia Tech in the ACC title game, he was the only Seminoles player that got a ring that reads “2012 SEC Champions.” The rest of the team got rings with the correct conference inscribed on them.

The NCAA claimed that Twitter CEO Dick Costolo committed an NCAA violation when he tweeted “Welcome to the family” to a Class of 2015 wide receiver who recently committed to the University of Michigan.

“Call Me Maybe” singer Carly Rae Jepsen fired one of the worst first pitches I have ever seen. Video of that won’t be hard to find either.

A linebacker at the University of Florida was arrested for sticking his head in a police car and barking at a police dog.

One Cleveland Indians fan pulled off an incredible feat, catching four foul balls in the same game…the odds of which are about one in one trillion.

Another fan in Cleveland wasn’t so lucky. When Scott Entsminger passed away earlier this month, this ended up in his obituary…”A lifelong Cleveland Browns fan and season ticket holder, he also wrote a song each year and sent it to the Cleveland Browns as well as offering other advice on how to run the team. He respectfully requests six Cleveland Browns pall bearers so the Browns can let him down one last time.”

A battle royal erupted between two former Thai Olympic teammates during a doubles badminton match. They started trash-talking before the match even started and things continued to escalate until they fought from one end of the arena to the other. Both players received a black card.

And in the wildest story of the month former NBA player Baron Davis (the guy with the huge beard before James Harden) said that he was abducted by aliens while on a drive from Las Vegas to Los Angeles during a podcast interview. I’m not even going to go there on this one.

I can’t wait to see what happens in August as the NFL season approaches, and the baseball playoff races heat up.

June 26, 2013

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Taking a Look at Baseball’s Best Division

By: Matt Bowen

Major League Baseball has a good thing on its hands—the NL Central is going to be a three team dog fight until the end.

Currently, the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds are only separated by 3.5 games in the standings.  They are three of the best teams in baseball. The Reds find themselves third in the division with 45 wins. Only one team outside the division, the Boston Red Sox have more wins. As of June 26, the NL Central has three playoff teams.

So, which team is the best?

Will Joey Votto and the Reds win the NL Central this season?

Well, the Cardinals have one of the finest organizations in all of sports—somehow they always find a way to win. The Cards have a fantastic farm system that constantly keeps the big league club ripe with talent. They’re also a team that somehow gets the most out of every guy—they make All-Stars out of role players.

This year is no different—they currently have five guys hitting .300-plus, actually six if you count Matt Adams, who only has 86 at-bats. Catcher Yadier Molina leads the league with a .355 average. The team also has a stable of rookies contributing key innings on the pitching mound. Right now, 7-of-12 pitchers on their roster are 25 years old or younger. With all those fresh arms on the hill the Cardinals are poised to go deep into the playoffs.

That is, of course if the stay atop the division and fend off the Pirates and Reds.

The Pirates are the sweethearts of baseball—okay, maybe that’s a “soft” term for such a rugged team. They will not go down without a fracas. In reality, everybody who passionately follows the game wants this team to win. The franchise hasn’t had a winning season since 1992. They’ve toyed with a better than .500 record the past two seasons but have unraveled at the end.

Good news for the team, their pitching has held up well to this point. Also, Andrew McCutchen, their best player has yet to play his best ball. The emergence of rookie pitcher Gerrit Cole has strengthened the rotation and is the ingredient the team needs to remain over the hump. By August, this kid will be an outright star.

Is this finally the year the Bucs break out?

Not if the Reds have something to do with it. Cincinnati is built to win now. They have a top-notch rotation and a perennial MVP candidate in Joey Votto.

The Reds have every component to win now, but will need some clutch hitting along the way. It seems to be the one weakness the team has. Untimely hitting can plague teams and this year it’s cost the Reds a few games. Hey, it’s better to have those problems now rather than late August—there’s plenty of time to work out the kinks.

This isn’t to downplay the Reds; they’re a phenomenal squad and right in the thick of the race. Look for them to be buyers at the for a professional hitter out of the two-hole.

So, which team will win the NL Central this year? Let’s reconvene in early September and talk. One thing’s for sure, we’re in for a treat.

May 31, 2013

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In Case You Missed It: May Edition

By: Joe Williams

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like something crazy is happening on a daily basis in the sports world. Maybe it’s always been that way and it’s just that we now have the technology that allows us to see and hear everything. Either way, there is just too much crazy for one article at the end of the year to cover it all so let’s just take it a month at a time. Here are some of the wacky sports stories from this May.

The New York Knicks ended up looking pretty foolish when lost Game 5 against the Boston Celtics after they came to the arena dressed in all black because they were “attending the Celtics funeral.”

Aroldis Chapman ate 18 pastries before a game in May.

Wichita State catcher Tyler Baker chased down and captured a squirrel with his batting helmet after the animal ended up in the infield when Baker was on second base.

Washington Nationals outfielder, Bryce Harper, was ejected from a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates because he slammed his bat and his helmet to the ground.

An NFL quarterback who attempted just eight passes last season and is now unemployed was named Most Influential Athlete by Forbes Magazine. That’s right. Tim Tebow is at it again.

Boston Red Sox pitcher Joel Hanrahan threw a wild pitch that actually went right through a sign on the wall behind home plate.

The Oakland A’s lost a game to the Cleveland Indians when a blown call cost them what would have been a game-tying home run in the top of the ninth. Not only did the umpires miss the call live, but then they went to the replay and still got it wrong.

A Jacksonville Jaguars fan sent President Obama a petition asking the President to force the Jaguars to sign unemployed quarterback Tim Tebow.

MLB umpires suffered another embarrassing incident when they allowed the Houston Astros to go to their bullpen twice before a pitch was thrown. The Angels argued the call and after three huddles and a phone call, the incorrect call was upheld.

An average citizen contacted the NBA to declare himself eligible for the draft. Surprisingly, he received a personal response from the NBA informing him that he is a free agent and can sign with any team.

A fan at a San Francisco Giants game fell onto the field while reaching for a ball, lost his pants and was then ejected from the game.

A fan at a Chicago Blackhawks playoff game went into labor in the stands. But she wasn’t about to leave during an elimination game and waited until after the game to go to the hospital.

Lorenzo Cain of the Kansas City Royals was awarded a walk after receiving just three balls instead of the required four in a game against the New York Yankees.

San Diego Chargers rookie Manti Te’o actually showed up at the Maxim Hot 100 party after the magazine put his fake girlfriend at No. 69 in its Hot 100 list.

Cincinnati Reds closer Aroldis Chapman blew a save against the Philadelphia Phillies. This was after he at 18 pastries before the game.

A snow cone vender at a Houston Astros game was fired after bringing the snow cones into the bathroom and leaving them on the floor while he used the toilet.

More to come in June I’m sure.