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.

June 10, 2013

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The Week In Sports

By: Anson Whaley

NBA Finals tied up 1-1: After a close loss at home on Thursday, the Miami Heat rebounded for a 103-84 blowout win in Game 2 over the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals on Sunday. The Heat still find themselves without home court advantage, but now have a fighting chance to win the series. Another loss would have put the team in an 0-2 hole facing three straight games in San Antonio under the 2-3-2 Finals format. And against the experienced Spurs, that may have been too big a deficit to overcome.

The Heat tied the NBA Finals series at 1-1 with their Game 2 win on Sunday.

French Open concludes: Tennis’ French Open wrapped up with a couple of the game’s biggest stars finishing on top. For the men, Rafael Nadal won a record eighth French Open title, defeating David Ferrer this weekend. Nadal won easily in straight sets and his eighth title at the French is the most of any man at any Grand Slam tournament. On the women’s side, Serena Williams won her 2nd French title, also in straight sets, over the defending champ Maria Sharapova. For Williams, it was her 16th major championship.

Major League Baseball/Biogenesis scandal: Major League Baseball is reportedly trying to suspend a group of 20 players linked to the Biogenesis/PED scandal. The alleged list includes some big names such as Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun, Melky Cabrera, and Bartolo Colon. If the suspensions happen, some teams could find themselves in a bind. Players like Nelson Cruz, and Jhonny Peralta are parts of teams (the Texas Rangers and Detroit Tigers, respectively) in playoff races. Because of that, it will be interesting to see what types of moves that clubs make in advance of any potential suspensions.

Coach Jason Kidd?: The recently retired Jason Kidd doesn’t want to spend a season without basketball. ESPN reports that the former point guard is interested in coaching – specifically, he wants the Brooklyn Nets’ job. A few years ago, that may not have been a half bad idea. But the Nets have a lot invested in this team and if I’m GM Billy King, there’s no way I’m taking a call from a player with no coaching experience in college or the pros.

The ‘Average’ Lebron: Dennis Rodman made headlines again when he said LeBron James would be an average player in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The comments were made when comparing James and Michael Jordan. James may not be as great as Jordan, but average? It’s hard to envision the 6’8” freak of nature as just an average player in any era. Rodman made a good point in that the game may not be as physical as it once was, but James does so much more other than score. He’s a tremendous rebounder and passer and there’s no question he would still be a star in that era … or any other, for that matter.

Marc-Andre Fleury to return as Pens’ starter: The Pittsburgh Penguins, Stanley Cup favorites after, were unceremoniously swept by the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference finals. In the process, starting goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, was replaced by backup Tomas Vokoun who played well in the series. But head coach Dan Bylsma said afterwards that Fleury is a franchise goalie and will return as the team’s No. 1 starter – and that’s probably the right move. Fleury is only 28 years old and helped the Penguins to back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals appearances only a few years ago. And with two years and $10 million left on his current contract, the Pens have little choice but to at least give him another shot if they are against trading him away.

Tommy Rees chosen as Notre Dame starting QB: Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly recently lost his starting quarterback Everett Golson to an academic-related suspension. As expected, Kelly announced that he will turn to Tommy Rees as the starter in 2013, per mlive.com. That’s no surprise as he’s the most experienced player of the other options, Andrew Hendrix and newcomer Malik Zaire. The Irish are fortunate to have Rees as few teams have two quarterbacks with as much experience as he and Golson. Instead of turning to an inexperienced backup, Notre Dame has Rees, who started nearly every game in 2011 and has played in 33 career games.

Brett Favre takes blame in parting with Packers: Quarterback Brett Favre accepted some of the blame for his ugly divorce from the Green Bay Packers in a recent radio show interview. That’s good news for the two since Favre will always be recognized as a Packer even though he also played briefly with the Minnesota Vikings and New York Jets. The Packers will want his participation in team-related events for the rest of his life, and it’d be much better if the two sides can reconcile and get along since Favre has been such a big part of the organization.

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.

April 17, 2013

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Early Season MLB Notes

By: Matt Bowen

We may only be a few weeks into the 2013 MLB season, but there’s plenty to talk about. With every team playing around 12 games, enough action has played out to begin to speculate on just how the season may go.

If your favorite team has stumbled out of the gates, don’t be discouraged, there are still 150 games to go.

The players and teams mentioned in this article have not struggled from the get-go. In fact, it’s just the opposite as they are red hot.

Prince Fielder has 19 RBI early in the 2013 MLB season.

The Atlanta Braves are the Hottest Team Right Now

Baseball experts were perplexed in the preseason in regards to just which team would win the National League East. The only team not considered to contend for the divisional crown is the rebuilding Miami Marlins. At this moment, the 12-1 Atlanta Braves are the early favorites. The Washington Nationals won it last season, the Philadelphia Phillies are never to be taken lightly and the New York Mets are considered a Wild Card, but the Braves are the best. This is a playoff race that won’t end until game 162.

The Braves gave their franchise a facelift in the offseason and the gamble is paying off. Among other acquisitions, both B.J. and Justin Upton now roam their outfield. Justin, the younger of the two brothers looks like an early NL MVP candidate. His eight homers currently lead the league.

The Braves look like a team in midseason form and even with injuries to the likes of Freddie Freeman and Brian McCann. A pleasant surprise has been the addition of 26-year-old Evan Gattis to the lineup. His journey to the majors is one for the ages. He only made the club out of spring training due to injuries, but he’s not going anywhere and is in Atlanta to stay.

Gattis is hitting .289 in the early going with four home runs and 10 RBI. The Braves will have a good problem on their hands when Freeman and McCann return to the lineup. Gattis is their X-factor. Every winning team has one. He’s a player to root for all season no matter who your favorite team is.

Now a Member of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Carl Crawford Looks Like His Old Self Again

Carl Crawford’s time as a member of the Boston Red Sox can be easily forgettable. One large contract, a number of injuries and two years later, he’s a Los Angeles Dodger.

Crawford now looks like his former self when he played outfield for the Tampa Bay Rays. Right now he’s hitting .392 as the Dodgers lead-off hitter. He looks happy and his team is looking wise to trade for him even when injured.

Most importantly, the Dodgers have positive momentum thanks to new ownership. The club may only be .500 at the moment but its only mid-April. They have an All-Star lineup from top to bottom and Crawford will be the piece that puts them over the top in 2013.  When he’s on, he’s electric. He can win a game all by himself with his speed.

Don’t sleep on Crawford, he’s back to being the real deal.

New York Mets Pitcher Matt Harvey is the Early NL Cy Young Favorite

Some New York Mets fans may have cringed when the team traded away R.A. Dickey to the Toronto Blue Jays this offseason. All Dickey did last season is win the NL Cy Young.

Well, the Mets front office looks brilliant right now because young pitcher Matt Harvey looks like he could win the coveted award this season.

The 24-year-old pitcher has won his first three starts and is making history. He became the first pitcher since 1947 to go at least seven innings with three hits or less allowed in his first three starts. The last man to do that was Cleveland Indians Hall of Fame hurler Bob Feller. That’s good company to be in.

Harvey tasted the majors late last season, throwing 59 innings and striking out 70 batters. He hasn’t disappointed thus far in 2013 and Mets fans have to be looking forward to the future with Harvey as their ace.

It won’t be too long before he’ll an undisputed star.

Prince Fielder Looks like he’s having an MVP season in Detroit

The Detroit Tigers knew what they were doing when they signed Prince Fielder to a lofty contract in the winter of 2012.  He had never hit above .300 in a season before, but last season he hit .313.

Many can argue that boost in average is because he had Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera batting in front of him, but Fielder also had former NL MVP winner Ryan Braun hitting ahead of him as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers.

The Tigers came up empty in the World Series last season and Fielder is making it clear that the team has unfinished business this season. He’s hitting .383 this season with four homers and 19 RBI so far and the Tigers offense is clicking on all cylinders.

Fielder almost looks angry at the plate. Like the baseball is his despised nemesis. Truth be told, anything short of a ring this season in Detroit and 2013 will be considered a failure.

Fielder is out to make that dream come true—he’s on a mission. Albeit early, the AL MVP is his to lose. In doing so, he’ll be the Tigers third consecutive MVP.

April 12, 2013

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MLB Players Whose Star Status Could Fizzle in 2013

By: Ally Silva

Fame can be fleeting in baseball. MLB players who at one time enjoyed star status can suddenly find themselves yesterday’s news in a heartbeat.

For various reasons—age, injuries that take their toll and inexplicable performance drop-offs among them—players can quickly become bench players who have been passed by.

Here are five MLB players who could see their stars fizzle in the 2013 season.

Will Derek Jeter's stats begin to slow down in 2013?

1. David Ortiz: Boston Red Sox

For the past ten seasons, designated hitter David Ortiz has been a focal point for the Boston Red Sox. Last year, however, Ortiz was limited to 90 games by a strained Achilles tendon.

At 37 years of age, Ortiz will attempt to bounce back from last year’s injury and again be a main contributor for the Red Sox as they attempt to recover from a miserable season. Whether or not Ortiz can fully recover remains to be seen, but with his advancing age it’s entirely possible that the 2013 season could be the year that his star finally begins to fizzle.

2. Paul Konerko: Chicago White Sox

Chicago White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko was selected to his sixth All-Star team in 2012. However, he saw his overall numbers decline as well, hitting 26 HR with 75 RBIs.

Konerko will again be expected to deliver in the middle of the batting order for the White Sox in 2013. Whether or not he can continue to provide solid and consistent production at the age of 37 is in question. With numbers in decline over the past two seasons, that regression could continue.

3. Alfonso Soriano: Chicago Cubs

Chicago Cubs left fielder Alfonso Soriano enjoyed a resurgent season in 2012, leading the Cubs with 32 HR and 108 RBIs. It was by far Soriano’s most productive season in a Cubs uniform.

Now 37 years of age, Soriano will again be relied upon to supply power from the right side of the plate. As with the two players already displayed on this list, it’s entirely possible Soriano may have maxed out his performance last season.

4. Derek Jeter: New York Yankees

New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter has apparently fully recovered from the broken ankle suffered in Game 1 of last year’s ALCS against the Detroit Tigers. Jeter now ranks 11th all-time in MLB with 3,304 total hits and is preparing himself to continue his climb up the leaderboard.

The big question at this point is whether or not Jeter can reclaim his offensive mojo after a devastating injury late in his career. Considering the body of work he’s put forth up to this point, it would be foolhardy to bet against him. But it certainly remains a possibility.

5. Tommy Hanson: Los Angeles Angels

In some ways, 26-year-old Tommy Hanson is getting a fresh start with the Los Angeles Angels. The Atlanta Braves traded Hanson to the Angels over the offseason after he suffered through a sub-par 2012 campaign with reduced velocity.

Hanson will look to recover the jump on his fastball in Anaheim and rediscover the talent that led to him becoming a top pitching prospect for the Braves. It could be just a one-year audition for Hanson, and the Angels won’t hesitate to move on without him if he can’t deliver in 2013.

This is a guest post submitted by Ally Silva. Ally played all kinds of sports growing up and adamantly follows everything sports now, particularly Chicago sports. She works with Phoenix Bats, a company that creates world-class wooden bats for amateur and professional ball players around the world. Ally loves writing on different sports topics and is very grateful to be able to contribute here.