December 17, 2013

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The Week in Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Mack Brown Resigns – Crazy week in Texas with football coach Mack Brown stepping down from his post with the Longhorns. Brown’s resignation has been the subject of speculation for a few years now as many fans haven’t been pleased with the team’s record lately. After nine consecutive seasons with at least ten wins, Texas hasn’t achieved that mark in the past four years. Brown hasn’t been terrible, mind you, guiding the Longhorns to three winning seasons in those four years. But the team hasn’t competed for a national championship in some time and the program hasn’t been as good as it was last decade under him. Alabama’s Nick Saban seemed to be a potential replacement for Brown, but he recently announced he’s staying put with the Crimson Tide.

Kobe Bryant Struggles in Return – The Los Angeles Lakers got their star back this week as Kobe Bryant returned from his Achilles injury sustained last season – but things haven’t gone quite as they hoped. The team got off to a 1-3 start since Bryant’s return with their only win a three-point victory over the Charlotte Bobcats under their belts. The Mamba isn’t helping things, either. In the four games he’s played, Bryant is scoring only 13.5 points a game. Helping to fill the point guard role in Steve Nash’s absence, the good news is that he is averaging a career-high seven assists per contest. But Bryant is also averaging a career-worst 6.3 turnovers and is clearly still dealing with a high amount of rust.

Jamaal Charles has Record Day … as a Receiver – Kansas City Chiefs’ running back Jamaal Charles had some kind of day in the team’s 56-31 win over the rival Oakland Raiders on Sunday. Charles is one of the league’s best rushers, but he did his damage on Sunday through the air, racking up 195 receiving yards on eight catches. He added five big touchdowns and had 220 total yards on the day. According to ESPN, he had the third biggest receiving day for a running back since the 1970 merger and his five scores tied a franchise record. Needless to say, Charles surely won leagues for many of his fantasy football owners that reached their league’s championship games.

Roy Halladay Retires – Former All-Star pitcher Roy Halladay retired last week at the age of 36. Halladay, as recently as two seasons ago, was still one of baseball’s best pitchers. In his second season with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2011, the pitcher had perhaps his best season ever with a 19-6 record and career-bests with 220 strikeouts and an ERA of 2.35. The past two seasons for Halladay, though, have been forgettable and last year, he suffered one of his worst professional seasons going 4-5 with a whopping 6.82 ERA. The next question will inevitably be if he will get into the Hall of Fame. His credentials are reasonable with a career 3.38 ERA and more than 2,100 strikeouts, but his relatively low total of 203 wins will hurt him. That’s unfortunate because playing for some pretty bad Toronto Blue Jays teams for the bulk of his career, Halladay would certainly have had more wins with a better franchise. Still, that number will be difficult to overcome since most of the other starters currently in the Hall have more victories.

Snowball Fight Ends with Oregon Player Suspended – The Oregon Ducks’ football team apparently organized a snowball fight with fans and, well, things got out of control. A player was even suspended for the team’s upcoming bowl game. Well, then.

RGIII Benched … Redskins Lose Anyway – The Washington Redskins benched their star quarterback Robert Griffin III after he’s been inconsistent all year long following his recovery from his ACL injury. Kirk Cousins got the start for Washington on Sunday, but the team still lost to the Atlanta Falcons, 27-26. The team was competitive and Cousins did some good things in throwing for 381 yards and three touchdowns, but he also struggled a little with two interceptions and failed to convert a potential game-winning two-point conversion near the end of the contest. Cousins is an interesting quarterback who has a future in this league, but the team is still better off with Griffin if he can return to the form he showed in 2012. Benching him was the right move and if the Skins are wise, they’ll do the same for the rest of the season and allow him to get healthy for next year.

Jameis Winston wins Heisman – In the long and storied history of the Heisman trophy, a freshman didn’t win the award until last season when Johnny Manziel took home the prize. That opened the door for others and for the second consecutive season, a first-year player has won the honor. Freshman quarterback Jameis Winston has been nothing short of spectacular for the Seminoles and he clearly deserved to win it, leading Florida State to an undefeated season as they head into the national championship game next month.

Skiing … Not Just for the MountainsSkiers are taking over Detroit’s abandoned buildings. No, really.

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 29, 2013

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The Mystique of Game 7

By: Matt Bowen

Sports mimic life, the movies, and folklore—Game 7 in any playoff series is the cat’s meow.

Nothing is better than a winner-take-all, no-holds-barred bout between two teams that have grown to hate one another over the previous six rounds.

For some, the rivalry is just blossoming as teams and their fans quickly grow a disdain for all things opposition. For others, the enemy is familiar and not welcome.

The Red Wings and Blackhawks face-off in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals.

Nothing brings such a rivalry to a fever pitch as a Game 7. With the season, pride and bragging rights on the line, losing to a despicable foe stings the worst. Players don’t get to wash away the pain in their soul with a win the next time out. Fans have to stomach the body blow knock-out dealt by the gloating faithful of their rivals. Sometimes these memories torment players, fans, and franchises for an eternity.

Even though one may find themselves on the wrong end of a Game 7, the love of the game leaves them desiring more.

The NHL has received a gift from the hockey Gods—on May 29 the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks will duel in a Game 7 that promises to be one for the ages. You see, this game will be something special. This is not a normal Game 7, this is THE Game 7. The next time these bitter rivals will meet in the playoffs it will be in the Stanley Cup Finals.

With NHL realignment set to take place, the Detroit Red Wings will venture into the Eastern Conference next season. This leaves the Chicago Blackhawks as the lone Original Six team in the Western Conference.

All of a sudden there’s much more on the line in this Game 7. The winner gets the satisfaction knowing that they got the last laugh with so much at stake. Sure, the loser may exact their revenge in a somewhat meaningless regular season game next season, but the playoffs are different. Game 7 is different. This rivalry is different.

Two blue collar cities such as Detroit and Chicago are too hard-nosed to lie down for their opponent. Expect both sides to come out swinging and fight til the end. Both sides know how much this means to their diehard fans.

Every year there’s a playoff game that just won’t end—it lasts way past your bedtime. Five overtimes later, you can’t fall asleep, can’t stop watching. Don’t worry, your boss will understand. The whole city understands. The outcome will shape the mood of the office for the rest of the week.

Hockey enthusiasts hope it’s this game. The game and its fans deserve it. History is what we want—expect nothing less.

The lore of Game 7 will undoubtedly leave us in awe.

May 14, 2013

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Early MLB Observations

By: Joe Williams

Don’t look now but the MLB regular season is already a quarter of the way over. Several superstars have yet to take the field (most reside in New York) and some teams have played themselves out of playoff contention already (I’m talking to you Houston and Miami). We’ve also got a few teams playing surprisingly well (speaking of New York) and some players off to red-hot starts (can John Buck keep this up?) Here are a few more observations on the season so far.

Could Miguel Cabrera win back-to-back Triple Crown titles?

The A.L. East is upside down. Wasn’t this supposed to be the year that the division was open for the taking because the Yankees and Red Sox aren’t very good? And wasn’t Toronto going to be a strong contender with all the big names that went to Canada? So far New York and Boston are well over .500 and the Blue Jays are one of the worst teams in baseball.

The Angels and Dodgers also went all-in and signed some high-profile players but are underachieving big time so far. And not even switching leagues can help the lowly Astros. They are on pace for just 40 wins!

Is there a chance Miguel Cabrera could win back-to-back triple crowns? He’s leading in RBI, second in batting average and currently four home runs off the pace in the American League.

Stephen Strasburg, Kris Medlen, Cole Hamels and R.A. Dickey all have five losses already. These guys are some of the best pitchers in baseball.

If the playoffs began today, the qualifiers in the American League would be the New York Yankees, Detroit Tigers, Texas Rangers, Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox. Looks like all the usual suspects here. In the National League it would be the Atlanta Braves, St. Louis Cardinals, San Francisco Giants, Cincinnati Reds and the Washington Nationals. No surprises here either. But with about 120 games to go only two teams are more than 10 games off the wild card pace so anything can happen.

Unless of course we’re talking about the Cubs. Anybody think they will break the curse this season? Me either. But one streak that should be coming to an end is in Pittsburgh. They may or may not get to the playoffs but the Pirates should be able to finish over .500 for the first time since 1992.

It’s no surprise that Miguel Cabrera is the best player in fantasy baseball so far but I didn’t even know who Matt Harvey or Jean Segura are before this year and they are the second and third best in fantasy.

Speaking of fantasy baseball, if any of you know B.J. Upton or David Price please let them know I could use some production for my team. Thanks.

February 1, 2013

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3 Keys for Detroit Red Wings to Make Playoffs

By: Tyler Vespa

For the first time in a while, the Detroit Red Wings have some significant questions to answer. With the retirement of 7- time Norris Trophy winner and former captain Nicklas Lidstrom, and the trade of Brad Stuart, the biggest void is definitely on defense. The screens and deflections of Tomas Holmstrom will also be missed. The other major problem is that the Wings have a lot of streaky players on their roster, and with a shortened season that can’t happen. The impact of those 3 players on the Wings’ special teams is something that can’t be replaced over night.

I’m not saying it’s going to be easy to make the postseason, but it’s far from a long shot. Here are 3 keys for the Wings that will help them overcome all of these obstacles:

  1. Depth on the offensive side of the puck: With young guns like Damien Brunner, Gustav Nyquist, and Jan Mursak, the Wings youth movement has begun. Brunner is already playing on the Wings’ top line. Nyquist and Mursak have been solid in relief of injuries. Both have been called up numerous times to fill holes. Not to mention the fact that the Wings are loaded with talent at the forward position in the minors with names like Tomas Tatar and Joakim Andersson, who have yet see major ice time with the Wings.
  2. Darren Helm and Johan Franzen for Special Teams: Helm’s speed is a killer. The Wings need that on both ends of the ice. Johan Franzen needs to keep scoring goals; He had 27 and 28 the past two seasons. He can’t be streaky this season.
  3. Backup Goaltending: Jimmy Howard can’t play the remaining 42 games and still have some left in the tank for the postseason. We need “The Monster” Jonas Gustavsson to be solid in relief.

Bottom line, the Wings will make the playoffs again if these 3 things happen. By committee, the Wings have a great offense with some young, fresh legs. It’s extremely important we use them to help Datsyuk, Zetterberg and veteran Todd Bertuzzi. With the amount of parity in the NHL today, we can’t win without a penalty kill and a power play. Jimmy Howard needs help. Our defense is very fragile, and not nearly as talented as past seasons. If Gustavsson fails, Joey MacDonald or Thomas McCollum must be ready.