May 28, 2013

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The Week In Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Tony Kanaan wins Indy 500: After years of frustration, veteran racer Tony Kanaan finally won the prize of his life with a win in this weekend’s Indianapolis 500. For Kanaan it was his first victory at the historic race. With only three laps to go after a green flag, Kanaan quickly took the lead. It was a good thing, too, because defending champion Dario Franchitti crashed further back from the front and the race finished under caution with Kanaan in the lead. Rookie Carlos Munoz finished in second place.

Brian Urlacher retired from the NFL after 13 years with the Chicago Bears.

Brian Urlacher retires: After not re-signing with the Chicago Bears and becoming a free agent, Brian Urlacher figured he’d be playing again in 2014. But Urlacher surprised a few folks last week when he announced his retirement. Having played 13 seasons, it’s not as if his career is being cut short but he likely still has something left in the tank. Urlacher is believed to have reached out to every team in the league, but in the end, decided he’d had enough. There’s little doubt that he’ll be on his way to the Hall of Fame at some point.

San Francisco and Houston awarded 2016 and 2017 Super Bowls: NFL owners approved the cities of San Francisco and Houston as hosts of the 2016 and 2017 Super Bowls respectively. Both edged out Miami, which was also vying for the games. San Francisco will host the historic 50th Super Bowl, which will be played in Levi’s Stadium, expected to be complete in 2014. For Miami, the biggest negative was the franchise not securing funding for improvements to their stadium. That likely cost them a bid and they may not see another one until either the team or the city forks over some money for upgrades to Sun Life Stadium.

Lebron James and Kobe Bryant headline All NBA First Team: The All NBA teams were named last week and among first-teamers were Kobe Bryant and Lebron James. Others included Kevin Durant, Tim Duncan, and Chris Paul. Left off was the scoring champion, Carmelo Anthony. Duncan had a great season, but I’m not sure I would have given him the nod over Anthony.

Cleveland wins NBA Draft lottery: Cleveland had a miserable season, but wound up with a pretty good consolation prize when they won the top spot in the NBA’s Draft lottery selection on Tuesday. It’s the second time in three seasons they’ll have had the No. 1 selection and, should they keep it, could pair a big man such as Nerlens Noel along with Kyrie Irving. In a year where there isn’t considered a dominant player at the top, trading the pick could be an option. But when you consider that they have four selections in the top 33 picks, they may need to get a proven player or two in return instead of more picks. And for what it’s worth, Cleveland’s general manager Chris Grant has said he’s willing to consider dealing the selection.

NFL Draft moving to May: Commissioner Roger Goodell confirmed in the NFL’s spring meetings last week that the league’s draft will move to May in 2014. The main reason for the switch? Radio City Music Hall will be booked during the regularly scheduled time in April.

Mike Trout becomes youngest AL player to hit for cycle: Anaheim Angels phenom Mike Trout already has an amazing track record in his short time in the big leagues. But he added another honor on Tuesday when he became the youngest AL player to hit for the cycle. Trout picked up five RBI in a 12-0 win over Seattle to accomplish the feat.

Michael Crabtree tears Achilles: The 49ers received some great news when it was announced San Francisco would host the 2016 Super Bowl. But things evened out a bit with the news that star wide receiver, Michael Crabtree, tore his Achilles and is expected to miss six months. Crabtree, who had gotten off to a modest start with the 49ers, had a breakout season last year with 85 catches, more than 1,100 yards, and nine touchdowns. The good news for San Francisco is that the team has some depth in the passing game with newly-signed Anquan Boldin, draft pick Quinton Patton, tight end Vernon Davis, and Mario Manningham.

Mike Krzyzewski will remain coach of Team USA: It was widely believed that Coach K would step down from his role as head of the U.S. men’s Olympic basketball team, but he’s apparently had a change of heart and will return. In a nutshell, that’s nothing but great news for the program. Since taking over in 2005, Team USA has had nothing but success, winning gold medals in 2008 and 2012. The players have responded well to him and there’s also something to be said for consistency in the program.

St. Louis Rams sign 400-pounder: The St. Louis Rams made a big splash, literally and figuratively, last week. The team signed Ole Miss’ Terrell Brown as a free agent. If you’re not familiar with Brown, that probably doesn’t sound like a big deal … at least until you get to the part that he’s 403 pounds. And oh yeah, he’s 6’10”, too. Brown didn’t play much during his time at Ole Miss and is considered at best to be a project. He was mostly on the defensive line in college, but will shift to the offensive line in the NFL. It may sound like an interesting story, but if coaches couldn’t find a way to use him against smaller, slower players in college, the chances that he’ll be able to compete against the best players in the world are slim.

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.

March 29, 2013

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Welcoming the Houston Astros to the AL West

By: Matt Bowen

Opening Day is only a few days away and Major League Baseball will have a slightly new look this year for the first time since 1998, when the Milwaukee Brewers switched from the American League to the National league because of expansion teams Tampa Bay and Arizona.

The Astros will be moving from the NL Central to the AL West in 2013.

Now, for the first time in league history, each league will have 15 teams. Also, each division will have five teams. The Astros are set to join the AL West amongst the likes of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Oakland Athletics, Seattle Mariners and their in-state and now divisional rival Texas Rangers.

Baseball is so excited for the move that the MLB decided that the very first game of 2013 will be the Astros hosting the Rangers. Houston righty Bud Norris gets the Opening Day nod against Texas lefty Matt Harrison.

One man to keep your eye on during the broadcast is Rangers CEO Nolan Ryan, who spent some of his best days of his Hall of Fame career in an Astros uniform, which will look strikingly familiar.

The Astros needed a new look, so they turned back the clock and mimicked their jerseys first introduced in 1975. Sure, they’re not quite as vibrant as the multiple shades of orange, but they definitely have that vibe. Don’t be surprised when the team goes full throwback a few times this season.

After all, the Astros have a new lease on their baseball life in the AL West. Yes, they lost 107 games last season, but a new chapter in their history is about to commence. Thanks to swapping leagues and the new look, Astros fans should have a new outlook.

The organization may have a ways to go before they reach glory, but they are beginning to put the right pieces in place. New manager Bo Porter is a great start. In his recent past, Porter was the third base coach for the Washington Nationals, who made the playoffs last year with an NL-best 98 wins last season. Knowing how to win is invaluable in sports and Porter has tasted victory. Now, his No. 1 job is to change the mindset in Houston.  Porter is doing just that as he’s prepping his men to be champions. Fans can’t argue with Porter’s passion.

Another thing to look forward to as an Astros fan is young players Jose Altuve and Matt Dominguez. Altuve hit .290 in 2012 with 33 stolen bases as a second baseman. He may be small in size (5’5”), but he has a big game. Last year was his first full season in the majors and he may have run out of gas down the stretch. Expect him to be ready to go for 162 games this season.

Dominguez is a 23-year-old prospect that’s been champing at the bit to make an impact at the major league level. After being dealt to the Astros last season from the Miami Marlins, he hit five homers in just 109 at-bats and hit .284. He’ll be a welcomed star for the Astros by season’s end.

Just like the team’s motto on their webpage this season, “It’s a whole new ballgame” in Houston.

March 4, 2013

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The Week In Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Magic Johnson offers $1 million dunk challenge offer to Lebron James: Each year, nearly all of the NBA’s biggest stars forgo the league’s slam dunk contest held during All-Star Weekend. Once a marquee event that featured some of basketball’s biggest stars such as Michael Jordan and Julius Erving, the dunk contest now showcases some smaller, and even obscure, names. Magic Johnson is the latest person to challenge Lebron James to partake in the event … but he’s backing it up with his wallet. Magic offered James $1 million to participate in next year’s dunk contest. More specifically, he’s willing to put the money up as a prize to the winner and LBJ is reportedly thinking about the offer. Here’s the thing – while it would be cool to see the best player in the league show up, only doing so after a significant purse is put up makes James look bad. The dunk contest is supposed to be about the fans, but if Lebron participates now, it looks like it’s all about the money. One way James can dunk next season and not look greedy? Donate the money to charity.

Joe Flacco is now the highest paid player in the NFL.

Joe Flacco becomes highest paid player in NFL: Funny what a Super Bowl win can do for you. First, wide receiver Jacoby Jones gets a Dancing with the Stars invite, and now Joe Flacco is in the news. Heading into this season, Baltimore Ravens’ quarterback Joe Flacco was widely regarded as a solid, but unspectacular, player. He had the always-popular ‘Can’t win the big one’ tag and no one knew that he’d ever shake it. But this season, Flacco took a fairly unheralded Ravens’ team and not only bulldozed their way through the AFC, but knocked off the favored San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl. Flacco parlayed that into a record NFL contract and is now the highest paid player in the league. Does he really deserve it? Probably not. There are many players more valuable to their respective teams and Flacco may never again reach another Super Bowl. But kudos to the Ravens for stepping up and paying their franchise quarterback. He’s still young and should have a lot of seasons ahead of him.

Mike Trout to make near minimum after historic season: By most accounts, Mike Trout had one of the most astounding rookie seasons in baseball history. It was so historic, that he nearly won the American League’s Most Valuable Player award. But if you think Trout was due for a big raise, think again. The Angels could have renewed his contract for a significant amount, but chose to give him only slightly more than the league minimum. The club is perfectly within its rights to pay Trout what they want since he’s not yet eligible for arbitration, but low-balling him after he proved he’s one of the game’s top players could come back to bite them when it comes time to re-sign him. Trout hasn’t openly complained, but I can’t imagine he’s too happy right now.

Randy Moss could leave San Francisco 49ers: Randy Moss didn’t have one of his biggest seasons, but he fit in with the 49ers this past season, helping the team reach the Super Bowl. It seemed like a good fit, but the wide receiver tweeted this past week that he wished the team good luck, indicating he may be moving on. If Moss does leave, it will be interesting to see what teams want to pick him up. He just turned 36 this month and is surely on the downside of his career. There just may not be many suitors for his services.

Catholic Seven to keep Big East name: The Catholic Seven, otherwise known as the non-football members of the Big East, decided recently to leave to create their own conference. The schools aren’t only leaving, but they’re reportedly taking the Big East name with them, according to ESPN. Assuming that happens, that’s the right move. When you think of the Big East, you think of schools like Georgetown, Providence, and St. John’s – not SMU, Houston, and Tulane. And frankly, the Big East name just wouldn’t fit the conference anymore once new members join since so many of them are away from the east coast.

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.