March 14, 2013

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5 MLB Teams Destined to Have a Bounce-Back Season

By: Matt Bowen

With the 2013 MLB season set to begin in April there are five teams destined to have a bounce-back season.

For the teams mentioned in this article, the 2012 season was a major league letdown. Regardless, what’s done is done and there’s no reason to dwell on it.

With optimism flooding the mentality of every MLB team and their fan bases this time of year, there’s no time like the presence to turn the corner.

After all, only the San Francisco Giants went home happy in 2012.

Dustin Pedroia is one reason Red Sox fans should believe their team can turn it around in 2013.

For some teams, becoming a respected and prominent team this year is the ultimate goal. For these teams, it’s now time to forget about 2012 and put solid numbers in the “Win” column.

The Boston Red Sox Won’t End Up in the Cellar Again

Things have drastically changed in Boston, but fans need not worry about becoming cursed again. The team will be just fine in Bean Town. Despite finishing 69-93 last season, things are looking good.

They successfully shed about $250 million in salary with a massive nine-player deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers last August. Although a ton of talent left town, they still have the familiar faces of David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury.

Here’s where fans will fall in love with the latest edition of the Red Sox—they’re going to be gritty, which is a perfect fit in Boston.  With a nice mixture of veteran leadership and youthful exuberance, the chemistry in the clubhouse should be lively and fun.

One player to keep your eye on is a young outfielder by the name of Jackie Bradley. He’s quickly winning over his teammates and hitting around .500 this spring. Expect him to be a staple in the Red Sox lineup before season’s end.

The Pittsburgh Pirates Look to End 2013 the way the 2012 season began—Winning

It’s hard not to root for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  They haven’t made the postseason since the early 1990s and looked destined last season, but stumbled down the stretch. In fact, they haven’t had a winning season in 20 years.

Their superstar, Andrew McCutchen, is an all-world gentleman. He did something last season that hasn’t been done in Pittsburgh in decades—he signed a six-year contract to stay in the Steel City.

He believes and so should the fans. We know they know how to lose, but they’ve definitely tasted victory. Now, 2013 is the year to put it all together.

Although pitchers Garrit Cole and Jameson Taillon won’t start with the big club on Opening Day, they’ll be front-row and center by the time August rolls around.  When they arrive, the whole world will have all eyes on the Pirates.

The Kansas City Royals Will Make the Playoffs

It’s true; your eyes are not playing tricks on you. The Kansas City Royals will make the playoffs in 2013.

For years the Royals have had one of the best farm systems in all of baseball, but that potential hasn’t quite translated into wins.  This is the year that is does.

The organization traded one of their highly touted prospects named Wil Myers to the Tampa Bay Rays in the offseason for quality starting pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis.

This is a positive first toward making the playoffs. After all, how far can a team go if their pitchers can’t take them deep into ball games?

While Myers’ MLB debut is highly awaited, the Royals have an entire roster of prospects just like him. Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez are just a few names in the Royals dugout that have insane amounts of talent.

Don’t be shocked when it all comes together this season.

Don’t Write Off the Seattle Mariners as Dead Meat in the AL West

Sure, the AL West is loaded with talent thanks to the Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Oakland Athletics, but the Seattle Mariners are not a team to sleep on.

The team still has one of the best pitcher’s in the game in Felix Hernandez. They also players like Jason Bay and Michael Morse. These guys will be playing with a chip on their shoulder looking to prove they still have gas in the tank.

Combine these vets with youngsters like Jesus Montero, Dustin Ackley and others and the Mariners have a nice squad on their hands.

Here’s where the 2013 Mariners will be most dangerous—they will be overlooked, circled on every opponent’s calendar as an easy victory. This is where others will be wrong. Following by the example set by the veterans, the entire roster will play like today could be their last. In a sense, they’re a team of castaways sent to the Northwest to be forgotten about.

Expect that “Us Against the World” mentality to fuel the Mariners throughout the season.

This Will Be the Year Chicago Cubs Fans Start to Believe Again

Chicago Cubs fans deserve credit—every year since 1908 the team has gone without a title. Yet, every year the fans come out to Wrigley Field in droves to support their Cubbies.

This is now year two of the Theo Epstein era. Reminder, Epstein is the General Manager whose formula brought the Boston Red Sox two World Series titles in the first decade of this century. Given, the Cubs aren’t the favorite to win it all this season, but they’ll be better than their 101 losses a season ago.

How will they be better?

Superstar Starlin Castro will mature and take every second seriously. He’s been known to be lax in the past.  They also have Anthony Rizzo, who will face a make-or-break season. Don’t expect him to be considered a bust this season.  Rizzo was once one of the top prospects in baseball and is still only 23 years old.

It is rookies Javier Baez and Jorge Soler that will be the sparkplugs in the Cubs offense this year. They may take a few months to get their feet wet, but they’ll quickly become fan favorites.

“Hey Chicago whaddya say…”

Things are looking up.

October 13, 2011

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“Who Would Win?” with Kevin Youkilis of the Boston Red Sox

By: Lionel

The Boston Red Sox have taken a beating from the media over the last few weeks, with the team melting down in the last month of the regular season, the departure of Terry Francona and Theo Epstein, and the recent accusations of players partying in the clubhouse during games.  We could get caught up in the drama, but we prefer to talk about happy things.  Besides that, we have a fun interview with Kevin Youkilis that we’re excited to publish while people are still talking about the Boston Red Sox.

We asked Kevin Youkilis to play “Who Would Win?” with us.  The premise is simple.  We just asked Kevin to tell us which of his Boston Red Sox teammates would win various hypothetical events.  His answers are below in bold:

“Kevin Youkilis, of your Boston Red Sox teammates, who would win…

1. …a game of Trivial Pursuit?”  Ryan Lavarnway, only because he went to Yale.

2. …a car race?”  Marco Scutaro loves fast cars.

3. …a political election?”  Jed Lowrie, because he went to Stanford and wears 3-piece suits.

4. …a singing contest?”  Daisuke has a good voice.

5. …a dance-off?”  No idea.  Luckily never seen some guys dance.

6. …a humanitarian award?”  Too hard to answer because we have a lot of guys that do a lot of charity work.

7. …a trash-talking contest?”  Pedroia for sure.  A daily routine for him [is] to talk trash, but it’s all joking around and never too serious.

8. …an arm-wrestling tournament?”  Varitek.  He is one strong dude.

9. …a stand-up comedy contest?”  Marco Scutaro for sure.  He is always making guys laugh and keeping the locker room loose and fun.

10. …a hot dog eating contest?”  Jacoby Ellsbury and Jonathan Papelbon.  They can eat a lot.

July 13, 2011

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Sprucing Up the MLB All-Star Festivities

By: Rick Jarrell

Major League Baseball has received their fair share of criticism regarding the Midsummer Classic since Commissioner Bud Selig decided to call the 2002 MLB All-Star Game in the 11th inning, ending it in a tie. In all fairness, the Midsummer Disaster was not Selig’s fault. Each team had run out of available relief pitchers – so the blame should have been each club’s manager for not managing the game well. Or throw a position player on the mount. It’s an exhibition game meant for the fans.

The next season, the league and the player’s union agreed to “make it count” by awarding home field advantage in the World Series to the winner of the game. This is a good idea in theory, but over the past ten years, the American League has dominated the National League in most facets of the game (excluding small ball). Look at the interleague record and past World Series Champs for proof. It’s extremely lopsided. At the risk of sounding like a toddler, it’s clear that placing a prize as important as home field on a lopsided game just isn’t fair.

Chase Field, home of the 2011 All-Star Game

Beyond the negative impact on competitive advantage, the measure didn’t please the fans, the target market of professional sports and especially All-Star games. The players like being selected, I’m sure, but they would also like to take a few days off to charge their batteries for the remainder of a long season.

There’s clearly room for improvement. First of all, why is the game always on a Tuesday? All other major league all-star games are on an “All-Star Weekend” of some type. The answer to this is likely simple – people have other things to do on the weekend, especially during the summer, and are not as likely to watch the Home Run Derby or All-Star Game. But maximizing television ratings (which the MLB is very good at) should not force them to sacrifice the opportunity in front of them. It’s harder for fans to travel on a Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday. It’s better “to make a weekend of it,” like the NBA has been able to do with their game.

The most interesting parts of other all-star games, in my opinion, are the various skills competitions. The NBA has the dunk contest, dribble obstacle course (or whatever it’s called), and the three point contest. The NHL has a bunch of stuff (I won’t pretend for a second I’m a hockey fan, but I’ve stumbled across their skills competitions, and they’re pretty cool). The NFL has their pass-punt-kick competitions. Why doesn’t the MLB have these?

Baseball is a game of many combined skills, more than any other sport, that often go unnoticed. I say try to quantify them by putting them on display. A few random gimmicks to try…

`1. Outfielder vs. Speedster – Take one of the outfielders with the best arm and one of the fastest players. The outfielder is stationed somewhere in left/right field. The runner starts from home and sprints around the bases. Once they touch 3rd, the outfielder cocks back and lets it loose towards home. They could create some sort of bracket, similar to the Home Run Derby. Who doesn’t like a play at the plate?

2. Targets – Set up targets throughout the infield. Create stations in the outfield for players to aim at targets. It’s similar to the pass-punt-kick, except only throw. I’ve always enjoyed watching relievers long toss before games, why not make it a competition.

3. Crab fights – Place a pool in the parking lot and have players battle it out with each other. Prince Fielder and Brandon Phillips vs. David Ortiz and Jacoby Ellsbury. Who doesn’t want to watch that?

Sure, the last one is off the wall. But when the traditional model is not working, it helps to innovate and do something zanier than the competition is willing to do. If the fans are not happy, it’s time to take a few risks. It may be hard to get any crab fight-esque ideas past the player’s union, but if they resist, force a lockout! (Too soon?) Anyways, there’s plenty of games, competitions, and Quidditch matches that could be integrated into the MLB All-Star festivities. Thoughts, anyone?

June 20, 2011

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Boston Suddenly Becoming America’s Sports Town

By: Anson Whaley

It wasn’t always this way. If you could somehow wind back that old, creaky grandfather clock in the hallway about a decade, you could see that. Ten years ago, the Internet was a fairly new invention (just whose invention is up for debate), your Star Wars movies were likely on VHS instead of DVD, and America was going through one of the roughest times in recent memory with 9/11. On the sports front, Kobe and Shaq were still together, Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling were busy breaking up the latest Yankees dynasty as members of the Arizona Diamondbacks, and Tiger Woods had just won something called a ‘Tiger Slam.’ Oh yeah, and Hulk Hogan was king of WCW’s rivalry against the WWE – can’t leave that out.

Boston? Well, the Red Sox still were under the curse of the Bambino and with the Yankees’ success, there appeared to be no end in sight. When you mentioned the Celtics’ Big Three, it wasn’t Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, but instead, only distant memories of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish. The Patriots were in the Drew Bledsoe era while some guy named Tom Brady was a sixth-round Draft Pick and on the bench, and the Bruins hadn’t won a Stanley Cup in 30 years.

Let’s just say things weren’t exactly looking up in Beantown.

Now, in 2011, the tide has changed and Boston sits atop the sports world. In recent memory, the city has not only fielded competitive sports teams, but championship ones. With the recent Stanley Cup win by the Bruins, all four of Boston’s major sports teams have won a championship in the past six years. Along with those titles, those franchises boast plenty of individual star power. Leading the way for the Red Sox are Josh Beckett, David Ortiz, Adrian Gonzalez, and Jacoby Ellsbury. The Pats’ Brady is a future Hall of Famer and playing at a high level. The Celtics triumvirate of stars – Garnett, Pierce, and Allen – is still a collection of big names and good players. And, by the way, the Bruins’ Tim Thomas may be the best goalie in all of hockey.

Larry Bird, Robert Parish, Kevin McHale

And while none of the city’s professional sports franchises are guaranteed or maybe even expected to continue winning titles, all have legitimate shots to do so.

The Celtics, while an aging group, have a chance to get out of the Eastern Conference for at least a few more seasons.  The Red Sox put together an All-Star lineup this year in hopes of winning another World Series and while they got off to a slow start, they’ve moved into first place in the AL East and have the horses to make another championship run. The Patriots have taken a step back from their dominance of the mid 2000s, but with Brady at the helm, are not going away anytime soon. And the Bruins, fresh off a Stanley Cup win, will be able to compete as long as Thomas continues to post unbelievable performances in net.

Another reason Boston could be on their way to winning additional championships is that there are no current dynasties in sports. The Los Angeles Lakers and Pittsburgh Steelers may have been the closest to that, but both fell short in title bids in 2011. The sports landscape is wide open and Boston could continue to capitalize for many years to come.

April 25, 2011

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Biggest Surprises of 2011 MLB Season

By: Anson Whaley

I know, I get it – the MLB seasonis really just getting underway, and many fans aren’t even paying attention yet with the NBA and NHL playoffs dominating the sports world. But some early season surprises are still worth noting – here are a few:

The Boston Red Sox

What’s going on in Beantown? The Sox were picked by many prognosticators to not only reach the playoffs, but win the World Series. Until this recent hot stretch, though, Boston’s lineup of All Star MLB players hasn’t translated into a lot of wins. So why the early struggles? Offseason acquisition Carl Crawford is batting around .150 – about ½ the production at the plate most expected. Another player picked up, Adrian Gonzalez, has only one home run to date after hitting 31 last year. And Jacoby Ellsbury and Kevin Youkilis, both near .300 career hitters, are batting a little over .200. In a nutshell, too few players are contributing far too less.

The verdict: All of the aforementioned MLB players are veterans and likely just off to slow starts. I expect the current hot streak to continue; the Red Sox will turn things around and sneak into the MLB playoffs. 

AL Central

Over in the AL Central, things have been literally upside down. On the bottom of the standings, there are perennial contenders, the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins. The Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royalsare sitting on top and are doing it with offense – both MLB teams are tied for first-place in the league in scoring runs. Neither was expected to do much, but each squad has some young players stepping up, including Indians’ pitchers Justin Masterson and Josh Tomlin (a combined 7-0) and the Royals’ Alex Gordon, who looks to be finally cashing in some of his enormous potential, hitting over .350.

The verdict: Neither MLB team has had much trouble scoring runs to date, but the Indians have had some of the best pitching in baseball. Because of that, Cleveland should be able to contend throughout the duration of the season, but I expect the Royals to drop off a bit at some point…especially without former ace Zach Greinke, who went to Milwaukee in the offseason.

Jose Bautista

After doing little in five seasons in Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Baltimore, and Kansas City, Bautista slugged a league-leading 54 home runs last year for the Toronto Blue Jays. While his past track record didn’t indicate he was capable of such a year, he proved everyone wrong with a highly-publicized alteration to his swing. Many have been anxious to claim that last year was a mere fluke (a la Brady Anderson circa 1996), but that doesn’t appear to be the case. Bautista is again leading the AL with seven home runs and is batting .360 – more than .100 points over his career average. Jose’s on pace for another 50+ home run season and doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon.

The verdict: Pitchers are starting to catch on to the fact that Bautista is a real threat, as evidenced by his league-leading 19 walks. Because of that, his home runs should dip a bit, but I’m not betting against him for another big year.

The Mediocrity that is the NL Central

It’s early, but the NL Central is looking like it will produce a .500-ish champion. Heading into the Sunday night matchup between the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals, both were tied for the Division lead at 11-10 with the Milwaukee Brewers. The 10-11 Cubs were only a game back, while the Pirates (9-12) and Astros(8-14) weren’t far behind. With only 3.5 games separating the first- and last-place teams, this is the tightest division in all of baseball. The NL Central appears to be wide open and could be reminiscent of 1997, when the race went right down to the wire with the Astros taking the title with only 84 wins.

The verdict: Predicting a winner in this Division would be akin to predicting when Charlie Sheen will utter another iconic phrase or when Donald Trump will call out another celebrity, but I’ll go with the Reds.  I also think that by the MLB season’s end, there will be a clear separation of the top three teams (Reds, Cardinals, and Brewers) and the bottom three (Cubs, Pirates, Astros). There’s also not much pitching in the NL Central, so there will be some big numbers offensively by some of the individual MLB players in the division.

The New York Mets

When you look at the Mets’ lineup, consisting of great MLB players like Jose Reyes, David Wright, Carlos Beltran, and Jason Bay, you expect great things. But so far, this season has looked like the past two when the club finished under .500, despite the big payroll. In all fairness, though, New York has had to deal with some major injury issues. The team is missing staff ace Johan Santana, who is on the disabled list with an elbow injury and not expected to return until June or July. And the aforementioned Bay just began his season, coming off of a DL stint of his own.

The verdict: With so much talent, it’s hard to see the Mets finishing below .500 again. While they don’t have the horses to compete with the Phillies (few teams do), a second-place or even Wild Card chase isn’t out of the question if they can stay healthy and add a pitcher down the stretch.