February 27, 2014

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5 Burning Questions Heading into the 2014 MLB Season

By: Matt Bowen

With MLB Spring Training underway, Opening Day can’t come soon enough. Excitement is building as fans ponder a variety of scenarios as the 2014 MLB season approaches. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest questions that can only be answered by playing 162 glorious games.

No. 5: Can Billy Hamilton Reach Base with Regularity?

There is no debate as to who is the fastest player in baseball. His name is Billy Hamilton and he may be the fastest man in all of sports. The Cincinnati Reds center fielder played in 13 games in 2013—he stole 13 bases in 14 tries. What he does on the base paths is nearly criminal, the only question is can he reach base with regularity?

Hamilton will lead off for the Reds and will get every opportunity to make a name for himself.  Many worry that Hamilton tries to muscle the ball too often. He’s only listed at 160 lbs. which tells the story that he shouldn’t try to smack the long ball.

In order to be considered a success in 2014 Hamilton must have an on-base percentage somewhere around .350. Patience at the plate and taking the ball the other way will make Hamilton an All-Star. If he reaches base early and often he may steal 100 bases and the Reds will be a playoff team. As a friendly reminder, no one has stolen 100-plus bases since Vince Coleman of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1987. That in itself should size up Hamilton’s capabilities.

Bryce Harper

Can Bryce Harper and the Nationals return to their 2012 form?

No. 4: Will the Washington Nationals Rebound from a Disappointing 2013 Campaign

Most franchises would consider 86 wins in 2013 an exceptional season. Not the Washington Nationals who won 98 in 2012 and were penned by many to reach the World Series.

This time around some things are different for the Nationals but the lofty expectations are the same. New manager Matt Williams runs a tight ship but that’s not keeping the Nats from keeping loose. Williams is well-organized and meticulous and knows a little something about the game. The former slugger hit 43 home runs in 112 games in 1994 with the San Francisco Giants before the strike-shortened season cut his run at Roger Maris’ then record 61 home runs in a single season short. Williams is a gamer and every sports enthusiast can appreciate that.

He has a slugger on his new team in Bryce Harper who seems like he might be 35 but is only 21 years old. The baseball prodigy is just now growing into his body and with 1,094 career bats already underneath his belt Harper is ready to feast on the opposition.

The Nationals also have a deep pitching rotation and should win somewhere around 92 games this season. An appearance in the playoffs should be penciled in, this team is for real.

No. 3: Will the Dodgers Live Up to the Hype?

The Los Angeles Dodgers are the best team on paper right now. Stacked from top to bottom, the Dodgers are a World Series-or-bust team this season.

Before we delve too deep it should be mentioned that the new ownership group led by Magic Johnson is doing a spectacular job. They’ve put a quality product on the field and there schedule is laced with in-stadium promotions to attract all sorts of fans. It’s a great time to bleed Dodger blue.

Clayton Kershaw, Zach Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu lead the pitching staff while Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez and Yasiel Puig bolster the lineup. The 2014 Dodgers have everything it takes to win the only question is do they have the recipe for success?

No. 2: Can the Seattle Mariners Make the Playoffs?

Man-oh-man is it a great time to be a sports fan in Seattle. First the Seahawks win the Super Bowl now the revamped Mariners lineup takes the field.

The Mariners decided they want to win now and dropped a bombshell on baseball when they signed prized second baseman Robinson Cano this offseason. He alone is enough to fill Safeco Field on a regular basis.

Add star pitcher Felix Hernandez and a throng of young talent to the mix and the Mariners carry positive momentum into the season. The big question is will they make the playoffs? Although it may seem like a foregone conclusion don’t forget the Mariners play in the toughest division in baseball.

There are only five playoff spots available and the AL West has the Mariners, Oakland Athletics, Texas Rangers and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim all contending for the postseason. The Mariners play divisional rivals in 22 of their first 27 games. The first month of the season will be telling for the Mariners. Are the up to the challenge?

No. 1: Will Derek Jeter Stay Healthy?

New York Yankees legend Derek Jeter announced he’ll retire after the season bringing a bit of sadness to all. The man has so many accomplishments they could be an entire article in themselves. Here’s a small taste of jaw-dropping Jeter stats—he has 200 career postseason hits. That’s simply marvelous.

The biggest question in baseball this offseason is will he stay healthy this season to play throughout his farewell tour?

He played just 17 games in 2013 but is giving it another go in 2014.

For the sake of baseball in all of its greatness let’s keep our fingers crossed that Jeter can remain healthy and play often this season.

August 21, 2013

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The Los Angeles Dodgers

By: Matt Bowen

Usually a title to an article would have a hook, but when speaking of the Los Angeles Dodgers one is left rather speechless. What the team is doing this year is nothing short of out of this world. It’s something even Hollywood couldn’t script better. It’s remarkable.

Can Yasiel Puig and Clayton Kershaw lead the Los Angeles Dodgers to the World Series?

The Los Angeles Dodgers were 23-32 on June 2. Now, 70 games later they are 73-52. What does that mean? Well, for nearly one-half of the entire 162 games season their record is 50-20. That’s a winning percentage of .714, which, had they played this way since Opening Day they would be on pace for 115 wins. The modern day record for wins in a season is 116 wins by the 2001 Seattle Mariners. Yes, the 2013 version of the Dodgers are playing like the best team in history since early June. Correct, we are witnessing history.

Under new ownership headed by Magic Johnson the team was supposed to turn the underachieving page this season. As of June they were considered one of the biggest busts in sports history. Using a historical reference back from their Brooklyn days, “Dem Bums” were overpaid and lousy. Their manager, Don Mattingly, also known as “Donny Baseball” was on the brink of getting his pink slip and the team was so very close to being forgotten about.

Then, a gift from the baseball Gods landed in tinsel town in the form of a young 22-year-old Cuban defector by the name of Yasiel Puig. True, his brash attitude may turn some people away, but it’s just what the Dodgers needed. They needed some swagger, and Puig has plenty. Remember, he’s only 22 on the world’s largest stage. His personality is infectious and although his teammates do not agree with his actions 100 percent of the time, he’s been the fuel to their fire. After all, don’t forget that winning too is infectious.

Puig is batting .352, and although he’s been in a small slump of late, his heroics are nothing short of super human. After being late to the stadium in which manager Mattingly fined and benched Puig for on August 20, he stepped to the plate and delivered a eighth inning home run to break a tie ballgame. This is Puig in a nutshell, seemingly careless on the outside only to deliver when it matters most.

When it comes to Rookie of the Year, Puig wins it running away. The real debate begins when asked if he should the MVP of the 2013 season. Looking at his numbers as of August 21, a .352 average in 261 at-bats with only 12 homers and 28 RBI with seven steal to boot isn’t quite convincing, but when the term “most valuable” is implied, Puig is just that. The team’s record with him on the roster stands for itself, for Puig punched his ticket to The Show on June 2.

Combined with pitcher Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers could sweep the individual awards for the season. Kershaw will win the Cy Young without a contest—his current 1.80 ERA and .85 WHIP speaks for itself. Puig will be Rookie of the Year and if the voters come to their senses they will realize that no man in the National League has been more valuable to his team.

To think the Dodgers won’t prevail to the World Series is a bit preposterous at the moment. While there is plenty of ball to be played, this season’s best story can only finish with a classic Hollywood ending. Get ready, because the Dodgers are about to hit the stratosphere.

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 12, 2013

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Yasiel Puig—Baseball’s Newest Phenom

By: Matt Bowen

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 10 days, you know who Yasiel Puig is.

He’s the 22-year-old right fielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers who is the latest and greatest MLB phenomenon.

Yasiel Puig has brought a lot of excitement to Dodger Stadium this season.

Right now Superman wears Yasiel Puig pajamas to bed at night.

For a team with a 28-36 record who’s been struggling since Opening Day, Puig has made the Dodgers “must-see TV.”

The Dodgers haven’t had this much positive buzz surrounding them since 2008 when Manny Ramirez turned Tinseltown into “MannyWood.”

What Puig has done in just over one week of MLB service is remarkable. He’s already a juggernaut. There’s nothing he hasn’t done on a baseball field. He’s batted in multiple spots in the lineup, gone deep four times including a grand slam and has simply taken over baseball.

He’s showcased his cannon of an arm by throwing out two would-be advancing opponents from the outfield with ease. The last time we saw an arm this good from the warning track was Ichiro in his prime.

He’s been compared to Bo Jackson! That’s not a comparison that gets tossed around lightly, that’s an athlete.

Seriously, who gets compared to Jackson as an athlete? Many athletes may possess particular traits of Jackson’s, but not the entire package.

So, is Puig the reincarnation of Jackson? Only time will tell. One thing is for sure, his meteoric rise to stardom has no ceiling right now.

Last season it was Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim that took baseball by storm, but this story is a bit different. Yes, the two players are in the same city, but there’s something majestic about the Dodgers. The colors, the history, the aura of the franchise are intoxicating and right now Major League Baseball is under the spell that Puig has cast.

The big question is how long can he keep up this torrid pace?

No, he won’t hit around .500 forever, but there’s no reason to believe that he won’t be a career .300-hitter.

In spring training he hit .517, but spring training isn’t always the best evaluator of talent. A hot start in March doesn’t always translate to success. The worry with Puig was that he wouldn’t be able to handle the arsenal of pitches MLB aces would throw at him. So far, he’s hit a thick menu of pitches.  Puig has the opposition scratching their collective head pondering on just how to get him out. He’s even been intentionally walked already.  That’s a good sign that he’s here to stay.

The Dodgers have been waiting for someone like Puig to return them to relevance for some time now. They’re a team that has been plagued by injuries this season. If they can slowly inch closer to .500 until the All-Star break in July they’ll be fine. Come the second half of the season, they’ll be considered the scariest team in baseball.

A healthy Dodgers lineup with a fire-starter like Puig leading the way is a force to be reckoned with.

Don’t let their current record fool you, the Dodgers are coming.

June 6, 2013

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10 MLB Teams That Will Miss The Playoffs

By: Joe Williams

It is hard to believe, but the MLB season is already one-third of the way over. Obviously, nobody has locked up a playoff spot yet, but several teams have dug themselves into such a big hole that they won’t be able to climb out of it. Therefore, it’s time to eliminate a third of the teams. Who are the 10 teams that aren’t going anywhere in 2013?

After signing Josh Hamilton in the offseason, the Angels would be disappointed to miss the playoffs.

Miami Marlins

We knew the Marlins would be bad after another fire sale sent their top talent elsewhere, but did we know they would be this bad? They are on pace to lose 120 games and are starting to make the Astros look pretty good.

Houston Astros

Speaking of the Astros…switching leagues hasn’t seemed to help their winning percentage and they are again headed for a 100-loss campaign. On the bright side, the worst they can finish in the AL West is fifth, instead of sixth like they were in the NL Central last year.

Milwaukee Brewers

The Brewers went 6-22 in May and were outscored by 50 runs. They weren’t just losing games. They were getting crushed. And now things could be getting worse with the news of a possible suspension coming for Ryan Braun.

Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays are currently in last in the A.L. East. They are under .500 at home. Their pitching staff is near the bottom of the league. All the big-name acquisitions have been disappointing and the division is too tough.

San Diego Padres

They have not been the same since the 2010 season when they blew the lead in the N.L. West and missed the playoffs by a game. The Padres aren’t the worst team in California, but they aren’t going to the playoffs.

Los Angeles

The “honor” of worst team in California is a tie between the Angels and Dodgers . Both teams entered the season with world championship aspirations and are playing .440 ball and well back in the playoff chase. The superstar signings haven’t paid off and it’s going to be a long summer in a city that is used to seeing meaningful games in October.


Speaking of big cities with disappointing teams…why can’t the Cubs or White Sox get anything going? Neither team has been to the playoffs since 2008 and it’s not happening in 2013 either. But it does look like they’ll battle for best team in Chicago all season long.

New York

I might as well go all-in on the big market clubs being left home this October. I’m not going out on a limb to say that the Mets won’t be playing past game 162, but I’ll throw the Yankees in that boat too and make it 11 teams that aren’t going to be in the playoffs this year. Sure they’ve had guys stepping up for their injured stars all year and have guys coming back, but I’ll take the younger and fresher teams like Baltimore, Tampa Bay and Cleveland to hold off the Yankees in the AL East and Wild Card races.