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.

July 30, 2013

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The Week in Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Alfonso Soriano returns to Yankees: In desperate need of offense with so many injuries to key players, the New York Yankees turned to a familiar face, trading for outfielder Alfonso Soriano. Soriano began his career in New York as a second baseman before later playing for the Texas Rangers, Washington Nationals, and most recently, the Chicago Cubs. The outfielder is past his prime, but a recent hot streak was proof that he can still provide a surge of power. After hitting only nine home runs in the first three months of the season, Soriano has hit nearly that many already in July with eight this month heading into this past weekend.

Jeremy Maclin out for year: NFL training camps are underway and that can only mean one thing – injuries won’t be far behind. The biggest casualty thus far may be the Eagles’ young wide receiver, Jeremy Maclin, who is out for the season after tearing an ACL in a practice. With perhaps their best wideout injured, Philadelphia’s season gets off to a rocky start. The team still has DeSean Jackson at receiver, but Maclin’s loss gives rookie head coach Chip Kelly less to work with on offense – his area of expertise.

Jaromir Jagr signs with New Jersey Devils: Even at 41, Jaromir Jagr isn’t ready to hang up his skates. After playing for the Boston Bruins and Dallas Stars last year, the winger has signed a one-year $2 million deal with the New Jersey Devils. Jagr isn’t the player he once was, but still has a little left in the tank after scoring 35 points (including 16 goals in 45 games this past season). Plus, with Ilya Kovalchuk leaving New Jersey to play in Russia, the team was in desperate need of scoring. Jagr ranks eighth all-time among NHL players in scoring and his 681 career goals are good for tenth overall.

Lebron > Kobe in ESPN poll: When it comes to the most popular player in the NBA, LeBron James passed up Kobe Bryant for the first time in a few years according to an ESPN poll. Bryant had beaten out James the past few seasons, but after his second consecutive title, James overtook him last week. Really, it’s just proof that time heals all wounds. Immediately after the much-scrutinized “Decision” broadcast where James announced his intention to leave Cleveland for Miami, he took a huge publicity hit and was even viewed as a villain by many. But after a few years with the Heat and winning a couple of rings, liking LeBron is once again okay.

101 Russian women set a skydiving record: Yeah, I’m not even going to try to add anything to this. Feel free to watch for yourself.

Matt Garza pickup costly for Rangers: Matt Garza may not quite be a household name, but the pitcher could be the best starter that gets dealt before baseball’s trade deadline this season. At 7-1 with a 2.87 ERA, Garza is having a career year and was heavily desired by contenders before he was traded to the Texas Rangers by the Cubs. Garza didn’t come cheap, however. He cost Texas two of their top prospects entering this season, pitcher Justin Grimm and first baseman Mike Olt. Both have struggled to a degree this season, but Grimm has seven wins with the major league team while Olt has 12 home runs in the minors. The trade also cost the Rangers C.J. Edwards, a flamethrower who has dominated Rookie League and Class A in the minors the past two seasons. Also, keep in mind that Garza could only be a rental player as he’s due to become a free agent after this year. All things considered, the Rangers need to not only make the playoffs, but maybe even reach a World Series for this trade to come out in their favor.

Tim Hudson injury hurts Braves: Atlanta Braves pitcher Tim Hudson suffered a devastating injury last week when his ankle was broken by the Mets’ Eric Young, Jr. in a collision at first base. The injury was a big one as the veteran will miss the rest of the season. That hurts Atlanta’s playoff chances at least a bit and the team is already looking around for a potential trade. The Braves hold a comfortable lead in the NL East, but should the team hold on for a playoff spot, Hudson’s veteran presence will be sorely missed in the postseason.

Matt Harvey likely to end season early: Similar to what the Washington Nationals did with prized young pitcher Stephen Strasburg, the New York Mets are planning to keep Matt Harvey on a limit for the rest of the year. Mets manager Terry Collins has said Harvey has about ten more starts left instead of the 13 or so he may reach if he continued to pitch every fifth day. While similar to Strasburg’s situation, though, it’s a bit different considering the Mets aren’t likely to be in the playoffs as the Nats were. One thing that will be interesting, though, is to see if the loss in starts costs Harvey when it comes to the Cy Young voting.

August 2, 2011

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MLB Trade Deadline Winners

By: Joe Williams

 The MLB landscape changed with a flurry of activity in the last few days leading up to the trade deadline. Some teams were able to load up for a playoff run while others tried to unload contracts to build for the future. 

Milwaukee Brewers

Milwaukee made the first move and added Francisco Rodriguez to the bullpen for a team that went all in to win this year when they acquired Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum to the starting rotation. They also picked up Felipe Lopez to replace the injured Rickie Weeks. With a seven game winning streak, the Brewers have created some separation from the rest of the pack in the NL Central.

Toronto Blue Jays and Colby Rasmus

Although they are too far back to really be in the race in the American League, Toronto landed Colby Rasmus from St. Louis and may have their starting center fielder for the next decade. Rasmus should be glad to leave St. Louis after having problems with manager Tony La Russa.

San Francisco Giants

The defending World Series champions added the biggest bat out there to a lineup that desperately needed a big bat. They proved last year they can pitch their way to a championship. Repeating that task just got a bit easier.

 

Philadelphia Phillies

The Phillies always seem to land a big fish and they did it again. Already considered the favorites in the NL to reach the World Series because of the four big guns in the starting rotation, Philadelphia didn’t have to make a deal. But adding an outfielder hitting .305 with 11 home runs and 63 RBI isn’t a bad idea.

Texas Rangers

Texas scored two of the best setup men in baseball with Mike Adams and Koji Uehara. They have combined to strikeout 111 batters in 95 innings while allowing just 17 walks this season. If they continue to pitch like that, the Rangers will be tough to beat in October.

Cleveland Indians

Cleveland surprised everyone with a major move. They gave up a lot to Colorado for Ubaldo Jimenez. But he gives them a shot to hang in the AL Central all season and for the next two years. With the Browns and Cavaliers struggling, Cleveland fans need something to cheer about and the Indians gave it to them.

Atlanta Braves

Michael Bourn is a nice consolation prize for a team that lost out on Hunter Pence and Carlos Beltran. His speed will totally revamp the top of the Atlanta lineup. He has nearly as many steals (32) as the entire Braves roster (42). He also plays tremendous defense in center.

Pittsburgh Pirates

They did what they had to do. When a team is as bad as the Pirates have been for as long as the Pirates have been, they have to win the fans back. By adding Derrick Lee and Ryan Ludwick, the Pirates improved a little without giving up the young talent they have been developing. It is a long shot for Pittsburgh to come out on top in the NL Central race, but they showed the fans they are trying while really looking ahead to the next couple years.

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?

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.