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.

June 26, 2013

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Taking a Look at Baseball’s Best Division

By: Matt Bowen

Major League Baseball has a good thing on its hands—the NL Central is going to be a three team dog fight until the end.

Currently, the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds are only separated by 3.5 games in the standings.  They are three of the best teams in baseball. The Reds find themselves third in the division with 45 wins. Only one team outside the division, the Boston Red Sox have more wins. As of June 26, the NL Central has three playoff teams.

So, which team is the best?

Will Joey Votto and the Reds win the NL Central this season?

Well, the Cardinals have one of the finest organizations in all of sports—somehow they always find a way to win. The Cards have a fantastic farm system that constantly keeps the big league club ripe with talent. They’re also a team that somehow gets the most out of every guy—they make All-Stars out of role players.

This year is no different—they currently have five guys hitting .300-plus, actually six if you count Matt Adams, who only has 86 at-bats. Catcher Yadier Molina leads the league with a .355 average. The team also has a stable of rookies contributing key innings on the pitching mound. Right now, 7-of-12 pitchers on their roster are 25 years old or younger. With all those fresh arms on the hill the Cardinals are poised to go deep into the playoffs.

That is, of course if the stay atop the division and fend off the Pirates and Reds.

The Pirates are the sweethearts of baseball—okay, maybe that’s a “soft” term for such a rugged team. They will not go down without a fracas. In reality, everybody who passionately follows the game wants this team to win. The franchise hasn’t had a winning season since 1992. They’ve toyed with a better than .500 record the past two seasons but have unraveled at the end.

Good news for the team, their pitching has held up well to this point. Also, Andrew McCutchen, their best player has yet to play his best ball. The emergence of rookie pitcher Gerrit Cole has strengthened the rotation and is the ingredient the team needs to remain over the hump. By August, this kid will be an outright star.

Is this finally the year the Bucs break out?

Not if the Reds have something to do with it. Cincinnati is built to win now. They have a top-notch rotation and a perennial MVP candidate in Joey Votto.

The Reds have every component to win now, but will need some clutch hitting along the way. It seems to be the one weakness the team has. Untimely hitting can plague teams and this year it’s cost the Reds a few games. Hey, it’s better to have those problems now rather than late August—there’s plenty of time to work out the kinks.

This isn’t to downplay the Reds; they’re a phenomenal squad and right in the thick of the race. Look for them to be buyers at the for a professional hitter out of the two-hole.

So, which team will win the NL Central this year? Let’s reconvene in early September and talk. One thing’s for sure, we’re in for a treat.

December 12, 2012

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Why the Golden State Warriors are True Contenders

By: Matt Bowen

The Golden State Warriors have long been an afterthought as true NBA contenders, but that time is officially over. The Warriors are the real deal this season for reasons never associated with the franchise before.

Will the Golden State Warriors make the NBA playoffs this season?

For years the team was coached by one of the game’s greats, Don Nelson. While his coaching style was wide open, run-and-gun, full throttle and a blast to watch, defense was nearly absent in Oakland for seemingly decades. If the team couldn’t score 120-plus points on any given night, the odds of winning were minimal.

Now, a new day is upon the Warriors and their future is mighty bright. The team is now coached by long-time NBA veteran Mark Jackson, who is in his second season as the team’s coach and is the right man for the job. Like a former catcher becoming a manager in Major League Baseball, the ex-point guard is a recipe for success in the NBA.

Jackson knew that installing defensive fundamentals would be priority No. 1 and the team isn’t defensively superior quite yet, but they are well on their way. The Warriors are winning with young talent and are sure to continue to improve. The squad is now a team from the top spot on the roster to the bottom.

Their 14-7 record currently has them in the No. 5 spot in the Western Conference. What is most impressive is that the team has won four straight road games in which they’ve scored 100-plus points in each contest. Winning teams in any professional sport not only take care of business on their home court, but they win consistently on the road. Collecting W’s away from home now will serve the Warriors well come late in the season when they are jockeying for home-court advantage for the playoffs.

Wait, the Warriors will be in the playoffs?

Believe it.

Led by all-world playmaker Stephen Curry, the Warriors are an up-and-coming juggernaut. No one man in the NBA can do it by himself and Curry has help in double-double guru David Lee and scorers Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes.

So what makes this team different from all of the promising Warriors lineups in the past that were loaded with top-tier talent?

The franchise now has a coach that predicates his teachings on defense and his team is taking a liking to being victorious more times than not. They are beginning to gel and look good in doing so. With Curry running the show, opposing teams are left to guess what is up his sleeve.

Sure, they will have to overcome injuries as the injury bug has already bitten them this season, but better that happen to them now than late March, early April.

The Warriors take to the road once again against the defending NBA champion Miami Heat on 12-12-2012. Maybe that will help them get the attention they deserve.

May 16, 2012

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Sizing Up the Texas Rangers

By: Matt Bowen

Coming into the 2012 MLB season, the Texas Rangers came up on the short end of back-to-back trips to the World Series. As the cliché goes, the third time is the charm and the Rangers sure do look like they’re planning on making it a reality.

Josh Hamilton and the Texas Rangers have started the MLB season on fire.

Given, it’s only six weeks into the MLB season, but the Rangers look to be the cream of the crop. Currently sitting at 23-12, the team from Texas simply looks better than every other team in baseball.  Most impressively, they are currently 13-6 on the road. Every team knows that to be considered successful they must win on the road and the Rangers are doing just that.

This Rangers team is a well-rounded blend of stellar pitching and a deadly offense. Joining the club this season is Japanese sensation, right-handed pitcher Yu Darvish. The Rangers paid a hefty price (around $111 million) when they acquired Darvish from his former team, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters but so far, he’s been worth every penny. He has posted a 5-1 record with a 2.84 ERA. Darvish has a nasty variety of six pitches and he’s proven that by striking out 51 batters thus far. The most amazing thing about him, he said in an interview that he can throw all six pitches with his off-hand, inclusing a left-handed fastball that can hit 82 mph on the radar gun.

As for the offensive side of the Rangers, the team is led by All-World outfielder Josh Hamilton, who is on a torrid pace this season. He already has hit 18 home runs and knocked in 45 RBI while batting .402. At this rate he’s on track to knock in over 200 RBI, which has never been done in the history of baseball. The current record is 191 held by Hack Wilson in 1930. While it’s a bit too early to start thinking that Hamilton is going to plate 200-plus RBI, it’s certainly something that brings wonderment to the imagination. If Hamilton can stay healthy, he’s on his way to having a historic MVP season.

The Rangers organization, led by Hall of Fame hurler Nolan Ryan has set the standard for all MLB teams. They have set the pedestal very high but carry themselves very well as they’ve become the precedent of baseball.  By continuing their winning ways they’ll find themselves with a ring at season’s end.