January 10, 2013

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What I’ll Remember About 2012 – Part 1

By: Joe Williams

Every year we see things we never thought we would and things we never want to see again. We see everything from the incredible to the inspiring to the sad and hilarious. Here’s what I will remember about 2012.

January 1 – Matt Flynn and Matthew Stafford combine for 971 net passing yards in 45-41 Green Bay win.

January 8 – The Denver Broncos make short work of the new NFL overtime rules, scoring an 80-yard touchdown on the first play of overtime to beat the Steelers 29-23 in the first round of the AFC playoffs.

January 9 Alabama actually scored a touchdown in its rematch with LSU in the BCS Championship Game, winning 21-0.

January 14 Tom Brady shredded the Denver Broncos for five touchdown passes in the first half and another in the third quarter to tie the postseason single-game record in a 45-10 win.

January 14 – The 49ers and Saints combine for 34 points in the fourth quarter and four lead changes in the final five minutes as the 49ers outlasted New Orleans 36-32 and advanced to the NFC Championship Game.

January 22 – Joe Paterno passed away.

January 22 – The Baltimore Ravens had a dropped pass in the end zone that prevented them from winning the AFC Championship Game in New England and then missed a 32-yard field goal that would have sent the game to overtime.

January 22 – The New York Giants advanced to the Super Bowl with a 20-17 overtime win against the 49ers after a fumbled punt set up the game-winning field goal.

February 4Jeremy Lin came out of nowhere and led the New York Knicks to a win with 25 points, five rebounds and seven assists in the first of an incredible 13-game stretch in which he averaged 22.3 points and 7.4 assists. His heroics were celebrated worldwide and he ended up on the cover of Time and Sports Illustrated and one of the biggest celebrities in the league.

Jeremy Lin was one of the biggest stories of 2012.

February 5 – The New York Giants beat Tom Brady and the Patriots in another Super Bowl, 21-17, led by Eli Manning and another fourth-quarter comeback.

February 5 – Tom Brady’s wife, supermodel Gisele Bundchen, gets caught on camera blaming Patriot receivers for New England’s Super Bowl loss, saying that her husband cannot throw and catch the ball at the same time.

March 8 – The Indianapolis Colts announced that they will release future hall-of-fame quarterback, Peyton Manning.

March 13 – The First Four was worth watching on this night. First, Western Kentucky rallied from a 16-point deficit with 4:51 to go and beat Mississippi Valley State 59-58. Then BYU followed that up by erasing a 25-point deficit and beat Iona 78-72.

March 16Duke and Missouri, both No. 2 seeds in the NCAA tournament, go down on the same day. Norfolk State upset a 30-win Missouri team 86-84 and then later that night Lehigh defeated the Blue Devils 75-70. Only four No. 15 seeds have ever knocked off a No. 2 seed in history before it happened twice that day.

March 20 – Peyton Manning picks the Denver Broncos.

March 21NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell laid down the law on the New Orleans Saints for their bounty scandal, effectively ending the Saints season before it ever got started. This story never went away due to the continuous appeals of the suspensions.

March 26 – The Denver Broncos trade Tim Tebow to the New York Jets.

March 11 – Tiger Woods withdrew from the final round of the WGC Cadillac Championship with an injury. The blimp that was covering the golf tournament then followed Tiger as he left the golf course, a scene usually reserved for a high-speed chase.

April 1 – I.K. Kim takes the honor for worst golf shot of the year after she missed an 18-inch putt that would have won the LPGA’s first major of the year, the Kraft Nabisco Championship. She ended up losing in a playoff.

April 2 – John Calipari and his Kentucky squad that consisted of six future NBA players wins the national title, beating Kansas 67-59.

April 3Baylor completed a perfect season at 40-0 and won the women’s national title, beating Notre Dame 80-61.

April 8 – Bubba Watson hits one of the greatest shots in Masters history; a miracle 40-yard hook shot out of the pine straw on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff with Louis Oosthuizen. Two putts for par later and Watson was wearing the green jacket.

April 21Phil Humber pitches a perfect game at Seattle, striking out nine in the White Sox 4-0 win.

April 26Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III are drafted by the Colts and Redskins.

May 8 Josh Hamilton hit four home runs and had eight RBI against the Baltimore Orioles.

June 3 – Tiger Woods hit an incredible flop shot from behind the green on 16 that trickled into the hole on his way to winning the Memorial Tournament.

June 7 – LeBron James overwhelms the Boston Celtics with a 45 point and 15 rebound performance in a 98-79 win over Boston on the road to force a Game 7 in South Beach.

June 7 – Novak Djokovic outlasted Rafael Nadal in a grueling marathon in the Australian Open final (5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7 (5), 7-5) in a match that took five hours and 53 minutes and didn’t end until 1:37 a.m.

June 11 – The Los Angeles Kings win their first Stanley Cup in 45 years after barely squeaking into the final playoff spot in the West and going on one of the greatest runs in playoff history.

June 13Matt Cain pitched a perfect game in a 10-0 San Francisco win over the Astros.

June 21 – LeBron James and the Miami Heat win the NBA championship after beating the Oklahoma City Thunder 121-106 in game five.

June 27 – A four-team college football playoff was formally approved to begin in 2014.

June 30 – The third round of the AT&T National was played with no spectators on the golf course because of safety concerns after a powerful wind storm left trees uprooted all over the golf course.

October 10, 2011

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Rebuilding the Yankees

By: Anson Whaley

Only two years removed from their last World Series title, the Yankees are far from a colossal disappointment. Winning 97 regular season games and losing in the fifth game of the Divisional Series is hardly an embarrassment. Still, anytime they fall short of winning the championship, fans aren’t happy.

‘Rebuilding’ is probably far too strong a term – the Yankees need a tune up, not an overhaul. It’s pretty obvious that this team is still stacked beyond belief. The roster features a host of current or former All-Stars and it’s difficult to find too many holes. That said, there are a few things the Yankees can do to have a better shot at winning another title in 2012.

Add Another Starter

Pitching, pitching, pitching. More times than not, the playoffs are decided with great pitching. Once the postseason arrives, nearly every team has it. The Yankees aren’t without quality pitchers. For starters, there’s the ace of the staff, C.C. Sabathia. Sabathia won 19 games this season and with an ERA of 3.00, was one of the best pitchers in all of baseball. But here’s the thing: After him, the Yankees don’t have a truly dominant guy next in line. Remember the Arizona Diamondbacks with Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling? Or last year’s San Francisco Giants team featuring Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain? Or those Red Sox teams with Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling (again)? World Series contenders are always better served by having two top of the line starters.

The Yankees do have young pitcher Ivan Nova who had an amazing year, winning 16 games. But with an ERA approaching 4.00 and at only 24, he might not be a true No. 2 starter just yet for a championship caliber team. Free agency pickings are always slim when it comes to finding aces, but if the Yankees could swing a trade for one, it would go a long way to helping their chances in 2012.

Another quality starter would help the Yankees' chance at another championship.

Let The Jesus Montero Era Begin … Now

Jesus Montero is largely regarded as the best prospect in the Yankees’ system. In limited action (18 games) this season, he smashed four home runs and hit .328. Montero is ready for the big stage, and, after hitting 39 home runs in the past two seasons in AAA and being named as the #3 overall prospect in the minors in 2011 by Baseball America, it’s clear he needs to play. Whether that means the Yankees start Montero as the everyday catcher and play him as the DH, manager Joe Girardi needs to find a way to get his bat into the lineup next year.

Will he come in and immediately dominate the league? Not likely. But the sooner the team can get him at bats, the sooner he can get used to life in the majors. He has the potential to hit 25-30 home runs eventually and that’s the type of power that could make him an elite catcher in the league.

Add a Power Bat in the Outfield

With Curtis Granderson’s 41 home runs, the Yankees’ outfield isn’t completely devoid of power. But the Yankees could use a few more long balls from the remaining two positions, left field and right field. Brett Gardner is unquestionably one of the best base stealers in the entire sport, but he hit only seven home runs in a full-time position. So while New York obviously needs to find space for his speed on the base paths, his lack of power as a corner outfielder clearly hurts at least a bit. Nick Swisher manned the other corner spot opposite him, and the duo combined for a total of 30 home runs between them. That’s not terrible, but 30 home runs from two corner outfielders is below average for a contending team. The Yankees would be wise to keep both of those players, but if they could add another 30-home run outfielder to the mix, the team would be even stronger since it would allow either Swisher or Gardner to come off the bench.

Will the Yankees rebound and reach the World Series next year? No one knows for sure, but making these moves would improve their chances.

April 6, 2011

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National League Preview

By: Joe Williams

The Major League Baseball season is only a couple days old so if your team is on top of the standings, don’t buy your playoff tickets yet. And if you are rooting for a team that remains winless, don’t push the panic button. It’s still anybody’s ballgame so let’s take a look at some of the issues facing each team.

NL EAST

Atlanta Braves

Can the Braves return to the postseason? If anyone is going to take the East title from the Phillies, it’s probably the Braves. They’ve added Dan Uggla and a healthy Chipper Jones to the lineup. The starting pitching is strong. The biggest question mark is the bullpen. The retirement of Billy Wagner has left an opening at closer. If Atlanta can find the right guy to take his place they can give the Phillies a run for the division title.

Florida Marlins

Florida has plenty of young talent on its roster. There is a lot of potential on this team, but the Marlins may not have enough to beat out Philadelphia and Atlanta. Guys like Gaby Sanchez, Donnie Murphy, and Annibal Sanchez are going to need big seasons for this team to be playing in October.

New York Mets

The bad news: this team is a mess off the field. The good news: there is no way the Mets can be as bad on the field. Everything will have to go right for New York to win the division. That starts with Johan Santana and Jose Reyes getting healthy and once again being the superstars they have been in the past.

Philadelphia Phillies

Philadelphia became the favorite to win the N.L crown when Cliff Lee joined the rotation. Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels give the Phillies a four-headed monster that can shut down any lineup. The Phillies lineup is not what is used to be, but with those four starters, it won’t have to be.

Washington Nationals

The Nationals’ hopes in 2011 took a major hit with the loss of Stephen Strasburg. Adding Jason Werth will help the offense, but the Nationals look to be preparing for a run in 2012. If Strasburg comes back healthy in 2012 and top-pick Bryce Harper lives up to the hype, this team has a bright future.

NL CENTRAL

Chicago Cubs

It could be an all or nothing season for the Cubs. If they can stay healthy and get productive seasons from Soriano, Ramirez and Zambrano they could win the Central. If the Cubs struggle under new manager Mike Quade, and the dugout brawls continue, it will be a complete disaster, and the drought will live on for another year.

Cincinnati Reds

Cincinnati won the Central in 2010. They have a great chance to repeat that feat in 2011. The Reds had the best offense in the National League. They have the reigning NL MVP. The roster has the fewest holes to fill, and they should be motivated after a dismal performance in the playoffs.

Houston Astros

Houston had the worst offense in the NL last season. The defense wasn’t great either. They have a quality starting rotation, but the bullpen needs work. The Astros will have a tough time surpassing last season’s win total of 76.

Milwaukee Brewers

There is a wide range of expectations for Milwaukee in 2011. They have been picked to win the Central, but they have also been at the bottom in some preseason predictions. Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum will bolster the pitching staff. The lineup is built around Prince Fielder, who could have a huge year and lead them to the playoffs. But Fielder is going to be a free agent and could leave town, so the Brewers may decide to throw in the towel and trade the Prince so they don’t lose him for nothing.

Pittsburgh Pirates

.500. That is the goal for the Pirates. They haven’t done it since 1992. That is a long time to wait for Pirate fans. Unfortunately, there is not much reason to believe they will be better than they were in 2010. And they were the worst team in baseball.

St. Louis Cardinals

The Cards were supposed to win the Central in 2010. They were expected to have a bounce-back season in 2011. Then they didn’t get Albert Pujols signed. And Adam Wainwright went down for the season with an injury. It will be tough for this team to reach the playoffs without their ace and the Pujols questions hovering over them all season.

NL WEST

Arizona Diamondbacks

They finished last in the West in 2010. The offense is weak and they strike out a lot. The starting pitching is OK, but the bullpen has holes. The Diamondbacks have a lot of work to do if they are going to compete for the playoffs in the next couple years. It won’t happen in 2011.

Colorado Rockies

The Rockies will be good in 2011, especially if they play better on the road. Colorado was dominant at home last year and bad on the road. Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki are stars. The other pieces are in place to make a run at the division crown. They will give the Giants all they can handle in the West.

Los Angeles Dodgers

80 wins was a disappointment for this team in 2010. Matt Kemp and Jonathan Broxton were great in 2009 when the Dodgers made the playoffs. Not so much in 2010. If those two return to 2009 form and the ownership issues don’t get in the way, Los Angeles will be playing meaningful games in September.

San Diego Padres

San Diego should have won the West last year. They would have without the 10-game losing streak at the end of the season. They can still pitch, but the loss of Adrian Gonzalez in the middle of that lineup will hurt. They will have to find a way to score to compete in 2011.

San Francisco Giants

The Giants shocked baseball by winning the World Series in 2010. Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain led the pitching staff and shut down team after team in the playoffs. The offense was not prolific, but they got the big hits when they needed to. No matter what the offense does in 2011, the starting rotation will keep the Giants in the playoff hunt all season.

March 21, 2011

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Can Giants Repeat As Champs?

By: Anson Whaley

With only about a week left in Spring Training, baseball teams are gearing up for the regular season. Managers are sweating over cuts that are being made, rookies are being assigned to the minor leagues, and General Managers are hoping free agent signings pay off in a big way. But the San Francisco Giants are the only team thinking about what it would be like to repeat as World Series Champions. The Giants have lost a few pieces but are returning most of their team’s core to make another run at the title in 2011.

The most notable departures are shortstops Juan Uribe and World Series Most Valuable Player, Edgar Renteria. Uribe signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers while Renteria is headed to the St. Louis Cardinals. Uribe is the greater loss, as he was one of the team’s greatest power threats (24 home runs in 2010) and, at 31 years old, is just now entering the prime of his career. Renteria is a five-time All-Star and Gold Glove winning shortstop and has 15 major league seasons under his belt. Last year, that experience paid off for the Giants as he batted over .400 and slugged two big home runs in the World Series.

Fortunately for the Giants, they filled the gaping hole left at shortstop with a very capable player in free agent pickup Miguel Tejada. Now 36, Tejada is likely a short-term replacement and also past his prime. But he’s still a solid player and, in 2010, hit 15 home runs and batted .269. The best news for the Giants is that Tejada has also shown he’s extremely durable, playing at least 150 games in 11 of the past 12 seasons.

But if San Francisco is to repeat, it’s not going to be Tejada that makes the difference – it will be the pitching. With all the talk about the Philadelphia Phillies’ rotation which will include Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and newly-signed Cliff Lee, the Giants have a somewhat underrated staff in comparison. The starters are led by two-time Cy Young Award winner, Tim Lincecum, and also includes former Cy Young Award winner Barry Zito, All-Star Matt Cain, young star Madison Bumgarner, and Jonathan Sanchez, who has thrown a no-hitter. The Giants also added free agent Jeff Suppan to the mix, and he could contend for a spot in the rotation in 2011.

Lincecum is the gem, however, and is one of the best pitchers in all of baseball. Even though his 2010 numbers dropped off slightly from his Cy Young years of 2008 and 2009, he still managed to win 16 games and strikeout 231 batters in only 212 innings pitched. Lincecum also thrived in his first postseason with a 4-1 record, a shutout over the Atlanta Braves, and a combined ERA of only 2.43 – a full run lower than his regular season average.

The pitching talent isn’t limited to the starting rotation, though. All-Star closer, Brian Wilson, led the league in saves with 48 and had a microscopic ERA of 1.81. Setup men Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla also combined for 12 wins and had ERAs of 2.18 and 1.95 respectively.  The Giants may have the most talented bullpen in the majors.

Offensively, the Giants’ lineup isn’t as strong as some teams, and, with the loss of Uribe, it just became a little weaker. The Giants aren’t completely devoid of power, but Aubrey Huff led the way in 2010 with only 26 home runs—the Giants may not have that one player capable of hitting 35-40 to serve as a legitimate longball threat. The player closest may be 2010 Rookie of the Year, Buster Posey, who as a first-year player hit 18 home runs in only 108 games.  He’s a catcher, though, so Posey won’t be playing a full 162-game season. But he is only 23 and should develop into an excellent power hitter for many years to come, possibly approaching 30 home runs this season if he stays healthy.

But again, it’s the pitching that will lead this team…and they’ve got plenty of it to make another World Series run in 2011.