February 17, 2014

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This Week in Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Winter Olympics – The Winter Olympics continued last week and the United States is holding its own in the overall medal count. As of Sunday, the Americans were in a tie for second place with Russia with 16 total medals. The Netherlands led the way with 17, including five gold medals. One intriguing story line is that of the U.S. men’s speed skating team. The ballyhooed unit was expected to bring home several medals, but as of Sunday, the team was still looking for their first piece of hardware. Several skaters complained about the suits designed for the Olympics and that brought about a change to an older version. That didn’t help matters immediately, though, as the U.S. is still without a speed skating medal after dropping the 1,500 meter race.

NBA All-Star Weekend – The NBA held their All-Star weekend and as usual, there was the standard amount of shenanigans. The highlights on Saturday night were a reformatted three-point shootout and dunk contest. The events, along with the skills contest, were part of an East-West team format that had its highs and lows. The fact that the players individually had to work together was intriguing, but it was a bit counterproductive since the highlight of those weekend contests is to spotlight individual achievements by individual players. Beyond even that, the new dunk format, which featured a freestyle round and one-on-one battles, just confused even the NBA’s own players. Marco Belinelli took home the three-point shootout title while John Wall was named the top dunker. The weekend concluded in the defensive struggle that was the East’s 163-155 victory. The CavsKryie Irving took home MVP honors after scoring 31 points and recording 14 assists.

Derek Jeter

Derek Jeter will retire after the 2014 MLB season.

Derek Jeter’s final seasonNew York Yankees star shortstop Derek Jeter announced that he will retire at the end of this season. The decision means the future Hall of Famer will have played his entire career as a Yankee. Jeter will turn 40 this year but as his 2012 season proved, he’s still capable of not only contributing, but thriving. At 38, he turned in one of his best seasons, batting .316 and leading the league with 216 hits. Beaten down by injuries, though, Jeter had a 2013 to forget, appearing in only 17 games. While it doesn’t sound like a change of heart is in the cards, if Jeter goes on to another 2012-like season, what then? I’m not expecting Jeter to go back on his word, but a big season might make it that much harder to step away.

Pigs can’t fly … but they can surf!: Um … yeah

Jadeveon Clowney says college athletes should be paid – Former defensive star for South Carolina, Jadeveon Clowney, was the latest to speak out about college athletes being paid money to play. Clowney said in a recent interview that he might have stayed in school for another season if he would have received money. The argument is a complex one and while it makes sense to some degree for athletes to be compensated beyond a scholarship, opening that can of worms isn’t something the NCAA should be interested in. How would you determine which athletes get what amount of money? What about athletes of non-revenue sports that work just as hard? What about programs that can’t afford to pay players? The idea of paying players creates just too many hurdles and would shift the competitive balance of college sports even more out of whack.

Roy Oswalt retires – Pitcher Roy Oswalt ended his career, announcing his retirement from Major League Baseball last week. The three-time All-Star won at least 14 games seven times and finished in the top five for the Cy Young Award in five different seasons. Oswalt was one of the game’s underappreciated hurlers and is only 36, but the retirement makes sense at this point. He hasn’t been a serviceable pitcher since 2011 when he was 9-10 with a 3.69 ERA with the Phillies. Oswalt struggled badly in 2012 with a move to the American League pitching for the Texas Rangers, going 4-3 with a 5.80 ERA. He went back to the National League hoping to jumpstart his career with the Colorado Rockies, but was even worse last year with an 0-6 record and an 8.63 ERA. Still, Oswalt finishes with 163 wins and a 3.36 career ERA, and he was one of the best pitchers of the 2000s.

Shut your mouth – A South Korean basketball coach apparently heard enough from one of his players. His solution? Force the player to tape his own mouth shut. On TV. For real.

Orange keep rollingSyracuse’s dream basketball season continued with a pair of dramatic wins this week. The Orange had two narrow escapes with nailbiting wins over Pitt and North Carolina State. Syracuse remained undefeated snatching a win from the Panthers on a Tyler Ennis buzzer-beater from well beyond the three-point line earlier in the week. Trailing by one on Saturday with only about ten seconds to play, the Orange stole an inbounds pass from the Wolfpack and scored a late layup to win the game. Syracuse’s season has included a string of miracle finishes and at some point, you have to wonder if or when it will catch up to them. At 25-0, the Orange will just keep riding this streak for as long as they can.

Matt Kemp not a backupLos Angeles Dodgers star outfielder Matt Kemp made some waves last week when he said he wasn’t a fourth outfielder. The team has an interesting decision to make now that Kemp is healthy since they still have Yasiel Puig, Carl Crawford, and Andre Ethier. The Dodgers have no doubt looked to trade one of the four players, but likely haven’t found a deal they like. It’s really a good problem to have if you’re Los Angeles but the Dodgers would still be better served by trading one of the four since keeping everyone will cause one of them to be unhappy and they can use a deal to bolster a weak spot on their team. Plenty of teams are looking for quality outfielders and the guess here is that someone gets dealt this season … if not before it even begins.

March 6, 2013

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Stars I’m Avoiding for My Fantasy Team

By: Joe Williams

You can’t win your fantasy baseball league on draft day. That takes much more than one day of investment. But if you draft a few stars that don’t perform, that one day could take you out of the running. With that in mind, here’s a few guys you can be sure won’t end up on my fantasy baseball roster on draft day.

Albert Pujols

This guy is not the top-five production guarantee he was a couple years ago. He’s already 33. He has knee issues and his totals for runs, hits, home runs, batting average and steals continues to decline each year. He’s still going to produce. But I’m not willing to spend my first pick on him (I’d much rather have Miguel Cabrera or Matt Kemp for example) and somebody in your league will.

Ryan Braun

Did he or didn’t he? The performance-enhancing drug thing keeps coming up. I don’t know why. But I do know that I’m not using my first pick on someone who may be suspended at some point. He is just too risky if you ask me. And as a Cubs fan, I prefer not to root for a Brewer if I don’t have to.

Buster Posey

I actually love Posey. But I don’t see him re-creating his MVP season and there are quite a few catchers that put up nice numbers last season. I’m not going to tell you not to draft him. But I’d rather wait a few rounds to take a catcher than take him in the first couple rounds.

David Wright

Here’s another guy I like. In fact, I want him on my team. Just not as much as Adrian Beltre. And I’m not going to be able to get both of the third basemen. Beltre is more dependable and was a key part of my fantasy championship last season. I’m not just going to kick him to the curb.

Derek Jeter

His name alone will get him drafted higher than he should be. Somebody in your fantasy baseball league will expect him to be the leader of a high-powered Yankees lineup and think they got a steal with a mid-round pick. Maybe. But the last time we saw him, was when he broke his ankle. And he’s 38. And the Yankees could be in trouble with injuries already piling up. No thanks. You can have him.

Closers

Somebody is going to pile up a lot of saves. Jim Johnson had 51 last year. And Fernando Rodney and Rafael Soriano each had more than 40. But they won’t be very high on my draft board. Why? Because they weren’t very high on draft boards last season either. There are too many other variables that go into whether or not these (and all other closers) will even get save chances. Unless you know something I don’t, then let someone else waste a higher pick on the top rated closers and find somebody that is more reliable. There will always be somebody available that can get you a few saves.

May 3, 2012

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Bryce Harper Takes Center Stage in Washington

By: Matt Bowen

Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals was anointed MLB’s next phenom when he left high school to play college baseball at the age of 16. At 17, he proved that was a worthy decision when he batted .443 with 31 homers and 98 RBI as a freshman at the College of Southern Nevada. His numbers were so impressive that he won baseball’s most prestigious award for a college player, the Golden Spikes Award. Even better, a month before he won the award, he was selected No. 1 in the 2010 MLB draft.

Now just 19 years old, Harper is present in the Washington Nationals lineup and is here to stay. In his first game on April 28, Harper took Hollywood by storm as the Nationals took to the road to face the Los Angeles Dodgers. The game was special as it featured the games’ best player, Matt Kemp, and the games’ most talked about 19-year-old.

Bryce Harper made his debut against the Dodgers earlier this season.

Harper looked his age early-on in that game as he took in the sights and sounds of the game with eyes as big as baseballs. He didn’t disappoint either, smacking a double off the center field wall and later brought home an RBI with a sacrifice fly. In the end it was Kemp who let Harper know who is top dog as he belted a walk-off homer in the tenth. Regardless, Harper had a most impressive MLB debut.

Considering the times, Harper has more hype surrounding him than any other player in history. This goes for all four major American sports. The MLB, NBA, NFL, and NHL have never had a kid create this much buzz. To be under such an intense spotlight, Harper is handling himself quite well.  After all, he’s only 19. While most 19 year olds are trying to discover themselves in their transition to adulthood, Harper is thriving in a dog-eat-dog world. 

When the Nationals announced that Harper would be making his MLB debut, there were plenty of skeptics saying he’s not ready, only hitting .250 at International League’s Syracuse and too young. The organization didn’t care as they threw Harper in to see if he could swim. So far he looks like Michael Phelps on an MLB diamond.

In just four games Harper is hitting .385(5-for-13) with two runs scored and two RBI. The thing that stands out the most is not his bat, but his arm as Harper has made a couple of dazzling throws from the outfield. Fans should find a way to watch this budding Hall of Famer play ball. Yes, he’s only 19 and that’s a very bold statement considering he’s played four games in the big leagues, but this kid is downright spectacular.  Just wait until the day when his body matures. Only then will we begin to see what Harper can truly accomplish.

So far, his life is reading like a story book as every diehard MLB fan is drooling at this kid’s raw talent. If he’s within a tank of gas from your town, take the time to be awestruck.

April 18, 2012

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Why Matt Kemp Will Have a Monumental Season

By: Matt Bowen

Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp is set to have an explosive season in 2012. The 27-year-old propelled his career into the stratosphere by batting .324 with 39 homers and 126 RBI in 2011.

Dodgers fans will have a lot to look forward to this season.

His numbers last season were good enough to finish No. 2 in NL MVP voting behind Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun. This year, Kemp’s the odds-on favorite to take home the prized award. He’s not off to a bad start either—hitting .465 with six homers and 16 RBI in just 11 games this season. Most importantly, the Dodgers are 9-2 at the moment.

Kemp is now the quintessential five-tool MLB player. He can hit for average and power and also possesses stellar fielding skills and a lethal throwing arm. Last but not least, Kemp has staggering speed as he proved it with 40 steals last season. Needless to say, Kemp is now the poster child for the dream MLB player.

Although the Dodgers underachieved in 2011, finishing with an 82-79 record, they won because of Kemp and reigning NL Cy Young award winner Clayton Kershaw. Now that the Dodgers have new owners including Hall of Fame Los Angeles Laker Magic Johnson, there’s nowhere but up for this talented team.

Because of his breakout season, Kemp’s expectations are tall this season but he’s proven he’s up to the challenge with his strong start.  The challenge now is to become the first player to ever reach the 50-50 plateau, which means 50 homers and 50 steals.

Last season, Kemp was only one home run short of becoming only the fifth man in MLB history to accomplish the feat of 40 homers and 40 steals. This season, the ante has been upped as MLB fans will be captivated by the budding superstar all season long.

Anytime you get a chance to view Kemp this season, do yourself a favor and watch him unleash on opposing pitching during his soon to be historic season.

September 13, 2011

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Handing Out The Hardware

By: Joe Williams

With the baseball season coming to an end in a couple weeks, some MLB players are still battling it out for the post-season awards. Here are my picks.

American League

MVP

There is no doubt in my mind that Justin Verlander has been the most valuable player to his team. He is 22-5 with a 2.44 ERA and 232 strikeouts in 229 innings. That puts him on pace for 25 wins and over 250 strikeouts. The Tigers are 23-8 in games he started and have all but clinched the A.L. Central title, leading the White Sox and Indians by 11.5 games. Take him out of that rotation and Detroit likely doesn’t even make the playoffs. The question is whether the voters will give the award to a pitcher. It hasn’t happened since 1992.

Other contenders: Jose Bautista, Curtis Granderson, Jacoby Ellsbury

Cy Young

While Verlander may not get the votes for MVP, he will certainly get the votes for the Cy Young award. The Tigers ought to give him some rest once they have clinched the division title so he will be fresh for the playoffs. If that happens, his numbers won’t be as impressive as they could be, but he will still win in a landslide.

Other contenders: Jered Weaver, James Shields, C.C. Sabathia

Rookie of the Year

You can make a good argument for a few players to be the MLB Rookie of the Year. I’m going with Michael Pineda of the Seattle Mariners. He is just 9-10 on the season, but it’s not his fault he is on a bad team. If he were pitching for the Yankees, his record would look more like the 15-4 that Ivan Nova has. He has a 3.72 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, and averages more than a strikeout an inning.

Other contenders: Eric Hosmer, Ivan Nova, Mark Trumbo, Jeremy Hellickson

National League

MVP

It’s always an interesting debate when one team has multiple MVP candidates. Ryan Braun leads the league in hitting at .331 and slugging at .579 with 27 HR, 96 RBI, 97 runs and 31 steals. He is near the top of all the statistical categories. He has helped carry the Brewers to a big lead in the N.L. Central. His chances to win MVP will depend on how many votes his teammate Prince Fielder takes away from him.

Other contenders: Matt Kemp, Prince Fielder, Justin Upton, Ryan Howard

Cy Young

This comes down to three players and I’ll give the nod to Cliff Lee. It’s pretty much a tossup with Clayton Kershaw and Roy Halladay. All three have similar records, ERA, WHIP and strikeouts. Lee is 6-0 with a 0.49 ERA in his last seven starts. He’s had 11 starts where he pitched at least seven shutout innings. There has been 31 shutouts in the N.L. Lee has six of them. Nobody else has more than two.

Other contenders: Ian Kennedy

Could this player win the Cy Young Award?

 

Rookie of the Year

Craig Kimbrel is having one of the great seasons of all time for a reliever, let alone doing it as a rookie. He is tied for the major league lead with 43 saves. He converted 25 consecutive save chances while making 38 straight scoreless appearances. His strikeout rate of 14.8 per nine innings is one of the best all time for a MLB pitcher who has thrown at least 70 innings.

Other contenders: Freddie Freeman, Vance Worley