March 14, 2014

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My Perfect MLB Fantasy Team

By: Joe Williams

We’re about to have the draft in my fantasy baseball league. I already know I’m not going to get all the guys I want and I may even get stuck with a couple jabronies that I don’t want. That’s how these things go. And I probably shouldn’t do this because I’m going to have to worry about some of the guys in my league seeing this and stealing the players I’m after. Oh, who am I kidding? Those guys can barely even read!  Ha ha. Trash talking your league members is one of the best parts of a fantasy league. Anyway, here’s who I would realistically try to take going by the average draft position on the site my league uses.

Round 1:  Miguel Cabrera, 1B

I want my first pick to be a sure thing. I’m going to need a top three pick to get Cabrera though. He’s the best hitter in baseball. Do not pass on him. He was just a Chris Davis injury away from winning back-to-back triple crowns. That’s as sure of a thing as there is in fantasy.

Miguel Cabrera

Would you take Miguel Cabrera with the #1 overall pick in your fantasy draft?

Round 2: Clayton Kershaw, SP
Kershaw has led the majors in ERA for the last three years. Don’t be against him doing it again in 2014. With a little luck, you could end up with the best hitter and the best pitcher in baseball.

Round 3: Yasiel Puig, OF
In 2013, Puig hit over .300 with 19 homers without playing close to a full season. He is only going to get better. If he blossoms into a superstar, you’ll be in great shape so take the risk early. Why go with someone a safe pick? We’re playing for 1st place after all.

Round 4: Ian Kinsler, 2B
Kinsler would give you one of the best all-around hitters there is. In Detroit, you know he’s going to get plenty of chances for runs and RBI to go along with the 15-20 home runs and steals he is expected to provide.

Round 5: Elvis Andrus, SS
I had to make sure this pick wasn’t a Tiger or Dodger. And I want steals. Lots of them. The Kinsler-Andrus combo would be the best middle-infield in your league. That’s what I’m hoping for.
Round 6: Jose Fernandez, SP

Can he pick up where he left off in his amazing rookie season? If he does, that would give me two awesome anchors for my starting rotation.

Round 7: Ben Zobrist, UTIL
I always want a player or two like Zobrist that will give me solid production and flexibility with my lineup by playing multiple positions.

Round 8: Carlos Santana, C

Santana is expected to play multiple positions which will get him in the lineup more often that the typical catcher.

Round 9: Alex Gordon, OF

Here’s another young stud. And the Royals might even might even be good enough to play meaningful games all the way to September this year.

Round 10: Pedro Alvarez, 3B
I am not chick, but I do dig the long ball.

Round 11: Josh Hamilton, OF

This guy will be a monster or a bust. It shouldn’t take long to find out which so if he struggles, you will have time to find a replacement.

Round 12: Alex Cobb, SP

A solid pitcher on a solid team. He won’t hurt you.

Round 13: Julio Teheran, SP

Another good pitcher on a good team that won’t hurt you.

Round 14: David Robertson, RP

I want at least one reliever that will pick up a lot of saves. He’s got a good chance to be that guy.

Round 15: Coco Crisp, OF

This guy will give you one of the best names in baseball and a bunch of steals.

From this point on in the draft, grab as many high-upside players as you can. If they don’t pan out, you can always drop them and find someone else.

March 13, 2014

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2014 MLB Fantasy Baseball: 5 Ways to Win Your League

By: Matt Bowen

With the 2014 MLB season on the horizon now is the time to plan for your MLB fantasy draft. While it may not be as hyped as NFL fantasy football it gives players daily gratification throughout the summer. With a team to tend to on a regular basis there’s plenty of homework to do. Keep these strategies in mind while preparing for your 2014 MLB fantasy season.

Pick a Scoring Category to Dominate

Pick a category, any category and draft to win it on a weekly basis. Whatever the category may be, dominate it. If you like the long ball, stack your squad with sluggers. Keep in mind your batting average may suffer from it but your RBI’s will benefit from it.

Remember, this is fantasy but you should craft your team around a managerial style of your choice.

Like pitching? Draft strike-out pitchers early and often. Ask any MLB GM and they’ll tell you that a team can never go wrong by being too deep in the pitching department.

This strategy will tilt the scales in your favor more times than not.

Buster Posey

Could a player like Buster Posey be the answer to a solid fantasy baseball season?

Be Patient When Drafting

So, it’s Round 4 of your draft and you already want to take a favorite player. He may be too young, he may be too old, but unless he’s a first-round talent odds are you can wait.

When you jump the gun and take your most admired you lose out on where the draft is won. The middle-to-late rounds are where you build depth, especially in the pitching and catching department. Just like fantasy football, baseball is a copycat league. Besides the likes of Clayton Kershaw and Buster Posey, hurlers and backstops won’t fly off the board right away. Once the frenzy begins it doesn’t end until the cupboard is bare.

That being said, don’t take your prized prospect or beloved veteran too early or you’ll miss out on a well-rounded team that’s built to last.

Don’t Forget About the Small-Market Clubs

There are 30 MLB teams. There may be only a handful of teams that have stacked lineups, but baseball has at least one guy on every team that has fantasy value.

Scout the small-market clubs. The Houston Astros may have had an ugly 2013 record, but guys like Jose Altuve and Jason Castro have immense talent and put up quality fantasy stats.

Think of it this way—someone has to produce on every MLB team. Every team scores runs, some more than others, but they score. This means there’s a fantasy roster slot that should be filled by guys on even the worst of teams.

Stick With It

Fantasy baseball isn’t for the casual fan. It’s a long, grueling season. Keep in mind that you signed up so participate the entire year. After all, there’s no crying in baseball.

Don’t bail on your team because you have a rough April. Don’t leave your league mates drooling over Miguel Cabrera or Mike Trout rotting on your bench.

Stick with it!

Scour the waiver wire, pay attention to the box scores, search for the guys that can make you a winner. Fantasy baseball is a commitment. Stay true.

Draft Your Enemy

Fantasy baseball knows no boundaries. There are no borders, no dividing lines between rivalries.

Are you a New York Yankees fan? Refusing to draft David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox could be futile.

It may be a very tough pill to swallow, but draft your enemy. If he’s the best player available and will anchor your lineup, take him. Numbers are numbers and if you pass on a proven winner your odds of losing become greater.

Insult to injury, the person behind you in the draft will take your sworn enemy and beat you in the playoffs with him. Draft with your head, not with your heart.

Have a great season everyone and good luck.

February 13, 2014

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3 MLB Teams Set to Surprise in 2014

By: Matt Bowen

Close your eyes, take a deep breath and think of spring. If you’re thinking of freshly cut grass, roasted peanuts and grilled hot dogs then you’re ready for the 2014 MLB season.

Trust us, you’re not alone.

The majority of pitchers and catching on the verge of reporting to camp brings relief to a rough winter. Just the sight of players outside in the sun sporting t-shirts brings a smile to ones face. Finally, the end of the offseason is near.

It may have only been three months since the World Series ended but that is not kosher with baseball diehards. We were thirsting for more the day after the Boston Red Sox won the 2013 World Series.

With the new season taking flight let’s take some time and size up the competition by naming the top three surprise teams of the upcoming season.

Joe Mauer

Can Joe Mauer and the Twins contend for the AL Wild Card (or more) in 2014?

No. 3: Minnesota Twins

So what if the Minnesota Twins finished last season with a 66-96 record, the fan base need not hang their collective head. This team is going to be exciting in the near future. The team still has franchise cornerstone Joe Mauer. They also beefed up their pitching staff by adding the likes of veterans Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes in the offseason.

But that’s not the complete reason why you should fall in love all over again with the Twins this season. The youth in Minnesota has baseball abuzz and for good reason. The season may start off a bit slow for the Twins but things will only go north from there.

Keep in mind that the Twin Cities host the 2014 MLB All-Star Game. By that time prized prospects Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano could be in the dugout.

Who should we gush over first? Sano it is—the 20-year-old third baseman hit 35 home runs in 123 minor league games last season at multiple levels. Here’s the kicker—he thinks he can hit between 45 and 55 long balls at the major league level. At 6’4”, 235 lbs. he certainly has the size. It’s safe to say he has plenty of confidence too.

Buxton.  Buxton. Buxton is his name, get familiar with it because soon enough you won’t be able to forget it. He’s the No. 1 prospect in all of baseball and is being compared to, gulp, Mike Trout. He’s coming, you’ve been warned.

No. 2: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Now that everybody has written them off after a miserable 2013 campaign the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are bound to surprise this time around. The AL West is the most loaded division in all of baseball with the Oakland Athletics, Texas Rangers and Seattle Mariners headlining this season.

Don’t be shocked when the Angels spoil the party. After all they have a star-studded lineup as well. The aforementioned Trout is the most dynamic player in the game. Fact—they also have Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton who are out to prove that they still have gas in the tank. Say what you want about these aging players but opposing pitchers still want nothing to do with them. For example, Hamilton batted .329 in his final 45 games in 2013. Watch out.

The team’s success will hinge on three young pitchers named Garrett Richards, Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs. Both Santiago and Skaggs joined the Halos via offseason trades and look to make a good first impression. All three of these young men have what it takes win games in The Show.

Quietly, the Angels are cooking up a recipe for success.

No. 1: Arizona Diamondbacks

Ask any member of the Arizona Diamondbacks what they thought about last season and they’ll consider it a failure. Technically, 81-81 is not a failure but by no means is it good enough.

The front office made key acquisitions in the offseason in order to contend for the NL West crown. Adding starting pitcher Bronson Arroyo, proven closer Addison Reed and all-around thumper Mark Trumbo spoke volumes of their intentions.

They are meant to be taken seriously now and in the future.

The team will have to topple their bitter divisional Los Angeles Dodgers in order to achieve their goals but will be up to the task. They have an MVP-caliber first baseman in Paul Goldschmidt and mimic the intensity and grittiness of manager Kirk Gibson.

Thanks to the Dodgers the D’Backs may have been written-off as contenders by many in 2014. Don’t be mistaken—this team is for real.

January 24, 2014

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Hat Tip to the New York Yankees

By: Matt Bowen

The New York Yankees are back to their old ways. Never mind that Super Bowl Sunday has yet to happen and we’re in the heart of a bitter winter, the Yanks are making a splash this MLB offseason.

Just when fans may have thought the franchise was going into a period of dark ages, think again. The Yankees are the most iconic team in sports history—they win often. With 27 World Series rings to date many have grown too loath the “Evil Empire” but one can’t help but respect them.

Yankee Stadium

Will the Yankees be contenders in 2014?

They last won it all in 2009 and with the passing of legendary owner George Steinbrenner in 2010. Steinbrenner was infamous for going out and acquiring any player he deemed fit to don the famous pinstripes, many times with a hefty payday. Since 2008 when the team spent a massive $441 million during the offseason in free agency, the team only spent a total of $227.8 million combined.

It seemed as if the Yankees have tightened the reins on the checkbook since “The Boss” passed onto baseball heaven.

The team let second baseman Robinson Cano walk via free agency this offseason and head west to the Seattle Mariners. The going price for Cano was only a cool $240 million. Wait. Those were the contracts the Yankees used to acquire and suddenly they were passing.

Was their new philosophy to build from within?

Suddenly baseball fans everywhere began to debate if the Yankees were in decline without Steinbrenner’s robust leadership.

Had they’re buying power lost its punch? Had the Yankees lost their appeal?

Think again.

This offseason, the team has once again emptied its pockets.

But why would the team go back to spending so much?

The answer is simple—they’re the New York Yankees. The have a reputation to maintain.

Since 2010 the Yankees have won 95, 97, 95, and 85 games, respectively.

Many MLB teams may consider 85 wins, the Yankees’ amount in 2013, an acceptable season. Not the Yanks. Couple that with the fact that the despised Boston Red Sox won their third World Series since 2004 and the Yankees had to make a splash this offseason.

Mission accomplished.

Yes, they lost Cano, but they acquired free agents Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran and Japanese sensation Masahiro Tanaka.

Correct—there’s a disturbance in the force. The Yankees have once again drawn a line in the proverbial sand and let it be known that they are the team to beat. Many teams had their hat in the ring for the Tanaka sweepstakes yet the Yankees came out king of the mountain.

Their star-studded lineup is shining a bit brighter at the moment. It’s been proven in sports that money doesn’t always buy championships, but the Yankees have definitely bought themselves some momentum heading into the 2014 MLB season. It may have cost the Yankees $491 million this winter but winning it all is simply priceless.

For better or worse balance has been restored in baseball. Hat tip to the Yankees for being so special.

December 19, 2013

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Predicting 2013 NFL Award Winners

By: Matt Bowen

With the playoffs three short weeks away let’s have some fun and predict the 2013 NFL award winners. While the season is still in the balance for plenty of teams, let’s be bold and take an educated guess. The final two weeks may sway some votes, but we have a good idea of how things will pan out. One thing is for certain, the NFL definitely didn’t disappoint this season—the final two weeks along with the playoffs will be as exciting as ever.

Keep these players in mind when the awards are doled out at the end of the season.

Coach of the Year

This is a tight race, but there’s clearly one winner.

There were eight head coaching changes heading into this season, and it can be easily argued that every new coach met or exceeded their expectations. Last year the following eight teams won a combined 41 games—headed into Week 16 this year these teams have a combined 56 wins.

The Arizona Cardinals, Chicago Bears, Philadelphia Eagles, Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers all got new head coaches in 2013.

Hats off to all the men in charge, but the award goes to Andy Reid in Kansas City. The Chiefs were a dark horse Super Bowl team in 2012 before the won only two games and earned the No. 1 pick in the draft. This year Reid has tapped into their talent and the Chiefs currently have 11 wins. They may not win their division but a playoff appearance in a given. The Chiefs are explosive and a blast to watch.

Defensive Player of the Year

Defensive studs are often put on the back burner because they don’t score touchdowns. Not here, the men in the trenches get the acknowledgement they deserve.

While it’s difficult to pinpoint who is precisely the best defensive player, it’s not hard to find an answer. Many men are worthy of the award, but the Indianapolis Colts defensive end Robert Mathis takes the prize. His 16.5 sacks currently lead the league, and the Colts are once again going to make the playoffs.

What’s most remarkable about Mathis is his age—at 32 Mathis is an “old man” amongst the league’s new hybrid athletes on the defensive side of the ball. Still, Mathis is the best at his craft and a great leader on a rather young Colts defense. Cheers to you, Mr. Mathis.

Breakout Player of the Year

This award goes to the guy who doesn’t have a chance at 2013 NFL MVP, but his breakout season may earn him the grand award in the near future.

The argument can be made for both of these players but in the end only one can win. Both of these guys are receivers who have made tremendous strides toward stardom this season. The deciding factor ultimately comes down to team wins.

Josh Gordon of the Cleveland Browns currently leads the league is receiving yards with 1,467 and also has nine touchdowns. He has quickly become one of the most dangerous men in the game. If the Browns ever find a quarterback and running game Gordon may make a run a 2,000 yards in a single season. Right now, his team only has four wins. He’s 22 years old and has all the talent in the world. He’s had a troubled past, but should he leave his problems behind him the sky is the limit.

In the end, the 2013 Breakout Player of the Year goes to Alshon Jeffery of the Chicago Bears. The Bears currently lead the NFC North and control their own fate in terms of a playoff berth.

Jeffery is currently seventh in the league in receiving yards with 1,265. He has seven touchdowns and 80 catches. He’s the perfect complement to teammate Brandon Marshall and has hands like magnets.  Jeffery is only 23 years old and appears to be a Windy City staple for the next decade. Because of Jeffery the Bears are multi-dimensional and have a chance at a deep Super Bowl run. All he does is make highlight reels.

Rookie of the Year

Let’s be honest—today’s NFL is not made for rookies. There’s a steep learning curve that takes many highly touted prospects and puts them in their place—the bench. Last year may have been an exception due to the likes of Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, and Russell Wilson but reality has struck once again in 2013.

To be a standout rookie in the NFL you have to be something special. Right now, only three guys come to mind the rookie debate pops up. Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon deserves mention—the Bucs were terrible before he earned the starting job. Being a rookie quarterback isn’t easy, especially when you don’t start the season as the No. 1. The Bucs started 0-8 but have since won 4-of-6. For that they have hope for the future. Give the NC State alum a full offseason as the main man, and positive results will come.

Zac Stacy of the St. Louis Rams has been a bright spot in an up-and-down season for the franchise. The team was searching for a running back to win the job for weeks and found one in Stacy. The rookie from Vanderbilt has 854 yards on 202 carries and six touchdowns. He’s a real bruiser and looks like he’s made a name for himself in the NFL. Considering he only had one carry before October, Stacy has been a welcomed surprise. Because of him, the Rams will be a sleeper in 2014. He’s a real workhorse.

Look no further than Eddie Lacy of the Green Bay Packers for NFL Rookie of the Year. The rookie out of Alabama looks like this generation’s Marshawn Lynch of the Seattle Seahawks. Lacy has 248 carries for 1,028 yards and eight touchdowns. Right now the Green Bay Packers control their own destiny and when quarterback Aaron Rodgers returns from injury they’ll become the most feared offense in the NFC. Lacy makes them dangerous, the kid is a juggernaut.

MVP

So, who’s the NFL’s most valuable player this season? Let’s keep this short and sweet for there will be much debate to come.

Nick Foles deserves a mention for his work turning around the once underachieving Philadelphia Eagles.

Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees are always in the conversation as they should be. Manning will end up breaking the all-time touchdown record in a season of 50 set by Mr. Brady, he currently has 47 but is he the hands down MVP? No.

Outside the quarterback position, New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham is the most dangerous player in the game. He’s can’t be guarded—his physical stature is not really fair to his opponents—but even he missed the top spot.

Heck, even Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker deserves a vote—all that guy does is split the uprights.

This year’s NFL MVP is Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.

Correct, Wilson only has 3,077 passing yards, which ranks him No. 17 in the league. But it’s not his arm that is most valuable, it’s his mentality. He’s thrown 24 touchdowns, eight interceptions, completed 64.7 percent of his throws and has run for 508 yards on 89 rushes.

He doesn’t make many mistakes and only runs when it’s the right choice. His team is currently 12-2 and lethal at home. Right now the Seahawks seem a lock for the Super Bowl.

He’s special.

So special that the Texas Rangers drafted him in the recent Rule 5 MLB draft—he hasn’t played baseball in some time yet everybody wants a piece of Russell Wilson. He can seemingly do no wrong.

He’s got a million dollar smile and is priceless on the field. Wilson for MVP—no doubt.