February 13, 2014
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.
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
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.
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?
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
October 4, 2013
It’s been a full month of college and NFL football and baseball’s regular season finished with an exciting extra game to determine the final playoff spot. Many of us are spending more time in football pools and on our fantasy teams. If that sounds like you, there may be some interesting things from the sports world that you missed. Here’s a few that caught my eye in the last few weeks.
A billboard advertising UNLV football and basketball tickets was put up with the wrong basketball coach in the picture. The school’s former basketball coach Lon Kruger ended up on the billboard instead of current coach Dave Rice.
Peyton Manning threw seven touchdown passes in the first game of the NFL season and the Columbus Dispatch made an error and printed a headline giving John Elway credit for the record-setting performance.
The Tennessee Titans started the season off on the wrong foot when Darius Reynaud caught the opening kickoff, took a step backward and went down to one knee, giving the Steelers a safety and a 2-0 lead. Things have since turned around for the Titans who are 3-1.
Baseball’s home run leader Chris Davis hit a foul ball into his own jersey.
The Seattle Seahawks took an unusual step to increase fan safety at their home games, by announcing that there would be undercover police in the stadium wearing jerseys from the opposing teams.
A TV station in Orlando actually apologized to its viewers for having to show the Jacksonville Jaguars game against the Oakland Raiders (due to NFL policy).
The Cleveland Browns shocked the NFL when they traded last year’s No. 3 overall pick, running back Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts. Nobody was more shocked than Richardson though, who learned of the trade by hearing it on the radio.
The NHL is putting in some new rules and one of them states that players will be penalized for removing their helmets before a fight. But that didn’t stop Krys Barch and Brett Gallant who kindly removed each others helmets so they could duke it out.
It took bunch of complaints from the fan base for someone with the Cincinnati Bengals to realize that a Katy Perry song is not a good choice for getting your team fired up to play football. Her new song “Roar” had been used all through the Bengals game against the Steelers.
In one of the more bizarre rivalries in college football, Concordia University and St. Olaf College faced off for the right to win a “Troll.” True story.
Brett Favre’s agent just had to do it again and announce that the former quarterback “could play today.” Haven’t we all suffered enough?
The Denver Broncos had such an easy time against the Oakland Raiders that the running backs Ronnie Hillman, Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball all wanted to score a touchdown and the decision of who would get the glory came down to – you guessed it – a game of “Rock, Paper, Scissors.” Hillman was the winner and did score on a 1-yard run.
New Mexico State has such poor attendance at its football games that the school is now offering cash prizes to entice students to attend and stay at the games.
A high school team in Wisconsin put up a whopping 82 points in one game…and still lost. Final score: Oconomowoc 84, Wisconsin Lutheran School 82.
John Daly hit a golf ball out of a man’s mouth. And did it in the parking lot of a pizza joint in Nashville.
September 26, 2013
The 23-year-old from Collins, Mississippi is the fastest man in baseball at the moment. One day he’ll arguably go down as the best base-stealer of all time. This is a bold statement considering Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson holds the record with 1,406 career swipes, especially when one considers that as of September 25, Hamilton is currently sitting on a robust 13 steals.
This is where curiosity creeps in and takes over this article. You see, Hamilton has only played in 11 Major League games. Quickly, his legend is growing. Throughout ball parks and office conversation throughout the land baseball fans are asking each other, “Did you see what Billy Hamilton did last night?”
When one thinks about legendary players and some of the stories told many are hard to fathom. As badly as we want to believe all of the feats players from Babe Ruth to Bo Jackson are said to have accomplished, it’s hard. Someday, the same type of tall tales will be spoken of about Billy Hamilton and in his case, like the greats ahead of him, they’ll all be true.
His speed is remarkable—it’s something we’ve never seen.
Speed is nothing new to Hamilton; in 132 minor league games in 2012 he stole a record 155 bases. This is not folk lore, rather fact.
Fans almost have to watch him in slow motion to appreciate the true beauty of what he brings to the game. His marquee game in his short but illustrious career came on September 18 against the Houston Astros when he stole four – yes four – bases. This is where his status grows amongst the legends—he stole second base on a pitch-out.
Even when the opposition knew what Hamilton was going to do, even when they strike to mow him down they failed to do so. Remember this feat as you’ll one day hear, “Did you know Billy Hamilton once stole second one a pitch out?” Of course it’s been done before, but it doesn’t happen often and it’s something we may only see from him again.
Hamilton brings back speed to the game, an element pure baseball enthusiast miss dearly. No one has stolen 100-plus bags in the majors since Vince Coleman of the St. Louis Cardinals did it in 1987 with 109. They aforementioned Henderson holds the modern-day record with 130 in 1982. Just to show how “The Show” has veered away from stolen base paths, this year’s winner will likely be Jacoby Ellsbury of the Boston Red Sox. Right now, he has 52. Hamilton has 25 percent of Ellsbury’s total in just 11 games.
The Reds have been waiting for Hamilton to blossom into someone who can consistently make his way on base and that time is now.
In those 11 games he’s 6-for-14 with two walks, eight runs scored and just one strikeout. While the sample size may be small, it sure is promising.
The Reds have been looking for a spark all season. There may have never been a 90-plus win ball club who lacked a fire-starter quite like this Cincinnati club. As the trade deadline came and went fans wondered why they didn’t make a move, in the end the front office knew Hamilton would be called-up in early September and here to stay.
Now, because of the 23-year-old phenom they have an added dimension, a weapon every team desires but few have—speed. Hamilton is a star waiting to shine bright. He’s the difference between a 90-plus win team and a true World Series contender.