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.

February 4, 2013

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The Week in Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Baltimore Ravens hang on to win Super Bowl over San Francisco 49ers, 34-31: What looked to be a dud of a game early finally became interesting with the help of … a power outage. Down 28-6, the San Francisco 49ers rallied to score 17 consecutive points. The comeback came up short, though, after the two teams traded touchdowns.  Baltimore added a field goal with about four minutes left in the game and after driving nearly the length of the field, the Niners were stopped inside the 10-yard line. Baltimore got the ball back and wisely took a safety with only a few seconds remaining to provide the final score.

49ers fans will focus on the non-call of what appeared to be pass interference in the end zone on that final drive, but the Ravens’ defense should be lauded for coming up big twice in the fourth quarter. In addition to the aforementioned stand, the D stopped a two-point conversion attempt by the 49ers that could have tied the game (and would have meant they would have only needed a field goal on that final drive). The Ravens allowed 31 points, but stopped San Francisco when it mattered.

Seven elected to Pro Football Hall of Fame: Lost a bit in all of the Super Bowl hoopla were the Pro Football Hall of Fame elections. Coach Bill Parcells and players Cris Carter, Jonathan Ogden, Warren Sapp, and Larry Allen will all be inducted later this year. In addition, senior selections Curley Culp and Dave Robinson were elected as well. All were deserving, but if you’re looking for a snub, that would be former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jerome Bettis. Bettis ranks sixth on the all-time NFL rushing list, but still couldn’t find a way into the Hall despite eight 1,000-yard seasons, six Pro Bowls, and a Super Bowl victory. He should eventually get in, but it has to be a bit disappointing that it didn’t happen this year.

Dwyane Wade tries to convince Lebron James to participate in All-Star weekend activities: The NBA has been fighting a losing battle in trying to add more excitement to their All-Star weekend. Unlike the 1980s and 1990s, the league’s biggest stars generally no longer take part in the slam dunk championship or three-point shootout. Gone are the days when players such as Michael Jordan, Julius Erving, and Larry Bird were participating, but one guy wants to change that: Dwyane Wade. Wade has been pushing for teammate Lebron James to suit up for the slam dunk and three-point contests this year. While LBJ has reportedly said he’s not interested in dunking, we could see him in the three-point shootout. I’d be all for it, to be honest. If there’s one thing that will draw more eyeballs, it’s the participation by the game’s best players. I don’t think the league should try to force its stars to join in, but the players should want to do it. The weekend is all about the fans and if there’s any way to reward them, it’s by doing more than sitting on the sidelines.

Adrian Peterson wins NFL’s MVP award: Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson won the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award, beating out Denver Broncos’ quarterback Peyton Manning. You can make a strong case for Manning, who came back strongly after an injury kept him out last year. But Peterson is the right choice in my opinion. Not only did he carry the Vikings on his back to the playoffs this year, but he nearly broke Eric Dickerson’s long-standing record for most rushing yards in a season. Others have challenged the mark, but Peterson came the closest falling only nine yards short. Manning had one of his best seasons ever and for one of the best quarterbacks ever, that’s really saying something. But Peterson had less to work with if you look at it objectively. The Vikings passing attack was one of the worst in the NFL and the team won only three games last year when he suffered an injury. Meanwhile, Manning had a solid rushing attack and also took over a team that won a game in the playoffs last year. In other seasons, Manning could be an easy pick. But this year, the award belongs to Peterson.

Yankees may try to void Alex Rodriguez contract: As his career winds down, Yankees’ third baseman Alex Rodriguez has found himself in a number of controversies. The latest came last week when he was accused of using performance enhancing drugs. That’s nothing new as Rodriguez previously admitted to such use earlier in his career, but he has maintained that he has not done so recently. But because of the new allegations, the Yankees may be looking to void A-Rod’s expensive contract in the hopes of saving some money. That likely wouldn’t be the case if Rodriguez was in the prime of his career, but with his numbers in a steady decline, it makes sense that New York would want out of his hefty deal. Stay tuned.

Caltech ends historic streak: Chances are you’ve probably never heard of the California Institute of Technology if you live outside of the state. But their baseball team snapped a historic 228-game losing streak last week, winning their first game in nearly a decade, 9-7 over Pacifica. Even more shocking is that the school has had several other unbelievable recent streaks of futility. The men’s basketball team lost 310 straight games until winning in 2011 and the women’s volleyball team also lost 56 in a row at one point before a victory in 2012. Congratulations, I guess?

May 7, 2012

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Injuries Should Pave Way for Miami Heat to Reach Finals

By: Anson Whaley

Despite assembling a trio of some of the league’s biggest stars last year, the Miami Heat were unable to win the NBA championship, falling to the Dallas Mavericks. They received a bit of a pass since it was their first season together, but that won’t be the case if Miami fails to bring home the franchise’s second title this year.

The Heat may not have been the Eastern Conference’s best team this year, but there’s little doubt they are the favorites to advance to the Finals because of the huge rash of injuries to key players.

Miami’s already on the brink of disposing of the New York Knicks, leading their series 3-1 in the first round. The Knicks might have been in better shape against LeBron & Company if they were a bit healthier. New York was already without rookie sensation Jeremy Lin (knee injury) since late March. But then came Iman Shumpert’s torn ACL and a bizarre hand injury to starter Amare Stoudemire, who somehow thought punching a fire extinguisher case out of frustration after the team’s Game 2 loss was a good idea. After sitting out the third game, Stoudemire returned for Game 4. But missing Lin and Shumpert has definitely hurt the team in this series.

The Chicago Bulls, perhaps the best team in the entire league with a 50-16 record, were dealt a cruel blow in their first round series. With only a little over a minute to play in their first playoff game against the Philadelphia 76ers, star point guard Derrick Rose tore his ACL and, just like that, his season was over. Rose was the team’s leader in scoring and assists and without him, the Bulls have been a shell of their former selves. Chicago won that first game, but has fallen short in the past three without Rose. And as if that weren’t enough of a hurdle to overcome, the Bulls lost center Joakim Noah in Game 4 to an ankle sprain. Even if they can somehow fight back and make it a series against Philly, there’s little chance they could do much more in the playoffs.

The Orlando Magic were another team expected to contend for the title. That all changed, though, once star center Dwight Howard went down with a back injury late in the season. Power forward Glen Davis has stepped up in his absence, scoring 20 points a game in the playoffs and pulling in nearly ten rebounds. But the team clearly misses Howard, who was their regular season leader in points, rebounds, blocks, and steals. Howard’s defensive impact is just as important as the one he makes on offense and the Magic are a weaker team on both ends without him.

There are also the aging Boston Celtics. The Celtics have been relatively healthy, but shooting guard Ray Allen missed the first two games of their opening series against the Atlanta Hawks. He’d been out for the past month with bone spurs in his foot, and even though he’s back, is still trying to get back into game shape.

Miami isn’t a lock to win the East by any stretch of the imagination. The Indiana Pacers are having a strong season and as one of the league’s best rebounding teams, could give the Heat some trouble. And the Atlanta Hawks’ sixth-ranked defense might be able to challenge Miami’s explosive offense as well. The Heat are a combined 6-2 against those two teams in the regular season, but in the playoffs, the intensity will be ratcheted up significantly. Despite all that, though, it’s clear that with all of the injuries to the Eastern Conference this season, Miami has a clear shot at reaching the Finals again.

October 24, 2011

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Can a Tour Not Sanctioned by the NBA Work?

By: Anson Whaley

With news that the NBA lockout could last a while, word broke recently that several of the league’s stars are working to go on an international barnstorming tour. This makes sense since the players could not only draw an income, but stay in shape and in front of fans missing out on the NBA’s regular season. Ordinarily, this might sound like a pipe dream scenario, but reports are starting to surface that contracts have already been signed and such a tour could be a very real possibility.

So the question is, ‘can it work?’

No one could really say for sure, but if the goal is to pack a few arenas and make a little bit of money along the way, then I think it could work over the short term. Here’s what needs to happen, in my opinion, for it to be a success:

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1.  Keep it overseas: The way I see it, the greatest interest for a barnstorming tour would be overseas. There are plenty of fans in the U.S. that would pay to see LeBron vs. Kobe in an NBA game any day of the week, but how many would want to pay big money for an exhibition? Could it work once? Probably. But fans overseas would likely have a far greater interest in seeing players they may never otherwise be able to see play in person. The tour would have a bigger chance of constant sellouts if played internationally than if the teams made the rounds in cities such as New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

Would people pay to see LeBron James playing overseas? Absolutely!

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2.  Limit the games: These games may seem like fun at first, but how many would you actually want to see? The novelty could wear off extremely quickly and the players involved would be better off by not playing an abundance of these contests. In addition to attendance, the other thing that’s reportedly been discussed is the possibility of televised games. Networks may be interested in airing a few, but it’s hard to envision a major entity being willing to broadcast a dozen or so games. No one knows how long this lockout will last and if the players need to organize another tour, interest should still be high if the number of contests is limited the first time around.

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3.  Make the competition real: Much like the NHL’s and NFL’s athletes, NBA players catch a lot of heat for their All-Star games because they’re perceived to feature little defense. That’s true to a degree, but it’s hard to fault the players for that because they don’t want to get injured – especially since their break is in the middle of the season. Fans may simply be pleased with seeing exhibition-level basketball, but the tour would be an infinitely bigger success if the players went all out. In addition, the last thing the players need to do is further alienate fans. That could happen if fans in attendance or watching on TV feel they aren’t giving their all … even if the games are played in another country. There doesn’t need to a trophy or an actual league set up, but if the games are competitive, that would go a long way to restoring their credibility among fans. That said…

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4.  Be careful: The worst thing that could happen would be a significant injury to any of the players. It would not only be devastating to NBA teams employing any such players (especially if the lockout ends and the season eventually gets underway), but put serious doubts in the mind of the rest of the players about if they should be participating. It’s simply not worth it for these players who are at the top of their sport to suffer a major injury. That’s the type of thing that could cause an abrupt end to the tour and make it a disaster.

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.