April 3, 2013

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Who’s better: Bryce Harper or Mike Trout?

By: Matt Bowen

Finally, spring has officially sprung as the 2013 MLB season is upon us. While there’s plenty to debate about in regards to the rest of the league, the main focus will be on Bryce Harper and Mike Trout.

Bryce Harper started the season off with 2 Home Runs on Opening Day.

The two sophomore sensations are nothing short of miraculous as they helped reshape baseball forever last season. Their ridiculous display of athleticism and flare for the dramatic are simply astounding. Teams have long groomed their prized prospects until they’re deemed fit by outdated unwritten rules.

Now, thanks to Harper and Trout, many prospects will be brought up as early as 19 years old. They’ve changed the way GMs think, how fans act and how fantasy diehards draft.

One thing is for sure, the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have the center piece of their respected franchises for the next decade.

Baseball couldn’t ask for anything more from these young men in terms of proximity—what we have is a classic East vs. West battle, which ensures Major League Baseball that the entire country is engulfed in the debate.

So, who’s better?

Harper has been highly touted since he left high school early to play college ball. He was hitting homers out of major league ballparks before kids his age got their driver’s license.  The buzz surrounding his arrival at “The Show” reached a fever pitch. The Nationals couldn’t hold him back any longer as they wanted to cash in and put their best possible team on the field.

Harper didn’t disappoint as a rookie, but there’s room for improvement. Relax; before you jump out of your seat screaming, I’ll say it for you—he was only 19 last season. He hit a modest .270 last season with 22 home runs, which is nothing to scoff at from a kid who’s seen minimal big league pitching.

Things can only go up from here. Soon he’ll become comfortable filling in his big league shoes, become patient at the plate and learn the ropes of the outfield.

He started 2013 off with a bang as he hit two homers en route to a 2-0 Nationals win on Opening Day. To put his growing legacy into perspective, he received a standing ovation, at 20 years old, in the fourth inning. Whoa!

Trout is a year older than Harper but is currently viewed as the more well-rounded talent. Trout’s 49 stolen bases in 139 games in 2012 have him going No. 1 in many fantasy drafts, even ahead of Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers.  Oh, not to mention he hit .326 with 30 homers and 83 RBI.

For sake of this debate, Trout did get a cup of tea with the Angels toward the end of 2011. He hit .220 in 123 at-bats. On the other hand, Harper got 74 at-bats at AAA Syracuse before his call came last season.

Never mind his taste of the majors in 2011, Trout made the Angels immensely better and turned into an MVP candidate in 2012. He even has many thinking he’s the best player in baseball.

This is where Harper has the advantage this season—all the pressure is on Trout right now. It’s true that both players have big expectations to meet, but Trout has all eyes on him. With slightly less attention on him, Harper can easily slide safely back into the pole position amongst themselves.

So, who’s better? Who cares! They are both awesome. Watch them as much as you can. Appreciate them. They have revolutionized baseball and given us a new batch of stars to root for.

One last thing to ponder—the scary thought is that both of these boys have yet to fill out. We have to wait until they turn 25 years old before they’ll be “full grown.”

This is one debate fans will be having 50 years from now. And that is why we love this game.

March 29, 2013

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Welcoming the Houston Astros to the AL West

By: Matt Bowen

Opening Day is only a few days away and Major League Baseball will have a slightly new look this year for the first time since 1998, when the Milwaukee Brewers switched from the American League to the National league because of expansion teams Tampa Bay and Arizona.

The Astros will be moving from the NL Central to the AL West in 2013.

Now, for the first time in league history, each league will have 15 teams. Also, each division will have five teams. The Astros are set to join the AL West amongst the likes of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Oakland Athletics, Seattle Mariners and their in-state and now divisional rival Texas Rangers.

Baseball is so excited for the move that the MLB decided that the very first game of 2013 will be the Astros hosting the Rangers. Houston righty Bud Norris gets the Opening Day nod against Texas lefty Matt Harrison.

One man to keep your eye on during the broadcast is Rangers CEO Nolan Ryan, who spent some of his best days of his Hall of Fame career in an Astros uniform, which will look strikingly familiar.

The Astros needed a new look, so they turned back the clock and mimicked their jerseys first introduced in 1975. Sure, they’re not quite as vibrant as the multiple shades of orange, but they definitely have that vibe. Don’t be surprised when the team goes full throwback a few times this season.

After all, the Astros have a new lease on their baseball life in the AL West. Yes, they lost 107 games last season, but a new chapter in their history is about to commence. Thanks to swapping leagues and the new look, Astros fans should have a new outlook.

The organization may have a ways to go before they reach glory, but they are beginning to put the right pieces in place. New manager Bo Porter is a great start. In his recent past, Porter was the third base coach for the Washington Nationals, who made the playoffs last year with an NL-best 98 wins last season. Knowing how to win is invaluable in sports and Porter has tasted victory. Now, his No. 1 job is to change the mindset in Houston.  Porter is doing just that as he’s prepping his men to be champions. Fans can’t argue with Porter’s passion.

Another thing to look forward to as an Astros fan is young players Jose Altuve and Matt Dominguez. Altuve hit .290 in 2012 with 33 stolen bases as a second baseman. He may be small in size (5’5”), but he has a big game. Last year was his first full season in the majors and he may have run out of gas down the stretch. Expect him to be ready to go for 162 games this season.

Dominguez is a 23-year-old prospect that’s been champing at the bit to make an impact at the major league level. After being dealt to the Astros last season from the Miami Marlins, he hit five homers in just 109 at-bats and hit .284. He’ll be a welcomed star for the Astros by season’s end.

Just like the team’s motto on their webpage this season, “It’s a whole new ballgame” in Houston.

March 26, 2013

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The Week In Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Sweet 16 set in the NCAA Tournament: The first week of the NCAA Tournament is complete and, as usual, there were a fair share of big upsets. The big ones in the first round were tiny Florida Gulf Coast shocking the world by beating No. 2 seeded Georgetown and No. 3 seed New Mexico being ousted by Harvard. Lots will be made about some of those weaker teams being underseeded, but the fact is that if you played the tournament a dozen times, you might have a dozen different champions. Any team is capable of losing on any given night and if a team like Florida Gulf Coast played Georgetown ten times, it’s difficult to believe they’d win the majority of those games. But that’s the beauty of March.

Brian Urlacher appears to be on his way out of Chicago.

Brian Urlacher leaving Chicago: A bit of a surprise in NFL free agency was that the Chicago Bears didn’t re-sign longtime linebacker Brian Urlacher. Urlacher, a mainstay on the team for the past 13 years, couldn’t come to terms with the team. He had come down considerably from his initial asking price for the 2013 season, but that still wasn’t enough to get the Bears to move from their $2 million offer, as reported by ESPN. Reportedly, his agent has already talked with the Dallas Cowboys, Minnesota Vikings, and Arizona Cardinals. Now at 35, Urlacher is surely slowing down – his tackles have dropped each of the past two seasons. But the bet here is that some team will take a chance on him. With no other options, his asking price may have to come down, though.

Denver Nuggets dominating with 15-game winning streak: With everyone focused on the Miami Heat’s remarkable streak, the Denver Nuggets have gone under the radar. The Nuggets won their 15th straight game this past weekend, beating Sacramento on Saturday. As a result, Denver has soared up to the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference, passing the Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies in the process. The Nuggets have been winning this year on youth and depth. The team has only three players over the age of 25 and only one of those, Andre Miller, is over 30. Also, nine players average more than eight points a game, but none average more than 17. With so much youth and balance, if the Nuggets keep their core together, this is a franchise that could compete for years to come.

Hanley Ramirez out for two months: The Dodgers got some bad news with Opening Day just around the corner. Star shortstop Hanley Ramirez had a torn ligament in his thumb and required surgery last week. Because of it, Ramirez will miss about eight weeks recovering. That’s a tough break for the Dodgers, who picked him up in a trade last season. In 2012 splitting time with the Dodgers and Marlins, Ramirez hit 24 home runs and drove in 92 runs, having one of his best offensive seasons of his career. Not having him until close to May could mean the Dodgers get off to a slow start.

Sergio Garcia hits golf ball … from tree: The final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational was on Sunday. You might assume that the real news was that the event was suspended due to weather, but you’d be wrong. The big highlight came from Sergio Garcia hitting a golf ball while atop a tree branch. Don’t believe me? Here’s the video. Whatever your interest level is in golf, there’s no denying that shots like these make it interesting. Still, I’m not sure Garcia’s move was all that wise. A slip of the foot could have meant a nasty fall and possibly even an end to his season. Not to mention that Garcia double-bogeyed the hole anyway and later withdrew. Still, if we’re going by entertainment value, this one’s a ten all the way. And as a spectator, I’d much rather see Garcia take a gamble like that.

U.S. Soccer wins match over Costa Rica despite snow protest: You read that right. The U.S. Soccer team defeated Costa Rica 1-0 in the qualifying for the FIFA World Cup in the snow in Denver. Costa Rica protested during the match and also filed a formal protest immediately afterwards. Typically, this is where I’d say that both teams had equal playing conditions so Costa Rica should suck it up. But I also understand the point in protesting. Soccer isn’t like, pardon the pun, (American) football where snow is considered as a part of the playing conditions. When you think of soccer, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? For most of us, it’s not white stuff falling to the ground. I don’t mind a match being played if it’s a little bit of snow, but the field was covered to the point where Costa Rican players were complaining that they couldn’t even adequately see the lines. Keep in mind, this is also the qualifying for the World Cup – it’s not a meaningless preseason MLB game. With so much at stake, postponing the game would have made more sense. Similarly hilarious is the fact that a qualifying match was even scheduled in Denver when there’s always a chance of spring snow.

February 20, 2013

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MLB Teams Who Made a Splash This Offseason

By: Matt Bowen

Baseball fans, it may seem like we’re in the doldrums of winter, but the 2013 MLB season is now just a few short weeks away.

Fans should be packing the Rogers Centre to see the 2013 Toronto Blue Jays.

With pitchers and catchers reporting across the league recently, general excitement is beginning to brew within diehard fans yearning for the boys of summer. Spring training is set to get into full swing later this week and don’t be fooled, Opening Day is April 1.

While there is a laundry list of topics to talk about regarding the upcoming season, this article is dedicated to the teams who made a big splash this offseason. With key additions to their rosters, these teams have created positive momentum, reinvigorated their fan base and have a bright future ahead of them.

Each of these teams now expect to make the playoffs, don’t be surprised when they shake up the standings and reach their goal.

The Cleveland Indians Saved Themselves from Further Disappointment

The Cleveland Indians have finished no better than an even .500 every year since 2007. Just when fans thought they were in for another decade of futility, the front office did everything right this offseason.

First, they completed a three-team trade with the Cincinnati Reds and Arizona Diamondacks. What the Indians got in the deal was outfielder Drew Stubbs, who needed a change of scenery and a young pitcher named Trevor Bauer, who will someday be their No. 1. Bauer was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2011 MLB draft and has all the attributes a franchise could want in an ace.

The front office also made some noise via free agency when the inked prized outfield Michael Bourn just a few weeks ago. Bourn was highly coveted heading into the offseason but was lost in the shuffle. What he brings to the Indians is an Opening Day leadoff man, superior defense and ridiculous speed on the base paths.

The organization did themselves a world of good with the moves they made this offseason. The Indians could be real spoilers come late season.

The Atlanta Braves Have a Pair of New Faces Fans Will Love

The Atlanta Braves made a plethora of moves in the offseason, highlighted with the acquisition of both B.J. and Justin Upton.

Sure, the likes of pitcher Tommy Hanson and super-utility sensation Martin Prado may be out, but the Upton brothers are two of the best in the league.

It can easily be argued that younger brother Justin is better than B.J., but Justin’s presence will push B.J. to reach his full potential. It was the acquisition of B.J. that led the Braves to not chase after free agent Michael Bourn. Now, the sky is the limit for the insanely talented pair of brothers.

The Braves have one of the best bullpens in all of baseball and with all the offensive weapons they now have, anything short of a deep playoff run will be considered a failure.

Don’t Forget About the Philadelphia Phillies

Ask any Phillies fan and they’ll tell you that a .500 finish to the 2012 season was a major disappointment.

Not wanting to repeat, the Phillies front office went on the offensive this offseason and once again made the Phillies feared.

A trio of new Phillies has made them a contender in 2013. Although Delmon Young is a liability in the outfield and will start the season on the DL, he’s pure gold in the playoffs. Another outfield addition that will pay dividends is Ben Revere, who was brought over via trade. He’s young, can hit for average and is an automatic threat on the bases. Phillies fans will fall in love with him quickly.

The biggest move they made was for infielder Michael Young, who may be 36 years old, but is a .301 career hitter and brings that veteran presence to a team that needs some added focus.

A bonus, reliever Mike Adams is dominant and will bolster the back end.

Although it may seem that they are an afterthought, the Phillies will be primetime contenders for the World Series this season.

The Toronto Blue Jays Simply Dominated this Offseason

There’s no doubt that the AL East has been the toughest division in baseball. The Toronto Blue Jays felt the pressure to compete and made a splash so big they emptied the pool this winter.

Where to begin?

Well, 2012 NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey is now a Blue Jay.

Also, former Miami Marlins players Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and John Buck are now all Blue Jays. This was a blockbuster trade that MLB fans live for. Yes, the Blue Jays took on a ridiculous amount of money, but they instantly made themselves favorites.

They also added Melky Cabrera, who may be guilty of using banned substances, but is still an above-average baseball player.

If this roster doesn’t bring fans flocking to their games, then I don’t know what will. They have an All-Star team all by themselves. If Toronto comes to town, do yourself the pleasure and buy a ticket.

On paper, they’re World Series favorites.

April 6, 2012

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Weekend Viewing Schedule

By: Junior

It has been a while since I wrote a weekend sports schedule, but with the NHL and NBA heading into the homestretch before the playoffs, the MLB season getting under way and The Masters going on this weekend, it may be hard to prioritize which games are “must-see”. Have no fear, I have looked over all of the games and events happening this weekend and these are the games you MUST watch.

Friday

Cardinals @ Brewers – MLB – 4:10pm ET

We normally don’t start the schedule this early, but with many people taking today off to celebrate Opening Day (or to recover from the celebrating the night before), I figure many of you have some time to watch some games. This is Opening Day for Brewers fans, and what better way to kickoff the season then against their hated division rival the Cardinals. This game should have all of the pomp and circumstance of Opening Day with the passion of a mid-season ballgame. A great way to start the weekend.

Another Opening Day game will kickoff what is sure to be an exciting sports weekend.

Suns @ Nuggets – NBA – 9:00pm ET

If the game above didn’t have enough of a playoff atmosphere for you, this game should take care of that and then some. The Suns are currently 9th in the Western Conference, only one game behind the 8th seed. Who are they trailing? The Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets won the last matchup, but the Suns were without Steve Nash. Denver would love to put a little more cushion between themselves and the Suns, but Nash will be trying to make one more playoff push in what many assume will be his last season with the Suns.

Saturday
Chicago @ Detroit – NHL – 1:00pm ET

We pickup Saturday afternoon right where we left off on Friday. Detroit and Chicago are 5th and 6th , respectively, in the standings. Only separated by 2 points, there will be no love lost during this heated game between division rivals.  The Red Wings can still land the 4th spot in the playoffs, while the Blackhawks can leapfrog Detroit if they win in regulation. This game has a lot riding on it for both teams, and will be a very physical, entertaining game.

Philadelphia @ Pittsburgh- NHL – 4:00pm ET

This game has no bearing on playoff seeding, but when two in-state, division rivals play, it doesn’t disappoint. That is the case as the Flyers and Penguins meet on Saturday. The Flyers are 4-1 against the Penguins this season, yet are still ranked only 5th in the standing, one spot below the Penguins. The Flyers will look to end the season with a win and enter the playoffs on a strong note.

Sunday

Bulls @ Knicks – NBA – 1:00pm ET

The seeds get further apart in this matchup, but the importance is just as great. The Knicks are fighting to keep themselves in the playoffs, only 1.5 games ahead of the 9th seed. They will face the #1 seed Chicago Bulls, who will likely be the Knicks first round playoff matchup. This could be a preview of what we can expect in the fast approaching NBA playoffs, and the Knicks can’t afford to lose many more games. The Bulls will look to dishearten the Knicks, who could build some confidence with an impressive showing at home.

The Masters – PGA – 2:00pm ET

The Masters starts at 2, but when the game above ends, we should be joining right around the back 9. The Masters is one of the PGA’s premiere events and always provides great action. Rory McIlroy is looking to avenge his monumental collapse last year and is in contention midway through Friday’s action. A lot could change from now until then, which is what makes The Masters a great watch, even if you aren’t a big golf fan.

White Sox @ Rangers – NBA – 8:00pm ET

Once The Masters ends, we have one more game of baseball before we call this weekend over. The Rangers are the defending AL Champions for the past two seasons and hope this will be the year they finally win the World Series. The White Sox, on the other hand, are in more of a rebuilding stage, with a lot of turnover from last season. Regardless, baseball season is back and this early in the season, every team is a contender.