October 7, 2013

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The Week in Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Patriots and Seahawks fall from ranks of unbeatens: Denver, Kansas City, and New Orleans all won their games this weekend to reach the 5-0 plateau in the NFL, but the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks weren’t quite as fortunate. The Pats’ loss to Cincinnati wasn’t too surprising as the team had been involved in numerous close games, winning three of their four contests by a touchdown or less. Even at 4-1, it’s hard to get a handle on just how good New England is this season. Meanwhile, Seattle won’t be running the table either, after a 34-28 loss to Indianapolis as the Colts scored 11 unanswered points in the final quarter.

The New Orleans Saints are one of three NFL teams that are still undefeated.

Pirates and Rays win Wild Card games: The Pittsburgh Pirates and Tampa Bay Rays extended their seasons with Wild Card wins in the opening games of Major League Baseball’s playoffs last week. Pittsburgh defeated Cincinnati and took a 2-1 lead in their best of five series with the St. Louis Cardinals into Monday. The Rays could be packing up soon, though, after falling behind 2-0 in their series with the Boston Red Sox.

Grand Theft Auto … in real life: An Auburn lacrosse player thought Grand Theft Auto in real life was too good to pass up.

NHL season underway: The NHL regular season kicked off this past week with a trio of games on Tuesday. Highlighting the schedule was the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks winning their opener against the Washington Capitals. The Caps got a hat trick from Mikhail Grabovski in his debut with the team, but it wasn’t enough as Chicago won 6-4 in dramatic fashion, scoring the game’s last three goals in the final period.

Dusty Baker fired as Reds coach: Managers that make the playoffs in three out of four major league seasons aren’t often fired. Such was the case, though, in Cincinnati where the Reds let go of their head man, Dusty Baker. Baker averaged 85 wins a year in his six seasons with the club but despite that and the postseason appearances, that wasn’t enough to keep his job. The big knock on the manager is that he wasn’t able to lead the Reds deep in the playoffs, losing in the first round in each of those seasons. You never can tell how things like this will work out, but canning a manager with that much success is difficult to justify – despite the early exits. The only way the move pays off is with a World Series appearance and with the St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves hanging around in the National League, and the surging Pirates making waves in the division, that’s hardly a guarantee.

Larry Krystkowiak takes a bite out of crime: So, um, the Utah Utes’ coach and former NBA player has decided to turn into a policeman or something.

Dwight Howard-Kareem apparently not BFFs: File this in the ‘In Case You Missed It’ file, but if you’ve not yet seen it, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Dwight Howard are in a bit of a mini-feud. Abdul-Jabbar fired the first shot by insinuating that Howard wasn’t a smart player and Howard, understandably, shot back, claiming dumb players don’t win Defensive Player of the Year awards. While Howard is certainly one of the league’s best centers and has more than a fair point, he’s always going to get a bad rap in L.A. for his disastrous year with the Lakers. His addition was supposed to put the Lakers over the top, but instead the team regressed with him around.

Mascot fail: Someone apparently needs to explain the NFL’s field goal rules to the Miami Dolphins mascot. Instead of hitting a game-tying field goal, the Fins’ Caleb Sturgis missed the kick against the Ravens in their 26-23 loss. Only problem is that someone forgot to tell the mascot who celebrated a little early. Whoops. Oh well, I guess it’s better than legitimately beating up a little kid like the Colts’ mascot did this week.

June 26, 2013

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Taking a Look at Baseball’s Best Division

By: Matt Bowen

Major League Baseball has a good thing on its hands—the NL Central is going to be a three team dog fight until the end.

Currently, the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds are only separated by 3.5 games in the standings.  They are three of the best teams in baseball. The Reds find themselves third in the division with 45 wins. Only one team outside the division, the Boston Red Sox have more wins. As of June 26, the NL Central has three playoff teams.

So, which team is the best?

Will Joey Votto and the Reds win the NL Central this season?

Well, the Cardinals have one of the finest organizations in all of sports—somehow they always find a way to win. The Cards have a fantastic farm system that constantly keeps the big league club ripe with talent. They’re also a team that somehow gets the most out of every guy—they make All-Stars out of role players.

This year is no different—they currently have five guys hitting .300-plus, actually six if you count Matt Adams, who only has 86 at-bats. Catcher Yadier Molina leads the league with a .355 average. The team also has a stable of rookies contributing key innings on the pitching mound. Right now, 7-of-12 pitchers on their roster are 25 years old or younger. With all those fresh arms on the hill the Cardinals are poised to go deep into the playoffs.

That is, of course if the stay atop the division and fend off the Pirates and Reds.

The Pirates are the sweethearts of baseball—okay, maybe that’s a “soft” term for such a rugged team. They will not go down without a fracas. In reality, everybody who passionately follows the game wants this team to win. The franchise hasn’t had a winning season since 1992. They’ve toyed with a better than .500 record the past two seasons but have unraveled at the end.

Good news for the team, their pitching has held up well to this point. Also, Andrew McCutchen, their best player has yet to play his best ball. The emergence of rookie pitcher Gerrit Cole has strengthened the rotation and is the ingredient the team needs to remain over the hump. By August, this kid will be an outright star.

Is this finally the year the Bucs break out?

Not if the Reds have something to do with it. Cincinnati is built to win now. They have a top-notch rotation and a perennial MVP candidate in Joey Votto.

The Reds have every component to win now, but will need some clutch hitting along the way. It seems to be the one weakness the team has. Untimely hitting can plague teams and this year it’s cost the Reds a few games. Hey, it’s better to have those problems now rather than late August—there’s plenty of time to work out the kinks.

This isn’t to downplay the Reds; they’re a phenomenal squad and right in the thick of the race. Look for them to be buyers at the for a professional hitter out of the two-hole.

So, which team will win the NL Central this year? Let’s reconvene in early September and talk. One thing’s for sure, we’re in for a treat.

June 18, 2013

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MLB Power Rankings

By: Joe Williams

There is another month of baseball to play before the MLB All-Star break so we should know who is good and who isn’t at this point, but I’ll bet there isn’t anyone out there who would have guessed that the best teams during the month of June would be Kansas City, Toronto, San Diego and Oakland. Meanwhile, teams like the Yankees, Rangers and Dodgers are struggling. Where will that leave those teams in today’s power rankings?

The Cardinals can celebrate being at the top of our latest MLB Power Rankings.

1. St. Louis Cardinals (44-25): As a Cubs fan, you never want to see the Cardinals at the top of the list but there’s no denying they have the best record in baseball and are +102 in run differential.

2. Atlanta Braves (41-28): The Braves hold the biggest lead of any division leaders at 6.5 games over Washington.

3. Cincinnati Reds (42-28): If the Reds were in any other division, they’d be in first place.

4. Oakland A’s (42-29): The A’s have made a huge jump from the 15 spot a month ago. That’s what an 18-7 record will do for you.

5. Boston Red Sox (42-29): Boston leads the majors in runs scored with 363.

6. Texas Rangers (38-31): Just like the end of last season, the Rangers have been caught by Oakland.

7. Detroit Tigers (38-29): Right now just Chris Davis is standing between Miguel Cabrera and a repeat triple crown.

8. Baltimore Orioles (40-30): Baltimore has quietly taken the lead in the wild card race and pulled within just 1.5 games of Boston.

9. Arizona Diamondbacks (37-32): I don’t think anyone expected the Diamondbacks to be leading the NL West at this point.

10. Pittsburgh Pirates (41-28): Forget about finishing over .500…the Pirates are on pace to finish close to .600.

11. New York Yankees (38-31): Could this be the beginning of the end for the Yankees. They’ve lost ground in the AL East and wild card races.

12. Colorado Rockies (37-33): Gonzalez and Tulowitzki have lead the Rockies into the race. The pitching will need to improve to stay in it to the end.

13. San Diego Padres (36-34): Seven straight wins will and the Padres are back in the hunt after a 2-10 to the season.

14. Tampa Bay Rays (36-33): Wil Myers has been called up. Now let’s see what he can do.

15. Kansas City Royals (34-34): The Royals have been the best team in baseball, going 12-4 in June.

16. Washington Nationals (34-35): It’s turning into a disappointing season in the capital. The Nats better get back on track soon or it will be too late.

17. Cleveland Indians (34-35): Here’s a team that has really cooled off and is just 5-10 in June.

18. San Francisco Giants (35-34): The Giants will have to do better than 14-22 on the road if they want to defend their title.

19. Toronto Blue Jays (33-36): The Jays have six wins in a row and are climbing out of a big hole.

20. Philadelphia Phillies (34-37): The Phillies are second in the majors in quality starts but don’t have much to show for it.

21. Minnesota Twins (30-36): The Twins are near the bottom in just about every pitching category. Not good.

22. LA Dodgers (29-39): Talk about a wasted season…nobody is farther away from next-to-last in their division than the Dodgers.

23. LA Angels (31-39): Here is another team that was supposed to contend and has let their fans down.

24. Milwaukee Brewers (28-40): It’s going to be a dead heat with the Cubs for last place in the NL Central.

25. Chicago Cubs (28-40): It’s going to be a dead heat with the Brewers for last place in the NL Central.

26. Seattle Mariners (31-40): King Felix and Hisashi Iwakuma are lights out pitchers right now. They aren’t getting much help though.

27. Chicago White Sox (29-38): It looks like it will be a tight race for worst team in Chicago.

28. New York Mets (25-40): The Mets are making a strong run towards the worst record in baseball with a 3-10 start in June.

29. Houston Astros (26-45): An 8-8 record so far this month is a big improvement for the AL West newcomers.

30. Miami Marlins (22-47): The Marlins are playing better, posting an 8-6 record so far this month.

May 21, 2013

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MLB Power Rankings

By: Joe Williams

Now that we’ve made it a quarter of the way through the MLB season we know a few things we thought at the start of the season are right (Texas is good, Houston is not) and a few are wrong (Boston is good, the Dodgers are not). So it’s time for the first power ranking post of the season.

After losing six in a row, the Orioles have fallen close to the middle of the pack.

1. Texas Rangers (29-16): It sure looks like they picked the right time to lets Josh Hamilton leave town.

2. Atlanta Braves (26-18): One Upton brother has been their best player, while the other has been their worst.

3. Boston Red Sox (27-18): Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz are a combined 12-1 so far.

4. St. Louis Cardinals (28-16): The Cards lead the majors in ERA.

5. Cincinnati Reds (27-18): The Reds are 16-6 at home, the best record in the majors.

6. Cleveland Indians (26-17): Five straight wins and 8-2 in the last 10 makes the Tribe the hottest team in baseball.

7. New York Yankees (28-16): Who would have thought they would be in first place without all of their injured stars?

8. Detroit Tigers (23-19): The Tigers have scored 20 more runs than their opponents this month but are just 8-9 to show for it.

9. Pittsburgh Pirates (26-18): Forget about finishing over .500…the Pirates are on pace to finish close to .600.

10. Arizona Diamondbacks (26-19): I don’t think anyone expected the Diamondbacks to be leading the NL West at this point.

11. Colorado Rockies (24-21): The Rockies are leading the majors in runs scored with 222.

12. Tampa Bay Rays (23-21): Reigning AL Cy Young winner David Price has be awful, but Matt Moore (8-0) is filling the void nicely.

13. San Francisco Giants (25-20): The defending champs are known for their pitching but their batting average ranks second in baseball.

14. Baltimore Orioles (23-21): Six straight losses have the Orioles five games behind the Yankees.

15. Oakland A’s (24-22): The A’s are 24th in batting average, but 9th in getting on base. Why? They lead the majors in walks with 187.

16. Washington Nationals (23-22): Anybody know what’s going on with Strasburg? He’s been offered to me in my fantasy league and I just can’t decide.

17. Kansas City Royals (20-21): After a hot April (14-10) the Royals have cooled off.

18. San Diego Padres (21-23): San Diego has recovered from a 2-10 start. Can they keep it up?

19. Philadelphia Phillies (21-24): Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Halladay are 7-13 combined. Ouch.

20. Seattle Mariners (20-25): King Felix and Hisashi Iwakuma are lights out pitchers right now. They aren’t getting much help though.

21. Chicago Cubs (18-25): Matt Garza is finally back….and the Cubs need him to be great.

22. Chicago White Sox (20-23): Paul Konerko, Jeff Keppinger and Adam Dunn are hitting .220, .199 and .172. They’ll keep losing if that doesn’t improve.

23. Minnesota Twins (18-23): After losing eight of the last ten, the Twins are in the AL Central cellar.

24. LA Angels (17-27): Here is the first of three teams battling it out for most disappointing team of the season.

25. New York Mets (17-25): Where would this team be without Matt Harvey?

26. Milwaukee Brewers (17-26): With the Astros moved to the American League, the Brewers are in danger of being the worst team in the NL Central.

27. Toronto Blue Jays (18-26): Toronto tried to fight fire with fire by signing big name free agents but so far they are getting burned.

28. LA Dodgers (18-25): The Dodgers by far the most disappointing team in the National League and maybe in all of baseball.

29. Miami Marlins (13-32): The Marlins have scored just 122 runs and are last in the majors. They are also last in batting average, on base percentage and slugging percentage.

30. Houston Astros (13-32): The Astros have allowed a whopping 266 runs this season and are last in the majors. They are also last in ERA, quality starts and WHIP.

March 14, 2013

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5 MLB Teams Destined to Have a Bounce-Back Season

By: Matt Bowen

With the 2013 MLB season set to begin in April there are five teams destined to have a bounce-back season.

For the teams mentioned in this article, the 2012 season was a major league letdown. Regardless, what’s done is done and there’s no reason to dwell on it.

With optimism flooding the mentality of every MLB team and their fan bases this time of year, there’s no time like the presence to turn the corner.

After all, only the San Francisco Giants went home happy in 2012.

Dustin Pedroia is one reason Red Sox fans should believe their team can turn it around in 2013.

For some teams, becoming a respected and prominent team this year is the ultimate goal. For these teams, it’s now time to forget about 2012 and put solid numbers in the “Win” column.

The Boston Red Sox Won’t End Up in the Cellar Again

Things have drastically changed in Boston, but fans need not worry about becoming cursed again. The team will be just fine in Bean Town. Despite finishing 69-93 last season, things are looking good.

They successfully shed about $250 million in salary with a massive nine-player deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers last August. Although a ton of talent left town, they still have the familiar faces of David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury.

Here’s where fans will fall in love with the latest edition of the Red Sox—they’re going to be gritty, which is a perfect fit in Boston.  With a nice mixture of veteran leadership and youthful exuberance, the chemistry in the clubhouse should be lively and fun.

One player to keep your eye on is a young outfielder by the name of Jackie Bradley. He’s quickly winning over his teammates and hitting around .500 this spring. Expect him to be a staple in the Red Sox lineup before season’s end.

The Pittsburgh Pirates Look to End 2013 the way the 2012 season began—Winning

It’s hard not to root for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  They haven’t made the postseason since the early 1990s and looked destined last season, but stumbled down the stretch. In fact, they haven’t had a winning season in 20 years.

Their superstar, Andrew McCutchen, is an all-world gentleman. He did something last season that hasn’t been done in Pittsburgh in decades—he signed a six-year contract to stay in the Steel City.

He believes and so should the fans. We know they know how to lose, but they’ve definitely tasted victory. Now, 2013 is the year to put it all together.

Although pitchers Garrit Cole and Jameson Taillon won’t start with the big club on Opening Day, they’ll be front-row and center by the time August rolls around.  When they arrive, the whole world will have all eyes on the Pirates.

The Kansas City Royals Will Make the Playoffs

It’s true; your eyes are not playing tricks on you. The Kansas City Royals will make the playoffs in 2013.

For years the Royals have had one of the best farm systems in all of baseball, but that potential hasn’t quite translated into wins.  This is the year that is does.

The organization traded one of their highly touted prospects named Wil Myers to the Tampa Bay Rays in the offseason for quality starting pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis.

This is a positive first toward making the playoffs. After all, how far can a team go if their pitchers can’t take them deep into ball games?

While Myers’ MLB debut is highly awaited, the Royals have an entire roster of prospects just like him. Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez are just a few names in the Royals dugout that have insane amounts of talent.

Don’t be shocked when it all comes together this season.

Don’t Write Off the Seattle Mariners as Dead Meat in the AL West

Sure, the AL West is loaded with talent thanks to the Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Oakland Athletics, but the Seattle Mariners are not a team to sleep on.

The team still has one of the best pitcher’s in the game in Felix Hernandez. They also players like Jason Bay and Michael Morse. These guys will be playing with a chip on their shoulder looking to prove they still have gas in the tank.

Combine these vets with youngsters like Jesus Montero, Dustin Ackley and others and the Mariners have a nice squad on their hands.

Here’s where the 2013 Mariners will be most dangerous—they will be overlooked, circled on every opponent’s calendar as an easy victory. This is where others will be wrong. Following by the example set by the veterans, the entire roster will play like today could be their last. In a sense, they’re a team of castaways sent to the Northwest to be forgotten about.

Expect that “Us Against the World” mentality to fuel the Mariners throughout the season.

This Will Be the Year Chicago Cubs Fans Start to Believe Again

Chicago Cubs fans deserve credit—every year since 1908 the team has gone without a title. Yet, every year the fans come out to Wrigley Field in droves to support their Cubbies.

This is now year two of the Theo Epstein era. Reminder, Epstein is the General Manager whose formula brought the Boston Red Sox two World Series titles in the first decade of this century. Given, the Cubs aren’t the favorite to win it all this season, but they’ll be better than their 101 losses a season ago.

How will they be better?

Superstar Starlin Castro will mature and take every second seriously. He’s been known to be lax in the past.  They also have Anthony Rizzo, who will face a make-or-break season. Don’t expect him to be considered a bust this season.  Rizzo was once one of the top prospects in baseball and is still only 23 years old.

It is rookies Javier Baez and Jorge Soler that will be the sparkplugs in the Cubs offense this year. They may take a few months to get their feet wet, but they’ll quickly become fan favorites.

“Hey Chicago whaddya say…”

Things are looking up.