December 17, 2013

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The Week in Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Mack Brown Resigns – Crazy week in Texas with football coach Mack Brown stepping down from his post with the Longhorns. Brown’s resignation has been the subject of speculation for a few years now as many fans haven’t been pleased with the team’s record lately. After nine consecutive seasons with at least ten wins, Texas hasn’t achieved that mark in the past four years. Brown hasn’t been terrible, mind you, guiding the Longhorns to three winning seasons in those four years. But the team hasn’t competed for a national championship in some time and the program hasn’t been as good as it was last decade under him. Alabama’s Nick Saban seemed to be a potential replacement for Brown, but he recently announced he’s staying put with the Crimson Tide.

Kobe Bryant Struggles in Return – The Los Angeles Lakers got their star back this week as Kobe Bryant returned from his Achilles injury sustained last season – but things haven’t gone quite as they hoped. The team got off to a 1-3 start since Bryant’s return with their only win a three-point victory over the Charlotte Bobcats under their belts. The Mamba isn’t helping things, either. In the four games he’s played, Bryant is scoring only 13.5 points a game. Helping to fill the point guard role in Steve Nash’s absence, the good news is that he is averaging a career-high seven assists per contest. But Bryant is also averaging a career-worst 6.3 turnovers and is clearly still dealing with a high amount of rust.

Jamaal Charles has Record Day … as a Receiver – Kansas City Chiefs’ running back Jamaal Charles had some kind of day in the team’s 56-31 win over the rival Oakland Raiders on Sunday. Charles is one of the league’s best rushers, but he did his damage on Sunday through the air, racking up 195 receiving yards on eight catches. He added five big touchdowns and had 220 total yards on the day. According to ESPN, he had the third biggest receiving day for a running back since the 1970 merger and his five scores tied a franchise record. Needless to say, Charles surely won leagues for many of his fantasy football owners that reached their league’s championship games.

Roy Halladay Retires – Former All-Star pitcher Roy Halladay retired last week at the age of 36. Halladay, as recently as two seasons ago, was still one of baseball’s best pitchers. In his second season with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2011, the pitcher had perhaps his best season ever with a 19-6 record and career-bests with 220 strikeouts and an ERA of 2.35. The past two seasons for Halladay, though, have been forgettable and last year, he suffered one of his worst professional seasons going 4-5 with a whopping 6.82 ERA. The next question will inevitably be if he will get into the Hall of Fame. His credentials are reasonable with a career 3.38 ERA and more than 2,100 strikeouts, but his relatively low total of 203 wins will hurt him. That’s unfortunate because playing for some pretty bad Toronto Blue Jays teams for the bulk of his career, Halladay would certainly have had more wins with a better franchise. Still, that number will be difficult to overcome since most of the other starters currently in the Hall have more victories.

Snowball Fight Ends with Oregon Player Suspended – The Oregon Ducks’ football team apparently organized a snowball fight with fans and, well, things got out of control. A player was even suspended for the team’s upcoming bowl game. Well, then.

RGIII Benched … Redskins Lose Anyway – The Washington Redskins benched their star quarterback Robert Griffin III after he’s been inconsistent all year long following his recovery from his ACL injury. Kirk Cousins got the start for Washington on Sunday, but the team still lost to the Atlanta Falcons, 27-26. The team was competitive and Cousins did some good things in throwing for 381 yards and three touchdowns, but he also struggled a little with two interceptions and failed to convert a potential game-winning two-point conversion near the end of the contest. Cousins is an interesting quarterback who has a future in this league, but the team is still better off with Griffin if he can return to the form he showed in 2012. Benching him was the right move and if the Skins are wise, they’ll do the same for the rest of the season and allow him to get healthy for next year.

Jameis Winston wins Heisman – In the long and storied history of the Heisman trophy, a freshman didn’t win the award until last season when Johnny Manziel took home the prize. That opened the door for others and for the second consecutive season, a first-year player has won the honor. Freshman quarterback Jameis Winston has been nothing short of spectacular for the Seminoles and he clearly deserved to win it, leading Florida State to an undefeated season as they head into the national championship game next month.

Skiing … Not Just for the MountainsSkiers are taking over Detroit’s abandoned buildings. No, really.

August 1, 2013

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MLB Contenders Post Trade Deadline

By: Matt Bowen

Now that the dust on settled on the July 31 MLB non-waiver trade deadline, we can focus our attention on the true contenders. It’s now August, this is the time where the cream rises to the top. MLB GM’s believing that this is their year have spent the last couple of weeks trying to feverishly hammer out deals to put their team on top when it’s all said and done. As baseball fans we now get to sit back and watch the drama unfold. The next two months will be pure entertainment as every division except the NL East is up for grabs.

So, what is to be expected down the stretch? Who were the real winners at the deadline?

AL East: Per the usual, the AL East will be one of the most interesting races until the end. The Boston Red Sox, Tampa Bay Rays, and Baltimore Orioles are all in contention.

The Rays were the quiet, only acquiring left reliever Jesse Crain from the Chicago White Sox. Crain is currently on the DL, but has electric stuff out of the bullpen. This was a low-risk, high-reward kind of deal for the Rays—if Crain returns healthy they win, if he doesn’t, the compensation towards the White Sox will be next to nothing.

The Baltimore Orioles proved to their fan base that they plan on winning now and forever. They traded for starting pitchers Scott Feldman from the Chicago Cubs and Bud Norris of the Houston Astros along with reliever Francisco Rodriguez from the Milwaukee Brewers. Nice work from the Orioles front office.

While the Orioles made plenty of noise, the Boston Sox stole the show in the division. The acquisition of pitcher Jake Peavy from the Chicago White Sox made headlines as the Red Sox appear to be legit. They also picked up left-handed reliever Matt Thornton from the White Sox. For a team that lost 93 games in 2012, they have certainly changed their course. The Bo Sox have Boston buzzing at the moment.

AL Central: This division is a two horse race that won’t be settled until the final days of the season. The Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers are the two best teams in the Central and only got better at the deadline. Both teams picked up necessary relief help with Marc Rzepczynski headed to Cleveland from the St. Louis Cardinals and Jose Veras to Detroit from the Houston Astros.

In the end, it was the Tigers who made out best though. They were involved in the trade with the Sox, both White and Red, that sent the aforementioned Peavy to Beantown, shortstop Jose Iglesias to the Tigers and young prospect Avasail Garcia to Chicago, along with others.

The Tigers need a shortstop with the suspension of Jhonny Peralta seeming imminent. Peralta, who is involved in the Biogenesis mess, is also a free agent as the end of the season, so picking up the talented 23-year-old Iglesias now is a stroke of genius.

While the Tigers will benefit the most now in the division, the White Sox may have gotten the best player out of the deal. Garcia has star written all over him, but with a crowded outfield in Detroit, it was a price that had to be paid.

Regarding the race in the Central, neither the Tigers nor Indians will quit. As of August 1, they’re two of the hottest teams in all of baseball. The two teams face each other seven more times in 2013 with the last game on September 1.  Both teams won at the deadline, but who will win the division?

AL West: Still in disbelief that the Oakland A’s are truly good? Don’t be, this team is for real, but did the division leader do enough? They swapped a minor leaguer for infielder Alberto Callaspo from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to shore up their defense. Where they swung and missed is in the pitching department. For decades the A’s were sellers at the deadline and this year, when they needed it most they couldn’t land a prized trade target to take the hill.

This means their rival the Texas Rangers were the true winners in the division at the deadline. They got starting pitcher Matt Garza from the Chicago Cubs and seem to be in a groove right now. True, the A’s are still the team to beat, but the Rangers won’t go away. Now that the A’s seem to have crosshairs on their back, can they hold onto the West?

NL East: No contest here—the Atlanta Braves have a double-digit game lead in the division and the small and subtle acquisition of reliever Scott Downs from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim only made them better. Overall, the NL East has been a dud this season. Maybe 2014 will bring more competition. The Braves will skate into the playoffs.

NL Central: Baseball’s best division had an interesting trade deadline this time around. While the Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs were heavy sellers, and for good reason, the top three teams were rather stagnant. This is a very peculiar situation, the Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals, and Cincinnati Reds were all quiet. The Pirates, who currently lead the division tried but could not land a big-name right fielder. The Cardinals didn’t make a splash and the Reds needed a viable two-hole hitter to bolster their lineup but did next to nothing. Content with what they have, all teams are now on board with their current rosters. This was disappointing on all accounts. If a winner had to be chosen, it would have to be the Cards, who seem to always find a way to win.

NL West: Let’s not forget about the NL West—there’s no west coast bias here, but the deadline proved that only the Los Angeles Dodgers are the real thing. They snatched up coveted pitcher Ricky Nolasco from the Miami Marlins and had the luxury of signing charismatic reliever Brian Wilson. Since rookie Yasiel Puig was called up earlier in the year the team has been on fire. In just 50 games Puig is batting .364 as of August 1—most importantly he’s instilled some swagger in the Dodgers’ clubhouse.

The Dodgers payroll may be bigger than many small countries’ annual GDP, but they are now looking like they are worth every penny. Move over Hollywood, the Dodgers are now the big stars in town.

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.

August 21, 2012

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The Washington Nationals’ Proposed Shutdown of Stephen Strasburg

By: Anson Whaley

When the Washington Nationals announced a plan early this season to shut down prized pitcher Stephen Strasburg once he reached a strict innings count, there was little pushback from fans. The move appeared to be a sensible one and they were only protecting what has become the best young pitcher in all of baseball.

Now that the Nats are likely heading to the playoffs, though, there’s not the consensus there once was. Fans, and even players, are starting to make their feelings known that the club should continue to play Strasburg now and worry about the future later.

Nationals fans are wondering how much longer they will get to enjoy seeing Strasburg pitch this season.

In case you’ve missed it, the Nationals reportedly have a plan in place to shut down Strasburg once he reaches a set number of innings. The number being bandied about the most is somewhere in between 160 and 180, though management hasn’t openly confirmed that. As of this weekend, he’s getting close to that number as he had just under 140 innings pitched so far this year. If Strasburg goes deep in his next few starts, that could mean he’s done after three more games.

Veteran utility player Mark DeRosa was the latest to speak out on the matter, saying last week that the loss of a team’s best pitcher would be ‘devastating.’ To have fans speak out is one thing, but when players do it, management takes far more notice.

The problem isn’t that the Nationals really have such a plan. Regardless of where you come out on the matter, it’s hard to blame a team for wanting to protect a pitcher that can be a legitimate ace for at least 10-12 more seasons if he stays healthy. It’s incredibly difficult to find quality starting pitchers and it’s unfair to say that Washington is foolish for potentially throwing one season away in the hopes of keeping him off of the DL.

Assuming the shutdown plan exists, a better strategy for Washington would have been to spread his starts out and/or limit his innings per start from the beginning of the season. That way, the team could have ensured they’d have him ready for a stretch run. Strasburg has gone at least six innings on 18 separate occasions this season. Why not limit him to five in most of those games or have him skip a start from time to time instead? Saving a few innings here and there could have meant they’d have him around for the playoffs while sticking to the planned restriction. Strasburg hasn’t gone deeper than the seventh inning in any of his starts, so the Nats have definitely tried to be a bit conservative. But I would have taken that a step farther to stretch his innings even deeper into the season.

But perhaps only 20 innings away from the limit now, that advice has come too late. So what should the team do now?

If it were up to me, I’d pitch him the rest of the way with some restriction. The Nationals have about 40 more games left, which means Strasburg would have eight starts remaining. They could keep him to five innings in his remaining outings and also skip his turn a few times along the way. And when it comes to the playoffs, even if the team goes on to win the World Series, Strasburg would have a maximum of about six more starts. The team could limit him to six innings, he’d only have a maximum of about six or seven starts. They could limit him to six innings in each of the postseason games and while removing him in the middle of a close contest would be agonizing, having him for half of a game is better than not having him at all.

In the end, I can understand Washington’s concern about protecting their investment. But for a franchise that hasn’t seen a winning team since they’ve moved back to Washington, fan frustrations are understandable. If management is wise about his use down the stretch, they can take a conservative approach with him and ensure their best pitcher is on the field when the playoffs roll around at the same time.

May 21, 2012

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Kerry Wood Retires

By: Anson Whaley

With the abrupt retirement last week of Chicago Cubs’ pitcher Kerry Wood, baseball lost one of the great flamethrowers of his era.

Is Kerry Wood comparable to Nolan Ryan?

Wood’s career didn’t turn out exactly as he probably thought it would, though. As a rookie in 1998, he burst onto the scene after recording 20 strikeouts in a game against the Houston Astros, tying a major league record set by Roger Clemens. Dominant performances like that helped him win the Rookie of the Year Award. That success didn’t last long, though, as Wood sat out the entire 1999 season due to an elbow injury and consequently had the famous Tommy John surgery. It could be argued that injury actually cost him two full seasons as he had a subpar 2000 in trying to get back on track.

Wood came back healthy in 2001 and in ’01 – ’03, put together three of his best seasons including his all-star 2003 campaign when he struck out a league leading 266 batters. But over the next few years, he struggled again with injuries and in 2007 became a full time relief pitcher. Having earned about $40 million in salary by that time, he could have easily ridden off into the sunset and called it a career. Instead, he chose to reinvent himself.

In 2008, he became an all-star for the second time – this time as a closer. Over 2008 and 2009, Wood was one of the best in the business in the National League, compiling 54 saves. He also had one of the best strikeout to innings pitched ratios in baseball, fanning 147 batters in only 102 innings. After a rough start in 2010 with the Cleveland Indians, he was traded to the New York Yankees and was the definition of a shutdown reliever. Helping the Yanks to the ALCS, Wood posted a microscopic 0.69 ERA in 24 games.

All of this isn’t to suggest that he was even close to a Hall of Fame player. Wood never won 15 games as a starter or had an ERA under 3.00. Further, even in his best seasons, it would be relatively easy to find a significant amount of pitchers that were more successful.

Also, for all of his talent, Wood struggled wildly with his control at times. He had the equivalent of approximately six full seasons as a starter, but he twice led the league in hit batters and twice finished in the top ten in wild pitches. He also ranked in the top ten in walks allowed four times.

Hall of Good? Maybe. Hall of Fame? Absolutely not.

Wood is frequently compared to another modern-day flamethrower – Roger Clemens. But though he tied Clemens’ record for strikeouts in a nine-inning game, he was actually more similar to Nolan Ryan. When he was on his game he was difficult to beat, but he was never considered the greatest pitcher during his time in the majors. Wood was king of the strikeout (he actually finished his career as the active leader in strikeout/nine innings ratio with more than ten strikeouts), but simply not the pitcher Clemens was.

Still, Wood had one of the best fastballs we’ve ever seen and at the height of his career, was a remarkable player. Few pitchers can successfully become an all-star starter and closer of the course of their careers, but Wood was one such player.