October 19, 2011
The Fall Classic gets underway tonight in St. Louis and the Cardinals will try to put the Hollywood ending on their unlikely run at a World Series championship. Unfortunately for the redbirds, I don’t see them having their happy ending. Here are five reasons why I think that the Texas Rangers will be the ones who are celebrating a championship at the end of the series.
Both of these teams have been to the World Series in recent years. The Cardinals won their 10th championship in 2006 and the Rangers lost to the Giants just last year. I believe the Rangers are coming into this matchup hungrier because of the way last season ended and the fact that many of the Cardinals already have a ring. Texas should have learned from the experience last year and will be ready for the big stage.
It doesn’t get much better in the middle of the order than Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman. Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz are pretty good too. That being said, the Rangers lineup is stronger from top to bottom and Texas finished the season in the top three in virtually every major offensive category. If one or two of the Cardinals’ big three struggles, they will have a tough time keeping up with Texas.
He struggled in the first round against Tampa Bay but now he has the hottest bat on the planet. He hit .364 with six home runs and 13 RBI in against Detroit. We would likely be talking about a Cardinals and Tigers rematch from 2006 if not for the numbers Cruz put up. His two extra inning home runs were the difference in the ALCS. And the Cardinals are going to have to pitch to him because of the quality of hitters around him.
Neftali Feliz’s job got much easier when the Rangers acquired Koji Uehara and Mike Adams midway through the season. The quality and depth of setup men the Rangers have now is much better than what they had last year against the Giants. The Texas relievers allowed just four earned runs in more than 27 innings against Detroit in the ALCS. If they have another series like that, they will be World Series champions.
St. Louis has certainly played a lot of great baseball over the last month, but they are lucky to be here. If not for a collapse by the Braves, the Cardinals wouldn’t have won the wild card and even been in the playoffs. Prince Fielder’s performance in the All-Star Game has given the Cardinals home field advantage in this series. Everything Tony La Russa has done has worked. Does he have enough tricks left up his sleeve to pick up four more wins?
Prediction: Rangers in six.
September 13, 2011
There is no doubt in my mind that Justin Verlander has been the most valuable player to his team. He is 22-5 with a 2.44 ERA and 232 strikeouts in 229 innings. That puts him on pace for 25 wins and over 250 strikeouts. The Tigers are 23-8 in games he started and have all but clinched the A.L. Central title, leading the White Sox and Indians by 11.5 games. Take him out of that rotation and Detroit likely doesn’t even make the playoffs. The question is whether the voters will give the award to a pitcher. It hasn’t happened since 1992.
While Verlander may not get the votes for MVP, he will certainly get the votes for the Cy Young award. The Tigers ought to give him some rest once they have clinched the division title so he will be fresh for the playoffs. If that happens, his numbers won’t be as impressive as they could be, but he will still win in a landslide.
Rookie of the Year
You can make a good argument for a few players to be the MLB Rookie of the Year. I’m going with Michael Pineda of the Seattle Mariners. He is just 9-10 on the season, but it’s not his fault he is on a bad team. If he were pitching for the Yankees, his record would look more like the 15-4 that Ivan Nova has. He has a 3.72 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, and averages more than a strikeout an inning.
Other contenders: Eric Hosmer, Ivan Nova, Mark Trumbo, Jeremy Hellickson
It’s always an interesting debate when one team has multiple MVP candidates. Ryan Braun leads the league in hitting at .331 and slugging at .579 with 27 HR, 96 RBI, 97 runs and 31 steals. He is near the top of all the statistical categories. He has helped carry the Brewers to a big lead in the N.L. Central. His chances to win MVP will depend on how many votes his teammate Prince Fielder takes away from him.
This comes down to three players and I’ll give the nod to Cliff Lee. It’s pretty much a tossup with Clayton Kershaw and Roy Halladay. All three have similar records, ERA, WHIP and strikeouts. Lee is 6-0 with a 0.49 ERA in his last seven starts. He’s had 11 starts where he pitched at least seven shutout innings. There has been 31 shutouts in the N.L. Lee has six of them. Nobody else has more than two.
Other contenders: Ian Kennedy
Rookie of the Year
Craig Kimbrel is having one of the great seasons of all time for a reliever, let alone doing it as a rookie. He is tied for the major league lead with 43 saves. He converted 25 consecutive save chances while making 38 straight scoreless appearances. His strikeout rate of 14.8 per nine innings is one of the best all time for a MLB pitcher who has thrown at least 70 innings.
Other contenders: Freddie Freeman, Vance Worley
July 13, 2011
The next season, the league and the player’s union agreed to “make it count” by awarding home field advantage in the World Series to the winner of the game. This is a good idea in theory, but over the past ten years, the American League has dominated the National League in most facets of the game (excluding small ball). Look at the interleague record and past World Series Champs for proof. It’s extremely lopsided. At the risk of sounding like a toddler, it’s clear that placing a prize as important as home field on a lopsided game just isn’t fair.
Beyond the negative impact on competitive advantage, the measure didn’t please the fans, the target market of professional sports and especially All-Star games. The players like being selected, I’m sure, but they would also like to take a few days off to charge their batteries for the remainder of a long season.
There’s clearly room for improvement. First of all, why is the game always on a Tuesday? All other major league all-star games are on an “All-Star Weekend” of some type. The answer to this is likely simple – people have other things to do on the weekend, especially during the summer, and are not as likely to watch the Home Run Derby or All-Star Game. But maximizing television ratings (which the MLB is very good at) should not force them to sacrifice the opportunity in front of them. It’s harder for fans to travel on a Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday. It’s better “to make a weekend of it,” like the NBA has been able to do with their game.
The most interesting parts of other all-star games, in my opinion, are the various skills competitions. The NBA has the dunk contest, dribble obstacle course (or whatever it’s called), and the three point contest. The NHL has a bunch of stuff (I won’t pretend for a second I’m a hockey fan, but I’ve stumbled across their skills competitions, and they’re pretty cool). The NFL has their pass-punt-kick competitions. Why doesn’t the MLB have these?
Baseball is a game of many combined skills, more than any other sport, that often go unnoticed. I say try to quantify them by putting them on display. A few random gimmicks to try…
`1. Outfielder vs. Speedster – Take one of the outfielders with the best arm and one of the fastest players. The outfielder is stationed somewhere in left/right field. The runner starts from home and sprints around the bases. Once they touch 3rd, the outfielder cocks back and lets it loose towards home. They could create some sort of bracket, similar to the Home Run Derby. Who doesn’t like a play at the plate?
2. Targets – Set up targets throughout the infield. Create stations in the outfield for players to aim at targets. It’s similar to the pass-punt-kick, except only throw. I’ve always enjoyed watching relievers long toss before games, why not make it a competition.
3. Crab fights – Place a pool in the parking lot and have players battle it out with each other. Prince Fielder and Brandon Phillips vs. David Ortiz and Jacoby Ellsbury. Who doesn’t want to watch that?
Sure, the last one is off the wall. But when the traditional model is not working, it helps to innovate and do something zanier than the competition is willing to do. If the fans are not happy, it’s time to take a few risks. It may be hard to get any crab fight-esque ideas past the player’s union, but if they resist, force a lockout! (Too soon?) Anyways, there’s plenty of games, competitions, and Quidditch matches that could be integrated into the MLB All-Star festivities. Thoughts, anyone?
April 27, 2011
The NFL Draft is just a couple days away. It seems like everyone is doing mock drafts these days so I decided to join the party. I’ve made sure to include some trades to ensure that I don’t go 32 for 32. I’d feel bad if all these picks are correct. I’m not doing this to take Mel Kiper’s job.
Marcell Dareus – DT – Alabama
The Panthers have a ton of holes to fill. They cannot afford to miss on this pick so they go with a safe pick in Dareus to be an anchor for the defense. This gives Jimmy Clausen one more year to develop and if he doesn’t, Carolina could get “Lucky” in 2012.
Cam Newton – QB – Auburn
Things are uglier than usual in Cincinnati. Carson Palmer says he will not play in a Bengal uniform again. The Bengals say they aren’t trading him. Someone has to play quarterback and Newton’s controversial history seems to fit the Cincinnati mold. When the Panthers pass on Newton, the Bengals trade up two spots to grab him.
Blaine Gabbert – QB – Missouri
Von Miller – OLB – Texas A&M
Miller could be the best player in the draft. The return of Elvis Dumerville and the addition of Miller will go a long way toward fixing the Denver defense. They move back two spots to pick up an extra pick from the Bengals.
A.J. Green – WR Georgia
Arizona nearly won the Super Bowl with a high-flying passing attack. If the Cardinals can pull off a trade for Kevin Kolb and pair A.J. Green with Larry Fitzgerald they can be dangerous in the weak NFC West.
Robert Quinn – DE – North Carolina
Cleveland needs to rebuild its defense. Dick Jauron is taking over the defense and could use a pass-rushing end.
Peterson has been compared to Champ Bailey and Deion Sanders. The 49ers are thrilled he is still on the board.
Nick Fairley – DT – Auburn
Tennessee needs a quarterback but Newton and Gabbert are off the board so the Titans go after their next Albert Haynesworth.
Tyron Smith – OT – USC
The Cowboys have to protect Tony Romo. Smith will help them do that.
Whoever ends up playing quarterback for the Redskins in 2011 is going to need someone to throw to. Jones would give him a big, physical target.
11. Houston Texans
Prince Amukamara – CB – Nebraska
The Texans have the offense to keep up with Peyton Manning but they don’t have the defense to slow him down. Adding a Prince to the secondary should give Houston a better shot at taking down the king of the AFC South.
Jake Locker – QB – Washington
Minnesota can finally move on from the Brett Frave era. The Vikings hope Locker will be their quarterback of the future.
13. Detroit Lions
Anthony Castonzo – OT – Boston College
Detroit’s future is riding on Matthew Stafford. The top priority is to keep Stafford on the field.
Mike Pouncey – OL – Florida
New England usually trades down for more picks. This time the Patriots move up to add some youth to the aging offensive line.
J.J. Watt – DE – Wisconsin
The Buccaneers move up to get the pass-rushing defensive end before San Diego can.
Ryan Kerrigan – DE – Purdue
Aaron Kampman has been injury-prone. Kerrigan could be his replacement.
17. St. Louis Rams
Kyle Rudolf – TE – Notre Dame
St. Louis has the foundation in place. It’s time to give Sam Bradford some weapons.
Cameron Jordan – DE – Cal
The Chargers add one of the top pass rushers in the draft.
19. New York Giants
Gabe Carimi – OT – Wisconsin
Carimi is a solid tackle that fills the Giants biggest need.
20. Miami Dolphins
Andy Dalton – QB – TCU
Miami has not gotten good enough play at the most important position on the field so they take a shot on Dalton.
Corey Liuget – DT – Illinois
Liuget will be a big, physical presence in the middle of the Kansas City defense.
Nate Solder – OT – Colorado
The Colts take the best offensive lineman left on the board.
Jimmy Smith – CB- Colorado
The Eagles need a solid corner to play opposite Asante Samuel.
Da’Quan Bowers – DE – Clemson
The Saints get one of the better players in the draft, but he comes with injury concerns.
25. Seattle Seahawks
Danny Watkins – OL – Baylor
Seattle will try to upgrade its interior offensive line.
26. Baltimore Ravens
Torrey Smith – WR – Maryland
The Ravens could use another speedy receiver.
27. Atlanta Falcons
Aldon Smith – DE – Missouri
Atlanta scores a pass-rusher to pair with John Abraham.
Akeem Ayers – OLB – UCLA
The Patriots would like another outside pass-rusher.
29. Chicago Bears
Derek Sherrod – OT – Mississippi
Jay Cutler was hit a lot in 2010. The Bears need to find someone to prevent some of those hits.
30. New York Jets
Cameron Heyward – DE – Ohio State
Rex Ryan loves his defense. He loves it even more when Heyward is still on the board.
Brandon Harris – CB – Miami
Mark Ingram – RB – Alabama
The Super Bowl champions have a lot of help returning from injury so they make a luxury pick.
April 6, 2011
The Major League Baseball season is only a couple days old so if your team is on top of the standings, don’t buy your playoff tickets yet. And if you are rooting for a team that remains winless, don’t push the panic button. It’s still anybody’s ballgame so let’s take a look at some of the issues facing each team.
Can the Braves return to the postseason? If anyone is going to take the East title from the Phillies, it’s probably the Braves. They’ve added Dan Uggla and a healthy Chipper Jones to the lineup. The starting pitching is strong. The biggest question mark is the bullpen. The retirement of Billy Wagner has left an opening at closer. If Atlanta can find the right guy to take his place they can give the Phillies a run for the division title.
Florida has plenty of young talent on its roster. There is a lot of potential on this team, but the Marlins may not have enough to beat out Philadelphia and Atlanta. Guys like Gaby Sanchez, Donnie Murphy, and Annibal Sanchez are going to need big seasons for this team to be playing in October.
The bad news: this team is a mess off the field. The good news: there is no way the Mets can be as bad on the field. Everything will have to go right for New York to win the division. That starts with Johan Santana and Jose Reyes getting healthy and once again being the superstars they have been in the past.
Philadelphia became the favorite to win the N.L crown when Cliff Lee joined the rotation. Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels give the Phillies a four-headed monster that can shut down any lineup. The Phillies lineup is not what is used to be, but with those four starters, it won’t have to be.
The Nationals’ hopes in 2011 took a major hit with the loss of Stephen Strasburg. Adding Jason Werth will help the offense, but the Nationals look to be preparing for a run in 2012. If Strasburg comes back healthy in 2012 and top-pick Bryce Harper lives up to the hype, this team has a bright future.
It could be an all or nothing season for the Cubs. If they can stay healthy and get productive seasons from Soriano, Ramirez and Zambrano they could win the Central. If the Cubs struggle under new manager Mike Quade, and the dugout brawls continue, it will be a complete disaster, and the drought will live on for another year.
Cincinnati won the Central in 2010. They have a great chance to repeat that feat in 2011. The Reds had the best offense in the National League. They have the reigning NL MVP. The roster has the fewest holes to fill, and they should be motivated after a dismal performance in the playoffs.
Houston had the worst offense in the NL last season. The defense wasn’t great either. They have a quality starting rotation, but the bullpen needs work. The Astros will have a tough time surpassing last season’s win total of 76.
There is a wide range of expectations for Milwaukee in 2011. They have been picked to win the Central, but they have also been at the bottom in some preseason predictions. Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum will bolster the pitching staff. The lineup is built around Prince Fielder, who could have a huge year and lead them to the playoffs. But Fielder is going to be a free agent and could leave town, so the Brewers may decide to throw in the towel and trade the Prince so they don’t lose him for nothing.
.500. That is the goal for the Pirates. They haven’t done it since 1992. That is a long time to wait for Pirate fans. Unfortunately, there is not much reason to believe they will be better than they were in 2010. And they were the worst team in baseball.
The Cards were supposed to win the Central in 2010. They were expected to have a bounce-back season in 2011. Then they didn’t get Albert Pujols signed. And Adam Wainwright went down for the season with an injury. It will be tough for this team to reach the playoffs without their ace and the Pujols questions hovering over them all season.
They finished last in the West in 2010. The offense is weak and they strike out a lot. The starting pitching is OK, but the bullpen has holes. The Diamondbacks have a lot of work to do if they are going to compete for the playoffs in the next couple years. It won’t happen in 2011.
The Rockies will be good in 2011, especially if they play better on the road. Colorado was dominant at home last year and bad on the road. Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki are stars. The other pieces are in place to make a run at the division crown. They will give the Giants all they can handle in the West.
80 wins was a disappointment for this team in 2010. Matt Kemp and Jonathan Broxton were great in 2009 when the Dodgers made the playoffs. Not so much in 2010. If those two return to 2009 form and the ownership issues don’t get in the way, Los Angeles will be playing meaningful games in September.
San Diego should have won the West last year. They would have without the 10-game losing streak at the end of the season. They can still pitch, but the loss of Adrian Gonzalez in the middle of that lineup will hurt. They will have to find a way to score to compete in 2011.
The Giants shocked baseball by winning the World Series in 2010. Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain led the pitching staff and shut down team after team in the playoffs. The offense was not prolific, but they got the big hits when they needed to. No matter what the offense does in 2011, the starting rotation will keep the Giants in the playoff hunt all season.