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.

September 13, 2011

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Handing Out The Hardware

By: Joe Williams

With the baseball season coming to an end in a couple weeks, some MLB players are still battling it out for the post-season awards. Here are my picks.

American League

MVP

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.

Other contenders: Jose Bautista, Curtis Granderson, Jacoby Ellsbury

Cy Young

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.

Other contenders: Jered Weaver, James Shields, C.C. Sabathia

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

National League

MVP

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.

Other contenders: Matt Kemp, Prince Fielder, Justin Upton, Ryan Howard

Cy Young

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

Could this player win the Cy Young Award?

 

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

April 6, 2011

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National League Preview

By: Joe Williams

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.

NL EAST

Atlanta Braves

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 Marlins

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.

New York Mets

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 Phillies

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.

Washington Nationals

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.

NL CENTRAL

Chicago Cubs

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 Reds

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 Astros

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.

Milwaukee Brewers

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.

Pittsburgh Pirates

.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.

St. Louis Cardinals

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.

NL WEST

Arizona Diamondbacks

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.

Colorado Rockies

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.

Los Angeles Dodgers

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 Padres

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.

San Francisco Giants

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.

March 21, 2011

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Can Giants Repeat As Champs?

By: Anson Whaley

With only about a week left in Spring Training, baseball teams are gearing up for the regular season. Managers are sweating over cuts that are being made, rookies are being assigned to the minor leagues, and General Managers are hoping free agent signings pay off in a big way. But the San Francisco Giants are the only team thinking about what it would be like to repeat as World Series Champions. The Giants have lost a few pieces but are returning most of their team’s core to make another run at the title in 2011.

The most notable departures are shortstops Juan Uribe and World Series Most Valuable Player, Edgar Renteria. Uribe signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers while Renteria is headed to the St. Louis Cardinals. Uribe is the greater loss, as he was one of the team’s greatest power threats (24 home runs in 2010) and, at 31 years old, is just now entering the prime of his career. Renteria is a five-time All-Star and Gold Glove winning shortstop and has 15 major league seasons under his belt. Last year, that experience paid off for the Giants as he batted over .400 and slugged two big home runs in the World Series.

Fortunately for the Giants, they filled the gaping hole left at shortstop with a very capable player in free agent pickup Miguel Tejada. Now 36, Tejada is likely a short-term replacement and also past his prime. But he’s still a solid player and, in 2010, hit 15 home runs and batted .269. The best news for the Giants is that Tejada has also shown he’s extremely durable, playing at least 150 games in 11 of the past 12 seasons.

But if San Francisco is to repeat, it’s not going to be Tejada that makes the difference – it will be the pitching. With all the talk about the Philadelphia Phillies’ rotation which will include Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and newly-signed Cliff Lee, the Giants have a somewhat underrated staff in comparison. The starters are led by two-time Cy Young Award winner, Tim Lincecum, and also includes former Cy Young Award winner Barry Zito, All-Star Matt Cain, young star Madison Bumgarner, and Jonathan Sanchez, who has thrown a no-hitter. The Giants also added free agent Jeff Suppan to the mix, and he could contend for a spot in the rotation in 2011.

Lincecum is the gem, however, and is one of the best pitchers in all of baseball. Even though his 2010 numbers dropped off slightly from his Cy Young years of 2008 and 2009, he still managed to win 16 games and strikeout 231 batters in only 212 innings pitched. Lincecum also thrived in his first postseason with a 4-1 record, a shutout over the Atlanta Braves, and a combined ERA of only 2.43 – a full run lower than his regular season average.

The pitching talent isn’t limited to the starting rotation, though. All-Star closer, Brian Wilson, led the league in saves with 48 and had a microscopic ERA of 1.81. Setup men Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla also combined for 12 wins and had ERAs of 2.18 and 1.95 respectively.  The Giants may have the most talented bullpen in the majors.

Offensively, the Giants’ lineup isn’t as strong as some teams, and, with the loss of Uribe, it just became a little weaker. The Giants aren’t completely devoid of power, but Aubrey Huff led the way in 2010 with only 26 home runs—the Giants may not have that one player capable of hitting 35-40 to serve as a legitimate longball threat. The player closest may be 2010 Rookie of the Year, Buster Posey, who as a first-year player hit 18 home runs in only 108 games.  He’s a catcher, though, so Posey won’t be playing a full 162-game season. But he is only 23 and should develop into an excellent power hitter for many years to come, possibly approaching 30 home runs this season if he stays healthy.

But again, it’s the pitching that will lead this team…and they’ve got plenty of it to make another World Series run in 2011.

February 8, 2011

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Top Five Impact Signings This MLB Offseason

By: Adam Bittner

When Vladimir Guerrero signed with the Baltimore Orioles on Friday for one year and $8 million, the last big domino in baseball’s free agent game fell. With only a few weeks to go until spring training, it would appear the major players have made their big offseason moves and are ready to get the action going again. Here’s a look at the top five impact signings and how they might affect the races this summer.

5. Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon – Rays

Tampa Bay signed this pair of ex-Red Sox stars for a huge bargain price. Damon, 37, is chasing 3,000 hits and will earn $5.25 million in 2011 with $750,000 in performance incentives. Ramirez, 38, has 555 career home runs, but will play for only $2 million. Of course, both are in the twilights of their respective careers, well past the age of 35, but for numbers as gaudy as theirs, they likely could have commanded a few million more. Ramirez was playing for $20 million last year between Los Angeles and Chicago. He should bring an instant upgrade at designated hitter, especially since he’ll no longer have to worry about left field duties. Damon is still a serviceable outfielder and matched his career on-base percentage last year of .355. With better hitters around him in Tampa like Evan Longoria and B.J. Upton, he might see a few more pitches than he did in Detroit, which should help boost his numbers. Both should keep Tampa in the mix in the American League East after Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena signed elsewhere this offseason.

4. Rafael Soriano – Yankees

New York needed to plug the holes in its leaky bullpen and it did so in a big way. Not only did the Yanks keep Mariano Rivera in the fold with a two-year deal, they snagged the relief market’s biggest fish in Rafael Soriano for three-years and $35 million. Soriano was sensational last season with Tampa Bay, saving 45 games while posting a 1.73 ERA and 57 strikeouts against only 14 walks. For his career, the reliever owns a 2.73 ERA, .193 opponents’ batting average, 1.00 WHIP and 3.57:1 K/BB ration. He should allow the Yankees to keep runners off the bases in the late innings this season, something they couldn’t do when it counted last year. It should be noted, though, that Soriano had a tough postseason series against the Rays in 2010. In three innings against the Rangers in the ALDS, he gave up three runs, good for a 9.00 ERA, as well as a .308 opponents’ batting average. He’s going to have to do better than that this postseason to justify what is a massive contract for a relief pitcher.

3. Adrian Beltre – Rangers

After allowing Vladimir Guerrero to walk following the season, the Rangers needed to replace his production somewhere, so they went younger and better defensively by grabbing Beltre for six-years and $96 million. His production spiked in 2010 to a .321 batting average, 28 home runs, 102 RBIs and a .919 OPS, all his best marks since 2004 when he hit .334 with 48 homers, 121 RBIs and a 1.017 OPS in Los Angeles. He gives Texas an excellent defensive left side in tandem with shortstop Elvis Andrus, too. With the American League West likely entering another down year in 2011, Beltre might be the difference between the Rangers and the rest of the pack in the division. If he can even just approach the numbers he posted last season in Boston, he’ll be another potent bat in Texas’ fearsome lineup. This will give the young pitching staff some breathing room to develop and grow and allow the Rangers a chance to return to the World Series.

2. Carl Crawford – Red Sox

Boston’s signing of this five-tool star for seven-years and $142 million is big not only in what it brings to Fenway Park, but what it takes away from division rival Tampa Bay. Crawford was a catalyst for many of his nine seasons with the Rays. He stole 20 or more bases eight times and 50 or more five times including a 60-spot in 2009. He’s also improved his power numbers over the years, posting careers highs in home runs (19) and OPS (.851) in 2010. The Rays will miss that diversified, game-breaking production big time in 2011, even with the additions of Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon. The Red Sox, on the other hand, figure to benefit greatly from having this playmaker at the top of their lineup. Only one player, Ryan Kalish, broke double figures in stolen bases last season for Boston with 10 and only Marco Scutaro’s 92 runs approached Crawford’s total of 110 with Boston. Crawford’s presences figures to charge up what became a stagnant offense in Bean Town last season.

1. Cliff Lee – Phillies


Lee’s return to Philadelphia has gotten a lot of press and why shouldn’t it? The Phillies now have perhaps the best rotation this generation of baseball fans has ever seen with Lee, Roy Oswalt, Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels in the fold. But what does Lee bring individually? One key is durability. Lee has pitched over 200 innings in five of the last six seasons. He’s also racked up an impressive 20 complete games for his career in an era when managers get queasy when a pitcher goes past the sixth inning. He also brings great control. Last year, between Seattle and Texas, Lee walked only 18 batters. That’s a staggeringly low number for as many innings as he pitched. The biggest key, though, is his postseason resume. In 76 playoff innings, Lee sports a 2.13 ERA and a 7-2 record. His ERA has been under 3.00 in five of his six career playoff series. Though he struggled in the World Series last season, he was a big part of both the Phillies’ and the Rangers’ runs there in 2009 and 2010. If Philadelphia can get him back to the postseason this year, look out, because he can do some real damage.