February 27, 2014

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5 Burning Questions Heading into the 2014 MLB Season

By: Matt Bowen

With MLB Spring Training underway, Opening Day can’t come soon enough. Excitement is building as fans ponder a variety of scenarios as the 2014 MLB season approaches. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest questions that can only be answered by playing 162 glorious games.

No. 5: Can Billy Hamilton Reach Base with Regularity?

There is no debate as to who is the fastest player in baseball. His name is Billy Hamilton and he may be the fastest man in all of sports. The Cincinnati Reds center fielder played in 13 games in 2013—he stole 13 bases in 14 tries. What he does on the base paths is nearly criminal, the only question is can he reach base with regularity?

Hamilton will lead off for the Reds and will get every opportunity to make a name for himself.  Many worry that Hamilton tries to muscle the ball too often. He’s only listed at 160 lbs. which tells the story that he shouldn’t try to smack the long ball.

In order to be considered a success in 2014 Hamilton must have an on-base percentage somewhere around .350. Patience at the plate and taking the ball the other way will make Hamilton an All-Star. If he reaches base early and often he may steal 100 bases and the Reds will be a playoff team. As a friendly reminder, no one has stolen 100-plus bases since Vince Coleman of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1987. That in itself should size up Hamilton’s capabilities.

Bryce Harper

Can Bryce Harper and the Nationals return to their 2012 form?

No. 4: Will the Washington Nationals Rebound from a Disappointing 2013 Campaign

Most franchises would consider 86 wins in 2013 an exceptional season. Not the Washington Nationals who won 98 in 2012 and were penned by many to reach the World Series.

This time around some things are different for the Nationals but the lofty expectations are the same. New manager Matt Williams runs a tight ship but that’s not keeping the Nats from keeping loose. Williams is well-organized and meticulous and knows a little something about the game. The former slugger hit 43 home runs in 112 games in 1994 with the San Francisco Giants before the strike-shortened season cut his run at Roger Maris’ then record 61 home runs in a single season short. Williams is a gamer and every sports enthusiast can appreciate that.

He has a slugger on his new team in Bryce Harper who seems like he might be 35 but is only 21 years old. The baseball prodigy is just now growing into his body and with 1,094 career bats already underneath his belt Harper is ready to feast on the opposition.

The Nationals also have a deep pitching rotation and should win somewhere around 92 games this season. An appearance in the playoffs should be penciled in, this team is for real.

No. 3: Will the Dodgers Live Up to the Hype?

The Los Angeles Dodgers are the best team on paper right now. Stacked from top to bottom, the Dodgers are a World Series-or-bust team this season.

Before we delve too deep it should be mentioned that the new ownership group led by Magic Johnson is doing a spectacular job. They’ve put a quality product on the field and there schedule is laced with in-stadium promotions to attract all sorts of fans. It’s a great time to bleed Dodger blue.

Clayton Kershaw, Zach Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu lead the pitching staff while Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez and Yasiel Puig bolster the lineup. The 2014 Dodgers have everything it takes to win the only question is do they have the recipe for success?

No. 2: Can the Seattle Mariners Make the Playoffs?

Man-oh-man is it a great time to be a sports fan in Seattle. First the Seahawks win the Super Bowl now the revamped Mariners lineup takes the field.

The Mariners decided they want to win now and dropped a bombshell on baseball when they signed prized second baseman Robinson Cano this offseason. He alone is enough to fill Safeco Field on a regular basis.

Add star pitcher Felix Hernandez and a throng of young talent to the mix and the Mariners carry positive momentum into the season. The big question is will they make the playoffs? Although it may seem like a foregone conclusion don’t forget the Mariners play in the toughest division in baseball.

There are only five playoff spots available and the AL West has the Mariners, Oakland Athletics, Texas Rangers and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim all contending for the postseason. The Mariners play divisional rivals in 22 of their first 27 games. The first month of the season will be telling for the Mariners. Are the up to the challenge?

No. 1: Will Derek Jeter Stay Healthy?

New York Yankees legend Derek Jeter announced he’ll retire after the season bringing a bit of sadness to all. The man has so many accomplishments they could be an entire article in themselves. Here’s a small taste of jaw-dropping Jeter stats—he has 200 career postseason hits. That’s simply marvelous.

The biggest question in baseball this offseason is will he stay healthy this season to play throughout his farewell tour?

He played just 17 games in 2013 but is giving it another go in 2014.

For the sake of baseball in all of its greatness let’s keep our fingers crossed that Jeter can remain healthy and play often this season.

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 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.

January 15, 2013

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What I Will Remember About 2012 – Part 2

By: Joe Williams

Every year we see things we never thought we would and things we never want to see again. We see everything from the incredible to the inspiring to the sad and hilarious. Here’s what I will remember about 2012.

To read part one, click here.

July 23 – Penn State became the first school to receive NCAA sanctions because of criminal matters that did not directly deal with breaking NCAA rules. The penalties included a $60 million fine, a four-year ban on postseason play, a reduction of scholarships for the next four years and the vacating of all victories from 1998-2011.

July 31 – Michael Phelps won his 19th Olympic medal, making him the most decorated Olympian ever.

July 31 – The Fierce Five, the U.S. women’s gymnastics team, won gold at the London Olympic Games.

August 2 – Gabby Douglas became the first African-American woman to win the individual all-around competition.

August 5 – Andy Murray bounces back from losing to Roger Federer in the Wimbledon final to beat Federer and win the gold medal in front of his home country. He broke through again a month later, winning his first major title at the U.S. Open.

Miguel Cabrera winning baseball's Triple Crown is one of the biggest stories of 2012.

August 9 – Usain Bolt made his claim as the greatest sprinter ever by becoming the first man ever to defend his golds in both the 100m and 200m races.

August 9 – Hope Solo, Alex Morgan and the U.S. women’s soccer team won Olympic gold after a controversial semifinal against Canada and then getting revenge against Japan in the final after the shootout that ended the Women’s World Cup in 2011.

August 10 – The “Dwightmare” finally came to an end when Dwight Howard was traded from the Orlando Magic to the Los Angeles Lakers after months and months of indecision about where he wanted to play and who he wanted to play with.

August 12 – Rory McIlroy wins the PGA Championship. He would follow that with two more wins heading into the Tour Championship and cement himself as the top player in the game.

August 15 – Felix Hernandez threw a perfect game against the Rays and the Mariners won 1-0.

September 7 – In the midst of a pennant race and against his wishes, the Washington Nationals shut down their superstar pitcher Stephan Strasburg after 159 1/3 innings. The Nationals would go on to win the NL East and then lose in the NLDS in five games to the St. Louis Cardinals.

September 15 – The NHL labor dispute officially becomes a lockout.

September 24 – The Replacement refs fiasco came to a head on the final play of the Green Bay/Seattle Monday Night Football game. When the officials turned what sure looked to be an interception and a Green Bay win into a touchdown and a Seattle win, the NFL had no choice to settle the dispute with the regular officials.

September 30 – Team U.S.A. chokes the Ryder Cup away, blowing a 10-6 lead on the final day at Medinah. Justin Rose and Ian Poulter led the charge for Europe while Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk dropped critical 1-Up matches. The comeback almost didn’t happen when Rory McIlroy looked at his tee time in Eastern Time instead of Central time and needed a police escort to arrive at the course with just 10 minutes to spare.

October 3 – Miguel Cabrera goes 0-2 in the Detroit Tigers’ 1-0 win over Kansas City in the regular season finale but still manages to be the first player in 45 years to win the Triple Crown, finishing the season with a .330 average, 44 home runs and 139 RBI. He would be name the American League MVP.

October 10 – New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi pulls Alex Rodriguez in the ninth inning of Game 3 of the ALDS. Raul Ibanez took A-Rod’s place and homered to send the game to extra innings. Ibanez did it again in the 12th inning, giving the Yankees the win.

October 13 – Notre Dame comes up with a goal-line stand, stopping Stanford’s Stepfan Taylor on fourth-and-goal and then survives a controversial replay review to beat Stanford 20-13 in overtime to remain undefeated.

October 13 – The St. Louis Cardinals scored four runs in the ninth inning to stun the Washington Nationals and advance to the NLCS.

October 15 – Trailing 24-0 at halftime in San Diego and staring a 2-4 record in the face, the Denver Broncos score 35 unanswered second-half points to beat the Chargers 35-24 and improve to 3-3. They would not lose again in the regular season and finish with the best record in the AFC.

October 25 – Pablo Sandoval hit three home runs in Game 1 of the World Series on his way to earning the World Series MVP award.

October 28 – The San Francisco Giants completed an improbable run to a second World Series win in two years and did it after trailing 2-0 in a best-of-5 series against Cincinnati and then falling behind 3-1 to St. Louis in the NLCS

November 10 – Texas A&M upsets No. 1 Alabama 29-24, led by its redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel. It was a springboard for Manziel as he led the Aggies to an 11-2 record in their first season in the SEC, a win in the Cotton Bowl and became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy.

November 17 – Undefeated Kansas State and Oregon both go down and lose their shot to play for the BCS National Championship. Baylor beat the Wildcats 52-24 and Stanford knocked off the Ducks 17-14 in overtime.

November 21 – Jack Taylor, guard at Grinnell College (Division III), scored an NCAA-record 138 points against Faith Baptist Bible College.

November 22 – Two words…Butt Fumble.

December 1 – Georgia came up five yards short of scoring the game-winning touchdown against Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. Alabama hung on for a 32-28 win and a spot in the BCS National Championship Game.

December 8 – Appalachian State’s Brian Okam quickly became known for the worst free throw ever after a video of his miss went viral.

December 16 – Tom Brady leads the Patriots on a furious rally after falling behind 31-3 against the 49ers. After the game was tied at 34, San Francisco retook the lead and won 41-34.

December 30 – Adrian Peterson runs for 199 yards against the Green Bay Packers after already eclipsing 200 yards twice this season, but he came up a mere nine yards short of the single-season rushing record.

June 5, 2012

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10 MLB Teams That Will Miss The Playoffs

By: Joe Williams

It is hard to believe, but the MLB season is already one-third of the way over. Nobody has locked up a playoff spot yet, but several teams have dug themselves such a big hole that they probably can’t climb out of it. Therefore, its time to eliminate a third of the teams. Who are the 10 teams that aren’t going anywhere in 2012?

Will the Chicago Cubs miss the playoffs again this season?

Chicago Cubs

No surprise here. This is the only team in baseball in sixth place in its division. They just finished off a 12-game losing streak and are currently on a four-game skid. The fans have had to wait more than 100 years for a championship and you can be sure the wait will not end in 2012.

Minnesota Twins

The Twins won 94 games and the A.L. Central in 2010. The have won 84 games and held down last place in the division ever since. Much of the blame can be given to injuries to some of their best players but that doesn’t make the Twins feel any better.

Houston Astros

Houston was far and away the worst team in baseball in 2011. That isn’t the case this year. They have been awful (6-19) on the road but a good team at home (17-12). Houston looks to be on its way back to contending, but it won’t be this year.

San Diego Padres

This is currently the worst team in baseball. They too, have not been the same since the 2010 season when they blew the lead in the N.L. West and missed the playoffs by a game. There isn’t much to cheer about here.

Kansas City Royals

Is it time to bring back Bo Jackson? The Royals have just one winning season since 1994. They are said to have a lot of young talent that will turn it around but it is looking as though that wont happen until 2013 or 2014.

Oakland A’s

Their recent nine-game losing streak really hurt. They are now down to fourth in the A.L. West and eight games back of Texas. They are just six games out of a wild card spot, but there are just too many teams to leapfrog.

Colorado Rockies

Colorado is 9.5 games out in the N.L. West and 6.5 in the wild card chase. These guys have built a reputation of getting hot and making a late-season run, but can they do it again? They have the offense to get it done but the pitching staff is the worst in baseball.

Seattle Mariners

Somehow the Mariners are 10th scoring runs. But they are 27th in batting average, 28th in on base percentage and 26th in slugging. Sooner or later that is going to catch up to them and their scoring will go down, along with their post-season hopes.

Boston Red Sox

The Sox are currently in last in the A.L. East. They are under .500 at home. Their pitching staff is near the bottom of the league. They have had too many injuries. Too many off the field issues. The division is too tough.

Philadelphia Phillies

It’s the same story in Philly as it is in Boston. They are last in the N.L. East. They also have had too many injuries (Roy Halladay, Ryan Howard, Jim Thome, and Chase Utley are just a few of the players they have on the DL right now) and too many good teams in their division.