October 23, 2013

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Bold World Series Predictions

By: Matt Bowen

With the 2013 World Series getting underway between the St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox a bittersweet sensation fills the mind, body and baseball spirit. On one hand, the season will finally have a champion. Eight months after pitchers and catchers reported to spring training, the final champion in this season’s history book will conclude. The anticipation will be over. On the other hand a different level of anxiety sets in—what’s one to do without baseball for the winter months?

Fenway Park will play host to Game 1 of the 2013 World Series

While we may not have an answer for that question, let’s enjoy baseball while we can. In the end, the two best teams made it to the game’s ultimate stage—this hasn’t happened since 1995. Neither was upset in the earlier rounds and fans are in for a treat. Here are some bold predictions for the Fall Classic.

Jonny Gomes Will Be the Game 1 Hero in the 10th Inning

Every World Series has an unsung hero that forever etches his name in stone. Jonny Gomes will waste little time this year when he wins the game for the Bo Sox in the 10th inning of Game 1. Whether you want to admit it or not, this game will be slow out of the gates. Nerves, a three/four day layoff, quality pitching and cold October temperatures will have the bats quiet through much of the game.

With Xander Bogaerts pinch running for Jared Saltalamacchia, Gomes will shoot a single to the right field corner. Bogaerts will barely beat out the throw from Cardinals outfielder Carlos Beltran. Pandemonium will then ensue in Bean Town. Final score, 2-1.

Rookie Michael Wacha Will Go 8 Strong Innings in Game 2

The Cardinals starting rotation is wise beyond their years. Rookie Michael Wacha is no different. All he’s done this post season is go 3-0 with a .43 ERA over 21 innings. During that time he’s fanned 22 batters, with four walks and only eight hits.

Wacha has proved to be cold blooded and he’ll frustrate Red Sox all night long. He’ll be aided by the return of first baseman Allen Craig, who’s been sidelined with injury since September 4. Despite the absence, he still led the team with 97 RBI this season.  Craig will have three RBI in Game 2 and the Cards will win easily, 6-2. Wacha will only thicken is legacy.

The Series is Destined for 7 Games

These two teams were the best at the plate in 2013, have strong starting staffs and have shut down bullpens. Face it, something has to give, but not until Game 7. Both have rookie managers in St. Louis’ Mike Matheny and Boston’s John Farrell. It’ll be a seesaw battle that will have the ebbs and flows of a classic Halloween thriller. Fans will be glued to their seat from beginning to end and will be reminded of why baseball is engrained in our souls as something pure and comforting. No one will want this one to end.

In the End, the Cardinals Take It

With Adam Wainwright on the mound in Game 7 in Boston the Cardinals will win it all. Not very often does a sports franchise have the amount of success St. Louis has indulged the past decade. Look, the Red Sox are a great team and have certainly pulled a 180 from their 2012 campaign, but there’s something magical about the Cardinals.

No matter who dons the two birds and a bat uniform they seem to perform at the highest of levels.  They seemingly can do no wrong. This series will be one of the all-time greats and in the end St. Louis will own the Commissioner’s Trophy.

Carlos Beltran Will Win World Series MVP

It’s almost easy to forget how good Carlos Beltran is. Even at 36 years old he batted .296 this season. In 11 postseason games this season he has 12 RBI and eight walks.

Beltran knows this may be his only shot at winning it all. Despite 45 career postseason games, he’s never played in the showcase. Now is his time and he will rise to the occasion. A crucial game-winning hit in Game 5 will propel his team closer to the prize.

Expect three homers, eight RBI and one MVP trophy at the end.

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.

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.

May 14, 2013

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Early MLB Observations

By: Joe Williams

Don’t look now but the MLB regular season is already a quarter of the way over. Several superstars have yet to take the field (most reside in New York) and some teams have played themselves out of playoff contention already (I’m talking to you Houston and Miami). We’ve also got a few teams playing surprisingly well (speaking of New York) and some players off to red-hot starts (can John Buck keep this up?) Here are a few more observations on the season so far.

Could Miguel Cabrera win back-to-back Triple Crown titles?

The A.L. East is upside down. Wasn’t this supposed to be the year that the division was open for the taking because the Yankees and Red Sox aren’t very good? And wasn’t Toronto going to be a strong contender with all the big names that went to Canada? So far New York and Boston are well over .500 and the Blue Jays are one of the worst teams in baseball.

The Angels and Dodgers also went all-in and signed some high-profile players but are underachieving big time so far. And not even switching leagues can help the lowly Astros. They are on pace for just 40 wins!

Is there a chance Miguel Cabrera could win back-to-back triple crowns? He’s leading in RBI, second in batting average and currently four home runs off the pace in the American League.

Stephen Strasburg, Kris Medlen, Cole Hamels and R.A. Dickey all have five losses already. These guys are some of the best pitchers in baseball.

If the playoffs began today, the qualifiers in the American League would be the New York Yankees, Detroit Tigers, Texas Rangers, Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox. Looks like all the usual suspects here. In the National League it would be the Atlanta Braves, St. Louis Cardinals, San Francisco Giants, Cincinnati Reds and the Washington Nationals. No surprises here either. But with about 120 games to go only two teams are more than 10 games off the wild card pace so anything can happen.

Unless of course we’re talking about the Cubs. Anybody think they will break the curse this season? Me either. But one streak that should be coming to an end is in Pittsburgh. They may or may not get to the playoffs but the Pirates should be able to finish over .500 for the first time since 1992.

It’s no surprise that Miguel Cabrera is the best player in fantasy baseball so far but I didn’t even know who Matt Harvey or Jean Segura are before this year and they are the second and third best in fantasy.

Speaking of fantasy baseball, if any of you know B.J. Upton or David Price please let them know I could use some production for my team. Thanks.

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.