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.

March 11, 2013

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The Week In Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Tiger Woods wins 76th PGA Tour Event

Golfer Tiger Woods is off to a great start in 2013. Woods won his second event of the season this past weekend, dominating at the Cadillac Championship for his 76th PGA Tour victory. He kept all other players at least three strokes away on Sunday until the final hole when he picked up a bogey. Woods was victorious by two strokes over Steve Stricker on the final leaderboard. Thing is that while Woods is off the radar of many casual fans, his five wins in the past year are the most of any other golfer on the tour.  And while this isn’t a major, with the Masters on the minds of everyone, Woods should be considered a favorite by that time.

If the NBA regular season ended today the Lakers would be in the Playoffs.

Manny Ramirez to sign with Taiwan team

Manny Ramirez tried to get back into the majors in time for the 2013 season, but that doesn’t look like it will be happening. According to ESPN, Ramirez will sign with a team in Taiwan in the China Professional Baseball League. Ramirez last played a full season in 2010 with the Tampa Bay Rays, but has been out of the league since retiring in 2011 after violating Major League Baseball’s drug policy. Ramirez played winter ball this year and even put up solid numbers, but it wasn’t enough to convince an MLB team to take a chance on him. And at 40, Ramirez may have played his last game in the majors. If a team wasn’t willing to gamble on him with a spring training invite this year, he may not get another look.

Chicago Blackhawks finally lose

The Chicago Blackhawks were easily the most dominant team in hockey over the first half of the NHL season. The team went more than 20 straight games without a loss in regulation until the Colorado Avalanche defeated them 6-2 on Friday. The Blackhawks followed that up with a 6-5 loss to Edmonton on Sunday and have now lost two in a row. Chicago is one of the few teams in the league that excel on both sides of the ice. The Blackhawks rank 6th in scoring with just over three goals a game and are tied for the league lead in defense, giving up fewer than two goals per contest. Make no mistake about it – the Blackhawks will be a tough out in the playoffs. Even if the offense isn’t there on certain nights, their defense should be able to pick them up a bit.

Lakers among NBA’s hottest teams

Don’t look now, but the Los Angeles Lakers are moving up in the NBA’s Western Conference. Eight teams in the conference will make the playoffs and for much of the season, the Lakers have been on the outside looking in. But fast forward to this week, and L.A. would be in the eighth spot if the season ended today. At 8-2, Los Angeles is one of the league’s hottest teams. Unfortunately for them, so are many others in the west. The top five teams in the conference, the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies, and Denver Nuggets, have all won at least seven games in their last ten contests. If the Lakers keep winning, they could conceivably move up a few more spots. But it will be difficult to overtake some of those top teams that are just playing so well right now.

15-20 Liberty makes NCAA Tournament

March Madness is officially here and what better way to kick things off than with a 15-20 team making the Big Dance? I give you Liberty. The Flames won the Big South title despite losing 20 games this season and promptly punched their ticket to the NCAA Tournament. Liberty is only the second team with 20 losses to make the tourney. Now, I’m all for the little guys getting their moment in the sun, but these are the types of teams that make me question if there should be a minimum record to play in the tournament. I’m not quite sure a team that struggled all season long should be rewarded for winning a few games in a conference tournament and getting hot for a single week. While it’s going to be a great experience for Liberty players to go, a worthy major-conference team that’s been more consistent throughout the year will be sent off to the NIT.

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.

January 9, 2012

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Where Will Manny Ramirez Land?

By: Anson Whaley

“I’m now an officially retired baseball player. I’ll be going away on a trip to Spain with my old man.” (ESPNDeportes.com)

And with that, Manny Ramirez ,one of the best hitters in this generation, retired last Spring early in the season. That statement came after he was suspended for steroid use and it appeared that Ramirez was riding off into the sunset. But as is frequently the case with retired athletes, Ramirez apparently decided he wasn’t ready for golf, vacations, and appearances at baseball card shows just yet.

Ramirez sought a return and Major League Baseball has cut the 100-game suspension he was due to receive in half because he missed virtually all of 2011, appearing in only five games with the Tampa Bay Rays. Manny now wants to play again and is scheduled to hold workouts in the near future for teams. That’s not the real issue, though. The question that needs to be asked is ‘Does baseball want Manny?’

Ramirez is clearly past his prime and has seen better days. Last year in those five aforementioned games, he hit only .063, tallying a single hit in 17 games. In 2010, though, he hit .298 playing in 90 games, so he probably has at least a little left in the tank. Despite his recent problems with steroids, I’ve got to think that some team will take a chance on him.

At first glance, there are plenty of teams to which Ramirez could go. But Manny’s not the greatest defensive player in the world, so his suitors may be limited to the American League where he can serve as a designated hitter. Even then, we can likely rule out some teams just from their stance towards the 2012 season. For example, the Oakland Athletics are without a designated hitter with Hideki Matsui not likely to be re-signed, but A’s General Manager Billy Beane has already said the team is probably going with a younger, in-house option. That would obviously rule out Ramirez.

Here are four potential destinations for him in 2012 as I see it.

Miami Marlins: The Miami ‘don’t call us Florida’ Marlins are the only National League team on my list, but Ramirez could be a fit there since he lives in Florida. Miami is less than an hour’s drive from Ramirez’ home in Weston and Man-Ram wouldn’t have to worry about packing up and moving away for the season, making it very convenient. In addition, with the Marlins’ new stadium opening in 2012, adding an attraction like Ramirez could help boost attendance a bit.

Baltimore Orioles: The Orioles have allowed last year’s DH, Vladimir Guerrero, to go to free agency. Guerrero produced decent numbers last season (.290 batting average, 13 home runs, and 63 RBI), but did so for about $8 million. Ramirez could probably be had for less than that and his 2010 numbers extrapolated to a full season were mostly better than what Guerrero did last year in 145 games.

Toronto Blue Jays: The Jays used Edwin Encarnacion quite a bit in the DH role last year, but he’s also a great utility player and can fill a few different positions capably. Toronto could, at the very least, use someone else to help them split time in the DH spot and Ramirez could be that guy. And while it’s been three years since Ramirez played in Boston, there are still several pitchers in the AL east with whom he’s familiar. I think he could fare well against some of them.

Could we see Manny Ramirez in a Blue Jays uniform this season?

Cleveland Indians: The Indians picked up future Hall of Famer Jim Thome as a DH last year in hopes of reaching the postseason. Thome, however, has since signed with the Philadelphia Phillies for 2012. That leaves a hole in the Indians’ lineup and Cleveland could certainly use someone that hits for average in their lineup as they finished only 18th in the majors in that department last year. Ramirez started his career with the Indians and is familiar with the club and the area. Cleveland was amenable to bringing Thome back last season after he started his career with them in the early 1990s and I could see them possibly doing the same with Ramirez.

September 7, 2011

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Is it October yet?

By: Joe Williams

Do you know what Zach Stewart did last night? The Chicago White Sox pitcher flirted with history as he mowed down the Minnesota Twins lineup for seven perfect innings. Danny Valencia broke up the bid for a perfect game with an eighth-inning double and Stewart finished the game with a one-hitter.

With all the excitement surrounding the start of the college football and NFL seasons, and the absence of compelling pennant races in baseball, a performance like that can go under the radar. This month of September will be full of meaningless (unless you qualified for the playoffs in your MLB  fantasy baseball league) games. Can’t we just skip ahead to October and start the playoffs already?

Look at the MLB standings and you will see that the Yankees or Red Sox will win the A.L. East and the top seed and the other will be the Wild Card team. Does it really make a difference who wins the MLB division to anyone other than New York and Boston fans? Is it October yet?

 

Barring a major collapse, Detroit is going to win the A.L. Central. The way Justin Verlander has been pitching; he could win enough games by himself in September to get the Tigers to the post-season. Is it October yet?

The only spot that is really in doubt is in the A.L. West. The Rangers lead the Angels by 2.5 games. They will meet in Anaheim for the last three games of the MLB regular season. Let’s just hope a playoff berth comes down to that.

The story is pretty much the same in the N.L. The Phillies are running away with the East and the top seed, the Braves are running away with the Wild Card and Milwaukee is running away with the N.L. Central. Even the surprising Diamondbacks have built a seven-game lead over San Francisco. Is it October yet?

There has been talk of expanding the MLB playoffs and adding another Wild Card team in each league. That would at least give the last few weeks of the MLB season some intrigue. Tampa Bay would be in a battle with the A.L. West runner-up and the Giants and Cardinals would be tied for the final MLB playoff spot. That doesn’t help this year though. Is it October yet?

The MLB baseball season is too long. Playoff baseball has a tough time competing with college football and the NFL. Regular season games have no chance. The powers that be are not going to shorten the MLB season because fewer games = less money but I hope something happens to add some meaning to the end of the season whether it is expanding the playoffs or changing the format or maybe even realignment. I’m ready for the MLB playoffs to begin. Is it October yet?