Saturday, March 30, 2013

Greatest March Madness Upsets

     March Madness is in the air and we've already seen our fair share of Cinderella teams (Florida Gulf Coast, anyone?). So in spirit of the Cinderella teams and their surprise runs, I've comprised a list of some of the greatest upsets in the history of the NCAA basketball tournament. Some of these you'll remember, some of these might be new to you.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

MLB Preview 2013: Playoff Predictions

     So here's my playoff predictions for the 2013 MLB season. It's not going to be 100% accurate, but at least it's fun to take a guess.

American League:
Wildcard game: Toronto over Oakland (8-5)
Division Series: LA Angels over Toronto 3 games-1 game
                        Detroit over Baltimore 3 games-1 game
ALCS: Detroit over LA Angels 4 games-0 games
National League:
Wildcard game: Atlanta over LA Dodgers (3-2)
Division Series: Washington over Atlanta 3 games-2 games
                        San Francisco over Cincinnati 3 games-0 games
NLCS: Washington over San Francisco 4 games-3 games
World Series: Detroit over Washington 4 games-2 games 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

MLB Preview 2013: NL West

     The defending World Series Champion San Francisco Giants have quietly become a force in Major League Baseball. After sweeping the Detroit Tigers in last year's Fall Classic to win just their second World Series title in three years, San Francisco has turned into a baseball powerhouse due to excellent pitching and timely hitting. But their California rival, the Los Angeles Dodgers, have stocked their team full of superstar players. Will L.A.'s star-studded team be able to topple the defending World Series champs? In the NL West, it's all about the pitching.

  1. San Francisco Giants: Plus: It appears as if the G-Men have developed an identity as a pitching juggernaut. Ace Matt Cain (16-5, 2.79 ERA, 193 SO, two complete games, two shutouts, one perfect game) headlines the staff, while Ryan Vogelsong (14-9, 3.37 ERA, 158 SOs) and Madison Bumgarner (16-11, 3.37 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 191 SO) will provide the Giants with plenty of young unhittable arms. Hell, Barry Zito went 15-8 last year. If Tim Lincecum can return to his former Cy Young self, then watch out for San Francisco's rotation. I also like their bullpen, which has the likes of Sergio Romo (14 saves, 23 holds, 10.25 K/9, 0.85 WHIP) and Santiago Casilla (25 saves, 12 holds, 2.84 ERA). Minus: Catcher and NL MVP Buster Posey (.336, 24 HR, 103 RBI, .408 OBP, 178 hits) is going to need more help now that Melky Cabrera is a Blue Jay. Right fielder Hunter Pence (24 HR, 104 RBI) will help, but only if he cuts those 145 strikeouts that he had last season in half. Same goes for second baseman Marco Scutaro (.306, 74 RBI), but only if he stays healthy. The Giants also commit a lot of fielding errors, for they had the fourth-most errors in the MLB with 115 and they were tied for 25th in fielding percentage at .981.
  2. Los Angeles Dodgers: Plus: Last year was business as usual for former Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw. In 2012, he posted a 14-9 record, 2.53 ERA, 229 SO, and a 1.02 WHIP. Now, he has a pitching sidekick in Zach Greinke (15-5, 3.48 ERA, 200 SO). And who knows? If Hyun-Jin Ryu can live up to the hype, then this overcrowded rotation will be a force to be reckoned with. Minus: The lineup is also packed with star power, but here's the thing about the Dodgers' batters: They must stay healthy. Center fielder Matt Kemp must rebound from the many hamstring injuries that tormented him throughout the majority of last season. Shortstop Hanley Ramirez must be Hanley Ramirez once he returns from a torn ligament in his right thumb. Left fielder Carl Crawford must not let his elbow bother him and return to form in the process. Adrian Gonzalez should be no problem, but the rest of the lineup worries me in terms of health. 
  3. Arizona Diamondbacks: Plus: Getting Brandon McCarthy was a good pickup for the D-Backs. It gives them a staff that's not as good as the 2001 D-Backs, but they're still good. Still, this isn't the strongest point of the team. Arizona's got a good set-up/closer combo with Brad Ziegler or David Hernandez and J.J. Putz. Combined with the rotation which has Ian Kennedy, McCarthy, and Trevor Cahill, this staff could possibly be playing October baseball. Minus: Gone are key players from their lineup in Justin Upton and Chris Young. I'm not saying that Arizona will completely miss them (after all, Justin Upton does strike out a lot). But they were key pieces in the D-Backs lineup that provided speed on the basepaths for Arizona. It'll be interesting to see how the D-Backs go about replacing these two.
  4. San Diego Padres: Plus: Third baseman Chase Headley led the NL in RBI last year with 115. He also hit 31 home runs in spacious Petco Park, a feat that isn't easy to accomplish. If left fielder Carlos Quentin returns to driving in runs and first baseman Yadier Alonso continues to develop into a great hitter, this Padres' lineup can catapult close to the top of the NL West. San Diego's bullpen (524 SO's in 2012, fourth-most in the MLB) is also a shut-down squad. Minus:  Clayton Richard (14-14, 3.99 ERA, 107 SO) and Edinson Volquez (11-11, 4.14 ERA, 174 SO) are both enigmatic pitchers and both have either washed-up arms or inexperienced following them in the rotation. Luckily for them, Petco Park is a pitcher-friendly park. Therefore, they should have an easier time pitching for the Padres.
  5. Colorado Rockies: Plus: Which team scored the third-most runs in the National League? Anyone? The Colorado Rockies. Not only do they have guys like left fielder Carlos Gonzalez (.303, 22 HR, 85 RBI, 20 SB), center fielder Dexter Fowler (.300, 13 HR, 53 RBI, 11 triples), catcher Wilin Rosario (.270, 28 HR, 71 RBI), and right fielder Michael Cuddyer (16 HR, 58 RBI), but they benefit from playing in the Mile High City. The thin air at Coors Field allows for the ball to carry more when hit, resulting in more home runs. Now just imagine if Troy Tulowitzki could actually play like a $157 million player. Minus: Ladies and gentlemen, MLB's worst rotation in 2012 (5.81 ERA!!). Jon Garland and Jeff Francis are past their primes and the rest of the rotation has no experience pitching in the major leagues. Also, don't forget that the thin air in Denver allows for the ball to carry more and this also hurts the pitching for the Rockies. It won't matter how many runs the Rockies' lineup can score in a game because Colorado's pitching staff will allow even more.

Monday, March 25, 2013

MLB Preview 2013: NL Central

     A division once dominated by the St. Louis Cardinals and the Houston Astros, the NL Central has evolved. Joey Votto, Aroldis Chapman, and the Cincinnati Reds have taken over the division, the St. Louis Cardinals don't have Albert Pujols anymore, and the Houston Astros moved to the AL West. This division has also weakened quite a bit; will this be the year the Pittsburgh Pirates finally crack .500 for the season?

  1. Cincinnati Reds: Plus: Aroldis Chapman is no ordinary closer; he's shown time and time again that he can throw 100 MPH or more. The Cuban phenom (38 saves, 0.81 WHIP, 1.51 ERA, 122 SO in 68 games) also has a wicked slider to boot. Sean Marshall (22 holds, 1.16 WHIP, 2.51 ERA) and Jonathan Broxton (27 saves, 2.48 ERA) are also great set-up men. The lineup's another strong point. Third baseman Todd Frazier had an impressive rookie campaign last year (.273, 19 HR, 67 RBI, six triples), but must cut back on his strikeouts. First baseman and former NL MVP Joey Votto returns from knee injuries, second baseman Brandon Phillips (.281, 18 HR, 77 RBI, 15 SB) is still a complete player, right fielder Shin-Soo Choo (.283, 16 HR, 67 RBI, 21 SB) was a great pickup, left fielder Ryan Ludwick (.275, 26 HR, 80 RBI) is still good, and outfielder Jay Bruce (34 HR, 99 RBI, five triples, 155 SO) is an elite player if he can cut back on the strikeouts himself. Did I mention that their ace Johnny Cueto (2.78 ERA, 19-9, 170 SO, .255 BAA, two complete games) is really good? Minus: While the lineup is capable of producing plenty of runs, they're also capable of striking out a lot as previously mentioned. Not just Frazier and Bruce, but also shortstop Zack Cozart (.246, .288 OBP, 113 SO) and Choo (150 SO last year with Cleveland). Cincinnati could swing themselves into elimination if they don't cut back on the swinging and missing.
  2. St. Louis Cardinals: Plus: A year with Albert Pujols gone didn't phase the Cardinals one bit as they made the postseason and Pujols didn't. In fact, St. Louis was a mere game from a rematch of 2006 with the Detroit Tigers in the World Series. That's due to the likes of third baseman David Freese (.293, 20 HR, 79 RBI) and center fielder Jon Jay (.305, 135 hits, 19 SB) stepping up. Also having catcher Yadier Molina (.315, 22 HR, 76 RBI), right fielder Carlos Beltran (.269, 32 HR, 97 RBI, and 13 SB for a 35-year old), and left fielder Matt Holliday (.295, 27 HR, 102 RBI) also helps. Minus: Cardinals closer Jason Motte will start the season on the DL with an elbow injury for at least a week of the regular season. Shortstop Rafael Furcal is expected to miss several months after getting Tommy John surgery for his elbow and could even miss the entire season. Starting pitcher Chris Carpenter is unsure that he'll ever pitch again due to his shoulder. The point is that St. Louis has a lot of problems staying healthy and this will plague them throughout the season.
  3. Pittsburgh Pirates: Plus: The reason for why Pittsburgh stayed in contention until the last couple months of the season wasn't just because of center fielder Andrew McCutchen (.327, 31 HR, 96 RBI, 20 SB, six triples). The pitching staff managed to hold up just fine. A.J. Burnett got out of Yankee Stadium and returned to form with a 16-10 record, 3.51 ERA, 180 SO, and a shutout. James McDonald started the first half strong, winning nine of his first 17 starts with a 2.37 ERA and a 0.97 WHIP before averting his slider and watching his stats skyrocket the wrong way. Adding Wandy Rodriguez (3.76 ERA, 139 SO, 12-13) during last year's trade deadline and Francisco Liriano helps to bolster the rotation. Minus: Andrew McCutchen can't be the only means of offense for the Bucs. Pittsburgh ranked 27th in team OBP last year at .304 and 25th in team batting average at .243. First baseman Garrett Jones (.274, 27 HR, 86 RBI), second baseman Neil Walker (.280, 14 HR, 69 RBI) and third baseman Pedro Alvarez (30 HR, 85 RBI) will certainly help. But the rest of the lineup needs to hit more.
  4. Milwaukee Brewers: Plus: Milwaukee scored the third-most runs in the MLB last year (776) and ranked third in slugging percentage (.437). Left fielder Ryan Braun (.319, 41 HR, 112 RBI, 30 SB), third baseman Aramis Ramirez (.300, 27 HR, 105 RBI), and Corey Hart (.270, 30 HR, 83 RBI, four triples) all provided the Brew Crew with plenty of firepower. The Brewers can also run. Braun, center fielder Carlos Gomez (37 stolen bases, four triples), right fielder Norichika Aoki (30 SB, four triples), and second baseman Rickie Weeks (16 SB, four triples) can all steal bases with ease. Minus: If there's one glaring weakness with Milwaukee, it's their bullpen. The Brewers' bullpen led Major League Baseball in blown saves (29, two ahead of the Colorado Rockies) and had the worst ERA in the big leagues (4.66). They got rid of the likes of Francisco Rodriguez and Kameron Loe and are relying more on relievers like Jim Henderson and Brandon Kinzler. But these young arms will have so much pressure on them that Milwaukee will have a hard time contending for the NL Central.
  5. Chicago Cubs: Plus: Signing Edwin Jackson (10-11, 1.22 WHIP, 168 SO, .243 BAA) is a step in the right direction by Theo Epstein. Notre Dame alum Jeff Samardzija (3.81 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 180 SO, .240 BAA) should also have a good year. If returning Matt Garza can stay healthy and have good command (same with Scott Baker once he returns in a month from a muscle strain in his arm), then the Cubs become this year's Oakland A's and surprise a few people. Minus: 28th in total runs scored (613). 26th in team batting average (.240). 29th in OBP (.302). 27th in slugging percentage (.378). Left fielder Alfonso Soriano (32 HR, 108 RBI) and shortstop Starlin Castro (.283, 14 HR, 78 RBI, 12 triples, 25 SB) will provide the Chicago with plenty of offense, but everyone else must contribute.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

MLB Preview 2013: NL East

     With the sudden emergence of the former Montreal Expos a.k.a. the Washington Nationals, the NL East landscape is rapidly changing. But can Stephen Strasburg and the Nationals hold off the new-look Atlanta Braves for the NL East crown?
  1. Washington Nationals: Plus: Stephen Strasburg wasn't the best pitcher for the Nationals in 2012 statistically. That honor goes to Gio Gonzalez, who posted a 21-8 record along with 207 strikeouts and an ERA of 2.89. But this Washington rotation is deep. The addition of Dan Haren only makes it that much deeper. What's more is that Stephen Strasburg could be pitching in the postseason this year if the Nationals make it. Minus: There's not a whole lot to be concerned about if you're a Nationals fan. Just hope that catcher Bryce Harper can break out this season (.270, 22 HR, 59 RBI).
  2. Atlanta Braves: Plus: Craig Kimbrel headlines a stellar Atlanta bullpen as the closer. With a WHIP of 0.65, an ERA of 1.01, 42 saves, 116 strikeouts, a K/9 of 16.66, only seven earned runs allowed, and a WAR of 3.2, Kimbrel is close to becoming the next Mariano Rivera. Eric O'Flaherty (28 holds, 1.73 ERA), Kris Medlen (0.91 WHIP, 120 SO, 1.57 ERA), and Jonny Venters (3.22 ERA, 20 holds) are also part of the Braves' lights-out crew. Minus: While the Braves picked up the Upton brothers during the offseason, they still lost quite a bit during that time. Gone are players like Chipper Jones (retired), Martin Prado (D-Backs), and Michael Bourn (Indians). This team also strikes out a lot; Atlanta ranked 7th as a lineup in strikeouts last year with 1,289 whiffs. And adding B.J. Upton (169 SO) and Justin Upton (121 SO) doesn't help with this problem.
  3. Philadelphia Phillies: Plus: For those of you who think the Phillies will be a complete disaster better remember that they still have Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels in their rotation. Hamels (17-6, 3.05 ERA, 216 SO, 2 shutouts) had a career year last season and Cliff Lee (3.16 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 207 SO) might've had a record of 6-9 last year, but only due to a lack of offense that barely supported him. If Roy Halladay can bounce back from their lackluster 2012 campaigns, watch out for this Phillies staff. Minus: Yes the Phillies added plenty of key players to their lineup this offseason with Michael Young, Ben Revere, and Delmon Young. But this lineup is still pretty old. Young (age 36), first baseman Ryan Howard (age 33), second baseman Chase Utley (age 34), and shortstop Jimmy Rollins (age 34) are all at the twilight of their careers. 
  4. New York Mets: Plus: The Mets rotation might've lost R.A. Dickey in the offseason, but it remains their strong point. Granted, their staff's not outstanding. But it's good. Jonathon Niese had a good 2012 season (13-9, 3.40 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 49 walks, .241 BA), Dillon Gee got off to a great start last year before a blood clot was found in his throwing shoulder, and Shawn Marcum (7-4, 3.70 ERA, .245 BA, 109 SO in 21 starts with Milwaukee) will be a good pickup if he remains healthy. Minus: Mets fans held their breath when third baseman David Wright bowed out of the World Baseball Classic with an intercostal strain. Fortunately, Wright could be back on Opening Day. But unfortunately, Wright doesn't have a lot of help around him. Second baseman Daniel Murphy (.291, 65 RBI) will start the year on the disabled list with injured ribs. Left fielder Scott Hairston (.263, 20 HR, 57 RBI) departed for the Cubs. Lucas Duda (.239, 15 HR, 57 RBI, 120 SO) must make more contact and produce more base hits. Health is another concern for this Mets team as well. 
  5. Miami Marlins: Plus: Don't be fooled by Ricky Nolasco's 4.48 ERA and 12-13 record. The Marlins' starting pitcher was second in the NL in complete games with three and also threw two shutouts. He also walked 47 batters last year, but allowed 214 hits last year. If he can cut down the hits allowed, then he can become just another great pitcher for the Miami Marlins. Also keep an eye on Henderson Alverez. As for the offense, Giancarlo Stanton (.290, 37 HR, 86 RBI) has the potential to hit 40 home runs.Minus: The offseason/midseason fire and trade sale just about depleted the Marlins of any great talent. Jose Reyes, Heath Bell, Josh Johnson, Omar Infante, Anibel Sanchez, Mark Buehrle, and John Buck are all gone. Maybe it's time Miami got some new ownership?

Saturday, March 23, 2013

MLB Preview 2013: AL West

     The American League West welcomes a new member to its ranks this season: The Houston Astros. Abandoning the NL Central to join its natural rival, the Texas Rangers, the Astros are in dire straits right now. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Angels continue to load up their lineup, adding center fielder Josh Hamilton and pitchers Joe Blanton and Jason Vargas. The AL West will once again be intriguing to watch.

  1. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Plus: Josh Hamilton (.285, 43 HR, 128 RBI) joins an already lethal lineup which includes first baseman Albert Pujols (.285, 30 HR, 105 RBI), left fielder Mark Trumbo (32 HR, 95 RBI), and of course, the phenom outfielder Mike Trout (.326, 30 HR, 83 RBI, 49 SB, 129 runs scored in 139 games played last year). This lineup can even go toe-to-toe with the Detroit Tigers' lineup in terms of offense. Minus: Jered Weaver (20-5, 2.81 ERA, 142 SO, 1.02 WHIP) needs a lot of help from his fellow pitchers in the rotation. C.J. Wilson must cut down on his walks (91 BB in 2012 compared to 74 in 2011) while striking out more batters (173 SO in 2012 compared to 206 SO). Getting Jason Vargas from Seattle's a step forward, but there's still concern. Fellow acquisition Tommy Hanson (From the Atlanta Braves) must quickly adjust to the American League, especially since his 4.48 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, and 27 home runs allowed in the National League is just unacceptable. Jerome Williams must strike out more batters in his own right (4.58 ERA, 98 SO last year).
  2. Oakland Athletics: Plus: The reason for why Oakland surprised everyone by winning the AL West was mainly due to their pitching. Not a single A's starting pitcher had an ERA over four last season. But it wasn't the rotation that was the shining light for the Athletics. Their bullpen held down the fort for Oakland when they needed it most. Ryan Cook, Sean Blevins, Grant Balfour, and Sean Doolittle all combined for 40 saves and 68 holds last season. Minus: It'll be interesting to see if the Athletics can duplicate their success from last year. It'll solely depend on their hitting and this lineup had a hard time getting on base. Although the A's ranked 14th in runs scored (713 runs as a team) and ranked 15th in slugging percentage (.404), they ranked 28th in batting average (.238 team average) and 24th in on-base percentage (.310). That's because Oakland hit a TON of home runs as a means of offense (7th in the MLB in home runs with 195). Yoenis Cespedes (.292, 23 HR, 82 RBI) will provide the Athletics, but he can't be the only means of offense for Oakland in terms of base hits.
  3. Texas Rangers: Plus: Joe Nathan didn't disappoint for the Rangers last season, recording 37 saves for Texas. They signed Joakim Soria from Kansas City to bolster their pen even further. Hopefully they can keep the ball within the Ballpark in Arlington. Meanwhile, the Rangers may have lost a lot of power in their lineup with Hamilton and Napoli bolting, but there's still plenty of production to go around. You still have second baseman Ian Kinsler (26 HR, 74 RBI), outfielder Nelson Cruz (24 HR, 90 RBI), third baseman Adrian Beltre (.321, 36 HR, 102 RBI), shortstop Elvis Andrus (nine triples, 21 stolen bases), and newly-acquired catcher A.J. Pierzynski (27 HR, 77 RBI, 68 runs). Hell, Texas even has a few prospects to get excited about; second baseman Jurickson Profar (seventh-ranked prospect in the country, projected for 16 HR, 67 RBI, and 20 stolen bases) and Leonys Martin (batted .323 with 16 HR, 84 RBI, 101 runs scored, and 29 SB in just 128 minor league games) both provide Texas with a bright future. Minus: This is the best Rangers rotation I have seen in quite awhile, yet it's still a major concern. Why? Because Ranger Ballpark in Arlington is very homer-friendly. Compared to Angel Stadium, which allows 1.99 HR per game, the Ballpark in Arlington allows 2.49 HR per game (seventh in the MLB). And alhough both Yu Darvish and Matt Harrison combined for a -wait for it-WAR of 10.2 in 2012, it's hard to keep your opponents' runs down when you either walk too many (Darvish walked 89 batters last year) or strike out too few (Harrison had 133 SO last year).
  4. Seattle Mariners: Plus: Getting Felix Hernandez locked down for a long-term contract was a must for the Mariners this offseason. But the Mariner ace (13-9, 3.06 ERA, 223 SO) did have plenty of help behind him. Seattle committed the 2nd-fewest errors in baseball last season and tied for the best fielding percentage in baseball as well (.988). Of course, pitching in cavernous Safeco Field also helps. Minus: Speaking of cavernous Safeco Field, the Mariners' bats ranked dead last in almost every offensive category last year. Getting Raul Ibanez, Jason Bay, Michael Morse, and Kendrys Morales helps, but it doesn't solve the entire problem. Seattle has to know how to utilize Safeco Field as a means of offense in order to truly surprise people this year.
  5. Houston Astros: Plus: Well, let's see. Second baseman Jose Altuve is a bright spot on this roster. The lone All-Star for the Astros last year had a batting average of .290, hit four triples, and stole 33 bases last year. Other than that, there's not much else to be excited about as an Astros fan other than maybe the move to the American League. Minus: Everything else. It's going to be a long season for Houston.

Friday, March 22, 2013

MLB Preview 2013: AL Central

     The AL Central, a.k.a. the Tigers' division, although they had a close call last year. But this time, the Tigers don't have to worry because the White Sox lost A.J. Pierzynski, a key bat in Chicago's lineup. So this will be Detroit's division to lose. In fact, the American League could very well be Detroit's league.

  1. Detroit Tigers: Plus: Justin Verlander heads a strong Tigers rotation which includes Doug Fister and Max Scherzer. But this isn't Detroit's biggest strength. Perhaps the biggest offseason acquisition for the Tigers wasn't a free-agent signing or a trade, but rather a returning player from injury. Designated hitter Victor Martinez is returning from left knee problems and has looked great during Spring Training. Adding left fielder Torii Hunter into a lineup with Triple Crown winner/MVP Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder helps as well. Minus: Bruce Rondon is unproven as a closer, but any Detroit fan will tell you that any closer's better than Jose Valverde, especially after his debacle during last year's playoffs. It'll be a wait-and-see approach with Rondon in the closer role.
  2. Kansas City Royals: Plus: They ranked 7th in the MLB in batting average last year, and that's with first baseman Eric Hosmer underachieving (.232, 14 HR, 60 RBIs). Designated hitter Billy Butler had a breakout season, batting .313 while hitting 29 home runs and 107 RBIs. Also look for left fielder Alex Gordon ( .294, 14 HR, 72 RBIs) to emerge as a darkhorse MVP candidate. Minus: Their pitching overall is a concern. Yes, they got James Shields from the Rays along with Wade Davis. But if they expect their other new acquisition Ervin Santana to do just as good, they can guess again. Santana had a 5.16 ERA and a 9-13 record last year, including an ERA of 6.22 and a WHIP of 1.53 on the road. Bruce Chen (11-14, 5.07 ERA) doesn't do much to bolster the rotation. Also, losing closer Joakim Soria to the Rangers makes matters worse.
  3. Chicago White Sox: Plus: Chicago committed the fewest errors in MLB last year with only 70 errors. Six of those came from former White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski. In fact, first baseman Paul Konerko and left fielder Adam Dunn combined for just three errors in 2012. Minus: In terms of effective closers, Addison Reed is no Bobby Jenks. Reed blew four saves last season while throwing an ERA of 4.75. His WHIP of 1.13 is respectable, but that's only because he walked 18 batters last year in his rookie campaign. He'll need to add some secondary pitches to his arsenal since fastballs accounted for 75% of his pitches in 2012. Losing set-up man Brett Myers doesn't help, either.
  4. Cleveland Indians: Plus: New manager Terry Francona will certainly know how to utilize his new and improved outfield which includes center fielder Michael Bourn and right fielder Nick Swisher. Bourn adds speed to the Indians lineup (42 stolen bases), while Swisher adds some pop to the lineup (24 HR, 93 RBI). Minus: Cleveland ranked 29th in ERA last year with a team ERA of 4.78 and ranked ranked 28th in WHIP last year at 1.42. Justin Masterson must return to his 2011 form and cut back on the walks (3.21 ERA, 12-10, 66 BB in 2011) and Ubaldo Jimenez must do the same. Cleveland will get off to a fast start this season, but they can only sustain it if their rotation holds up.
  5. Minnesota Twins: Plus: Many baseball fans tend to forget that Joe Mauer is still a Minnesota Twin. His .319 batting average (4th in the AL) and his .416 OBP is fairly respectable along with the fact that he had 174 hits last season and 85 RBIs. Also, left fielder Josh Willingham was a pleasant surprise for the Twinkies, belting 35 home runs and 110 RBIs (3rd in the AL). Catcher Ryan Doumit (18 HR, 75 RBI) can also produce some offense. Don't forget about first baseman Justin Morneau, who suffered a concussion a couple of years ago. Last year, he hit 19 home runs and 77 RBIs. Minus: Scott Diamond (12-9, 3.54 ERA) is a bright spot in the rotation, but the days of Brad Radke, Johan Santana, and Scott Erickson are long gone. They traded away Francisco Liriano and are now entrusting Diamond with the No. 1 spot in their rotation. There's going to be a lot of pressure on Diamond to perform as the ace of the rotation. Minnesota also needs to develop a leadoff man in their lineup after losing Ben Revere and Denard Span. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

MLB Preview 2013: AL East

     The AL East has always been known to be one of baseball's toughest divisions, but mainly because both the Yankees and the Red Sox were atop of the division. This year, the AL East is one of baseball's toughest divisions once again. However, it's not because of the Yankees and the Red Sox. It's because ALL of the teams in the AL East are playoff contenders. Toronto had one of the busiest offseasons recently, Tampa Bay's pitching is still strong even without James Shields, Baltimore has most of their roster from last season's playoff run intact, and you have the Yankees and Red Sox. So don't be surprised to see any of the AL East teams ranked higher or lower than what's predicted here. This division's seriously up for grabs.

  1. Baltimore Orioles: Plus: The Orioles have most of their roster intact from last season with the exception of Mark Reynolds and Robert Andino. Catcher Matt Wieters will become an MVP candidate if he can improve on his .243 batting average, and center fielder Adam Jones and designated hitter Chris Davis must continue driving in runs. Third baseman Manny Machado will be another tough out for opponents as well. Their bullpen is also strong with relievers like Darren O' Day (0.94 WHIP, 2.28 ERA, 15 holds), Troy Patton (1.02 WHIP, 2.43 ERA, nine holds), and Pedro Strop (2.34 ERA, 24 holds) manning the pen. Minus: Wei-Yei Chen was last year's team leader in ERA at 4.02. Baltimore's starting pitching also ranked 21st in the MLB in quality starts with 78. But Chris Tillman, Jason Hammel, and Chen will provide the O's with a decent top end of the rotation.
  2. Toronto Blue Jays: Plus: With GM Alex Anthopoulos adding shortstop Jose Reyes and left fielder Melky Cabrera (amongst many other acquisitions) in a productive offseason, the Blue Jays will have one of the best lineups that the franchise has seen in years. Add in right fielder Jose Bautista returning with third baseman Brett Lawrie's stock rising and first baseman Edwin Encarnacion belting home runs all over Canada and you have a scary group of bats. Minus: The Jays practically got a good majority of the Marlins fire sale, acquiring Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson in a big trade with Miami. They also acquired NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey from the Mets this offseason. However, Buehrle must return to form after a 13-13 season which included an ERA of 3.74 and 125 strikeouts and R.A. Dickey must duplicate his Cy Young performance from last season. Also, Toronto has to stay relatively healthy throughout the season.
  3. Boston Red Sox: Plus: The Sox added catcher Mike Napoli to their lineup, gaining some power in their bats for this season. They also got right fielder Shane Victorino and left fielder Jonny Gomes as well, joining the likes of designated hitter David Ortiz, second baseman Dustin Pedroia, and center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury in a deep Red Sox lineup. Minus: Boston saw just how vulnerable they were without a closer after losing Jonathan Papelbon to the Phillies the year before. Alfredo Aceves blew eight saves last season while pitching an ERA of 5.36 and a WHIP of 1.32. Joel Hanrahan will be an upgrade, but he still has control issues.
  4. New York Yankees: Plus: In typical Yankees fashion, New York got a big name in free agency this offseason by signing third baseman Kevin Youkilis (Boston fans must be THRILLED to hear this *sarcasm*). He'll add more pop to the Yankees lineup, which will be bolstered even further once center fielder Curtis Granderson returns from a forearm injury. They also have the likes of second baseman Robinson Cano, who can hit. The Yankees' rotation is also very underrated with the likes of C.C. Sabathia (15-6, 3.38 ERA, 197 K's) and Hideki Kuroda ( 16-11, 3.32 ERA, 167 K's), along with their fielding (third-fewest errors in the MLB last year with 74). Minus:  Injuries seem to be a major issue for the Yankees. Shortstop Derek Jeter's "cranky" ankle might put him on the DL to start the season, first baseman Mark Teixeira's wrist injury may require season-ending surgery, and A-Rod's on the 60-day DL with hip issues. In fact, age is a major issue for New York; the average age of a roster member of the Yankees is 28.5.
  5. Tampa Bay Rays: Plus: Even trading James Shields and Wade Davis to the Royals doesn't put a dent into the Rays' rotation. Tampa Bay ranked 1st in the MLB last year in team ERA (3.19), WHIP (1.17), and opponent's batting average (.228). They still have their ace, 2012 AL Cy Young winner David Price (20-5, 205 K's, 2.56 ERA, home WHIP of 0.94) along with Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore, both of which had ERA's below four in 2012. In fact, the Rays have great pitching all-around. Joel Peralta and Jake McGee combined for 57 holds last year and both had WHIPs under one (0.97 and 0.80, respectively). They have a great closer as well in Fernando Rodney and his lucky banana. Minus: They need to find offense from someone other than third baseman Evan Longoria. Losing B.J. Upton to the Braves this offseason only makes matters worse for the Rays.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

What Would I Do As Owner of the Red Wings?

     Now this is only for fun and not really what's going to happen, so many of you hardcore Red Wing fans please don't attack me for this blog. But I've had a few thoughts run through my head on my way home from work that I want to share. I'm going to share with you what I would do if I bought the Detroit Red Wings from the Ilitch family, inspired by this great O&A bit:

  • I'd relocate the Red Wings from Detroit to... Grand Rapids!! I'd keep them in Michigan, only I'd move them to the western part of the state and rename them the Grand Rapids Chiefs. I'd swap out the Chiefs for the Grand Rapids Griffins and have the Griffins play in Detroit.
  • So now that the Chiefs have relocated to the growing city of Grand Rapids, I will demand that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman move the Chiefs to the Western Conference. I don't care if the fans hate it, I will berate that curmudgeon to move us out West until he does it.
  • I will have a squad of attractive strippers who'll pose as cheerleaders dressed in schoolgirl outfits (Of course wearing Chief jerseys over the schoolgirl outfits). Yes, there will be stripper poles in the arena. So bring your kids and $1's for the entertainment.
  • I'd get rid of the bland, boring goal horn that the Chiefs once had and replace it with a goal horn similar to that of the Washington Capitals: But instead of "Song 2" by Blur, the song that'll be playing for the goal horn will be "Rock and Roll Part 2" by Gary Glitter: And instead of chanting, "YOU SUCK!!" after the "HEY" part, Chief fans will chant, "GO SCREW!!" And every time the Chiefs score a goal, lights will flash, a disco ball will be spinning, and lasers will be pointing all around the arena.
  • There will be pictures of me to show how great I am as an owner. There will also be a gold statue of me outside of the Van Andel Arena to commemorate my awesomeness.
  • I'd lower ticket prices.
  • I'd copyright the term "America's Team" exclusively for the Grand Rapids Chiefs so that everyone can get behind the Chiefs. That's right, Jerry Jones. GO SCREW!!!
  • Intermission performances will include Busta Rhymes, Wu-Tang Clan, Louis CK, Godsmack, and other acts/musical performances.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Watch This: The Next Muggsy?

     Jamani Love is 4'5", but he's an absolute threat on the basketball court. With his wicked crossover, solid handles, and great court visions, people are already comparing Love to the former Golden State Warrior Muggsy Bogues. So is he the next pint-sized phenom on the court? You be the judge.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Is Tiger Back?

     Going into today, Tiger Woods has a four-shot lead at the WGC-Cadillac Championship at -18. Yesterday, Woods sank seven birdies to pad the lead to four shots. This included stellar play on the final hole yesterday, which consisted of drilling a tee shot into the fairway, followed by hitting a 9-iron 15 feet from the hole, and making the birdie putt. The former number-one player in the world shot a 67 yesterday, putting him one step closer to regaining the spot. Woods has 24 birdies in this tournament, the most through three rounds of any PGA Tour event. It should be noted that Tiger has a 39-2 career record when he has the outright lead going into the final round.
     Although Woods missed the cut at Dubai in the European Tour, he followed that up a week later with a win at the Farmers Insurance Open (His seventh win at the event). With Tiger suddenly re-emerging atop the leaderboards, it seems as if golf is becoming relevant to the general public again. However, Tiger's last major win came in 2008 at the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines when he beat Rocco Mediate on the first sudden death hole. With the Masters just around the corner, Tiger's performance raises the question: Is Tiger Woods really back?
     Woods has 75 career PGA Tour wins and 14 career major wins, but he hasn't won the Masters since 2005. Considering how Tiger has performed the past few years with his bad knee and his extra-marital affairs, it seemed uncertain that Tiger would ever win the Masters again, let alone another major. But he's averaging 68.7 per tournament, which is a good sign for the four-time Masters champion. Throw in the fact that the current number-one player Rory McIlroy has struggled as of late and you have a wide-open opportunity for Tiger. However, time is running out on Tiger's career. He's four major wins behind Jack Nicklaus for the most PGA major tournament wins and Tiger's 37 years old. So if Tiger looks to get back on the winning track, the time is now. The Masters could show us if Tiger Woods is, in fact, back with a roar.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Geek Out Stat: Blackhawk Up

     It seems as if the NHL Lockout has had no effect on the people of Chicago. Why? Because the Blackhawks are on a historic streak almost halfway through the strike-shortened NHL season. The Hawks are 19-0-3 through 22 games, earning at least a point in every game this season. But here's the catch: Not only have the Blackhawks not lost in regulation, they haven't lost a game during the overtime period. All three of their losses were shoot-out losses. They have as many points as they do goals allowed (41 points in 22 games) and have the most points in the NHL so far. Is this Chicago team unbeatable? When will the mighty Hawks fall in regulation (Or will they fall)?
     There are plenty of explanations for Chicago's record run. Goaltender Corey Crawford is 10-0-3 with a 1.41 GAA, two shutouts, and a .945 SV% this year. He's been a part of a hot goalie tandem with Ray Emery, who's 9-0-0 with a 2.02 GAA and a a.926 SV% in 2013. The Blackhawks also have an array of offensive firepower. Right wing Patrick Kane, who had the game-tying goal in a 2-1 SO win at Detroit on Sunday, is fifth in the NHL with 26 points (11 goals and 15 assists). Also contributing to the offense is defenseman Duncan Keith (11 assists), center/captain Jonathan Toews (nine goals, 18 points), right wing Marian Hossa (nine goals, 17 points), and center Patrick Sharp (11 assists, 16 points). As a result, Chicago is fourth in goals per game (GPG) with three goals a game. They're also allowing the fewest goals per game with 1.7 GA and have the third-best penalty kill in the NHL (89.7 %). Don't forget the fact that the Hawks have remained relatively healthy so far.
     So is the streak of 22 straight games with a point as impressive as it sounds? Well, there are a few things that water down the streak a little bit. For one, the NHL's post-lockout schedule doesn't have any Eastern Conference teams playing the Western Conference. This means that you won't see the Boston Bruins playing a 2013 regular season game against Chicago due to the lockout. But does this mean that the Western Conference is the weaker conference? Not really. The Detroit Red Wings and Vancouver Canucks have both taken the Hawks to overtime in both of their regular season matchups this year. In fact, Chicago has played ten overtime games in 2013, posting a 7-0-3 record in games that at least go into overtime. However, it does mean that the Eastern Conference has plenty of pleasant surprises so far that include the Eastern Conference's top team Montreal (14-4-4, 32 points) and Toronto (13-9, 26 points, sixth in the Eastern Conference). Another thing to note is that they just completed a seven-game homestand, going 6-0-1 in that homestand. Granted, the Blackhawks only played two home games in their first twelve games. But aside from Vancouver and the surprising Anaheim Ducks, they've had a relatively easy homestand.
     Chicago has nearly been unbeatable through the first half of the season. But is it possible for them to not suffer a loss in regulation? One thing to note about the Blackhawks is that Chicago has been notorious for blowing leads late into games. It happened in their first matchup with the Red Wings on January 27 (Detroit's Johan Franzen tied the game up early in the third period, but Chicago's Nick Leddy won the game in OT with a goal). It happened at home against Anaheim on February 12 (which Anaheim eventually won in a shootout 3-2). It happened a week later at a home game vs. Vancouver (Chicago had a 3-1 lead going into the third period, but blew that lead. Chicago did beat the Canucks in a shootout 4-3 to win, however). It happened on Friday at home against the Columbus Blue Jackets (Columbus's Ryan Jamerson tied the game up with 7:37 left to send the game into overtime. But Chicago's Brent Seabrook scored the winning goal in OT to win it for the Hawks 4-3). On the other hand, the Hawks have also come back late in games. Their most notable comebacks have come on the road against Dallas (January 24), Vancouver (February 1), Calgary (February 2), and Detroit (Sunday). Of those four comebacks, only Vancouver won. Fortunately for the Blackhawks, there are no shootouts in the playoffs. But they do need to address their late-game lapses if they want to hoist Lord Stanley's grail in June.
     Who can possibly end the Hawks' impressive streak this season? Three of their next four games are at home against teams from the Northwest division. But after that, they go on a four-game road trip. It includes the likes of Columbus and Colorado, but also contains a surprising Dallas Stars team and the Pacific division leader/pleasant surprise Anaheim Ducks. They also have games against tough division rivals later on along with road games against Vancouver and Minnesota. It should be noted that the 1979-1980 Philadelphia Flyers hold the record for the most consecutive games with at least a point (25 wins and ten ties). However, don't discount the Blackhawks' chances of breaking that record.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Harlem Shake

     The Harlem Shake has been around since 1981, but it has been gaining popularity lately. As a matter of fact, it's been gaining traction in the sports world. Which Harlem Shake do you think is the best?