Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Playing Their A's Game

The Oakland Athletics are not your typical sports franchise. Having the fourth lowest payroll in baseball and playing in one of the uglier facilities in baseball, may usually be looked at as hindrances. Not for the A’s. They find a way to win.

Let’s take a few steps back to the wonderful year of 2002. Billy Bean, the A’s GM, took the path never trodden down before. He decided to try and win with a system based strictly on numbers. He looked past anything such as age or past injuries and solely focused on On Base Percentages. It faltered for most of the year, but Billy stuck with it. Next thing you know, the A’s literally can not lose. That magical team broke the record win streak with 20 consecutive wins, only to lose to the Twins in the ALDS. That part is not what is important. There is a common knowledge in the world of sports that if there is a movie made about you, you have to have done something remarkable. The A’s are no exception, as Moneyball is just part one of the remarkable story that is continuing to this very day.

Let us now fast forward back to present day. 11 years after this remarkable season, but yet still no World Series. However, this could in fact be their best year to end the drought. Not one player for the Athletics is going to have statistics that will put you in a state of complete awe. Besides maybe Bartolo Colon with his 14-3 record and 2.54 ERA. I just can not get enough of a 265 pound 40 year old putting up numbers like that. Sure he may be falsely doing so as his name is on the list for the biogenesis scandal, but nonetheless, it still takes an incredible amount of skill to put up numbers like he has. “Cheater” or not, the man can still pitch. As for the rest of the pitching staff, they are on the opposite side of the spectrum, as none of them break 27 years of age. Despite their lack of experience, Dan Straily, AJ Griffin, Tommy Milone, and Jarrod Parker have consistently delivered for this team, and they will have to pick up even more of the load with Bartolo possibly facing suspension. They may be young, but they pitch well beyond their years.

At the plate, their leading hitter is not even breaking .300 (Josh Donaldson, .296) but again it is not the averages that matter, it is getting on base and delivering that hit when you need it most from a different guy every night. They may not have that standout performer, but yet they still rank eighth in the MLB in batting. Whether its veterans like Coco Crisp and Chris Young, or young and budding stars like Donaldson, Cespedes, and Reddick, they deliver when the stage is biggest.

What may be the most satisfactory about the A’s incredible success. The two most talked about the teams in the American League West are by far the Texas Rangers and the Los Angeles Angels. The Rangers possess a high quantity of big name guys that have led them to success in the past. In addition, the Angels have spent monumental amounts of money to bring in big names like Pujols, Hamilton, and Wilson. But where has this big spending left them you question? Two of the top eight payrolls in the League must surely be tops in the division right? Think again friends, acquaintances, associates, and Duke fans. The Rangers are a full six games worse than the A’s, and the Angels are, wait for it, a whopping thirteen games back. Do not expect this lead to get substantially smaller either.

What the Oakland Athletics have done this year is an incredible story. Yet, it should be of no surprise to any of us. They resemble the most satisfying ideal in sports, the underdog story. They have taken the fourth lowest payroll and turned it into a system of using every single cent wisely. They will not take in a player that does not fit into the system. If you are going to play in Oakland, you know what your role is and you execute. The A’s have been able to make the playoffs in the recent past but have not made a substantial run. This could change this year. They have the arms to make a run in the playoffs, and they have the lineup. With a little more experience than last year, they know what it takes. They are a group of winners. They grind out wins in any way they can. It resembles that team right across the Bay that has won two World Series in the past three years. The Giants simply grinded their way to being Champions. Can the A’s do the same? It will be a formidable task,  but this year we could very well be adding another page in the incredible story book that is the Oakland Athletics. -Ben Greer

Friday, July 26, 2013

Cleveland's Basketball Revival

The Cleveland Cavaliers have signed center Andrew Bynum to a two year deal worth up to 24 million dollars. With only six million dollars guaranteed, the Cavs have definitely motivated Bynum to get healthyand begin producing on the court once again. If Bynum were to get healthy and be anything like he used to be with the Lakers, this could be huge for the Cavaliers. Kyrie Irving has superstar potential and he may have gotten a possible star center if both are healthy. 
One thing Cavs owner, Dan Gilbert, and general manager, Chris Grant, have done is improved the Cavaliers’ roster. The Cavs shocked the world by drafting UNLV forward Anthony Bennett with the first overall pick. On draft night, many analysts thought the Cavs would take Nerlens Noel, Alex Len, or Ben McLemore with the first overall pick to address their needs, but they did not. Later in the first round at 20th overall, the Cavs then selected guard Sergey Karasev. Walking away from draft night, Dan Gilbert and Chris Grant had not addressed their need at center. But, with the signing of Andrew Bynum, the Cavs hope that they no longer have a need at center.
Besides draft night and the signing of Andrew Bynum, the Cleveland Cavaliers also brought in some key free agents that will help the club. Guard Jarrett Jack (who had success last year with the Golden State Warriors) and forward Earl Clark (who started the majority of games for the Los Angeles Lakers last season) will certainly contribute off of the bench. By drafting Anthony Bennett along with Sergey Karasev, and signing Jarrett Jack and Earl Clark, this puts a lot of importance on the Andrew Bynum acquisition. 
Andrew Bynum said in his Cavalier introductory press conference that the Cavs would be a playoff team. Quite frankly, he may be right. When looking at this young roster along with the veteran presence of guys like Anderson Varejao, Jarrett Jack, and Andrew Bynum, this Cavs team definitely has a fine future, but could make the playoffs next season. The Cavs have a possible 12-man rotation in line that could do some damage to teams looking to
make a run.
With a projected starting lineup of Kyrie Irving at the point, Dion Waiters at shooting guard, rookie Anthony Bennett at small forward, Anderson Varejao at power forward, and Andrew Bynum at center, along with Jarrett Jack, Earl Clark, Alonzo Gee, CJ Miles, Sergey Karasev, Tristan Thompson, and Tyler Zeller coming off the bench, this Cavaliers roster would be the deepest in the league. One of the keys to winning in the NBA is having a solid bench, and the Cavs will certainly have that come next season. This is where the Bynum signing comes into play. If healthy, the Cavs should definitely contend for a six to eight seed in the Eastern Conference. However, if Bynum’s knees do not come around and he is once again injured for the majority of the season, the Cavs will have a difficult time contending for the playoffs. 
Anderson Varejao would likely start at center if Bynum were not to play, and Tristan Thompson, Earl Clark, or Tyler Zeller would get the start at power forward. If that were the case, it would not harm the Cavs too much, but a Bynum/Varejao combination leading the front court would give the Cavaliers the best chance to win. Even with the current set up that the Cavs have, they still have tough competition to make the playoffs. The first five seeds in the Eastern Conference to me are a lock in Miami, Brooklyn, New York, Indiana, and Chicago. However, seeds six through eight are toss-ups between Atlanta, Toronto, Detroit, Washington, Charlotte, and Cleveland. 
Nick Gilbert, the son of Cavs’ owner Dan Gilbert, will most likely be right when he predicted that the Cavs would not be back in the draft lottery next season. I see them snagging a playoff position in the six through eight seed spot but losing in the first round of the playoffs. Although they may not contend this year, I see a bright future for the Cleveland Cavaliers with Kyrie Irving as the face of the franchise. – Addison Hunsicker 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Through the good and bad, Phil stays mentally steady

 To go along with his claret jug, Phil Mickelson took one more monkey off of his back and added a fifth major to his already legendary career. He has now won three out of the four major championships, making him only one of twelve men to ever do so. Still, there is one glaring hole. Do I even need to mention it, the U.S. Open. As everyone recalls, Mickelson finished in second place at the U.S. Open for the sixth time last month at Merion; a result that could crush a man with lesser fortitude. Not Phil. Going to bed with the 54 hole lead, it felt like Mickelson's week. It had to be, he was long overdue. But a consistent final round by Justin Rose on the grueling Merion resulted in the Englishmen being crowned U.S. Open champion, a devastating finish for Mickelson. As disappointing as yet another second place was, Phil Mickelson did not quit on the year as he knew there was a lot of golf still to be played, this disappointment only provided motivation.
  Two weeks ago Phil Mickelson flew to Europe knowing that he had not won there in twenty years, he leaves after winning twice in two weeks. To tune up for the Open Championship, Mickelson played the Scottish Open, an event he had lost in a playoff in 2007. This time, he defeated Brandon Grace in a playoff. Though this event does not carry the same pressure or magnitude of a major championship, it taught Mickelson an important lesson, he can win in Europe. This provided confidence (something Mickelson never seems to lack anyway), as well as momentum heading into the first major championship since the devastation at Merion. Heading into the tournament's final day Mickelson was lurking five shots back but was considered out of contention by many. Mickelson himself however, was playing for know less than first place. This morning Lee Westwood was sitting in a similar position to Mickelson at the U.S. Open. Westwood, who hails from Britain, had a 54 hole lead and believed it was time to capture his first major. The major that takes place in his homeland. Mickelson had different plans, coming out and firing a final round 66, tying the round of the week. His failures a month prior did not haunt him at Muirfield, it was a new month, a new day, a new event.
  There are not many players on tour who could have done what Mickelson did today, mentally or physically. Shooting a final round 66 was incredible, but so was the ability to move on from his sixth second place season and focus specifically on the tast at hand. Now, at 43, Phil Mickelson is playing the best golf of his career and has the most confidence he has ever had. This ability and confidence could lead to more tournament wins, and major championships in the near and distant future. And for Phil, hopefully a U.S. Open. - Connor Jones

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Undervalued Free Agents

With nearly all of the top free agents now off of the market, teams interested in getting involved in adding some new pieces to their roster rather than spending big money on superstars at this point in the summer cannot expect more than role players or possibly veterans to help bring a team together. Or can they? Here we look at just a couple of the biggest free agent steals of the summer of 2013. While these players won’t make a team instantly a contender, they still can provide important minutes for their teams. These are the teams getting the biggest bang for their buck.

#1- Darren Collison, Los Angeles Clippers

    In signing Darren Collison to a 2 year, $6 million contract not only did the clippers get one of, if not the biggest steals of this year's free agency but they also found an inexpensive replacement for Eric Bledsoe while adding more depth and youth to one of the leagues best benches. With the departures of Caron Butler, Chauncey Billups, Grant Hill, and possibly Lamar Odom, the Clippers went out with the old and in with the new. And younger. Darren Collison, JJ Redick, and Jared dudley are all younger while sporting better averages last season than that of Caron Butler and company. The newly acquired  youth will pay huge dividends come April and beyond for Hollywood’s new best team.

With averages of 12 points and 5 assists in 81 games as the starting point guard  last season for the Mavericks, you would have most certainly expected Collison to command a contract significantly higher than 3 million per year. Especially when players such as Zaza Pachulia, Pablo Prigioni, and Chris Copeland all received larger contracts. The reason this is such a great  signing for the clippers is not only because of the modest amount of money but rather the role he will play for the Clips. Unlike last season with the Mavericks, not only will Darren not have to start, he will not have to one of the top scoring options like he was for Dallas. While Darren didn’t necessarily struggle as a starter, he will thrive in a setting like Los Angeles where he isn’t being counted on to carry a significant scoring load night in and night out. Rather than being surrounded by the likes of Chris Kaman, Shawn Marion, Oj Mayo, and a  35 year old Dirk Nowitzki who played in just 53 games, Collison is surrounded by Blake Griffin, Jamal Crawford, Deandre Jordan, and sharp shooter JJ Redick. Oh, and did I mention the best floor general and arguably the best point guard in the game, Chris Paul. Having CP3 as a teammate and mentor again will help Darren immensely as it did in his rookie season in New Orleans. In Darren’s rookie season, he took over the starting role in the Big Easy due to a knee injury to CP3. Darren gave the Hornets everything they could have asked for, posting averages of 19 points and 9 assists in 36 starts while having Paul as a teacher from the bench. Not having the added pressure of being a top scoring option but rather contributing energy off the bench as well as having the guidance from Chris paul and Doc Rivers will allow Darren to be a huge, inexpensive asset for the clippers and revive his pass first point guard mentality again with the likes of Blake Griffin, Jamal Crawford, and JJ Redick. While this signing didn’t garner much attention, it will turn out to be one of the biggest steals of the summer come November.

#2- Andrei Kirilenko, Brooklyn Nets

    Signing Andrei Kirilenko most certainly hasn’t been the biggest offseason addition for the nets, however, he may still be just as important. Brooklyn recieved Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Jason Terry from the Celtics in return for Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks, Kris Joseph, Keith Bogans, three future first round draft picks, as well as the option to swap picks in 2017. With the acquisition of two future hall of famers, the Nets certainly didn’t get younger or deeper. By trading away the majority of their role players the new look nets now were left with a bench that consisted of Jason Terry and Reggie Evans. However, Brooklyn certainly didn't get the short end of the stick in this deal as they now boasted one the best starting fives in all of basketball. Despite the loaded starting five, a strong bench was crucial for the Nets to contend in the east given the ages of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, both in the twilight of their careers. Money definitely wasn't an issue for Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, making a mockery of the NBA salary cap with a payroll that exceeds $100 million and a luxury tax bill expected to be close to $80 million. It doesn't' stop there, according to general manager Billy King, the Nets aren’t finished spending quite yet. While the Dwight Howard sweepstakes wrapped up and other stars such as Andre Iguodala and Josh Smith found new homes, King  and Prokhorov quietly put together a solid bench consisting of Andray Blatche, Reggie Evans, Jason Terry, Shaun Livingston, Mirza Teletovic, first round draft pick Mason Plumlee and most recently, Andrei Kirilenko. The signing of the man dubbed as AK47 came as quite a surprise to the basketball world while also causing some suspicion amongst other NBA executives. Not surprising that AK47 wanted to play for Brooklyn, a contender in the east with an owner who he has a relationship with from playing for his CSKA Moscow team in Russia.The suspicion has stemmed from how a player who earned $10 million last season, opted out of a guaranteed $10 million next season, demanded a 3 year deal with a minimum of $8 million per year, can sign sign for Brooklyn's 3.1 million mini mid level exception. This is what makes this deal such a steal for the free spending nets and has rival owners in a fit of anger and disbelief. "Let's see if the league has any credibility," one NBA owner said . "It's not about stopping it. It's about punishing them if they're doing it." While the signing is brining suspicion from around the league, nonetheless, AK47's versatitlity will provide important minutes off of the bench for both Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Kirilenko averaged 12.4 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game while shooting over 50 percent from the field in 64 games for the Minnesota Timberwolves last season. Adding that type of option gives the Nets more flexibility and a major weapon off the bench. Kirilenko will also provide better defense on the wing compared to a soon to be 36 year old Paul PIerce. It is crucial that first year head coach Jason Kidd monitors the minutes of KG and Pierce during an 82 season as Gregg Popovich does with his aging stars. Having the versatile Russian is a great option for the rookie coach to turn to. - Ranny Kennon

Saturday, July 13, 2013

AL Halfway Report

The American League is always perceived as the superior of the two. I, being a National League fellow myself, happen to disagree. However, this year the American League has been full of surprises, spectacular stories, and consistent play from some of the best to play the game.

Although the AL is full of a lot of fantastic things to watch, we do have to start with what has to be considered a monstrous disappointment thus far. This disappointment is none other than the Los Angeles Angels. More specifically, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton. Pujols is batting 250 with 14 home runs. Numbers that are not terrible, but numbers that the Angels and Albert have to be extremely disappointed with. Even worse, Hamilton is hitting a whopping 227 with 12 home runs. Considering both Hamilton and Pujols have an MVP in the past four years, they have to be considered incredible disappointments. Now the Angels are 10 games back of the A’s, we will get them later, but the only reason for that is Mike Trout. He is having an exceptional season, and if the Angels have any chance, they will have to ride Trout and hope those “superstars” find their old selves. But right now, we can undoubtedly label them as one heck of a disappointment.

Let us transition into a more joyous topic. How about that team that has been surprising us for years. They are such a remarkable story that they even had a movie made about them! The Oakland A’s have yet again proved that “Moneyball” is no fluke. They are leading the AL West over the Rangers and have the second best record in the American League. Sure that alone is great, but let us throw in the fact that they contain the fifth lowest payroll in all of baseball. Sounds a tad familiar does it not? They are let at the plate by one man in particular. Josh Donaldson is not your average household name, but he should become one. He is a monumental all-star snub, with a 316 average, 58 RBI’s, and 15 home runs. Besides Donaldson, no averages jump out at you. You have to look one step further though at where Moneyball makes its money, and that is On Base Percentage. The OBP’s of the A’s are sky high as a result of their patience, discipline, and knowledge of the system they have to play through to have success. Of course, let us not forget about the one and only Bartolo Colon. The 40 year old pitcher has 12 wins and 2.69 ERA in what is quite possibly the greatest season of his elongated career. Not too shabby for the 265 pound 40 year old out of Altamira, Dominican Republic.

Now for the players that have single-handedly made the most significant contributions to their esteemed squads this year. My first guy has to be none other than Chris Davis. The way he has bursted onto the scene this year is something I cannot recall in my lifetime. Not only has the man blasted thirty-five bombs and 88 RBI’s, he is also hitting for a 313 average. He is simply doing it all. His power to all fields is something rarely seen the current era, but it is evident in Chris for sure. My second player is none other than Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera’s fantastic season is of no surprise after his Triple Crown season last year, but he certainly is not slowing down this year. If it was not for Davis’s remarkable year, Miguel would be in line for yet another Triple Crown. However, his numbers still leave me in awe with his 367 batting average, 30 home runs, and perhaps most astonishing, his 95 RBI’s. Miguel looks to be in line for that MVP, and if Chris slows down, dare I even mention the incredible feat of back to back Triple Crowns?

Picking a team to win the American League is a difficult task to say the least. The Red Sox, or rather any AL East team, would be a logical pick because of their multitude of offense, but their lack of consistent pitching greatly concerns me in a playoff series. The teams out West have the same deal I fear. The Athletics have a more solid pitching staff, but an inexperienced pitching staff nonetheless that is untested in high pressure situations. As a result, this leaves for me the Detroit Tigers. They have the highest quality lineup anchored by stars Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder in the middle of the order. Their pitching is also battle tested with arguably the best pitcher in the game in Justin Verlander, and 13-0 Max Scherzer. Followed by quality starters Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez, the Tigers have all the essentials to do what it takes to make it back to the World Series. But with all the incredible stories in the American League this year, will we get surprised again? - Ben Greer

NL Halfway Report

On March 31, baseball diamonds across the country, plus the magnificent city of Toronto of course, were brimming with excitement and prospect. 100 days later, as we near the unofficial halfway point of yet another year, it is time to take a gander at which teams’ hope was a waste, which players have underachieved, which teams are legitimate contenders down the stretch, and which players have the capability to finish the year with a season to remember in the National League.

Let us start with the teams that have left a deep, bitter pit in the heart and soul of every fan that sports their paraphernalia. Also known as how the Cubs fans have been feeling for roughly 104 years. Gotta love those curses right? I shall now resume this article as my struggles as I will have plenty of opportunities to do such for a long time I fear. In the National League this year, there is no one team that you would have thought would be a contender but does not have a legitimate shot at playoff birth. However, my first team that has underachieved to a certain extent has to be the Nationals. They may be four games over 500 and only four games back of the Braves for first, but going into the season, I think all Nats fans would agree with me when I say anything but first at this point would be disappointing. With what was a team who had the most likely preseason MVP and Cy Young candidates, to see both of them underachieve to their full potential is why the Nationals are not where they could be. But it certainly is not too late. My last underachiever is the Giants. Let’s face the facts, when you win the World Series, you have high expectations for the following year. The Giants do not look to be on pace to accomplish a feat similar to last year’s. Although in a division that remains up for grabs, a Giants team seven games under .500 is undoubtedly labeled as a disappointment.

Now let us talk about that surprise team. Then again, how surprised should we really be? The Pittsburgh Pirates are eighteen games over .500. They are .5 a game back in the NL Central and leading the NL Wild Card Race. Now I know what all you inquisitive ponderers are inquiring, “How in the world does a team with the fourth lowest payroll in the MLB have one of the best records?” The answer is simple: pitching. To go one step further, it is one of the best pitching coaches in the game, Ray Searage. He has taken pitchers who have had mediocre careers and squeezed every ounce of potential out of them. Take AJ Burnett and Francisco Liriano who are both having arguably the best seasons of their careers this year. Or how about Jeff Locke? Sure, he is very young and has not had a chance, but I can guarantee if he is anywhere but Pittsburgh he is not an all-star. They also have arguably the best closer in the game, in Jason Grilli (also an all-star). Let’s not forget the sparks in the lineup, Pedro Alvarez and Andrew McCutchen, who are all-stars as well. Welcome back my inquisitive comrades. “That team with the fourth lowest payroll has 4 all-stars? Not possible!” Oh it is possible. The Pirates do not buy talent. They draft it, mold it, and produce it. That is why PNC Park is home to one of the best stories in baseball this year. Let us hope it continues.

Although baseball is undoubtedly a team sport, the individual aspect is more evident than in other sports. Thats why our impact players halfway through the year are a monumental topic. My top impact player’s name may start with a Ya, but it is not the phenom Yasiel Puig. Instead, it is a veteran having the season of his life. Even though Yadier Molina happens to be hitting 346 with 45 RBI’s, his production at the plate is only half of why he is so impactful. The Cardinals have the best record in the National League thanks to their third best pitching staff in all of the MLB. The staff consists of young starters who are exceeding everyone’s expectations thanks to Yadi’s exceptional ability to handle a game behind the plate. He is carrying the team to yet another successful season. That is why he is my halfway point MVP.

My halfway Cy Young has to be the man everyone is talking about, Matt Harvey. It is simple. He is pitching on a team nothing short of abysmal, but yet he finds a way to win games. His stuff may be the best in all of baseball, he has a remarkable 2.35 ERA, and he in all likelihood will be starting the All-Star game in his own park. The way he has bursted onto the scene this year is Linecum-esk the year he won his first Cy Young. Matt Harvey is halfway there, and if he can continue to pitch the way he has, he is Cy Young bound without a doubt.

Anything can happen in half a baseball season. Maybe the Cubs can even turn their year around, and receive a playoff birth. Now that boys and girls is what we call a good old fashioned joke. You know who is MVP bound, you know who is Cy Young bound. However, the team that will win the NL is a little tougher. There is no team that is clear cut better than all the others. Much to my dismay, the team that has the best chance in my opinion has to be the Cardinals at this point. They have the best combination of pitching and hitting to succeed in the playoffs. They will barely edge out the Pirates in the Central and led by Yadier, go on to make yet another appearance in the World Series. - Ben Greer

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Why Yasiel Puig Should Have Been Elected to the 2013 All Star Game

 As the final votes for the 2013 All-Star game were collected it was announced that Atlanta Braves first basemen Freddie Freeman was the last man selected for the National League roster; not Yasiel Puig. Since Puig's arrival to the Major Leagues on June 3rd he has captivated the baseball world with his star power. At the time of his arrival, the Los Angeles Dodgers were a last place team struggling to get back in contention; looking to just stay afloat. Now they have jumped into second place and are sitting only 1.5 games behind the first place Arizona Diamondbacks. Though a stretch of this magnitude cannot be caused by only one player, the team's MVP is undoubtedly outfielder Yasiel Puig. His play has made him the next "big thing" in the MLB and one of the leagues biggest stars, meaning he should be playing in the All-Star game. Unfortunately the fans will miss one of the leagues newest, biggest stars in New York on Tuesday night.

 Though Puig's numbers in categories such as home runs and RBI may lag behing some other deserving players, his numbers in categories such as batting average and on base percentage are much higher than any other players. A batting average of .394 and an OBP of .428 are very impressive stats even if they only account for a touch over a month. Offense is not the only category where Puig excels, as he is also a fantastic defender and base runner. Puig tends to be overlooked on the defensive end because of his staggering offensive numbers, but his speed and arm strength result in him being one of the best fielding outfielders in the national league. On the base paths, Puig has stolen five bases with his speed, making him a true five tool player. Under normal circumstances, one month is not enough to constitute a player being in the All-Star game, but Puig does not involve normal circumstances. He has caught Major League Baseball by storm and has the numbers to back it up. His one month has been enough for him to become a villain in the NL West, and a player that would entertain the average fan at the All-Star game. 

 The Major League Baseball All-Star game contains a format different from any of the other major sports as the winning league obtains home field advantage for the World Series; making this an important game for all contending teams. If you are a fan of a team that is still in contention, you want your team's league to win a little bit more than you would like too. Therefore, you want the most talented players out there competing for your league and in a way your team. Over the last month, Yasiel Puig has proven himself to be one of the most talented players in the MLB and easily one of the 30 most talented in the National League. The man chosen instead of him, Freddie Freeman, is having a nice season but cannot impact the game in as many ways as Puig. In a game where no one plays a full nine innings, having the ability to impact the game with hitting, defensive, and speed can be a major factor, all tools that Puig possesses. Without Puig, the MLB will not only be missing one of its biggest stars, but also one of its most talented and intriguing players. - Connor Jones

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

How the Shipped was Righted

One of the best teams in Major League Baseball for the first half of the 2013 season has been the Pittsburgh Pirates. That’s right, the 53 win 35 loss Pittsburgh Pirates have one of the best records in baseball, currently a half game back of the Saint Louis Cardinals. If you looked at this young Pirates roster, you would be wondering how they are 19 games over .500 with the All-Star game right around the corner. The answer lies in their pitching. With a league best 3.15 ERA, league high 12 shutouts, and with opposing hitters batting .227 against them, this Pirates pitching staff has done an incredible job thus far. 
Veterans A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, and Wandy Rodriguez (who is currently on the Disabled List) have lead this pitching staff along with the young talents of Jeff Locke, Charlie Morton, and Gerrit Cole (who made his Major League debut on June 11th). Out of those starting pitchers, the worst ERA is 3.94, the highest opponent’s batting average is .296, and the worst WHIP is 1.33. The best ERA is 2.12, the lowest opponent’s batting average is .204, and the best WHIP is 1.12. What I take away from those numbers is that the Pirates starting pitching has been pretty darn good for the first half of the season. 
Now we move on to the best bullpen in Major League baseball anchored by closer Jason Grilli. Grilli leads all closers in the National League with 28 saves (going 28 for 29 in Save Opportunities), and he has 60 strikeouts in 37.2 innings pitched. Although Grilli has been fantastic, so has the rest of the Pirates bullpen. Mark Melancon, Tony Watson, Justin Wilson, Bryan Morris, and Jeanmar Gomez have been lights out, leaving Grilli to close games out. The following stats are truly spectacular: the worst ERA in the Pirates bullpen is 3.48, the highest opponent’s batting average is .219, and the worst WHIP is 1.14! Now, stats in the bullpen can be deceptive based on how many innings the pitchers pitch, but still, these are fantastic numbers, considering they are the worst numbers the Pirates’ bullpen has put up. The fact that opposing hitters are hitting AT BEST .219 when the Pirates bullpen is in the game is absolutely remarkable! I have only mentioned the worst stats of the Pirates bullpen; now let’s move onto the best stats. The best ERA in the Pirates bullpen is 0.85, the lowest opponent’s batting average is .176, and the best WHIP is 0.80. This bullpen is the reason why the Pirates are where they are right now. 

I haven’t mentioned the hitting for the Pirates yet, mainly because it has not been that good. Then again, Pirates’ hitters have not had to be that good because of the Pirates’ pitching staff. Pirates’ hitters are 24th in Major League Baseball in runs scored with 341, 23rd in batting average with a team AVG of .243, and in 22nd in on base percentage with a team OBP of .310. For a team in the position that the Pirates are in, those stats are not going to get it done. But, if those stats are not going to get it, then how have the Pirates been scoring runs? They have been executing the little things well. The Pirates have 63 stolen bases this year, complemented by a 73% success rate when stealing. They also have 32 sacrifice hits and 12 sacrifice flies, which means that their hitters are moving runners over and executing with runners in scoring position. When you have players who can steal bases and move runners over, you have the ability as a team to execute the hit-and-run or bunt-and-run.
The Pittsburgh Pirates in my eyes are an average playing extremely well. There is no doubt that their success is well-deserved, but if the hitting continues to be below average for the remainder of the season, their record will start to drop. I do not think that it will drop to the point where they will finish below .500 (19 games over .500 is hard to choke away, but still possible), but they could finish around the 85 win mark, slightly above .500. The bottom line is, Pittsburgh fans should be ecstatic that their Pirates will mostly likely finish .500 or above for the first time in two decades. – Addison Hunsicker

Monday, July 8, 2013

Not Yet An All-Star

Ever since the Miami Heat repeated as NBA Champions and the Chicago Blackhawks fended off the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, sports has returned to the dog days of summer. Fans are left with baseball for their daily entertainment, and only that, for the common fan in this country. Controversy in sports hits an annual low at about this time, but one man has brought it back; he has been the talk of Sports, and thus, fans everywhere. That man is an outfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers, is hitting .407, and debuted on June 3rd. His name is Yasiel Puig, and he should not be playing for the National League in the 2013 All-Star Game at Citi Field on July 16th.
Major League Baseball has a very intriguing and debatable system for choosing the American and National League representatives for their All Star Games. For the most part, it isn’t up to NL manager Bruce Bochy (San Francisco) or AL Manager Jim Leyland (Detroit) to decide, the “All-Stars” are chosen by you, the fans. In my opinion, MLB’s ASG system is heavily flawed, however it is impossible for a system, such as this, to not be. There will always be “snubs.” There will always be players who, quite frankly, shouldn’t be playing. It does not matter who decides, there will be flaws. A general consensus between the players and managers of baseball has been made for a long, long time: The ASG is decided by how popular you are, not necessarily how deserving you are. Chris Davis (1B, Baltimore), for example, is absolutely on a tear - hitting .320 with 33 homers and 85 RBI’s, in early July. He’s popular because he is deserving. On the other hand, a player such as Josh Donaldson (3B, Oakland), who is hitting .319 with 15 HR’s and 57 RBI’s and clearly having an All-Star caliber season, was snubbed. Donaldson was snubbed primarily due to the fact that the third basemen in the American League are stacked, however he does play in Oakland, who, despite holding the second-best record in the AL, is a very small market with very little exposure on the national stage. It’s important to go over the All-Star selection system before talking Puig, a system that has been judged heavily recently, and rightfully so.
The main argument is that Yasiel Puig simply lacks the numbers that the National League All-Stars have. Granted, that is due to the fact that Puig only played a month, but it doesn’t matter how long you played if you don’t have the numbers. If Puig was selected to the ASG, no player on the NL side would have less home runs and RBI’s than him. Let that sink in for a second … Yasiel Puig would not have better numbers than anyone on the National League roster. Yes, he is hitting .407, but if you compare his 123 at-bats to Carlos Gonzalez’s (OF, Colorado) 333 AB’s, that .407 average is going to decrease dramatically as his season progresses, because less at-bats cause an average to fluctuate than players with more at-bats. Anyway, this argument is easy to grasp - Puig just doesn’t have the numbers to be an all-star at the time. It doesn’t matter that he only played a month - as a matter of fact, games played means nothing. Home Runs, Runs Batted In, and a consistent average, do, and Puig lacks that.
It’s hard to tell if Puig will become one of baseball’s greatest stars or not. Give me a break, the man started playing on June 3rd. By the time October comes around, the world of baseball will have a better idea where he stands. However, the All-Star game isn’t in October, it’s on July 16th. There’s something called a “Final Vote,” where fans can select one player from both the NL and AL to earn “All-Star Status.” There really is no question whether or not Puig will win the final vote, because he will. Fans love young players who start their careers with a bang, and as much as I don’t like Puig as an all-star, he really has begun with a bang. That being said, you can’t throw out All-Star selections like it’s free money, especially to a player that has shown such a small sample size. Remember, the fans decide. Whatever happens, happens, but if Yasiel Puig is chosen as a 2013 All-Star, Major League Baseball’s ASG credibility will take yet another hit.-Teddy Bailey

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Wimbledon Final Preview

The Men’s Wimbledon Final in 2013 features world #1 Novak Djokovic and world #2 Andy Murray. The match can be seen on ESPN, Sunday July 7th, at 9am eastern time.



Novak Djokovic is the #1 player in the world, and has already won 6 grand slam titles, including a victory at Wimbledon. This year, he flew threw is first 5 matches before truly being tested against Juan Martin Del Potro in the semifinals. Coming in, I thought Del Potro might steal a set, but I never thought he would win the match. I was wrong. Del Potro came out hitting forehands near 100mph when given the opportunity. He challenged the Djoker, and definitely had him rattled. The match, which went 5 sets, was an epic battle between two greats that was really enjoyable to watch. Djokovic survived, but was physically, mentally, and emotionally drained. I expect him to recover, which he has done before, but there is always the possibility he may wear down if the match goes late in the fifth set.


Andy Murray is #2 in the world. He has 1 grand slam title in his career, at the 2012 US Open.  Being from Scotland, this is the major he desperately wants to win. Murray has shown his ability to beat Djokovic, beating him at the US Open final last year. Additionally, he has been in a Wimbledon final as well. He suffered a crushing defeat against Roger Federer, where he showed a lot of emotion and disappointment in his post game speech. The pressure is on him to become the first player from Britain to win Wimbledon since 1936. He breezed through his first 4 matches, before Fernando Verdasco forced him 5 sets in the quarterfinals. He recovered very well against PoleJerzy Janowicz in the semis, after dropping the 1st set, winning in 4.



This match, like their previous encounters, will be exciting, long, and close. I think Murray, having to play much less time on court in the semis, will have a slight advantage in energy. However, Novak is a warrior. He will win this match if he serves the way he did against Del Potro, hitting 17 aces. Murray needs to hit consistent forehands and backhands, causing Novak to run all over the court. If Murray keeps Djokovic on the run, I like his chances. The MOST important element in this match will be serving. Murray and Djokovic are the two best returners in the world, and holding serve will be crucial.

Intangibles: The crowd will be in favor of Murray, but I give the edge to Djokovic in intangibles, having won Wimbledon before and beating Murray in the Aussie Open final. He also has less pressure.

Serve: Edge to Djokovic here. He wouldn’t be in the final if he didn’t serve so brilliantly vs Del Potro. Murray is serving well, but Djoker is serving very well.

Return: Edge to Murray here. Djokovic is the best returner in the world, but Murray is #2. He is longer than Novak, and he contained big servers such as JerzyJanowicz and Fernando Verdasco, while Djokovic struggled with Del Potro. Murray has been just as good in this tournament as Novak.

GroundstrokesEdge on the backhand to Murray and forehand to Djokovic. Djokovic couldn’t buy a backhand against Delpo. Murray was huge with his in his last few matches. On the forehand side, Murray has been inconsistent, while Novak has consistently pounded opponents from the forehand wing.


Overall: This match has the potential to go over 4 hours. I think it will be about 4 ½ hours, over 5 sets. Taking home the trophy will be Novak Djokovic, as Andy Murray will lose in the final again. Djokovic will lose the first set 6-4, win the second 7-5. Novak wins the third in a tiebreaker 7-6, loses the 4th 3-6, and wins the match in the 5th set 8-6. This is a match that could go either way, and should be a grand slam final to remember.-Anythony Dabbundo 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

NBA Free Agency Podcast

Josh Neighbors and Suns Talk Radio's Zach Parnes discuss the latest in NBA Free Agency.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Sent Packing

As the second week of The Championships, Wimbledon begin, both the men’s and women’s draw has opened up due to huge upsets. The upsets began last Monday afternoon, Day 1. Rafael Nadal lost in straight sets to Belgian Steve Darcis, and unranked Monica Puig took out Sara Errani (Number 5 woman). The upsets continued throughout the week with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, John Isner, Victoria Azarenka, and Marin Cilic all retiring their matches due to injury. Additionally, the week’s most shocking upset, Roger Federer lost to Sergiy Stakhovsky in four sets. These upsets left everyone wondering what was happening at Wimbledon. 
An analysis of the upsets and injuries 

Rafael Nadal vs Steve Darcis
Nadal played 0 warm-up tournaments on grass and looked sluggish on the court. Darcis was the better player and was all over the court, surprising Nadal, who was expecting to win easily. Once Darcis won the first set, the crowd was behind him, aiding him to the huge upset. Nadal played really sloppy tennis, spraying his ground strokes all over the place. Steve Darcis thumped forehands, hitting 52 winners to just 24 unforced errors. In addition to thumping winners, Darcis won the key points, especially in the first two set tie breaks; after it looked Rafa was starting to find form. Darcis never let Nadal back into the match. 
Sergiy Stakhovsky vs Roger Federer
Roger Federer had made 36 straight major quarterfinals, but lost in 4 sets to Ukrainian Sergiy Stakhovsky. Stakhovsky came into the match with an excellent game plan. He did whatever it took to hold his serve every time Roger pressed him. He was only broken 1 time in 24 service games, striking 17 aces. He came out with a classic grass court approach: The serve and volley. He surprised Roger, with incredible volleying and presence at the net. He did not let the pressure packed tiebreaks get to him, by continuing his incredible shot making. He continued to play his style, even after dropping the first set. Roger didn’t play poorly, Stakhovsky played brilliantly. He hit 72 winners and had just 17 unforced errors. In the end, Sergiy was the better player on that day.
All of the Injuries
What do John Isner, Victoria Azarenka, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Marin Cilic, and Steve Darcis have in common? They all had to withdraw from Wimbledon due to injury. John Isner came down awkwardly after a serve in the first game of his match, and could barely walk. Victoria Azarenka fell on the grass in warm-ups, and withdrew. Also, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga injured his knee on a fall in his match, had to retire down 2 sets to 1. Darcis fell on his shoulder vs Nadal, and could not play his next match either. With all of these injuries, Wimbledon faces a problem. Why do players struggle to keep their footing on the grass surfaces? The problem is the new grass, which is fresh at the start of the tournament, is too slick for the players, who make all types of cuts and turns. The solution would be to start the tournament with some wear and tear on the grass, to prevent injury and increase the quality of Wimbledon. Additionally, there needs to be more time between the French Open and Wimbledon. 2 weeks is not enough time to transition from clay to grass and prepare for another major. I think 2 more weeks should be inserted, adding another optional tournament as well. The players need time to rest.
This Wimbledon has had incredible drama through one week. The underdogs have met the challenge of facing the tennis giants, and have not shied away from the spotlight. They came in with an excellent game plan and executed it. As for the injuries, look for the All England Lawn and Tennis Club to change the grass to be more worn at the beginning of the tournament to have safer, better tennis.-Anthony Dubbundo