Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Mid-Season Awards

We're just about to the true mid-season of the MLB with each team around 80 or so games. The All-Star break is just two weeks away, so it's finally time for our mid-season awards.

AL MVP:  1B Adrian Gonzalez, Boston Red Sox 

Not even a question about this one. The newly acquired Adrian Gonzalez is the heart and soul of the best lineup in baseball. Gonzalez has driven in a ridiculous 71 runs already, to go along with his .361 batting average. He leads the MLB in hits as well, with 114.

Honorable Mentions: Curtis Granderson, Paul Konerko, Jose Bautista, Miguel Cabrera

AL Cy Young:  SP Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

Every single time he takes the mound, there's a no-hitter alert. I'd have my money on him to be the next pitcher to pitch a no-hitter or even strikeout 20 in a game. Verlander has been lights out so far this year. 10-3 with a 2.38 ERA and 124 K's. He's won his last 6 starts and it seems as if he is getting better every fifth day.

Honorable Mentions: Jered Weaver, James Shields, Josh Beckett, Michael Pineda

AL Rookie of the Year: SP Michael Pineda, Seattle Mariners

Any Rookie that garners Cy Young consideration is a lock for the ROY. He's been dominant this season, but his innings will be cut drastically in the second half in order to protect his arm. The Mariners did a great job in limiting Felix Hernandez when he was younger, so expect the same treatment for Pineda.

Honorable Mentions: Zach Britton, Jeremy Hellickson, Mark Trumbo

NL MVP: 1B Prince Fielder, Milwaukee Brewers

Prince is having his career year on his walk year, not surprisingly. Fielder's hit 21 bombs and has 68 RBI's already. He's batting over .300, something he's never done in his career. Prince will likely be suiting up elsewhere next season, but the Brewers are going to make one last run at a title with Prince at first base.

Honorable Mentions: Jose Reyes, Matt Kemp, Joey Votto, Ryan Braun

NL Cy Young: Jair Jurrjens, Atlanta Braves

I know many will be wondering why I picked Jurrjens over Roy Halladay, and all I can say is: look at the stats. Yes Halladay has more complete games and strikeouts, but Jurrjens has a better ERA and the same amount of wins, in less starts. Jair gets a ton of movement on his pitches and some may argue he is currently the best pitcher on the best pitching staff in baseball. Halladay is very deserving of this award too, and he is more likely to continue his performance than Jurrjens.

Honorable Mentions: Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Tommy Hanson, Clayton Kershaw

NL Rookie of the Year: Craig Kimbrell, Atlanta Braves

Kimbrell has converted 21 saves in 26 chances as a rookie, which is very impressive. He has struck out 61 batters in 39 innings, good for a 14 K/9 rate. The NL ROY race is one with many contestants, as there are four or five players that could be in the discussion. The NL has a lot of young players contributing heavily to their respective teams.

Honorable Mentions: Dillon Gee, Danny Espinosa, Freddie Freeman, Darwin Barney, Justin Turner

I would include the AL/NL Managers of the Year, but it is way too early to see if some of the managers can keep their teams in contention. But here are a few to keep in mind: Clint Hurdle, Kirk Gibson, Joe Maddon

Monday, June 27, 2011

Andre Igoudala's Top 5 Suitors

Igoudala isn't a superstar. He isn't a dynamic scorer. Still, Igoudala is the best player on his team. If put in the right scenario, he would become a valuable asset to a championship caliber team. He is a skilled passer and rebounder, not to mention a lock-down defender. He stands at 6'6 just under 210 pounds and combines that with unbelievable athleticism. Igoudala has been involved with many trade rumors in the past few weeks and he is probably going to be moved this off season, even with the lockout looming. He has a massive contract, but there a couple of teams that can pick it up. Here are what I consider to be the five teams that could most utilize him.

1. Los Angeles Clippers

Igoudala is definitely a fit for the Clippers. He would fit perfectly into the starting lineup to create a dynamic third punch after Eric Gordon and Blake Griffin. That starting five is actually respectable and young: with Mo Willliams and DeAndre Jordan filling out the rest of the five. In any deal to the Clippers, the 76ers would get Chris Kaman in return, but he becomes expendable due to his injury history and the emergence of Jordan. With Randy Foye and Jomario Moon coming off the bench, this team could certainly make the playoffs.

2. Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers need to shake up their roster and they desperately need to get younger. Lamar Odom has been playing well in the past few years, but they do need someone new. Trading Odom for Iggy would help the Lakers tremendously by giving them a transition scorer. He would not mind taking a back seat to Kobe Bryant and it would allow Bryant to play with the ball more. Odom is a great player, who contributes in so many departments; however, after getting swept by the Mavericks in the second round of the playoffs, the Lakers could really use some change.

3. Phoenix Suns

The Suns still run a high paced offense and adding a transition scorer such as Igoudala could do wonders for this team. He would also add some much needed defensive help to a team that doesn't play much of it.  It seems as if any deal would include Marcin Gortat, but Aaron Brooks could also be on the move in any trade. This is a far-fetched idea, but the Suns would be much better with Iggy instead of Vince Carter.

4. Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets have gone under a complete transformation after trading Carmelo Anthony to the Knicks, but they have a ton of good pieces. Adding Igoudala would make them an instant contender because of their depth. I assume the trade offer would probably by Wilson Chander and Al Harrington, with a draft pick involved. Igoudala could fit in as the starting SG with Aaron Afflalo coming off the bench. The Nuggets then would have a deep bench and could easily make a push for a top 4 seed even in the West.

5. Cleveland Cavaliers

I don't know how this trade would work, but I assume Ramon Sessions would be on the move. Iggy would provide some great leadership for a very young team. Kyrie Irving will need some help carrying the scoring load and there's no better way then having Igoudala there to help him. Having Iggy would allow Kyrie to play off the ball sometimes, which would make him very effective. Igoudala would also help stablilize this team, because there aren't many good defenders on the team. J.J. Hickson is a good  player in the paint, but there aren't any dual threats other than him on the team.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Designated Hitter: An AL Fan's Perspective

Taking a look at the stats, the American League is a better, more talented league than the National League. Since Interleague Play's inception in 1997, the National League has only bested the American League four times in overall record when the two leagues face off, with the American League leading the National League by nearly 175 games in the all-time record. The American League has won 11 out of the last 13 All Star games, with one being a tie. National League fans can talk about "strategy" and "tradition" all they want, but better talent on the field means a better product on the diamond. The DH has not only made the American League a better league, but it has made it a more exciting one as well.

The stats just keep coming to back up the case of the American League as a better league. My counterpart who wrote the article on the case against the DH cited a stat that stated the American League and the National League have split the last 10 World Series. This is true. But going back to 1973, when the DH rule was instituted in the AL, the American League has won 21 out of 37 World Series. This seems to be the much more relevant and telling stat. With this statistic factored in, the American League is clearly superior and more talented in every head to head category.

The designated hitter makes lineups more potent. 99 times out of 100, a team's designated hitter will be a better hitter than their pitcher. Replacing the pitcher in the lineup replaces an easy out. It makes me sick to see a NL pitcher get an easy out every few innings because the opposing pitcher is up to bat.

I hope you are not sick of the stats by now, but I have to throw a few more out there. The American League has had a higher batting average than the National League every year since 1973, the year of the switch. The runs scored per game, though, are only slightly higher in the American League, with a recent year's ERA comparison being 4.35 for the AL and 4.22 for the NL. So, the AL scores barely over a tenth of a run more per game than the NL, far from the hypothetical 10-8 game that my colleague set out in his article. These stats suggest that the AL clearly has the better hitters. They also suggest that American League pitchers are as good or better than their NL counterparts, since they hold more potent lineups to nearly the same amount of runs.

The designated hitter has vaulted the American League to the top of major league baseball. Head to head, the AL is simply the more talented, superior league. Since 1973 the American League has been putting a better product on the field. Attendance figures can be misleading, but the numbers do not lie: baseball is better because of the designated hitter.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Designated Hitter: the NL Fan Perspective

Let's put it out there: I completely hate the idea of the designated hitter. Why should a player be allowed to play only one side of the game? If a player is only good at hitting, he can make it in the league; however, a player that is an exceptional fielder doesn't have the same advantage. How can a player that is literally on the field sporadically for three to five minute spurts a few times a day, be able to decide the result of the game. As a fan of the National League, I have one basic argument: If you hit, you must play in the field. Additionally if a pitcher does not have to bat, then he shouldn't be allowed to field.  You can do neither or you can do both, not one or the other.

There is so much to like about the National League's style of baseball, because it simply involves more strategy. Rarely do you see pinch hitters in the American League, because there are nine hitters already in the lineup. In the NL, it is almost guaranteed that somebody on your bench will come in and hit for the pitcher every single night. Also, NL coaches will have to pinch hit for their pitchers if they are losing late in the game, despite the pitcher's dominance and efficiency.

Why don't we put this into a possible situation.  Imagine you are Charlie Manuel, manager of the Philadelphia Phillies.  You're losing 1-0 and you have Roy Halladay on the mound. It's the bottom of the seventh inning and it's 1st and 3rd with nobody out with Halladay stepping up to the plate. Halladay has thrown only 89 pitches and his only mistake came back in the third inning when he gave up a homerun, but other that he's been lights out. Ryan Madson, your closer has been used three of the last four days and you want to avoid using him again today. These are your options:

1. Pinch hit for Halladay with a cold bat on the bench and hope that you can tie or take the lead, setting up the bullpen to close out the game.

2. Keep Halladay in, because he can handle the bat well and hope that he can get the runner over and/or bring in the run from third.

If playing in the American League with a Designated Hitter, you'd probably have Carlos Ruiz or Ben Francisco batting in that situation. That would make life easy and you wouldn't have to do anything. This is exactly what makes the National League more exciting. Strategy is such an important part of the game and the manager must make so many tough decisions, especially late in games. The best case scenario in this situation would be to keep Halladay in and hope that he scores that tying run. In the AL, if you don't score in that situation, it doesn't affect your decision on who's pitching the next inning.

Proponents of the DH argue that baseball is simply more exciting when there is more scoring and better offense; however, I would much rather watch a 4-3 game than a 10-8 game. There's nothing better than a well-pitched game, countered by systematic hitting and bunting. Having the pitcher in the lineup makes it harder to score runs, which is what it should be like. If you want a high-scoring game, go watch replays of the steroid era.

Despite all that, I still don't mind that the AL uses the DH; however, I do have a problem when the AL tells the NL that they need to switch. Take a look at this quote from Hank Steinbrenner in the New York Post in 2008, following Wang's injury while running the basepaths.

"It's time the National League joins the 21st century," Steinbrenner told The Post, "or is forced to join. The National League is playing the same way it did in the 1880s. That's over with. The National League should have the designated hitter. There's no question the National League should have it.
What? Are you serious? If you have such a problem with the lack of a DH in the NL, then argue with the MLB to remove interleague play, don't make a ridiculous statement like that. Injuries are a part of the game and if it happens while running on the basepaths, then so be it. This is what makes us fans of the NL hate the AL even more. Yes they probably boast better talent and teams, but still they think they are always better. They've won a ridiculous amount of all-star games, but still in the past ten years the World Series have been split 50% between the AL and NL. 

Again, I have no problem with the AL using the DH, as long as I can watch some real baseball in the NL. The AL can play with 13 players on the field for all I care, but leave us alone.  Focus on your problems of getting fans in the stadium, because NL stadiums average almost 3,000 more fans per game. The NL doesn't need change, cause frankly, we're doing just fine.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Why the Cavs have to take Irving

The NBA Draft is just 72 hours away and we might be in for a crazy ride. Many experts regard this draft class as one of the weakest in recent history; however, there are a few can't miss names on the list. Kyrie Irving, Derrick Williams, Brandon Knight, and Enes Kanter have become the consensus top 4 picks of the draft.  Reports state that the Cavaliers, who own the first overall selection, will take Kyrie Irving on Thursday night. They also have their eyes on the other three players I listed above, because they have the fourth pick as well. This draft will be highly entertaining just because of the potential lockout on July 1st.  There will be tons of trades and a couple of veterans might be packing their bags soon. 

Kyrie Irving isn't the easy #1 selection like Lebron James, Derrick Rose, or Blake Griffin, but he's the only selection that makes sense for the Cavaliers. The Cavs already have Baron Davis and Ramon Sessions at Point Guard, so it isn't a glaring hole; however, neither looks to be the answer at PG anymore. Davis is well past his prime and would be a solid backup and veteran presence in the locker room. Sessions is likely to be traded if Irving is in fact selected. 

Point Guard has become the most vital position in the NBA over the past couple of seasons. Yes, all five should be equally as important, but taking a look at the top teams in the NBA, all have strong play from their point guards. You may be quick to point out that the Lakers and Heat don't have quality point guards, but Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, Kobe Bryant, and Lamar Odom often bring the ball up and run the offense. The NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks have two quality point guards in Jason Kidd and J.J. Barea, while the 2011 NBA MVP was Derrick Rose, the Bulls PG.

The Cavaliers simply don't have that type of player that can run the offense efficiently. There is no doubt that the Cavaliers have a hole at pretty much every position, but taking a player such as Kyrie Irving would do wonders for the franchise. Irving possesses offensive talents that draw comparisons to Derrick Rose, John Wall, and Chris Paul. He drives to the hoop so well and is tough enough to finish around the hoop. He isn't nearly as big as Rose is, but Irving is a much better shooter than both Rose and Wall. Irving has all the fundamental skills and physical tools to become an elite point guard in the NBA. I don't think he will be better than Rose, Wall, or Paul, but if the Cavs give him the reigns of the franchise, he will be a future all-star. 

Brandon Knight looks to be a star-in-the-making as well, but Irving showed flashes of brilliance with Duke that Knight simply hasn't. Irving is an exceptional court reader and has speed that will make him a dominant fast break player. Irving is as close to a "can't miss" player in the 2011 draft and I think that the Cavaliers will finally get past the Lebron James hangover by selecting Irving first overall.

Worst Contract in Baseball in 2011

Alex Rodriguez will be paid a total of $32.0 million from the New York Yankees this season.  That number is 854 times the median income level in New York City; however, A-Rod, one of baseball's greatest players, still does not own the worst contract in the MLB.  A-Rod actually still produces at a high level and is having a good year (.289/.372/.506).  His WAR (wins above replacement) is on pace to be 5.3 for 2011, which is solid. 

So who could it be? Who is projected to hurt his team not only in the wallet, but also on the field? SweetSpot Blog of ESPN ran a study of the top 25 paid players in the MLB this season to determine if MLB teams are getting the same amount of value for their high-paid stars compared to 1985.  The answer was clear: MLB players get more money for less value nowadays.  Of the 25 highest paid players, 5 have negative WARs.

My favorite team, the New York Mets, are paying a combined $59 million to three players (Santana, Beltran, Bay).  Johan Santana has yet to play this season, as he is recovering froms shoulder surgery.  Jason Bay has played poorly and his WAR stands at 0.0.  Of the three, only Carlos Beltran is providing any value to his contract, with a 2011 projected WAR of 5.1.  The sad story of the New York Mets continues.

The five players with negative WAR's are: Vernon Wells, John Lackey, Joe Mauer, Torii Hunter, and Barry Zito. So we narrow the list to five player, but there are a couple we can easily shave off. Mauer has been hurt much of the season and was signed to a long-term deal just last year, so it is too soon to evaluate the contract. 

Zito was given a monstrous seven year-$126 million deal with the Giants in 2007.  In the five seasons he has a record of 40-58, hardly worth $18 million a year. Still in 2007 and 2008, Zito was a part of some pretty bad baseball teams and he did stay healthy in the first four years of his contract, throwing over 750 innings.  His contract is terrible, but not exactly the worst considering he does provide some value.

Torii Hunter is having a down season in his fourth year with LAA, but his first three years were definitely productive.  He provides great outfield defense and a run producing bat. His talent may be declining, but he is still not in consideration for baseball's worst contract.

The final showdown: Wells vs. Lackey.

Since being extended in 2008, Vernon Wells has hit 73 homeruns in a little less than 3.5 seasons.  That number is average at most for Wells, as that averages out to about 20-23 homeruns per season.  He is hitting .267 since 2008, which for a power hitter is okay.  Wells does not strikeout much, which is a unique characteristic for an RBI producer such as himself; however, so far this year he has 20 RBIs and just 9 BBs. He is hitting .202 with a .241 OBP.  Those numbers are just flat out awful.  His career may be at a turning point right now and if he doesn't bounce back, his contract will go down as one of the worst ever.

John Lackey signed a 5 year deal worth around $82.5 million with the Boston Red Sox before the 2010 season.  Since then he is 19-16, which isn't too bad.  However, you have to take the team he's playing for into consideration.  The Red Sox score a lot of runs every night and Lackey's record is definitely inflated.  Last year, he started 33 games and had an ERA of 4.40, good for a 14-11 record.  Lackey had a run support average of over 7, meaning the Red Sox would average 7 runs per Lackey's nine innings pitched. So his 4.40 ERA did wonders last year, despite being completely mediocre.  This year, Lackey has started 10 games and has gone 5-5.  His ERA is at 7.02 and at 32 years old, all of his stats suggest a diminished pitching repertoire. 

So out of the two, who is worse?  Wells will make $26.2 million just this year, while Lackey will bring in just under $16 million.  Lackey's contract is just a year and a half in, so he has time to catch up.  Therefore, Vernon Wells wins the coveted Worst Contract in Baseball Award. He better not get to comfortable though, cause John Lackey is pushing Wells to the brink. 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Kemba - Bust or Star?

I want to root against Kemba Walker, but I simply can't.  He picked up apart my beloved Villanova Wildcats time and time again, but I have the ultimate respect for Kemba. Walker embodied the leadership role during Connecticut's run to the National Championship. Kemba showed the type of progression that you love to see in a budding star, as he went from averaging 9 points during his freshman year, to 14.6 during his sophomore year, and finally 23.5 during his junior year. His talent is undeniable and he has shown that he won't crumble late in games.  He hit so many "clutch" shots to win games this year, but that's not even why I love watching him play.  He is one of the most well-rounded guards we have seen in college basketball in the past decade or so.  He isn't a great defender, but his effort makes him effective. Standing at 6'1, Kemba isn't exactly a big body, but he's a solid rebounder. He uses his smarts to grab boards and when he gets the ball, he turns around and uses his blazing speed to start a one man fast break. 

Kemba is not afraid to defer to teammates when necessary, shown by his 5 assists per game last year; however, he is always ready to take the game over when the team calls his name. With the game on the line, he will create his own shot and more often than not, he will convert.  For example, in the Big East tournament against Pittsburgh, Walker was just 7-21 from the field when he hit the game winner as time expired. When I saw that play, I thought I was watching a video game.  With Pitt's big man, McGhee, covering him, Kemba executed a perfect crossover, fake drive, step back jumper. To do that in a game where he struggled to hit anything shows a lot about his character.  He's confident in his ability to score and his teammates wouldn't want anybody else in the country taking that shot. 

So how will he fare in the NBA? I'm no expert, but I believe that Kemba's got the heart, dedication, and talent to succeed as a professional.  Walker plays the game the right way and if he is drafted into a good system, he will be an all-star down the road.  He is way too small to play the 2, but he has the handles and quickness to run the point. His rookie year might be a roller coaster, but with many experts predicting him landing in Sacramento or Detroit, he will be able to play through his struggles. 

I see Detroit as the perfect team for Kemba, because they have the scorers necessary for him to become a valuable point guard. It would be a nightmare for a rookie to have to carry the scoring load, so Kemba will be able to use his vision on the floor to create opportunities for others. He very well might be too undersized to succeed, but you rarely see someone that dominant and complete fail at the next level. He won't take the league by storm right away, but I still think he has the abillity to run an offense at the professional level.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

MLB Top 10

After tonight's Game 7 between the Canucks and Bruins, the sports world will be left with solely the MLB for the summer. The season so far has been exciting, with two no-hitters, many 3 homerun games, and surprises all over the league.  The Red Sox and Rays both started the season terribly, but have since bounced back in to the teams everyone thought they would be.  The Yankees are the Yankees, hanging around the top of the standings.  The AL Central doesn't make sense, with the Twins still in last place with a 26-39 record.  The upstart Indians, who were once 15 games over .500, are now 35-30.  Over in the NL, the Central is filled with possible contenders, as the Brewers, Cardinals, Reds and Pirates are all .500 or better. Yes, I said the Pirates. The Phillies can't hit, but they're pitching has given them a 41-26 record so far.  Out West, the defending champion San Francisco Giants are 9 games over .500 despite being outscored this season. 

So here are my June 15 Top 10:

1. Phillies (41-26) - The rotation and bullpen are lights out and they own the 2nd best ERA in baseball.  With Howard batting only .249 they have still managed to score enough runs.  Only a matter of time before things start clicking for the slugger.

2. Red Sox (39-27) - The best offense in the MLB is covering for a sub-par pitching rotation. Adrian Gonzalez continues to rip the cover off the ball, as he's an early MVP candidate.

3. Yankees (37-28) - Curtis Granderson is taking advantage of the short fence in left field and has socked 21 homeruns in just 252 at bats, good for a homerun in ever 12 at bats. 

4. Brewers (38-30) - Braun and Fielder are both off to great starts, but the rotation is the reason why this team is a legitimate contender. Greinke, Gallardo, Marcum, Wolf, and Narveson make up a solid 1-5 rotation.

5. Cardinals (38-30) - Albert Pujols is heating up and is ready to carry this injured lineup.  Pujols amazingly has struck out only 25 times this season and has already stolen 5 bases.

6. Giants (38-29) - Lincecum is not himself, Buster Posey is out for the season, and the Giants are 29th in the league in runs; yet, they are still in first place. They won a championship by doing just enough to win and they have continued it through this season.

7.  Tigers (37-30) - Miguel Cabrera is making his case as an MVP candidate, while his teammate Justin Verlander is putting together a Cy Young season.  The Tigers look like the most-complete team in the Central right now.

8. Indians (35-30) - Pitching got them to a 30-15 record, but they have cooled off considerably.  Fausto Carmona may be packing his bags soon, as he's sporting a 5.71 ERA through 86.2 innings.

9. Rangers (36-32) - The 1-2 punch of Wilson and Ogando has led this pitching rotation to a solid start.  With the lineup they send out every night, as long as they pitch well, the Rangers will win.

10. Braves (38-30) - The Braves have got the injury bug this season, but they've been able to remain afloat with the best ERA in baseball.  When they get Heyward back this week, he will provide the push to get them to division contention. 

Monday, June 13, 2011

Congratulations to the Dallas Mavericks

Throughout this season, many people have focused on the Heat, giving them an enormous amount of media coverage. So for once, let's stop bashing the Heat and give credit to the NBA Champions. The Dallas Mavericks put together a roster in the off-season with a bunch of hungry veterans.  Nobody on that team had won an NBA title before this season, despite having two Hall of Famers in the starting lineup.  In the past couple of seasons, they've added players like Tyson Chandler, Peja Stojakovic, Brendan Haywood, Shawn Marion, Deshawn Stevenson, and Caron Butler in hopes to make a title run with an aging superstar in Dirk Nowitzki. 

Nobody thought the Dallas Mavericks would win a title in the preseason, let alone the beginning of the playoffs.  After they blew a big lead to the Portland Trail Blazers and Brandon Roy in the First Round of the playoffs, everybody thought they would struggle to even make it out of the first round.  After defeating the Trail Blazers in a rough 6 game series, the Mavericks faced the daunting task of defeating the defending World Champs.  The Lakers were not nearly as dominant as their last two title runs, but still were the favorite to win the championship.  The Mavs put that idea to rest, as they shockingly swept the Lakers, finishing them off with a 36 point blowout victory in Game 4.  Then Dallas moved on to the Conference Finals to face the up and coming team of the West, the Oklahoma City Thunder.  This series proved to be much tougher than the previous one, but still the Mavs were pretty much in control after taking both Game 3 and 4 in Oklahoma City, one of the toughest places to play in the league.  The Mavs moved on to the NBA Finals after 5 games and were matched up against the Big 3 from Miami. 

This series was one of the most exciting we've had in a long time and it interested more than just the normal NBA fans.  People all around the world were rooting against the Heat; however, despite the hatred, Lebron and Co. jumped out to an early lead in the series after a great Game 1 win.  With about 7 minutes left in the fourth quarter of Game 2, Dwayne Wade hit a huge three pointer to give the Heat a 15 point lead and it looked as if the series would be going to Dallas with the Heat up 2-0.  Then Terry and Dirk woke up and fueled an improbable comeback, capped off by a game winning layup by Dirk Nowitzki.  Miami was stunned, but still knew that they should've won that game and that they were still in decent position to win the title.  Game 3 was yet another thriller, as Dirk missed a jump shot at the buzzer which would've sent the game into overtime.  Dallas was in a hole down 2-1, knowing that without a 7 minute meltdown by Miami in Game 2, the series should be 3-0.  The Mavericks needed to find a spark for Game 4 and it came from an unlikely source: Lebron James. James had one of his worst career scoring games, just putting 8 points on the board on 3-11 shooting.  That is a testament to the Maverick defense, which constantly smothered Lebron James.  Shawn Marion, Jason Kidd, and Deshawn Stevenson all did a great job of limiting his touches in the paint and forced him to give up the ball to his teammates.  The Mavs won the game by three points, after Mike Miller was unable to convert a desperation three pointer as time expired.  With the series tied at 2 games a piece, game 5 would be pivotal.

The first four games were all defensive struggles, with the score generally in the 80s and low 90s, but game 5 was a shootout.  Both teams came out firing, especially from three point range.  The Mavs shot 56.5% from the floor, while Miami shot 53%.  Miami came back to reality in the fourth quarter, but ultimately, The Heat could never cool down the Mavs and Dallas took a 3-2 lead going back to Miami.  The Heat needed to find an answer for game 6 and were still in search for one at halftime. Dirk had just 3 points in the first half of game 6, but the Mavs still held the lead due to the Jason Terry and Deshawn Stevenson.  Terry continued his hot shooting in the second half and Dallas held a comfortable 5 to 8 point lead throughout the second half.  It seemed as if Miami was still always very close though, so Dallas still continued to run their offense.  So many times you see a team that holds a late lead, try to run the clock down and chuck up a long shot with the shot clock nearly expiring.  Dallas wasted a lot of time by running out the clock and grabbing offensive rebounds, which gave Miami no chance of coming back.  Dirk finally dismissed the notion that he was a "choker" after putting together a great fourth quarter once again.  He finished the night with a beautiful left-handed layup, as Marc Jackson dramatically announced for the last time, "Momma there goes that man". 

Congratulations Dirk, Terry, Kidd, Chandler, Marion, Stojakovic, Stevenson, Haywood, and Cardinal on winning their first ring.  All nine of these players have played at least 9 seasons in the league and have worked incredibly hard to earn the title as "NBA Champion".

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Top Five Worst Sports Towns in America

Before I begin, if you're a sports fan in one of these cities, I'm not knocking your dedication to your team. I'm simply using statistical evidence and past events to draw conclusions about your fan base. If you're from one of these places, I hope this motivates you to get out there and pull for your teams as hard as ever. There are some cities in the United States that are simply hotbeds of sports fanatics. New York, Philadelphia, Boston and Chicago fall into this category, just to name a few. However, there are some places that just simply cannot seem to get it together as far as the fan bases go. Controversy can be a good thing, and I feel like this list may cause some. Without any further delay, here is my Top Five Worst Sports Towns in America.

5) Phoenix, Arizona- Is it the heat? Possibly. I believe that there are a combination of factors that make the Phoenix metro area a poor sports market. To credit the city, I will admit they have first class facilities that allow their citizens to take in sporting events in a cool environment (Chase Field and University of Phoenix Stadium both have retractable roofs to fight the Arizona sun). However, the support is just seemingly not there. The Suns, Cardinals, and Diamondbacks all have less than stellar attendance and mediocre products on the field. The Coyotes are a story in and of themselves. The team moved from Winnipeg, a hockey hotbed, to the middle of the desert. They are now bankrupt and show some of the lowest attendance figures in hockey, in addition to the team being a constant subject of relocation rumors. Why doesn't this formula work?
Maybe because there is NO ICE IN ARIZONA? It's 110 degrees all the time during May and June, when hockey's playoffs take place. Hockey isn't fit for the desert. Teams such as the Dallas Stars have made warm weather ice hockey work, but the lack of support in Phoenix has let the team down. Phoenix is a nice city that can be a good escape from North American winters, but stick to golf resorts Arizona. Despite your teams' successes, there is hardly ever a rumble of national focus on the Valley of the Sun's fan bases.

4) Los Angeles, California- This one comes with a bit of a surprise on the surface, even to me. Los Angeles is a great sports city when it comes to success. I can't debate that all, the Lakers are a constant contender and the Dodgers are a popular mainstay in Southern California. The most dedicated fans in the LA area are among of some of the best in sports. However, therein lies a problem. There just aren't that many of them for such a large city.

Before our readers start citing my East Coast bias, hear me out. I believe the fans in the San Francisco Bay Area are some of the best around. Let's contrast these fans with those in Los Angeles, some four to five hours south down the Pacific Coast. The Warriors (Oakland, CA) may not hold a candle to the Lakers, but their fans are at least legitimate fans of the game of basketball. Who makes up the face of the Lakers fan base? Celebrities! Most of which either A) Aren't from Los Angeles. or B) Watch the Lakers because it's the "cool" thing to do. There is nothing more I despise than fans who watch a team because it's successful or popular (as a Phillies fan, there are many of these people within my own fan base).

Second, let's take attendance figures into account. For the current MLB season, the Dodgers are tenth in attendance, while their rivals to the north, the Giants, are third. Now before you go citing financial troubles, let's also look at past seasons. The Dodgers are consistently in the top five of attendance...however there is a striking stat that stands out. On average, 30% of their stadium is empty! Dodger Stadium is a large and storied facility, but with the largest metro area on the West Coast, you should at least be able to get people out to a game every night, especially with a team that made consecutive National League Championship Series' in 2008 and 2009.

Hockey is another sharp contrast. The Sharks in San Jose enjoy significant support, filling HP Pavillion nightly. The Kings enjoy some as well, but again, this is at best slight win for the Sharks. Unless you're watching a "Mighty Ducks" movie, hockey doesn't really catch the same way in SoCal as it does in colder areas.

The other factor is a bit confusing. There are simply too many teams in the Los Angeles metro area to root for! The area is huge, and there should be multiple teams to fit the amount of people, but who has ever heard of a hardcore Clippers fan? Or a rabid group of Angels fans? (No Thunderstix references here) If the NFL does eventually return to Los Angeles, I will remove them from this list. For now, as a metro area that has to divide and choose its allegiances among multiple franchises in three of the four major sports, it seems there is just more to do in Southern California than watch sports. (Not that that's a bad thing in any way, it's a beautiful place.)

3) Tampa/St. Petersburg, Florida- The Tampa Bay area is next on my hit list. This is the first city on the list to host less than the four major sports in the United States. The NBA allegiances lie mostly with the Orlando Magic, but I will be leaving them alone as they are a few hours away and enjoy some good fan support. Florida suffers a unique problem in all of their sports towns...no one is actually from Florida! The Rays and Buccaneers average near the bottom of the barrell in attendance yearly. It is not even possible to cite poor teams as evidence; while the Rays and Buccaneers have struggled in the past, two of the three teams have brought home titles within the past ten years (The Buccaneers in 2002, the Lightning in 2004) and the Rays captured an American League Pennant in 2008.

However the most telling factors are how empty some Tampa facilities can be at times. For example, in 2008, the Rays could not sell out two games in late October...did I mention that these were games 1 and 2 of the WORLD SERIES?!!? I'm sorry, if you can't sell out during the Fall Classic, there is a serious problem. Tampa suffers from the issue of Northeast relocation; there are simply more New York/Boston/Philadelphia retirees who migrate south and maintain their allegiances, which stunts the growth of the sports market. The Tampa Bay area is a great place to visit, but not the best place to take in a game.

2) Miami, Florida-
To start, the reasons that Miami isn't such a great sports town are largely similar to that of Tampa/St. Petersburg; there are lots of transplants who maintain their sporting ties. However, there are several factors that make Miami a great place to visit that also make it not such a great sports city.

The heat and humidity. While seeing a Dolphins game in late December may be a good way to spend a trip to Miami, who wants to go see a Marlins game in June? Apparently no one, since they have the worst attendance rates in MLB. I am hopeful that with a new stadium, the Marlins can finally live up to the talent on their roster and attract some fans.

Miami has the potential to be a good sports town with all four sports leagues in tow, but what is preventing them from achieving this? Again, hockey doesn't work in the south for the most part. The Panthers are a in a curious location in South Florida, where the only ice is usually in mixed drinks. The Dolphins are one of the most storied teams in the history of the NFL, so I'll by and large leave them alone.

Now the part you're all waiting for. The Miami Heat.

I don't dislike the Heat, or LeBron, or any of that nonsense. I however, do notice a pattern here. Where were all the Heat fans before LeBron signed? Or during the 2006 title run? To quote Charles Barkley in a recent interview about Miami, "That's one of the worst sports towns in America...it's not even loud in there." Miami has good teams. But it seems as though the beach and warm weather attract more people than sporting events do. Sports are an escape for people in order to break the pattern of every day life. When you have bikini clad women and bars everywhere, who needs sports? Miami is awesome. Their sports? Not quite as awesome (the U is still pretty cool, though), but by no means am I saying people shouldn't visit Miami. It's at the top of my to-do list.

1) Atlanta, Georgia- They've lost two hockey teams, made the playoffs 14 years in a row once and only came away with one title, and that lonely World Series crown in 1995 has been the only title in the last 129 combined sports years for Atlanta's franchises.

Yet that is not why I'm picking on the largest city in the Peach State.

There is just a lack of passion for professional sports in Atlanta that I can't get my head around. The Falcons made a Super Bowl in the late 90s and had Michael Vick before his jail stint. The Hawks have had some talented teams and are on an upswing right now. The Braves were a National League powerhouse through the 90s and made the playoffs for 14 consecutive years. Why don't people show up?

I can't even begin to know. Is there really that much to do in Atlanta? The Braves didn't sell out when they were in the middle of a playoff race! Granted, their stadium is large but their team is extremely talented, and yet no one seems to care. Hockey has failed not once, but twice in Atlanta (The Flames moved the Calgary, Alberta; The Thrashers moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba), and the only evidence of hockey in the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame is limited to FOUR items (a stick, a puck, and a
jersey each from the Flames and Thrashers).

Isn't football supposed to be king in the South? On the collegiate level it is, as the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech both garner big crowds, but the Georgia Dome always seems dark and empty for Falcons games.
Even some Atlanta fans recognize the problem. People show up to Braves games in the fourth inning and leave in the seventh. Fans only support the Hawks when stars like Dwight Howard and LeBron James come to town. Atlanta is the definition of a fair-weather fan base.

I find this to truly be a shame, as Atlanta has some teams with a great deal of talent. However, if you don't fill the seats, you just don't have the support. For these reasons and several I cannot even begin to fathom, Atlanta, Georgia, tops my list as the Worst Sports Town in America.

The Great White North: Hockey Returns Home

As the sports world remains transfixed on both the NBA and Stanley Cup Finals, a relatively major sports story has been unfolding somewhat quietly. In late May, the National Hockey League announced the sale of the Atlanta Thrashers organization to the Winnipeg, Manitoba based firm True North Sports and Entertainment, who will be moving the franchise to Winnipeg for the 2011-12 season. In the hockey world, there has been much backlash against Commissioner Gary Bettman in past years for moving hockey teams in warm weather markets (such as Atlanta, Phoenix, Miami, etc.) and forsaking loyal but small market hockey towns like Winnipeg and Quebec City. The move has been highly celebrated in Winnipeg and across Canada, as hockey is finally returning to the Prairie City fifteen years after the much loved Winnipeg Jets franchise took off for Phoenix.

The move has also left many fan curious as to the team's name now that it has been relocated. The overwhelming consensus is to revive the "Jets" moniker, and this could very well happen. True North, while they do not own the franchise history of the Jets (it remains in Phoenix with the Coyotes), could buy it back from the NHL, which has owned the Phoenix franchise since it declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2009. This situation would be similar to the Cleveland Browns renaming their team "Browns" after the original franchise moved to Baltimore in 1996.

What has been confirmed, however, is the outright enthusiasm that fans in Winnipeg have over the new team. Season tickets sold out in less than one day, proving that despite its size, Winnipeg could be a viable hockey market. Former players from the Jets and even some current players in the NHL (including Chicago Blackhawks star Jonathan Toews) have spoken volumes about the Winnipeg fans and would also like to see the Jets name restored.

A minor setback of the move is the fact that the NHL will not realign divisions for the upcoming season, awkwardly leaving Winnipeg in the same division as Tampa Bay, Florida, Carolina and Washington. However, realignment is expected in 2012, (Detroit is supposedly moving the Eastern Conference while Winnipeg will go West) along with the possible move of the Phoenix Coyotes, whose lease with the city of Glendale, AZ expires next May. Rumored sites of relocation include Quebec City, Canada (who lost their Nordiques to Colorado in 1995) and Seattle, Washington.

All in all, the move back to Winnipeg has largely been praised around the NHL. I for one support the return of hockey to its roots and would highly approve of a move back to Quebec City. Hockey is king in Canada. Fans pack the arena in Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver every single night. Despite the small size of Winnipeg's MTS Centre (around 16,000 seats), there is already a ticket waiting list.

(Fans in Winnipeg celebrate the return of the NHL in late May 2011)

The final step is to name the team itself. Falcons, Moose and Polar Bears have all been tossed about as naming possibilities, but again, the overwhelming popular favorite is Jets. Regardless of what True North decides to name the team, you can be sure that on Opening Night in Winnipeg, there will be chants ringing through the crowd, for the first time in 15 years, of the iconic chant, "GO JETS GO!" Hockey is finally back where it belongs.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Heated Debate: Lebron James

Some would refer to him as the bully at the playground. Other would place him on the highest temples and name him king. No matter which side you choose, the discussions and intense arguments regarding Lebron will soon be summed up in a game or two. Though it seemed as if the Mavs made every shot and held Lebron in check, the South Beach superstar quietly walked away with a triple double...to go along with a loss in Game 5. With Wade's injury during the game, James knew he had to perform at his best in order to try and squeeze out a win in an extremely hostile environment at the American Airlines Center. Just like "The Jet", or Jason Terry, the Dallas players and fans were soaring from the opening tip to the final buzzer. As for Mr. James, he walked off the court knowing he had a plane to catch back to Miami. But what does Lebron's impressive triple double mean? Nothing at all. Why? Yes, he's the sixth player since 1993 to record this incredible stat, but without the "W" in Game 5, those numbers fall to the ground. Though it is only his first season with the Miami Heat, "King James" maybe should have spent less time making promises to the Miami fans about how many championships the team is going to win. I am definitely not saying this series is over because lets face it, these playoffs have been very exciting and unpredictable. The fact of the matter is whether you love him or hate him, whether Lebron is the better player or Wade is, or whether ESPN should or should not have aired Lebron's decision, the Miami Heat had a lot to think about on their plane ride home last night Mr. James does not want to find himself relaxing on the beach this year or in years to come

What's the Point: Failure in Miami

The Miami Heat are the most talented team in basketball, hands down. They have three bona-fide all-stars and a mix of solid role players. When playing focused and under the gun, they have the potential to be just spectacular. But, the Heat are down 3-2 against a team everyone counted out in the Dallas Mavericks. Failure is imminent in Miami because of mental errors, cockiness, and sheer stupidity on the part of the Heat.

It was evident before the season even started. When the "Big 3" came out to American Airlines Arena in a celebration for "winning" free agency, there was a lot of flexing muscles and big talk, like the promise of "8 championships." The Heat entered the season cocky, sure that they would roll over the competition. All this did was put a huge bulls-eye on their back. They made themselves the villains, the super-talented team everyone wanted to take down, and this caused the Heat to struggle mightily out of the gate. They were beat repeatedly by high character teams like Boston and Chicago. The Heat's attitude was perfectly put by Chris Bosh near the beginning of the season: "Coach Spo wants to work, and the players want to chill. We've just got to meet somewhere in the middle." Not believing you have to work? That is flat out believing you are better than everyone else.

Despite all the distractions, the Heat finished with a solid 58-24 record, good for second in the East. They blew through the Sixers and the Celtics, and toughened up to beat a young, hungry Bulls team in 5 games. Fast forward to midway through the 4th quarter in game two of the finals. Miami is up by 15, they are at home, and have all the momentum. It looks like Dallas is about to fall into a nearly insurmountable 0-2 hole. After a Dwayne Wade 3, him and LeBron do a little dance right in front of the Mavericks bench. Dallas then proceeds to storm back and win the game, taking the momentum of the series. The Heat's cockiness, stupidity, or whatever one wants to call it vaulted the Mavericks back into the series. Many people thought they had seen the last of the mental errors. But, the best was yet to come.

In game 4, Dirk willed the Mavericks to victory while battling against a 102 degree fever. While traveling to game 5, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade mocked Dirk's gutsy performance. Check it out, it is all over the internet. Dallas proceeded to win game 5, as Wade sat out with an injury for much of the game and LeBron, once again, failed in the fourth quarter. The stage was set for this display by LeBron and Dwyane's irresponsible comments. Why would you give a team, before a pivitol game 5, bulletin board material? This is the biggest game of LeBron's life, and he feels the need to fire up the other team by talking smack? In the big moments, the true character of the Heat is beginning to show. When LeBron came to the Heat, he brought the greatest talent in the world. But he also brought a sense of entitlement and an attitude ill-fitting of a winner, an attitude that was not there when it was only Wade and one that has corrupted the team.

At the end of the day all that matters is winning. If the Heat could even begin to match their brains with their talent, they would no doubt win it all. But, failure is imminent in Miami. Even without any further mental lapses or ignorant remarks, the damage has already been done, and a flawed team will probably not be able to stand against the single-minded, motivated Mavericks. LeBron tweeted before game 5 that it is "Now or Never." Well, due to Miami's mental incompetence, it could be never.

What's the Point is a column written by David Straple. Feel free to comment.

Thoughts on Game 5

I'm not going to even take a look at the box score as I share my thoughts on what just went down in Dallas.  The Mavericks clearly played better than the Heat tonight, but the Heat stuck around in a close game.  Still in the end, the Mavericks back court finally hit their shots and has put Dallas in prime position to win the NBA championship.  Dirk played well in the fourth quarter and had a great game overall, but the difference in tonight's game was Jason Terry, JJ Barea and Jason Kidd.  All three of them made big three pointers throughout the game, especially Terry, who hit a three with under three minutes left to tie the game at 100.  Jason Terry played very well, using the pick and roll perfectly.  Having him run the pick and roll is the most effective, because he is more of a threat to pop a long range jumper if the defender dares to go under the pick. Additionally, Barea and Kidd did an amazing job of running the offense, as they both passed the ball effectively and limited turnovers.

In a series that has been dominated by defense, both teams came out firing.  Each team hit the 45 mark with about 7 minutes to play in the second quarter!  Both Miami and Dallas were scoring with ease, but Miami missed its' opportunities late in the fourth quarter.  Lebron was unable to hit a key three pointer and Wade couldn't find any space.  Both played very well tonight, but need to do a better job in order for Miami to force a game 7.  Shawn Marion deserves a lot of credit for the job he's doing on Lebron.  He's limiting him to tough shots and forcing him to give up the ball.  James had a triple-double, but he is more valuable to the team when he can take over and score himself.

Game 6 will be very interesting.  Lebron, Wade and Bosh will all have good games, but can Dirk finally bring that title back to Big D?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Heat-Mavs Game 5

Stop the MJ comparisons.  Lebron is actually nothing like Michael.  Michael is the greatest of all-time, even Lebron would say that.  Let Lebron be himself.  He's the most dominant player in the game today and appreciate the fact that he's in the league.  Hate on him for his decision and personality, not for his basketball talent.  That being said, Lebron's 8 points in Game 4 brought back the "He's no MJ" talk.  You could tell Lebron gets more and more frustrated with the stupid questions from the media, but his obligated to sit their for a post-game conference. Honestly, who the hell cares about him and MJ right now? Let the Finals finish, then start talking.

So back to what actually matters, Game 5.  Here's 5 things that I think will happen:

-I expect Lebron to go crazy.  I would be shocked if he doesn't put up 30 points/10 assists or a 40 point/ 5 assists kind of game.  Lebron is way too good to not make a significant impact two games in a row. 

-Each game has gone down to the wire and there seems to be no reason why it won't happen again.  This is the beauty of the NBA.  Even if one of the team grabs a 10+ point lead, the other will make a run to stay in the game.  I think this game will be tight near the end and will ultimately be decided on the last possession or in overtime.

- Bosh will be the deciding factor once again.  After a monster series in Chicago, the PF has struggled to find his stroke this series.  Game 4 was one of his better games, but he's still shooting 35% from the field in the NBA Finals.  If Bosh plays well, the Heat will win. 

- Jason Kidd will record a double-double.  Kidd has done an awful job of taking care of the ball in the past few games, which is surprising coming from the Hall-of-Famer.  He'll bounce back with a great Game 5 and continue with his stellar defense.

- The Dallas Mavericks will win Game 5.  This is more so what I want to happen, than what I think will happen.  Anyways, I think a healthier Brendan Haywood will be a key to Dallas' interior defense and rebounding.  The Heat do a great job of attacking the rim with a player always following for an offensive rebound.  If Haywood and Chandler can control the boards, Wade & Co. will be going back home in need of two W's.

92-90 Mavs