Friday, August 26, 2011
Those four teams are truly the elite of the league right now, though there are a few teams who have emerged from a muddled pack. The Brewers in particular, have been playing outstanding baseball, as they have opened up a 9.5 game lead on the Cardinals. Milwaukee has put a lot of money into this season's roster, so it's nice to finally see them play up to their potential. The Brewers have a ton of talent at the front end of their rotation, to go along with their great lineup and elite bullpen. Meanwhile the Tigers have opened up a cushion in the AL Central, as the rest of the division's struggles continues. Justin Verlander has 19 wins and is putting together one of the best seasons we've seen in awhile.
Out West, we have ourselves a pair of close races with the Angels trailing the Rangers by 2 games and the defending-champion Giants are 3 games behind the Diamondbacks. Arizona shook off a 6 game losing streak and has won 3 straight since then. The Giants have played poorly in the past month, but they have 6 games left against Arizona in the season, making for a great race in the NL West. The same could be said about the AL West with the Rangers losing their last 3 games against the Red Sox. The Angels have been able to climb back in the race by winning 6 in a row.
Even with six playoff spots with clear front-runners, we do have two races out West that will get quite interesting in late September.
Friday, August 19, 2011
Thursday, August 18, 2011
As for Isaiah, he is freakishly athletic, but he never really got into a rhythm at 'Nova. He struggled mightily offensively, although he did show some signs of promise. He played well defensively, but really needs to add some weight and strength to be competitive with the rest of the country. He is a raw talent and he will certainly find a place in another program's rotation.
With all that being said, we wish you luck in the future wherever you go Isaiah. (unless it's to another Big East school)
1. Green Bay Packers - The Superbowl Champions aren't usually the team that is most improved from the season before, but with the amount of injuries the Packers suffered last season, this team is so much better than they were against the Steelers. 16 Packers were on the IR at the end of last season, headlined by Jermichael Finley and Ryan Grant. With those two coming back, the Packers improve dramatically on offense. The Packers are a fairly young team, with budding superstars in Clay Matthews, B.J. Raji, and Greg Jennings. With Aaron Rodgers at the helm, the Pack is truly the "Team to Beat".
2. Philadelphia Eagles - No team has signed/acquired as much talent as the Eagles, all headlined by the signing of Nnamdi Asomugha. The addition of Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie from the Cardinals is a great pick up, as he is the best #3 CB in the league. The move that will prove to be the most beneficial is Cullen Jenkins, who they stole from Green Bay. He is an absolute beast. His size will allow the very skilled defensive ends opportunities to rush the QB with one-on-one coverage. Signing Vince Young, Steve Smith, and Jason Babin are all very good pick ups for a team that will certainly contend.
3. New England Patriots - Chad Ochocinco certainly brings in a lot of drama, but there really isn't a personality that this franchise can't handle. Ochocinco is one of the best route-runners in the NFL and that is bad news for everybody else in the NFL. Tom Brady will have three of the smartest WR's in the game with Ochocinco, Branch and Welker. The Patriots have also signed Albert Haynesworth, Andre Carter, Shaun Ellis, and Mark Anderson on defense, giving them a deadly DL. They were also able to lock up Logan Mankins to a long-term deal, who is arguable the best interior offensive lineman in the game.
4. Houston Texans - The signing of Jonathon Joseph is huge for the Texans, who were also in the Nnamdi race. Joseph is an elite cornerback and will help shore up one of the worst secondaries in the game. Danieal Manning was an important pickup as well, with the loss of Bernard Pollard and Eugene Wilson. The Texans have the offense to compete with the best in the NFL, but they needed to get better defensively. Hiring Wade Phillips, who struggled as the Dallas Cowboy Head Coach, as the defensive coordinator could be one of their most important acquisitions.
5. New Orleans Saints - This is not a popular pick, but hear me out on this one. Drew Brees and the Saints run a spread offense with a ton of skilled wide receivers. RBs also line up out there and are very involved in the passing game. The Saints' major addition this year was running back Darren Sproles. Sproles is best fit in this offense, as he has great hands and is one of the quickest players in the league. He will prove to be a 3rd down killer. The already solid OL got a little boost with the signings of Olin Kreutz and Alex Barron, giving Drew Brees the depth he needs with his line.
Overall I think it's fair to say that the Eagles are definitely the team that went out and did the most this offseason, but the Packers are better than they were when they won the Superbowl last year. Aaron Rodgers has put himself with the elite quarterbacks in the game and they are the favorites to win the title this year. However, football is like no other sport. Nothing is decided on paper, so it will be interesting to see how this season plays out.
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Favorite might not be the right word. While it is true that a show about the Yankees, or the Cowboys, or any other of the more popular, ESPN driven teams that find their way into America's living rooms month in and month out would undoubtedly fetch more viewers, television is a different game all together. Television programs have one criteria altogether. Be compelling. Show me a program that isn't compelling, and I'll show you one that is cancelled after one season. Sports and TV are different in that respect. Fans of teams will still follow the team year in and year out, even if the team is horrible. Fans will always have hope for their team. They have no patience for a struggling TV program. They will move on to the next good one.
It is important to make this distinction. Television thrives on characters. And any sports driven TV program needs strong characters. That's why Rex Ryan of the New York Jets was such a great choice for the inaugural season of HBO's Hard Knocks. The foulmouthed coach held nothing back from the microphone that sat on his hip, and the country got to see how training camp worked from start to finish. It was a fresh take on reality television, and most of all, it was a compelling and entertaining look into something that hardly anybody in the country gets to see: a professional locker room.
And now, HBO's rival station Showtime is trying to get in on the sports reality scene. But instead of football, it is tackling the world of Major League Baseball. What better team to follow then the World Series Champion San Francisco Giants? If we return to the point that television needs a compelling cast of characters and a strong story line to retain viewers, then this year's Giants team is almost a no-brainer.
While the focus is on the season of the team, there are definitely overarching storylines of individual players and their plights. Perhaps the most impressive, heartwarming, and generally amazing baseball stories of the last 10 years, Ryan Vogelsong is having a season for the ages. At 34 years old, and being relegated to Japan since 2008, the prodigal sons return to San Francisco has been truly something to behold. As of today he leads the NL in ERA.
Perhaps one of the most amusing characters is Giants Closer Brian Wilson. While he is a polarizing figure around the country, he is nothing if not entertaining. Say what you want about his beard, and his love for the spotlight, the man delivers memorable quote after memorable quote, especially at the end of the first episode. There are many other characters in the group of misfits who overcame the odds to win the World Series last year, but there is just not enough room here.
Now here's the big question, the one that makes this such a risky idea. Who's going to watch it? Giants fans, obviously. Being one myself, I eat this crap up. I can't get enough of anything Giants. Hell, I'll even stop everything I'm doing just to watch ESPN air a rare piece about them. But who else? I'm not sure. While I could beg and plead my Phillies fan (phan?) friends, or my Yankees fan friends, or anybody else, they probably have no interest. My hope, and I'm sure Showtime's hope is that the characters on the Giants are so compelling that even non fans will keep coming back to the team of loveable castoffs.
So I beg, plead, implore, and urge you to check out this series. It wont switch your allegiance from the Red Sox, or the Yankees, or the Phillies, that's not its attempt, or mine for that matter. It is simply a very interesting look into the lives and homes of a group of professional baseball players and their families and their lives. Check out the first episode and I guarantee you'll be coming back for more. Unless you're a Dodgers fan.
The White Sox actually have the lowest strength of schedule in the AL so far this year, but their schedule gets even easier for the rest of the year. After this patch of games against contenders (Indians, Rangers, Angels), 10 of their next 13 games are against the Mariners and Twins. The Sox also have 7 games left against the Royals, before finishing up their season vs. Toronto. Of course they have some tough division games against Detroit and Cleveland (6 and 10 respectively), but that puts matters in to their own hands. 16 more games against AL Central contenders, 5 against AL West contenders, and 20 against non-contenders are all that remain for the regular season. Going 25-16 the rest of the way would give them 87 wins on the year and probably get them into the playoffs. The 25 wins are definitely possible for the White Sox, who have won 9 of their last 11.
A lot of this falls on to rookie Tyler Flowers, who will be starting a lot of games with A.J. Pierzynski gone to the DL. Juan Pierre and Paul Konerko are both putting together great years once again, but if the other bats in the lineup start to heat up, watch out for these White Sox. Quentin, Dunn, Ramirez, Beckham and Rios have all struggled this year, but are way too talented to perform this poorly.
The pitching rotation is doing okay with Buehrle leading the way, but John Danks is pitching a lot better as of late. This team is built like a playoff contender and they are playing their best baseball of the year right now. Coming into the season they were the easy pick to win the AL Central, but they haven't lived up to the hype. The South Side of Chicago is yearning for yet another playoff run, so Ozzie better get his troops lined up or this team could be blown up this winter.
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Let's start with Thome. In an age marked by steroids and doping, this feat should not be overlooked. Thome is clean, I can assure you that. More importantly, he is one of the "good guys" in baseball. Everybody loves him. He's a model citizen, doesn't complain, suits up every night, and hits for a lot of power. He's putting his 10 nieces and nephews through college, while also being voted as one of the most friendly players in baseball by his peers. He doesn't speak much through the media and it seems as if everybody in the game has the utmost respect for him.
On the baseball side of his career, Thome is a definite Hall of Famer in my mind. If you happen to follow ESPN's Skip Bayless on Twitter, he still says Thome is NOT a Hall of Famer. I don't even think there's a chance he doesn't make the Hall. He has a career .960 OPS, which is 17th all-time. He's produced for a long time, as he has 11 homeruns in 64 games in his 21st season this year. His career year was in 2002, which was his final season with the Indians. He hit .304/.445/.677 with 52 homeruns and 118 RBI.
Last night, Thome hit two homers to left field, showcasing his strength to the opposite field. He received a standing ovation from the Detroit crowd, as he was congratulated by teammates and family at home plate.
On the other hand we have Jason Isringhausen. He grew up in the New York Mets farm system, forming a part of "Generation-K" for the Mets in 1995. Although that group didn't live up to the hype, Isringhausen found success as a closer. He struggled as a starter and was traded to the A's, where he was used as a relief pitcher and closer. He made a name for himself as a top-notch closer in Oakland, before signing with the Cardinals in 2002. In 2004 Izzy led the league with 47 saves and in 2005 he had an ERA of 2.14.
Izzy's career has been tarnished by injuries, but he enjoyed a lot of success in the past ten years. This past off-season he was signed to a minor-league contract with the Mets in February and was promoted to the team on April 10. He settled in as the setup man to Francisco Rodriguez, but when Frankie was traded to the Brewers, Isringhausen found himself as the closer, needing just 7 saves to 300. Isringhausen has completed a full circle now, as he also recorded his first career save when he was with the Mets.
Congratulations to both Jim Thome and Jason Isringhausen!
Monday, August 15, 2011
The Wild West indeed. Well...maybe not. Looking at the standings on this sunny day from my home in San Francisco, the West is a two team story. Forget about last year's plucky Padres, or '08 and '09's dynamic Dodgers. You should even forget about the horrible Arizona Diamondbacks of last year. Why? Because the Diamondbacks went from the 3rd worst team in all of baseball to a team that is currently two games ahead of last year's World Series Champions the San Francisco Giants. And while the rest of the NL West is almost completely out of the picture (barring a minor miracle), the landscape of the NL West really comes down to two teams. The Arizona Diamondbacks and the San Francisco Giants.
Lets start with the Arizona Diamondbacks. After a series of moves to strengthen an absolutely wretched bullpen in the offseason, a team that always had a collection of young superstars in waiting is starting to bloom. Led by the ultratalented Justin Upton, the recently broken Stephen Drew, a resurgent J.J. Putz and a very underrated collection of starters led by former Yankee Ian Kennedy. At 68-53, the Diamondbacks have made a complete 180 from last season, already improving on their win total from last year with a month and a half to play. As a Giants fan I believed that they were a mirage a month ago. Now, with them taking the lead from the Giants, I'm not so sure.
The Diamondbacks suffered a huge blow in the losses of Stephen Drew and, more recently, Jason Marquis yesterday. Stephen Drew is the bigger of the two losses, as he plays everyday and Marquis only affects a game every five days. So far the Diamondbacks have been able to keep pace with the Giants, but as we get deeper into the dog days of the summer, will the Dbacks fade or surge past the Giants? Only September will tell.
Meanwhile, the Giants have been just awful in the last month. Their offense ranks among the lowest in the majors in almost every single statistical category, they are scoring almost a run less per game then they were during last years title run. Their big trade deadline acquisition, Carlos Beltran, hasn't played in week and has been considered a bust by many for what they gave up to bring him to the City By The Bay. And yet, they are still in middle of this race for one reason: Their pitching staff.
By pitching staff, I'm talking about the entirety of their 13 man pitching staff. The starters are well heralded, to be sure, but their bullpen is one of the best in the Majors. Brian Wilson and his beard are tied for 2nd in saves in the MLB. Sergio Romo is having an almost historical season. And let's not forget what Javier Lopez did to the Phillies left handed juggernauts in the NLCS and continues to do this season. Every single member of the bullpen is a strength. Of course there are relievers that Giants fans would prefer to have in the game at any point, but realistically, each one is having a great season and can shut the door at a moments notice.
The West is going to shape up to be an unbelievable run at the postseason once again. Wild West indeed.
The aging offensive line of last year has been changed, as they have entrusted William Beatty to be the new LT. David Diehl will move over to LG in the revamped Giants offensive line. There aren't any flashy additions to the Giants roster, but they've put together a team that will compete. Their defensive line is still among the best in the NFL and with news that Osi Umenyiora will rejoin the team at training camp, the defense will get even better.
Eli Manning will need to find another safety blanket now that Steve Smith and Kevin Boss have left via free agency, but the Giants do have some young options. Travis Beckum is their answer to replace Boss, even though he isn't as good of a blocker as the new Oakland TE. Mario Manningham, Domenik Hixon, and Victor Cruz will all be crucial pieces of the offense as they play along side Hakeem Nicks, who had a breakout season last year.
Bradshaw is back to the starting RB role and as long as he stays healthy, he will have a solid season. Despite all the hatred and criticism, Eli Manning is a solid QB. He's shown his clutch playmaking ability and he has fully embraced the role as the veteran leader on the offense.
Defensively, the Giants are relying heavily on Kenny Philips, who is coming off a disappointing year. Along with Antrel Rolle, Terrell Thomas, and Corey Webster, the Giants have enough talent to be a above-average defense.
The Giants don't ever look pretty playing football, but they have a lot of fight in them. They will win games and compete in the NFC. There is no doubt that the Eagles are the most talented team in the division, but the Giants will definitely be in the conversation for the Wild Card spots.
Sunday, August 14, 2011
Friday, August 12, 2011
Thursday, August 11, 2011
WGC Bridgestone is in the books, and with its completion comes a great deal of drama. Rickie Fowler did in fact finish in the top 10 (second to be exact), but this rising star took a backseat to the Steve Williams and Tiger Woods “feud.”
When all was said and done, Adam Scott (Stevie’s new employer) had won the tournament with a final score of 17-under, with Tiger finishing tied for 37th at 1-over. Williams felt a great deal of satisfaction with this win, even saying that it was the “MOST satisfying win he’s ever had.” Adam Scott put together a phenomenal performance at WGC Bridgestone, but Stevie made it sound like he won the tournament, just for the purpose of taking a shot at Tiger Woods.
Will this scuffle between Woods and Williams carry over to the PGA Championship? I doubt it. Both needed to let off some steam, and they have. Now it’s time to purely focus on golf.
With that being said, who is the favorite to win this weekend’s 93rd PGA Championship? For starters, the guy who won last week looks like a top candidate. I couldn’t help but notice that Adam Scott’s swing looks a lot like Tiger’s old swing, the one that won him 14 majors? I like Scott’s chances in the final major of the season, especially with the consistency he has shown with that long putter.
Even though Scott is my favorite to win, there are a few other golfers to watch. Both Rickie Fowler and Rory McIlory put together strong performances at WGC and will be in the hunt come Sunday. I also expect Jason Day and veteran Steve Stricker to be towards the top of the leaderboard when all is said in done. My wild card for the tournament is Hunter Mahan. Mahan struggled last week at Firestone, but he has performed well all year and is due for his first major victory.
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
Here's a little taste of the article:
"The players weren't exactly sure how the man in white knew what was coming -- maybe, they thought, he was receiving messages via his Bluetooth from an ally elsewhere in the stadium who had binoculars or access to the stadium feed. But they quickly picked up the wavelength of his transmissions: He was raising his arms over his head for curveballs, sliders and changeups. In other words, anything besides fastballs.
-Amy K. Nelson and Peter KeatingA few of the players in the bullpen turned their backs to the field to fixate on the man in white, while others watched the stadium's radar gun. As soon as each pitch was thrown, those watching the man would call out what they thought he was signaling, and those focused on the radar gun would confirm his signal. Sure enough, the man in white was raising his arms above his head before every off-speed pitch and doing nothing when the pitch being called was a fastball."
Monday, August 8, 2011
In the National League, the Giants have fallen back a bit, which has allowed the Arizona Diamondbacks to climb back in the race. The Snakes are just a half game back and play their next seven games against the Houston Astros and New York Mets. The Giants play Pittsburgh this week, before travelling to Florida during the weekend. Despite the surge by the Diamondbacks, they still trail the Braves by 4 games in the Wild Card. The only other team with a realistic shot at the Wild Card are the Cardinals, who are 4.5 games back. With the recent 10 game losing streak of the Pirates and the fall of the Cincinnati Reds, the NL Central has become a two-team race, with the Brewers leading by 3.5 games.
With all of these close races, there is one team in the NL that has basically cemented their name for October. The Philadelphia Phillies have won 9 of their past 10 and have a ridiculous record of 73-40. They own the best pitching staff in baseball, but more importantly their offense is doing enough to win games. The addition of Hunter Pence will be crucial for this team in October, as it adds a right handed bat to protect Ryan Howard. The Phils seem to be unstoppable right now. They hold a 8.5 game lead on the Braves and have proven they have the guns to beat the Giants this timearound. The Phillies are a battle tested team and are clearly the best team in baseball right now. With all the hype around the Red Sox and Yankees, the Phillies are better than both. Just looking down the roster, the Red Sox and Yankees don't have enough pitching to match the Phillies. The only team with the rotation to give Philadelphia a problem is San Francisco.
Thursday, August 4, 2011
It seems that the next generation of standout golfers is making its way up the leader board and up the world rankings. Over the past few years, the likes of Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Rickie Fowler, and Rory McIlroy have established themselves as legitimate contenders on the PGA tour.
Johnson, Day, and McIlroy all have at least one PGA tour win under their belt, McIlroy being the only one with a major victory. Each of these three have page one leaderboard experience in a major. I’m sure we all remember Dustin Johnson’s breakdown at Pebble Beach in 2010 and Rory McIlroy’s similar meltdown at Augusta earlier this year.
However, Johnson and McIlroy have bounced back nicely from their recent struggles. McIlroy had a historic win at Congressional in June, shooting a 72-hole score of 16-under par, a U.S. Open record. Johnson had a runner up finish at The Open Championship in July. Jason Day has also fared well in recent majors, finishing second at both the Masters and the U.S. Open.
So, where is Rickie Fowler?
The 22 year old has yet to win on the PGA Tour but is coming off of a top 5 finish at The Open Championship. When I had the opportunity to watch the Oklahoma State star play at the AT&T National earlier this summer, I liked what I saw. He has a quick, yet consistent pre-shot routine and a compact, yet powerful swing. He ranks in the top 25 in driving distance and has better putting statistics than that of Johnson, Day, and even McIlroy.
Rickie Fowler is the definition of a young gun. He has charisma, flashiness, power, and confidence. What he does not have at the moment, however, is accuracy. Nearly every other one of his drives misses the fairway, and this certainly hurts his chances to put up a low score.
Despite his wild tendencies, I believe that Rickie will make a serious run, both in the FedEx Cup and in the world rankings. He hits nearly 70% of his greens in regulation, despite his driving troubles, and when he makes the cut, he is a contender, shooting under par in every tournament this season. Fowler has less experience than Day, Johnson, and McIlroy, which means that he can be easily molded into a more accurate player.
Rickie tees off this weekend at Firestone in Akron, Ohio, and despite the hype of Tiger’s return, I would not be surprised to see him finish in the top 10.