Author Archives: Kevin Bowman

The Depressing Futures of Baseball’s Worst Teams

The MLB playoffs are nigh on hand, and while it is a time where several teams are celebrating their clinched spots or fighting vigorously to earn a spot in their final games, many others haven’t seen the spotlight for months. Here’s a look at how bright or dull a future some of baseball’s worst teams have.

Houston Astros

Houston wins the honor of worst team in baseball for the second straight year and it was their fourth straight season below .500. A lot will be different next season in Houston, but wins may not be part of that. The Astros will be switching to the American League in 2013, and after trading some of their best players (Hunter Pence, Wandy Rodriguez, Carlos Lee) over the past two season, there isn’t a lot left in Houston to build around. Jose Altuve is the lone bright spot on the team and he’s basically nothing more than a solid leadoff hitter. He’s also not tall enough to go on half the rides at Disneyland. Unless the Astros dig up some savior prospect from their farm system, it could be a while until this team is relevant.

These uniforms are worse than the Astros themselves.

Chicago Cubs

The Cubs have a bit more reason for optimism than the Astros. With some decent young pieces in Starlin Castro, Darwin Barney and Anthony Rizzo, Chicago has some flexibility to trade for some big name players. And if they choose to keep that young core, the trio may develop into a strong group. But the Cubs still have a long way to go. Their pitching staff is beyond lackluster and their best power hitter, Alfonso Soriano, is getting up there in years.

Colorado Rockies

Playing the majority of their season without their best player, Troy Tulowitzki, the Rockies’ season was basically over the moment he was injured. But if he is able to return to form next season, this team may not be all that bad. Carlos Gonzalez continues to hit well and the emergence of Dexter Fowler and Jordan Pecheco gave Colorado three players who hit above .300. Pitching remains a problem, however. The Rockies tried to work with a four man rotation and a strict 75 pitch limit for their starters. This caused them to burn through their bullpen pretty quickly and pretty clearly did not work at all. If they can figure out how to give up less than 5 runs every game, the Rockies have the offense to be a decent club.

Miami Marlins

The beautiful mug of the man riding the Marlins into the ground.

All the hype the Marlins built with their offseason spending pretty much disappeared the moment the season started. How Ozzie Guillen still has his job is beyond me. Within the first week of the season, he mentioned his support for Fidel Castro. For a team whose fan base consists of a large number of Cubans, that’s kind of a stupid thing to say, especially since it has nothing to do with baseball whatsoever. Furthermore, he has bashed his players continually, most recently Heath Bell, saying he doesn’t respect him. His players have quit on him and its shown, as most of the Marlins are having some of the worst years of their careers. With Hanley Ramirez traded and a significant portion of the salary cap invested in their offseason signings, Miami doesn’t have a lot of tradeable assets or flexibility to rebuild. Their first step should be finding a new manager.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under MLB, Uncategorized

MLB Award Predictions

The MLB regular season is less than a week from its conclusion and the races for the various awards are even closer than than that of the final playoff spots. With such a close competition between these top players, a strong last few games from any of them could put them ahead in the final stretch. Here’s a look at how the awards might pan out.

Nice shirt Miguel. Sadly, you’d probably be the best player on the Pistons. But Mike Trout is still better than you.

AL MVP: Mike Trout

The decision between Trout and Miguel Cabrera is the toughest one on this list. Cabrera is a currently a home run away from the Triple Crown and has bigger numbers in the power categories. Yet Trout’s all-around impact on the game, from his hitting to his base stealing to his incredible robbed home runs give him the edge here. And for a leadoff hitter, 29 homers and 78 RBI are pretty darn impressive power numbers.

NL MVP: Buster Posey

This race was close for a while, with Ryan Braun and Andrew McCutchen in the mix, but Posey has pulled away over the last month. Braun still has had an impressive season, leading the NL in home runs and RBI, yet the Brewers are unlikely to make the playoffs, which hurts Braun’s chances. Posey, meanwhile, is leading the majors in batting average (excluding Melky Cabrera of course) and on base percentage, and is also in the top three in slugging percentage and on base percentage. And he’s done all this while playing the most grueling position in the game.

AL Cy Young: Justin Verlander

As boring as it is to have a repeat winner, there’s no way around the fact that Verlander is the best pitcher in baseball right now. He had another great season, leading the league in strikeouts and being among the leaders in WHIP and ERA while also pitching the most innings.

NL Cy Young: R.A. Dickey

At age 37, Dickey’s success this season is fairly amazing. He’s pitched the best year of his career, mastering the art of the knuckleball while leading the league in strikeouts (as of now) and amongst the leaders in ERA, WHIP, and wins. Clayton Kershaw, Gio Gonzalez and Matt Cain could all give Dickey some competition in this award.

Trout’s rookie campaign has been nothing short of spectacular.

AL Rookie of the Year: Mike Trout

This is far and away the easiest decision of the bunch. Mike Trout’s rookie season has been one of the best in history. His arrival in the league was overshadowed by that of Bryce Harper, but all that attention has shifted to him since then. Yoenis Cespedes also had a nice year, but for a player touted for his power, Trout out-homered him.

NL Rookie of the Year: Todd Frazier

Frazier played in 41 games last year, but in his first full season this year he was a major reason for Cincinnati’s success. While Harper had more hype and attention throughout the season, Frazier simply did more, putting up bigger numbers than Harper and doing so in less at bats.

AL Manager of the Year: Buck Showalter

Looking at Baltimore’s lineup, it comes as a bit of a shock how successful they have been. After finishing with the fourth worst record in the MLB a year ago, the Orioles now hold the seventh best. Despite their shortcomings as a team, Showalter has shown them how to win and they’ve learned well.

NL Manager of the Year: Ozzie Guillen

Just kidding. Dusty Baker gets the nod here. Baker did another great job with the Reds this year. Cincinnati clinched an NL Central division with two worthy competitors in the Brewers and Cardinals and currently have a 10 game lead in the division. And to do this while missing key players Joey Votto, Scott Rolen and Ryan Ludwick missing significant time with injuries.

Buster Posey has shown that if you strike him down, he will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.

AL Comeback Player of the Year: Adam Dunn

Dunn was arguably the worst player in the league last year, hitting an abysmal .159 and just 11 home runs. He’s marginally better in batting average this year (up to .207), but his power numbers are back. He’s blasted 41 home runs, driven in 94 runs and his ability to take walks (he leads the AL with 104) has given him a respectable OBP which is pretty impressive given how terrible his batting average is.

NL Comeback Player of the Year: Buster Posey

Another obvious choice. Posey’s injury last season looked like it could be career threatening, or at the very least put his ability to play catcher in jeopardy. Instead, Posey returned better than ever, catching one of the league’s best pitching staffs while also handling the brunt of the offensive workload for the Giants. An incredible season for Posey.

Leave a comment

Filed under MLB

So… Who are This Year’s Best Teams Again?

A wild 2012 NFL season took a turn for the crazier this week. Seven of last year’s playoff teams lost and six of them are below .500 after three games.

The drama started with the 49ers los to the Vikings in which San Francisco’s dominant defense allowed 24 points to a below average Vikings offense. After looking like perhaps the league’s best team through two weeks, the Niners week 3 loss to Minnesota has cast some doubt over the team’s invulnerability.

After a strong start to the season, the 49ers were unable to stop the Vikings in Week 3.

The Packers, who lost to the 49ers in their season opener, dropped to 1-2 on the year after Monday’s loss to the Seahawks. Aaron Rodgers has not lived up to last year’s MVP season thus far, with just 3 TDs and 2 interceptions, and Green Bay has not looked like the Super Bowl favorite many projected the to be.

While not a member of last year’s playoff group, the Eagles are a team full of talent that have had high expectations for several years. After escaping with two narrow victories over the Browns and the Ravens, Philadelphia was crushed by the Cardinals 27-6. Arizona is a surprising 3-0 to start the season.

The Lions dropped to 1-2 after falling to the lowly Titans in overtime. While Detroit league’s the league in passing, their struggles running the ball and on defense have haunted them so far this season.

The Jets have actually played pretty well this season, with a 2-1 record, but they just learned they have lost their best player, Darrelle Revis, for the season with a torn ACL. This could cause their defense to struggle the rest of the year.

Winless on the season, Drew Brees and the Saints are in need of a hug.

With coach Sean Payton missing, the Saints have been a completely different team than the past several years. After being one of the league’s most dominant teams for years, New Orleans has yet to win a game yet this season, dropping to 0-3. That record is even worse, considering their competition has been the Redskins, Panthers and Chiefs, who haven’t looked great against anyone except the Saints.

After looking strong in their season opener, the Peyton Manning and the Broncos have haven’t looked as good since, losing close games to the Falcons and the Texans. Granted those two teams are both 3-0, but Denver’s offense hasn’t flowed quite as smoothly as the Colts were with Manning at the helm.

There was a major overhaul in Pittsburgh over the offseason and so far, things haven’t worked out great for the Steelers. Plagued by injuries, the Steelers have the second fewest rushing yards, with running back Rashard Mendenhall and guard David DeCastro out. With Sunday’s loss to the Raiders, the Steelers have dropped to 1-2.

The Steelers have reason to hang their heads, with a record of 1-2 on the year.

The Patriots have also fallen to 1-2 on the year after Sunday’s loss to the Ravens. New England has lost consecutive games by a total of 3 points, so it’s not panic time yet, but the dominant offense attack we’ve become accustomed to from the Patriots is not the same this year, as Tom Brady has just 4 touchdown passes on the year.

After three weeks, just three teams remain unbeaten: the Cardinals, Texans and Falcons. Of that group only Houston and Atlanta seem for real. Of the many teams expected to contend for the Super Bowl, only those two teams have lived up to the hype.

Leave a comment

Filed under NFL

New York Giants Back on Track

The Super Bowl high in New York has worn off pretty quickly this season. The Giants followed a disappointing performance in the season opening loss to the Cowboys with a disgraceful showing in the first half against the Buccaneers in week 2. Eli Manning threw 3 interceptions in the second quarter and the Giants went into the locker room at halftime trailing 24-13 and looking on the verge of dropping to 0-2 on the season.

For the first time this season, the Giants looked like a team that could be a Super Bowl contender.

Then the fourth quarter rolled around. Rather than give up and move on to the next game, Manning led the team to a 25 point quarter, showing the world once again why this team won last year’s Super Bowl, and earning the win in the game’s final minute. But this incredible comeback was lost in the midst of a controversy as Manning attempted to take the final knee, but was instead knocked over by an unexpected Tampa Bay pass rush.

As tempers flared and arguments spewed forth regarding the sport’s ethics, news of the Giants re-emergent dominance in the fourth quarter was pushed aside. In front of a national audience on Thursday night, Manning & Co. made sure to remind everyone what they missed, trouncing the Carolina Panthers 36-7. While the offense looked strong behind an efficient Manning and an excellent performance by Andre Brown, filling in for an injured Ahmad Bradshaw, it was the defense that shined in this game. After opening the season with two less than stellar defensive performances, giving up a combined 58 points, the Giants defense held a dangerous Panthers offense to just 7 points, forcing 5 turnovers, including 3 interceptions thrown by Cam Newton. The stout defense was bolstered by the return to health of cornerback Prince Amukamara. After playing two games with a banged up secondary, getting Amukamara back helped shut down Newton’s passing attack and should bode well for the Giants for the rest of the season.

Eli Manning won the quarterback battle against Cam Newton, throwing for 288 yards and a touchdown.

As the defense got healthier, New York’s offense went a bit in the other direction, playing without Bradshaw, the starting running back, and star receiver Hakeem Nicks. Yet even without their offensive cornerstones, the Giants’ offense played their most efficient game of the season thus far. Two backups filled the void made by the injured starters. Brown ran for 113 yards and 2 touchdowns while wide receiver Ramses Barden pulled an Ogletree, matching his 2011 season totals in just one game. Barden caught 9 passes for 138 yards, besting the 9 catches for 94 yards he had all of last season.

With the defense returning to health, the offense finding a way to stay productive despite its injuries and Eli Manning playing in superstar form, the New York Giants finally looks like a team ready to defend its title.

Leave a comment

Filed under NFL

Surprising Performances in NFL’s First Two Weeks

Week 2 concluded Monday night as Matt Ryan and the Falcons held off a late surging Broncos team led by Peyton Manning. With the exception of the Broncos’ first quarter, both teams have looked strong in their first two games, but that was expected. It’s the unexpected performances that are the interesting ones.

It’s been just two weeks, so there’s bound to be some flukes, but so far, several players have turned some heads with their play. And it’s not all for good reasons.

Despite his poor play, Vick has found a way to win games for the Eagles.

Michael Vick: After an incredible 2010 season, Vick regressed a bit last season, upping his interception total from 6 to 14. So far this year, Vick is making it look like that regression is exponential; he’s matched the 6 interceptions he threw in 2010 and it took him just two games. Even more surprising than his struggles is the fact that he somehow has led the Eagles to two wins. Vick has led Philadelphia to consecutive come from behind victories with last minute touchdown drives. His inaccuracy will come back to haunt him eventually, but thus far he’s been escape his struggles.

Drew Brees: When coach Sean Payton was suspended for the season, two theories arose regarding the Saints success this year. Either Drew Brees, who is as much an extension of his coach as any quarterback in the league, would step up in Payton’s absence and lead New Orleans to another winning season, or the lack of Payton’s offensive mind and leadership would derail the Saints. So far, the latter seems to be the case. Brees has looked very un-Breesish, completing just 54% of his passes and tossing 4 interceptions. Qualitatively, he doesn’t seem to have the same control over the game that has made him so dominant for the past half decade. The Saints are 0-2 and Brees will have to step up his game if he hopes to get his team back on track.

Spiller has looked like a superhero this season.

CJ Spiller: A year ago, Spiller had 561 rushing yards. In just two games this season, he’s already reached haf that amount, totaling 292 rushing yards. With Fred Jackson’s injury, Spiller has become the feature back of Buffalo’s offense and has embraced the role. Adding to his gaudy rushing yards are some equally impressive stats: 10.1 yards per carry, 3 rushing touchdowns, and 72 receiving yards.

Chris Johnson: CJ2K may need to change his Twitter handle soon. After rushing for 2,000 yards in 2009, Johnson barely cracked a thousand last season. If he gains that many this year, it’ll be a surprise. In 2 games this year, Johnson has 19 carries for 21 yards. Yes, that’s 1.1 yards per carry, good for last in the NFL. With a longest run of 7 yards, Johnson looks beyond washed up in his fifth year in the league.

Darren McFadden: The knock on Run-DMC has always been his durability, not his ability to gain yards. So far, McFadden hasnt dealt with injuries, but hes notched just 54 yards in two games, averaging 2.1 yards per carry. After averaging over 5 yards per cary the past two years, McFadden is playing well below his norm. He’s also been struggling in the passing game. He’s been targeted the second most in the league with 25 passes thrown his way, but he’s only been able to come up with 15 of those. He had two particularly egregious drops Sunday against the Dolphins.

Larry Fitzgerald: In this case, Fitzgerald is more of a victim than a culprit. He has just 5 catches for 67 yards in two games, far below the numbers his fellow star receivers are putting up. But this is much the results of poor quarterback play, as the position battle between Kevin Kolb and John Skelton never got resolved during the preseason.

This is terrifying.

Clay Matthews: Matthews’ play has been more eye-opening than surprising. His 6 sacks not only double the second highest total this year, but also match the number he had all of last year. He’s played out of his mind thus far.

Leave a comment

Filed under NFL

Jim Calhoun’s Final Farewell

If Jim Calhoun taught his players anything in his 39 years of coaching it’s perseverance. Battling through two bouts of cancer (prostate and skin), spinal stenosis, broken ribs and a broken hip, Calhoun remained a steady presence on the UConn bench since 1986, and at Northeastern for a good 14 years before that.

Calhoun’s contributions to basketball and the community are worth applauding.

Now, after 39 years of coaching, Calhoun announced his retirement today, ending one of the most illustrious careers in NCAA history. His name will go down in the record books among the likes of Bobby Knight, John Wooden, Dean Smith and Adolph Rupp. Not bad company for a man whose playing experience consisted of just 4 years at American International College. Fittingly, Calhoun’s alma mater will face Connecticut in their season opener.

Calhoun finished his career with 873 wins, the sixth most wins in Division I history. Add three national championships to that and he’s certainly earned the spot he already holds in the Hall of Fame. But it’s the fact that Calhoun was even able to bring Connecticut to a championship level that is his true legacy.

It’s taken for granted today that UConn is one of the nation’s elite programs. Yet when Calhoun inherited the Huskies from Dom Perno in 1986, they were trapped in mediocrity, playing below .500 for the better part of a decade. And in Calhoun’s first season it was much of the same; the team went 9-19.

Calhoun bids farewell to the college basketball.

But since that time, UConn has not had a losing season and failed to make the NCAA Tournament just seven times in   25 years. Considering they made the tournament just six times in the 25 years before he took over, Calhoun’s impact on the program has been colossal. Not only has Connecticut churned out more wins with him at the helm, but they have also produced quite a few succesful pros. Cliff Robinson, Ray Allen, Richard Hamilton, Caron Butler, Ben Gordon, Emeka Okafor, Charlie Villanueva, Rudy Gay and Kemba Walker all have Calhoun to thank for much of their success.

Some of these players were involved with Calhoun in some of college basketball’s most memorable moments as well. Ray Allen helped UConn win the 1996 Big East Championship over Allen Iverson and Georgetown with a huge game winning shot. Rip Hamilton scored the game winning bucket at the buzzer in UConn’s 1998 win over Washington in the Sweet Sixteen. Kemba Walker contributed in the Huskies six overtime loss to Syracuse in 2009, the second longest game in NCAA history. These moments have all gone down in basketball lore as some of the sport’s greatest games and Calhoun played a big part in all of them.

After 39 years of coaching, Jim Calhoun impressed in many ways. But a more impressive feat than those long years spent coaching are his 45 years of marriage to his wife Pat. Now, at 70 years of age, Calhoun can spend time focusing on family and health, without having to worry about the success of the UConn basketball program. He made sure that program wouldn’t be worrying anyone for a long time.

Leave a comment

Filed under Basketball, NCAA

What We Learned from Week 1

With a week of NFL action under our belts, what better time is there to make some hasty generalizations about the rest of the season.

1. It’s going to take more than Andrew Luck to turn the Colts around.

Andrew Luck can’t save the Colts from the ground.

After two years of being hyped as the greatest quarterback prospect since John Elway, Luck showed on Sunday that his hype doesn’t mean he’s a finished product. He didn’t dazzle in his debut, tossing 3 interceptions to just 1 touchdown, but he still played a fairly solid game, passing for over 300 yards. Some of the blame for Luck’s shakiness can be shifted from his shoulders to those of his offensive line. While he was only sacked 3 times, Luck was constantly under pressure and forced into quick throws. Combine that with a lackluster group of receivers and a rebuilding defense and it’s clear that it may be another year until Luck is labeled a savior.

2. It’s going to take more than a great offense to win this year.

Three of last year’s top scoring teams – the Saints, Packers and Giants – came out on the losing end this week, unable to keep their opponents’ offenses at bay. What makes this cause for concern is that none of the teams they faced were amongst the leading offenses a year ago. If their defenses can’t contain the opposing team, it won’t matter how how many points New Orleans, Green Bay and New York can put up.

3. Don’t bet too heavily on young QBs.

Andy Dalton, Russell Wilson, Brandon Weeden, Andrew Luck, Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, Ryan Tannehill and Cam Newton – all first or second year starters –  all lost their games and few of them were overly impressive. The eight of them combined for 6 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Apart from Weeden and Tannehill, none of them were terrible, but they didn’t look like quarterbacks who could lead their teams to the playoffs. On a brighter note, Robert Griffin III was arguably the best quarterback in the league in week one in the Redskins win over the Saints and Christian Ponder was able to lead his Vikings to an overtime win over the Jaguars. Even so, this large group of young QBs look very much like a work in progress.

4. If the Broncos could win with Tebow last year, they look awfully scary with Peyton at the helm.

Peyton Manning with the Broncos – so wrong, yet so right.

Manning commanded the Denver offense as if it had been a week since his last game, not a year and a half. He was his usual self – minus the blue and white uniform – changing plays at the line of scrimmage, making smart decisions and throwing with accuracy. If his neck was bothering him, he didn’t show it. He was able to handle the Steelers without resorting to an overtime Hail Mary to beat them.

5. ACLs, who needs ’em?

Coming off of torn ACLs last season, running backs Adrian Peterson and Jamal Charles both looked back to (or at least close to) normal. Peterson ran for 84 yards and 2 touchdowns while Charles ran for 87 yards. Not quite the hundred yard masterpieces we’re used to from the two of them, but the both averaged just about 5 yards a carry, which any running back should be happy with.

6. Were the Jets trolling us in the preseason?

After failing to score a touchdown in all three preseason games that their starters played in (and just one with the reserves playing) the Jets opened their season by dropping 48 on the Bills who supposedly improved their defense in the offseason. Mark Sanchez threw for 3 touchdowns, ending any discussion over whether Tebow should start instead of him. New York’s defense was less stout than normal, but if it returns to form and the offense continues to play well, this could finally be the year Rex Ryan’s Super Bowl promise comes true.

7. There’s a reason replacement refs are only used as replacements.

It’s said that you don’t realize what you had until it’s gone. Well the regular referees have driven that point home quite well during their lockout. Their replacements looked incompetent, confused, and uncertain in week one. There were penalties assigned to the wrong team, extra timeouts handed out, two minute warnings interrupting PATs, blown calls, missed calls, you name it. The NFL’s regular officiating crew make mistakes every game too, but the frequency and potential severity of the replacement refs’ flubs nearly marred an exciting opening weekend of football. Having unqualified officials call a game is unfair to players and fans alike, especially given the short NFL season in which every game is important. Hopefully the NFL and the locked out refs can come to an agreement soon.

Leave a comment

Filed under NFL