Tag Archives: playoffs

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.

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Oakland A’s Reliving their “Moneyball” Glory Days

Oakland has had it rough. Forever overlooked, always the brunt of jokes, a revolving door of mediocre players.

Yet somehow, the A’s are at it again and find themselves back in the thick of the playoff hunt after winning 10 of their last 12 games. And doing it in style no less.

With Wednesday’s game tied in the bottom of the ninth, shortstop Brandon Hicks smacked his first career homerun of the centerfield wall to give the A’s the walk-off win, which has become this team’s speciality. In fact, of the A’s 10 wins in this stretch, 4 have come off of walk-off hits.

Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick have been huge catalysts in the A’s recent surge.

Looking at Oakland’s roster, it seems nothing short of a miracle that this team is only a game out of the wildcard. They lack any sort of a star player, represented in last week’s All-Star Game by relief pitcher Ryan Cook. In fact, the A’s have not had a position player make the All-Star team since Ramon Hernandez in 2003.

The A’s are relying almost exclusively on the one thing their offense does have: power. Right Fielder Josh Reddick is 1oth in the AL in home runs with 21, and has provided consistent offense in the middle of the order. Yoenis Cespedes, Brandon Moss, Seth Smith, and Johnny Gomes have also contributed to the power game, with 42 homers between the four of them.

And given Oakland’s recent pitcher firesale in which Andrew Bailey, Gio Gonzalez, and Trevor Cahill were traded away, the A’s have been able to piece together a fairly decent pitching staff. Somehow, someway, Billy Beane appears to have done it again.

The Oakland GM made famous by Michael Lewis book Moneyball and last year’s film by the same name has made a career out of trading away promising young players and scrapping together a team full of  undervalued players. The strategy worked for him in 2002 and it appears to be working again a decade later.

This A’s team is the product of the past decades work and the many trades Beane made.

Billy Beane (left) looks a lot more like Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane (center) than Brad Pitt (right).

in 2007, pitcher Dan Haren was traded to the Diamondbacks for multiple prospects, among them Carlos Gonzalez, Brett Anderson, and Chris Carter. Gonzalez was later traded to the Rockies, but Anderson has been a solid pitcher for Oakland for a few years (although he has been injured this season) and Carter, a recent call-up, has played well so far with 5 HRs and 9 RBI in 11 games, including a 3-run walk-off homer against Seattle.

Oakland acquired Reddick in the trade that sent Bailey to Boston, got Derek Norris back in the Gio Gonzalez (who was originally acquired for Nick Swisher in 2008) trade to the Nationals (Norris contributed one of the walk-off homeruns), and swapped Trevor Cahill for Ryan Cook.

This web of trades, combined with a shrewd drafting strategy over the years (most recently Jemile Weeks and Kurt Suzuki) and smart free agent signings of Brandon Inge, Coco Crisp, Cespedes, and Moss have allowed the A’s to put together yet another playoff contending team for cheap.

Only time will tell if this A’s team will force Brad Pitt and Columbia Pictures need to team up for a sequel.

 

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The Power of Facial Hair

A good beard can get you a long way in life. Just ask James Harden. Harden’s play this season (and his beard of course) have propelled the Thunder all the way to the NBA Finals.

If you look closely, you can see a small bird living inside Harden’s beard.

While Harden has had his beard for several years now, many others grow theirs specifically for the playoffs, most famously in the NHL. That tradition dates back to the 1980’s when the New York Islanders had four games in five nights and didn’t have time to shave. Since then, come playoff time, players in nearly every sport will follow the tradition and hope the superstition proves useful.

But the effects of impressive facial hair have been well documented throughout sports history. Let’s take a look.

Even Davis can’t believe how nice his beard was.

Baron Davis: Just as Baron’s beard reached its maximum volume, miracles began happening for the 2007 Golden State Warriors. Finishing the season 16-5 to earn the 8th seed with a 42-40 record, the Warriors faced the NBA’s best team in the Dallas Mavericks and Dirk Nowitzki coming off of an MVP season. The rest, obviously, is history.

Davis and the Warriors dismantled Dallas  and nearly snuck by the Utah Jazz in round 2 in a series that featured arguably the best play of Davis’ career. Davis and his beard gained notoriety after that season, as Boom Dizzle himself details in this video.

Brian Wilson: Moving across the Bay, Wilson followed in the path of his fellow Giant Barry Bonds in achieving greatness through frowned upon measures. Pledging at the beginning of the season to not shave until his team won a World Series, the eccentric Wilson took that a step further by dying his beard black. He pushed aside the accusations by claiming the beard was “just really tan.”

Just slap some mascara on Wilson and Captain Jack Sparrow would have some competition.

Despite the tainted beard, the Giants also had some playoff miracles, particularly in their NLCS matchup against the Phillies. In Game 1, Cody Ross hit two home runs off Roy Halladay, who had yet to give up a hit in the playoffs, and the Giants went on to win the series 4-2 behind Wilson’s 3 saves and 1 win.

San Francisco moved on to face the Texas Rangers in the World Series and won the title with relative ease in 5 games. After that, Wilson’s beard became a legend, prompting obligatory “fear the beard” chants every ninth inning and his own t-shirt.

Johnny Damon:The 2004 playoffs was another big win for beards. Damon, sporting a massive beard rivaling many a vagrant, helped propel the Boston Red Sox to their first World Series title since 1918.

Damon added the long hair to his beard to go for the cave man effect.

After falling behind 3 games to none in the ALCS matchups versus the Yankees, Boston rallied back to win the series, bolstered by Damon’s game-winning run in the 14th inning of Game 5 and his 2 home run, 6 RBI game 7. Having reached the World Series, Damon’s home run to lead of Game 4 propelled the Red Sox to victory, sweeping the Cardinals and winning its first title in 86 years.

Brett Keisel: With a beard that could earn him a role in The Hangover 3, Keisel may have the most profound facial hair on this list.

Keisel must have a very warm face.

Following the Pittsburgh Steelers’ failure to make the playoffs in 2009, Keisel began growing what he dubbed “Da Beard,” hoping to improve his team’s fortunes. It clearly worked, as the Steelers made it all the way to the Super Bowl the next season, eventually losing to the Packers.

Keisel’s beard has its own website and raised over $40,000 for the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC when it was cut off at the “Shear The Beard” ceremony, making it the most philanthropic sporting beard of all time.

Rollie Fingers: The most famous moustache in sporting history has proved itself as lucky as its lower lip counterparts on this list. Fingers is a 7-time All-Star, 3-time World Series Champion, winner of the 1981 AL MVP and AL Cy Young Award, the 1974 World Series MVP, and only the second relief pitcher to make the Hall of Fame.

Just look at the curl on that thing!

The other end of the spectrum holds true as well. Players with pathetic fuzz have received some poor luck in the playoffs.

Adam Morrison: Sporting perhaps the worst moustache in the history of mankind, Morrison has felt the consequences of his poor life decision to grow it.

Cute

Gonzaga’s memorable late game collapse at the end of the 2006 Sweet Sixteen led to Morrison crying on national television and a virtually nonexistent NBA career for the NCAA’s leading scorer.

Joe Flacco: I have no idea how Flacco decided a handlebar moustache would be a good choice, but the experiment did not end well for the Ravens’ quarterback.

Flacco realized the error in his ways after his loss to the Patriots.

Thought by many to be frontrunners for the Superbowl, Baltimore missed a field goal at the end of their AFC Championship Game against the Patriots that would have sent the game to overtime. Flacco quickly shaved the stache off after the game, but its damage was done. After the season, Flacco further hurt his karma by calling himself the NFL’s best quarterback. “I think I’m the best. I don’t think I’m top-five, I think I’m the best,” Flacco said. Clearly he hasn’t learned his lesson.

With the long history of outstanding facial hair being accompanied by outstanding success, it will be interesting to see if James Harden and the Thunder can continue the trend.

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Celtics-Heat Preview: What to Watch For

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The Celtics and the Heat, the past two Eastern Conference champions, will face each other in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Rajon Rondo defied logic in the final minutes of Boston’s 85-75 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday which earned them a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals. Rondo, well known as perhaps the league’s worst-shooting point guard (He shot 23% from three and 60% from the line this season; for a point of reference, Sacramento’s sweet shooting Chuck Hayes is a career 61% foul shooter), had been struggling with inconsistent focus the entire game, but up 3 with 2:10 left, Rondo swished through a three-pointer from a good two feet behind the line to seal the deal for the Celtics.

Now heading into a series with the Miami Heat, a team featuring the two hottest players this postseason in Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, Rondo and the Celtics may need some more of that magic in what could be the aging squad’s final shot at another title. But from the Heat’s side, Boston is no pushover themselves, with a rejuvenated Kevin Garnett leading the way. Here are a few key topics that could decide who will represent the East in the NBA Finals.

1. Dealing with injuries

The Heat are prepared to play this series without the help of power forward Chris Bosh, who is out indefinitely with a strained abdominal muscle. His absence clearly complicates things for Miami, particularly on defense.

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Chri Bosh’s injury could set up Kevin Garnett for a monster series.

Garnett has been playing like a man possessed this postseason and is putting up numbers reminiscent of his T-Wolves years, averaging 19 points and 11 rebounds. So with Bosh out, Miami has to decide who to guard KG.

One option is shifting LeBron to Power Forward, as they initially did when Bosh went down. James, however, claimed banging in the post was too heavy a workload for him. Having James, arguably the league’s best perimeter defender, on Garnett would also leave the task of guarding Paul Pierce up to a weaker defender. Ultimately, Miami will likely keep LeBron on Pierce and hope Joel Anthony, Udonis Haslem, and Ronny Turiaf can keep KG in check.

Boston has an injury problem of their own which, while not as major a concern as Miami’s, coud still have an impact on the series. Avery Bradley, the Celtic’s top perimeter defender who would likely have guarded Wade, will miss the remainder of the postseason after having surgery on his shoulder.

Ray Allen will have to pick up Bradley’s duties, and while Allen did a decent defensive job against Philadelphia, the Heat have a much more potent offense than the 76ers.

2. Star power

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After scoring 41 points on 68% shooting to close out the Pacers, Dwyane Wade is entering the series against the Celtics red hot.

The Big 3 vs. The Heatles. The Boston 3 Party vs. The Miami Thrice. The 3 Amigos vs. The Super Friends. This series will have about as much star power and terrible nicknames as is possible.

While the Celtics’ “Big Three” get the title, Rondo has really become the team’s top player, especially in the playoffs where he has 9 career triple-doubles. His performance to close out the Philadelphia series (7 straight points in the last four minutes) exemplifies how much of an impact he can make.

Even with Bosh’s return questionable, the tandem of James and Wade quite possibly trumps all four of the top Celtics combined. Even with his 2-13, 5 point dud in game 3, Wade still managed to average 26 points a game throughout the series with the Pacers. James, meanwhile, managed to top that averaging 30 points, 11 rebounds and 6 assists.

3. Defense wins championships

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KG and the Celtics face an uphill battle if they hope to relive their 2008 glory.

Despite the offensive skill and marquee names on both teams, don’t expect many high scoring games. The Celtics and Heat are numbers 1 and 2 respectively in the points allowed category during the playoffs, both giving up less than 86 points a game. This series won’t be won by who scores the most points, but by who gives up the least.

Prediction: Miami in 6.

Wade and James are just too athletic for the older Celtics to keep up with and are coming into the series on such a hot streak that they’ll be tough to stop. The Celtics’ defense and experience will give them a chance though. As Kevin Garnett said, “Anything is possible.”

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UCLA in the Playoffs

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