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Saturday, June 1, 2013

MLB Weekly Walk-Off: Pittsburgh Dominance

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MLB Weekly Walk-Off:
Pittsburgh Dominance
By Wild on Sports MLB Analyst Kyle Kargel

Many haven’t realized it yet, but one team is making a huge name for themselves, and they aren’t even a division leader. They’re winning games with their unstoppable bullpen and starting rotation that is led by Wandy Rodriguez and A.J. Burnett. The Pirates have the league’s best record since a week into April and have done it by playing small ball. The offense of Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alverez have made the NL Central the best division in baseball with the Cardinals and the Reds still on fire. If the season were to end right now the NL Central would be sending three teams into the post season and it wouldn’t even be close. The closest teams are the Nationals who are still hovering around the .500 mark and the Giants who are still a few games over .500, but nowhere near the 13 games over .500 that the Pirates and Reds both are. The surprise struggle team of the past week has been the Royals who have just recently named former star George Brett their hitting coach to try and improve the hitting of Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Billy Butler. Fortunately for them the rest of the AL Central hasn’t been all that as of late as the Tigers only stand at five games over .500 after losing four straight. Also, if the Dodgers thought their season couldn’t get any worse, they were wrong. They placed all-star Matt Kemp on the DL with a strained hamstring which will put even more pressure on the already struggling Andre Ethier to produce for them. On a positive note, Hanley Ramirez has begun a rehab assignment. The Dodgers are looking for anyone to help get them near the .500 mark for the first time this season.

Studs of the Past Week

1. Domonic Brown OF Phi- It looks like the Phillies may have found their future after all. With Ryan Howard and Chase Utley both still overcoming past injuries Brown has surged into the hearts of Phillies fans. Brown has hit seven homeruns since May 25 and he already has five more homeruns than he had the previous two seasons combined. Brown has been hitting in the five spot for the Phillies which can be a solid spot once everyone is back to their healthy form. Already with 15 homeruns, expect Brown to put 10-15 more over the fence before the end of the season, which could make him a top pick in next year’s draft.

2. Bartolo Colon SP Oak-
Colon must think he’s pitching in the late 90s the way he’s been throwing over the past week. Over his last 16 innings pitched he’s allowed zero runs, zero walks and only 14 hits. One of those was a complete game shutout which has lowered Colon’s ERA to 3.33. This is noble for a guy who was probably drafted in later rounds in most fantasy drafts. The stat that sets Colon apart from the rest is his 42:4 strike out to walk ratio on the season.

3. Jacoby Ellsbury OF Bos- After overtaking the league lead in steals with 21, Ellsbury looks to be all the way back from his injury plagued season from just a year ago. Ellsbury stole five bases last Thursday to go along with his three hits. In fact, Ellsbury was just hitting around the .240 mark a couple weeks ago, but has lifted that to a more respectable .268 now. With the Red Sox success so far, and Ellsbury leading off for them on a daily basis it’s possible to see Ellsbury reach the 50 SB plateau for the season. That is if he keeps his average around the .270 mark.

Duds of the Past Week

1. Bryce Harper OF Wash
- The injury bug has made its way to the Nationals, specifically Harper. Knee bursitis has kept Harper out of the lineup for most of the past week and might cost him a trip to the DL. Harper was on fire in Apr., but then cooled off in May after he was experiencing knee problems. He is still hitting near .280 so don’t count him all the way out, especially if he is smart and sits for the next two weeks nursing his injury.

2. Jason Heyward OF Atl- Once a prodigy of the Braves farm system, Heyward has fell off the map since coming off the DL a couple weeks ago. Heyward doesn’t have a hit in his last 15 at bats while his average has plummeted to .146. This may cause panic for those who drafted him high in fantasy drafts. Hopefully Heyward can pick up the pace and B.J. Upton can take notice. These two are getting juggled around the lineup on a daily basis to try and find a comfort zone, but this has been a failure for the Braves.

3. Cole Hamels SP Phi
- The last six decisions for Hamels haven’t been the best. Going 0-6 he has allowed two or more earned runs in each of those starts and has only pitched more than six innings one time. Specifically in the past week though Hamels has pitched 11 1/3 innings, allowing 18 hits and nine earned runs. After last year’s performance, many ranked Hamels as a top 15 starting pitcher for this year, but that has been far from the case. Hamels record currently stands at 1-9 and he has already surpassed last year’s loss total by three and it’s not even 60 games into the season yet. Hopefully Hamels can turn it around in a hurry or else it will be a 15-20 loss year for him.

Pickups for the Next Week

1. Jason Castro C Hou- How about a little love for the Astros for not having the worst record in the league. They’re on a four game winning streak and surprisingly enough, some of the credit goes to Castro. Catchers come at a premium and if yours is slumping Castro wouldn’t be a bad free agent pick up for your fantasy team.

2. Neil Walker 2B Pitt- Walker was a Tiger killer in the home and home they had with them slugging a go ahead homerun in the eleventh inning against them on May 28 and going nine for 18 against them overall and lifting his average from .240 to .273 over that span. If he can keep up what he’s done he can be a nice fill in at second base. Considering the Pirates are still on fire as a team, you know he will be accumulating some sort of stats somewhere in the box score.

3. Marcell Ozuna OF Mia- The Marlins are beyond terrible at this point and without slugger Giancarlo Stanton they’re looking for anyone to produce any sort of offense. Ozuna is on a 16 game winning streak, but you wouldn’t even realize that just because of how depleted the Marlins offense is. He’s batting .330 and he could be good for ten homeruns and 15 steals by seasons end. If he stays starting for the Marlins.

Key Match-ups in the Coming Week

Indians vs. Yankees- With the Yankees gaining almost their full team back and the Indians trying to stay afloat in the AL Central, these two are still trying to prove to their fans they’re for real. The Indians recently placed closer Chris Perez on the DL so that may hinder them as they move forward. The Yankees just activated Mark Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis from the DL so it’ll be interesting how the Yanks manage their starters and their backups who have been playing superbly up until this point.

Pirates vs. Braves- The Pirates are surging and the Braves are still trying to find their identity while sitting atop the AL East. The Buccos will probably come down to earth during this series, but with the Braves trying to manage the slumping Heyward and B.J. Upton their heads may be somewhere else during this series.

Cubs vs. L.A. Angels- This is an interesting interleague matchup for a couple reasons. The Cubs are coming off an impressive interleague stint against cross town rival White Sox and surprisingly enough, these two almost have the exact same records. Sadly for the Cubs, they lost closer Kyuji Fujikawa to Tommy John Surgery so this might put a halt to any sort of run they may have had.

State of the Farm - AL East

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State of the Farm - AL East
By Wild on Sports MLB Analyst Aaron Dorman

As we inch closer to the 2013 MLB draft I thought it would be fitting to take pre-draft look at the state of each minor league system. On the agenda today: AL East...

Toronto Blue Jays:
OVERALL: The Jays’ system was thinned out in trades with Miami and New York, although strangely if you look their big league roster there really isn’t a specific player who they could have slotted in somewhere to help. Still, wouldn’t it be nice, if, despite their big league struggles, they still had Noah Syndergaard, Jake Marisnik, and all those other guys? Right now they’ve got a handful of promising pitchers in A-ball and that’s it.

GRADUATIONS: Lefty reliever Aaron Loup has done a nice job out of the pen. Munenori Kawasaki has surprised by getting on base at a reasonable rate (.339), although he’s not really a prospect either…you might have missed his 2012 debut when he slugged .202 in 104 at-bats for Seattle (that’s a slugging percentage, he had one extra-base hit). Anthony Gose is no longer an official prospect either, although his lack of pop is much more disappointing and unexpected.

TOP PROSPECT: Aaron Sanchez, rhp, was the one blue chip left standing in Toronto’s farm system after those big trades. Did they protect the right man? The scouting reports have remained strong and this year Sanchez has cut down his walk rate in high-A Dunedin, from a wild 5.1 BB/9 last year down to a more respectable 3.4. He has a 3.16 ERA with a solid-but-unspectacular K-rate (7.8), which means the 20-year-old still has a ways to go. In case you were wondering, Noah Syndergaard and Justin Nicolino (part of last year’s trio of ‘aces’ in low-A Lansing) are also in A-ball and their ERAs are 2.73 and 2.79, respectively over 10 starts.

BIGGEST RISER: Robert Osuna, rhp, had a superb month of April in low-A Lansing, striking out 31 batters in 22.1 IP (while issuing just 4 BB), and it looked like the 18-year-old Mexican might have “arrived”…until he shut down with elbow discomfort and now it looks like he’ll need Tommy John surgery. Among healthy Blue Jays, outfielder Kevin Pillar is hitting .329 for AA-New Hampshire and he could be a nice spark-plug down the road, like an outfielder version of Jeff Keppinger.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Daniel Norris, rhp, received over $2 million in 2011 as an over-slot bonus in 2011, but so far he has a 7.44 ERA in over 80 innings in pro-ball. He strikes out batters but the 20-year-old will have to cut down on his 5.6 BB/9 (with low-A Lansing) if he wants to harness his stuff. Are his high hit-rates (.290 batting average against) bad luck or a sign of poor command? His 6.34 ERA this year is an “improvement”, so there’s that.

Baltimore Orioles:
OVERALL: The Orioles haven’t had much to show for in their drafts beyond their usual high picks, the likes of which have graduated to form the core of their current competitive ball club. They haven’t been very busy in Latin America, either. However, sprinkled among their farm teams are some solid pitching prospects and a big bopper or two. Up-the-middle guys, or potential starting outfielders, are nowhere to be found.

GRADUATIONS: Manny Machado, 3b, won’t win the Rookie of the Year, as he passed the AB cut-off point last September, but he might have his sites on bigger prizes as the 20-year-old contends for the batting title (as of tonight, he’s hitting .332 and he’s the AL leader in “WAR” according to baseball-reference.com). Last year’s first-round pick, Kevin Gausman, was just called up to Baltimore. Is he up for good? We’ll see.

TOP PROSPECT: Dylan Bundy, rhp, was the best pitching prospect in baseball before coming down with elbow issues before the year began. He still hasn’t appeared on a mound in real game action yet this year, and could require season-ending surgery, although that will probably stall his progression rather than hindering it. As soon as he’s healthy, either tomorrow or in July of 2014, he’ll be ready to help the Orioles at the top of their rotation.

BIGGEST RISER: Josh Hader, lhp, saw his velocity jump up after getting drafted and while his ceiling isn’t as high as some pitchers ahead of him in Baltimore’s system, he’s quickly established himself as a potential future no. 3 pitching to a 2.13 ERA and 9.1 K/9 in 8 starts for low-A Delmarva. He’ll have to improve his command but he’s only 19 and is a great find for a 19th round draft pick.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Branden Kline, rhp, was taken in the second round last year and Baltimore had high hopes for him, but he was pretty hittable earlier on this year, and now he’s injured. The ugly numbers: 5.86 ERA, .283 BA against, and one victory in seven starts. That will push him below Hader and a half-dozen guys doing well for high-A Frederick on future prospect lists.

Tampa Bay Rays:
OVERALL: The Rays are still sitting pretty after a recent history of extra high draft picks and successful trades to restock the system. Although they’ve had a strange recent run of misses on highly drafted outfielders, they’ve done very well finding promising pitching in the draft and on the international market.

GRADUATIONS: None yet, but just wait. Three promising pitchers have made spot starts-Jake Odorizzi, Alex Colome, and Alex Torres-and there should be more coming. Wil Myers is due up any day now as well, once the calendar roles to June.

TOP PROSPECT: Wil Myers, of, got off to a slow start-was he pressing?-in AAA as he awaits his expected call-up. He’s done better lately and is up to .267/.350/.471 with 9 HR and 41 RBI, although his 60 strikeouts are a major concern and he probably won’t hit for a high batting average in his rookie season, if ever. He’s only 22 but right now it seems as if Tampa is holding him down in the minors for service time concerns. They haven’t necessarily needed him-they’re fifth in the AL in runs scored-but the more the merrier, yes?

Alex Torres, lhp, had the kind of collapse in his command and component ratios last year that have ended careers, or signaled a major injury. Never one to control the strike zone, Torres walks 63 batters in 69 terrible innings in AAA last year, with an ugly 7.30 ERA. Pitchers who walk a batter an inning just don’t get many chances. However, whatever was ailing him, mental or physical, is over now and Torres looked dominant in his first two months of 2013. His walk rate of 4.1 BB/9 is still high but it’s actually lower than his career rate and he’s gone 2-2 with a 3.52 ERA and 61 K in 46 IP. He throws hard and if he can’t improve his command enough to be a starter, he can still be an excellent lefty reliever, the kind that can dominate over multiple innings.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Joshua Sale, of, is among a number of Rays prospects currently saddled with suspensions for drug abuse, but apparently 50 games wasn’t enough of a humbling punishment, as Sale was recently suspended indefinitely for insulting comments he made about a stripper on facebook. See this amusing article for more details: http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/baseball/rays-prospect-overshares-strippers-facebook-article-1.1356702. Sale has played sparingly since being drafted in 2010, and although he’s only 21, he wouldn’t be the first idiot to derail his career over behavioral issues.

Boston Red Sox:
OVERALL: The Red Sox spent large amounts of money in the draft before baseball effectively prevented teams from over-slot spending going forward, and those extra premium signings have paid off nicely, as their system is currently loaded. Over the next few years they should be able to turn over some of their roster and say goodbye to some veterans like John Lackey or Jacoby Ellsbury without missing a beat.

So far, only two rookies have seen significant time with Boston, with opposite results. Jackie Bradley Jr. is only 4-for-33 with the Red Sox despite hitting .350 in AAA, while shortstop Jose Iglesias hit .419 in the majors despite continuing his punchless ineptitude in the minors (he now has a career .622 OPS in over 1000 at-bats).

TOP PROSPECT: Xander Bogaerts, a “star” shortstop for the Netherlands team in this springs World Baseball Classic, promises big-time power at a position more known for its gloves. In the past, scouts thought Bogaerts would have to move to third but he’s now 20 and he’s looked adequate at short this year at AA-Portland, so he could replace Stephen Drew next year and/or end the “threat” of watching Iglesias hit .210 all year for Boston. Right now his line is .290/.374/.464 and he’s worked hard this year to successfully improve his plate discipline. Watch out for this guy.

BIGGEST RISER: Anthony Ranaudo, rhp, was hurt and ineffective last year (6.69 ERA in 9 starts) and it looked like the Red Sox had gambled and missed when they gave him several million in 2010. His stuff has been inconsistent over the past three years, and so have his stats, but right now he’s in an “up” period in a big way, with a 1.48 ERA and 58 K in 54.2 IP for AA-Portland. He might be their best pitching prospect right now, and they have a few good ones.

Jose Vicinio, ss, was one of the youngest regulars in full-season baseball last year and held his own hitting .277 with 24 SB in 70 games for low-A Greenville. This year, however, he’s repeating the level and he’s down to .192 with little power or patience. He’s only 19 but he’ll have to reestablish his prospect credentials.

New York Yankees:
OVERALL: The Yankees have had some bad luck recently with pitching prospects ruining their arms, and this year their promising outfielders are mostly struggling at their various levels. First Jesus Montero, now Gary Sanchez; must the Yankees have at least one bat-only “catcher” in their system at all times?

GRADUATIONS: Lack of upper level prospects is the reason the Yankees chased after the likes of Lyle Overbay and Brennan Boesch all spring. The only ‘prospects’ filling in are catcher Austin Romine, who’s bat is not major league ready, and third basemen David Adams, who has some pop but is already 26. Adam Warren has done well so far in long relief but that’s his ceiling.

Gary Sanchez, c, is expected to move off the position as soon as he is ready to play in the majors, but his bat looks special enough to play at first or even as a DH. Sanchez is hitting .283/.349/.492 for high-A Tampa, in a pitcher’s league, and he’s only 20. A word of caution: at the same age Jesus Montero was putting up similar numbers…in AAA.

BIGGEST RISER: Rafael De Paula, rhp, has a great fastball and he’s been awesome for low-Charleston. His numbers: 5-2 with a 2.74 ERA, and a crazy 80 strikeouts in just 49.1 IP. He’s a long way from the Bronx but he’s already their best pitching prospect.

Slade Heathcott, of, has struggled the most among the Yankees disappointing trio which includes Tyler Austin and Mason Williams. Heathcott is hitting .246/.298/.377 with AA-Trenton, and he’s not using his speed either (just 4 SB). His stalled development means more Vernon Wells in pinstripes, and that’s not a good thing.

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Friday, May 31, 2013

An Ice Life: Conference Finals Showdown

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An Ice Life: Conference Finals Showdown
By Wild on Sports NHL Analyst Brian Pierce

Well, I am depressed even though I got all 4 winners right in my second round predictions and have only gotten one out of the 12 wrong,. However, we will get beyond that for my next round prediction/recap. While I am unhappy, the NHL must be happy because I have no doubt that the best four teams in the league are still in it, and the next three best in actual roster went down in the round before them in Ottawa, San Jose, and Detroit. Anaheim was the only team left out because they drew Detroit in the first round, otherwise the top 8 teams in my opinion were well represented.

Chicago Blackhawks vs. Los Angeles Kings

I am down in the dumps. That is because my Red Wings could not finish out a team with a few punks and quiet a town that gets pleasure out of chanting Detroit sucks after Michigan rebuilt Chicago after the great fire in aid for our neighbors. I will bring that up every single time this happens. I am not upset with the fact that they choked as I thought they were not going to make the playoffs for much of the season, and they look better than I expected going forward. I am upset because yet again, people who I don’t think have the ethical code to be stars move forward when they were beat. I will get to that in a second, but the future looks bright on the ice in Hockeytown. Look for a preview of the next season that highlights what the two eastward teams have to look forward to in their new divisional homes.

The ethics I speak of is how athletes are more and more acting terrible. I really liked Toews coming into this round, even said that he should be MVP in the regular season. I do not like him anymore by how he acted in the round. He underperformed and started to look like the MVP elect, Sidney Crosby, in how he strarted flopping around and getting penalties because he felt he deserved more freedom. He played awfully and acted worse. This guy is supposed to be the new Yzerman in his leadership and integrity and he acted almost as bad as Kane. I hate Kane because he is well known for being drunk, verbally abusing women, and physically abusing cab drivers. He is the latest in the line of American athletes that think being drafted high gives them the right to do whatever they want. Kane and Toews did very little in the series and Hossa was easily negated. They were saved by depth play and good goaltending, mainly the goonish hard nosed tactics of players like Bickell. I will be rooting harder against them now.

Now don’t take this as a reason for me not picking them to win, if you look back you will see I picked the Kings from the get go of the playoffs and I won’t change it. Chicago showed me they aren’t as solid as everyone thought they were, and LA is a more top heavy version of Detroit. The Blackhawks have a shot, but that is just if their big three can grow up quickly and come back better than they did against Zetter and Pavel. They do have a shot.

As for LA, they got a massive scare against the Sharks, like the Hawks did and they will be ready. The Kings found themselves against a team in the Sharks that was unbeatable at home, until the Kings found another gem out of Quick and Justin Williams. They will need more of that to upstage their counterparts in Crawford and Sharp. The Kings came up against one of the best top two lines in all of hockey with a solid defense and a top statistical goaltender. They will have the same issue with Chicago, but I am not worried because the big four trumps the big three. Although I still think Toews and Hossa are the best two players in this series. Quick, Anze, are the next best two and you can argue Brown, Richards, and Carter are the next best following that.

Again, I just have to point out that the best goaltending will likely win, and it is a close call. Therefore, I think that the depth of LA trumps Chicago and it comes down to coaching. I have to stick with the Kings. I will pick them in six. If they lose, I will be upset.

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Boston Bruins

I haven’t watched any of the Penguins play with the sound on. I can’t stand how much the media wants them to win. I do think in America they are going to back off of that for this match up. I just want to say of the bat, the bombing is going to give extra motivation to the Bruins and I still think they win the Cup in large part to the effort they will give for the City. Make no mistake, this will be their biggest challenge.

The Penguins beat Ottawa down how I said they would, in that the Sens only would have a chance if they contained and dragged out the series in a defensive grudge match. They didn’t do that and the series got out of control too fast. They just couldn’t outscore the Penguins, and I do not think the Bruins can either even though they have impressive depth to do it. They would have even more if Cooke wasn’t a cheap piece of crap who should be out of the league from hitting Savard and ending his career. Just another reason karma should be on the side of the Bruins. The Penguins have the two hottest forwards in the world right now. Not them, the other guys. Neal and Dupuis. Kunitz might also rank higher in terms of hotness than their best player, which is Malkin. If that wasn’t bad enough, Crosby is playing at the highest level of his career as well in the best top two lines in the league offensively. A skilled guy like that thrives on space, and he has more of it than he will ever see.

The Penguins have the weakest goaltending of all the teams remaining, and that might be their undoing. Tukka can best this team if he shows up, and the B’s have the better defense to boot. If Tukka plays his best, we will have the answer to immovable object meets irrespirable force. I imagine that half the games will have the Penguins winning the match up of the top lines versus the top defensive parings and the other half will have Boston winning that match up. I do however think that the Bruins win the depth battle. Even though Pitt has bigger names on the third and fourth lines, this usually loses to hungry guys whose game is built for the grind. I get the feeling that this will be the series that gets all the attention and the Pens will lose like they did to the Flyers last time, in brutal historical fashion. I have the Penguins losing in seven.

This will be the round where I could take a bath, but I do think that the best two teams in the league right now are the Kings and the Penguins, but I just get the feeling that the Bruins are going to dig deeper. I hope they win. I can tell you that a Hawks/Pens finals might make Gary and NBC happy, but I won’t watch a second of that. I also am fearful that the refs will really butcher it, because while the first round was bad, the second round wasn’t as affected by the bad calls. There were plenty, but it didn’t feel like that they were as impactful. Though they seriously tried to screw up some series. Just don’t at all get your hands dirty for anyone here. I just hope for the more ethical teams, the ones with better character to win. That means the Kings and the Bruins. God speed to the good guys.

Rutgers Saga Continues

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The Rutgers Saga Continues: 
New AD Isn’t What She Appeared
By Wild on Sports Analyst Bryan Ridall

After the video of Mike Rice, the Rutgers Men’s Basketball coach, surfaced; which showed him throwing basketballs at players and using offensive slurs at players, Rutgers needed to remake its overall sports image. Rice was fired after an ESPN report which showed hours of the footage, and eventually Athletic Director Tim Pernetti was fired as well, because it was shown that he knew about this well before the report and did very little to deter Rice. To replace Rice, Rutgers turned to Eddie Jordan as their head Men's Basketball coach, who it was found, lied about graduating from Rutgers. Rutgers, needing a new AD and a new face of the university, turned to Julie Hermann, after paying a vetting company $70,000 to make sure that she was clean. However, in the last few days, allegations of abusive treatment towards players have surfaced, and it seems that this AD is the same as the basketball coach they were trying so hard to distance themselves from.

Hermann’s first allegations stem from her time as Tennessee’s Women’s Volleyball coach, a position she held from 1991-1996. During Hermann’s time at Tennessee, the volleyball team only made one NCAA Tournament appearance and had only two winning seasons. However, Hermann left a lasting impression on her players, who described her as an abusive and menacing coach. Hermann was forced to resign after all 15 of her players wrote a letter to the athletic director describing the humiliation as well as the emotional abuse that Hermann utilized to try to motivate and coach her players. Hermann was also accused of abusing her power when handling other coaches on her staff. In 1997, a jury awarded $150,000 to a former Tennessee assistant coach who claimed that Hermann fired her because she became pregnant, saying that “it would interfere with job performance.”

While Hermann moved on to Louisville to become a senior athletics administrator, her disrespectful and rude behavior towards players seemed to be a thing of the past. However, Hermann has been named in a lawsuit against Louisville, in which former assistant track coach Mary Banker alleges that she faced sexual discrimination and was fired after pursuing a complaint of hers to the human relations development. Banker claims that after being ignored by the head track coach when expressing her concerns of discrimination, she went to Hermann to discuss her treatment. Banker says that again she was ignored, this time by Hermann and after being ignored for the second time, Banker went to Human Resources, which enraged Hermann. Banker stated that she was called into Hermann’s office and told that because of the incident with HR, she could not be trusted, and was subsequently fired less than a month later. While Hermann contends that Banker’s firing was due to lack of performance, Banker was never told she was doing a poor job and wasn’t given more of an explanation when she was being fired that “it’s not a good fit.”

Scandals have followed new Rutgers Athletic Director Julie Hermann everywhere she has gone, and now that they have come to light, Rutgers is at a difficult impasse. Rutgers is supposed to join the Big 10 in the 2014 season, which is a big jump from the Big East. The Big 10 is a prestigious conference that has had many title-winning teams, and teams that have long and successful histories in college sports. Rutgers has only won 1 NCAA Championship in any team sport, and haven’t been relevant in either basketball or football, the two sports that generate the highest revenue for the school. The Big 10 is still dealing with the scandal that has surrounded Penn State since the breaking of the Jerry Sandusky news, and it isn’t a conference that takes institutional incompetence lightly. Though it is unlikely that Hermann will lose her job or that Rutgers will lose its Big 10 bid, this situation could have Rutgers on a short leash with the Big 10 executives. If more scandals are uncovered about Hermann, her tenure as Rutgers AD could be extremely short-lived.

Where's the Hockey

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Where's the Hockey?
By Wild on Sports Analyst Jason Gillson

OK NHL. You've got me; hook line a sinker. I'm feeling the hockey flow. Can't wait to watch tonight's game. Oh? No game tonight? Tomorrow? The next day?

If you are an Eastern Conference hockey fan then we have probably been singing the same song and dance all week. With both series ending early (5 games a piece), the West Conference series both going seven games and a TV deal in place -- there has not been any relevant hockey played on the East Coast in over a week. Ouch.

Yes Gary Bettman, I know there are two weeks between series going into the Super Bowl in the NFL and yes, I know this is one of the highest anticipated match-ups we have seen on this side of the country in years. I know Saturday night games are going to draw a much better TV rating than a Thursday night game. I get all that. I don't like it, but I get...

...is what a sane business savvy individual would say. Since I don't qualify, let me blow off a little steam here. It is absolutely ridiculous that we have to wait over a week between playoff series. One season ended in mid-May. The next starts in JUNE! JUNE! Common now. 

The NHL playoffs are going to run damn close to July if the Cup Final goes 7 games. That is way too late in the year for hockey. Even in Canada the snow is gone and ice is melted by July. It's summer, not hockey season. May, OK, no problem. June, ah, I've grown to accept it to a degree. July? No thank you.

Given the way the season started -- lockout shortened and all -- hockey fans have come out in drones, many forgetting that just a few shorts months ago we were worried that there may not even be a hockey season. We waited months to get hockey back and finally did. Now we wait a week to get playoff hockey back. Somehow this week seems longer.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Puckmania: Sizing Up the Conference Finals

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Puckmania: Sizing up the Conference Finals
By Wild on Sports NHL Analyst Josh Tarr

The Blackhawks won game seven of the Western Conference semis last night against Detriot 2-1 in overtime, giving them a 4-3 series victory. As noted in my last blog, a Bruins-Penguins / Hawks-Kings conference finals (or as I’m calling it, the super series) will mark the first time since 1945 that the previous four Stanley Cup winners are the last four teams remaining in the league. The last time this happened, there we’re only six teams in the league compared to the 30 that exist today. That storyline will be a mere shadow, considering how incredible these two matchups will be.

The Kings currently own Stanley Cup bragging rights entering this series, but the president trophy winning Blackhawks are storming into this round having won three straight game to overcome a 3-1 series deficit to Detroit.

Los Angeles has the luxury of putting out a much better goalie than Chicago. Jonathan Quick is eons and light years ahead of Corey Crawford when it comes to the production of quality goaltending, but Chicago rolls four complete lines every single game. Kane, Toews and Hossa will beat the Kings in a footrace while Kruger, Saad and Shaw will wear you down with their physique. That being said, the Hawks are much more defensively sound and if that will keep the Kings from getting many scoring chances, Crawford’s best effort will be enough, as I believe Chicago has the potential to make this series rather short.

Pittsburgh and Boston on the other hand? If you’re from Boston and have no interest in Hockey whatsoever, do yourself a favor and watch this series. As a life long Bruins fan who has seen Boston win a Stanley Cup, this series may end up being the most exciting in my lifetime.

Nobody in Pittsburgh is giving the Bruins a fighting chance, but man do they deserve it. Both of these teams run four lines deep, and while Pittsburgh’s first two lines are better than Boston’s, the Bruins fourth line is better than Pittsburgh’s third. The Bruins, much like Los Angeles who are also underdogs, have the better goalie coming into this series.

The key factor that separates the Bruins and the Kings (again, both being the underdogs in this round) is that the Bruins defense is vastly superior to Pittsburgh’s, and that they are a team that is almost entirely built around defense. Although the Penguin’s tend to play better against team’s not notarized by high powered offense, such as Boston, I think the quality of the Bruins defense is so prime, that it will help them pull off an upset against the Penguins.

Ultimately, I believe the Blackhawks will have Home-Ice advantage against the Bruins in the Stanley Cup Finals, but that is the last thing I want to think about right now. Let’s enjoy these next few weeks, it’s not too often we have a super series in our hands.

State of the Farm - NL West

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State of the Farm - NL West
By Wild on Sports MLB Analyst Aaron Dorman

As we inch closer to the 2013 MLB draft I thought it would be fitting to take pre-draft look at the state of each minor league system. On the agenda today: NL West...

Arizona Diamondbacks:

OVERALL: The legacy of superb 2010-2011 drafts lives on and continues to provide Arizona with admirable depth, even after trading away Trevor Bauer. They have a nice balance of position player prospects around the diamond, as well as a nice pile-up of strike throwers in the upper minors. What exactly are they going to do with all that pitching depth?

GRADUATIONS: Didi Gregorius is turning heads and making history with his .324/.385/.541 line through 124 PA at shortstop. Nobody with a sub .700 OPS in over 2000 minor league PA has ever performed that well, according to this article: http://www.azcentral.com/insiders/nickpiecoro/2013/05/18/didi-gregorius-outperforming-his-track-record-farm-report-other-stuff/. Outfielder AJ Pollock is holding his own and getting the bulk of playing time in center. Tyler Skaggs threw six shutout innings in a spot start this week.

TOP PROSPECT: Archie Bradley, rhp, leapfrogs over Tyler Skaggs on the basis of improved command turning him into a nearly unhittable pitcher. In 10 starts so far over two levels Bradley has an 0.99 ERA with 73 K in 54.2 IP. He’s now at AA-Mobile; might he skip the hitter’s haven Reno on his way to the majors? There’s no room there right now so for the time being he’ll continue to have his way with minor leaguers. He was a top-25 prospect in baseball prior to the season according to both Baseball America and MLB.com. Right now he’d rate even higher than that.


BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Nick Ahmed, ss, was supposed to be more than just a gloveman when Arizona acquired him in the Justin Upton trade; last year he stole 40 bases and showed some gap power. This year, however, he’s hitting just .147 at AA-Mobile with just two extra-base hits in 150 AB. He’s already 23 and is now solidly buried underneath better producing infielders in AAA and the majors for Arizona (Gregorius, Chris Owings, etc).

Los Angeles Dodgers:

OVERALL: The Dodgers’ system is quietly solid thanks to a number of strong early season performances from many of their top prospects, although they may lack a true blue-chip talent beyond Cuban import Yasiel Puig. In recent years they’ve been pitching-heavy but they now have some solid hitters like Puig, Joc Pederson and Corey Seager.

GRADUATIONS: Scott Van Slyke, Andy’s son, is going to get a chance to be the right-handed half of a platoon with Andre Ethier in right field. Expensive Korean signee Hyun-Jin Ryu is living up to his promise as an above-average left-handed starter. Paco Rodriguez was one of the first 2012 draftees to reach the majors and he’s been a great addition to the bullpen.

TOP PROSPECT: Yasiel Puig, of, flash all five tools in spring training after being signed to a questionable long-term contract without having played a lot of baseball once he defected from Cuba. Now, however, he looks like a feather in the cap for the Dodgers’ scouting department as he’s dominating AA-Chattanooga, hitting .316/.390/.603 with 8 HR, 35 RBI, and 11 SB in 136 AB. His strong play has led to rumors about trading Andre Ethier to make room for him sooner rather than later.

BIGGEST RISER: Ross Stripling, rhp, had a 1.24 ERA in the Pioneer League last year…but he was already 22 years old. The fifth-round pick has moved quickly, however, and is now dominating at the age appropriate level in AA-Chattanooga. So far this year he’s gone 3-0 with a 2.79 ERA with 52 K in 48 IP over two levels. Suddenly he’s LA’s second-best pitching prospect behind Zach Lee.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Garret Gould, rhp, throws hard but for the second straight year he is struggling mightily in high-A Rancho Cucamonga. After going 5-10 with a 5.75 ERA last year, he’s actually gotten worse, raising his ERA to 6.22 and striking out less batters over his first ten starts. His prospect star is fading.

San Francisco Giants:
OVERALL: The Giants’ scouting department is among the best in baseball as they regularly replenish the farm system with bountiful drafts, keeping them able to make trades for players like Carlos Beltran and Hunter Pence, while also providing depth for the major league team. Right now they have some intriguing live arms and enough hitting prospects to be comfortable with.


TOP PROSPECT: Chris Stratton, rhp, edges out some of the other power arms in the system based on pedigree, as he was the Giants’ top pick in last year’s draft. Stratton is 6-2 with a 3.13 ERA and 57 K in 54.2 IP with low-A Augusta, and he’s due for a promotion soon since he’s already 22. He’s not far ahead of some other guys like Kyle Crick and Adalberto Mejia, so it will take a full season to sort out the rankings.

BIGGEST RISER: Martin Agosta, rhp, taken in the 2nd round after Stratton, is having similar success with low-A Augusta, as he’s currently third in the South Atlantic League with a 12.3 K/9 and he’s 5-1 with a 2.45 ERA. Agosta throws in the low-nineties and can reach back and dial it up when he needs to. Lefties Edwin Escobar and Ty Blach have better control but lesser stuff pitching for high-A San Jose.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Gary Brown, of, was supposed to be a future leadoff hitter but he’s done very little since a .336/.407/.519 line for San Jose, his power numbers aided by the environment. He’s always been fast but he’s down to .220/.285/.340 for AAA-Fresno this year with just 6 SB. Even with his speed he may now max out as a fourth outfielder, and that’s only if he can play center well.

Colorado Rockies:
OVERALL: The good news, beyond their surprising big-league start, is that a handful of pitching prospects have stepped up this year in the Rockies’ system. The bad news is that several of their better prospects have either graduated (Nolan Arenado) or stalled (Trevor Storey), living them thin on true upside.

GRADUATIONS: Nolan Arenado, 3b, looked great in spring training and his explosive start in AAA pushed Chris Nelson out the door. With Colorado, he’s slowed down quite a bit, hitting a soft .243/.277/421 with only five walks in 112 PA.

David Dahl, of, had one of the best debuts of any first-rounder last year by hitting .379 with power and speed for rookie-level Grand Junction. He’s just getting his season underway for low-Asheville, so his .273/.310/.425 line is pretty meaningless right now in just 40 PA. The exciting number? Just 19 years old and already holding his own in full-season ball. His ceiling is very high.

BIGGEST RISER: Chad Bettis, rhp, missed all of last year with a shoulder injury but he’s come back strong this year for AA-Tulsa, his 4.00 ERA masking a superb 5/37 BB/K ratio in 36 IP. He’s the closest Rockies pitching prospect to the majors, although it would be best for his development to protect his arm in the minors for now.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Trevor Story, ss, did a little bit of everything as a teenager last year for low-A Asheville, but this year he’s been a very different Story (pun intended), and not in a good way. Strikeouts have taken over his offensive game and he’s scuffling at .192/.259/.311 in 195 PA for High-A Modesto. At least he’s still stealing bases (7), although he’s not a burner. He’s only 20 but right now he’s a project.

San Diego Padres:

OVERALL: The Padres farm system is pretty boring for a team that has drafted high and invested some money in Latin America, lacking many high-ceiling players and any true offensive threats. In particular, nobody in their system figures to hit for above-average power in the major leagues. They do have a lot of pitching; strike-throwing innings-eaters in the high minors and some upside guys down below.

Jedd Gyorko (pronounced “Jerko”), 2b, is having an excellent rookie season, his line of .270/.335/.438 a healthy 20 percent above league average (for ALL hitters, not just second basemen). Strangely, Gyorko is hitting much better at home park Petco than on the road, an unusual split for Padres hitters. Burch Smith had three disastrous starts (15 runs in 7 IP) so he’s not ready yet but he might return later in the year.

TOP PROSPECT: Max Fried, lhp, is a lefty and he has the best stuff of any Padres pitcher. Just 19, Fried has a 3.32 ERA with 42 K in 40.2 IP in his full season debut with low-A Fort Wayne. The Padres have not drafted many high ceiling players in higher rounds but are having some success with guys like Fried and fellow “TinCaps” Zach Eflin and Joe Ross, all taken in the first or supplemental round.

Burch Smith, rhp, used his mastery of the strike zone to cut his ERA threefold from last year (down to 1.24 from 3.85) and earned a quick call-up to San Diego earlier this month. Between AA-AAA, Smith has a 6/42 BB/K ratio in 36 IP over 7 starts.

Austin Hedges, C, was San Diego’s best position player prospect in the low minors but he’s hit just .229/.333/.343 in 84 PA for high-A Lake Elsinore. He’s been limited by injuries but so far this year that’s a step back, especially when you consider that this is one of the best hitting environments in the minors.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Rangers Fire Tortorella

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Rangers Fire Tortorella

The writing was on the wall. After going all out to bring in big names: Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards, Rick Nash, if all else fails it must be the coach's fault, right? Well, the Rangers certainly think so as they showed coach John Tortorella the door on Wednesday, just days after being eliminated in five games by the Boston Bruins. 

The Rangers had reached the playoffs four times in five seasons under the outspoken coach. Known league wide for his big mouth and hard nose attitude, Tortorella garnered headlines throughout the playoffs for his critique publicly about the abilities (or lack there of) of some of his better players. Youngster Carl Haglin "stunk" on the powerplay. Brad Richards, who won a Cup for Tortorella with Tampa in 2004, went from the 1st line to the 4th line to benched during the semi-final series with Boston.

The fiery coach is one of those guys who you either love, for his brutal honesty and tough character or hate for many of the same reasons. He is cut from the Mike Keenan hockey coaching cloth as a coach who is a disciplinarian and demands a lot from his players. Coaches like that have a track record of coming in some place, turning it around quickly, but losing the locker room for many of the same reasons as they wear out their welcome after a certain amount of time.

You could see it in the Rangers play. For a team so offensively gifted, they had just a horrible time putting the puck in the net throughout the playoffs. They likely would have been bounced a round earlier had goaltender Henrik Lundquist not stole a pair of shutout wins to wrap up  the series against Washington. Preaching a defense first mentality to a team built to score is a tough sell and one that clearly didn't work down the stretch.

It will be interesting to see what happens next with Tortorella. He has won a cup and is capable of getting teams to the playoffs. That alone should get him in the discussion for other jobs. There are also whispers that his personality might make for a nice transition into the media side. That said, the way he treated the media in New York it would be hard pressed for there to be many more bridges left standing to cross into that realm.

In any case, the Rangers search for a new coach has begun. The Tortorella era has come to a close. GM Glen Sather is on the hot seat and could go next. The Rangers, whether outside the blue jerseys or in, are going to be a much different organization next season.

State of the Farm - NL Central

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State of the Farm - NL Central
By Wild on Sports MLB Analyst Aaron Dorman

As we inch closer to the 2013 MLB draft I thought it would be fitting to take pre-draft look at the state of each minor league system. On the agenda today: NL Central...

Milwaukee Brewers:
OVERALL: The Brewers have had a terrible recent track record with their top draft picks, starting with Eric Arnett in 2009. It’s really hard to have a good farm system without some first-round successes, and to top it off, the Brewers are still missing all the young talent they traded for Zack Greinke and Shawn Marcum over two years ago. Doug Melvin thought that the handful of upper-level righties in the minors were ready to help; he was wrong. Their farm system is among the worst in baseball with just a few interesting right-handers looking interesting.

GRADUATIONS: Hard-throwing Wily Peralta has struggled with a 6.35 ERA so far in 11 starts, and soft-tossing Hiram Burgos looks like he is Quad-A material (his ERA is 6.44). Although he’s not a rookie, Jean Segura is one of the nicest surprises of 2013 and after a five-hit day today he’s hitting over .360 with power at shortstop. That’s a superstar profile.

TOP PROSPECT: Jimmy Nelson, rhp, hasn’t hit a well yet like some of the other pitchers in their system (like Tyler Thornburg), which means he still profiles as a mid-rotation starter (or better), and that’s enough to make him Milwaukee’s best prospect for right now. He has a 2.98 ERA in AA-Huntsville with a 12/55 BB/K ratio in 54 IP.

BIGGEST RISER: Nobody, really. Ariel Pena, rhp, was acquired in the Greinke trade with Los Angeles, and struggled at the end of the year with a 7.24 ERA with his new team. Playing for AA-Huntsville again, he’s lowered that back down to a much better-looking 2.87 with 43 K in 48.2 IP, although his BB/9 of 5.1 is still pretty terrible. He throws hard; is he a future reliever?

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Tyler Thornburg, rhp, has a 6.60 ERA in AAA but at least he his strikeout hitters out. The biggest disappointment in this moribund system is last year’s first-round pick, C Clint Coulter, who is “hitting” .193/.288/.325 in low-A Wisconsin, and even though he’s only 19 he raises more question marks as a big slow catcher. Is he moving to rookie-ball Helena in the second half? Whatever the case, his prospect status has taken a huge hit.

St. Louis Cardinals:
OVERALL: The Cardinals system has severely weakened thanks to what must be a historic amount of players graduated to the major leagues. That’s obviously a good thing, as those rookies have helped St Louis win nearly two-thirds of their games so far. Even last year’s first round draft pick Michael Wacha was promoted this week, to make at least a spot start (but possibly more). What’s left in the system are some interesting young guys in low-A ball from last year’s draft and outfield wunderkind Oscar Taveras.

GRADUATIONS: Everybody! Or almost. Shelby Miller is already one of the best pitchers in the league. Trevor Rosenthal and Carlos Martinez are important components of the Cardinals’ bullpen. Finesse artist Seth Maness has done well in long relief. Before getting hurt, lefty John Gast showed some promise. For position players, Matt Adams is crushing the ball off the bench and Pete Kozma has surprisingly held his own at shortstop, even though he’s not going to much more than a placeholder.

TOP PROSPECT: Oscar Taveras, of, is a career .321 hitting in the minor leagues, and the “lefty Vlad Guerrero” is just waiting for an opening in the outfield, which might not come until Carlos Beltran leaves as a free agent after the year. He’s not doing anything to lose his prospect luster; he’s hitting .317 with power and his proximity to the majors means he might be the best bet currently playing in the minors right now.

2012 third-round pick Tim Cooney, lhp, is moving quickly through the minors by throwing strikes and his last three starts in AA-Springfield have been especially impressive (21 K in 18 IP). He looks like solid option for the rotation in the near future. Will he be yet another midseason call-up for St. Louis?

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Teenager Carson Kelly, 3b, has made an awful lot of outs since being drafted last year in the second round, having now hit .230/.271/.371 in over 350 at-bats, but he’s 18 and playing in low-A Peoria so more important than his actual numbers will be progress and decent components (like contact rate, XBH %, BB%, etc).

Chicago Cubs:
OVERALL: The status of the Cubs farm system has not changed much since the winter; an impressive collection of athletic position players, especially outfielders, but lacking significant pitching prospects. Who is their best pitching prospect currently healthy? The closest to the majors is Rangers import Kyle Hendricks, who has a 2.44 ERA in AA but has the stuff to be no better than a back-of-the-rotation starter.

GRADUATIONS: Nobody of any real importance, surprising for a team that is rebuilding. “Rookie” Kyuji Fujikama has thrown 12 indifferent innings out of the bullpen so far.

TOP PROSPECT: Javier Baez, ss, is only 20 years old and he’s flashing impressive power in high-A while looking like he can stay at the position. Baez is hitting .266/.305/.473 with 6 HR but his 8/50 BB/K ratio exposes his rawness, and Chicago and afford to slow down his timetable until he learns how to control the strike zone.

BIGGEST RISER: Rock Shoulders, 1b/of, is somewhat of a man without a position, but with that name alone he belongs to show up on prospect lists in the near future. He’s also hitting .282/.381/.546 in low-A Kane County, which makes him an interesting bat, much more so than he was before the season began.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Brett Jackson, of, has a lot of tools but his high strikeout totals exposed him in the majors and he hasn’t made any real progress since being sent down to AAA. Currently he is batting .242/.322/.375 with 39 K in 128 AB, which is not really an improvement on past ratios. He’s stalling as a player and might not profile as an everyday player anymore.

Pittsburgh Pirates:
OVERALL: The Pirates are having a great year in the major and minor leagues, as despite past issues with player development and odd boot-camp style practices, most of their high draft picks and expensive signees are performing well and the Pirates have plenty of exciting young pitching to use either as replacements for older veterans (AJ Burnett when he leaves? Francisco Liriano when he breaks down again?) or trade bait for a real star of a level up from the likes of Wandy Rodriguez (who admittedly is off to a great start).

GRADUATIONS: Jeff Locke, lhp, is firmly established in the Pirates’ rotation although his 2.45 ERA is a fluke. Another less heralded lefty, Justin Wilson, is off to a great start and now has a 1.60 ERA in 34 IP with the Pirates since last year. Outfielder Starling Marte looks like a star…but he’s technically not a rookie, having passed the cut-off point last year.

TOP PROSPECT: Gerrit Cole, rhp, was rated by most publications as a top 10 overall prospect in baseball going into the year, and his stuff still rates very highly. The 2011 top pick overall is off to a disappointing start in AAA, if only because some thought he might be ready to dominate in the majors. In ten starts with AAA-Indianapolis he has a 3.67 ERA and only 6.5 K/9, with some control issues to boot. That’s the line of someone who needs more fine-tuning. Perhaps he is working on his secondary pitches?

BIGGEST RISER: Stetson Allie, 1b, was rated as a top 100 prospect by Baseball America two years ago…as a pitcher. He threw hard but never established himself as more than a wild arm (37 BB in 29 IP) and Pittsburgh converted him to being a position player full-time. After some unimpressive hitting in the Gulf Coast League last year, Allie was pretty solidly a non-prospect, but the power is back in a big way with low-A West Virginia and he’s still only 22. Right now he’s hitting at .340/.422/.633 and looks like a potential slugger although he’s striking out a lot and that average could go way down as he moves up.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Kyle McPherson, rhp, may have hurt himself trying to win a job out of spring training, and after allowing ten runs in five AAA innings he’s currently rehabbing. At 25 his future is now, so this lost development time is crucial. His future with Pittsburgh might have disappeared while he nursed this latest injury.

Cincinnati Reds:
OVERALL: The Reds have been the “victims” of success as graduations and trades have left them with a pretty mediocre farm system overall. However, they still have quite a bit of upside down on the farm as they like to draft athletic position players and have recently been very active in Latin America.

GRADUATIONS: Tony Cingrani, lhp, took his crazy minor league numbers to the majors without any major drop, so his limited pitch mix is still baffling even baseball’s best. His 11.2 K/9 and 3.27 ERA portends future big league dominance and only impressive pitching depth (and health) leaves him currently stranded in AAA.

TOP PROSPECT: Billy Hamilton, of, set the all-time record for stolen bases in a professional league last year, and he already has 26 SB this year in AAA-Louisville. He got off to a terrible start, and a mini-tear recently has only brought him up to .242/.316/.333 for the season. Was he pressing, so close to the majors, or is he really not ready? That line is a little ominous since prior to AAA he looked like he had the gap power to keep pitchers honest. His walk rate (9.3 %) is solid but down from last year. He’s also strikeout out less so he’s still a solid bet to become a sparkplug atop Cincinnati’s lineup.

BIGGEST RISER: Jesse Winker, of, was already a strong prospect coming into the year based on his high-round draft status and potent hitting in rookie-ball, but that was in a nice hitting environment and now that he’s repeated that strong .300/.400/.500 slash line in full-season ball, he’s an established top prospect and as he’s only 19, there’s a lot to love about his future.

2012 Top Pick (2nd round) Tanner Rahier, 3b, has been moving in the opposite direction as Winker, his raw approach undermining any power he’s showed in limited action. With low-A Dayton he’s hitting just .198/.249/.379, and even at just 19 years old, that’s the line of a project, not a prospect. Will he be sent down to rookie-ball in a few weeks to work on his plate discipline?

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

MLB Power Rankings - May 28th

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MLB Power Rankings
May 28th, 2013

New king of the hill this week in our MLB Power Rankings! Riding some of the best starting pitching in all of baseball the St. Louis Cardinals come in at #1. The Texas Rangers who held held the #1 spot for the past three week slide down one spot to #2. The Reds, red hot Pirates and Yankees round out the top 10. The LA Angels, winners of eight straight are this week's big mover climbing up nine spots from 28 to 19. The Washington Nationals continue their surprising slide down six spots to #15, as this week's biggest loser.

Where does your team rank?

1. St. Louis Cardinals (32-17, last week No. 2)
2. Texas Rangers (32-18, last week No. 1)
3. Cincinnati Reds (31-19, last week No. 6)
4. Pittsburgh Pirates (31-19, last week No. 11)
5. New York Yankees (30-19, last week No. 3)
6. Boston Red Sox (31-20, last week No. 4)
7. Atlanta Braves (30-19, last week No. 8)
8. Detroit Tigers (28-20, last week No. 7)
9. Arizona Diamondbacks (28-22, last week No. 10)
10. San Francisco Giants (28-22, last week No. 5)
11. Cleveland Indians (27-22, last week No. 10)
12. Oakland A's (28-23, last week No. 16)
13. Colorado Rockies (27-23, last week No. 12)
14. Baltimore Orioles (27-23, last week No. 13)
15. Washington Nationals (26-24, last week No. 9)
16. Tampa Bay Rays (25-24, last week No. 14)
17. Chicago White Sox (24-24, last week No. 22)
18. Philadelphia Phillies (24-26, last week No. 18)
19. Los Angeles Angels (23-27, last week No. 28)
20. San Diego Padres (22-27, last week No. 19)
21. Kansas City Royals (21-26, last week No. 17)
22. Seattle Mariners (21-29, last week No. 20)
23. Toronto Blue Jays (21-29, last week No. 27)
24. Los Angeles Dodgers (20-28, last week No. 25)
25. Minnesota Twins (19-28, last week No. 21)
26. Milwaukee Brewers (19-29, last week No. 26)
27. New York Mets (18-29, last week No. 23)
28. Chicago Cubs (19-30, last week No. 24)
29. Houston Astros (14-36, last week No. 30)
30. Miami Marlins (13-37, last week No. 29)

Monday, May 27, 2013

2014: Year of the Quarterback?

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2014: Year of the Quarterback?
By Wild on Sports Analyst Bryan Ridall

With the 2013 Draft just over a month old, and the new rookies participating in OTA’s and mini-camps, it’s time that we look ahead to the 2014 draft class; one with much more promise at the skill positions than this year’s. Depending on the draft order, it is entirely possible that four of the first five picks in 2014 could be quarterbacks. With an entire season to play until the draft arrives, it is likely that the stock of many players will rise and fall throughout the year until we get to the Combine, but it is never too early to get the fans of perennial bottom-feeding teams excited for the upcoming draft.

Impact Position: Quarterback

The Quarterback Class of 2012 was one of the strongest ever, drawing comparisons to the class of 2004 (Manning, Rivers, Roethlisberger) and even 1983 (Elway, Kelly, Marino). However, 2013 was a very different draft, with only one quarterback going in the first round, and three quarterbacks going in the first 3 rounds. The class of 2014 could be one of the most dynamic to ever come out of college, as well as the most diverse. A.J. McCarron, from Alabama, and Aaron Murray, from Georgia, are seniors this year and will look to improve on their impressive quarterback play. McCarron has won the last 2 National Championships with ‘Bama and would look to add a third to his resume, as well as a Heisman Trophy. McCarron is a gifted pocket-passer, with great decision making skills, and a decent long-ball that will need fine tuning in the NFL. McCarron runs a very balanced, pro-style offense and has the leadership abilities you need in a starting quarterback. Murray doesn’t have the hardware to compete with McCarron, but has been equally as impressive for Georgia, and if it wasn’t for a coaching blunder by Mark Richt in the SEC Championship Game, Georgia may have been playing Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship. Murray is another strong pocket passer, but he excels at stretching the field with his arm, and having good accuracy on throws over 25 yards. Murray’s biggest hurdle will be his inability to win big games, which has put his leadership ability and overall effectiveness into questions.

While both McCarron and Murray have established themselves at perennial powerhouse schools, while compiling impressive seasons, two “new-comers” have burst onto the scene and resemble the new “read-option” quarterback that has taken hold of the NFL. Last year’s Heisman Trophy winner, Johnny Manziel will be the most intriguing quarterback to come out in 2014. If Manziel can replicate his season from a year ago, regardless of if he wins the Heisman or a National Championship, he should declare for the draft. Manziel combines an interesting throwing style with his ability to change the game in a single play, and only got better as last year went on, demonstrated by his 41-24 beat down of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, as well as his impressive night at the Cotton Bowl. Manziel’s size, maturity, and lack of experience are all questions for teams heading into the year, but Manziel’s size and pure throwing ability have garnered him comparisons to Drew Brees. Manziel will be much more of a project than McCarron or Murray, but his overall athleticism and ability to extend, and even create plays, make him intriguing for a team looking to run the read-option.

The fourth quarterback in the group is Teddy Bridgewater from Louisville, who may have the biggest upside of the entire group. Last year, in Bridgewater’s first full season as a starter, he completed 68.5% of his passes for 3,718 yards and 27 touchdowns, to go along with his 11 rushing touchdowns, and was named Big East Offensive Player of the Year. Bridgewater led the Cardinals to a Big East Title, and defeated Florida, who had the #1 pass defense, 33-23 in the 2013 Sugar Bowl, while being named the game’s MVP. Bridgewater, under head coach Charlie Strong, is just starting to realize his potential, while utilizing his athletic gifts. Strong is also the perfect coach to instill the mentality that a starting quarterback needs, because Strong is a no-nonsense, extremely focused and well-prepared coach. When April 2014 rolls around, don’t be surprised if Bridgewater is being talked about as the #1 pick, as he is already being projected as a top prospect.

Outside of the quarterbacks, the only other prospect with #1-pick potential is South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (In case you don’t remember who he is, give this a watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gC44nP7ClxM). Clowney is a physical freak at 6’6 and 272 pounds, and his play gets more impressive every single year. After having a strong rookie year, finishing Top 10 in the SEC with 8 sacks, Clowney set the South Carolina record for sacks in a season with 13 as a sophomore. Clowney was named a unanimous First Team All-American and also won the Hendricks Award for the nation’s best defensive end, while being a finalist for the Bednarik Award (Defensive POY), Nagurski Trophy (FWAA Defensive POY), Lombardi Award (Best Lineman/Linebacker), and Heisman Trophy. Clowney’s stock was so high that even after it came out that he may take a year off from football to avoid injury, he was still being considered for the #1 pick. This year, Clowney has the ability to cement himself as one of the greatest defensive ends ever in college football, and improve on his record-setting numbers from last year.

Though there is almost an entire year before the 2014 draft starts in New York, scouts and teams have already started to research the players that will impact their teams in the future. With the evolution of the NFL, and the importance placed on the starting quarterback position, it is likely that one of the four quarterbacks listed will go #1. However, Clowney is a once-in-a-generation type prospect, and could have teams overpaying to move up to help get the impact player they need on defense.

"Idiots" Force Game 7 In Cali

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"Idiots" Force Game 7 in Cali
By Wild on Sports Analyst Jason Gillson

For as good as the San Jose Sharks have been during the regular season throughout the Joe Thornton era, for some reason come playoff time those sticks get gripped just a little tighter. The team that, in many cases, coasted into the playoffs gets left standing on the side of the road as the Stanley Cup party bus keeps on chugging along without them. Through five games it looked like we may be in for another season of "what could have been." LA's Jonathan Quick had re-found last year's championship form and while the big guys up front for the Sharks had shown glimpses, the pucks just were not finding the back of the night.

Then along came Sunday night's game 6. Do or die for the Sharks in a possible elimination game on home ice. Surely the Sharks team we have grown to know would show up with shaky knees and a target on their backs, right? Wrong. Instead a pre-game soccer match broke out in the hallway. A casual observer would think this team was about to play an inner-squad exhibition, not a backs against the wall elimination game.

Sharks captain, the afore mentioned Thornton, went so far as to call the pre-game shenanigans " a bunch of idiots staying loose." He went on to add, "when we’ve been loose this year, it seems that’s when we play our best hockey. We try to have a lot of fun. Everyone enjoys each other’s company. It feels like a team."

Well, the last professional team to call themselves a bunch of idiots ('04 Boston Red Sox) rallied from a 3-0 hole in a series to win not only the series but eventually their sport's championship. While I doubt there will be shots of Jack Daniels being passed around before Tuesday's game 7, there has been a strong history across the sports world of teams who stay loose just end up being the teams that have what it takes to make a deep run.

This is not your traditional San Jose Sharks team folks. Lets see what this "group of idiots" can bring to the ice for game 7.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

State of the Farm: NL East

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State of the Farm: NL East
By Wild on Sports MLB Analyst Aaron Dorman

As we inch closer to the 2013 MLB draft I thought it would be fitting to take pre-draft look at the state of each minor league system. On the agenda today: NL East...

Atlanta Braves:

OVERALL: The Braves system is very thin and their last two top draft picks, Sean Gilmartin and Lucas Sims, have not done much, but they still have enough interesting arms and a handful of position players who seem to be able to contribute for the big league team. They’d rather have Paul Maholm and Justin Upton than any of the prospects they dealt for those two.

GRADUATIONS: Julio Teheran, rhp, has improved his control and got his ERA below 4 in his last start. Evan Gattis filled in for an injured Brian McCann at catcher and is leading rookies with 10 Home Runs (and a robust .576 Slg %).

TOP PROSPECT: Alex Wood, lhp, has been tremendous at AA-Mississippi and with less than a year since he was drafted, Wood’s already generating rumors of a big league call-up thanks to his strong performance, which includes 57 K in 57 IP and a miniscule 1.26 ERA. His dominance makes up for the lackluster pitching of fellow lefty Lucas Sims, drafted one round ahead of him.


BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Lucas Sims, lhp, has turned it around a little bit with low-A Rome (3.08 ERA), but with 15 BB in 28 IP pitching out of the bullpen he’s a long way from contributing and even at 19, you’d want more than a lefty reliever out of a first-round draft pick.

Miami Marlins:

OVERALL: The Marlins’ farm system looks as good as you’d expect considering almost every viable big leaguer was jettisoned this winter for young players. Miami’s also done well with drafting players in recent years and so overall they have a number of nice prospects who will be traded soon after joining the major league team.

GRADUATIONS: Jose Fernandez was rushed to the majors but he’s already Miami’s best pitcher. Outfielder Marcell Ozuna and second baseman Derek Dietrich were called up when Miami got hit by injuries and they’ve held their own. Adeiny Hecheverria has played a good shortstop but he can’t hit.

TOP PROSPECT: Christian Yelich, of, is a five tool talent and at .287/.352/.581 at AA-Chattanooga, he’s done nothing to cool down his prospect status. It will not be surprising to see him crack top 10 overall prospect lists at the end of the season.

BIGGEST RISER: I have a soft spot for rhp Tony DeScalafani, a forgotten man in the crazy trade with Toronto. He doesn’t throw hard but for high-A Jupiter (admittedly, a good place for pitchers) he has a 1.32 ERA and a strong 8/40 BB/K ratio in 41 IP. He deserves a shot at AA later this year, which will be the real test for his limited stuff.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Several pitchers are not quite living up to hype for Jupiter, but the only guy who’s really struggled so far for the Marlins is rhp Austin Brice, who is repeating low-A Greensboro and has a 6.57 ERA and 7.1 BB/9. That won’t get it done.

New York Mets:

OVERALL: The Mets’ farm system has had a good first two months, with three affiliates above .500 but more importantly, most or all of their top prospects performing. The Mets have a nice collection of right-handed pitching arms, although most of their position player prospects are in the low minors or rookie ball.

GRADUATIONS: Hard-throwing Jeurys Familia is trying to secure a spot in the bullpen. Outfielder Juan Lagares is the only position player with rookie status on the Mets current roster but he’s nothing more than a fifth outfielder. 31-year-old “rookie” Scott Rice leads the majors in appearances, but he’s just a lefty short reliever.

TOP PROSPECT: Zach Wheeler, rhp is still down on the farm but he’s going to make his Mets debut at some point over the next few weeks. He struggled early but by May he’s made the necessary adjustments to his command, and he’ll add a much needed power arm to complement Matt Harvey in their rotation.

BIGGEST RISER: Rafael Montero, rhp, started the year high on prospect lists but he’s seemingly gotten better at every stop in the Mets’ system, with just 6 BB in 62 IP this year for AA-Binghamton and he looked good in one AAA spot start. He throws a variety of pitches to complement a slightly-above average fastball and could compete for a rotation spot no later than next spring.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: There really haven’t been any non-producers in the Mets system; only short-term injuries have kept players off the field. Catcher Travis D’Arnaud, outfielder Brandon Nimmo and pitcher Michael Fulmer, among others, have seen limited playing time but none of the injuries are considered serious.

Washington Nationals:

OVERALL: The Nationals farm system is among baseball’s worst as they’ve been “victimized” by success: graduations and trades have left them with just a handful of interesting guys scattered among their six teams, although they do have a blue-chip talent or two.

GRADUATIONS: Anthony Rendon made a cameo for Washington but he’s back in the minors. Otherwise, that’s it.

TOP PROSPECT: Second basemen Rendon was one of the most talented position players drafted in 2011, but he was hurt most of last year. His early promise is back, however, as Rendon is hitting .330/.473/.625 for AA-Harrisburg. He could be a big league batting champion, and Danny Espinosa is in danger of losing his job awfully soon.

BIGGEST RISER: Ian Krol, lhp, acquired from Oakland (with AJ Cole) for Michael Morse, was converted to relief and he has a 0.77 ERA in 23 IP with 27 K for AA-Harrisburg. He could give Washington a lefty bullpen arm to replace the departed Sean Burnett.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: AJ Cole, rhp, was returned to Washington from Oakland-he was traded for Gio Gonzalez and last winter for Michael Morse/John Jaso-and although his 14/49 BB/K ratio in 47 IP is very strong, his ERA is 4.98 and this is the second season in a row he’s struggling in high-A. His stuff is better than that.

Philadelphia Phillies:

OVERALL: The Phillies have some interesting names and solid depth down on the farm, but trades and budget-conscious drafts have depleted them of any true blue-chip talent. The current Phillies’ strategy of going after tools in the draft and international signings has led to some nice finds up the middle, such as Cesar Hernandez and Cody Asche.

GRADUATIONS: Jonathan Pettibone, lhp, has had some success early on in the rotation. Phillippe Aumont was a one-time Mariners top draft, acquired in one of the Cliff Lee trades, who is struggling with his control in the bullpen.

TOP PROSPECT: Jesse Biddle, lhp, is doing very well right now for AA-Reading, with 60 K in 50 IP but his 4.3 BB/9 is pretty high and could foretell command woes in AAA or the majors. Scouts have seen a mid-rotation starter over the past few years and that prognosis hasn’t changed.

BIGGEST RISER: Aaron Altherr, of, has moved slowly through the system as a player more regarded for his athleticism than his baseball ability but he’s off to a great start in high-A Clearwater this year, hitting .325 with 11 SB and good gap power, although he’s also got a poor 14/52 BB/K split.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Larry Greene, of, was an intriguing prospect drafted high in 2011 and he got on base last year with rookie-level Williamsport. But his inability to make contact (120 K in 356 AB) has led to early struggles at low-A Lakewood, and an odd .202/.358/.253 line, really calling his hit tool into question.

MLB Weekly Walk-Off, May 26th

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MLB Weekly Walk Off
For Week of May 26, 2013
By Wild on Sports Analyst Kyle Kargel

The panic meter is continuing to climb for many teams across the MLB as we hit the quarter way mark of the season. It has been an uphill climb the whole season for teams that had high expectations coming into the regular season. Also, teams with low expectations have had an easy time approaching the top of their division. Take the AL East for example, The Yankees and Red Sox surprisingly had low expectations coming into the season and have found themselves tied at the top just like it years past. For the last place Blue Jays though, it has been nothing but criticism during the season and their “mega trade” not working out. Jose Reyes has landed on the DL for a lengthy time, R.A. Dickey has been nowhere near the CY Young season he had last year, and Emilio Bonifacio has been equivalent to a bench player to this point. The Yankees and the Red Sox have actually gone against what they normally do in buying their team. They instead have won with young talent from their minor league systems or signing veterans out of their prime to minimal contracts. The panic meter for the Dodgers has had Don Mattingly in hot water over the past ten days though. He doesn’t expect to be fired now, but if the Dodgers continue to play sub .500 baseball The Dodgers might have a new manager come September. The Dodgers are missing out on the excitement at the top of the division where the Diamondbacks, Giants and Rockies are all within a game of each other for the division lead.

Studs of the Past Week

1. Miguel Cabrera 3B Det- I know Cabrera has been on this list already, but there’s no denying the numbers he has put up this season even more so what he’s done the past week. His average, homeruns and RBI pace are well ahead of his Triple Crown performance last season and has six homeruns his last four games. He’s considered by some the best hitter of the past decade and it’s hard to argue. It was just a matter of time before Cabrera was the number one stud of the past week.

2. David Ortiz DH Bos- Finally coming out of his shell, Ortiz has hit .429 in the past week and has put a few over the fence as well. He has four multi-hit games in his past seven and has the Red Sox playing playoff caliber baseball. The best part about his performance is that the Red Sox played nine games straight on the road during Big Papi’s hot stretch. Ortiz should cool down a little, but he looks to be back in 2004 form. He should hit 25 homeruns by seasons end barring any set back.

3. Patrick Corbin SP Ari- Although Corbin only has one start in the past week, he is 7-0 and has posted a 1.44 ERA for the season. In that start though he pitched a complete game allowing one run and struck out ten on the road in a crucial divisional game at Colorado. The Diamondbacks have won in every one of his starts this season, and that’s every reason he is the pitching future of the team.

Duds of the Past Week

1. Starlin Castro SS ChC- The future of the Cubs has gone on a nose dive in the past week. Castro is used to hitting around .300 but as of late his average has fallen to around the .270 mark. As a result the Cubs are once again losing games at a fast rate, plummeting them to the bottom of the NL Central. Castro only has four hits since May 18, all singles. He’s accumulated one RBI with those hits.

2. Adrian Gonzalez 1B LAD- Certainly no one is expecting Gonzalez to put up the numbers he did with the Padres only a handful of years ago, but only four homeruns up until this point in the season is disappointing for the veteran. Gonzalez has only posted a couple hits in the past week which has disappointed Dodger fans. He may be a reason they aren’t meeting expectations this season.

3. Tim Lincecum SP SF- Pitching has become a difficult task for Lincecum over the past couple year and it showed once again over the past week. He shinned last season in the playoffs but since then “The Freak” has been off his game. His past two starts have been loses and he’s allowed ten earned runs over 12 innings. If the Giants want to be a valid playoff threat once again though, they will need Lincecum to be on his game.

Pickups for Next Week

1. Michael Brantley OF Cle- The Indians have proved they have one of the most powerful offenses in the league this season. Four multi-hit games in the past week for Brantley is one reason that manager Terry Francona has kept him in the leadoff spot for the Indians. He doesn’t prove to have a lot of power, but Brantley could hit between .280 and .300 for the Indians if he stays consistent hitting the ball.

2. David Phelps SP/RP NYY- Phelps is one of the fill-ins the Yankees have relied upon to stay atop the AL East. He hasn’t been the best pitcher, but since making the transition from the bullpen to the rotation Phelps has lowered his ERA by one and a half runs. He’s consistent enough where the Yankees can get six good innings out of him while not allowing more than a couple runs.

3. Travis Hafner DH NYY- Still slugging it out in his mid-30s, Pronk has provided a much needed bat in the Yankees lineup this season. Hafner is always a threat to take one out of the ballpark especially in a ballpark like Yankee Stadium. Who knows how much playing time he will get once everyone returns from the DL, but until then, ride Hafner while he still looks good.

Top Match-ups of the Next Week

Pittsburgh vs. Detroit- These two are playing in a home and home Monday thru Thursday. These teams have met yearly for the past couple years and have developed some sort of an interleague rivalry. Both teams are trying to stay atop their respected leagues.

Baltimore vs. Washington- The Nationals have had some recent communication issues, but seem to know there role in the NL East. The two teams are located only a handful of miles apart, which makes for a nifty interleague rivalry.

LA Dodgers vs. LA Angels- Two of the most disappointing teams up until this point in the season, the Dodgers and Angels have a lot more to prove than beating eachother if they want to make a statement in their respected leagues. These teams have two of the highest payrolls in the MLB and it might be fun to poke fun at players that aren’t deserving of the money that they signed for

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