Monday, February 28, 2011

MLB 30 in 30: Los Angeles Angels

The Angels had dominated one of baseball's poorest divisions since they won the World Series in 2002. But now, with the Rangers and A's on the upswing, is 2011 the beginning of the end of this Angels run?

What they Have: They have plenty of offensive power. No doubt their offensive troubles at the tail end of last season can be traced back to the freak injury to Kendry Morales. They had the 9th fewest runs scored in baseball and took a dip of 202 runs from 2009: the most in the AL. With the addition of Vernon Wells in LF to help supply more power, look for the Angels to definitely hit better than they did in 2010. He's not the defensive outfielder like Carl Crawford is, but he'll provide some power to the middle of that lineup. Jeff Mathis will now be the full time catcher since Mike Napoli was shipped to Toronto, and he'll have some competition from prized prospect Hank Conger, who could make starts later in the year. Overall, the Angels offense could return to their pre-2009 form with the addition and return of key players. Their best asset though is their pitching. Their starters had a 4.04 ERA, 4th best in baseball. Their starting rotation is very good, with Jered Weaver leading the charge. Dan Haren will now have more time in Anaheim to get acclimated, and the back end of the rotation, while shaky, can be great at times with Joel Piñero and Scott Kazmir. Finally, the Halos bullpen is better with the additions of Hisanori Takahashi and Scott Downs. Even without a fully proven closer, the bullpen will be good enough to consistently close out games without too much trouble.

What they Don't Have: Youth. Age is really starting to set in with this team, and it shows. Torii Hunter is on the decline, and Bobby Abreu isn't getting any younger at 36. They also don't have much depth in the infield, and those players like Erick Aybar, Howie Kendrick, and Maicer Izturis aren't the quality every day starters the Angels could use. Prospects are coming, but not for the infield in the short term. Depending on where they are in the standings in July, they could make a trade to fix the left side of the infield. Depth could also be a problem, as evidenced by the injury to Kendry Morales last year.

Any Help Coming? Mike Trout is the Angels prized prospect. He tore through Single-A last year and may very well be the best prospect in baseball to date. He could be a bit lost in the outfield shuffle for the Halos, although he could take over Peter Bourjous' spot if troubles arise. Hank Conger is the best catching prospect for the Angels, and he could overtake Jeff Mathis' spot by later in the year. Beyond that, the farm system is a bit more shallow, or not ready for the big club yet type prospects.

Outlook: Good. They have the financial means to get someone at the trade deadline, or add prospects if the season looks bleak. They will compete for a division title, but one has to wonder whether they'll be able to keep up the pace they've maintained since 2002. This isn't the end, but it looks like the beginning of the end for this era of the Angels.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Did You See That: Goalie Fights

Hockey fighting is almost as interesting as the WWE, without actually being faked. When the tough guys go at, it’s awfully hard not be totally amused by this spectacle. Fights are nearly commonplace with just the instigators; tough guys. But when you add the goalies… not only is that YouTube waiting to happen, but rare enough so that you have to watch it.

Fights are normally supposed to heighten the team’s morale, and get them excited when they’re honestly playing like crap. When a brawl breaks out “Malice at the Palace” style, the goalies throw down their masks and duke it out, in a spectacle of how not to fight – not like I would know – but hugely entertaining, similar to a terrible movie with over-the-top acting.

They start with an intimidating stare down, so intimidating that a deer would be frightened away at the slightest movement. Once someone flinches, they duke it out, for as long as the refs will allow them. Or, in the case of poor Rick DiPietro, you get roundhoused with one punch from the Penguins backup: And I wouldn’t have exaggerated that except for the one fact that it was Rick DiPietro. He’s a poor goalie, and he always seems to have a penchant for pain – the NHL’s version of Fred Taylor –, is more oft on IR than he is on the ice. I can only conclude that this is because he plays for the Islanders, and wants to be exiled from the Island, a la Roberto Luongo…

Just the other day, I was watching Montreal/Boston, and throughout the onslaught of goals from Canadiens you’ve never heard of before, and Bruins who honestly want to hear what the Jack Edwards calls of their goals, there were fights… tons of them. Egyptian protests in Tahrir Square didn’t have this many fights. So, once everyone else except the coaches was fighting, the goalies only thought it necessary to try it out too. They “fought” hard.

Carey Price said, "I think we were just play-fighting more than anything," Play-fighting? That’s what little kids do in toy stores when they find foam swords. Price continued on by saying, "Neither of us really wanted to get hurt, but we are out there doing whatever we had to do, I guess." Yes and Chris Osgood did what he had to against Patrick Roy by going all MMA style on him. “I wanted you to stay with the Habs, and you betrayed them by going to what once were ‘Les Nordiques’!” I assume that’s what he was thinking, but I’m only guessing…

None of these goalies are as good as Manny Pacquiao in fights, or as good as Darcy Tucker getting into a fight with a Philly fan. Or even Sean Avery in changing an NHL rule during a playoff game. But: I have to say that these are why hockey is so entertaining to watch. Do these guys legitimately want to fight? I doubt it, but for the few times we see this spectacle, it makes up for its silliness with the entertainment value. At some point, I truly wonder when these fights will be as common-place as regular fights. But then they won’t be as fun anymore, so… Get the refs!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

My Super Bowl XLV Preview

It’s finally here. We’ve waited for nearly 2 weeks for this game. Steelers & Packers are both rich in playoff history and maybe a bit of a shock that both are here. Now they’ll duel in Dallas, and the team with the most grit may win.

Green Bay Offense vs. Pittsburgh Defense

We know about the many successes Aaron Rodgers has had in the postseason. He’s torn up defenses, but against the Bears he did struggle some. He threw 2 picks, and he looked human for the first time in the playoffs. And against the Bears, Rodgers wasn’t able to spread the field with his usual compliment of receivers as often. But, indoors on turf, he’ll be able to at least put looks up with 5 wideouts spread wide. The running game has maybe been the most shocking part of the Packers run to the Super Bowl. They’re running the ball better than they have in the last 3 seasons, and James Starks is the key to that success. But, of course the Steelers stop the run better than anyone in the league. The Steelers are coming into the game thinking the Packers will pass, which leaves some holes for Starks to run through. If he’s able to exploit those mismatches up front when the Steelers drop off in coverage, then Green Bay will be able to dictate offensive tempo, and then Aaron Rodgers can exploit matchups. Troy Polamalu, the defensive player of the year, had an off game against the Jets, so expect him to cover the field better than he ever has before, and that may take away guys like Andrew Quarless, and Jordy Nelson. The Steelers have to do what only the Bears did marginally well, and that’s sack Aaron Rodgers in order to get the upper hand. They can, and I think they will, as the lead the NFL in sacks. Even though the Packers offense is great, and the Steelers haven’t faced an offense this proficient since New England in Week 10, I think the Steelers will be able to contain the Packers very well, so they get the check.

Advantage: Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh Offense vs. Green Bay Defense

Ben! Get out of the Piano Bar! You have a game to prepare for! Anyway Big Ben knows what to do in games like these. Even if his stats don’t amaze you, he gets the job done. And with his ability to scramble in the pocket and keep plays alive, the Packers may have trouble getting there, even with Dom Capers exotic blitzes. Even though Maurkice Pouncey says he’ll play, I doubt it. So, Doug Lagursky will have to play better than he did against the Jets in order to contain “the freezer” B.J Raji. The Packers defense is exotic; they throw so many looks at you and blitzers from different angles, that I do think Ben will be confused by the scheme. He surely was by the Jets in the 2nd half. But what the Steelers were able to do against the Jets was run the ball, maybe better than anyone against one of the league’s best run D’s. If the Steelers can get that kind of success against the Packers D, unlikely as it may sound, they’ll have the clear advantage with Ben Roethlisberger now becoming able to attack the Packers secondary. Just look back to their game in 2009. Ben took a pounding against the Jets, and there is no doubt he’ll likely face a similar barrage on Sunday. I think that again, the D is just a bit stronger than the O here, so the Packers get the check.

Advantage: Green Bay

Intangibles: If Green Bay had a choice about where they’d want to play the Super Bowl, this may be the choice. They can spread the field without fear of the turf taking them out, and no weather can hurt them, except on the way in. The Steelers have better special teams, and that will definitely play a role in the game. But what I look to most of all is experience. That is something the Packers just don’t have, and despite all of the talk that it won’t, it will affect them. The Steelers have been to a Super Bowl once under Mike Tomlin, so they know what to expect. That’s why I give the Steelers the check.

Advantage: Pittsburgh

Player to Watch: Ryan Clark

Really? The Free Safety? Sure, why not? His role was understated against the Jets. With Troy Polamalu having an off game, he needed to step up and make big plays at big moments, and he delivered. If the same is to happen again, then he’ll need to have a big game, or else the Packers could run the field easily with their speed and ability to vertically stretch the field. He is going to be the one responsible for guys like Andrew Quarless, who will need to be covered pretty well, as Aaron Rodgers does like to look in his direction. He will be a very important piece to the Steelers D on Sunday.

Pick: Pittsburgh

This maybe is one of the most dead even games I’ve ever remembered having to pick. I’ve gone back and forth constantly on the pick. But, I go with experience in games like this, and the Steelers have it in abundance, while the Packers don’t. The Steelers will win their 7th Super Bowl.

Did You See That: The Mule Trick

Writer's Note: This is my (feeble) attempt at a sports humor column. It will be noted when one of these columns is appearing by the Pre-Title "Did You See That".

Sports fads get the most unusual names, don't they? Recently, Johan Franzén of the Detroit Red Wings scored 5 goals in one game against Ottawa and it was named a "Mule Trick". This name was weird, as before I wrote this, I had no idea of the origin of Franzén's nickname: the mule. Hockey always has a way with names, no matter how weird they may be.

Steve Yzerman got the nickname started when Franzén played his first season with the Wings. He loved his workmanlike nature, and the name "The Mule" comes from the fact that, "he carries the load". I have learned even in my few years of being a hockey die-hard to never question Stevie on anything hockey, which I therefore blame on the Tampa Bay Lightning’s successes….

So in that, "The Mule" did something only 2 other Red Wings ever did, but I wonder whether we'll ever hear the name "Mule Trick" again. Maybe it will stick and become a team tradition like those darned octopi. Maybe a mule will pop up on the jumbotron at the Joe every time he scores. I don't think that's been done already. Maybe fans will toss plush Mules onto the ice and then Al Sobotka will twirl them above his head. Important questions….

It seems now that every team has their own Verizon commercial. With the Caps, it was the infamous "Ovechtrick". The Flyers have one too where they go 82-0. Now I wonder whether Franzén will star in one for the Red Wings. Will he have shirts made with the name "Mule Trick"? Will he come into Sesame Street riding on a mule where the number of the day is 5? Will 5 strikes in a row now be called a mule instead of a 5 pack? You can only ponder….

The Coyotes have "Toss the Snake". The Panthers have "The Rat Trick". And now to add to the octopi fad, mules may now become forever a part of Red Wings lore, although maybe not quite the cult classic, or gain that much notoriety and cause a rule to be instituted.

Rats, mules, snakes and octopi. Those are just a few examples of hockey fads that may never go away, despite loose ties to team’s histories and creating many a fansite for them. Will a 5 goal game be called a "mule trick" forever? I doubt it. But at least the mule can now be used as a term of endearment, and nobody will question it. At least the poor man won't be mistaken for a pre-production car in testing. The question: "I'm a....... mule? Is that a good thing?" should now cease to exist, I hope.

Sports fads will always be strange, outlandish, and eccentric, but I guess that's why we have them in the first place. Without the rats, the Florida Panthers would be just the L.A Clippers of hockey. The Redskins may not be what they were without the hogs. And, the "Mule Trick" would just be a 5 goal game without "The Mule". Love thy fads, because nothing in sports is as good without 'em.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Twitter Question

Now if you follow me on twitter (by the way, that's a good idea @JagsFan93), you'll know that I tweet some stuff that I'm not too proud of sometimes. But, I'm not famous, so the adverse effects are not there just yet. But what if you are a famous athlete and you say something controversial on twitter? Then that could be a serious problem, as has been evidenced this past month. What does it say about athletes, and what is fair game and what isn't?

The Jay Cutler controversy started because NFL players commented on Cutler's toughness through tweets, and then those tweets spread like wildfire across twitter, and it soon becomes a major controversy across the sporting universe. Just ask Maurice Jones-Drew. This is just one of the many examples of how that verified check can cause you as many problems as it solves. Lebron's famous "karma" comment about the Cavaliers was a tweet that spread like wildfire. If you only could imagine what would happen if say Justin Bieber tweeted something controversial. The tweetverse would be all over it (including me). But I digress.

If controversies stemming from tweets were to lessen, it would just be from athletes and other famous people tempering themselves when they tweet. Twitter is a great way to connect with fans and thank them for their support, and it's also a way to get breaking news much faster than the rest of the Internet or ESPN can get to it. But, the problems with twitter are just as big as the advantages. Twitter has no censors, except for the people tweeting, and they are the only ones who can stop controversy before it starts. The line has been clearly been drawn in the Lebron and Jay Cutler cases for what is PC and what isn't. But, because of how blurred the line is between in taste and tasteless, just one wrong word can cause an outrage.

The lesson here, that I should also take into account, is just watch what you tweet. Just like when you're talking to the media, anything that can be used against you will be, and the dancing around those choice words is the issue facing those people with the verified check, and most everyone else. Take the Jay Cutler controversy and learn from it; about how fast tweets can go from the initial tweeter, to almost every ones news feed.

Biting your tongue is the best option when you're talking, so just hold up on hitting that enter key or tweet button, and problems could stay only on the keyboard on which they were typed.