Baseball Playoffs Plus Michigan Continues to Struggle

Perez
Perez

Salvador Perez and the Royals are on to the AL Championship Series.

For the 40 plus years I’ve been alive the playoffs in Major League Baseball have changed significantly but the one thing that has never changed is what wins games in the postseason. If you can get great pitching and timely hitting then you are more than likely going to win yourself a championship or two.

It’s very clear that I underestimated both the Kansas City Royals and the Baltimore Orioles who used this exact formula to advance to the American League Championship Series. Kansas City dispatched the American League’s best team in the Angels of Anaheim in a three-game sweep that was never close.

The Orioles rode very solid pitching and took advantage of a horrible Detroit bullpen to sweep the AL Central Champions in three games. Baltimore defeated Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and David Price to accomplish the feat. No easy task but they got hits at just the right time and stayed patient as Tigers’ Manager Brad Ausmus was forced to go to his bullpen.

As for the Royals, they just might be that team of destiny we hear so much about. After squeezing into the wild-card, they then needed 12 innings to knock off Oakland in the play-in game. From there, the Royals used their pitching to almost completely shut down the powerful Angels’ offense.

I had both of these teams losing in the divisional rounds. I figured Detroit would ride its’ offense and starting pitching to a 3-1 victory and I believed the same of the Angels but the old truths about the playoffs haunted me as they did them. Of course I also had Washington beating the Giants (SF leads 2-0) and the Dodgers beating the Cardinals (series tied at 1) so I’m pretty sure I know absolutely nothing about baseball in 2014.

Nova

Michigan had no answer for Rutgers' Gary Nova in yet another loss.

More Mayhem at Michigan

Lost in much of the craziness that was college football weekend week six was the fact that Michigan dropped yet another game. This time it was a loss to new Big Ten member Rutgers in New Jersey. While I’ll say that I thought the Wolverines got jobbed a bit on their final drive in which a catch on the sidelines was ruled ‘not a catch,’ Michigan did itself no favors.

The defense has been thought of as the savior of this team but they were exposed all evening by the Scarlet Knights’ quarterback Gary Nova who threw for three touchdowns and over 400 yards. The offense at times looked better under Devin Gardner who took over at quarterback after giving way to Shane Morris last week.

The loss drops Michigan to 2-4 overall and to 0-2 in the Big Ten for the first time since dirt was discovered. It’s no longer a matter of ‘if’ Brady Hoke is fired as the head coach but rather a matter of ‘when.’ The man who hired him, athletic director Dave Brandon problem shouldn’t fare any better but he may survive if he handles the transition to a new coach properly.

Things are almost falling into line too perfectly for the marriage of former Wolverine QB Jim Harbaugh and the school. Several reports this weekend confirmed that this appears to be Harbaugh’s last year with the 49ers as players are apparently unhappy with him. It’s also no secret he doesn’t get along with the team’s general manager either.

While Harbaugh burned some bridges with many at Michigan in recent years, I believe he would be welcomed back. Usually when these stars align this well something comes along to ruin the pattern but time will tell for now.

 

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My Thoughts on the Major League Baseball Playoffs

Harper

Harper

Bryce Harper is a key cog in the Nationals' machine.

I remember a time when the Fall Classic actually meant that it would be played in October. Actually, it’s now played in November because hey, the baseball season isn’t long enough already is it?

In fact I think a week after Thanksgiving don’t pitchers and catchers report?

OK, I won’t go there right now because this is a time to be celebrating baseball rather than ripping on it so let’s get to my thoughts on who will do what in the 2014 MLB Playoffs.

American League

Detroit vs. Baltimore.

The Tigers won five of six from the East Division champs but they haven’t seen each other since May. A lot has changed since then for both teams while some things have stayed the same. Postseason baseball is about pitching and timely hitting.

Detroit can handle both of those things with one exception; their bullpen. Brad Ausmus has his hands full in trying to juggle the bullpen because closer Joe Nathan has been a train wreck all season. The good news is that Justin Verlander is heating up and the rest of the playoff rotation is good.

Have to give the managerial advantage to Baltimore’s Buck Showalter who will not make knee-jerk decisions while Ausmus is a bit new at this playoff stuff.

Prediction: Tigers in 4

Royals vs. LA Angels

What a second half for the Halos who seemed destined for a wild-card spot. Their run coupled with Oakland’s misery have them back atop the West Division. The offense begins and ends with Trout, Hamilton and Puljos while the starting pitching will need to hold up despite injuries.

The Royals made a spectacular comeback last night to defeat the A’s in 12 innings despite the best efforts of Manager Ned Yost to screw things up in the 6th inning. KC will not be an easy out for the Angels especially because of the home crowd but I think talent will eventually be too much for the Royals.

Prediction: Angels in 7

Kershaw

Can Clayton Kershaw carry his outstanding season into the playoffs?

National League

St. Louis vs. LA Dodgers

The Dodgers won the season series 4-3 but they haven’t seen each other since the month of July. Both teams have some playoff experience but in terms of an edge that would have to go to the Cardinals.

If ever there was a series about starting pitching this would be it. There’s no reason to expect Clayton Kershaw to be anything other than brilliant in game one but the Cards will make him work I guarantee that.

If St. Louis can put together some hitting they have a shot.

Prediction: Dodgers in four

Giants/Pirates vs. Washington

A lot of people just want to hand the Nationals the World Series trophy and I can understand why but there’s a reason they actually play the games. Washington is third in hitting and first in pitching and they will also have a fan base as fired up as any in recent memory.

It’s been 90 years since a Washington baseball team has a won a title.

The Pirates will host the Giants tonight and while either team can give the Nats problems, I think the Buccos would offer more of a challenge but that’s not by a long shot by any stretch.

Either way, I like Washington to get by either team with great depth in both pitching and hitting.

Prediction: Nats in Four

If you’re dying to know my League Championship Series predictions I’ll abide by your wishes but just in case I’m not right about the divisional round I’ll “re-predict” later.

ALCS – Angels over Tigers in 5

NCLS – Nationals over Dodgers in 6.

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Here’s the Latest on the Races in Major League …

Showalter

 

Showalter

Buck Showalter has his Orioles just days away from an East Division title.

With about 14-15 games to go in the regular season of Major League Baseball, there are races that are just about to end and some that are about as close as they can get. Here’s a look at where we stand and who I like for the MVPs as well.

AL EAST

The surprising Baltimore Orioles have their magic number down to just three games as I write this and will clinch their first division championship since 1997 and have not won a pennant since 1983.

Toronto and New York are four and five games respectively out of a wild-card berth and unless something drastic happens neither will make the postseason. An unfortunate end to a great career for the Yankees’ Derek Jeter.

AL CENTRAL

The Tigers swept the Cleveland Indians over the weekend to essentially knock them out of it. Detroit now has a 1.5 games lead over Kansas City who currently has a wild-card struggle with the Oakland A’s and Seattle Mariners.

The Royals and Tigers will meet for three more games later this week in Kansas City and each still have series’ left with Cleveland and the White Sox.

AL WEST

The LA Angels had their ten-game winning streak snapped Sunday but they lead the division by an amazing 10 games over Oakland. The A’s and Mariners are both still well alive for wild-card berths with only the Detroit/KC loser perhaps being a factor. Whether the Mariners make the postseason or not, Manager Lloyd McClendon should garner serious consideration for Manager of the Year honors. 

AL Picks: Orioles, Tigers, Angels. WCs Royals and A’s.

AL Pennant: Angels

 

Williams

I'm not at all surprised that Williams has the Nationals on the verge of a division title.

NL EAST

The Washington Nationals ran away and hid with this division in the second half of the season and currently lead the Atlanta Braves by 10.5 games. The Braves are currently four games behind the Pittsburgh Pirates for the final wild-card spot.

NL Central

Milwaukee has had a rough second half of the season and has dropped to third in the division. St. Louis currently leads the Pirates by 3.5 games for the division lead. Pittsburgh and St. Louis will not see each other anymore down the stretch.

The Brewers can control their own destiny with series against both St. Louis and Pittsburgh in the final 15 games.

NL WEST

The San Francisco Giants have hung tougher than I thought they would with their rivals to the south. The LA Dodgers have a three game lead over the Giants and will entertain them for three more games next week.

At this time, San Francisco would need a major collapse to miss out on the playoffs altogether.

NL Picks: Nationals, Cardinals, Dodgers. WCs Pirates and Giants.

NL Pennant: Nationals

THE MVP RACE

I’ll start in the National League where there shouldn’t even be a vote. Los Angeles Dodgers’ starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw will run away with the Cy Young Award and should also take the MVP prize as well.

On Sunday, he picked up his 19th win and gave up just two runs. Amazingly, his ERA actually went up to 1.70 for the season. Others in the discussion would include Andrew McCutchen of the Pirates, Giancarlo Stanton of Miami and Jonathan Lucroy of the Brewers.

This is Kershaw’s year though.

In the junior circuit, the competition might be just as poor with Mike Trout on the cusp of finally getting the MVP Award after finishing twice behind Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera.

There are cases to be made for Oakland’s Josh Donaldson or Kansas City’s Alex Gordon but I don’t know how anyone catches Trout who deserves the award as much as anyone in recent memory.

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Richard Sherman Speaks the Truth and the MLB Races Have …

Sherman
Sherman

Even if you don't like Richard Sherman you have to appreciate his honesty.

Seattle Seahawks’ cornerback Richard Sherman is a lightning rod plain and simple. If you took  a survey of 100 football fans you’d probably get half that love him and half that hate him but I like Sherman for one reason; he speaks his mind.

Sherman did just that when he basically became the first active player to say what I’ve been saying for years now about the direction of the National Football League. In a Sunday Night Football interview with NBC’s Josh Elliott Sherman was asked about all the penalties on defensive backs this preseason. His response:

all the illegal contact calls this preseason were due to the NFL feeling the pressure from advertisers and sponsors. “When the fantasy football numbers need to be what they need to be, then the league needs to do what it needs to do to get it done,” Sherman said. “This is a money-driven league, so whatever sells the tickets is gonna sell the tickets.”

There it is. Finally a player has said what all of us have pretty much known for years. The whole ‘player safety’ issue was actually just an attempt to limit the defense so offenses could score more points. The NFL masked it with the whole concussion lawsuit. I’m all for making the game safer but let’s be real too.

More offense means more fantasy points which means more fantasy players which means more people watching the NFL. Fantasy football owners don’t want to see 10-7 games. The horror!!!!

I appreciate Sherman being himself and supporting what we all know to be true. Unfortunately it won’t do anything to slow down this machine that Roger Goodell has created. Get ready to see more scoring and more offensive numbers skyrocketing out of sight.

Showalter

Manager Buck Showalter has the Orioles firmly in first place in the AL East.

Baseball Has About a Month to Go

Most  Major League Baseball teams have about 30 games to go and some of the races are fulfilling the promise I have had all season long.

Starting in the American League, the East Division has seen Baltimore quietly take a six-game lead over the New York Yankees. Toronto is eight back and Tampa Bay is 10 games back.

In the Central, the incredibly hot Kansas City Royals lead the injury-riddled Detroit Tigers by two games. Hovering in the distance are the Cleveland Indians who are six games back. The Royals have won seven of ten and continue to be among the best teams in baseball since the All-Star Break.

In the AL West, the LA Angels have a one game lead over the Oakland A’s after beating the A’s last night. Seattle is lurking at six games back but their eyes on the wild-card. Currently, the wild-cards are Oakland and the Mariners with the Tigers just a game back. New York is three and a half back.

In the senior circuit, the NL East has seen a once close race fall apart. The Washington Nationals have won nine of ten and have a commanding eight game lead over the Atlanta Braves.

The NL Central has seen some separation with the Milwaukee Brewers hanging on to a 1.5 game lead over St. Louis. Pittsburgh has fallen off the pace however and is now five full games behind the Brewers following a streak where the Pirates have won just three of ten.

The NL West is a two-team race. The LA Dodgers have a 4.5 game lead of rival San Francisco. San Diego has dropped to 12.5 games back. The Giants and Dodgers have six games remaining against each other with three each at home.

The National League Wild-Card is much more exciting. The Cards and Giants hold the two spots right now but Atlanta (1GB), Pittsburgh (1.5GB) and the Marlins (4GB) are within shouting distance.

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Random Sports’ World Thoughts for the Final Sunday …

Scott
Scott

Byron Scott returns to LA where he thrived as a player during the days of Magic Johnson.

The Los Angeles Lakers finally have their coach in Byron Scott. After three separate interviews and months of wavering, the Lakers finally decided on Scott. In the past couple of days, speculation had been growing that the Lakers were dragging their feet intentionally because there seemed to be a chance that Doc Rivers could be available.

While we might not ever know if there was that type of interest, it was thought that if Donald Sterling continued to drag out the Clippers’ saga then Rivers would quit. Whether the NBA would have allowed him to become immediately available is unknown but it would have been a very interesting situation.

As far as Scott is concerned, the former Laker is good coach but I can’t help but wonder if this has the touches of Kobe Bryant on it. Scott appears to be the perfect guy for Bryant to have influence over in his final few years. It’s a safe pick because Kobe can’t have much left so when he is gone Scott is a good enough coach to move forward.

Training Camp Injuries Already

Hunter

The 49ers lost running back Kendall Hunter for the season with an ACL injury.

Training Camps across the National Football League have only been in full swing a few days but already the injury bug has bitten several teams hard. Baltimore lost defensive back Aaron Ross to an Achilles’ injury while he was just running, noting else. He is gone for the season.

The 49ers lost back-up running back Kendall Hunter with an ACL tear on Friday and the Colts lost running back Vick Ballard to an Achilles’ tear as well. Also taking a hit in the backfield were the Carolina Panthers who have lost rookie running back Tyler Gaffney to a knee injury. He is expected to miss the season.

These injuries follow the season-ending ones to linebackers Kiko Alonso of Buffalo and Sean Weatherspoon of Atlanta. Sadly, I guarantee we’ll see more of these injuries as the preseason unfolds.

MLB Races Staying Tight

At the All-Star Break, five of the six divisions in Major League Baseball were extremely tight. As we get ready to head into the month of August even that one lone division has tightened a bit.  The American League Central has the Tigers leading by five games over Kansas City who has won six of ten. This division is the tightest in baseball.

The AL East has Baltimore leading both Toronto and the New York Yankees by three games and now Tampa has closed to within 6.5 following a nine-game winning streak. The Rays streak may cause them to re-think trading David Price.

Over in the AL West, the Oakland A’s lead the LA Angels by just two games. While Seattle is 10.5 behind the Athletics, they are in prime contention for the wild-card so keep an eye on them too.

In the National League, the East Division has seen the Washington Nationals re-take first as they lead Atlanta by 1.5 games. The NL Central is the most fascinating division in baseball because of the race going on there. Milwaukee has a three game lead over St. Louis, a four game lead over Pittsburgh and a six game lead over Cincinnati.

The Reds find themselves in a situation where they need to decide if they are going to be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline this week. The same could also be said for the Pirates who need to add a bat or arm desperately.

The NL West is the tightest race in baseball. The Dodgers are just a half game up on the Giants who seem to have survived their earlier swoon although they’ve lost three in a row.

Stay tuned because I don’t see these races changing much.

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The World Cup is Almost Over; MLB Races are Fantastic

shootout
shootout

I really hope the World Cup Final doesn't come down to a shootout. That's no way to settle the 'World's Greatest Championship."

The day I’ve been waiting for over the last month is finally here. The World Cup Final is today! I’m not celebrating the game itself, I’m celebrating the fact that this nonsense will be over. I’ve violated my own mantra on a couple of occasions by even writing about it but now I get to bask in the glory of it being over for another four years.

If you wonder why I despise ‘futbol’ so much a lot of it has to do with the over-saturation of it. ABC/ESPN will have a two-hour pregame today which seems a bit much. Heck, I even hate the six-hour Super Bowl pregame so two hours of soccer is about the equivalent of that in my mind.

I really don’t have anything against soccer players. They are tremendously talented and extremely conditioned athletes but that leads me to part of the problem I have with soccer. If the World Cup Final ends in a shootout today then I believe it to be a travesty. If these guys are so well-conditioned  then why are they not playing until someone scores?

Can you imagine the Stanley Cup Final being decided by a shootout? Ugh…

Oh… Is it too much to ask soccer players that when they score a goal they actually run to their teammates and celebrate rather than do everything they can to celebrate individually? Athletes in other sports are guilty of this as well but it’s abundantly obvious what soccer players are doing when they score and that’s to celebrate “me” rather than with “we.”

Of course as little scoring as there is in soccer I guess I can’t beat them up too much.

Cutch

Andrew McCutchen hit homers in the ninth and eleventh innings to carry the surging Pirates to a win last night.

MLB Races Are Heating Up

While you’ve been inundated with World Cup and LeBron James coverage, Major League Baseball has been cruising along. When you open up the standings tomorrow morning you’ll notice that in five of the six divisions are about as hotly contested as you can get.

Take the National League Central for instance where four of the five teams are within 2.5 games of each other. St. Louis and Milwaukee are tied, the Reds are a game and a half back while the surging Pittsburgh Pirates have closed to within that 2.5 I mentioned.

In the National League West, the San Francisco Giants and LA Dodgers are separated by a single game and in the NL East, Atlanta and Washington are tied at the top.

In the Junior Circuit, we find the only divisional race that is not close and that’s the Central where the Detroit Tigers have stretched their lead over Kansas City to 7.5 games by winning five straight games and seven of their last ten.

The AL East has seen the surging Baltimore Orioles take a three-game lead over Toronto. The Yankees are four games out but received some bad news this week. Their ace Masahiro Tanaka is out for some time with an elbow injury. The team is hoping rehab will do the trick rather than surgery.

Two of baseball’s biggest disappointments also reside in the AL East where Tampa Bay and the defending champion Red Sox are both 9.5 games out of first.

The AL West has turned into a very nice race after it looked like Oakland might run away with it early. Even though the A’s have won seven of ten, the LA Angels have won nine of ten and trail Oakland by just a game and a half.

At this point, the races in MLB deserve your attention. Once your done doing your ‘Ole’ cheers that is.

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The Latest Odds on American League Division Winners

Encarnacion
Encarnacion

Edwin Encarncion leads the league with 24 homers but can he lead the Blue Jays to an East Division Title?

The latest odds from our friends at Bovada are out on Major League Baseball’s division winners. Today I’ll be looking at the American League. I’ll give you a breakdown on whether the current leaders are safe bets and whether or not there are teams to consider that could be serious contenders down the stretch.

AL East

Toronto +140

NY Yankees +200

Baltimore +250

Boston +800

Tampa Bay +6600

The Blue Jays have played well in stretches but they’ve also benefited from disappointing seasons from the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays. What will be interesting is whether the Red Sox will feel they are close enough to a playoff a spot a month from now to warrant making some moves.

The Rays have already started discussions about moving pitching ace David Price according to ESPN’s Buster Olney but the Rays haven’t gone that far yet. There’s very little chance Tampa Bay is going to make the playoffs so getting rid of Price sooner rather than later makes sense. St. Louis is rumored to be a leading contender to gain his services.

While Baltimore has been fairly impressive this season the real team to watch is New York. The biggest reason is that they will go out and get talent regardless of price to make a return to the playoffs. At this point, I like New York to catch the Jays for the division.

Sanchez

Anibal Sanchez has been great for Detroit since his arrival.

AL Central

Detroit -400

Kansas City +350

Cleveland +800

Chicago +5000

Minnesota +5000

Just when I start to think the Tigers are going to let everyone back in the AL Central Division race then rip off more wins. This is exactly what the Tigers have done as they’ve won seven straight heading into last night’s action. It wasn’t that long ago they lost three of four to the Royals and found themselves in second place.

Detroit now has a 4.5 game lead and Kansas City has stumbled going just 4-6 in their last ten games. Cleveland is 6.5 back but I’m just not sure how serious to take the Indians. They lack consistent starting pitching and while the team is fourth in the AL in hitting, it just hasn’t been enough.

Minnesota is 8.5 back and has lost three straight. This isn’t surprising because the youth movement is on in the Twin Cities and everyone knows it. The White Sox are a little different. They might even be disappointing to put it mildly and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Manager Robin Ventura in some hot water as the season progresses.

I think the Tigers will have some issues especially in the bullpen in the second half of the season, but I like them as a lock for the division title.

AL West

Oakland -250

LA Angels +225

Seattle +750

Texas +5000

Houston +20,000

I’m going to tell you right now that I’m not taking the Astros to catch the Oakland A’s but I like the improvement that is happening in Houston.

Speaking of Oakland, they have a 3.5 game lead over the Angels right now in the West. Both teams have gone 7-3 over their last ten games but the Angels have won six straight games. The A’s lead the American League in both hitting and pitching so it’s no surprise they are leading the West. The Angels aren’t far behind in either category so I like this race to continue into the early fall.

Seattle has managed to stay close and is just 6.5 games back but will they have the horses to contend down the stretch? Texas has been hit too hard by injuries and has had really poor pitching. I don’t see them being a factor.

I believe Oakland will hang onto this division but I also like the Angels to get a Wild-Card.

 

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