Sunday, November 1, 2015

The undesirable undefeated season?

It’s been well over seven years since it happened … I still have nightmares and sore flashbacks because of it.

On fourth-and-five, with 75 seconds left in regulation, Eli Manning connected with David Tyree for the iconic “helmet grab” that ultimately led to the New York Giants winning Super Bowl XLII. A fifth-grade version of myself stood stunned, crushed, and in disbelief when Plaxico Burress reeled in the 14-yard touchdown reception that gave New York the 17-14 victory on football's biggest stage. 

Tears stained my newly-purchased Randy Moss jersey as I watched my beloved Patriots finish their season with an ironically disappointing 18-1 record. The perfect season was lost. A Patriots’ season which re-wrote so much history (especially offensively) failed to pick up the most important merit of all, a Lombardi trophy. Suddenly the perfect regular season, Brady’s 50 touchdown passes, and Moss’ 23 touchdown grabs seemed all too distant and irrelevant. 

As a result of this traumatic 2007 experience, I can’t say I don’t get a little uneasy when I hear analysts discussing another perfect season for New England this year.  Don’t get me wrong, I never take a win for granted, but it just seems like all too much of a deja-vu scenario for this season’s Patriots who currently stand at 7-0 after blowing past Miami on Thursday night. 

While New England isn't blowing teams out of the water with the same tenacity that the ’07 squad did, lots of factors make an undefeated regular season not seem like such an unrealistic possibility.

In typical New England fashion, the offense is legit. As long as Tom Brady keeps a clean bill of health we can expect the Patriots to stay at, or at least be near, the top of the NFL scoring charts; the Pats lead the NFL in scoring through 8 weeks (35.6 PPG). As usual, Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, and Danny Amendola carry a majority of weight in the receiving aspect of New England’s offense. Running back Dion Lewis has been a pleasant surprise for the Pats’ offense thus far into the season. Lewis, who was out of football for the past two seasons due to injury and inability to stay on a roster, has proven to be a shifty, quick-footed option for New England’s backfield; he is the perfect compliment to a north-south running back like LaGarrette Blount.  In Thursday’s 36-7 win over Miami, Lewis caught six passes for 93 yards, proving his worth as a receiving option out of the backfield. 

The defense, however, is what makes me most optimistic about what the remainder of the season holds for New England. With his two-sack performance against the Dolphins, Chandler Jones took the NFL lead in individual sacks (8.5). Malcolm Butler, yes the Super Bowl savior (who I had some doubts about experience-wise), has proven to be a solid option at corner. No, he’s not Darrelle Revis in the slightest, but he can do a decent-to-good job of limiting the opposing team’s number-one receiving option to minimal damage. As a whole defensive unit, New England ranks a very respectable eighth among NFL defenses in points per game allowed (19.0). 

Much like the ’07 team, New England is playing this regular season coming off of some fresh controversy with the league. The Patriots find themselves in the middle of a revenge-type season towards the NFL after an offseason full of legal activity due to the fiasco that was “Deflategate.” Everyone remembers the Spygate scandal of 2007 that sparked the Patriots’ historic run to the Super Bowl. I feel the same vibe surrounding the mission of this year’s team: Make Goodell and the rest of the league pay for dragging out Deflategate as long as they did. While the uptight and short-spoken Patriots might not acknowledge it, they would love nothing more than to see (the enemy) Goodell handing the Lombardi Trophy over to Robert Kraft in February. 

Looking down the road however, I do see some possible bumps in the road that could halt New England’s pursuit of perfection. Here’s a look at what New England has left for the remainder of the regular season:

Week 9 vs. Washington
Week 10  @ NY Giants
*Week 11 vs. Buffalo
*Week 12 @ Denver
Week 13 vs. Philadelphia
Week 14 @ Houston
Week 15 vs. Tennessee 
*Week 16 @ NY Jets
Week 17 @ Miami

I keep in mind that no opponent should ever be overlooked, but I went ahead and marked the Patriots’ biggest threats with an asterisk (*). 

Regarding Buffalo: Anytime a Rex Ryan coached team (Buffalo) faces off with the Pats, a closely-contested game could follow. The Bills’ put up an impressive 19-point fourth quarter in their 40-32 loss to New England in week 2, so you can bet they are hungry for another chance at the reigning Super Bowl champions.

Regarding Denver: While Peyton Manning looks like a shell of himself offensively through Week 8, the Broncos’ defense is legit; as I write this piece the Broncos are 6-0 themselves and lead the NFL defensively in yards per game allowed (281.3). 

Regarding NY Jets: A week 16 match up with the Jets at MetLife Stadium could get very interesting for the Pats. The Jets gave New England arguably their biggest challenge of the season in a week 7 game at Foxborough. Expect MetLife to be as hostile as ever if a scrappy Jets team has the opportunity to end the Pats’ perfect season. 

All this talk concerning another 16-0 season for New England raises a question in my mind: Is their some value in a loss?

I personally feel that the most overlooked factor in the Patriots’ run to the Super Bowl trophy last season was their week 4 game against the Kansas City Chiefs. The Patriots were infamously massacred that Monday night at Arrowhead Stadium, 41-14. The loss was some truly bitter-tasting medicine that the Patriots needed, and they responded almost immediately after taking the dose.

Bill Belichick's "we're on to Cincinnati" mantra was born, the Patriots won 10 of their next 12 regular season games and concluded their season hoisting the Lombardi trophy. As weird as this sounds, that was a phenomenally-timed loss looking back. 

The value of a loss transcends beyond the world of sports … What would the “Karate Kid” be if Ralph Macchio never got beat down by those Cobra Kai punks? Would “Rocky” have been as special if Sylvester Stallone didn’t lose to Apollo Creed? Would the Bad News Bears have been as memorable if they weren’t so, well … bad?

If 19-0 and a fifth Super Bowl trophy is meant to happen for New England, then bring it on. I’ll certainly never pull for a loss, but if it’s what’s needed to gear this team for a playoff run, then I hope the “L” comes in the next nine weeks, not anytime after. 

Wincing just a little with every win and mention of perfection.
A Super Bowl XLII-traumatized, Angel Viscarra. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em ... right?

            Since the 2001 season, the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts have squared off a combined 18 times in regular and post-season play. Over that 14-year span the two teams have combined for 12 AFC Championships and five Lombardi trophies, four of which reside in Foxborough, Massachusetts. The illustrious rivalry between the two teams brought us arguably the greatest quarterback battle in league history, pitting Tom Brady against Peyton Manning. The media absolutely ate up the Colts-Pats saga and branded it as one of the most touted rivalries in not only football, but in all of professional sports. Most recently the series took a very interesting turn off of the gridiron, as the Colts are considered the instigators behind the Deflategate fiasco which has now taken the football world by storm. The Colts are reported to have contacted league officials regarding those faulty footballs after they took a 45-7 beating in the AFC Championship Game last season from New England.
            While the Patriots-Colts rivalry has been one full of moving parts and factors, one thing has remained constant through it all; Reggie Wayne is a Patriot-killer. In his 16 contests against New England, Wayne has compiled 1,046 receiving yards on 79 receptions, with five touchdown grabs. Safe to say, Wayne has a decorated statistical history against the Pats.
            On Aug. 24, Wayne “went to the dark side” in the eyes of many Colts fans, as he signed a one-year deal with New England that could be worth up to $3 million dollars. Several reports circulated throughout social media about the Packers being possible suitors for Wayne’s services, as they lost their All-Pro wide out Jordy Nelson for the season after a tragic ACL tear in a preseason contest on Sunday. However in a session with the media, Wayne made his motives behind choosing New England very clear, “I want to win. Point blank”.
       Over his 14-year career Wayne has solidified himself as a surefire Hall-of-Famer with remarkable merit both on and off the field. From 2004 to 2010, Wayne exceeded 1,000+ receiving yards over seven-consecutive seasons. The former All-Pro receiver has also reeled in 82 touchdown catches over his career. Wayne, who is seventh all-time in career receptions, is a six-time pro-bowler and in 2006 hoisted the Lombardi trophy as his Colts won Super Bowl XLI.
            While the resume is incredibly impressive, if you are expecting Wayne to come in and deliver a 1,500 receiving yard campaign, then you may find yourself very disappointed come season’s end. Wayne, 36, will no doubt bring some positives to the New England offense, however expect Wayne’s impact to be one that is vital both on-and-off the playing field. Aside from being one of the greatest receivers of his generation, Wayne is a consummate professional. Expect Wayne to be an excellent example and veteran leader for New England’s receiver corp., which includes a promising talent in Julian Edelman.
At this point in time New England’s quarterbacking scenario is very shaky, at least for the first four contests of this upcoming regular season. However, when Brady does make his eventual return to the New England offense, expect Wayne and the reigning Super Bowl MVP to form a dangerous quarterback-receiver tandem. The fountain of experience shared between the two will surely make them a threatening duo whenever they share the field.
You can bet that both Brady and Wayne have Oct. 18 marked brightly on their calendars. Brady, who will likely be coming off his four-game suspension, will be hungry for vengeance against those snitching Colts and Wayne will square off with his former-employer of 14-seasons on the primetime stage of Sunday Night Football. Game-scheduling at its finest from the NFL.
Entering his fifteenth NFL season, Wayne finds himself in a battle with “Father-time” to clinch his second career Super Bowl trophy. From his rookie campaign till now, Wayne has frequently found himself a victim of New England’s excellence, losing 11 times to the Patriots during his career.

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em … right? 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Dodgers -- Those dysfunctional division leaders


       Before last night’s 5-1 victory over the Cincinnati Reds, the Dodgers found themselves in the midst of a five-game losing streak, their longest since May of 2013. Over those five contests, Los Angeles’ lineup went cold at the plate, pushing out only nine runs during the losing streak. The Dodgers lineup hit rock-bottom this past Friday, as they were (controversially) no-hit by the Astros’ Mike Fiers in an interleague matchup.
     After the Dodgers bullpen blew yet another solid start by Clayton Kershaw in a 3-2 loss to Houston this Sunday, the three-time Cy Young winner was sure to address the media regarding the team’s struggles. Kershaw noted that maybe ‘panic’ and ‘urgency’ was something that the far-too-complacent Dodgers could use to break out of their five-game skid. Dodgers skipper Don Mattingly was sure to back his ace’s call for urgency from his teammates.
     The Dodgers seem to have responded well to Kershaw’s comments, as they played a very complete game in last night’s victory over Cincinnati. Right fielder Yasiel Puig started off the evening with an RBI double, Jimmy Rollins and Justin Turner each hit two-run homers, and trade-deadline acquisition Alex Wood put together his best outing as a Dodger, taking a shutout into the sixth inning. Miraculously, the Dodgers bullpen maintained the lead and closer Kenley Jansen fired a perfect ninth inning of work en route to an LA victory.
        From a broader scope, the Dodgers currently hold a 2.5 game lead on the San Francisco Giants for the NL West crown. The Dodgers still hold this division lead despite a 4-6 record over their last 10 contests; this is thanks highly in part to the Giants finding their own struggles in their current three-game losing streak.
      Looking down the road, the Dodgers and Giants will face off seven more times before the conclusion of the regular season. With that many games still left between the two clubs late in the season, the NL West is most certainly still up for grabs. Also, with the NL Central being as strong as it is this season, the NL Wild Card slots will likely be locked up by two teams from that division. Therefore, the only road to the postseason for either Los Angeles or San Francisco will be through the NL West title. Buckle up, it’s going to be a wild ride.
      Should the Dodgers hold on to first-place in the west, the team still faces plenty of well-publicized issues heading into October.
         Bullpen. Need I say more? It’s almost impossible not to cringe when Mattingly strolls out to the mound to take the ball from either Greinke or Kershaw. While Kersh and Greinke are a dream duo for any team in postseason contention, this team will go nowhere without a formidable group of relievers in October. Bullpen issues have haunted LA in past postseason runs, and the relief corp. hasn’t done much to improve my confidence in them. This season, the Dodgers rank 23rd among Major League teams in Bullpen ERA, at a staggering 4.16. At the trade deadline the Dodgers picked up reliever Jim Johnson from the Atlanta Braves in an attempt to bolster the pen. Let’s just say Johnson has been a liability, compiling a 21.00 ERA thus far in August … no that’s not a typo.
           Now let’s take a look at some concerns offensively for LA.
       The lineup is one stacked with both experience and power, there is no question about that. However, where LA need’s to urgently seek improvement is in their clutch hitting. The Dodgers rank 27th in offense with runners in scoring position (.259 in these scenarios) this season. You can’t expect to make any noise in October if you can’t push in the runs from second and third. Simple as that.
           During the All-Star break Dodgers fandom fell in love with their rookie slugger, Joc Pederson. Pederson dazzled the majors with his 20 home runs before the break and his big-time showing at the Home Run Derby. While there is no doubt about Pederson’s power, he’s got plenty of work to do in order to become the lead-off hitter Los Angeles hopes he will develop into. Pederson punches out about as much as an “Adam Dunn” type hitter, and in the month of August has struggled mightily at the dish, hitting an anemic .122.  The drop in numbers since the break have led to Pederson’s benching as of three days ago. Replacing Pederson in center is Enrique “Kike” Hernandez, who Don Mattingly believes gives LA a “better chance to win”. What Hernandez may give up in defensive ability to Pederson, he makes up for with a sizzling hot bat in August (.327 average this month).
            With 38 games to go before the regular season concludes and the postseason commences, the Dodgers have plenty of moving parts that still need to be solidified for a World Series run.

Actually, let’s just worry about getting into the playoffs first...


Tuesday, August 4, 2015

So ... What's next?

     A little over a year ago I wrote a column titled, “What’s next for Rousey?” after she devastatingly knocked out bantamweight challenger Alexis Davis in only 16 seconds at UFC 175. Today I am still in the same spot, asking the same question. Who is going to stop the most dominant female fighter on the planet, or heck, even just make her sweat a little defending her title?
      Keep in mind, it likely took you longer to read that lede than it took for Rousey to defend her title this past Saturday at UFC 190 against new challenger/victim Bethe Correia (9-1).
      One can say that Rousey’s performance Saturday was a letdown in the way it took her 34 seconds to finish Correia, not 16 as in past defenses. From the stroll to the octagon to having her hand raised by fight’s end, Rousey was a woman on a mission. Once the opening bell sounded, Rousey promptly took center control of the octagon and engaged in strikes with Correia. Out of fear for Rousey’s Judo throws, Correia dropped her guard. Rousey took advantage of this defensive lapse from Correia and landed a right hook directly to the temple of the challenger. Seconds later, referee John McCarthy stopped the fight and Rousey had officially defended her UFC bantamweight belt for the fifth consecutive time.
     With the victory, Rousey improved to 12-0 over her career and her legacy as one of the greatest combat athletes in history only continued to grow. While a first-round finish is a huge feat for almost any professional mixed martial artist, it has become routine to Rousey. Take this into perspective, 11 of Rousey’s 12 professional opponents have failed to escape the first round against the champion.
     Forget the first round… it’s now rare for a challenger to survive a mere minute in the cage with Rousey. Rousey has knocked out her last three opponents in the octagon, taking only 64 seconds of combined fight time to do so.
     Now the MMA universe looks at Rousey’s future with curiosity. What feat could possibly be left for Rousey to crush in her career?
     The most likely and probable answer to that question is yet another rematch between Rousey and Miesha “Cupcake” Tate (17-5). While Tate is the only woman to last longer than a round in the cage with Rousey, I am just tired of this “rivalry” between the two fighters. While a third installment of Rousey vs. Tate is very likely, it is definitely not the fight MMA fans around the world are thrilled to see. Tate is merely a gatekeeper in the women’s bantamweight division. While she has put on some impressive performances against others within the division, it was utterly obvious how overpowered and overmatched Tate was in her first two bouts against Rousey.
        Another rumor luring around Rousey’s future is a possible battle with 33-year-old bantamweight contender Holly Holm (9-0). While Holm is undefeated in the octagon with world-class boxing pedigree, Rousey’s striking has improved exponentially of late and she would dominate the fight should it go to the ground.
       Perhaps the most popular route for Rousey would be to take on Invicta featherweight champion Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino (14-1). While the super fight would draw record-breaking crowds, there are plenty of factors going against its finalization. The largest hindrance to this bout is Justino’s history of substance abuse. On several occasions, Justino has tested positive for performance enhancing drugs, which has made UFC President Dana White hesitant to sign her a UFC contract. White has been a long-time critic of Justino’s career, which hurts the likelihood of this bout being realized. Should Rousey and Justino fight, the two would likely have to meet in a catch weight bout at 140-pounds. Rousey has expressed great discomfort with the idea of moving up to 140-pounds for the fight. And as the champion, Rousey is fully entitled to make her challenger cut the weight necessary to fight her as a bantamweight. Also, the likelihood of Justino making her UFC debut against the world’s biggest combat star seems very unlikely to pass. While the Cyborg fight is an enticing one to fight fans, it may very well be recognized as a “could-have-been” matchup in the years to come.
      With her dominant reign in the UFC over the past two years, Rousey has undoubtedly moved into the legendary ranks of the MMA universe. Feel free to place Rousey on the Mount Rushmore of MMA legends. The dominance which Rousey has displayed over the bantamweight division is simply unprecedented. I have not seen a fighter so far ahead of any challenger thrown their way since Anderson Silva had his grip on the MMA world for the beter part of a decade. I would even go as far as to argue whether Rousey has had a more dominant reign as champion than Anderson Silva did in his prime (That’s a debate for another day).
       Rousey is not only a trailblazer for women’s MMA, but in the eyes of many she stands as the face of the entire UFC organization. Witnessing Rousey’s dominance over the past two calendar years makes one ask, “Will she ever lose?”
       While the rest of the bantamweight division searches for Rousey’s kryptonite, the champion looks to dominate on new platforms. The octagon has been no match for Rousey, she is a best-selling author, and as of Monday, announced she will be starring in a feature film based off of her autobiography.  
          While Rousey’s future may be in question, her legendary legacy most certainly is not.

          Did I mention she’s from Riverside? Represent. 

Friday, July 31, 2015

No superstar? No problem.


            Did we get Hamels? No.
Hmmmm, Price? Nope.
Gallardo? Not him either.
Cespedes? Not quite.
While the Dodgers may not have reeled in the superstar they were expected to this trade deadline, LA did manage to make some solid pickups for their second-half, and probable postseason push.
On Thursday Los Angeles found themselves in the midst of a three-team deal which shuffled a total of 13 players and prospects to different destinations. In the sandstorm of a trade-negotiation, the Dodgers gave up reliever Paco Rodriguez and three minor league prospects for several positive additions to their pitching rotation and bullpen.
Through this deal the Dodgers acquired two very adequate and promising starting pitchers in Mat Latos (Miami) and Alex Wood (Braves). The Dodgers also picked up some much-needed relief pitching with the addition of Braves pitchers Jim Johnson and Luis Avilan. An injured Bronson Arroyo was also thrown in the mix for LA, but with the veteran pitcher currently recovering from a Tommy John injury, who knows how much, if any, help he will be to the club returning this September.
When you have Clayton Kershaw and Zach Greinke spearheading your pitching rotation, you understand it can’t get much better. However, with the addition of Latos and Wood, the LA rotation is only solidified and strengthened for the postseason run the Dodgers hope to make this October.
Wood, at age 24, is already a proven starting pitcher in the majors. His career 3.10 ERA over three seasons with Atlanta is a testament to the upside he brings to LA’s rotation. This season Wood has gone 7-6, with a 3.54 ERA in 20 starts for the Braves. Things could get scary for opposing lineups should Wood come into a zone this second-half. Kershaw, Greinke, and a developing Wood would be a deadly rotation in any postseason match up.
I’d slip Mat Latos right in as the number-four starter for the Dodgers rotation. While Latos has been far from stellar this year, bearing a 4-7 record with an undesirably high 4.48 ERA, he has shown shades of excellence in previous seasons. As a 22-year-old, Latos finished eighth in the NL Cy Young Award voting; he won 14 games with a 2.92 ERA on a Padres team which virtually provided no run-support. In 2013, Latos posted a 3.16 ERA and was a 14-game winner for the Cincinnati Reds. While Latos won’t garner nearly as much attention as a Greinke or Kershaw, he will be a valuable asset to the Dodgers pitching staff.
Johnson and Avilan are much-needed additions to a highly-questionable Dodgers bullpen this season. The Dodgers bullpen ERA (3.87) ranks 23rd in all of Major League Baseball. Needless to say Johnson (2.25 ERA this season) and Avilan (1.52 ERA in 2012, career 2.77 ERA) stand as positive acquisitions for an erratic bullpen. Johnson, a former All-Star, has been especially effective as of late, maintaining a 1.82 ERA over his last 30 games of work.
First baseman Michael Morse was also shipped to LA from the Marlins in Thursday’s deal. Morse’s time in LA was short-lived, as the Dodgers shipped the veteran first-baseman to the Pirates with some cash in exchange for outfielder Jose Tabata. Expect Tabata to be nothing more than a spot-starter in what is a star-studded and already crowded Dodgers outfield.
Dodger fans shouldn’t fret over the absence of a superstar pickup this past week. Sure, we didn’t go all in like Toronto and pick up two of the biggest names in the game (Tulo and Price), but we sure did pick up some positive pieces that will be vital in the looming playoff push.
After their 5-3 victory over the Angels Friday night, LA is currently edging the Giants by 1.5 games for the NL West crown. These midseason pick-ups will only help LA fend off the Giants in what is going to be a thrilling divisional race in the west.
            I loved seeing the Dodgers go out and get some help on the mound, especially in the ‘pen. Keep in mind that the Dodgers’ last four postseason runs (2008, ‘09, ‘13 & ‘14) have come to a halt thanks highly in part to poor relief work on the mound. While Avilan and Johnson will already boost the bullpen’s strength, I hope to see the organization make some post-deadline transactions to further bolster relief-pitching personnel.
            While the Dodgers didn’t have a Hollywood-style trade deadline, the subtle, yet effective moves may lead to a Hollywood-style celebration in October.   

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Ya-see-ya-later Puig?


          It’s hard to believe that we are now two years removed from the “summer of Puig” phenomena. Since his major league call up in June of 2013, Puig has garnered the national spot light with both his on-and-off the field antics. Puig promptly dazzled the national baseball spectrum with his cannon of a right arm, sizzling bat and charming naivety that summer. Puig’s energy was infectious on his Dodger teammates, as the team would reap great success shortly after his arrival to the big leagues. Over the course of 48 games shortly following Puig’s addition, the Dodgers went 40-8, and quickly assumed the role of top contender for the National League pennant.
While Puig was erratic at times with his behavior and on-field execution (i.e. missing the cut-off man), Dodgers nation certainly looked past his rookie mistakes and relished in the show that was the 22-year-old-Phenom. Puig finished his rookie campaign with a .319 average, hitting 19 home runs and driving in 42 runs over 104 games. Puig would be runner-up for the NL Rookie of the Year award, trailing only Marlins ace Jose Fernandez, who went 12-6 with a 2.19 ERA during his rookie season.
In just his first year of major league action, the city of Los Angeles embraced their Cuban superstar. The Dodgers front office and fan base had found their franchise cornerstone for the years to come, or had they?
Since his breakout season, the “Cuban missile” has lost some velocity. While Puig was selected as an NL All-Star in his sophomore season, his average would stoop below the .300 mark. Puig’s power production would diminish as well. Puig would hit only 16 home runs and drive in 69 RBI in over his entire 2014 regular season.
While it wasn’t necessarily a disappointing second year for Puig, he did fail to meet the superstar expectations that the baseball world placed on him after his standout rookie campaign. Heading into that season, Puig bore an almost MVP-or-bust mentality in evaluating his performance.
            The decline of Puig’s production has continued till this point in the season. This campaign has been an injury-riddled one for Puig, as a result he has only suited up for 48 games this season. And in those games, Puig has mounted a very mediocre .265 average, with only five home runs and 19 RBI’s to his credit.
As hard as it is for me to say this, as both a Dodger fan and Puig supporter, the guy seems like a bit of a liability right now.
            I understand that he’s only 24-years-old, with plenty of upside still for the remainder of his career. I also understand that everyone is bound to have an injury-ridden season or two over the course of their career. But what I just can’t grasp is Puig’s lack of development as a teammate and common sense outfielder.
What used to be a “cute mistake” in air-mailing a ball over the cut-off man is now just plain annoying. Making simple mental errors like that is bad enough in the regular season, but do that in October and let a baserunner advance an extra base… we could be talking about staying alive in a series, or being eliminated from the postseason.
Despite being in his third season of MLB action, Puig still has the audacity to continually banter with his teammates and cause distress within the clubhouse. On several occasions, Puig has also been known to arrive late to the ball park on game day. Showing up late to games is something you leave to little leaguers being escorted in a Dodge Caravan; it shouldn’t be an issue for a professional athlete with plenty of travel assets.
            Despite dropping their most recent series against Milwaukee, the Dodgers (54-42) are in a very formidable position for it being only July. LA finds themselves in the driver’s seat in the NL West, three games ahead of the Giants. The Dodgers also find themselves atop or near the top of almost every published MLB Power Ranking released by ESPN.
With the postseason looking like a real possibility for the boys in blue, LA should be looking to make some moves by the July 31 trade deadline. Puig could prove to be a very valuable bargaining chip in prospective trade negotiations.
            While Dodgers management and personnel may be fed up with Puig’s antics and lack of production, plenty of MLB franchises would love nothing more than to add the 24-year-old slugger to their roster.
            The Dodgers are in desperate need of another solid starting pitcher, it’s no secret. With Puig in their back pocket, LA can chase some of the biggest options available on the mound during this deadline-negotiation period.
            There are rumors that Puig could end up in either a Mets or Phillies uniform come August 1, in exchange for some top-tier hurlers.
Just imagine a scenario in which the Dodgers picked up Mets superstar pitcher Matt Harvey, while giving up Puig in a trade. Can you imagine going into a playoff series with Kershaw, Greinke, and Harvey spearheading your rotation? Yikes. Nothing I’d love to see more than the “Dark Knight” (as Harvey has been dubbed) trotting out to the mound in a postseason match up.
If the Dodgers were to ship Puig to the “City of Brotherly Love”, they could acquire the services of veteran lefty Cole Hamels. While Hamels isn’t having a prolific Cy Young-caliber season on the mound, he brings stellar postseason experience which is invaluable to any team contending for the Commissioner’s trophy.  
In the case that Puig isn’t of enough value to reel in either Hamels or Harvey, the Dodgers should seek out some reliable arms for the bullpen. Dodgers fans have become accustomed to late-game, postseason heartbreak over the past several seasons. This is thanks largely in part to a traditionally-faulty bullpen that never fails to let down a championship-hungry fan base.
And don’t fret about the idea of losing Puig in the short-term. While in the long-run Puig may very well go on to have a hall-of-fame career and make me eat me words, he could also continue his descent into mediocrity. For the short-term, we can depend on our upward-trending centerfielder Joc Pederson and the resurrected Andre Ethier, who is undergoing quite the bounce back season for LA.
It’s hard to think that a rebuilding franchise would completely oppose the idea of negotiating for Puig’s services. While he does come with some off-the-field baggage and mental lapses, he can provide that “lightning in a bottle” to any major league lineup.

Can LA use their Cuban bargaining chip to get them back to the ‘ship?

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Mike Trout: The face of Major League Baseball


         Hitting out of the leadoff spot in Tuesday’s MLB All-Star Game, Angels’ outfielder Mike Trout found his way into yet another major league record book. Trout blasted a 1-2 offering from Dodgers’ ace Zach Greinke into the right field seats, becoming only the fourth player in MLB history to lead off an All-Star Game with a home run. Trout is the first player to accomplish the feat since former Royals outfielder Bo Jackson led off the 1989 mid-summer classic with a home run. Trout would finish the night 1-for-3 at the plate, with a walk, RBI and two runs scored. Trout’s efforts would be rewarded, as he was named the All-Star Game MVP for the second consecutive season. Trout is only the fifth player to ever win multiple All-Star Game MVP awards (others are Willie Mays, Cal Ripken Jr., Steve Garvey, and Gary Carter... some pretty good company). However, he is the first player in MLB history to win the honor in consecutive years … Did I mention he’s only 23-years-old?
            The Los Angeles Angels selected Millville Senior High School outfielder Mike Trout with the 25th overall pick in the 2009 MLB Amateur Draft. As a 17-year-old in the Angels farm system, Trout hit .352 as a member of the Angels’ Class-A rookie ball affiliate. Needless to say, Trout blazed through the minors and made his Major League debut for the Angels at age 19.
            Since winning AL Rookie of the Year in 2012, Trout has only racked up more and more accolades, achieving superstar status thus far in the Majors. In his five seasons as a big leaguer, Trout has brought home three Silver Slugger awards, an AL MVP trophy and four All-Star Game appearances. With his homerun against the Houston Astros on April 17, Trout became the youngest player in major league history to hit 100 home runs and steal 100 bases in a career.
            With his upside through the roof, Trout is the undisputed leader of baseball’s new generation. Trout’s youth is just scary. Still considered years away from his “prime” (age 26-31) by many, who knows what feats and records Trout will crush before he even celebrates his 25th birthday. With plenty of accolades and milestones ahead of him, Trout is about as sure a Cooperstown-lock you will find in a 23-year-old (barring some tragic injury… Hey, I had to say it).
Recognizing this, the Angels were wise to lock up their franchise cornerstone on a six-year, $144.5 million dollar contract extension signed in March of 2014. The contract keeps Trout in Los Angeles through the 2019-2020 regular season. Trout will have the chance to enter free agency at age 29, and if you thought that Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton’s $325 million dollar contract was absurd money, hold your breath. Who knows what type of player Trout will have blossomed into by 2020… and who knows how much cash MLB franchises will be willing to dish out to make Trout the face of their franchise.
In last year’s All-Star Game in Minnesota, Major League Baseball said farewell to “The Captain” Derek Jeter. Jeter, a baseball icon and soon-to-be first ballot Hall of Famer, was the long-standing face of Major League Baseball. It is fitting that one year later, Trout finds himself succeeding Jeter as the most notable figure in all of baseball. Trout is a household-name, carries himself well both on and off the field, and as many analysts will tell you, he just respects and “plays the game right”.
So, to the cynical baseball fan who is sick of seeing Mike Trout’s face plastered all over the place, get used to it. Trout’s got plenty more All-Star Games to dominate, home runs to hit, diving catches to make and Chevrolet trucks to win.

The New Jersey native is Major League Baseball’s new face. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

The UFC's best weekend yet?

The UFC may have very well just reaped the most successful weekend in its 22-year history. From Friday through Sunday of this past week, the events surrounding UFC 189 peaked in popularity, crushing nearly every pre-existing record that the UFC held for its previous promotions. From ticket sales to pay-per-view purchases to mass social media traffic, the UFC reached new frontiers of triumph this past weekend as an organization.
Originally, the UFC 189 promotion paired UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo (25-1) against contender Conor McGregor (18-2) for the title belt. From the start, the promotion seemed like a dream come true for UFC President Dana White. The brash, trash-talking McGregor was set to challenge the soft-spoken, yet ferocious, champion Aldo for the belt. White and the UFC took advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime title fight, launching a massive promotional tour for the event. World tours, a docu-series on both fighters and a flat-out impressive and aesthetic commercial campaign hyped UFC 189 as one for the ages.
Then, the tides shifted when Aldo suffered a rib injury in training for his title defense. Aldo was cleared medically to compete at UFC 189 and many members of the media were convinced that he would defend his title on July 11. However, much to the dismay of McGregor, White and MMA fans worldwide, Aldo pulled out of the main event two weeks prior to the scheduled event. Aldo has since received criticism from McGregor, White and several MMA analysts in the media since making his decision to pull out of the fight.
As a result of the Aldo fallout, Chad “Money” Mendes (17-3) stepped into the main event to battle McGregor, this time for the interim UFC featherweight title belt. Despite the new opponent, McGregor didn’t miss a beat in hyping up this fight, calling Aldo a “scared man running” and promising to “tear off” Mendes’ head in their upcoming bout.
From the fan turnout at the Friday weigh-ins preluding UFC 189, the UFC knew that this event was going to be a whole other animal in terms of revenue and output. The UFC 189 weigh-in garnered 11,500 fans in attendance, with several hundred more fans turned away at the door due to overcrowding and safety regulations for the MGM Grand Garden Arena. This mark crushed the previous UFC record for weigh-in attendance, which was 8,000 in 2012 at UFC 148 which pitted Anderson Silva and Chael Sonnen against each other in a rematch for the middleweight championship.
While the weigh-in featured the cliché fighter stand-off, in which White had to restrain McGregor and Mendes, another headline would develop beside the massive attendance turnout. McGregor and UFC bantamweight Uriah Faber engaged in a minor altercation back stage during the weigh-in. While the altercation was nothing more than a mere push and shove, it was a testament to the showman that McGregor is. Boy, can that guy rack up headlines and make news or what?
Once the actual UFC 189 promotion came and went Saturday evening, fight fans around the world could collectively agree that the main card lived up to the hype.  Even aside from the main and co-main events on the fight card, the night was stacked with solid fights and dazzling finishes. Both bantamweight Thomas Almeida (20-0) and featherweight Jeremy Stephens (24-11) would finish their opponents with devastating flying knee knockouts Saturday night. The prelims also included a highlight-reel finish as welterweight Matt Brown (20-13) submitted Tim Means (24-7-1) in the first round via a guillotine choke.
The co-main event of the evening, between welterweight champion “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler and contender Rory MacDonald, would go on to receive Fight of the Night honors and is  considered by many an ‘instant classic’. Lawler would finish MacDonald in the fifth round with a straight jab, breaking the nose of MacDonald, before finishing the fight on the ground with fists. The fight was a bloodbath throughout, with neither fighter giving in, but Lawler would defend his title in dramatic knockout fashion.
In the main event, McGregor would realize his dream of UFC gold, winning the interim featherweight title via knockout in the second round of his bout against Mendes. The win only sets up even more prospective profit for the UFC when Aldo and McGregor square off in a unification bout for the outright UFC featherweight title.
Aside from the outstanding fights on the night, the UFC presented itself as a very renovated and remodeled brand. Fighters and their coaching staffs no longer sported sponsors, but instead all UFC fighters and personnel wore Reebok gear from head to toe. In the main event fight, both McGregor and Mendes walked to the ring with live performance music playing behind them. Visually, and with good results, the UFC brand looked noticeably altered Saturday in almost every aspect of its presentation.
If fight fans were left hungry for more MMA after Saturday night’s spectacle, they would not have to wait long as the UFC presented a Fight Night on Sunday evening. The UFC Fight Night was headlined by welterweight veterans in Jake Ellenberger (30-10) and Stephen Thompson (11-1) squaring off. Additionally, The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) finale fight took place as a part of the evening’s main card.
The TUF finale featured American Top Team’s welterweight Hayder Hassan (6-2) against the Blackzillains’ Kamaru Usman (6-1). Usman would submit Hassan via an arm triangle choke in the second round; thus winning his own custom-made Harley-Davidson Motorcycle, the TUF team trophy, and the $300,000 cash prize for the Blackzillians.
Thompson would knock out Ellenberger in devastating fashion with a spinning right heel kick to the forehead, ending the fight in the very first round. Thompson now emerges from the fight as a premier contender in the welterweight division.
The UFC’s gem of a weekend is not only one of the finest in the organization’s history, but in the history of Mixed Martial Arts as a sport. With viewership through the roof this past weekend, one can only expect the UFC to grow exponentially in popularity throughout the nation.

Can you even begin to fathom the revenue storm that this Aldo-McGregor fight will spark once it comes around? Yikes.

Monday, July 6, 2015

And the Lakers get on the board this offseason

     Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Nick Young, Jordan Hill… 
     All of the players mentioned above have led the Lakers in scoring for at least one regular season. And if the final two players listed seem out of place, they should. “Swaggy P” and Jordan Hill cracking this list of illustrious Laker legends is a testament to the downward spiral LA currently finds itself in.
    Over the past two regular seasons, Los Angeles has: compiled a tumultuous 48-116 record, (obviously) failed to make the playoffs, and on a consistent-basis put out a starting lineup comprised of D-Leaguers, run-down veterans and no-name players within the professional basketball circle. “Tanking” has become a routine practice for one of the NBA’s most storied franchises, the Draft Lottery is common territory, and more than ever before the Lakers organization finds itself plastered with a big, fat “REBUILDING” label. The glorious championship banners which hang from the rafters of the Staples Center seem so distant now. Lakers nation finds itself asking, “Why does 2010 feel so long ago?”
      Needless to say, the Lakers find themselves in a state of turmoil, desperate for a turnaround. There is a heap of work to be done not only for the immediate future, but also for the distant one, considering that Kobe Bryant has publicly announced 2016 will be his final season as a Laker.
       Lakers team president Jeanie Buss has made it known that her brother, president of basketball operations Jim Buss, will resign should the Lakers not make a deep postseason run (Conference Finals) by the 2016-2017 season. Well, the clock’s ticking Jim, you’ve got some major work to do.
         Last week, the Lakers selected D’Angelo Russell with the second overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. There was some questioning about LA’s decision to go with the Ohio State guard instead of selecting Duke center Jahlil Okafor, who showed great interest in joining the Lakers. However, Russell’s tremendous upside and superstar potential rationalize Los Angeles’ decision to select him with the second pick.
       After falling short in both the LaMarcus Aldridge and DeAndre Jordan sweepstakes this past week, Los Angeles has been active in their offseason pursuits. Over the past 48 hours the Lakers have made several additions to their roster via free agency and the trading market.
       The Lakers signed power forward Brandon Bass from the Celtics, and former-Raptors guard Lou Williams on Sunday. While the Lakers are close to finalizing a deal with Bass, the team has already signed Williams, the 2015 NBA Sixth Man of the Year award winner, to a three-year, $21 million dollar contract. Bass brings a veteran presence to Los Angeles’ front court and can serve as a mentor to Julius Randle, the Lakers’ first-round draft selection of a year ago whose rookie campaign was cut short due to injury. While Williams has been evaluated as a defensive liability, he will serve as an excellent offensive asset for the Lakers. Whether Williams is a starter or is assigned a bench role, he will provide an offensive spark for the Lakers in seasons to come.
       On Saturday, LA also acquired center Roy Hibbert courtesy of a trade with the Indiana Pacers. The trade is currently in the finalization stages and Hibbert is expected to officially be a Laker by the end of the approaching week. Hibbert, 28, is a two-time All-Star (2012, 2014) who has displayed flashes of success throughout his career.
        In the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals, Hibbert had a breakout series against Miami in which the Pacers pushed the defending-champion Heat to seven games. In that series, Hibbert was a force, averaging 22.1 points per game (PPG) and 10.4 rebounds per contest (RPG). The Lakers are hopeful that Hibbert’s output can mimic these numbers, and not this past season’s statistics, in which he averaged 10.6 PPG and 7.1 RPG while shooting 44.6% from the field.
      While Laker activity has been high as of late this offseason, the front office realizes that these acquisitions are but baby steps on the road to rebuilding the storied franchise. Coming off of the worst regular season in franchise history (21-61 record), Los Angeles needs to think about .500 before harboring any thought of a playoff berth, especially in the killer Western Conference.

        Good luck Jim, your sister’s got the two-year leash on you. Time’s a wasting. 

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Dallas finds its ‘Lone Star’ in Jordan


     Over the Clippers’ 2015 playoff campaign, center DeAndre Jordan solidified himself as one of the league’s premier big men, averaging 13.1 points per contest and reeling in 13.3 boards per game. Defensively in the postseason, Jordan was a force down low, consistently shutting down his assignment from series to series, while blocking 2.4 shots per game.
     In their historic Western Conference Semifinals collapse, Los Angeles blew a 3-1 series lead over the Houston Rockets, once again failing to advance further than the second round of playoff competition. In their game 7 match up against Houston, Jordan tallied: 16 points, 17 rebounds, four steals and three blocks. And as the final buzzer sounded, ending the Clippers season, Jordan found himself entering the summer as one of the hottest free agent options available to NBA franchises.
     Jordan is coming off of a regular season in which he led the NBA in rebounds for the second consecutive season, averaging 15 per contest. While Jordan is a liability (to say the least) at the free throw line, shooting 39.7% from the stripe in 2015, he has developed a very fluid offensive attack over the years. Jordan put his offensive efficiency on display this past season, leading the NBA in field goal percentage at 71%. Jordan’s season was highlighted with a selection to the All-NBA first team defense and All-NBA third team. Jordan’s breakout performance in his contract year made him one of the most sought-after talents in this year’s free agency period. The Clippers attempted to re-sign their big man of the past seven seasons, while other teams such as the Knicks, Lakers and Mavericks pursued the six-foot-11, 265 pound center.
     On Friday July 3, the Dallas Mavericks inked Jordan to a four-year maximum contract worth more than $80 million dollars. The contract also features a third-year player option which would give Jordan the ability to return into the free agency market in 2018.
     Considering Jordan’s background, the decision to sign with Dallas made sense. Born in Houston and having attended high school in Humble, Texas gave Dallas that “home-factor” to Jordan. Jordan also played collegiately at Texas A&M for one season, winning All-Big 12 honors before declaring for the NBA Draft.
     Dallas also collectively put forth a strong recruiting campaign for Jordan’s services. Mavericks players Dirk Nowitzki and Chandler Parsons met with Jordan in Los Angeles to pitch the idea signing with their franchise; meanwhile owner Mark Cuban and Rick Carlisle took the free agent out to dinner to promote their team. Rather unexpectedly, the Mavericks were not the only professional sports franchise seeking Jordan’s landing in Dallas. Dallas Cowboys All-Pro wide receiver Dez Bryant and owner Jerry Jones pleaded Mavs fans to lobby for the signing of Jordan on social media. In the end, Dallas’ efforts were rewarded with the Mavs’ signing of basketball’s best rebounder.
     Jordan finds himself joining a Mavericks team which finished the regular season with a record of 50-32, which clinched the seventh seed in the Western Conference Playoff bracket. In the first round of the Western Conference Playoffs however, the Mavs were promptly eliminated by their Texan-rivals, the Houston Rockets (4-1).
     Upon joining the team, Jordan can expect to quickly accelerate to superstar profile in Dallas. With Mavs great Dirk Nowitzki now sitting at age 37, and the loss of stars like Tyson Chandler and Monte Ellis to free agency, Jordan very likely will be observed as the most valuable player for Dallas in the seasons to come. The move comes at a perfect time for Dallas as Jordan, age 26, is just entering the prime of his NBA career age-wise.
     This scenario of leading Dallas is one unique to Jordan, who often resided in the shadow of his Lob-city teammates, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, during his time in Los Angeles. Jordan now has an opportunity to shine as the “Lone Star” in Dallas and help lead the Mavericks to prominence in the Western Conference and possibly another NBA Championship.
     With the acquisition, Dallas receives an All-Star, All-Pro caliber presence in the paint. Jordan’s rebounding and defensive abilities will be vital to the Mavs, as they ranked a meager 23rd in team rebounding (42.3 RPG) and 25th in points per game allowed (102.3 PPG) last season.
       As Dallas celebrates their signing of “DJ”, Clipper nation now finds themselves in the midst of many question marks. In failing to re-sign Jordan, the Clippers now have no centers left on their roster. While Blake Griffin now stands as the tallest member of the Clippers, he is by no means equipped to play the position. And with the acquisition of small forward Paul Pierce Wednesday, via a three-year/$10.6 million dollar contract, Los Angeles now has no cap space to pick up a viable option at center in free agency. The Clippers put all their eggs in the “DeAndre Jordan basket”, and that basket has spilled mightily. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

'Deflate gate' overshadows New England's championship victory

The New England Patriots steamrolled the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship game this past Sunday, 45-7. In front of their Foxborough fans, the Patriots looked about as dominant as possible on both sides of the ball.
New England quarterback Tom Brady had his usual standout numbers in the playoff contest, tossing three touchdowns and in the process, passing Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning for the most postseason passing yards (6,800) of all time. Patriots’ running back Legarrette Blount also broke out for 148 yards and three rushing scores, adding another element to the offensive attack. Aside from allowing only 7 points on the day, the Patriots defense played at championship-level. The defense held Colts quarterback Andrew Luck to 126 yards passing, while forcing him into two interceptions.
On Monday morning, while Patriots nation was still celebrating their berth in Super Bowl XLIX, suspicions began arising about the previous days’ contest. Media reports stated that the Patriots allegedly under-inflated footballs which they used on their offensive possessions during the championship game. Officials reportedly took several game balls to be weighed and scaled during regulation of Sunday’s contest.
When asked about the issue, New England head coach Bill Belichick deferred questions from reporters and suggested that they contact NFL officials about the matter. Patriots’ tight end Rob Gronkowski took a much more comical approach to the whole situation, claiming that the balls were under-inflated due to his trademark “Gronk-spike” after scoring a touchdown.
As of Tuesday evening, NFL officials found that 11 of the 12 footballs which New England used during regulation were indeed not to “league standard” in terms of inflation. The balls which New England used were reportedly two pounds lighter per square foot than the league limit.
Under-inflated footballs could provide some advantages for the offensive unit using them. In a game like Sunday’s which had wet and windy conditions, under-inflation could influence the way in which a ball travels through the air. A football with less air also makes for an easier grip, which could be especially helpful for backs and receivers playing in a contest with inclement weather conditions.
During an NFL game, each offense is assigned its own respective set of footballs. In other words, teams must provide their own game balls for their own offensive possessions. This reality exploits that only New England could have received an unfair advantage from using under-inflated footballs Sunday.
‘Deflate gate’, as it has been deemed, is most definitely not the first run-in New England has had with NFL officials concerning regulation rules and conduct. Everyone seems to remember the infamous ‘spygate’ scandal of 2007, in which the Patriots were found guilty of videotaping the New York Jets’ defensive signal callers and assistant coaches during a game. Due to these incidents, Belichick has been deemed “Bill Beli-Cheat” by fans and media outlets across the nation.
While no punishment has been delivered by the NFL to this point, expect Commissioner Roger Goodell and his officials to punish New England for their tampering of NFL regulations. Loss of draft picks, fines and other significant sanctions could be on the horizon for New England following this investigation by the league.

Expect the further development of ‘Deflate gate’ to be one of the main headlines leading up to New England’s Super Bowl XLIX match-up with the NFC Champion Seattle Seahawks on Feb.1.