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.