Thursday, August 30, 2012

MLB Season Coming Down to the Wire

With one month left, the MLB regular season is coming to an end very quickly. Many teams are still fighting for the chance to make the playoffs and some teams have thrown in the towel and began playing for next year. The most exciting month in baseball is September, and leads to many close games and playoff vibes before the playoffs get started. There are many stories coming into this last month of the season, from the Stephen Strasburg inning limit to whether any team will have a Red Sox/Braves type collapse like last year. There is also the new addition of two extra wild card teams that will make the races even tighter as the season gets close to the end. I want to take a look at each division, as well as the wild card picture going into the last month.

AL East:

The Yankees have a three game lead over the Orioles and a four game lead over the Rays in the division with 32 games left for each team. The Yankees have two series left against both teams. This division is very likely to come down to the wire and the bad news for the Yankees is they end with a series against the Red Sox that could determine their fate. While the Red Sox may be done this season and having a fire sale with all their players, it is still a rivalry and the Sox would love to keep their arch rivals from winning the division or even keep them out of the playoffs for good. The Rays and Orioles both still have a strong chance of making a wild card spot if they are unable to win the division, if they continue to play well down the stretch. I believe the Rays win this division and the Orioles and Yankees fight it out for one of the wild card spots.

AL Central:

This division race is separated by 2.5 games between the White Sox and Tigers, with the White Sox leading the division right now. Both teams have a Cy Young Candidate, the White Sox with Chris Sale and Tigers with Justin Verlander, and both teams have pretty potent offenses that could make this race very interesting. The two teams play each other twice in the early part of September. This race could come down to the last series of the season, in which the White Sox play Cleveland and the Tigers play Kansas City. I believe the Tigers with their playoff experience find a way to win the division for the second year in a row.

AL West:

As a Rangers fan this race is a little to close for me right now. The Rangers have a four game lead over the Oakland A's. The A's have been one of the best teams in baseball since the all-star break and everyone continues to wait for them to stumble, but so far they continue to prove everyone wrong. These two teams have two series left against each other and they are both in the last two weeks of the season, with the last being in Oakland the last weekend of the season. The Angels who were supposed to battle the Rangers for the division are too far out, and their only chance is a wild card spot in which they are still four games out of the second spot. I believe with the Rangers' potent offense they are still able to pull it out and win the division.

AL Wild Card:

The wild card race will not be as fun as some of the division races, but the fun part will be the one game between these two teams to start the playoffs. I believe the two wild card spots will be filled by the second place teams in the AL East and AL West.

NL East:

The Nationals have had a lock on this division for awhile now, but with Stephen Strasburg being benched once he reaches his innings limit the division could get interesting again real quick. Right now the Braves are five games back of the Nats, but they have still have a chance. The Braves only have one more series against the Nats so they will need help from the other teams in their division. The good news for the Braves may be that the Nats have been struggling lately and are losing their star pitcher in the middle of a pennant race. I do believe that the Nationals will get it together and win the division, but they may have a short stay in the playoffs without Strasburg.

NL Central:

This may be the only race that is pretty much over going into September, barring a major collapse by the Reds in the final month. The Reds have the best record in baseball, and an eight game lead over the defending world champion Cardinals. The Reds are already good, and get their best player, Joey Votto, back going into September.

NL West:

The Giants and Dodgers are going to make the NL West race very interesting going down the stretch. The two teams have two more series against each other, with one being the last weekend of the season. The two teams have moved in the opposite direction over the last few weeks and could affect the teams dramatically in the last month of the season. The Giants lost their main source of offense when Melky Cabrera was suspended for 50 games for using PEDs. The Giants offense is already abysmal, so they will have to depend on their pitching to get them to October. The Dodgers on the other hand have added some reinforcements to their team going down the stretch. They added a big bat in Adrian Gonzalez, who can help out Kemp, Hanley Ramirez, and Ethier in the middle of the lineup. They also added Josh Beckett, who may be able to add depth to a weak rotation. The Giants currently lead the Dodgers by 3.5 games going into September. I believe the Dodgers will take the division because of their depth and additions.

NL Wild Card:

The NL wild card race is very close with four teams vying for the two wild card spots. The contenders are the Braves, Cardinals, Pirates, and whoever is second in the NL West. These 4 teams are separated by a game and a half for the two spots. I believe with the strength of the Braves bullpen, that they will get in. The Pirates are the other team I believe will get in. They are young enough not to care about the standings and have enough veterans to get there. They also have a pretty easy schedule down the stretch to help them out.

September is a fun time of the year that gives baseball fans all over the country chills. It is filled with excitement and heartbreak with just about every pitch and is as close as some teams will get to the playoffs this year. There is something about this time of year that just makes the other five months of the season worth while. While some teams are out of the hunt, there are still many teams that still have a horse in this race. Good luck to all the teams and fans battling for these ten spots and enjoy!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Honey Badger Don't Care and Neither Do Some Other College Players

This past week Tyrann Mathieu, the Honey Badger, has been kicked off the LSU football team and reportedly checked in to drug rehab in Houston. This is just one of a few examples this offseason and past few years of college athletes being dismissed from their teams for off the field issues. I do not quite understand this phenomenon that continues to happen year in and year out. Is it because these kids think they are invincible, they just were not raised to be able to tell right from wrong, or just do not have the cognitive ability to think before they act?

Tyrann Mathieu was dismissed from the Tiger football team after sources say he failed multiple drug tests this offseason. Mathieu, who was a key contributor to the Tigers' run to the national championship last year and Heisman trophy finalist, obviously had multiple chances to turn his life around before coach Les Miles made the decision to kick his star player off the team. Coaches cannot have complete control over everything a player does in his free time, so the player needs to be able to take responsibility for his actions. Obviously football was not the priority for Mathieu, seeing that he had plenty of chances to change his habits, going back to last season when he was suspended for failing his first drug test. Isiah Crowell, the starting running back for Georgia last season, was dismissed from the team after being arrested for three weapons charges. Crowell had a bright future at Georgia where he was expected to be a force in the SEC for the next couple of years. Georgia coach Mark Richt has always had a short leash and his players know that. The real question in this story is why Crowell would be carrying a handgun with him around the Georgia campus in his car. The last major dismissal this offseason was Florida State cornerback Greg Reid. Reid has been a star on the Florida State defense the last few years and was expected to do the same this year. He was arrested in July for possession of marijuana and later dismissed from the FSU team. Reid comes from a family of drug problems, where his dad spent jail time on drug trafficking charges. Players getting kicked off of teams for off the field issues is a growing problem that needs to be slowed down or even stopped, both for the individual and team's sake.

These players are icons in their respective cities and some times treated so well that I believe that they think they are invincible. People treat them like gods and give them what they want, even if it breaks NCAA rules. Many of these players come from places that may not have the best family backgrounds, so they may not have the upbringing that some children have. At some point though, the players need to realize that they are not invincible and that when they do not do right there are consequences that need to be faced. Many times these players face less consequences with their first offense because they do not think the team can survive without them. The fact is that in today's sports world there is always someone just as good behind you that is just waiting for their chance to show what they have. Every player these days is replaceable and the sooner these players realize that I think it will get better. The other problem with the NCAA today is that if these kids are kicked off a team for not following rules, they are allowed to go to another smaller division school without facing any consequences. I believe the NCAA needs to step in and do something about this. If a player is kicked off a team for legitimate reasons, they should not be able to go to a Division II school and be able to play that same year. The player should have to sit out for a year no matter what and show that they are able to have good discipline or seek help for their issue before returning to football. These athletes are so young that if they do not get the help they need then they may face this problem the rest of their lives. The NCAA spends so much time making sure no program gets too big advantage that they forget about the kids. The programs are so worried about these athletes making them money that the athletes' well-being goes out the window too many times. It is time for both the NCAA and programs to remember that they are dealing with young athletes that need help and need to be molded and let the money make itself in the long run.

6' 3" 300 lb TwelveYear Old is not allowed to play Pee Wee Football

A middle schooler from Mesquite, Texas is trying to play pee wee football. The problem is the child is 6' 3" and weighs 300 pounds. He has never played football before and wants to try football at the pee wee level before playing school football. I see a few problems with this whole story that is beginning to gain national coverage and has caused a dispute within the pee wee football league. The coach of the pee wee team does not seem to see a problem with the child, Elijah Earnheart, playing for his team, but the rules state that the limit to play in the league is 135 pounds. My math may not be great, but I do believe Elijah weighs more than double that amount. The league cites safety of the other children as the major reason to not allow Earnheart to play and this is completely understandable. So who is right and wrong in this whole situation?

A twelve year old that weighs 300 pounds is a bit ridiculous, whether he is 6'3" or 5'0''. How can this be possible? Most college linemen are not much bigger than this and are ten years older than Elijah Earnheart. I am not a parent, but I find it hard to put all the blame on the child for weighing this much at such a young age. As child obesity is a major problem in this country already, having a twelve year old weigh 300 pounds is putting this kid at risk for many health issues later on his life. As this is a sports blog, I will leave the rest of the morals out of this post and talk about how bad this could be. With the weight limit being 135 pounds, which seems low for this age group, a player that is that much bigger than all the other kids could make the league very unsafe for any child that has to line up against Earnheart. Whether he has the strength of a normal guy this size or not, just his sheer size puts the children at risk. If he falls on someone that weighs 135 pounds or less, that kid could easily suffer broken bones because their bodies are not ready to support this amount of weight. It also gives Elijah's team a distinct advantage if he shows any promise at all. All the team would have to do is run behind him every play and they would score on more than fifty percent of these plays. Kids at this age do not have all the tools and secrets on how to defeat a blocker of this size and would discourage more kids from playing after lining up against Elijah. The fact is that it is pure ignorance if they allow this kid to play unless they put in some ground rules first, but that may also lead to a lawsuit as well.

I do believe that if the child really wants to play football, he should have one option and that is to play school football or not at all. It sounds unfair and I know he wants to play with his friends, but school coaches have access to more experience in coaching than most pee wee coaches and would give the kids playing against Elijah a fighting chance. If Earnheart is not able to play football until high school, he runs the risk of being behind in fundamentals which in a full contact sport may put him at risk for injury.

Overall, I believe the pee wee league is doing the right thing by not letting him play, but the parents of this child need to try to talk him into playing school football if he really wants to play. I do believe that if children want to be active they should be, but not at the risk of injuring other children. There is only a few people to blame for the child being this big and the children who are following the rules of the league should not be punished for signing up to play against someone twice their size. If Elijah Earnheart really wants to play he will play school football, if not he needs to understand that there are rules and that safety is the reason he can not play pee wee.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Look Ahead at Second Week of the Olympics

Well the first week of the Olympics is drawing to an end, and with that comes an end to most of the swimming, gymnastics, and a few other events. There were some surprises like Granbury's own Dana Vollmer, 17 year old Missy Franklin, and gymnast Gabby Douglas. There was also the expected like Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte. With the second half starting, the track and field events start, and the soccer, volleyball, and basketball start the knockout rounds. There are many stars that are in this group that begin in the second half and should be watched closely as well.

With the track events starting there are quite a few people to watch. When talking about track you have to start with Usain Bolt, Tyson Gay, and the rest of the Jamaican and American Track teams. Bolt is the best in the world right now in the short distance track events, but faces competition from his own teammate Yohan Blake, who has had success against Bolt in the months leading up to these Olympics. On the American front, look for Baton Rouge native Lolo Jones to have a big impact on the women's side. Not only is she a favorite to medal in a couple events, she brings an electric personality and great story that will make her a fan favorite in London. I can't talk about track and field without giving some props to Red Oak's own shot putter Michelle Carter. She is the daughter of former NFL player and Olympian Michael Carter, so she has someone to help her with the experience as she competes in her first Olympics. She may not be the favorite, but could have a chance at an upset in these games. I also want to wish good luck to Louisiana Tech's Olympians Chelsea Hayes, Jason Morgan, and Ayanna Alexander.

With the other team events entering the knockout rounds, the United States should have a huge presence in basketball, volleyball, beach volleyball, water polo, and women's soccer. On the basketball front, we know what to expect. The United States is the overall favorite as it is a team full of the NBA's best including Lebron James and Kobe Bryant among others. The women's volleyball team is the best in the world and should battle Brazil for the gold medal in that sport and they have already beat the Brazilians and number three China in these Olympics. The men's and women's beach volleyball teams have top teams on each side. Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser are a very strong team that could play for a gold medal as long as they stay consistent. The Golden Girls, Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh-Jennings, are the overall favorites for the third Olympics in a row. They have only lost one set in three Olympics thus far, and their main competition will come from the Brazilians as well. The women's soccer team has been dominant so far and should have a good shot at a gold medal run as well.

It has been fun watching the Olympic stories unfold in front of us thus far, and I look forward to the same in the weeks to come. The great thing about the Olympics is that athletes in lesser sports get the recognition they deserve on a world wide level. Athletes you would have never heard of are writing their own history each and every day, and that is the awesome things about sports, you never know what is going to happen.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Things that Drive Me Crazy Being a Baseball Fan

We all have things that we do not agree with when it comes to sports. Whether it be not agreeing  with a coach or manager's decision or having a problem with the way a player carries himself on and off the field. These things are different for everyone.  They are what makes sports great and allow us to discuss sports on a regular basis without talking about the same things over and over again. As I have been watching baseball the past week, I have noticed a handful of things that I either do not agree with or do not understand.

1. Why do fans boo every time a pitcher throws to a base to hold a runner close and keep them from stealing, or call balk on each of these moves? Holding runners is part of the game and is a necessity for pitchers to keep from giving up more runs. It is much harder for a player to score from first base than it is to score from second base. I understand that it is only 90 feet, but with a fast player that extra base is the difference between stopping at third and scoring. As for calling balk on every pitcher's move, you either do not know the balk move or feel the need to be heard during the game. Left handed pitchers have a forty five degree grace period on pickoff  moves to first. As long as they do not cross this barrier, they can make a move to first without a balk and the good ones flirt with this line very well. The fake to third and check first base move is legal and it is just another tool to keep that runner close. Please as fans respect the game a little more and let the professionals, both players and umpires, do their job.

2. I do not understand why players do not run full speed to try to avoid being the second out of a double play. Some of the fastest players in the game will jog to first when they hit a ground ball. There is two problems with this. The first being that if the player makes an error and you are not running there is still a good chance you are still going to be out. The other being that there's no telling what is going to happen the rest of the inning if you beat out a double play. Making it to first can always lead to a run, or drive a good pitcher from the game. Plus, as a player they are making millions of dollars to play a game. This should be enough motivation to play every play like it's their last, because a career is never guaranteed.

3. People that want to institute instant replay into every aspect of the game of baseball. Baseball is already a slower played games that can take 3 to 4 hours to play regardless of what happens in the game. Instant replay will just slow the game down more. The human element is baseball is one of the great things about the game. It allows fans to have something to talk about, and discuss what could have happened. A bad call happens, but the umpires get it right most of the time. everyone is human and makes mistakes. The good thing about baseball is it is open to interpretation. The strike zone changes with every umpire and makes the players have to figure out what the strike zone is every night. Otherwise, one of two things would happen. Either there would be more home runs and the batters would know exactly where it  is a strike and where it is a ball, or every game would be a pitchers' duel do to the fact that they could paint the corners because they are so good. This game has been played the same way fro over 100 years and has worked thus far, no need to change it.

4. I do not understand how batters swing at the same bad pitches over and over again. If you swing at it the first time, most of the time the pitcher is going to throw the same pitch again in the same at bat. These players are professionals and should be able to adjust within the at bat. Stop making yourself look bad swinging at pitches that are nowhere close to the strike zone.

5. Players these days do not seem to have any loyalty to their team they came up with. I understand that more money or winning plays a part in this reality, but is a million extra dollars really worth moving to another team and being speculated about your character? In the past, it took a lot more to get a player to leave a team. The players had a loyalty to the fans and organization and wanted to play their whole career for one team. These days players change teams almost as often as they change clothes. I respect the players that choose to stay with one team, like Derek Jeter and Michael Young. Money is not everything, especially when the players are making as much money as they do these days.

These are just a few things that I have noticed the last few weeks that have really gotten to me. Part of it is not understanding, but it is also things that have changed over the years as the people of the world have changed. Feel free to add your own pet peeves for the game of baseball.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Rise and Fall of Some of the PGA's Players

Over the last year or so, I have noticed that many of the notable players on the PGA Tour have been rather inconsistent, while just a few have been pretty consistent. I realize that golf is one of the more difficult sports on the planet, not because of athletic ability needed, but rather because you are trying to put a 1.62 inch ball into a 4.25 inch cup from two hundred to five hundred yards away, eighteen times. Factor in how the ball is going to play in the wind or rain, and the sport gets much more difficult. The mental aspect of the game is one of the toughest parts to understand. Players play shot to shot and cannot let one bad shot bother them through the remainder of a round or tournament, like a player in baseball cannot let an at-bat affect how he plays in the field. These players are playing against the best one hundred players in the world on a weekly basis, and I understand how hard it is to win any sport week in and week out, but the inconsistency or overhyping of players by the media is just ridiculous sometimes. I am not bashing any of these players because I know how good they are and can be, but it just amazes me how people in the media hype them up and compare them to greats like Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods when they are just starting out.

The obvious person to me that has had his ups and downs is Rory McIlroy. He is one of my favorite players on Tour and, at 23, has shown flashes of brilliance and been very bad at other times. It all started at the 2011 Masters, where he shot an 80 in the final round to blow a huge lead and finish fifteenth, when the Green Jacket was basically on his back. He then returned in the U.S. Open to win the tournament, and win his first major. Everyone was ready to compare the young kid to Tiger Woods, but after two majors is a little soon. He finished 2011 strong, but did not win anymore tournaments. He returned in 2012 at the Accenture Match Play and Honda Classic, where he finished second in the Match Play and first in the Honda Classic. the next tournament was the World Golf Championship where he finished third. Then, the downturn started. He barely made the cut at the 2012 Masters and finished fortieth, continued on to The Players Championship and the U.S. Open and missed the cut at both tournaments. Give the kid a chance to prove himself before you start comparing him to Tiger or other greats, he will get there, but the extra pressure won't help.

As for Tiger Woods, he has been pretty inconsistent himself. He went from being on top of the world, to not winning a tournament for over a year. Tiger had some excuses for why he was struggling, from his home situation to firing his swing coach and caddy, but still continued to go out there and fail. It never made sense to me why he did this. He knows how much of a mental game golf is and that if your mind is not on every shot, the course will make it worse. Woods took some time off, but he obviously needed more, but he did prove to us that he is actually human and could lose. But Tiger is returning to form, which is scary for the rest of the field and the more confidence he gains he will continue to win. Those couple of months when Tiger's life fell apart on him, cost him some wins and the quick return did not help either. Golf is one of few games that you can leave on top and come back a couple weeks or months later and be average again.

Bubba Watson is gaining popularity by the minute, after his performance at the 2012 Masters, which he won, he was on top of the world.  But two of the three tournaments after that, the Memorial and the U.S. Open, he failed to make the cut. Bubba has been a decent player for a long time, he has been a middle of the pack guy until this year when he has played better. Over the two seasons prior to 2012, he had 7 total top 10 finishes in over 40 tournaments. But his demeanor and the fact that he taught himself the game of golf has made him a crowd favorite.

Phil Mickelson is another crowd favorite and always has a huge following whatever tournament he plays in. Phil started his career as a very good golfer, with the reputation of not being able to win a major, part of that being that Tiger Woods was usually in the field with him. Mickelson over the years has changed that reputation after a couple of wins at the Masters and other majors. He is also one of the more consistent golfers in the field from week to week. Most of the time you can find him in the top twenty golfers on the leader board.  He still has his times of inconsistency, as does any golfer, but from week to week he is towards the top of consistency.

Luke Donald is probably one of the most consistent golfers on Tour. You may not know his name if you do not follow much golf, but he is currently the number one player in the world. Donald has never won a major, yet holds the number one spot because of his consistency. His finishes in tournaments over the last two years have plenty of top ten and top twenty finishes. Until he wins a major, you may not hear his name or know who he is, but he is quietly racking up his earnings each week with all these good finishes.

Golf is a wonderful game, and just as you think you have it figured out it lets you know that you don't. These players are the best in the world and even their inconsistency is better than our consistency. People say golf is boring to watch, but there are some amazing things that happen in every round if you know what is going on. The Open Championship is on this week and the players are having to fight that European wind to win this weekend. Let's see who is the most consistent player over the next four days and is able to come away with the win.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Arizona Diamondbacks Interesting Place in the National League West

The Arizona Diamondbacks are currently in third place in the National League West going into the second half of the season. They are currently just six games back of the Giants who are currently in first place. With the trade deadline quickly approaching on July 31st, the Diamondbacks must make a decision on whether to be buyers or sellers at the deadline. The next couple of weeks are very important to this decision. If the D'backs can make a run in the next couple of weeks, they should look to improve their team to make a playoff push. But if they fall off, they could look to trade some of their better players, such as Justin Upton, to improve their farm system and look to the future. Arizona's offense has been the bright spot so far this year, as they are in the top half of the league in most offensive categories. As for their pitching, the Diamondbacks need to see some improvement over the next couple of weeks. They have the arms to do it with Trevor Cahill, Wade Miley, rookie Trevor Bauer, and Ian Kennedy. Kennedy thus far has not produced like he did last year, and it would take a quick turnaround by him to give the Diamondbacks a chance.

If the D'backs fail to produce and fall back in the standings, they will be looking to trade away some of their players at the trade deadline. Justin Upton is the prized piece that many of the contenders will be looking to get from Arizona. Upton, who has had an inconsistent career thus far, has tremendous upside. His numbers are down this year, where he is batting .271 with just seven home runs. Last year Upton, hit .289 with 31 home runs, so he definitely has power potential. At 24, there are still many years to turn this inconsistency around and be a perennial star player for whatever team tries to trade for him. Another star that could be trade bait for Arizona is second baseman Aaron Hill. Hill who is having a great year for a second basemanis batting .301 with a .355 on-base percentage, and has also hit for two cycles already this season.

No matter how the next two weeks go, the Diamondbacks have options and control their own destiny for their season and the future. In a ballpark like Chase Field, anything can happen. Chase Field is one of the most hitter friendly parks in the Majors and can allow the D'Backs to score lots of runs in a short amount of time, which means they are rarely ever out of any game at home. It should be an interesting next couple of weeks in baseball, both for the Diamondbacks and the rest of the NL West, which has been one of the more competitive division races over the last couple of years.