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5 Pitchers who are Best Equipped to Handle the Pressures of October

Pitching is one of the toughest jobs in professional sports, especially in the MLB playoffs of October.  Intense focus is absolutely vital and a single bad fastball left hanging over the plate can easily ruin a team’s entire World Series hopes.  As pitching often decides these playoff encounters, lets take a quick look at who figures to play a prominent role in the proceedings and is most equipped to handle the pressures that will come in these cold, mentally draining late season starts.

  1. Clayton Kershaw – There’s no denying that the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Kershaw is the ultimate ace pitcher this year and is a sure bet to win the NL Cy Young Award. But having won the award twice in his young career already, I think he wants to add a World Series ring to his resume!  Fortunately, his 1.78 ERA is best in the bigs and his postseason display last year eased the pain from his previous October outings of several years back, when he struggled mightily.  Surrounded by great talent, Kershaw should ride a wave of momentum into a championship.
  2. Max Scherzer – Often held back in the shadows of the Detroit Tigers’ ace pitcher Justin Verlander, Scherzer has quietly become the best #2 pitcher in baseball and currently holds a decent 3.13 ERA. In recent playoff years, he has pitched tremendously well, though he certainly will need to step up now following the injury to Verlander.  A lot of the Tigers’ hopes now rest on his arm but he definitely has the capabilities to get them far and finally take over the leadership role of this team!
  3. Jon Lester – A hero for the Boston Red Sox championship year in 2013 behind a postseason ERA of 1.56, Lester jumped ship to the Oakland Athletics several weeks ago and will have another great shot at a title once again. A heroic story following his recovery from lymphoma, Lester has battled adversity far beyond the mound, and he has the proof of a successful career that continues to improve with strong strikeouts.  He looks to be at home in Oakland and could lead a stunning playoff run at his new club.
  4. Adam Wainwright – With a strong 2.34 ERA with the St. Louis Cardinals, Wainwright is having his best year. Having been with the team for his whole career, the pitcher has found a home and has come into his own in recent years.  Numerous playoff trips have proven largely successful for Wainwright and he figures to have another strong outing in 2014.  The Cardinals have been a great team recently and could certainly claim the World Series should this pitcher dominate.
  5. David Price – A player who has certainly struggled in the postseason with the Tampa Bay Rays, Price hopes to benefit from the new surroundings in Detroit with the Tigers. His season has been quite good with a 3.21 ERA but his issue will be mental.  I’m hoping that a change of teams is exactly what his career needed.  The Rays were never going to win, but the Tigers have far more talent and opportunity.  If Price can perform to his potential this October, Detroit just might end up as World Series champions!

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Time is Now for Baseball Teams Looking to Get Hot and Win the World Series

worldSeries14LogoAs we enter the late days of summer and the month of August, Major League Baseball is just starting to really heat up.  Most of the divisions throughout the sport have neck and neck races, meaning that each game from here on out will be critically important as to postseason hopes and successes, especially with all the wild card teams staring down the barrel of a 1-game playoff at season’s end.  The teams that are likely to come out on top of their divisions (and who have the most realistic shot at the World Series) will be the ones that get hot from this point onwards.

Despite great seasons so far by teams like the Oakland Athletics, the San Francisco Giants, and the Milwaukee Brewers, if they cannot hit full stride at this juncture, they will likely be headed for early postseason exits, if they can qualify.  Fortunately for the Giants, they have been the hot team several times in recent history, giving the city two championships.  But to me several other talented squads seem the most likely to make the trip through October and into the 2014 World Series…

The first team that intrigues me is the St. Louis Cardinals.  In the National League Central Division, them, the Brewers, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the Cincinnati Reds are all within a realistic shot of claiming the division.  But the Cardinals have the most winning experience and were the most active in recent trades, reeling in star pitchers Justin Masterson and John Lackey, while also gambling on the attitude of veteran catcher A.J. Pierzynski.  Already a strong contender year in and year out with guys like Matt Carpenter, Matt Holliday, and Adam Wainwright, the Cardinals have put themselves in prime position to not only get hot, but to make a serious World Series push.

Another team in the NL that intrigues me is the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Simply stated, they have more talent than anybody else in the league, including 3 ace pitchers in Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and baseball’s best pitcher, Clayton Kershaw.  Offensively, the power of Yasiel Puig, Adrian Gonzalez, Matt Kemp, and Hanley Ramirez will keep the Dodgers in any game or playoff series.  While they haven’t reached a streak like they managed mid-summer last year, they are certainly a team capable of doing just that in the months ahead to claim the World Series.

In the American League, I have my faith in the Detroit Tigers, who just added David Price to an already strong pitching lineup of Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander.  Another team with solid hitting from Victor Martinez and Miguel Cabrera, this could finally be the Tigers’ year should they be the lucky team destined to get hot.

But to get everything clicking into place right at the time for the playoffs is no easy feat.  It could be anyone from the Los Angeles Angels to the New York Yankees, or even the Kansas City Royals who could go on a tear and take the title.  However it ends up going, we can be certain that for whatever club (or clubs) that get hot, the next few months will certainly provide some exciting baseball!

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Get Ready NFL Fans: Football Season Is Upon Us!

Late summer heat is in the air, and the early reports from football training camps have been making their way to eager fans of the NFL; football season is coming!  For nearly half a year since the blowout that was Super Bowl XLVIII, supporters of each team have been waiting and waiting for this moment.  With the NFL preseason just around the corner, we can thankfully say that it is time for football once again.

Like every other year, unknown questions, blind hope, and a sense of excitement are building around the country.  Will the Seattle Seahawks be unstoppable, just as they were towards the end of last season?  Will Johnny Manziel or any other rookies take the NFL by storm?  Which lousy team will experience the miraculous turnaround to the playoffs that seems to occur every year?  These questions will begin to be answered in the weeks ahead.

But first we must endure the preseason games featuring a lone series by our favorite stars before the fringe players and squad hopefuls take the field.  While the occasional touchdown bomb by Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers will excite the fans, we know that these games are completely meaningless.  While we did receive a hint about the Seahawks for their 4-0 preseason record in 2013, what can we say about the league’s other 4-0 team, the Washington Redskins?

But while all the roster cuts and occasional injuries will keep fans on their toes all August long, we can welcome back the regular season with open arms in just one month.  On September 4th, we will witness the Green Bay Packers playing the Seahawks in a rematch of one of the NFL’s most infamous games:  The Fail Mary game.  How it will turn out this time around is anyone’s guess, but I’m hopeful that it will be a marvelous spectacle kicking off the great season ahead.

While many mouthwatering fixtures will draw intrigue in the opening months of fall, we know that the NFL season will gradually build in excitement until the incredible winter games of the playoffs, and the eventual celebration of Super Bowl XLIX next February.  We certainly don’t know which games will be the most exciting until at least 6 weeks in (though fortunately flexible scheduling should showcase the best games each week), but for a fan of any team, what does it really matter so long as your favorite team is playing?

I could sit here and pick 5 teams I fully expect to contend for the Super Bowl, but what’s the point?  Right now, every team sits as equals at 0-0, and their players are roughing it out in the summer training camps, bracing themselves for the tough games ahead, which are certain to test every bit of their strength and perseverance.  This is what football is all about, and it has just gotten underway in the most serious manner for every team in the NFL.

And so as preparations are made for the upcoming NFL season, let’s sit back and count down the days until our precious football returns to action and celebrate the growing anticipation of our favorite sport!

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Expect West Coast Baseball Teams to Dominate MLB Playoffs

While there is still a long ways to go in the baseball season, the hazy playoff picture is beginning to gain clarity.  Among the best teams in baseball are 4 clubs based on the west coast, including the Los Angeles Dodgers, the San Francisco Giants, the Oakland Athletics, and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.  Not only do these clubs have the best current records in the sport, but they also possess some of the most talented players in the game.  Therefore, I am predicting a west-heavy October with a potential ALCS and NLCS matchup between the 4 clubs.

The team that seems most powerful to me is the Los Angeles Dodgers.  While they haven’t dominated quite like their tremendous run of this time last summer, that may actually be a good thing.  You want your team hitting their stride in October, and these guys may be building towards that.  Their squad oozes of amazing talent and we are starting to see the payoff of their massive investment in the team.  Clayton Kershaw is baseball’s top pitcher while Hyun-jin Ryu and Zack Greinke are studs as well.  The batting lineup of Yasiel Puig, Carl Crawford, Hanley Ramirez, Matt Kemp, and Adrian Gonzalez is extremely formidable, making the Dodgers my favorite to win the 2014 World Series.

But one also cannot overlook their NL West division rivals, the San Francisco Giants, who actually have won recent World Series, both in 2010 and 2012.  Led by Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner, Pablo Sandoval, and Buster Posey, the Giants have title-winning experience and seem to always get sizzling hot right at the best moment.  While they never wow anyone or showcase the game’s biggest stars, they harbor a solid staff built around effort and teamwork, and fortune has recently fallen their way.  Anyone who counts this team out right now is asking for trouble…

In the American League, the team that has caught everyone’s attention is the Oakland Athletics.  A great team made up of relatively inexpensive players, the A’s have one of the best pitching lineups in baseball, featuring Scott Kazmir, Sonny Gray, Jesse Chavez, and the recently traded-for Jeff Samardzija.  With pitching often the key ingredient for championship success, the Athletics must be feeling pretty good about their chances.  Additionally, decent hitters like Derek Norris, Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Donaldson, Coco Crisp, and Brandon Moss give them enough run support to be true contenders.

But down south of this hot club, also in the AL West, are the big-money Los Angeles Angels.  Two superstar hitters in Albert Pujols and Mike Trout complement the solid pitching arms of Jered Weaver and Garrett Richards, making the club definite challengers for the title.  Due to recent failed seasons (and the success of the A’s), the Angels are bit of an after-thought and are currently flying under the radar.  This could be especially beneficial to them considering their wonderfully talented superstar leaders, who could certainly take over the month of October.

The interesting part about this western dominance of the 2014 baseball season is that two of these teams will have to play in the single-game elimination wildcard games.  Winning the AL West or NL West therefore becomes especially important, meaning that these clubs are in for some thrilling end-of-season races!  But regardless of who claims these divisions, I think we may see some dramatic west coast playoff series and maybe even a World Series featuring two of the teams!  My money is on the Oakland Athletics squaring off against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

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A Look at the Surprising LeBron James Move to the Cleveland Cavaliers

a-lebronWhen the NBA Finals ended in disappointment for the Miami Heat, no one thought that this sort of cataclysmic fall would happen to the organization, but in the weeks since, superstar LeBron James has opted out of his Miami contract and moved up north to rejoin his hometown team, the Cleveland Cavaliers.  This move will have a very dramatic effect on the entire league and has now ended the budding dynasty for the Heat.  However, it also presents an opportunity for James to do something miraculous for the city of Cleveland: to bring it a major sports championship, a thing not accomplished since the 1964 Cleveland Browns, in a time before the Super Bowl even existed!

For a city to go this long without any sort of title is quite appalling, and this inevitably brought so much pain to Cavs fans when LeBron deserted the team for Miami in 2010.  But with his return, the league’s best player could help lead the city back to glory.

There is no doubt about it, LeBron James is the face of the NBA, and he immediately makes the Cavaliers contenders.  Also, he isn’t coming to a broken team without a hope for anything.  With several recent top draft picks, the Cavs contain incredible young prospects like Anthony Bennett, Kyrie Irving, and Andrew Wiggins.  While the jury remains out on both Bennett and Wiggins, Irving is already a 2-time NBA All-Star and will likely become a top contributor alongside James.

And this will put LeBron James right into the role that he is ready to take on, that of team leader.  While he was the main ingredient for the “Big 3” in Miami, many felt that Dwayne Wade was really the vital cog of that team, as he had earned an NBA Championship years before James ever came to town.  In Cleveland, it will be all about LeBron helping educate these young stars and creating a new power team in the Eastern Conference.

LeBron James has set about building a project.  He saw that time was nearing the end in Miami and he wants to do something great for his hometown.  How can anyone argue against what he’s shooting for?  Sure, it will take time and he’ll probably take a lot of criticism if the first few seasons don’t go exactly according to plan, but if LeBron can tough it out and deal with the growing pains of this young supporting cast, the Cleveland Cavaliers could very well become the best team in the league within 3 or 4 years.

The challenge with LeBron will be what happens if these youngsters never materialize?  No sport experiences draft busts like basketball, and should neither Bennett or Wiggins succeed, life could become hard with the Cavs.  Recruiting top caliber players to Cleveland will be nearly impossible with competition from teams like the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks in the fold.  If LeBron is stuck with a mediocre squad in a year’s time, he could opt out of this contract and move on.  However, I don’t think this will happen.  While this project may not enable James to equal Michael Jordan in titles won, he could build a miraculous success for his hometown team and officially become a hero in Cleveland, helping the city to win its first sports title in over a half century!

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2014 World Cup Final Preview: Germany vs. Argentina in a Match for the Ages

This Sunday will provide one of the greatest soccer matches of all time, the 2014 World Cup!  With two heavyweight soccer nations of Germany and Argentina providing the display, fans around the globe should expect a fantastic show.  Both teams are fully stocked with top professionals and have performed very well at international tournaments historically.  For the fortunate winners, the players will be thrust into immortality as their country celebrates yet another World Cup trophy!

Germany has certainly caught the eye with their amazing 7-1 victory over the hosts Brazil.  They dominated the game outright and showed why your best hopes in playing against the Germans is to defend hard, not to try and attack with numbers.  Argentina, quite fortunately, has taken the more cautious approach with a defensive mindset, and their impressive defensive performances suggest they’ll be a stern test for the Germans.  They have yet to concede a single goal since the knockout rounds began, including two clean sheets against the potent offenses of Belgium and the Netherlands.

The key figure in this final will be Lionel Messi of Argentina.  He has won everything possible for a footballer, except the World Cup, and unfortunately that is simply the most important trophy around.  Unless he wins this game, he may never be held in the same regard as his compatriot Diego Maradona, who brought the nation to glory in 1986.  While critics moaned about the team’s over-reliance upon Messi in the opening rounds, his fellow teammates have stepped up in the recent games.

For the Germans, the side is all about cohesion and team unity, which functions like well-oiled German sports car on the Autobahn.  The star player here will be Thomas Muller, who has 5 goals in the World Cup and seemingly always plays the right way.  He isn’t about nifty moves and trickery like Messi though.  Instead he simply gets the ball and plays direct.  He has the natural instinct to find the open chance and has the know-how to score on a regular basis.

But Messi is on another level, and this is why I fully believe that Argentina will win the World Cup.  Messi has the ability to make magic and create the golden chance all by himself.  Where as Muller has the greatest supporting cast any front man could ask for, Messi is the type of player that can do it alone, though his teammates are pretty talented as well.

Argentina has reached this World Cup final through hard-fought closely contested matches while Germany is coming off of one of the best matches in their history in the win over Brazil.  I sense a little bit of over-confidence and arrogance coming from the Germans, who will now fully expect to win.  Argentina won’t open themselves up like Brazil did.  Instead, they’ll soak in the pressure and hope to get the ball up front to Messi.  Against any defender in the world, I like Messi’s chances, especially with history and a hopeful nation upon his back.  Messi will score the goal and the game will end 1-0.

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Tight MLB Standings After April Leaves Baseball Season Up for Grabs!

Usually after a full month of the Major League Baseball season, several teams have taken a commanding lead in their divisions and already separated from the pack.  Often the team with the best roster, this side can generally stroll to a division title and a playoff appearance in October.  But so far in the 2014 MLB season, few teams have been able to take that big step, and the races are generally very tight, making for an exciting summer of close races!

Only 3 teams have gotten off to a hot start, including the Milwaukee Brewers, the Atlanta Braves, and the Oakland Athletics.  While these teams have decent talent and should be expected to do well, their high marks at this point of the season are a bit of a surprise.  While these teams certainly could reach the playoffs, they are by no means major contenders for the World Series!  Instead, sides like the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Detroit Tigers, the Philadelphia Phillies, the New York Yankees, and the Boston Red Sox (teams with burgeoning payrolls and All-Star rosters) are meandering around .500 as they simply haven’t been able to generate strong winning streaks.  This should make for a great season ahead!

As the relatively unknown squads continue to win, they will eventually get pressured by the high spenders, and we should expect enticing drama come August and September in several divisions.  Right now, each of the AL East, NL East, and the AL Central are only separated by roughly 5 games from 1st place to last place!  Basically, each of these teams could still turn around their year and compete for the playoffs!

Even in divisions where teams like the Houston Astros, Arizona Diamondbacks, or Chicago Cubs have come out to woeful starts, all the other teams are still hovering around .500 and could make a move.  In fact, those 3 teams are probably the only ones that anyone could consider hopeless for the year, especially given their weak rosters.

But for all the other teams like the Cincinnati Reds, or the Los Angeles Angels, or even the Miami Marlins, this baseball season is just getting started and they are right there within the race.

What will be intriguing is to look ahead two or three months from today and guess how the standings will look.  While injuries to key players will pile up and certainly become a problem for the average teams, where as the rich teams with depth will be able to push on to more victories, we should expect those big-budget clubs to begin catching up to the leaders and even starting to pull away.  But what’s fascinating about baseball is when a club without many superstars can organize a strong run!  Such is the case right now with the Athletics, the Brewers, and the Braves.  Will these teams be able to keep up the pace?  No matter what happens ahead, this current tight MLB standings should make for a closely contested and an exciting summer as these teams push and pull on their way on to the MLB playoffs!

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