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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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Can Yasiel Puig Overcome His Questionable Past?

The Los Angeles Dodgers’ young star right fielder Yasiel Puig is certainly one of the most exciting baseball prospects to emerge in the MLB right now, but his constant antics and shady past may greatly hinder his potential success in the sport.  While many people know about his Cuban background, what has recently come to light is a frightening tale of a daring escape and defection from his home country.  With several questionable characters involved in helping Puig reach the glorious diamonds of American baseball, the young slugger may soon have a lot more to worry about than opposing pitches and perfecting his strange base-running habits.

The practice of Cuban baseball players defecting in order to play in MLB is nothing new, but it’s usually a process that happens behind closed doors and rarely ever reaches the eyes of casual fans.  A smuggler basically brings a talented player out of the country in exchange for a large cut of future earnings.  Several people usually help along the way.  The reason we now heard about Puig’s particular experience is because one of the men involved in bringing him here wasn’t paid his expected cut of the earnings.  Angry and desperate, he has taken to popular media to try and get his money.

The Puig camp has been very professional in dealing with the situation; not disclosing any information and simply stating that Puig wants to work hard and win games for the Dodgers.  But sifting beyond all that PC official banter, Puig seems to be a character destined for constant controversy throughout his career.  He has been arrested for reckless driving and punished by the team for showing up late to a game.  He has had several altercations and issues with teammates.  On the field, for every powerful home run or sensational throw from right field there is a corresponding error that leaves everyone’s head scratching.  In short, Yasiel Puig is a loose cannon, and despite all his physical ability may not have the smarts and maturity to handle life in the big leagues.

Perhaps his treacherous journey to America taught him that little things like showing up on time aren’t that important.  But unfortunately, he is now becoming such a heavily scrutinized figure that any slip-up will be heavily analyzed by the press.  Such is the life that surrounds superstar celebrity athletes.  Hopefully Puig is a person that can find strength in his difficult past and use it to become a stronger person.  He is young but there is certainly some incredible talent in this budding star.

What worries me about Puig though is that he has only been with the LA Dodgers for roughly one year, and already his story is reading like something out of a Hollywood script.  What’s next?  Are we going to discover that he is actually older than he says?  Is a future steroid scandal on the horizon?  Baseball is a game chalked full of controversies, and unfortunately Puig comes across as exactly the type of guy liable to be at the center of such a scandal.  Clearly this guy is a risk taker and has no problem standing in the face of authority.  But I suppose all we can do is watch and enjoy his tremendous skill in the meanwhile.  Sure, Puig may become a major source of trouble in the coming years of his career, but until that day comes let’s just sit back and see what wonders he can work for the Dodgers!

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Are Key Injuries Threatening to Ruin the NBA Playoffs?

NBA PlayoffIt’s an inevitable problem ingrained within competitive sports.  While we would love to always see the best athletes gather for ceremonious feats of strength, the injury bug can always take away such joys.  But injuries in the NBA this season seem to be widespread and could possibly extend a long-reaching finger into the NBA playoffs, which are set to begin this weekend.  Many of the league’s top players have battled injuries this year (some have seen their seasons end early) and these problems could eventually filter seriously into some team’s title hopes.

The problem with injuries in basketball is that each team has just a handful of superstar playmakers, that when injured, leaves the team a hopeless mess.  For instance, the Oklahoma City Thunder have the second best record in the Western Conference and have their eye fully set on a trip to the NBA Finals.  Led by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, these two key men make the Thunder a joy to watch!  But for much of the season Westbrook has been missing.  Despite Durant leading the team to a strong season on his lonesome, we saw their championship hopes ruined last year when Westbrook went down.  Let’s hope he can stay in the game this time around!

Another player currently battling an injury is Dwayne Wade of the Miami Heat.  The number 2 star next to the legendary LeBron James, Wade’s hamstring gave out several weeks ago.  Although he has returned fit, we will need to see how well he can figure in when the playoffs get started.  Should he go down, the Heat’s hopes will fall squarely on James.  And while some fans may enjoy this stern test of his supernatural merits, there’s no doubt that the team’s quality would greatly suffer from the loss of a key player!

Earlier this season, several good players were injured, and their teams’ fortunes were ruined.  Such tragic occurrences happened Derrick Rose, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, and Nate Robinson.  And looking ahead to the NBA playoffs, there are several teams nervously hoping key players return in time for the season’s biggest matches like the Golden State Warriors‘ Andre Iguodala.

Injuries have become such a crucial part to the sport that the teams involved in the NBA Finals are often the ones with the healthiest crop of key stars.  When one of your big guys goes down, so do all your hopes!

Another problem related specifically to the NBA is that the playoffs and season are so incredibly long, pushing all the players to the brink in long-lasting playoff series.  With every game played, the injury risks increase as the players fight for points and rebounds.  While right now it seems that most of the key members of playoff contenders are returning to their teams and readying for the big games ahead, there are still a lot of questions over whether they are really fit enough and if they will last throughout the tournament.  Here’s to hoping for a largely injury-free 2014 NBA playoffs where we get to see the best players compete for the ultimate prize in basketball!

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The 2014 Mock Top 5 NFL Draft Picks

Mock drafts are an interesting endeavor.  Not only must one consider who are amongst the top football players available in the selection process, but we also have to think about which specific NFL teams are making those picks, and their particular needs and wants.  One must also consider the potential for big trades for draft picks and players that can totally throw any mock draft for a loop.  But with the NFL draft now just 1 month away, let’s have a go at deciding which players will go in the top 5, and to which teams they will go that are in such desperate need at the top of this 2014 NFL draft.

  1. Houston Texans – Johnny Manziel – QB – Texas A&M – The Texans are in dire need of a new franchise quarterback.  One year ago they were considered potential Super Bowl contenders with Matt Schaub under center.  Now he is off the team, and the Texans just signed Ryan Fitzpatrick, who if anything, resembles a perfect carryover quarterback for Houston to nurture their next franchise star.  While the jury is certainly out on Manziel, especially with his rambunctious character, the player is a local Texas boy and he has a heck of a playmaking ability.  Perhaps he is a reach for being selected #1, but I think the Texans would greatly benefit from picking up this potential superstar.  A move back several spaces may be in their best interest if they can still nab him, but the Texans need a new face, and “Johnny Football” would be perfect for them!
  2. St. Louis Rams – Greg Robinson – OT – Auburn – The Rams need to figure out if Sam Bradford is their franchise guy, and after 4 NFL seasons it’s looking less and less likely of ever panning out.  Injured halfway through the year, St. Louis needs to keep their man on his feet and having a potential Pro Bowl offensive lineman will do just that.  Robinson is a rock and will help Bradford have the time to hunt down Chris Givens and Tavon Austin.  This is a smart pick and one that could preserve their franchise quarterback and bring out the best of his abilities.
  3. Jacksonville Jaguars – Jadeveon Clowney – DE – South Carolina – He’s the best player in this draft and has all the tools to become a Hall of Fame NFL player, but the previous teams have larger needs to fulfill and already have strong pass rushers like Robert Quinn and J.J. Watt, meaning Clowney will slide to #3.  Jason Babin of the Jaguars was the team’s best defender with 7.5 sacks.  They need Clowney more than their burning desire for a star quarterback!  If someone intrigues them as a potential franchise star they may look elsewhere, but Clowney is someone with Julius Peppers-like potential and they won’t pass him up!
  4. Cleveland Browns – Blake Bortles – QB – UCF – Bortles is a special talent and has all the tools needed to succeed in the NFL.  The only thing holding him back is his small-school collegiate playing experience, but he did manufacture big wins against Louisville and Baylor (both nationally ranked 6th when they played) last year.  He proved that he can be a winner and a leader, and those characteristics are incredible valuable in the NFL.  The Browns have been a joke of a franchise for their entire existence this millennium and a superstar quarterback like Bortles might just make them relevant again…
  5. Oakland Raiders – Sammy Watkins – WR – Clemson – With Matt Schaub as their quarterback and a crop of receivers including James Jones, Denarius Moore, and Rod Streater, the Raiders could use a playmaker.  Each of those aforementioned players are decent pass-catchers who can make a play or two every given Sunday, but Sammy Watkins can take over games.  He is by far the most intriguing wide receiver prospect available and could help spark a resurgence in Oakland’s offensive fortunes.  Don’t expect Watkins to slip out of the top 5 as he is an explosive player and the best offensive prospect available in 2014!

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