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Are the Kansas City Royals Poised to Claim a World Series with Recent Trades?

Baseball’s trading season has come and gone, and we’ve learned a great “deal” about those teams who are putting all their chips on the table in an effort to win a World Series title, and which clubs are packing it in and looking to build for the future.  One team that caught my eye with a couple brilliant trades are the #KansasCityRoyals, who’ve come out loud and clear and stated their intentions not only repeat as American League Champions but to go one step further and claim that elusive title.  They wisely picked up ace pitcher #JohnnyCueto from the #CincinnatiReds and acquired utility-man infielder #BenZobrist from the #OaklandAthletics.  In essence, these two moves patched up the only glaring holes on the Royals’ roster and well could just earn the team their long sought after salvation in the postseason.

Pitching wins championships isn’t just a cliché; it’s the truth!  The Royals have a decent pitching staff, evidenced by an ERA that is 8th in baseball.  However, 8th isn’t quite good enough to win a title, is it?  Owning an ace like Cueto changes that.  Now they have an arm that will compete down the stretch and give the bullpen some relief.  They have someone who can pull off a commanding performance and subdue an opponent into submission.  This single move could be the key difference in putting the AL leading Royals into heavy contender category.  They now have 3 quality starters in Cueto, #EdinsonVolquez, and Chris Young.  That’s what it takes to win a title, and they now have it.

Meanwhile, the addition of Zobrist is less sexy, but could prove to be just as vital.  The Royals lack any true power hitters, but they’ve got 6 guys with double figures in home runs on the season.  That points to balance.  It points to small ball success.  The way that the Royals played down the stretch in 2014 reveal that they are true masters of the small ball game.  In Zobrist they got a good, smart hitter who draws walks and steals bases.  He’s a great defender in a variety of positions.  He’s batting around .270 on the season and will greatly add to the strong lineup in Kansas City.  That ability to get on base and the speed to convert such positions to runs is exactly the attributes that the team so covets.

The Royals reached the World Series last year and came within one hit of the title.  They came that close.  The management of the club know that their period of success won’t last forever, and that they’ve got a window of roughly 3 more years where they could nab a World Series victory before their limited financial reserves send them scuttling back into hibernation for another 20.  This is the situation that small market baseball clubs dream about.  They’ve got a solid core that is hungry as ever to win a title.  They’ve gotten a taste of October, and now they’re going about finding a way to take that final step and earn their glory.  Sure, numerous other clubs are contenders as well, and many did also bolster their rosters this trade season, but the Royals are a team that you want to see win.  They’ve been perennial losers for so long that this remarkable run is the stories of miracles.  It’s inspiring for Kansas City fans and even casual baseball fans alike.  Heck, I’m a division rival Cleveland Indians fan and even I’m pulling for them!

The Royals may not win the World Series, but they’re giving themselves every fighting chance they can muster with trades like these that complete an already dominant roster.  Here’s to another deep October run by the Kansas City Royals with their newfound keys to success!

Which 5 Players in the Upcoming NBA Draft will Make the Biggest Impact?

The promise of magic in professional basketball often surrounds getting just two or three superstar players and surrounding them with a cast of hard workers who occasionally put up big numbers.  Sounds easy, right?  Well, except for the fact that these top players are few and far between, and they typically go at the top of any NBA Draft.  As frustrating as it can be for many NBA teams, there are usually just a handful of draftees that actually make the sort of impact that can turn a squad into contenders.  Who will be the top guys from 2015?  Here are my picks for 5 players that could become legitimate NBA stars:

  1. Karl-Anthony Towns – He represents everything that a team needs in a big man. He’s 7 feet tall, has tremendous post-play, can shoot, runs well, and is a good defender.  Whichever team selects him may have found their center for the next decade.  An added bonus: he’s pretty good at shooting free throws.  Understandably, he’s expected to go number 1 in the draft.  The question is whether he can live up to its potential.
  2. Jahlil Okafor – Another big man with superstar potential, Okafor has the potential to be dominant offensively. Strangely athletic for his 6’11” frame, he’ll be a presence under the basket for anyone.  While critics maintain Towns as the higher pick, the Duke National Champion is a close second and could certainly emerge if he gets picked by the right team…hint hint, the Los Angeles Lakers who own the 2nd pick.
  3. D’Angelo Russell – The star of Ohio State, Russell has the size and skills to make for a prototypical NBA guard. He can nail shots, pass the ball around, and even nab a couple rebounds per game.  He’s a tremendous leader and could definitely rise to the top.  Some have said that his passing ability is the best in decades among NBA prospects, which bodes well for any team looking to speed up their tempo and score fast break points.
  4. Frank Kaminsky – The National collegiate player of the year for Wisconsin was a force during his college years, but his supposed lack of elite athleticism might relegate him to being a mid-round pick. Nevertheless, he could end up being the best big man of the draft.  His college numbers certainly suggest so…  He’s great scoring both under the rim and from distance.  Perhaps most importantly, he’s a tremendous leader.
  5. Tyus Jones – Despite being ranked lower than fellow Duke teammates Okafor and Justice Winslow, there was just something special about the team’s point guard. Jones has the capability to simply take over basketball games, especially down the stretch.  In the biggest games of the year (twice vs. rival North Carolina and again in the NCAA Championship game), Jones took control towards the end and never looked back.  When the big games come, he’ll be the guy you want with the ball, and given how many NBA games go down to the wire, he might just have that X-factor required to win in the pros.  Such a talent is immeasurable and could make him one of the top draftees of 2015.

#NBADraft #WitnessHistory #Towns #Russell #Okafor

Who is Better Fit to Earn a Ticket to October: The Houston Astros or Minnesota Twins?

In today’s era of big-money spending baseball where clubs practically buy their way to the postseason, it’s refreshing to see two thrifty clubs in the heat of the summer race for October, leading their divisions despite being in the lower half of total 2015 roster salaries.  Who at the beginning of the year would have guessed that right now (over 1/3 the way into the season) the Minnesota Twins and Houston Astros are leading the chase for the playoffs in the American League?  But like so many spring flings, most such clubs will often fade down the stretch, limited by lack of depth and star power.  Which of these teams is better equipped to sustain their surprising start, the Astros or Twins?

Not surprisingly, both clubs are built quite similar.  They encompass teams full of bright young stars that are both highly touted and talented, and are quite affordable at the same time.  However, a few key high priced veterans bring experience and key plays to ensure that the club has a fighting chance.  Every once in a blue moon, the cogs are put together for a contending season.  This time appears to be now for both these teams.

The Astros seem to be the more impressive story, given that their payroll is good for second lowest in the Majors.  The emerging hero is Dallas Keuchel, a 3rd year player who has made the transition from average arm to dominating starter.  His 1.85 ERA is 4th in the big leagues among regular starters.  Offensively, guys like Jose Altuve and Jake Marisnick look to have bright futures too.  Veterans like Luis Valbuena do their part as well.  However, the bullpen is where the team shines.  Pat Nesheck, Will Harris, and Tony Sipp are providing late-inning support, and it’s paying off.  A nice X-factor for the club is the great start to 21-year-old pitcher Lance McCullers’ career.  His 4 starts have him perched with a 1.88 ERA and 2 wins.

The Twins roster salary is 18th in baseball and reflects a team with more name recognition and experience.  Solid offensive output comes from Torii Hunter and Joe Mauer.  Meanwhile, a core of hitters coming to fruition include Kurt Suzuki, Brian Dozier, and Trevor Plouffe.  Youngster Eduardo Escobar is also making an impact.  But once again, pitching is key.  Led by a resurgent year by veteran Mike Pelfrey, Minnesota has a prized new asset in Kyle Gibson.  A rich bullpen featuring Blaine Boyer, Ryan Pressly, and J.R. Graham also includes a sensational closer in Glen Perkins, whose 1.67 has gotten him 21 saves, the leading figure in the MLB.

So who of these two clubs figures to continue their success?  I give Houston the edge, given that their division features more perennial chokers like the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.  The Twins’ AL Central looks a bit tighter given the inclusion of the free-spending Detroit Tigers and last year’s AL Champion darling Kansas City Royals.  Nevertheless, both teams could be included in the race down to the wire, and could certainly find themselves snagging a wild card spot and postseason entry.  With their solid bullpens and a couple great starters, each team has the right kind of roster built for lasting success.  However it plays out, these two clubs are enjoying wonderful seasons and should be among the more entertaining stories of the young 2015 MLB season.

Joe Mauer Autographed Helmet

Joe Mauer Autographed Helmet

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NBA Finals Preview: Cleveland Cavaliers Take On Golden State Warriors

The NBA Playoffs ended up going precisely as the script called for and placed the Cavaliers and Warriors into the 2015 NBA Finals.  League superstar LeBron James has his chance to claim a title for his beloved (and often hopeless) hometown while the excitement surrounding the Bay Area in California is rampant for their Warriors, led by the “splash brothers” Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, who have brought their club back to the Finals for the first time in 40 years.  Curry got the NBA MVP award to go with his team’s league leading record.  So the question becomes, who will win the title?

Both teams had dominating performances in their Conference Final matchups, blowing otherwise great teams out of the water (Cavs in a sweep, Warriors 4-1), and so the argument can certainly made for both teams to win the championship.  Additionally, you can point to Golden State’s superior depth, or Cleveland’s superior Finals experience and again make the claim for both.

However, I’m going to simply state my opinion: I think LeBron James dominates the vital moments of this series and brings the title to Cleveland.  Simply stated, he’s the best player of our generation.  That means a lot in the superstar-dominated sport of basketball.  While great teams can win a lot of games in the regular season, it takes one or two elite players to nab a title.  Just look at what happened to the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference Finals for evidence to my point.

And sure, you could ask how did the San Antonio Spurs break the trend last year against the almighty “King James”?  I would say that Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili are each superstars in their own right.  Not quite at James’ talent level, but when placed together provide all the essential ingredients that James carries on his own.  James also had an aging group of costars.  Now alongside Kyrie Irving and J.R Smith, he’s got a team that’s capable of enduring physicality of the series.  They may be without the injured Kevin Love, but I sensed that he was never really an integral part of this team.

Meanwhile, the Warriors are a bit of a one-trick pony.  Yes, Curry and Thompson hit more 3-pointers than anyone else, but that’s pretty much it.  What if they suddenly go cold?  There’s no other option.

James does it all, hits jumpers, muscles his way to the basket, spreads the ball, and draws double coverage (and still scores).  He’s quite unstoppable on his day.  Meanwhile guys like Smith and Irving have the hot hands to keep up in case the Warriors get on one of their inevitable hot streaks that so often carry them to victory.

But alas, we won’t know how this story ends until the NBA Finals plays its way out.  Who knows what twists and turns this series will take.  Injuries, suspensions, blown calls, toes on the line, and other random occurrences (like busted AC units) can sway the fortunes of these 7-game series one way or another.  Ultimately though, given that LeBron James is the player of are generation, and despite the fact that the Warriors dominated the all-powerful Western Conference, I foresee the Cavs taking the title in a dramatic 7 game series, and breaking the Cleveland Curse! NBA15F2ACRKPHOTO8276KPHOTO8279K

Was Tom Brady and the Patriots’ Punishment Fair for #DeflateGate?

If you’re a football fan you’ve surely heard of the NFL’s latest great scandal, DeflateGate.  It involves New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady ordering team personnel to deflate the ball to his specifications, making passing and holding onto the ball easier.  This would have provided his team with a distinct advantage, and given their recent Super Bowl-winning season, one does get the impression that this title may have been a bit tainted.  The NFL responded by dropping down a serious 4-game suspension for Brady, a $1million fine for the team, and a loss of two future draft picks, including a first-rounder next year.  It’s quite a big hit, and we must ask: was this fair?

Despite the polarizing clamor around fans and sports commentators, I actually commend commissioner Roger Goodell for this punishment.  It’s serious enough to make a statement, and it adequately punishes someone for cheating.  In respects to the suspension, a star quarterback missing a fourth of the season will certainly set the Patriots back.  However, even if they fall to 0-4 (which is certainly possible without Brady), they’ll be able to recover and save the year.

The draft pick is the biggest blow, especially given the fact that Brady’s retirement is impending.  He is 37 and when he leaves, the New England dynasty is likely to falter greatly.  Losing a first round talent in a period when the future is so uncertain will be a definite setback.

The $1million fine is a bit of a joke given how wealthy NFL teams and their owners are but it does leave a statement that such cheating cannot be tolerated, and is more of a reassurance to fans that the NFL will police those who circumvent the rules.

As for people trying to state that this punishment is unjustified, I feel they’re gravely erroneous.  One area in particular I look to is the issue of fumbling.  The Patriots have been one of the league’s best in this department for ages, and that had been previously been attributed to coach Bill Belichick’s genius, but now we know the truth.  It’s much easier to hold onto a deflated ball, which greatly reduces fumbles.  The Patriots were second best in that department in 2014.  Fumbles are game-changing plays that can shift momentum and clearly tilt the balance.  If your offense can avoid them, you’ve got such better chances to win.  And for that reason, I find the cheating by the Patriots to be utterly disgraceful.

Added with the past issue of Spygate and the reports about how visiting teams in New England routinely suffer outages of headsets during games, I think this is a franchise with a major tendency to cheat and break rules.  Part of me actually feels that there could have been a tougher sentence imposed, especially given the fact that they won the last Super Bowl.  Nevertheless, for the commissioner to take quarterback Tom Brady out of action for the first month of the 2015 season, and impose such humiliation one on of the league’s most popular players takes guts, and I’m happy a reasonable punishment was handed down.

Can Anyone Upset Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament?

Anyone who watches the NCCA men’s basketball tournament regularly knows that just about anything is possible. Upsets are the name of the game, calling the whole order of seeding into question. But that just shows us how unpredictable college sFeatured imageports can be. And so we take a look at unbeaten Kentucky, the heavy favorites to win the National Title after all is said and done in the 2015 March Madness period. Will they continue their unbeaten run into the pages of basketball history, or will someone spoil the party and dethrone this mighty contender for the championship?

Considering that no one has managed the feat this season, it does seem a bit unlikely that Kentucky would be beaten. However, Kentucky’s schedule hasn’t exactly been the most trying. Playing in the soft SEC Conference, the Cats had to compete against foes like Florida, LSU, and Tennessee. While Arkansas is a nationally ranked team, no one else in the conference is. Earlier in the season Kentucky defeated decent teams like North Carolina, Louisville, and Kansas. The Kansas victory was an especially impressive 32-point victory. However, outside this handful of games Kentucky has had an easy time of it, and their unbeaten season may be a bit misguided.

Sure, they can’t control the pathetic landscape of their weak conference, and in beating all these teams they’ve shown that they are certainly a special team capable of greatness. They have an incredibly deep roster and aren’t dependent upon a single player. The ball is spread around through Aaron Harrison, Karl-Anthony Towns, Devin Booker, Willie Cauley-Stein, and more. Speaking to the incredible recruiting abilities by head coach John Calipari, this team is a force. They play incredible defense, and their lengthy bench allows for the players to stay rested and energetic. There are no real star players in their lineup. Instead, the team works as a unit. Unselfishness pervades the side, enabling the cohesive group to dominate. Could anyone beat this impeccable version of Kentucky?

Most definitely! The thing about basketball is that once the players set foot on the court, it’s truly anybody’s game. If a strong 3-point shooting team gets hot, they’ll be able to score points from the outside and keep up with the Cats. Someone like Notre Dame or Duke could probably take them, it just depends on the day. That’s the great thing about March Madness!

Ohio State was Gifted College Football Playoff Appearance for Money

ohioWhile the manner in which Ohio State Buckeyes and their 3rd string quarterback Cardale Jones dismantled the Wisconsin Badgers in the Big Ten Championship game could have technically made the difference in putting OSU over the top and into the College Football Playoff, let’s make no mistake about it: Ohio State was given a spot in the playoff because they are the more reputable program and will draw the most viewers.

I strongly feel that if Ohio State met up against either Texas Christian University or Baylor, they would lose the game, but this apparently doesn’t matter for the College Football Playoff Selection Committee.  Picking either TCU or Baylor would have led to great controversy, given that both teams had just one loss and were playing great football.  For me, TCU should have been given a chance since their only loss was to the top-5 team, Baylor.  In fact, that loss was to a higher ranked team than both Oregon and Alabama, who are both in the playoff.  Then again, if TCU were allowed in we would have to hear the endless whining by Baylor since they beat TCU earlier in the year. But their loss was to a 7-5 West Virginia.  Meanwhile, Ohio State lost to a Virginia Tech team that ended 6-6, without a winning record and barely bowl eligible.

And so while football reasons marginally suggest TCU should be in the playoff, let’s take a look at one of the truly decisive factors: school population size.  Doesn’t the NCAA have a habit of trying to make as much money as possible?  Wouldn’t it likely be more profitable if a larger school with more of a college football history were present in the playoff?  OSU has one of the largest undergraduate student bodies in America with around 44,000 enrolled.  Baylor follows with 13,000.  TCU is behind them with just 8,500.  Wouldn’t it make sense to gift the playoff berth to a school with 3 or 4 times as many alumni as the others?  Also factor in the population of Ohio, the supportive family members of these students, and the many people who support the program without any direct association and it’s obvious that OSU provides the bigger draw.  Interestingly enough, the final rankings follow suit with the schools’ sizes.  Had a larger Big 12 school like Texas or Oklahoma finished with just one loss, you had better believe they would be involved in the playoff!

Ohio State also has a proud history of 14 National Titles.  TCU actually has 2 of their own but none since 1938!  Baylor has never won.  When the playoff boasts a game like Ohio State vs. Alabama for the semifinal, more people will watch than Alabama vs. TCU or Baylor.  Additionally, it keeps the American South to just 2 teams and gives the Midwest part of the country a team to cheer for.  In essence, it looks nicer on the map, and it will allow the NCAA to charge more money for TV advertisements and other methods of income that the institution repeatedly capitalizes on.  Who cares if college football is again embroiled in a national championship controversy; the NCAA will get top dollar for this final four.

But this argument is largely moot because Alabama would have beaten any team they were paired up against.  Sure, Ohio State’s coach Urban Meyer might get his team prepared, but they will definitely be beaten soundly.  And so maybe the whole idea of the playoff is righteous after all.  Arguing over the 4th best team in the country isn’t quite like fighting over who’s 2nd.  However it plays out, the best team in the country is likely to be Alabama, Oregon, or Florida State.  Would one of the exciting Texan teams been able to shake up another year of major, traditional (and boring) football programs winning the title?  We’ll never know…

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