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Archive for July 2010

Pitchers Taking Back Prominence

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Matt Garza threw the first no-hitter in Tampa Bay Rays history.

Baseball seasons of years past have had some pretty exciting moments. Who could forget the summer of 1998 when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were chasing Roger Maris’ single season homerun record, which McGwire ended up breaking? Or how about three years later when Barry Bonds topped McGwire? Then there was the summer of 2007 when Bonds eventually broke Hank Aaron’s record for career homers.

What do these events have in common? They were all focused on the batting aspect of baseball and all took place during the infamous steroid era.

This season it is clear that pitching is taking back the limelight in Major League Baseball. Matt Garza of the Tampa Bay Rays supported that fact last night by throwing the league’s fifth no-hitter of the season, the most since 1991, when seven were tossed.

Before this year, three was the highest no-hitter total in a season. More astounding is there are still two months left to this season, so there is still the possibility of ‘91’s total being surpassed. There is definitely a good chance of that, as many pitchers this season have taken no-hitters and even perfect games into the late stages of games. I remember one game in particular between the Cubs and White Sox on ESPN Sunday night baseball when both teams’ starting pitchers took no-hitters into the eighth inning.

Until last night, only three teams have not had a pitcher throw a no-hitter: the New York Mets, San Diego Padres, and Tampa Bay Rays. Now the Rays can take their names off that list. To see them on the list is not surprising since they have only been in existence for twelve years. However, to come down off that list must feel really good. Especially since Rays have been on the wrong end of such a game so often lately.

Since they changed their names from the Devil Rays in 2008, Tampa Bay has been one of the best teams in baseball. Some superstitious people believe it was the name change that turned the team into a winner. That once Rays dropped the word “devil” from the name, it was like an overnight transformation. Others believe it was just a heap of young talent on the team jelling and reaching its peak at the same time.

Strangely though, over the last two years since they became such a good team, the Rays have been victims of the no-hitter three times, twice just this season alone. To make matters worse, two of those no-hitters were perfect games. During the franchise’s bad or formative years, depending on the perspective, Tampa Bay was only no-hit once in 2002. After being on the losing side of no-hitters four times in less than a decade, the team and its fans now owe a debt of gratitude to Matt Garza for finally tossing a winning one for them.

While many fans watch baseball for the big hits and high scores, I have always had a profound respect for pitching. I love watching a good pitcher’s duel. So after over a decade of watching the never ending parade of 50 homerun hitters, some of which had no business doing so, this season is a refreshing change of pace. The game of baseball appears to be “returning to normal.” I barely remember the 1991 season, so to see something similar happening right in front of my eyes, I’m happy to be a witness.

Credit for image: news.yahoo.com

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Written by apokorny

July 27, 2010 at 3:42 pm

2010 All-Star Review

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The National League won its first All-Star Game since 1996.

Every sports fan has his or her own favorite event. Many love the Super Bowl. Others worship March Madness. Being a huge baseball fan, my favorite event is the fall classic, the World Series. But the MLB all-star festivities are a close second. This year’s All-Star Game was this past Tuesday and I’d be remiss if I didn’t share my thoughts about it.

Every year the day before the All-Star Game itself, the league decides to have a fun day of celebration with various baseball related events. The most popular of which is the Home Run Derby. The best homerun hitters are picked to compete against each other to see who can hit the most dingers before reaching ten outs (anything that is not a homerun).

Over the last decade or so, the derby seemed to reach unprecedented levels. Until the “steroid era,” players never managed to hit twenty homers in the entire tournament. Once the new century began, however, participants started killing the ball. In 2004, Bobby Abreu hit 24 homers in the first round alone. That record was beaten out two years ago by Josh Hamilton, who hit 28. Some people thought something was being done to the balls used in order to make them fly out better. But once Jason Giambi, Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa all had their steroid use exposed, the belief was that all the big hitters were on something. Now that the “steroid era” seems to be over, it will be interesting to see if the derby numbers return to normal levels.

Another thing that has changed in recent years is lately many of the premier hitters are reluctant to take part in the Home Run Derby. Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, and Josh Hamilton were all invited to make return appearances this year, but they all turned down the invitations, citing that the competition messed up their swings. As a result, this year’s Derby featured many new names. The biggest names and odds-on-favorites this year were Miguel Cabrera and tournament veteran David Ortiz, who made their first appearances since 2006.

Also in recent years, the Home Run Derby featured a change in the format of the competition. Instead of the top scores from the second round advancing to the finals, each semifinal hitter’s scores from the first two rounds were added together and the top two scores advanced to the finals.

This year’s derby did not see its hitters achieve astronomical numbers like years past, but to me it certainly did not disappoint. Corey Hart of the Milwaukee Brewers, making his Derby debut, started off with a bang, knocking out thirteen balls to lead all hitters. But it seemed to be a combination of beginner’s luck and having to wait a long time for his next turn, as he was shut out in the semifinals, failing to make the championship round. Cabrera showed a bit of tournament rust as he barely survived the first round and then fell well short of making the finals. In the end it was David Ortiz who stood tall. Big Papi, after starting in third place, knocked out thirteen and eleven homeruns in the semifinals and finals respectively to win his first Home Run Derby championship.

After the Homerun Derby ended, a celebrity softball game which took place earlier in the afternoon was aired. Over the years I’ve come to really enjoy this spectacle as many old stars of the past, such as Fred Lynn, Ozzie Smith, and Dave Winfield take part in the event. It is not a typical game as many of the older folks can barely move, thus making play very sloppy at times. However, once again this year, I enjoyed the softball game. Many homeruns were hit and this year marked the debut of Jennie Finch of the USA national softball team. I wouldn’t blame anybody who watched the game just to see her. Though she’s on the national team, I couldn’t help but feel bad for her after giving up around five homers.

The next night, the big names took center stage for the mid-summer classic. Like the Homerun Derby, the main event has also changed over the years. The typical play of the All-Star Game usually most of the players selected getting into the game for at least one inning, with the exception of maybe one or two pitchers. However, in 2002, another unprecedented occurrence changed the style of play. The game went into extra innings and both teams ran out of pitchers. Commissioner Bud Selig ended the game in the 11th inning and declared the game a tie. As a result of the controversy, the number of players on the teams was expanded and an agreement that the winner of the All-Star Game would receive home field advantage in the World Series was instituted to provide an incentive for victory.

One other issue regarding the All-Star Game is the controversy surrounding fan voting. While it is a good thing to get the fans involved, there must be some form of revisions. For instance, St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina was voted into the game despite .227 batting average. While he does play excellent defense, such an average does not even warrant an All-Star roster spot, let alone a starting gig. Additionally, star players who have maxed out their potential and saw their stats sharply decline have been voted as starters in the past based on name value, such as Cal Ripken, Jr. and Ken Griffey, Jr. While this did not happen this year, it wouldn’t surprise me if it did in the future if revisions to fan voting are not made.

The American League had gone unbeaten the previous thirteen games but due to its spectacular pitching staff, the National League appeared to be the favorite to win this year. The game looked like many of the regular games this season. Unlike previous All-Star games, this one was dominated by the pitching staffs. This could be a cause for concern for casual or fair-weather baseball fans, but I really enjoy a game with good pitching. Former Indian Cliff Lee threw just six pitches in his inning of work. The American League got on the board first with a single run in the fifth inning. The National League answered back in the seventh with three runs scored on a double by Braves catcher Brian McCann. As foreshadowed, the National League pitching continued its dominance and finished out the game to win its first since 1996 by a score of 3-1. McCann became the first catcher to be named the All-Star most valuable player since the Indians’ Sandy Alomar, Jr. in 1997. Naturally I was disappointed that the only Tribe all-star Fausto Carmona did not get into the game, but with the expanded pitching staff and him having the least desirable statistics of the American League pitchers, it is definitely understandable.

Though the Cleveland Indians play in the AL, I was glad to see the National Leaguers finally win the All-Star game. If anything about baseball was not exciting to me, it was seeing the same team win every year. The game did not get great television ratings, but being a baseball fanatic, this is one event that will get my full attention every year.

Credit for image: http://www.altiusdirectory.com/Sports/images/mlb-all-star-game-2010.JPG

Written by apokorny

July 16, 2010 at 7:46 pm

Lebron James Forms NBA NWO

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A New World Order has been formed in Miami.

For a month I said to myself I would not write a post on Lebron James, no matter what his decision. If he decided to stay in Cleveland, I probably still would not have written one. But this current scenario seems so familiar, I cannot let the opportunity pass.

For most of my life I have been a fan of professional wrestling. These days I am more low-key about it, since right now it is not considered cool to be a wrestling fan. There was a time when it used to be. In fact it was when I was a teenager 14 years ago. When Hulk Hogan did what was thought to be the impossible.

Ever since the internet became popular, even little kids today know that professional wrestling is scripted. Like a sport made into a TV program or movie. Promoters create “angles” for their own brands, hoping to gain or keep fans’ attention. For 26 years Hulk Hogan has been the biggest name in professional wrestling. Many say he was the one who made professional wrestling as big as it is today. He was a hero to little kids and adults alike. He demanded his “Hulkamaniacs” live their lives like him by training, saying their prayers, taking their vitamins, and believing in themselves. It was this concept that was the main selling point for one of the biggest angles in the history of professional wrestling. It all took place on July 6, 1996.

Scott Hall and Kevin Nash, after making names for themselves in Vince McMahon’s then World Wrestling Federation, defected for Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling. WCW President Eric Bischoff then borrowed from an angle he witnessed in Japan and had Hall and Nash make their WCW debuts by acting like “outsiders,” invading the company and promising to take over. They promised to reveal a third “outsider” at the promotion’s July pay-per-view event. When their match began, Hall and Nash stood alone. They were in control when Hulk Hogan, who had joined WCW two years earlier but had taken the previous three months off, entered the arena and, to the shock of fans all over the world, attacked his own friends and joined Hall and Nash. He then went on to cut a scathing promo, denouncing Hulkamania, telling the fans to “stick it,” and saying that, along with Hall and Nash, he would take over, not just WCW, but the entire wrestling industry. They named themselves the New World Order of wrestling. Hogan in one night went from the most beloved person in wrestling to the most hated.

Why am I giving this history lesson? What does it have to do with Lebron James? Well on July 8th, fourteen years and two days after the original nWo was formed, we are witnessing the formation of another one in the NBA. All season long, fans, media personnel, and people on the inside of the NBA wondered what would happen come July 1st when Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh became free agents. Immediately speculation began that they would all sign together with the same team. All the evidence seemed to fit. They were all drafted on the same night, they all signed the same short-term contract three years ago, and they all became very close as teammates on the USA Olympic team. The Miami Heat seemed to be the only logical team for all three to play together. Bosh appeared to know right away what he wanted to do. But Lebron James had more options. As a two-time reigning and defending league most valuable player, as many as six teams had the monetary capabilities to obtain his services. Once Bosh agreed to join Wade in Miami, reports were rampant that James would do the same. Earlier this week, Lebron James stated he would make his decision on July 8th and announce it live to a national audience on ESPN. While reports continued that the Miami Heat was his choice, there were still people who believed he would not leave his hometown team in front of a national audience. Then, around 9:30 pm, the boom was lowered. James announced he would be “taking his talents to South Beach to play for the Miami Heat.” With one statement, he turned on his fans and said he was leaving them and his teammates to join forces with two other big stars. Sound familiar? To me, it did. The New World Order of basketball was in formation.

Now of course, this scenario does have its differences from that in professional wrestling. First of all, Lebron James is playing the role of Hulk Hogan here. He is the biggest icon in the NBA today. He has sold out arenas all over the country and brought the Cleveland Cavaliers back to prominence. The difference is he is the outsider joining Miami’s hometown star Dwyane Wade. Also, while Hulk Hogan won six World championships prior to his turn, James has won zero. Furthermore, while nobody saw Hogan’s turn coming, everybody knew of the possibility of Lebron James leaving Cleveland to join Wade and Bosh. However, the fact still remains that, while he has not said anything bad directly about the city of Cleveland, Lebron James, loved and adored by many of its residents, has “turned heel” by dumping the city he grew up in and leaving the team he seemed to enjoy playing seven years for on national television without even telling anyone in the organization he was leaving beforehand. He joined Art Modell as the most hated man in Cleveland.

So now the nWo of basketball has been formed by Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh in Miami. Their mission is total NBA dominance. Like the WCW’s announcers said at the end of the pay-per-view after Hogan’s statement, where do we go from here? Can anybody stop them? The WCW fans’ hero was Sting, their long-time hero before Hogan arrived in 1994. Cleveland fans are looking for anybody to be their Sting. Owner Dan Gilbert immediately stepped up to the plate and put forth a Sting-like statement. But some are even looking outside of the Cavaliers to other NBA teams that are championship ready to take down the Miami Heat. What everyone knows, however, is this is just the beginning. The New World Order of wrestling added members, got stronger and eventually became one of the coolest things in wrestling history. The Miami Heat will definitely add members as three men alone cannot win an NBA championship. What Cleveland Cavaliers fans hope is that they will not develop a following outside of South Beach.

Like all wrestling angles, the New World Order eventually ran its course. Many versions of the nWo were formed over time, but nothing could hold a candle to the original. Hulk Hogan was able to regain the fans’ love. Hulkamania was reborn and probably now will live forever. Eventually the nWo in the NBA will also run its course. Whether other players in the league now or years from now attempt their own formations remains to be seen. But unlike Hulk Hogan, Lebron James will never be able to regain the love and respect from the fans he turned his back on in Cleveland. 

Credit for photo: http://www.sportsnipe.com/

Written by apokorny

July 9, 2010 at 7:16 pm

State of the Indians Address

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Despite their current state, I believe the Cleveland Indians can win.

Lately, all anyone in sports can think and talk about is the circus the NBA free agency period has become. All eyes and ears are on the news surrounding the top prize, Lebron James. More so now since James scheduled his announcement to be broadcasted live on ESPN. After the Cleveland Cavaliers were eliminated from the NBA playoffs, many Clevelanders became cynical and even despondent with the belief that James will leave the city for a bigger market or to team with fellow free agents Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. I, on the other hand, prefer not to become too involved with that mess and would rather spend my time focusing on my favorite sport, baseball, a sport which currently has a season in play. For those of you frustrated or on the verge of tears with the Lebron James saga, allow me to deter your attention.

The first half of the 2010 Major League Baseball season ends this weekend. It has been a wild first half, to say the least. Some of the brightest stars of the future have made their Major League debuts while stars from the past are stepping down from their pedestals. There has been much evidence to support the declaration that the steroid era, while not forgotten in baseball lore, is long gone.

I could talk at great length about my thoughts regarding the 2010 MLB season thus far, but that would take days. So I will just go over some points about my favorite team, the hometown Cleveland Indians. Yes, the Indians are one of the worst teams in baseball. But trust me, this entry will not be as depressing as it may seem at first.

Going into this season, nobody expected the Indians to be anywhere near contention, and to this point they haven’t even come close to surprising anybody. However, there were definitely plenty of questions, some of which still have not been answered.

The biggest question on the minds of many diehard Tribe fans like myself was, after a disastrous 2009 season, could the organization form a pitching staff that could keep the team in games? The rotation was sketchy as can be with Jake Westbrook finally returning from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery, Fausto Carmona coming off a horrible season in which he was sent all the way back to A ball, and the remaining three spots up for grabs in a competition between at least five guys.

The rotation looked very strong early on during the season. Westbrook bounced back from a rough opening day start to show that he has fully recovered from his year-and-a-half long layoff. His 4.59 earned run average is deceiving as when Westbrook had his off-games, he was destroyed in them. He has also had his share of quality starts this season. Carmona’s performance is a testament to all of the hard work he put in over the off-season. With an ERA of 3.68 and only 37 walks in 103 innings, he turned in quality start after quality start to earn his first all-star selection. Part of his turnaround seems to be the abandoning of his 97 mile-per-hour fastball. This season Carmona has relied more on a sinker that tops out at 93 along with off-speed breaking balls, which he appears to have more control over. The big surprise so far this season has been Mitch Talbot. As a rookie who got beat up during his only other Major League opportunity, nobody was expecting him to perform the way he has. Like Jake Westbrook, when Talbot was beaten, he was beaten hard. But like Carmona, the majority of his starts have been quality, with an ERA of 3.86.

Westbrook, Carmona, and Talbot made up the good of the Tribe rotation so far this season. Now to discuss the bad part of it. After winning a team high eleven games last season as a rookie and winning the fifth spot in the rotation, I expected David Huff to continue improving. He appeared as such in his first two starts, but then spiraled downhill. Huff fell into the dreaded “sophomore jinx” and was sent back to Triple-A Columbus with a 2-9 record and 6.04 ERA. Justin Masterson was handed a spot in the rotation as an experiment to see if he can be transformed into a starter. So far, the results have been very negative. He lost his first five starts, struggles against left-handed hitters, and has control issues. With Aaron Laffey pitching well since being called back to Cleveland after Huff was demoted, I would expect Masterson to move into the bullpen once Carlos Carrasco gets the call back to the Indians.

While the rotation has its ups and downs, the Indians bullpen has been Jekyll and Hyde on seemingly a nightly basis. Like last season, the Indians have been calling up and demoting pitchers like a revolving door for the better part of the season. Joe Smith and Jensen Lewis have both been sent back to Columbus this season to figure out their issues with mixed results. Rafael Perez appeared to have the same issues which plagued him for most of last season, but has since calmed down and may be playing back to form. Hector Ambriz has been solid. As a Rule 5 draft pick, he must remain with the Indians all season long. With this season in the basement, the Tribe might as well keep him on, even if he falters, just to get a better look at him. Closer Kerry Wood is one issue that baffles my mind. His last season with the Chicago Cubs, his first as a closer, he saved 34 games with a 2.95 earned run average. The Indians signed him to a two-year contract and his career has rapidly declined. His issues could be explained by a lack of work. Since the Indians are a losing team, Wood has not had many save situations and rarely gets into ballgames for mop up duty. Interestingly though, the month of June has been very good for Wood. In ten appearances, he converted six of eight save opportunities, including three in a row in dominant fashion to close out the month. The one consistent bright spot for the Tribe bullpen has been Chris Perez. He started out as the closer when Kerry Wood began on the disabled list. After struggling the first few weeks, Perez has settled into a very stable setup role.

While preseason questions about the rotation loomed, the Cleveland Indians lineup looked like it could actually be productive. Anchored by veterans Asdrubal Cabrera, Grady Sizemore, Shin-Soo Choo, Jhonny Peralta, and a finally healthy Travis Hafner, this team was expected to hit. Until recently though, this team has not done anything of the like. With the exception of Cabrera and, at times, Choo, the Cleveland Indians struggled consistently to score runs or even get on base. Peralta continued his string of early season struggles. Sizemore, coming off surgery, showed he was not at 100 percent. To make matters worse, Luis Valbuena and rookies Matt LaPorta and Michael Brantley, expected to produce as the crown jewels of the C.C. Sabathia trade, also struggled against Major League pitching and were sent back to Columbus. Matters were made worse when Cabrera and Sizemore were lost for extended periods of time with injuries. As a result, the lineup fell completely out of sync. Many times opposing pitchers flirted with no-hitters and one even came within one out of a perfect game. Remaining Indians fans were praying for Carlos Santana to get the call, as he was tearing up the minor league system. It was only a matter of time as the season was quickly being lost and neither of the Indians’ catchers were producing at the plate.

Lately, however, something seems to be happening with this Cleveland Indians team. Jason Donald, making his Major League debut after Asdrubal Cabrera was hurt, is making the most of his opportunities. He plays every game with fire and adrenaline. I really like the hustle and effort he puts forth. He won me over when he hustled down the line at the end of the would-be perfect game when he could have easily dogged it and let the perfect game stand. Russell Branyan, who was signed during the off-season to my surprise and even displeasure, was traded back to Seattle and LaPorta was called back. Since then, LaPorta has been on a tear and is finally showing the potential fans expected of him. Carlos Santana finally got the call in early June and has never looked back. He was immediately given the third spot in the lineup and continued hitting a ton at the Major League level. The biggest surprise may be Jayson Nix. After the Indians claimed him off waivers, he’s hitting over .300 with four homers and seven RBIs in 11 games. While the youngsters are now producing, the veterans have seemed to finally catch on. Hafner and Peralta could always do better than they are now, but when they struggle, the younger players seem to pick up the slack. The one man who has never stopped hitting after an excellent start is Shin-Soo Choo. He has been such a highlight that he was heavily believed to be the Tribe’s only all-star this season. However, his crazy train was derailed late last week when he sprained his wrist diving for a fly ball. Like Cabrera and Sizemore, Choo will be out for an extended period of time and has given way back to Brantley, who was brought back to replace him.

Yes, like most of the Cleveland Indians season, most of this entry is filled with lowlights. However, unlike many people, I have not stopped following or enjoying Indians baseball. Maybe I just enjoy rooting for the underdogs. Whatever the case may be, the Cleveland Indians are now a team of young players who are hungry. I believe they can and will make the most of their opportunities. We have seen it happen with many other franchises in baseball. Not all World Series teams are bought like the New York Yankees. I have faith in my Cleveland Indians. They can win with the talent they have. Their recent five game win-streak is proof. It may take a few years, but the Indians will be back.

Credit for photo: http://www.nydailynews.com/img/2007/03/08/amd_wahoo.jpg