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Archive for July, 2010

The Philadelphia Phillies traded for veteran right-hander Roy Oswalt Thursday night, giving up J.A. Happ and minor league prospects. The trade took longer than expected after Oswalt had stated that he wanted to work out a deal that would put him under contract for another two years, making upwards of $16 million in 2012. He had a “no-trade” clause in his contract, and decided that he wasn’t going to allow one until he was guranteed to be in a good situation after the year was over. The Phillies did not want to make any promises though, and finally Oswalt caved. If the Phillies do not choose to keep him, they will have to pay a $2 million buyout, after next season.

The addition of Oswalt is huge for the Phillies pitching staff and their playoff chances. They currently sit 3.5 games behind the Braves in the NL East, but have gone 8-2 in their last 10 games, and are making a strong late-season push. Oswalt received his first start last night, going 6 innings and giving up 4 earned runs, while he received the loss in an 8-1 contest against the Nationals. There is no reason for Phillies fans to panic though, he will be just fine.

The best word to describe Roy Oswalt over the past decade is consistency. Since 2001, he is first in the NL in wins (143) and strikeouts (1,593), and boasts a 3.24 ERA, which is 5th overall. Over those years, Oswalt has only had an ERA above 3.55 once. I know from experience that Oswalt is a big-time player. I mean, he has been on my fantasy team numerous times. He has always been consistent with his wins and ERA.

Now, he joins Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels at the front of the Phillies rotation. This will be huge for the Phillies if they can get into the playoffs, because it gives them the ability to send out 3 premier arms each series. In the playoffs, pitching staffs normally drop from 5 starters to 3 (depending on the team/situation), and if the Phils are in it, these pitchers will be hard to beat.

Matthew Benedetto © 2010

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It must be hard to coach such talented, yet enigmatic and emotional players such as Chad Johnson (Ochocinco) or Terrell Owens (T.O.). Both are reality tv stars on VH1 and are constantly receiving flack for their flamboyant and excessive touchdown celebrations. Terrell Owens has been at the center of quarterback disputes since his time in San Francisco and voices his opinion more than almost any athlete ever. Ochocinco has not been as much of a “team” problem as T.O., but he did cause some problems when he demanded a trade prior to last season. These two players are a handful on their own. Imagine having to coach both at once.

Now, they are on the same team. Owens signed a one year contract on Tuesday, reportedly worth $2 million. He is currently 3rd all-time in receiving touchdowns with 144 and receiving yards with 14,951, but had a down season last year in Buffalo. That may be due to the fact that the Bills did not have a clear cut number one quarterback, but it also may mean that he is losing a step now that he is 36 years old.

Whatever the reason, Ochocinco doesn’t seem to think it will carry over to the 2010 season. “He’s Batman, and I’m Robin”, he said. “T.O.’s goal, his only goal right now at this point, which is our main goal as a team right now, is to win a championship. And we brought someone in who can help us do that.” That is the kind of mentality that the Bengals’ receivers are going to need to have if they will co-exist on the field.

Owens joins Ochocinco and newly acquired Antonio Bryant as part of the receiving corps, so it’s going to be hard for quarterback Carson Palmer to please everyone. I believe it is a problem that Palmer welcomes with open arms. There has been a huge void in the receiving talent in Cincinnati since T.J. Houshmandzadeh’s departure for Seattle and the death of Chris Henry. T.O brings energy and experience to the now loaded Bengals offense. If Cedric Benson can continue to pound the ball between the tackles and carry the running game, the Bengals could be on the fast track to the championship that Ochocinco eluded to.

After sitting out most of 2008 with an injury, Palmer returned last season to throw 21 touchdowns and led the Bengals to a 10-win season. Now, the Bengals have added another deep threat, which should allow Palmer to challenge his 32 touchdowns that he threw in 2005. The quarterback seems to feel the same way as Ochocinco, and is excited for the arrival of Owens. “He’s been a dominant player in this league for a long time, and we hope he can come in and do some of the things he’s done in the past for us”, Palmer said. He was also a big promoter of the signing, telling head coach Marvin Lewis that Owens performed well when they worked out together and still had something to bring to the table.

The Bengals are a team that has dealt with problems off the field for numerous years, but Ochocinco has never been one of those problems. He may celebrate after touchdowns and may want all of the spotlight, but he goes out and plays and stays out of trouble off the field. The same goes for Owens. He may be a problem at times for teams and may celebrate too much, but he isn’t going out and getting arrested or firing a gun in a nightclub.

I would rather have someone who is passionate and getting in someone’s face during a game, as opposed to a player who goes out and acts like an idiot when he isn’t at practice or playing a game. Owens has the drive to succeed and works harder than many players in the game today. I’m not saying he is a saint, but the media does portray him in unfavorable ways because he is an easy target. If he can stay in the good graces of the coaches and let his game do the talking, the Bengals will be challenging for the AFC North title this season.

As for Ochocinco, he was asked about the problems defenses may have covering T.O. and himself. He replied, “I will be using Tylenol as a celebration to send to a lot of defenses this year, because somebody is going to have a headache.” In the long run, it could be Marvin Lewis who will need that Tylenol.

Matthew Benedetto © 2010

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The Los Angeles Angels aren’t throwing in the towel just yet, demonstrated by the trade they made Sunday for Arizona Diamondbacks ace Dan Haren. The Angels are currently 8.5 games out in the AL West and needed to add a premier arm to their pitching staff for the stretch run.

Haren had been struggling for the most part this season, but started to regain form in the past month. He was the National League leader in strikeouts before the trade and has posted a 3.35 ERA or lower in each of the last 3 seasons. Prior to his early struggles, Haren was regarded as one of the better pitchers in the game, appearing in the All-Star game from 2007-09.

He now joins a staff that includes Jered Weaver, Ervin Santana, and Joel Piniero, giving the Angels some solid arms at the top of their rotation. The Angels needed another arm if they were going to have any chance at catching the Texas Rangers. The Rangers have a loaded offense, just added Cliff Lee, and are on the verge of adding Jorge Cantu from the Florida Marlins. The Angels are just trying to keep pace with their division rivals.

If any team can catch the Rangers though, it is the Angels. They have one of the best managers in the game with Mike Scioscia and play small ball better than any other team in the AL. The Angels are a veteran team and have been in a playoff race before and they may not be done trading just yet. They could acquire another impact player to give the lineup a boost and put the heat on the Rangers. After Kendry Morales suffered a season ending injury in late March, the Angels have been missing that big bat in the middle of their lineup. The Angels should be able to close the gap on the Ranger’s lead, and acquiring Dan Haren was a step in the right direction.

Matthew Benedetto © 2010

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Broken Dreams?

The Detroit Tigers are still in contention for the AL Central crown, but the team took a huge hit when right fielder Magglio Ordonez went down in the 3rd inning of Saturday’s game with a fractured ankle. Ordonez will be out 6-8 weeks, and will leave a major void in the heart of the Detroit lineup. Carlos Guillen and Brandon Inge have also headed to the disabled list with Ordonez, taking away leadership and one third of the Tiger’s starting lineup.

Ordonez was having an excellent season, batting third, and providing protection (along with Brennan Boesch) for MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera. After struggling for most of last season, Ordonez had built a strong case for AL Comeback Player of the Year, and made Tiger fans forget that he had incentives attached to his contract extension for next year (AB and games played).

People in Detroit may want to say this is unfair or season-ending, but if you look to the East Coast, the Boston Red Sox have been dealing with injury after injury all season. Josh Beckett, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Victor Martinez have all served over a month on the disabled list this season. The Red Sox have not given up on the season though, as they currently sit 12 games over .500,  and the Tigers should look to them for an example of how to respond to similar adversity.

It just means that some people are going to have to step up and make an impact. “There’s going to be no excuses here,” manager Jim Leyland said. “There’s going to be a lot of energy. Plus the veteran leadership with Cabrera, Damon and guys like that. And we’ll still be OK if we pitch.” Johnny Damon echoed those sentiments, saying “We just have to go out and play. That’s the bottom line. We know we are missing two of our big guys. We just have to deal with it.”

It also isn’t out of the question for the Tigers to acquire an impact bat. If the saying goes, “If it aint broke, don’t fix it” then the Tigers should be looking to fix it, because one third of their starting lineup is now broken. Adam Dunn and Mike Lowell have been on the Tiger’s radar for a bit now, and if they can swing  a deal, they should.

It may seem like the season is over, but you can never count a team out in the AL Central. Brennan Boesch needs to end his cold streak, Johnny Damon will need to pick up his bat, and the starting pitching will need more quality starts than ever before. The outlook for the rest of the season may seem bleak, but the Tigers are still right in it, and can still make a run at the division.

Matthew Benedetto © 2010

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MLB at the break

We are now halfway through the Major League Baseball season, and it is time to hand out some midseason awards. This has been the year of the pitcher. Earned run averages are lower, home run totals are down, and there have already been 4 no-hitters (2 perfect games). Now that the steroid era has come and gone, I think we will see more and more dominating games from pitchers.

As for teams, the Detroit Tigers are making a push at another central division crown. At the break, the Tigers are a half game behind the Chicago White Sox who went on a tear throughout June and July. The Padres, Braves, and Reds have surprised everyone by taking hold of first place in their respective divisions, showing no regard for the favorites in the National League. Stephen Strasburg, Jason Heyward, and Brennan Boesch are playing like veterans and keeping their teams in the hunt. It truly has been an eventful first half.

Now for the awards…

AL MVP at the break – Miguel Cabrera, 1B  Detroit Tigers          

Miguel Cabrera is having one heck of a season. He has led the Tigers to a 48-38 record and has come up with big hit after big hit. Not only is he helping Detroit in the win column, but he is also in the hunt to be the first winner of the triple crown ( leader in HR, RBI, and AVG) since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. Cabrera leads the majors in batting average at .346, is second in home runs with 22, and leads the majors in runs batted in with 77. He is also the league leader in OPS (On Base Percentage + Slugging Percentage) with a 1.074. Miggy can do it all. Almost half of his homers (10) have come in the 7th inning or later, showing that he has ice in his veins with the game on the line. Cabrera has proved that the Tigers are “his” team, and that he will do everything that he can to take them deep into the playoffs. As of right now, no one is playing better than Cabrera. Also, I am not sure that I would trade him… for ANYONE. He is only 27 years old, is now a solid defensive first baseman,  and everytime he comes to the plate, I think he will hit a double or a home run. He is just that good. He can take the ball to right field and has amazing plate discipline. About 2 months ago, I made a bet with a friend (Billy Ward) that Cabrera would win the triple crown. I thought it was a longshot, but I knew that if anyone had a chance, it was Cabrera. We made a $5 bet and Billy gave me 5-1 odds (stay tuned for results of bet).

NL MVP at the break – David Wright, 3B New York Mets    

This was a tough choice. Joey Votto, of the Cincinnati Reds, has had an amazing first half and has brought the Reds back into the playoff race for the first time in years. Adrian Gonzalez has led the Padres to a huge turnaround, giving them a 2 game lead in the NL west over the Colorado Rockies. But, David Wright has done everything the Mets have needed, and more. Wright is batting .314, with 14 homers, 65 RBIs, and 15 stolen bases. He plays superior defense and is the definition of a 5-tool player. With the injury to Carlos Beltran and struggles of Jason Bay, the Mets have needed David Wright to play like an MVP, and he has. He brings it every game, and with Beltran coming back this week, the Mets should be in the mix with the Braves and Phillies in the battle for the NL East crown.

AL Cy Young at the break – David Price, SP Tampa Bay Rays      

The American League hasn’t quite had the same success in the pitching department as the National League, but David Price has come into his own. In only his second full season, Price is now the unquestioned ace of the Rays staff. He is 12-4, with a 2.42 ERA, and has kept the Rays in the hunt for the AL East crown. At only 24 years old, Price is only going to get better. He proved in the All-Star game that he has electric stuff, consistently hitting 98 and 99 on the gun. If he can continue to pitch the way he has in the first half, the Rays will be giving the Yankees and Red Sox all they can handle come October.

NL Cy Young at the break – Josh Johnson, SP Florida Marlins          

It is hard to argue with the season that Ubaldo Jimenez is having (15-1, 2.20 ERA), but Josh Johnson is heating up, and Ubaldo is cooling down. Ubaldo’s ERA has gone from a 1.15 to a 2.20 in his last 4 starts, which isn’t bad at all, but Johnson has been a little better. Johnson sports a 9-3 record with a 1.70 ERA. That is not a misprint. Johnson has the best ERA in the majors and has been a force on the mound. Standing at 6 feet 7 inches, there are not many pitchers who can command a game the way that Johnson can. He is another youngster, only 26 years in age, but hasn’t let that have an effect on his confidence. In his last 10 starts he has given up a total of 7 runs, with a record of 6-2. And anyone who watched the All Star game on Tuesday knows what he brings to the table. He can hit 98 on the gun and keeps runs off the board. If the Marlins have any chance of coming back in the NL East, it will be behind the stellar pitching of Josh Johnson.

AL Rookie at the break – Brennan Boesch, OF Detroit Tigers      

When Brennan Boesch was called up for a game earlier in the season, all I could think was, “Here is another guy we will bring up for 20-30 games this year, just like a Don Kelly or Ryan Raburn. Why can’t we just find a guy who will play everyday in the outfield?”. Well, 3 months later, Boesch is that guy. He leads all rookies with a sterling .342 batting average, and has 12 HR and 49 RBI as well. He has been absolutely tearing the cover off the ball. The best compliment I could give him is to compare him to Todd Helton, who is one of the best hitters of the last 30 years. They are both lefties and have a kind of “helicopter” swing. Boesch is a very aggressive hitter, but has been able to work the count and draw a crucial walk from time to time. The Tigers needed someone to step into left field and play every day, and Boesch has done that, filling a huge void in the their lineup. He is now batting 5th, serving as Miguel Cabrera’s “body guard” in the lineup. Boesch completely came out of nowhere, and wasn’t even a top 10 player in the Tiger’s farm system. People have said that he will slow down, or show some signs of wear and tear, but so far he hasn’t shown any signs of cooling off (knock on wood).

NL Rookie at the break – Mike Leake, SP Cincinnati Reds        

Jaime Garcia has been providing some huge help to Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter in the Cardinals rotation, going 8-4 while posting a 2.17 ERA, and Jason Heyward has burst onto the scene in Atlanta, but Mike Leake has given the Reds a reliable starter who can go 7+ innings. This is something that they haven’t had in a long time. No one expected the Reds to be anywhere near first place when the season started. Mike Leake has quietly helped Joey Votto, Scott Rolen, and Brandon Phillips turn this team around. He is 6-1 with a 3.53 ERA and 12 quality starts, failing to go 6+ innings only once. That is a very underrated stat when looking at a pitcher. Leake has been saving the bullpen for the later innings of games and the Reds always have a chance to win. To continue with the comparisons (Boesch-Helton), Leake pitches like Greg Maddux. Obviously, he is nowhere near the pinpoint control that Maddux exhibited throughout his career, but he attacks hitters the exact same way. He works the corners, throws strikes, and forces ground ball after ground ball. He has shown some signs of slowing down, but hopefully he can help to keep the Reds in the playoff hunt.

AL Manager at the break – Ozzie Guillen, Chicago White Sox      

Not too long ago, Ozzie Guillen was rumored to be losing his job as manager of the Chicago White Sox. Now, the White Sox sit atop the AL Central after going on a tear the last 5-6 weeks of the first half, finishing with a 25-5 record. The White Sox looked to be out of the race after April and May, but now have the south side fans excited for the second half. Ozzie may be loud, opinionated, and stubborn at times, but he has done a great job with a lineup and rotation that isn’t that good. Guillen is getting the most that he can out of his players, which is what he needs to do if the White Sox will have any chance come September. Starting pitcher Jake Peavy is out for the season, so that may become a problem, but the White Sox have had pretty good outings from the rest of the rotation. Hopefully the All-Star break cooled them off a little…

NL Manager at the break – Bobby Cox, Atlanta Braves            

Bobby Cox has announced that he will be retiring at season’s end. Hopefully his final season will continue into October, because no one deserves it more. Cox has been a great manager, leading the Braves since 1978, compiling 5 NL pennants and one World Series Title in 1995. This season, he has led the Braves to first place in the NL East, with a 4 game lead over the New York Mets at the break. This is surprising due to the fact that he doesn’t have his three headed monster in the pitching rotation (Glavine, Maddux, Smoltz), Chipper Jones isn’t getting any younger, and the roster is full of young, inexperienced players. Troy Glaus, Chipper Jones, Tim Hudson, Derek Lowe, and Billy Wagner have provided the Braves with the necessary experience, but all of them are at the end of their careers. It seems as if the players are “playing for Bobby”, because they know it is his last season. Whatever the case may be, the Braves are red hot, and Bobby Cox is the man at the wheel.

Matthew Benedetto © 2010

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Welcome to Miami

The Summer of 2010 will be remembered in sports history as the year Spain won the World Cup and “The Decision” was made. ESPN gave LeBron James hours of publicity and speculation leading up to his choice. Analysts and former players guessed at where he would go and whom he would play with. The talk started months, even years ago. Last Thursday, Lebron finally gave everyone an answer, and no two people were happier than Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade (well maybe Pat Riley).

Lebron James had the ball in his court and he made his decision. His choice changed the landscape of the NBA as we know it for at least the next 6 years. The Miami Heat completely unloaded their roster and landed three of the top 10 players in the NBA. People have made a huge deal about him being on television for the past week. All I heard from tv personalities and close friends was, “All of this hoopla for one guy?” and “I cant stand seeing Lebron on ESPN every second, when will this end?”, but what did people expect? This guy is changing the game with his passing, rebounding, and scoring. He plays like Magic Johnson, and he will always have you walking from the television after watching one of his games saying, “Wow, he is amazing”. I guess everything was a little overkill, but why not just change the channel?

So, was this the right choice? In the end, Lebron James did what he thought was best for himself. And for him, that was having the best chance to win. This shouldn’t have come as a surprise to people, seeing as Lebron made this clear one month earlier in an interview with Larry King. Lebron said “I want to go somewhere I can win a championship. Not just one, but multiple championships”. He decided that winning a championship(s) was the most important thing to him. How can we fault him for that? Isn’t that what playing the game is about? He decided that he had a chance to join two amazing players and win. A lot.

People always talk about records and stats. It is how analysts, scouts, kids, and even some guys drinking beer at a weekly poker game define a player. Dimaggio’s 56 game hitting streak, Wilt’s 100 point game, Gretzky’s 215 point season, Tom Brady’s 50 touchdown passes, and so on. Those records are amazing. Good for those guys. They are phenomenal athletes, but why not focus on team records? The Los Angeles Lakers won 33 straight games in the 1971-1972 season. The Boston Celtics went 50-1 at the Boston Garden in 1986 (regular season and playoffs). The Chicago Bulls went 72-10 in the 1995-1996 season. Why not set some team records?

I cannot fault Lebron for choosing to join the Heat. He has succeeded in striking fear into the Magic, Celtics, and Lakers. Scratch that. The entire league is probably saying, “How are we going to beat them?”

What is the difference between Kobe getting Gasol, and Boston getting Garnett and Allen? Well, Lebron is taking less money (as are Bosh and Wade) to join a team and win a championship. It is completely his decision. That is the difference. He is deciding to be a team player. Kobe couldn’t win one without Shaq, so he cried, and literally begged to be traded for months (to a contender), until he was handed Pau Gasol for a bag of cracker jacks. The Celtics got Garnett, because Kevin Mchale (GM of Timberwolves) wanted his old team to regain their championship form (I’m just kidding, but maybe…). As much as people want to think that players like Russell, Bird, Magic, and Jordan won by themselves, they are wrong. They all had very good players around them.  Maybe he wants to win 5 championships and then focus on the record books while joining another team, I mean he is only 25.

Cavaliers owner, Dan Gilbert, wrote a letter to Cleveland fans about the departure of the aforementioned James. In the letter, Gilbert attacked Lebron for supposedly “quitting” on the team during the playoffs in 2009 and 2010. “He quit,” Gilbert said. “Not just in Game 5, but in Games 2, 4 and 6. Watch the tape. The Boston series was unlike anything in the history of sports for a superstar.” He continued by saying, “It’s not about him leaving. It’s the disrespect. It’s time for people to hold these athletes accountable for their actions. Is this the way you raise your children? I’ve been holding this all in for a long time.” This seems eerily similar to a “Text from Last Night”. This is a website started by a fellow University of Detroit Jesuit Alum, Ben Bator. Basically, the site posts funny/stupid texts that people sent each other the night before (pretty humorous, check it out).  The only thing is, Gilbert’s letter seems like it should be in the category of a “Drunk Business Memo from Last Night”. He guaranteed the Cavaliers would win a championship before Lebron. I mean honestly, was he sober?

This was so classless it was hard for me to read. Dan Gilbert is a fellow Michigan State Alum, and longtime friend of Tom Izzo, so obviously I didn’t want it to be true. As for raising your children? What does that have to do with this? If anyone wanted to use it as a learning experience for their children, it should have been the perfect example. Kids are taught to be “team” players, to work with others, and to share. Oh and you know what else you teach kids? Two wrongs don’t make a right. If Gilbert actually thought Lebron was in the wrong, couldn’t he have just taken the high road and said something along the lines of “Hey, you win some you lose some. Today we lost.” Lebron James took less money to play with two great players and work as a team. The work as a team part is yet to be seen, but he showed last Thursday that he wants to give it a try. He went to Dwyane Wade’s team. He didn’t want to leave Cleveland, but the opportunity cost was greater in Miami and he was a FREE AGENT. Isn’t that the way economics works? The NBA is a business isn’t it?

Also, I do not understand why Gilbert starting saying Lebron “quit on the team” the minute after he announced he was leaving. Wasn’t he offering him a max contract up until that decision? Would he have said anything at all if Lebron had stayed? I doubt it.

For the record, I am not a big Lebron James fan; but I do respect him. I think he should work on his shot, and take less 3s and outside turnarounds until he becomes more consistent from long range, but hey, that just me nit picking. Also, I think he could have handled the whole situation better. There is no need to put yourself on display for the world to see and hear your decision about what team your going to play for, even if it was ESPN’s idea. All he needed to do was say what team he was going to join, and ESPN still would have put him all over Sportscenter.

The reason I am defending Lebron is because of what he did. He wants to win and he realized where and who presented him with the best chance. I have heard people saying that they want to see him fail and lose, because they don’t like him and don’t think it is fair. Other people say that you can’t win with just 3 players. I say they win it with Sue Bird and Diana Turasi as the 4th and 5th players, but that is just my humble opinion. Now they have brought back Udonis Haslem, and are on the verge of signing Mike Miller and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Sounds like a championship team to me. Being a Pistons fan, I am annoyed because I don’t think we have a chance of getting out of the East for a good few years, and because I would have loved to have those 3 players on my team. Wouldn’t anybody?

The reason I want to see the Heat succeed is because I think it would make athletes realize that taking paycuts and opening room for other players is what teamwork is about. Some people have huge egos and need to be the highest paid athlete at his/her position. I don’t get it. If you know you are good, do you really need the highest paycheck to prove it? Tom Brady took a hit to his salary so the Patriots could sign other players. Didn’t they finish with an undefeated regular season?

Maybe this whole Miami thing won’t work out. Maybe the Heat will lose in the playoffs. Maybe they won’t win a championship at all. I don’t know. But maybe, they will succeed and people will realize that you can’t do it on your own in professional sports. It is about the team.

Matthew Benedetto © 2010

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