Monday, August 31, 2009

MLB MVP Races Part II

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-Digger's Daily-

Pennant fever is in full swing. Each year a handful of players turn it on during baseball's final month. Determining MVP winners brings about many philosophical considerations and one never knows how a votes will be cast. What does MVP mean has been subject of many debates. Will the player with best statistics win? Will the award go to a player who helps his team win the most games? How will personal popularity (or negativity) figure into things? Ted Williams once lost out on MVP honors due to a sportswriter from his home town refusing to vote for him. Talk about being spiteful.

Here's my short list of American League candidates heading into baseball's final month. All have their merits.

Joe Mauer (MIN) - Mauer's one of the main reasons Minnesota still has a shot at qualifying for the playoffs. He's been on fire nearly all season long. Stunning stat line for a catcher - .367 BA, 25 HR, 79 RBI, 1.044 OPS. Not a single month batting below .300 and playing excellent defense. He's lived up to projected star status. MVP profile will increase with a strong September finish.

Miguel Cabrera (DET) - He's been Detroit's biggest offensive weapon all year long. .335, 30 2B, 27 HR, 82 RBI, .962 OPS. A pure hitter who fears no pitcher. Not even as a green rookie facing Roger Clemens in the 2003 World Series. He homered on the very next pitch after a high and tight Clemens brush back pitch. It's been all systems go since. He's a legit MVP candidate. Fate may rest on whether or not Detroit wins AL Central. As of now, Cabrera's my pick based on lack of a supporting cast. All other mentioned candidates have teammates enjoying big seasons at the dish. Not in Tigerland.

Derek Jeter (NYY) - Jeter has been the Yanks catalyst. As soon as he got hot in July, the Yankees started winning. Yanks now own baseball's best record and it coincides with Jeter's performance. He's about to become the Yanks all time leading hitter which speaks volumes of his historic career. .334, 94 R, 25 2B, 17 HR, 23 SB, career best .987 FP. Derek might get hurt in MVP selection by teammates receiving votes (Teixeira, Damon, Cano & Rivera).

Kendry Morales (LAA) - Morales is having a superb first full MLB season. LA has had multiple player injuries and Kendry has been the lineups mainstay. Stat line: .311, 34 2B, 30 HR, 94 RBI, .948 OPS. He's having a huge 2nd half helping LA maintain their AL West lead over Texas (.361, 15 HR, 39 games). He's red hot and if this keeps up in September play then don't be surprised if Morales walks away with MVP hardware.

As of this moment, these four represent my odds on favorites. If voting was held today, my pick for MVP goes to Miguel Cabrera or Derek Jeter (split). Keep an eye on these players too. All are deserving and could improve their chances with strong September results. Michael Young (TEX), Mark Teixeira (NYY), Robinson Cano (NYY), Johnny Damon (NYY), Kevin Youkilis (BOS), Justin Morneau (MIN) and Aaron Hill (TOR).

Stay tuned this week for my Cy Young candidates. Final MVP & Cy Young selections will be made once the 2009 season has completed.

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Sunday, August 30, 2009

MLB MVP Races Enter Final Month

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-Digger's Daily-

Pennant fever is in full swing. Each year a handful of players turn it on during baseball's final month. Determining MVP winners brings about many philosophical considerations and one never knows how a votes will be cast. What does MVP mean has been subject of many debates. Will the player with best statistics win? Will the award go to a player who helps his team win the most games? How will personal popularity (or negativity) figure into things? Ted Williams once lost out on MVP honors due to a sportswriter from his home town refusing to vote for him. Talk about being spiteful.

Here's my short list of National League candidates heading into baseball's final month. All have their merits.

Pablo Sandoval (SF) - Sandoval has carried San Francisco's offense this season. .336 BA, 37 2B, 21 HR, 75 RBI, .953 OPS. Not too shabby for a player with only 41 Major League games on his resume before this season started. He's a major reason why SF is challenging for the playoffs. Sandoval's career is off to a tremendous beginning.

Hanley Ramirez (FLA) - Marlins biggest star is enjoying another fine season. They seem to win when he hits. This year he's batting 3rd as opposed to prior years leading off. Stats: NL leading .359 BA, 37 2B, 19 HR, 85 RBI, .984 OPS, 24 SB. This guy does it all and is one of baseball's elite shortstops. Imagine how incredible he'd be with a stronger supporting cast.

Ryan Howard (PHI) - Philadelphia began separating themselves from NL East foes as soon as Howard started pouring it on. One of the games most feared power hitters has been batting at a .300 clip since the All Star break. Overall, .271 BA, 37 RH, 111 RBI, .921 OPS. He strikes out way too many times for my liking (155) leaving runners stranded and negates opposing managers issuing intentional walks (3). He could walk away with MVP with a red hot September.

Albert Pujols (STL) - Pujols is undoubtably one of the greatest hitters baseball has ever seen. This 9 year vet has belted over 30 HR, 100 RBI, .300+ BA every single year. His 2009 line reads: .320 BA, 102 R, 41 HR, 111 RBI, 1.112 OPS and he's far from finished. Pujols has been a one man wrecking crew for St. Louis. Check out these stats when the bases are loaded. 8-12 (.667), 5 HR, 27 RBI. NL's most complete and feared hitter.

As of this moment, these four represent my odds on favorites. If voting was held today, my pick for MVP goes to Albert Pujols. Other candidates worth keeping an eye on throughout September are: Prince Fielder (MIL), Andre Ethier (LAD), Matt Kemp (LAD) & Ryan Zimmerman (WAS).

Stay tuned this week for my AL MVP & Cy Young candidates. Final selections will be made once the 2009 season has completed.

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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Random NFL Thoughts

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-Digger's Daily-

NFL kicks off regular season play Thursday, September 10, when Tennessee visits defending Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh. There's been a ton of football news lately. Here's a glimpse of my random thoughts regarding what's taken place in recent days.

Dallas Cowboys can't seem to sidestep controversy. The latest chatter has to do with a mega sized super video screen which hangs over the field. When Tennessee played Dallas in the pre-season opening of Cowboys Stadium their punters aimed for the huge screen during warmups and successfully nailed it. During the game, a punted ball hit the screen and play was halted so refs could figure out what to do. According to league rules, nothing can hang less than 85 feet above playing surfaces. Jerry Jones knew of the rule and instructed crews installing the massive video screen to hang it 90 feet. NFL just decided if a ball hit it during games then refs will order a do over. A do over? That's right, a do over. It's probably the best way to handle it for now, but a do over just sounds lame on its' surface. Hearing fans and others talk of this incredible screen has been two fold. Most admire it. Perhaps the biggest complaint is it's too big and will take fans attention away from the live action 90 feet below. With a little luck, I'll venture back down to Texas this year to check it out for myself.

Brett Favre is back again! He's taken a media sacking not to be believed. Ok, 2008 was a trying season for him in Jets green. I've written extensively of how poorly New York handled play calling, how players seemed to quit, yada yada. Minnesota has a great young team needing a strong veteran leader to help these guys mature on the field. Speedy WR's, one of NFL's top running backs, tough defense and a great head coach. Immediately after Favre un-retired, he was bombarded with negative press from New York to Green Bay. Locker room "schisms" seems to be Minnesota's theme this week. Come on fellas. Be professional football players. Favre could be the answer. He's certainly better than any QB the Vikes have sent under center recently. If his arm is sound, this team has a legit shot at qualifying for NFC Championship Game. Settle down, play football and leave the rest up to the coaching staff.

Tom Brady got his shoulder slammed Friday after missing 99.9% of 2008 season. No news yet on severity of his golden arm. If it's serious, then New England is in deep trouble before the regular season begins. It'll be good news for Miami Dolphins fans and no love will be lost coming out of New York. Fantasy coaches who already drafted TB must be shaking right now (especially those of you in money leagues). Brady quickly became a Montana-esque type of NFL star QB due to his Super Bowl successes. Patriots fans are keeping an ear out for good news.

Denver Broncos suspended disgruntled All Pro WR Brandon Marshall for the remainder of preseason. Marshall wants out of Denver. He's become a distraction to his team. First, he wanted a new contract. Now, he wants out and has been publicly trashing the Broncos. Bad move Brandon. Denver has capable backups ready to earn their stripes. Going public never helps salary negotiations and his poor on field practice behaviour is probably sending negative warning signs to potentially interested teams. He's swatted at passed balls, kicked balls, publicly verbally abused Denver and ignored all calls for rational conduct leading to his suspension. Outspoken WR's often get nicknames, sometimes self imposed. Terrell Owens is called "T.O." - Chad Johnson changed his name to Ocho Cinco - If Marshall keeps this up fans and teammates might start calling him "BM" based on his crap(py) attitude.

So, who's your pick for NFL MVP this year? I really haven't given this subject too much thought until recently. On the AFC side this race appears wide open. Perhaps someone like San Diego's LT? Pittsburgh's Willie Parker comes to mind. Pats Tom Brady or Randy Moss? Indy's Peyton Manning? NFC it could be nearly anyone. Many great teams gearing up. The list is too long. I'll get busy doing some of my own analysis this weekend before posting predictions. Many names to review and team situations to scrutinize. Stay tuned.....

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

NAACP to March at Lincoln Field for Vick

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-Digger's Daily-

ESPN ran a story Wednesday stating the NAACP, the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and other local civil rights groups are planning to march around Lincoln Field on Thursday in support of recently signed QB Michael Vick. Say it isn't so!

Eagles management tried avoiding an "ugly scene" by phoning representatives of the various groups trying to get this event canceled. The main thrust behind this event, if taken at face value, is as follows (quoted from ESPN's Sal Paolantonio article 08/26/09):

"We believe Michael Vick has served his time, paid his debt to society and deserves a second chance and the animal rights groups want to hold him hostage for the rest of his life," J. Whyatt Mondesire, president of the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP, said Wednesday. "We think that's patently unfair. It denies Michael Vick's basic civil rights, denies him his ability to make a living."

So what's wrong with this picture? Many things. Too many, too obvious. Here are a few simple questions for my readers to ponder. Didn't Michael Vick receive a second chance from the NFL? Yes. Did he or didn't he sign an employment contract to be a quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles? Yes. Was he or was he not named as starting QB for tonight's pre-season football game? Yes. Has Vick's civil rights been violated due to being incarcerated for running an illegal dog fighting ring? No.

So why is the NAACP and other civil rights groups planning to march tonight? To what end? Vick has been reinstated by the NFL giving him a right to play football (earn a living). Vick's debt to society has been served (jail term). He's a free man. While I'm certain many NFL teams did not want to take on a public image nightmare, Philadelphia took their chances. Now what? Civil rights groups will protest in contrast to the above Mondesire quote.

ESPN's story points out animal rights groups have used Vick as somewhat of a poster child attempting to garner support and awareness for abused animals. Everything from raising awareness, trying to find abused animals homes and seeking donations for helping animals subjected to cruelty. Local animal groups are trying to get the Eagles to match Vick's contract with a donation to their cause. How does this violate MV's civil rights? They have not called for any formal protests against the Eagles. Filed no petitions to have Vick terminated. Paolantonio wrote: "Local animal advocates seem to be keeping their distance. Rather than protest Vick or work with him, they prefer to use the public debate about his return to the NFL to raise money and awareness of animal cruelty issues." So what's the problem?

I fail to understand how a civil rights march outside Lincoln Field dedicated to "...(Vick) denied the ability to make a living" is supposed to help a person currently employed by the Philadelphia Eagles. Quite obviously, Vick's ability to earn a living has not been denied. How many other convicted felons sign a $1.6million contract in such a short time after being released from prison? This smells of something much deeper which I will address at a later date after tapping resources close to the situation at hand.

Let me take this one step further. What happens, who will be held responsible and accountable, if an innocent person(s) heading to the game suffers an injury if this protest turns ugly? Who will be responsible for any vandalism, property damage or civil injustices (which accompanies most large protests)? Afterall, we're talking about Philadelphia. It's one tough city and has been subject of many indecencies by unruly fans towards others. Remember hearing of temporary jails being set up at old Veterans Stadium in years past after drunken idiots started fighting or throwing objects during Phillies and Eagles games?

There are far better ways for the NAACP to bring positive attention to whatever cause they claim to be fighting. Engaging a protest in this manner, based on lack of "ability to earn a living", is a political sham devoid of fact and created for another purpose. If animal rights advocates have in any way, shape or form prevented Michael Vick from earning a living in the NFL or earning endorsements... then, NAACP should take up their cause directly with those they deem responsible by way of litigation or any other civil manner in which even the remote possibility of injury to others is not possible.

I'm curious why Paolantonio didn't interview Michael Vick for this news story? Is Vick for or against this march? How do Philadelphia Eagles players feel about it? Philadelphia police? Let's hope nothing bad comes from the march. It would be very unsettling should anyone get physically hurt or impared. In my opinion, far better venues for airing grievences can be found.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

NFL Power Rankings 2009

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-Digger's Daily-

Football gets underway in a couple of weeks. I can't wait. Fans have been treated to great football games this decade. Week after week highlight reels shine great moments from acrobatic plays to infamous football follies. Here's my own version of Power Rankings. No statistical information used, just my gut instincts used to rank teams (will be updated every 4 weeks of '09 season).

1- Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) Super Bowl Champs get early recognition. Smart play calling offensive scheme and punishing in your face defense. Repeat? Could be.

2- New England Patriots (11-5) Brady is back. Fantasy owners load up on Brady, Welker, Moss and perhaps RB Maroney. Defense is only question mark right now. Belichick one of NFL's best game day planners. Pats itching to return to Super status. 14-2 is not out of the question.

3- New York Giants (12-4) Manning signed a mega deal and wants to prove he's worth every penny. Punishing ball control running game and sack happy defenses will give opposing coordinators plenty to handle. WR remains teams biggest question mark. I'm miffed they passed on a few veteran WR's to help settle young & unproven corps. Manning needs to get these guys on the same page.

4- San Diego Chargers (8-8) Chargers biggest enemy has been terrible play calling and lack of sustained ball control. LT should be given 30 chances per game to work his magic. Rivers just signed a new deal. This team wants to win badly. Should've been 12-4 last season but lost tough games. Defense was impatient and gave up too many big plays in '08. These guys should easily record 11 wins in weak division.

5- Baltimore Ravens (11-5) I really like how this team is shaping up. Ravens remind me of Parcell's Giants teams. Ball control offense and bruising defense will be tough to beat. Strong contenders might play for AFC Championship.

6- Carolina Panthers (12-4) Great execution has been key to their success. Running game was unstoppable in '08 might be better in '09. Defense needs to set up field position. Divisional games never loomed larger.

7- Philadelphia Eagles (9-6-1) As usual, everyone seems to be on Phidelphia's bandwagon. McNabb was never sharper than he was down the stretch last season. WR's should be better which might propel this squad from a should be good team to a bonified winner. Health is always a concern. Westbrook, McNabb and lineman must stay injury free. Execution on offense in key situations has always haunted Philly. Defense will have plenty of tough matchups in divisional games. It'll be an anything can happen season. They do look very strong on paper.

8- Indianapolis Colts (12-4) Indy has been written off as an over the hill team. You can bet Peyton Manning isn't going down without a fight. Big play offense and big play defense. Manning needs to open up the offense after a conservative '08. Let the chips fall where they may. Colts are far from done.

9- Tennessee Titans (13-3) Tennessee's running game played huge during their 13 win '08. Collins returns as their main signal caller. Great coaching staff. Stingy defense. Collins has to make big passes when called on. Titans looking tough but I expect defenses to be ready for them this year.

10 - Chicago Bears (9-7) Welcome Jay Cutler. Who knows how far the Bears can go. If D gives them field position and Cutler can lead this offense then skies the limit. Bears are dangerous because no one, not even themselves, know how good they can be. WR's have tremendous speed. Hands? We'll soon find out. Offensive line will be creative opening running lanes and out of pocket pass protection.

11- Minnesota Vikings (10-6) Hopefully, Minnesota learned something the Jets refused to do last year. Call plays Favre has worked on in practice. Another dangerous NFC North team will give Chicago a run for division honors. Favre has something to prove after various outspoken persons denounced his '09 return. Vikings have super talent on offense with slippery dynamo Peterson and a slew of speed burning receivers. Favre has plenty of weapons. Defensively, this unit is on the rise via speed and power. Look out... if Favre is effective Minnesota will quickly become one of NFC's top squads.

12- Atlanta Falcons (11-5) I really can't explain why Atlanta remains relatively low on my list. Ryan, Turner, Tony Gonzalez and talented WR's. I guess it's because I remain skeptical of their D. Offense should put up big numbers. Not sure what to expect from defense. A wild card challenger and exciting to watch. Wins might be tough to come by this year.

13- Seattle Seahawks (4-12) Yep, that's right. Forget about Seattle's dismal injury plagued '08. It's a new season for a team with greater potential. Not many give Seattle a fighting chance. A healthy Hasselback will have plenty of weapons. Defense will not spend nearly as much time on the field as Hawks return to ball control team. They'll win the NFC West.

14- Dallas Cowboys (9-7) Why can't Cowboys win in September? Play calling? Bickering? I'm calling it lack of leadership. New Cowboys Stadium may inspire these guys. NFL rules committee may need to address looming issue of punters hitting the overhead scoreboard. 'Boys offense should thrive but seems to stall due to bad penalties. Defense has it's moments. Special teams has unmatched breakaway play speed. NFC is toughest. Dallas will need to be in top form every play.

15- Miami Dolphins (11-5) Miami stunned AFC East teams by winning 11 after a 1 win year in '08. Pennington remains one of NFL's best play action passers. WR's huge question mark and should see plenty of single coverages early on. It's all about running setting up passing plays. Wildcat offense kept opposing D's off balance. Dolphins D remains solid. Can't see them catching a Brady-led Pats team but these guys have an outside shot at challenging for wild card.

16-32 A few good teams with enough talent to challenge. Saints, Packers, Texans & Cards will have their moments. Not much to be said in positive light for remaining teams facing long, hard, losing seasons.

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Monday, August 24, 2009

MLB Power Rankings

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-Digger's Daily-

It's been a busy few weeks in MLB. The strong keep getting stronger. Not too long ago, all six divisions were very close. As I type, now there's only two divisions with second place teams within 5 games of the leaders. Wild Card races had important battles this weekend and remains wide open as August winds down. Here's my two cents and personal power rankings.

1- New York Yankees (78-46) Red hot. Lineup is firing on all cylinders. Starting pitchers perfoming well. Best record in baseball.

2- Los Angeles Angels (74-48) Survived key injuries to pitchers and hitters. A complete team. Only one player in lineup batting below .290.

3- Los Angeles Dodgers (74-41) Very balanced team in all facets. Colorado is charging hard after LA had rushed out to a big lead.

4- St Louis Cardinals (72-54) I didn't give StL too much credit heading out of spring training. They're looking very strong right now. Matt Holliday was a key deadline deal solidifying an increasingly dangerous lineup.

5- Philadelphia Phillies (71-50) Streaking Phils running away with NL East (as of now). Glaring weakness is bullpen. Starters going strong. Ryan Howard has finally awaken. Haven't played any strong teams lately.

6- Colorado Rockies (70-54) NL Wild Card leaders closing in on NL division leading LA. One of MLB's hottest teams is looking very strong. Starting pitchers playing their hearts out.

7- Texas Rangers (69-54) In a seesaw wild card battle with Boston. Rangers pitching has been a pleasant surprise. Only 5-5 in past 10 is raising a few question marks.

8- Boston Red Sox (70-53) Pitching is a major problem in Boston. Once hot hitting lineup only getting it done in spurts. Tough 2 of 3 loss to Yanks this weekend exposed a few flaws.

9- Tampa Bay Rays (67-56) Great home record (42-21), terrible away (25-35). They need a hot streak.

10- Detroit Tigers (62-58) Not really a top 10 team but they get this mark by me for being AL Central division leaders. Strong team beginning to struggle. Rest of division has not taken advantage when Tigers stumble.

11- Atlanta Braves (66-58) Braves have been playing well even though they've lost ground to Phils. Atlanta needs a hot streak to keep pace with both Philly & Colorado.

12- SF Giants (67-57) Fell off the pace for NL West title. Remains very much in wild card picture. Lincecum hasn't won in his past 4 starts.

13- Florida Marlins (65-59) They're beginning to drop back and will have to turn it around to keep pace with hotter NL teams. More conistency needed from lineup... quickly.

14- Chicago White Sox (63-61) Fiery Ozzie Guillen will be gone after this season. Team can't find a way to score runs. Underachievers should be in AL Cetral drivers seat. There's still hope even though these guys haven't awaken from sleep walking thru 2009 season.

15-30: Does it really matter? Not many bright spots here. Major disappointments or train wreck seasons continue to haunt these teams. Most notably... Chicago Cubs.

Stay tuned for my NFL power rankings due later this week.

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Friday, August 21, 2009

WAR TIME! Big Weekend in MLB Pennant Races

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-Digger's Daily-

Approximately 40 regular season games remain in 2009 Major League Baseball. This weekend highlights key matchups which could mean rise or fall for teams fighting for the playoffs. Sweeps could make or break squads looking to secure their fate.

Yankees @ Red Sox:
Yanks swept Boston at home last week and are red hot owning MLB's best record (76-45). They'll be playing in Fenway Park this weekend. If Yanks sweep again, then AL East is a virtual lock. Yanks sending their top guns to the hill trying to finish off Boston. Red Sox are in a very tight battle to save their injury riddled season. A three game sweep by their hated rivals could put playoff hopes in jeopardy with Texas, Tampa and Chicago still fighting for wild card births.
Pitching matchups: Pettitte vs Penny, Burnett vs Tazawa, Sabathia vs Beckett (ESPN Sunday Night Baseball).
My two cents: I really like New York's pitching matchup advantages. Yanks bats are on fire and I think Friday/Saturday games are locks. Sunday's game will be on ESPN and is a great game on paper with CC vs Yanks killer Beckett. Yanks walk away with at least two wins and probably a sweep.

Giants @ Rockies:
Giants season could be on the line this weekend. They trail Colorado by two games in wild card standings and LA by 5.5 for NL West. Rockies are red hot as they inch closer to NL leading LA (3.5 behind). Colorado has won 14 of 20, SF 3 of 4. These teams have split 8 previous contests. Home field advantage favors Colorado since SF doesn't play well on the road (27-35). A sweep by Rockies will put them firmly in wild card lead.
Pitching matchups: Sanchez vs Cook, Martinez vs De La Rosa, Lincecum vs Jiminez
My two cents: I see Rockies sweeping SF. Huge advantage for Colorado in first two games on paper. Lincecum is Cy Young winner as of now in my book and will be tough to beat in Sunday's game but Jiminez is ready to go pitch for pitch as SF's lineup is one of MLB's weakest. Rockies will keep on rolling.

Cubs @ Dodgers:
Cubs are in trouble losing 10 of 14. It's all or nothing time. If they sweep LA then they have a chance to get back into the playoff race. Sweep by LA essentially kills their season. Dodgers are trying to keep hold of NL West as Colorado is hot on the trail. Chicago is baseball's most underperforming team. LA is right where most expected. Big weekend for both but losses by the Cubbies will be devasting.
Pitching matchups: Wells vs Wolf, Lilly vs Haeger, Dempster vs Billingsley
My two cents: Rotation matchups are relatively even on paper. Cubs starters have hurled fairly well. They must go deep into games or miserable bullpen is primed to hand away more games. Chicago relievers are the reason why this club is on the verge of being eliminated. Torre will have his club ready to go. LA will take 2 of 3.

Rangers @ Rays:
Perhaps the most important weekend of the Rangers season so far. Texas trails Boston by 1 and leads Tampa by 3 in wild card standings. Red Sox will have their hands full vs red hot Yanks. This is a playoff style weekend for Rangers players. Will they be ready to play? Tampa has been struggling for consistency since July. Win a few, lose a few for last years' AL World Series runner-ups. Rangers swept their only previous meeting and need to do it again. It's a pretty even matchup as both teams can hit and pitch.
Pitching matchups: Nippert Vs Kazmir, Hunter vs Garza, Feldman vs Price
My two cents: I had to look twice before typing this part. Yes, the Rangers have a decidedly better rotation matchup on paper (22-7 vs 20-20). Who would have thought it possible back in April? Tampa plays well at home (40-20). This will be playoff-like atmosphere coming from Florida's west coast. As a former Texan, I'm rooting for the Rangers... no doubt about it. Rangers will dominate as pitchers lead the way.

Marlins @ Braves:
Playoffs on the line for both NL East clubs tied with identical 64-57 records. Must win games for both clubs to stay within striking distance of first place Phils (playing lowly Mets) and wild card leading Colorado. Marlins were hot until dropping 2 of 3 in Houston. Braves 12-6 August has them believing but dropped 2 of 3 at home to Phils in beginning of the week.
Pitching matchups: Sanchez vs Vasquez, Volstad vs Hanson, Nolasco vs Lowe
My two cents: Braves strutting out their top 3 starters to drown the free swinging fish. Bobby Cox has them ready to go. Braves will take at least 2 of 3 in front of their vocal fans.

We're approaching one of my favorite times of the year in sports. Baseball's pennant fever has begun early and NFL regular season openers are just around the corner (Sept 10). This will be a fun weekend for watching ballgames.

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

NFL 2009 Predictions

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-Digger's Daily-

Training camp competitions have been fierce this summer. Teams are getting ready to break camp in anticipation of regular season gridiron wars. There's been plenty of speculation surrounding many teams. How long before T.O. mouths off in Buffalo? Will Cowboys finally win a playoff game? Is Philadelphia the NFC East team to beat? Can Bears live up to potential with Cutler? Is New England ready to dominate with Brady returning from injury? Who's the best? Who's the worst?

Here's my shot at predicting the final standings for 2009...

New England - Brady's back which means load up your fantasy teams with Patriot players.
Miami - Getting stronger but questions still remain at WR.
Buffalo - Owens brings plenty of baggage but hasn't flipped out yet. Solid team still lacking offensive prowess.
New York - Finally a head coach (Ryan) worth noting for Jets. He'll get this team playing hard every week. It won't be long before Jets become an AFC force.

Pittsburgh - Don't bet against the returning Super Bowl Champs. Roethlisberger injured today (ankle) but hasn't diminished chances of repeating. Hungry talented team might return and repeat.
Baltimore - Impressed in '08 and should be better in '09. Will play tough all season and could win North.
Cincinnati - Distant 3rd. One of NFL's worst organizations. Will score plenty but give up more than they can handle.
Cleveland - Not looking good for these guys. 4 wins could be tough to find.

Indianapolis - Not ready to bet against Manning even if Colts aren't what they once were.
Tennessee - Head Coach Fisher continues to squeeze every ounce of talent from each player. Competitive team even when not matching up player vs player against opponents on paper.
Houston - '09 will prove if these guys are for real. If so, then they'll challenge for wild card.
Jacksonville - Used to be a fun team to watch. Fans might be watching with two hands in front of their faces this year.

San Diego - Hopefully coach Turner has learned from last years early season woes. Chargers should be a run first team. Turner likes to pass. Weak division might cloud playcalling decisions when playoffs roll around.
Denver - Many off season moves trying to correct major flaws. Should be better but not playoff bound.
Kansas City- New look Chiefs will get scalped in '09. Not a bright future for this proud organization.
Oakland - Rowdy fans will litter the field. Raiders haven't been good in years.

New York - Great running game. Punishing defensive line. Maturing QB. WR's a huge question mark but this is one of NFL's best disciplined and hungry teams. Great team chemistry.
Philadelphia - Over hyped? Or, ready to rumble? We'll soon find out. Tough team if they can avoid usual costly injuries.
Dallas - Debut of new $1billion stadium. Haven't won a playoff game in years. Always plenty of headline drama and September collapses.
Washington - The NY Mets of the NFL. Spend, spend, spend and remain uncompetitive in strong division.

Chicago - Bears hoping new QB Cutler is the difference in NFL's most well balanced division. Defense is pumped and ready to inflict pain.
Minnesota - Favre is back and getting ripped on sports pages from Green Bay to New York. He'll be just fine guiding an up and coming team. Minnesota is getting better by the day. Favre will shut up naysayers early and often.
Green Bay - Exposed in '08 will struggle to play .500 ball in '09. Defense needs to step it up for Packers to climb out of 3rd.
Detroit - Must win early on to remove '08 demons. Cash for Clunkers expires Monday. Long year for Lions. Good news is they won't be winless in '09.

Carolina - Running game was unreal last year. My pick to score most points in NFC. Should reach NFC Championship Game.
Atlanta - Had a great '08 when no one expected them to win. Now, many expect them to win. Will they?
New Orleans - Brees challenged Marino's single season passing yardage record. It's a throw first team which means their subpar defense will spend too much time on the field. Expect combined 60+ points weekly from offense/defense.
Tampa Bay - Did I read a prediction claiming TB will be winless? Don't expect much from this team in transition.

Seattle - Injuries and misque's in '08. They'll be much better and win NFC's weakest division.
Arizona - Cards got hot just at the right time last year and shocked the NFL by reaching the Super Bowl. My gut feeling as of now is they'll be lucky to win 7 in '09.
San Francisco - Still a learning process for 49ers. If they get a couple of breaks then they might surprise a few opponents. Not expecting much from them again in '09.
St Louis - Now here's a team with a chance to go winless. Not good in any facet of the game. 3 wins might be considered a good season from this squad.

Wild Card Teams: AFC - Tennessee, Baltimore; NFC - Philadelphia, Minnesota
Super Bowl: Pittsburgh vs Carolina

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Most Memorable Losers

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-Digger's Daily-

Remember the Yankees Dynasty? Boston Red Sox curse breaking championship team? Don Shula's Miami Dolphins perfect season? Chicago Bears? Montreal Canadiens? Wayne Gretzky's Edmonton Oilers? Larry Bird's Boston Celtics vs Los Angeles Lakers Magic & Kareem? Chicago Bulls with Michael Jordan? Of course, most of us do. Those were some of sports greatest teams. How about those teams thousands of fans have tried wiping out of their memories? Winless teams or squads who might just have won by mistake? I had fun looking up some of my personal favorite All Time Losers. Here's my short list...

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1976-77) - Qualifying as one of the very worst teams in sports history. Tampa lost all games in their inaugural season (0-14). They didn't score a point until week 3 and were shut out 5 times in '76. Bucs continued to lose in 1977 (season 2) by dropping 12 straight bringing their franchise record to 0-26 before finally winning a game. They were the butt of late night talk show jokes. One of my favorite quotes ever stated by a head coach was made by Tampa's John McKay. McKay had been one of college's top head coaches leading USC to four national titles before agreeing to become Tampa's historic first coach. When reporters asked "What do you think of your team's execution?"... McKay was quick to reply "I'm all for it!"

New York Mets (1962) - Mets first season record still holds baseball's futility record, 40-120. Their only highlight was employing one of baseball's most colorful managers, Casey Stengel. Casey spoke a language of his own making and once quipped "They have shown me ways to lose I never knew existed."

Detroit Lions (2008) - Last season, Detroit accomplished the unthinkable in modern day NFL. 0-16! After years of top round draft picks the Lions were supposed to be stocked with talent capable of winning games. Someone forgot to tell them. Can you believe many have high hopes for the 2009 team?

Philadelphia 76ers (1972-73) - There wasn't much brotherly love in Philly during the 9 win 1972-73 season. 9-73 made for an anemic .110 winning percentage.

Dallas Cowboys (1989) - Jimmy Johnson's first NFL coaching season (former U of Miami championship coach) replacing a Dallas legend (Tom Landry) was painful to watch. 1-15 and lucky to win at all. Coaching errors & inept player performances in a city used to winning. Good news came soon thereafter as Cowboys quickly returned to dominating status during their Super Bowl runs of the 1990's.

Miami Dolphins (2007) - Dolphins began with 13 consecutive defeats before finally winning a game (1-15). Almost became first franchise to be winless & undefeated (1972). They were terrible but rebounded to win AFC East last season.

New Orleans Saints (1980) - New Orleans fans were more innovative than their team. After suffering through ugly loss after loss fans started wearing brown paper bags on their heads and renamed the Saints to the "Ain'ts". Would have gone winless (1-15) if it wasn't for a fluke closing minutes 21-20 victory against New York Jets.

Lovable losers roam throughout the sporting world. Stay tuned for future updates on this topic. Many more teams qualify. These were some of my personal most memorable losers.

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Instant Sensations - Players Who Electrified Sports

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-Digger's Daily-

Every few years a new sports figure becomes an instant sensation as soon as they step on a diamond, gridiron, hardwood floor, ice rink, boxing ring, olympic stadium, ski slope, race track, soccer field or center court. Sometimes they follow it up with tremendous careers. Sometimes they're just one hit wonders. Either way, their initial presence in sporting arenas will always be remembered. Here's a few stars which come to mind from during my lifetime....

Tiger Woods - Broke into golf scene and instantly ignited fan participation, viewership, record revenues. Still climbing up the record book ladder shattering scores along the way. Will probably own every major record before his career ends. Popularity unmatched.

Michael Jordan - "Air Jordan" could do it all and was an instant NBA highlight reel the first day he stepped foot onto pro basketball court (1984) after a great college career in North Carolina. A true statesman for his game. 6 time NBA Champ, NBA career best 30.1 scoring average, 5 MVP's, 6 Playoff MVP's. Nike endorsed sneakers sold more than any brand.

Lawrence Taylor - "LT" Taylor was a force to be reckoned with the very first time he stepped foot on the gridiron. He was such a dominant defender teams tried designing plays in the opposite direction. One of NFL's smartest linebackers wreaked havoc while lining up at diffent positions. 10 Pro Bowls and 2 Super Bowl Championships. LT was the greatest modern era LB and remains a local fan hero.

Wayne Gretzky - "The Great One" - In my book he was the single most dominant player in any major sport. 9 time NHL MVP including a stunning 8 in his first 8 seasons! Scored 200 points in 4 different seasons. There wasn't anything he couldn't do with a hockey puck. Revolutionized hockey in America.

Dan Marino - Legendary coach Don Shula knew exactly what he had in future Hall of Fame QB Marino. Marino became Dolphins starter in 1983 and quickly changed how Miami played football from grind it out to air it out. 1984 was first QB to pass for more than 5000 yards in a single season with a record 48 TD passes. Tabbed as having one of the quickest releases ever. Led Dolphins to Super Bowl in his first full NFL season (lost to Joe Montana's SF 49ers). Marino was certain he'd win a few Super Bowls but 1984 was his only appearance.

Joe Montana - "Joe Cool" was one of NFL's greatest clutch performers. Career 117-47 record in 15 NFL seasons. Threw 45 career playoff TD's. 4 Super Bowl Championships including in his first season a full time 49ers starting QB. Memorable come from behind victories during regular season, playoffs and Super Bowl. One of the greatest true winners who never seemed flustered... always cool under pressure.

Mario Lemieux - NHL legend quickly established himself as one of games greatest scorers. Instant Pittsburgh role model, fan favorite and folk hero led Penguins to back to back Stanley Cup Championships. Helped save pro hockey in Pittsburgh as a player and after he retired when team was rumored to be leaving town. Played his guts out thru seasons shortened by injury and cancer survivor. A true champion of life.

Fernando Valenzuela - "Fernando Mania" was a Hollywood story. He won both 1981 Rookie of the Year and Cy Young Awards during his first full MLB season hurling the LA Dodgers to a World Series Championship. His career spanned 17 years.

Ichiro Suzuki - "Ichiro" was a Japanese baseball star long before electrifying crowds throughout American stadiums during his 2001 MVP & Rookie of the Year campaign. Cameras seemed to follow him everywhere. Has connected for 200 or more hits and 100 or more runs in every single MLB season including setting the All Time single season hits record of 262 (2004). Superb outfield defender, contact hitter and base stealer.

Dwight Gooden - NY Mets starting pitcher quickly earned nickname of Dr K (Doc). Exploded on the baseball circuit as 1984 Rookie of the Year & Cy Young runner-up after striking out 276 batters in 218 IP. Won Cy Young unanimously following sophmore season after going 24-4, 1.53. It seemed he was well on his way to becoming one of the greatest pitchers in MLB history before cocaine abuse changed his future. Still one of the most popular NY sports figures. Enjoyed a fine career but most of us know he never fulfilled potential due to drug abuse.

Perhaps I'll revisit this topic in the near future. Many names could be added to this list from players like Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Earl Campbell, Bo Jackson, Deon Sanders, Rickey Henderson, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Martin Brodeur, Jeff Gordon, Fred Lynn, Jim Rice, etc. Join the fun & post your instant sensations or past fan favorites.

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Pennant Fever - NL West

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-Digger's Daily-

Welcome to my final August installment of pennant fever blogs. Time to shift focus to the NL West. Joe Torre's Los Angeles Dodgers have been dominating play. San Francisco is the NL's surprise team thanks to a splendid 1-2 rotation knockout punch. Colorado has been surging after firing Clint Hurdle. Cellar dwelling Arizona has much work to do before they return to respectability. Here's how I see things shaping up the rest of the way.

Los Angeles Dodgers (69-47) owned baseball's best record most of the year. They remind me of Torre's young Yankees teams from the 90's Series winning years. LA has been in control only having trailed for six days way back in April. Dodgers are very deep and continued piling up runs even when Manny Ramirez was suspended for 50 games. Fundamentally sound team ranking near the top in NL team stats - fielding (2nd), batting (1st) and pitching (2nd). A complete team effort without prima donna type clubhouse distractions. Torre kept these guys focused during the Manny PED suspension saga. It's been all business this year as LA seeks a return to World Series play for the first time since 1988. Only stretch drive weakness seems to be 5th starter and a lackluster beginning to this month (5-8). Very young nucleus (Loney, Kemp, Ethier, Martin, Billingsley, Kershaw, Braxton) almost guarantees success for many years to come. Torre needs to keep this team focused over the final 6 weeks. NL's top team.

Colorado Rockies (64-52) were struggling (18-28) before Hurdle was fired and replaced by Jim Tracy. They've gone 46-24 since to firmly plant themselves in the thick of pennant fever. Colorado has climbed into the Wild Card lead and trail LA by only 5 games. Everyone expected the Rockies to hit well in the thin air of spacious Coors Field. However, it's been pitching which has turned the Rockies season around (Jiminez, Cook and a career year by Marquis). Offense has been getting it done from top to bottom. I believe they have what it takes to make the playoffs. But, I can't see them going to far as pitching matchups will hurt them in post season play. LA, Philadelphia and St. Louis sport far more talented pitching staffs. Sometimes all it takes is a hot team to advance and nobody knows this better than the Rockies. Their incredible finish to the 2007 is still fresh in their minds. Watch out LA... these guys may do it again!

San Francisco Giants (62-53) are NL's surprise team of 2009. Not many expected good things from this team which had baseball's weakest lineup coming out of spring training. Starting pitcher and last seasons Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum (12-3, 2.19, 205 K) has been sensational again in '09 and appears well on his way to bring home the hardware once again. This kid is the real deal. #2 in SF's rotation is Matt Cain (12-4, 2.44) who is giving Lincecum a run for his money. These two are clearly the reason why SF is challenging (currently 6.5 behind LA). On offense, it's only Pablo Sandoval who is putting up good numbers (.329, 33 2B, 17 HR). Giants offense doesn't scare anyone. They've only scored 4 or more runs in 11 of their past 29 games. One game over .500 in past 39 contests and probably won't keep pace with other wild card contenders unless opponents stumble. San Francisco's future is bright if they can add a few hitters.

Prediction: LA, Colorado, SF. I'd like to see Torre's Dodgers vs his old Yanks in the World Series. Colorado will give LA a run for their money. I see them as NL Wild Card team which doesn't bode well for Phillies fans since I predicted Atlanta to win East. We'll soon see how it all plays out.

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Friday, August 14, 2009

Pennant Fever - NL Central

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-Digger's Daily-

What's happened to NL Central teams? On July 28th, only 4.5 games separated four powerhouse ballclubs. Not anymore. Milwaukee and Houston are heading backwards. Chicago is riding a 5 game losing streak. St. Louis has won 7 of 10 and leads by 4 games. All four teams can wreck baseballs. Cardinals pitching is the only staff not getting creamed. Here's how I see things shaping up.

St. Louis Cardinals (64-52) sport the Central's best manager (Tony LaRussa). His team has survived injuries all season long and are poised to run away with the division title. Key trading deadline deals netted versatile multi-positional Mark DeRosa and LF Matt Holliday. Holliday struggled much of the first half playing for Oakland. Right now, he's MLB's hottest hitter. As a Cardinal he's batting .484 in 18 games with an OPS of 1.319... outstanding! Cards are led by my pick for NL MVP Albert Pujols who might become the first player in decades to win a Triple Crown. Chris Carpenter has been lights out since returning from injury (12-3, 2.27). Closer Ryan Franklin is having the best season of his 10 year career (2-1, 1.20, 28 Saves). Everything has been going the Cards way after struggling in May/June. 24-14 lately and beginning to pull away from the pack. Cards match up well against every NL team.

Chicago Cubs (58-54) have driven manager Lou Piniella nuts all season long. As usual, this was to be their year. In typical Chicago Cubs style, they've been a major disappointment. They're a deep team who seemed lost when key injuries struck (Soto, Ramirez, Harden and now Zambrano). Lineup never gelled and relievers have handed away games. Derrek Lee has been the only brightspot in the Cubbies lineup. Starting pitchers have been pretty good until recently but have fallen victim to shoddy late inning relief. Quite frankly, I don't know how Piniella hasn't exploded. On paper, this was to be a team challenging for 100 wins. They had one great month notching 18 July victories. Then came August... and a current 5 game losing streak. They're not playing well against the NL's better teams. Not a good sign of things to come.

Milwaukee Brewers (56-58) was predicted by many to be the team to beat... they were right. Everyone is starting to beat them up. Hitters, as I predicted, have squandered opportunity after opportunity and defense has been terrible. Throw in a lousy pitching staff and no deadline deals... these guys are lucky to be only 7 games behind St. Louis. When the Brewers lineup gets hot, they can hit homers at will. However, way too many strikeouts kill rallies. 4 players currently on pace for more than 100 K's. It would have been 6 players but 2 have lost their starting jobs. Pitching STINKS except for closer Trevor Hoffman. This is a team in dire need of being taught basic baseball fundamentals. I've said this year after year. Front office failing to bring in a front line starting pitcher was a major mistake. Brewers will win a handful of games. They might even catch a winning streak. Too little too late. Front office gave up on this season by not making a legit effort to solidify pitching staff for the stretch run.

Houston Astros (56-59) were coming on strong after a dismal 20-29 to begin the year. They were only 1 game out on July 22nd. They've slipped to 7.5 games back and a sub .500 record. Blame it on the starting rotation which now has 3 hurlers sporting shoddy ERA's over 5.00... yikes. Astros staff has surrendered 6 or more runs in 8 of past 14 games including 4 double digit implosions. Hitters are plating runs but can't keep up with horrid pitchers. It's safe to say they'll continue free falling out of contention before this month ends.

Prediction: NL Cental was one of the most exciting until recently. It's tough to watch these guys pitch. St. Louis runaway winners. No team will challenge for Wild Card.

Stay tuned... NL West on deck.

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

High School Junor Signs Pro Contract in Israel

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-Digger's Daily-

I came across a human interest sports story a few moment ago worthy of blogging. A San Diego high school junior is so "bored" with his current level of competition he decided to become the first American player to drop out and sign a $140,000 one year professional contract with a foreign team.

Jeremy Tyler (6-11, 260lbs) has been signed to play in Israel's Premier League with Maccabi Haifa. He found high school play extremely boring because of constant triple teams game after game and decided to turn pro. Tyler averaged 28.7 points per game last season and his goal is to become one of the greatest players ever. Isn't this every kids dream? To become the best.

I've never seen this kid play, not even highlights. Is opting out of high school in his best interests? He'll be playing in a pro league with skilled players. A far cry from high school players half his size with half the smarts. He wants to play against men to prove his worth. He'll get his shot playing against men far more mentally challenging. His big frame will be challenged often. Tyler expects to gain pro experience playing for Maccabi before returning in hopes of being drafted by an NBA team in 2011.

There are two ways to gauge this story. 1) He's either the next natural superstar in the making... or... 2) He's flat out foolish giving up a diploma to get pounded night after night by men just as, if not more, physical and experienced. I'll stick with #2 for now. If Jeremy is as good as he believes in his own mind then why blow a free ride towards stardom? He's obviously a dominant force on a high school level with natural abilities to score 28.7 ppg against triple teams (even if they're half his size). I hope he proves me wrong and is the real deal. It's one heck of a risk to take. If he gets clipped and injured, his stock will drop dramatically. Then again, "winners" always go for it. If Tyler is truly a natural then more power to him.

According to Maccabi's team website... "Tyler's size and natural talent will present matchup problems in our favor against other teams in Israel," said Coach Avi Ashkenazi. "We know Tyler is hungry to prove himself on the court. We look forward to him developing over the course of the season and improving our team."

If it's experience Tyler seeks, he's about to get it in a hurry. Last season Maccabi Haifa played in their first Premier League Championship Game and State League Finals. Training camp begins at the end of this month. He'll be playing with former USA college players and the reigning MVP of the Puerto Rican League.

I'll be keeping a close eye on this story. The Premier League begins play in October. Good luck kid. It would be great seeing the next true natural star live up to his dream of becoming the best.
All World All Sports

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Pennant Fever - NL East

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-Digger's Daily-

National League baseball has been topsy turvy all season long. Classic battles are raging in each division. Teams in the playoff hunt had better beware of potential spoilers filled with players looking to secure their futures. Washington ran off 8 straight wins this month. San Diego 4 of 5. Arizona is 7-4 in August. No lead is safe as summertime heat gets turned up full throttle. My take on the NL East....

World Series Champs Philadelphia Phillies (62-48) have their fans sitting on edge lately. After a 20-7 July, they're stumbling in August (3-6). The suddenly surging Marlins swept three in Philly including a final game 12-3 romp over vet Moyer who lost his rotation spot to Pedro Martinez. Pedro makes his first start of 2009 for his new team tonight. Phils lineup is struggling to plate runs and bullpen woes continue to haunt. Closing in quickly is Florida (5 wins in a row) and Atlanta (4 in a row). When will Ryan Howard stop striking out at alarming rates (137 in 109 games)? I'm guessing the Phils are having a temporary lull and will snap out of it. Question is ... will they wake up before it's too late? I'm beginning to believe they will have a hard time qualifying as a wild card.

Florida Marlins (60-52) 5 straight wins has them hot on Phillies tail trailing by 3.5 games. These young Marlins can smell blood and are starting to believe. Florida's recently history has been to fade down the stretch. Right now, their bats are alive and well after struggling to find consistency most of the season. If their pitchers can start keeping teams to 4 or less runs then watch out... these fish will swim. I like the Marlins. They play inspired baseball with nothing to lose since no one expects them to win. Dangerous team if they stay hot.

Atlanta Braves (59-54) have come alive winning 4 in a row and 6 of 7. Since June 28th, they're 25-14. It's been all about pitching for the Braves. Rotation is getting stronger. Vasquez (2.90 ERA), Jurrjens (3.01), Hanson (3.05), Kawakami (4.12) & Lowe (4.15) compose the best cumulative 1-5 rotation in NL. Team ERA is 3.70. If Atlanta has one weakness, it's their lack of power. Chipper Jones leads with 15 HR's. They manage to score runs even without big power numbers. New acquisitions have helped energize their attack (Church, LaRoche). Bullpen has been very stingy and effective. Manager Bobby Cox is showing why he's one of baseball's best. Watch out for the Braves! I've never been a big Braves "fan". As of this very moment, they're the most well balanced team in the East. History shows, good pitching wins games. Braves sporting East's best staff top to bottom and will silence opponents down the stretch.

Prediction: Atlanta wins East in final week. I'll reserve judgement on whether or not Philadelphia has enough in the tank for a wild card birth. Marlins pitching needs to get better for them to make a September surge. 1-Atlanta, 2-Philadelphia, 3-Florida.

On deck... NL Central.

All World All Sports

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Pennant Fever - AL West

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-Digger's Daily-

AL West 2009 has been a great division to follow. Los Angeles, Texas & Seattle have had their moments of greatness and disappointments. Pre-season favorite LA is holding a slim 3 game lead over Texas. Seattle began April on fire, fizzled in May and continues to hang tough even after trading one of their top starters (Washburn). The summer heat is on. Don't count any of these clubs out just yet, especially when considering wild card implications. Here's my read on how the West will be won.

Los Angeles (65-44) has been a model unit showing others how a team decimated by injury can succeed. Manager Mike Scioscia continues to make all the right moves night after night. It's been a complete team effort on both sides of the diamond. Kendry Morales (1B) is having a career year and might be team MVP. Hunter had been an AL MVP candidate until injuries sidelined one of the games best OF's. Guerrero has been in and out of their lineup battling nagging injuries all season long. It doesn't seem to make any difference who Scioscia inserts in daily lineups. Angels find a way to win. They're 56-32 after a rough beginning (April 9-12). Starting pitchers might be their only weak spot come playoff time. Southpaw Saunders has been getting roughed up lately after a great first half. Ervin Santana has yet to find his stride after returning from injury (4-6, 7.20). Team ERA is an unusually high 4.70 and must come down if Scioscia's squad wants to advance beyond the first round against what will certainly be heavy hitting playoff opponents. If the starting rotation faulters or if their fragile arms fall off later this summer ... then look out. Texas is a hungry team hot for their first division title since 1999.

Texas Rangers (62-48) led the West for more games than any team in this division. As usual, their lineup is explosive. It's been Texas' pitchers hurling the surprises (team ERA 4.18). Rangers staff has been a consistent disappointment for years. It's been a pleasant surprise and key to their '09 success. I've always been a fan of Texas baseball. Usually sounding off on how they never seem to sign good pitchers and I still hold this theory. However, they're finally doing something right this year on the hill. Will they continue to win or will they do the usual Texas fade in sweltering 100 degree heat? It remains to be seen. It's been a relatively injury free season (except for '08 surprise Hamilton). Rangers lineup is a wrecking crew when on their game. Swing and miss when off. I'm rooting for them to pass LA for the West crown. Texas is also a wild card contender as of now. I was very disturbed when they didn't trade for a veteran winner (pitcher) to help down the stretch. There's still a chance for a waiver wire deal but it's highly unlikely. The good news here is Texas has owned both LA (9-3) and Seattle (9-3). Winning ways must continue vs these division rivals or the Rangers will be on the outside looking in once again.

Seattle Mariners (58-53) will be included in my pennant fever report based solely on their record even though it appears management has thrown in the towel. They have an outside shot (at best) of winning the West ... but, remain very much in the wild card hunt (for now). I don't think the M's will hang around much longer especially since they traded away a key hurler (Washburn). If they are to stay in the hunt then Felix Hernandez and Eric Bedard will have to win nearly every single remaining starting assignment. 447 total runs scored by their offense is 2nd lowest in AL. Seattle has been fading of late and I project them to finish double digit games out of first place.

Prediction: LA, Texas, Seattle. Texas will just miss on both West and wild card in season's final week.

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Monday, August 10, 2009

Pennant Fever - AL Central

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-Digger's Daily-

AL Central is currently engaged in a three team dogfight as Cleveland and KC have played their way out of contention. It'll be a winner take all as I see no way any of these teams will qualify as wild card winners. Detroit, Chicago & Minnesota have motivating managers challenging their teams to step it up in summer months as they claw tooth and nail to become division champs. A long winning streak could very well decide which team heads to the playoffs.

Detroit (59-51) stands alone leading the Central by 3 games. They made a key acquisition before the trading deadline by getting Jarrod Washburn from Seattle. Washburn had been 8-6, 2.64 (1.086 WHIP) before heading to the Motor City. Unfortunately, he's been hit hard in two games for his new squad (0-2, 8.74). Tigers rotation is anchored by Justin Verlander (12-6, 3.45) & Edwin Jackson (8-6, 2.62). Leyland's offense has been inconsistent but gets the job done. AL MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera has been sensational as the lineups lone standout star (.330, 23 HR, 67 RBI). What's happened to Magglio Ordonez? 2007's MVP runnerup has been in Leyland's doghouse and now plays on a platoon basis. Detroit is hungry for another World Series appearance (2006). Mixed results in head to head competition against Minnesota (4-7) & Chicago (7-5). I like the Tigers and believe they'll win AL Central.

Chicago (57-55) has endured a rollercoaster type season. Win a few, lose a few has led to a three game deficit. Front three starters have looked very good at times. Buerhle pitched a perfect game vs Tampa Bay July 23rd. In his next start he had a no-no going vs Minnesota for six innings before getting bombed and it's been a rocky road since losing 3 straight to drop his record to 11-6). Rotations 4-5 starters haven't been good at all and unless they start showing some life, Chicago will be doomed. Ozzie Guillen's lineup has been streaky too which has been giving this firebrand manager fits. White Sox losing record vs both Detroit (5-7) and Minnesota (5-7) will have to change down the stretch or these guys will be cooked. ChiSox are a dangerous team when everyone is contributing. I think they're hitters are just as good as Detroit. For some reason, they just can't seem to get out of their own way which is probably due to lack of consistency from the pitchers.

Low budget Minnesota (54-57) has lost 6 of 8 to begin August and trail by 5.5 games. Twins starting rotation hasn't performed well this season and is the main reason they're in third place. Minnesota plays great defense (.988 2nd), tied for 3rd in AL hitting .270. However, pitchers have a less than stellar 4.66 ERA and opponents are bruising the staff with a .273 average. Only one current starter has an ERA below 4.85... ouch! I've always enjoyed watching this fundamentally sound team play ball. This just isn't their season and didn't make any trades to spark a sputtering rotation. I don't see how they'll be able to cool heavy hitters in Detroit and Chicago.

Prediction: Detroit Tigers will win AL Central in a very close race vs Chicago. Minnesota is out of this race before August ends.

On deck... AL West.

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Friday, August 7, 2009

Pennant Fever - AL East

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-Digger's Daily-

The dog days of summer baseball has arrived meaning it's time to get set for pennant fever. Four of baseball's six divisions have been engaged in serious battles since opening day. Only NL East Philadelphia and NL West Dodgers are leading their divisions by more than six games over closest competitors. No MLB lead is safe with 50+ games still remaining to be decided. I'll be summing up each divisional race over the next six days. Today's blog focuses on AL East race to the finish.

New York owns an AL best 66-42 record residing atop of AL East by 3.5 games over Boston and by 6 over last years' division winner Tampa Bay. Boston is in NY getting ready to play the 2nd of four games tonight at Yankee Stadium. Yankees have been on a 12-5 roll and finally beat Boston last night for the first time all season. Consistent pitching remains Yanks top concern but, their bats have been coming thru in the clutch recently. Yanks front 4 starters (Sabathia, Burnett, Pettitte, Joba) are a combined 38-20 after a very rocky start to their season. The 5th slot has been very erratic and is now being handled by committee. After much concern back in April/May, I suddenly find myself believing the only way New York will lose their grip on division honors is if they beat themselves or fall prey to multiple injuries. Yanks lineup has no weaknesses. They all hit with authority and know how to work counts.

Boston has been struggling since leading the East by 5 games back on June 21 with a 44-27 record. BoSox starting rotation is hurting real bad 3 thru 5 with Wakefield and Dice K (60 day DL) out. Today, John Smoltz was designated for assignment after taking a beating from Yanks last night. Surprisingly, they failed to successfully trade for any top notch pitching help before the deadline. This could spell trouble from here on out. Their lineup is very good in clutch situations but their pitchers are giving up way too many runs lately. If ever there was a team in dire need of a waiver wire trade or rookie phenom to step up and deliver, this is it. Sox must take at least 2 of remaining 3 games from Yanks this weekend to stay close. Otherwise, look out... Tampa Bay is right on their heels. It's funny how quickly things can change in baseball. Only a short time ago, I thought Boston was soon to run away with the East.

Tampa Bay had a rough April (9-14) in defense of their '08 AL Championship. Times have changed for them too... for the better. Their 60-48 record has them gaining quickly on 2nd place Boston. In head to head play, Tampa has won 8 of 12. Hitters are finally coming up big affording pitchers the chance to pitch with leads. Young, energetic and poised to make a run for the top again or perhaps enter the playoffs as a wild card winner. Suddenly, Tampa is beginning to believe and the AL has taken notice. I really like watching this team play. It's hard not to. They hit, run extremely well, play good defense and pitchers are getting better game by game. Personally, I think they were too conservative in not picking up a big name starting pitcher before the trading deadline (Lee or Washburn). Tampa's farm system coupled with a relatively young starting lineup will keep the Rays in the playoff hunt for years to come.
Predicted order of finish: Yankees, Rays (Wild Card), Red Sox.

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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Tigers Woods Sniff Test - Who Cut the Cheese?

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-Digger's Daily-

It's time to talk about the lighter side of sports. Tensions are rising all across the nation as economic woes, political discourse, wars, tragedy and unsportmanlike conduct make headlines every day. "Let it rip" now applies to more than just Tiger Woods ferocious golf ball striking ability.

Tuesday's print edition of the New York Post page 7 headline reads "PGA lights a match on Tiger's 'fart'" (08/04/2009, by Andy Geller). It proves Tiger is human afterall. Who can blame him for letting off a little, ahem, steam after 72 grueling holes of championship golf? Apparently, the PGA Tour can after Tiger's gassy moment on the 18th hole during this past weekends Buick Open was rebroadcast on YouTube. The PGA Tour took exception and ordered websites to remove clips for copyright reasons. I guess the PGA has no sense of humor.

We've all heard the saying "farts are funny". They can make even the most sophisticated individual crack up. Thousands of jokes, rhymes, riddles and odd ball sayings have been created poking fun at a sound emanating from the human body. Here was a moment when Tiger showed there's still plenty of kid left in one of sports greatest stars.

Geller's NY Post article describes the scene: "The video shows Woods standing beside caddie Steve Williams, preparing for a shot on the 18th hole of the Buick Open in Grand Blanc, Mich, on Sunday. Both men have their backs to the camera. Woods is seen lifting his right leg up and down. He stops, lifts his right leg a little and then there is an unmistakable "brrrrp" sound. Woods and Williams then giggle like kids."

Guess what? YouTube yanked the clip after PGA Tour applied a little pressure. Well, I found it on (video clip). To those questioning this sound bite keep in mind super sensitive microphones are placed in strategic areas throughout golf courses during tournament play. Judging by Woods and Williams giddy reactions this clip isn't a fake.

Geller's article concludes: "This apparently isn't the first time Tiger has used wind power on his way to winning a tournament. He reportedly let one rip when he won the Arnold Palmer Classic in Orlando in March."

Grip it and rip it takes on a whole new perspective now for golfers world wide.

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Gridiron Greats Known By Another Name

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-Digger's Daily-

Yesterday, the focus was on nicknames for teams of the gridiron. Today, I'm focusing on some of the most well known players past and present who were given names which stuck in fans memory banks. Some stars were better known by their nicknames instead of birth names ("Too Tall" Jones, "Mean Joe" Greene and "The Bus").

The Nigerian Nightmare - KC Chiefs bruising RB Christian Okoye fierce head first pounding style quickly became a fan favorite. Led NFL in rushing attempts (370) and yards (1480) in 1989.

Joe Cool - Perhaps the best pressure QB of all time, Joe Montana guided San Francisco to 4 Super Bowl Championships and was named Super Bowl MVP 3 times. 117-47 career record as starting QB. Field general of West Coast Offense which has been emulated by many teams after 49ers successes.

Mean Joe - Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Fame DT. Little known fact, Joe Greene's birth name is Charles Edward Greene. One of most feared NFL defenders of his generation while playing for Pittsburgh's Steel Curtain defense.

The Frige (Refrigerator) - Nickname given to large Chicago Bears defensive lineman William Perry. He was somewhat of a celebrity due to his size. Often lined up as a blocking fullback in goal line situations leading the way for Hall of Fame RB Walter Payton during Bears 1985 Super Bowl season.

Sweetness - Legendary Bears RB Walter Payton. His evasive style was second to none. Retired as NFL's All Time leader in rushing yards (16,726).

Too Tall Jones - Dallas Cowboys 6'9" DE Ed Jones helped anchor one of NFC's toughest defense of the 70's & 80's. Took up a short lived boxing career after NFL.
Three Amigos - Denver Broncos WR's of 80's/90's. Mark Jackson, Vance Johnson & Ricky Nattiel.

Triplets - Dallas Cowboys 3 time Super Bowl winning trio featuring Hall of Famers QB Troy Aikman & WR Michael Irvin & soon to be HOFer RB Emmitt Smith.

The Playmaker - Name earned by Cowboys WR Michael Irvin for his game changing plays against defenses keying on him.

Flash 80 - Jerry Rice. NFL's All Time greatest WR. Holds many NFL receiving records set while playing most of his games for the San Francisco 49ers dynasty.

Marks Brothers - Miami Dolphins speedy WR's Mark Clayton & Mark Duper. They paved the way for many of QB Dan Marino's NFL records and lone Super Bowl appearance.

The Diesel - Former Jets and Redskins FB/RB John Riggins. Set NFL single season rushing TD record of 24 in 1983 (since broken).

Ageless Wonder - Washington Redskins CB Darrell Green who played hard on every down during 20 NFL seasons.

Roger the Dodger & Comeback Kid - Navy and Dallas Cowboys star QB Roger Staubach had 2 nicknames. Known as Roger the Dodger for elusive scrambling away from defenders. Comeback Kid for miraculous 4th quarter comebacks in big games.

Matty Ice - Current Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan earned his stripes as a rookie last season leading Atlanta to Wild Card appearance.

The Juice - OJ Simpson. Record setting Hall of Fame RB, actor and convict.

The Posse - Washington Redskins late 80's/early 90's steady WR trio of Art Monk, Gary Clark, and Ricky Sanders.

Scramblin' Fran - NY Giants/Minnesota Vikings Hall of Fame QB Fran Tarkington for his ability to scramble away from defenders. Sometimes for big gains, sometimes big losses.

The Snake - Southpaw Ken Stabler received this name while playing QB for Oakland Raiders bruising teams of 70's for his twisting & turning avoidance of defenders to get off big passes.

Smurfs - Redskins small speedy WR trio (all under 6') Gary Clark, Alvin Garrett, and Charlie Brown who played large making big catch after big catch against defenders often taller and while double teamed.

Prime Time - Multi-team, multi-position Deion Sanders was one of NFL's fastest men and was capable of scoring every time he touched the football. CB was primary position, also returned kicks and lined up as WR. Dual sport star also played Major League Baseball. Neon Deion was another nickname given to this flashy player who loved showing off his skills.

Player nicknames stretch far and wide. I'm sure to have left quite a few off of this abbreviated list. If you don't see your favorites, feel free to chime in on our comments section. Next installment will feature nicknames of NFL places (stadiums) and fan clubs.

All World All Sports

Monday, August 3, 2009

Gridiron Greatness - NFL's Nicknames to Remember

All World All Sports Blog

-Digger's Daily-

Dallas Cowboys "Doomsday Defense" ... Pittsburgh Steelers "Steel Curtain"... Miami Dolphins "No Name Defense"... Remember some of football's greatest nicknames describing the games most dominant teams? Football teams and fans are readying for the 2009 regular season. How about taking a stroll down memory name highlighting the gridirons greatest nicknames of yesteryear? Here are some of my personal favorite team nicknames ....

DOOMSDAY DEFENSE - 1970's Dallas Cowboys championship defenses featuring well known defenders who created havoc for opposing offenses. Led by Bob Lilly, Herb Adderly, Mel Renfro, Randy White, Harvey Martin and Ed "Too Tall" Jones.

NO NAME DEFENSE - Miami Dolphins dominating defenders of the 70's who were seldom known by individual names. They led Miami to NFL's only perfect season (14-0 & Super Bowl Championship). Don Shula's better known no-namers: Nick Buoniconti, Manny Fernandez, Bill Stanfill, Dick Anderson and Reed Kearby.

PURPLE PEOPLE EATERS - Another ferocious 70's defense. Minnesota Vikings squad helped lead them to four Super Bowls. Purple People Eaters were defensive linemen Alan Page, Carl Eller, Jim Marshall and Gary Larsen.

STEEL CURTAIN - Pittsburgh Steelers defense was so dominating it led to NFL changing rules pertaining to how offensive lineman were allowed to block and the 5 yard rule for cornerbacks bumping wide receivers. Four Hall of Fame defenders played in this group - "Mean Joe" Greene, Jack Lambert, Jack Ham, Mel Blount. Unit had a stretch of 5 shoutouts in 9 games (1976).

KILLER BEES- Another Don Shula Miami Dolphins defensive unit. 80's squad got their name by having 6 of 11 starters last names beginning with the letter B.

HOGS - Washington Redskins pounding offensive line consisting of Joe Jacoby, Russ Grimm, Mark May, George Starke and Jeff Bostic. Held defenses at bay creating gaping running lanes for featured running backs.

AIR CORYELL - San Diego Chargers talented passing attack names after Head Coach Don Coryell. Hall of Fame QB Dan Fouts had three straight 4,000 yard passing seasons including a then NFL single season record 4,802 in 1981. Primary targets were TE Kellen Winslow and WR's Charlie Joiner, John Jefferson & Wes Chandler. Chandler's 129 yards per game average in 1982 is still a league record.

KARDIAC KIDS - Cleveland Browns teams of the 80's known for their last minute wins and losses always had fans on edge of their seats.

ORANGE CRUSH - Denver Broncos defensive units of 70's led by Randy Gradishar and Lyle Alzado.

Stay tuned for gridiron nicknames dedicated to players, stadiums and fans.

All World All Sports

Sunday, August 2, 2009

NFL Training Camps Open

All World All Sports Blog

-Digger's Daily-

Players are reporting to NFL training camps around the country. 2008 was exciting from beginning to the final seconds of Super Bowl XLIII. It's time to start taking notice as teams begin conditioning for what promises to be another action packed season. Here are a few things to watch in the coming weeks before regular season action begins on Thursday, September 10.

Brett Favre officially retired again. He will not be suiting up for Minnesota. Vikings had hoped Favre would return for his 17th season. With all the off-season will he or won't he drama now over, Vikes now have a QB competition brewing in camp between 9th year backup journeyman Sage Rosenfelds and scrambling mistake prone Tavaris Jackson. Just days after Favre announced he was done for good, Jackson sprained his knee. Not good news for a team desperately needing an offensive leader.

Michael Vick is free to negotiate with NFL teams after serving jail time for illegal dog fighting related charges. No takers yet. Controversy has been swirling about whether or not any team should sign him based on the gruesome details leading to his incarceration. Vick was once one of the NFL's most exciting players. Now, thousands of fans have lined up against his reinstatement. Rumors suggested New England wanted him as an insurance policy to back up Brady. No luck. Vick is a public relations nightmare. I doubt any NFL team will sign him for fear of fan backlash. Maybe the new starless UFL might take a chance on this fallen star.

Dallas Cowboys circus continues. No more Terrell Owens. No more Jessica-Gate as Tony Romo and Jessica Simpson have split up. Cowboys soon to unveil their new state of the art $1 billion stadium. Owner Jerry Jones is having withdrawals as Dallas hasn't won a playoff game since 1996. September failures have created many controversies and infighting among players/coaches in recent years. They'll be tough. But, will September demons return in '09. Yep!

New York Giants Super Bowl chances were lost due to Plaxico Burress' self inflicted gunshot wound. Giants were going strong sporting an 11-1 record before dummy Plaxico shot himself in a New York City nightclub. He was suspended then released and now faces certain jail time. Giants finished 12-4 and were dumped by rival Philadelphia in the playoffs. Maturing Eli Manning has no standout wide receivers as targets heading into camp. Someone needs to step up and become the go to guy during pre-season. Otherwise, this will quickly become a mediocre team. I'm stunned and upset their front office failed to sign or trade for an experienced big name wideout.

Defending Champion Pittsburgh Steelers aren't without controversy of their own. Star QB Ben Roethlisberger has been implicated in a rape charge. Not sure how this one will play out. Steelers are one of NFL's best and nobody should be surprised if they're repeat champs.

Chicago Bears finally have a legit QB to lead their offense. Jay Cutler is the man and will need a solid offensive line to give him chances to hit open targets. Defense will be tougher if offense can control the clock. Otherwise, it will be a long cold winter in the Windy City. I'm expecting da Bears to win NFC North.

Tom Brady is back leading the way in New England. He was knocked out for year in game one last season after leading the Patriots to a perfect 16-0 in '07. Fantasy owners will be lining up trying to sign Brady, Moss & Welker. A healthy Brady will lead AFC's most potent attack.

I'll be typing often as NFL pre-season progresses. Stay tuned for official division by division predictions after roster competitions are decided and teams break camp for their regular season openers.

All World All Sports