Friday, February 26, 2010

Plushenko's Thin Ice

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-Digger's Daily-

2010 Winter Olympic unsportmanlike medal belongs to Evgeni Plushenko of Russia for continuing to whimper of finishing 2nd in the men's figure skating championship. Pleshenko's actions have landed him on thin ice in newspapers from around the globe.

Plushenko ungraciously started attacking American gold medal winner Evan Lysacek's performance.

"You can't be considered a true men's champion without a quad," Plushenko told Russian state television RTR. "If [the] Olympic champion doesn't know how to jump a quad, it isn't men's figure skating, it's men's ice dancing," Plushenko said.

Plushenko and the Russian team had unsuccessfully sought to make quadruple jumps a permanent part of Olympic competition. By all accounts, Plushenko's performance was flawed even though he did complete a quad while Lysacek did not (wasn't required). Lysacek apparently took a safer route by sticking to a less challenging but strategically correct routine which netted gold.

Plushenko even went so far as to post a false picture on his personal website wearing a platinum medal. Get a grip man, you lost. Be a true champion by acting like one. Enough officials thought Lysacek made fewer gaffe's and skated a cleaner routine. Whether or not it was harder isn't the main issue. To win gold a skater must show a near perfect skate. Plushenko was far from perfect. Lysacek was the best on ice that night.

Get over it Plushenko. Is wasn't the quad, or lack of one, which cost you gold. It was your performance. Deal with it!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Madden Football... All Time Players Never Die

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-Digger's Daily-

Who says EA Sports Madden Football is just for kids? It's one of the all time best selling video games in history. It all began back in 1989 as John Madden Football for Apple computers. The game quickly caught on and has undergone major upgrades from functionability to enhance video interfaces. On line play began by way of Madden NFL 2003. Unfortunately, Madden NFL 2008 was the final version (my current) for PC play. Game consoles are very advanced affording online gaming via platforms other than personal computers. Anyone familiar with Madden games has heard of "The Madden Curse" attributed to players appearing on game box covers suddenly getting injured or reduced productivity in NFL careers.

One of my closest friends and I have been playing online against each other for years (2008 pc version). As a rule of thumb, we only act as coaches calling plays and making substitutions. We do not control individual players when online (only when playing in person). After completing our regular season we decided to do something different. Madden NFL 2008 offers "All Time" teams. However, unlike current rosters, no names are given to All Time players (only false uniform numbers). Our task was to draft teams (12 each) and enter one by one, team by team, position by position, player names instead of false numbers. So, instead of #3 as QB of the All Time 49ers, it now reads Joe Montana. This was done for all of our teams. It was a painstaking drill which hit many snags before completing.

Our schedule runs 24 games/team with all teams playing against each other twice (home/away). Our schedule has reached week 6. It's been a blast bringing back and using players like Dan Marino, Larry Csonka, Jim Brown, Jerry Rice, Dick Butkus, Lawrence Taylor, Gale Sayers, Walter Payton, Lance Alworth, Joe Namath etc. On the surface, All Time teams of intense calibur are separated by few tendencies. Specifically, offensive and defensive lineman. I did my homework and based most of my draft picks on whichever team would control the line of scrimmage. So far, my plan has worked perfectly. My top teams based on W/L records are as follows: Bears (6-0) featuring the games best defense hands down, Raiders (6-0), Colts (5-0), NY Jets (5-0). Takeaways have been by biggest advantage and is a direct result of superior lineman or defensive specialists. My buddy has a few teams still struggling for their first victory.

There have been many intense battles. Sometimes the game is fairly true to life. Often times, it is not. Nonetheless, it's been great recreating players of old and watching them do their thing on the field. I'll post periodic updates and stats when they become available. Stay tuned....

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Winter Olympic Spirit?

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-Digger's Daily-

Has anyone been watching the Winter Olympics? Athletes from around the world have been giving it their all in Vancouver. I can't help notice one glaring omission. Patriotism. Is it just me? Has any American metioned the country he or she represents while being interviewed? How about when accepting medals on behalf of their/our nation?

Politics need not get involved. Patriotism is not politics. Being proud representing your country as one of its' greatest sporting competitors is patriotism.

One can't help but think we're witnessing too much individualism. It's fair to say I haven't watched every minute or event being held in Vanouver. From what I have seen, not a single American has even mentioned our nation. Not even in passing. Smacks of a selfish entitlement idiology. Patriotism isn't in their hearts which is quite surprising considering diverse backgrounds make up USA's Winter Olympics rosters. Has anyone made an statement "... on behalf of my teammates.." or any sort of gratitude for anything? Not even paying tribute to their coaches or trainers.

American viewers have been treated to tremendous games. Witnessing Olympic glory and a few devastating defeats. Compeition at highest attainable levels. "Earning" the opportunity of wearing your country's flag had always been a dream of most Olympians. Nearly all of prior Team USA participants have expressed this in countless interviews and public appearances. Even our President hasn't spoken in support of our greatest athletes as they represent the United States of America.

Perhaps individualism or lack of patriotic acknowledgement is the "in" thing these days. Maybe my observations above shouldn't be directed with broad key strokes. But, something is clearly been missing. An abundance of sportsmanship has shined for all to see. Patriotism remains in the dark.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Fantasy Baseball 2010 Player Rankings

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-Digger's Daily-

Baseball 2010 is warming up. Team camps are open and players are getting ready to chase their World Series dreams. Fans have been signing up in record numbers to play fantasy baseball on various sites from online forums to in-person gatherings.

There's no better fantasy sports game than baseball. It's a true test of managers ability to keep teams going over the course of 162 games. Early or late season injuries can destroy an entire season if managers fail to plan ahead. I thoroughly enjoy fantasy baseball player debates when managers attempt explaining away why they chose a particular player to build their teams around.

Fantasy baseball comes in many forms. AL only, NL only, All Universe. Then we have to choose which style of play... head to head, rotisserie. Do you play in leagues which assign dollar values? Caps? No salary? Money leagues? Leagues for fun? Should I join an ESPN league? Baseball Manager? Plenty of games are out there. Do your homework before signing up.

I've decided to rank my top ten players by position for fantasy baseball impact. These rankings are without dollar considerations. It's strictly a list of best players offering biggest value (stat) returns by position. Obviously, rankings would change depending on league scoring types. Here we go...

1- Joe Mauer
2- Victor Martinez
3- Jorge Posada
4- Brian McCann
5- Geovany Soto
6- Russell Martin
7- Benji Molina
8- Matt Wieters (rookie, sleeper)
9- Mike Napoli
10-Ryan Doumit

There's a serious dropoff in production after the top 3. Buyer beware.

1- Albert Pujols
2- Ryan Howard
3- Mark Teixeira
4- Prince Fielder
5- Justin Morneau
6- Miguel Cabrera
7- Adrian Gonzalez
8- Kendry Morales
9- Adam Dunn
10-Derek Lee

Top 5 guaranteed to produce BIG stats.

1- Chase Utley
2- Dustin Pedroia
3- Robinson Cano
4- Ian Kinsler
5- Brian Roberts
6- Aaron Hill
7- Brandon Phillips
8- Howie Kendrick
9- Dan Uggla
10-Ben Zobrist

1- Alex Rodriguez
2- Evan Longoria
3- Pablo Sandoval
4- Ryan Zimmerman
5- Aramis Ramirez
6- Kevin Youkilis
7- Mark Reynolds
8- David Wright
9- Chone Figgins
10-Michael Young

1- Hanley Ramirez
2- Jimmy Rollins
3- Troy Tulowitzki
4- Derek Jeter
5- Jose Reyes (beware)
6- Jason Bartlett
7- Alcides Escobar
8- Yuniel Escobar
9- Stephen Drew
10-Orlando Cabrera

If you don't land a top 4 SS then go after other positions offering better production. SS isn't going to give you big stats w/o top 4. Draft according to league type. Not worth ruining an entire season by taking a chance here.

1- Ryan Braun
2- Manny Ramirez
3- Matt Holliday
4- Andre Ethier
5- Adam Lind
6- Carl Crawford
7- Grady Sizemore
8- Curtis Granderson
9- Jason Werth
10-Ichiro Suzuki

Clearly debates will rage here. OF rankings depend on the type of league you've joined. In head to head matchups, go for power. Rotisserie leagues might need speed or high batting average types if you already have enough power or RBI producers. Know your team and understand scoring rules.

1- David Ortiz
2- Hideki Matsui
3- Vlad Guerrero
4- Jason Kubel

Only four listed. Just go for the best hitter as DH slots are universal (anyone can hit here). No pure DH is worth drafting before later round in live drafts.

Starting Pitchers:
1- Tim Lincecum
2- Felix Hernandez
3- Justin Verlander
4- Zack Grienke
5- CC Sabathia
6- Roy Halladay
7- Chris Carpenter
8- Johan Santana
9- Jon Lester
10-Cliff Lee

Understand your league type and scoring when drafting starting pitchers. Some leagues place greater emphasis on certain statistics or may not include points for catagories such as shutouts, complete games, quality starts.

1- Mariano Rivera
2- Jonathan Papelbon
3- Jonathan Broxton
4- Joe Nathan
5- Francisco Rodriguez
6- Trevor Hoffman
7- Hudson Street
8- Ryan Franklin
9- David Aardsma
10-Bobby Jenks

Understand your league type and scoring when drafting closers.

Let the raging debates begin. Keep in mind these rankings, as listed, are somewhat generic. Know your leagues and pre-rank players according to maximum contribution potentials. Always use your top 5 picks for maximum statistical returns. Pujols, Howard, ARod, Hanley Ramirez, Lincecum are all great and highly sought 1st round selections. Never over bid for one particular player if it detracts from completing a balanced attack. Have I mentioned... "know your league" in preparation for draft day?

Happy drafting!

2010 Baseball Preview: NL West

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-Digger's Daily-

NL West baseball was spectacular in '09. Joe Torre's LA Dodgers managed to hang on and win the division in the final week. Colorado pulled off another fantastic finish by getting hot at just the right time. San Francisco's younth movement surprisingly kept pressure on all foes thanks to Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. Arizona was busy shoring up their roster. San Diego has seen better days.

Here's my final brief installment of 2010 previews... NL West.

Los Angeles Dodgers (95-67):
Key additions: 22 players signed to minor league contracts including Eric Gagne & Brian Giles trying to rejuvenate careers.
Key losses: John Garland, Orlando Hudson, Guillermo Mota, Juan Pierre, Jim Thome, Randy Wolf.
Dodger baseball is alive and well with Joe Torre at the helm. Back to back NL West titles for the first time since the days of Tommy Lasorda (1994-95). Great nucleus of young pitching & hitting assures this team will remain in West race for years to come.
Projected rotation: Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw, Hiroki Kuroda, Vincente Padilla, ???
Bullpen: Fireballer Jonathan Broxton returns. Eric Gagne making another comeback attempt. Very deep, talented bullpen. Perhaps they have too many arms? Ideal for end of spring trading bait.
Forecast: Starting pitching might not go deep enough into games. Torre will have his hands full trying to keep relievers arms sound when the clock turns to September. Lineup comes through with clutch hit after clutch hit... until NLCS rolls around. Torre will try getting his team past recent playoff failures... assuming they can hold off rising Rockies.

Colorado Rockies (92-70):
Key additions: Melvin Mora, Miguel Olivo
Key losses: Garrett Atkins, Jose Contreras, Josh Fogg, Matt Herges, Jason Marquis, Yorvit Torrealba.
Once again, Colorado put together a strong late season push to make the playoffs. Strong performances by young rotation surprised everyone outside of Denver. All starters had winning records. Cutting down on strikeouts will go a long way towards winning the West. Rocks hope young talent matures enough to win it all. Dangerous club when all cylinder's are firing.
Projected rotation: Ubaldo Jiminez, Aaron Cook, Jorge De La Rosa, Jeff Francis, Jason Hamel, Franklin Morales.
Bullpen: Hudson Street is loving life away from Oakland. Plenty of arms competing for roles on the big league club. Minors will be filled with pitching talent when camp breaks.
Forecast: Is this the year Colorado goes wire to wire? There's plenty of talent here to make a legit World Series run if starting pitchers continue improving.

San Francisco Giants (88-74):
Key additions: Mark DeRosa, Aubrey Huff, Guillermo Mota.
Key losses: Ryan Garko, Bob Howry, Randy Johnson, Brad Penny, Randy Winn.
Heading into '09 everyone knew SF wasn't going to win. In fact, most thought this club might not advance from the cellar. By the end of August, the Giants grabbed hold of 2nd place. Offense was their weak point most of the year outside of Sandoval (only regular to hit over .270). Giants front office has brought in DeRosa and Huff to add offensive potency in 2010. SF is a team on the rise but might still be a year or two away from passing LA/Colorado. But, don't be surprised if they're sitting alone in 1st when this season ends.
Projected rotation: Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Barry Zito, Jonathan Sanchez, ???
Bullpen: Brian Wilson returns to close. I'm not sold on his ability to shut down opponents in big games. Bullpen choirs will be spring time decisions.
Forecast: SF is putting together a fine club. I don't see them winning the West (yet). They'll be very competitive behind solid 1-2 punch of Lincecum & Cain.

San Diego Padres (75-87):
Key additions: John Garland, Jerry Hairston Jr., Yorvit Torrealba, Matt Stairs.
Key losses: Jake Peavy, Brian Giles, Josh Banks, Henry Blanco, Cliff Floyd, Kevin Kouzmanoff.
Padres have yet to recover since blowing their wild card lead to Colorado back in '07. As a matter of fact, they've gone backwards. 2010 will be a very long season and remaining talent could be jettisoned by MLB trading deadline. There isn't anything positive to say about the Padres. Lack of attention towards attempting to build a winning ballclub should have all San Diego fans miffed.
Projected rotation: John Garland, Chris Young, Kevin Correia, ???
Bullpen: Heath Bell returns as closer. Bullpen has talent. Unfortunately, they could easily be burnt out by the All Star break.
Forecast: Doom and gloom with no help on the horizon. Reproducing 75 wins seems like a longshot in tough NL West.

Arizona Diamondbacks (70-92):
Key additions: Edwin Jackson, Adam LaRoche, Aaron Heilman, Ian Kennedy, Bob Howry, Kelly Johnson.
Key losses: Eric Byrnes, Doug Davis, Yusmeiro Petit, Max Scherzer, Chad Tracy, Daniel Schlereth.
Arizona deserves credit for attempting to quickly return to winning ways. Injuries hurt them in recent years. They're now ready to compete. Only question is if new players can produce and if younger home grown talent matures.
Projected rotation: Brandon Webb, Dan Haren, Edwin Jackson, ???
Bullpen: Chad Quails appears to be the closer. Deep bullpen, assignments to be won or lost this spring.
Forecast: Arizona is dangerous for one reason... everyone's eyes are on LA, Colorado & SF. Many pieces need to fall into place beginning with keeping players healthy. Don't be surprised if D-Backs challenge for division honors.

Friday, February 19, 2010

2010 Baseball Preview: AL West

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-Digger's Daily-

Get ready for 2010 AL West style baseball. It's going to be a shoot out in the West. Los Angeles has captured division title honors in 5 of 6 seasons. They'll be tested this year. Seattle was busy transforming their roster. Texas seemed ready to dethrone the Angels after beginning 30-19 only to falter during 100 degree sweltering Arlington temperatures. Oakland continues on the low payroll road which has led to dead ends of late.

Let's take a look at how these teams shape up. Only two weeks before Cactus League games begin.

Los Angeles Angels (97-65):
Key additions: Scott Kazmir, Hideki Matsui, Joel Piniero, Fernando Rodney, Brian Stokes.
Key losses: Chone Figgins, Kelvin Escobar, Vlad Guerrero, John Lackey, Gary Mathews Jr., Darren Oliver.
It's been a long time since the Angels dropped so many key players at once. Bad timing? Nope, not with Mike Scioscia calling the shots. LA did well replacing big salaried players. Angels have a young nucleus of talent in place. If they can play up to potential then LA will be the team to beat for quite some time.
Projected rotation: Jared Weaver, Scott Kazmir, Ervin Santana, Joe Saunders, Joel Piniero.
Bullpen: Rumors swirling wondering who will win the closers job this spring? Fuentes saved 48 but was often shaky. He may be challenged by Shields and newcomer Rodney. Plenty of solid arms. Bullpen should be just fine.
Forecast: Scioscia managed his butt off last season when multiple injuries nearly left this team for dead. Solid young lineup of rising stars. They do it all... speed, power, aggressiveness, defense & pitching. Repeating will not be an easy task but they have the talent and leadership to keep it going.

Texas Rangers (87-75):
Key additions: Vlad Guerrero, Rich Harden, Darren Oliver.
Key losses: Marlon Byrd, Eddie Guardado, Hank Blalock, Andruw Jones, Kevin Millwood, Ivan Rodriguez.
Rangers had a short lived great half of '09 when the led the West. Young pitchers came thru early and often before wilting in summer months. Lineup looked great at times. This team has always been able to hit. Pitching has usually been lacking. Rich Harden, if finally over arm woes, needs to become the staff leader on and off the diamond. Maybe last years' taste of winning can energize this team out of the gates? They'll only go as far as pitchers take them. Easier said than done.
Projected rotation: Rich Harden, Scott Feldman, Tommy Hunter, ???
Bullpen: Francisco Francisco will get plenty of save opp's. The rest of the pen needs to become consistent and probably won't be determined until the end of spring training.
Forecast: They'll score plenty of runs. Trick is getting pitchers to protect leads. Front office still hasn't gone hard after big time starting pitchers.

Seattle Mariners (85-77):
Key additions: Cliff Lee, Chone Figgins, Milton Bradley, Eric Byrnes, Ryan Garko and plenty of role players to compete for bench spots.
Key losses: Adrian Beltre, Kenji Johjima, Carlos Silva, Miguel Bastita.
The Mariners were one of baseball's busiest franchises this winter. They're ready for a serious run at dethroning LA. Lineup will have to manufacture runs without a bonified slugger. Pitching staff will keep them in games all year. Timely hits will be key to their success.
Projected rotation: Felix Hernandez, Cliff Lee, Eric Bedard, ???
Bullpen: David Aardsma returns and needs to prove '09 was no fluke. Wide open race for middle relief and setup.
Forecast: Will they become a team to beat? Or, did they overdue it once again? Time will tell. Looking good on paper. A quick start in April is key.

Oakland Athletics (75-87):
Key additions: Ben Sheets, Coco Crisp.
Key losses: Bobby Crosby, Adam Kennedy, Scott Hairston.
Oakland is in a downward spiral. Lack of attendance hurts payroll. Lack of star power hurts attendance. GM Billy Beane had looked like a front office guru not too long ago by his ability to create playoff calibur teams on low budgets. However, back in the day he had Harden, Zito & Mulder (all long gone). Injuries to one time future star pitchers took its' toll. This is a team in transition with no immediate help in sight. AL West foes are too deep. A's lack firepower or pitching to compete anytime soon.
Projected rotation: Ben Sheets, Brett Anderson, Dallas Braden, Justin Duchscherer, ??
Bullpen: Andrew Bailey was terrific in '09 and will be again in '10. Bullpen is lone team brightspot. Giving them a lead with a weak lineup is no easy task.
Forecast: Division rivals upgraded in a big way. A's stuck with what they have. Starting rotation trying to recover from arm woes and weakest West lineup spells trouble.

NL West up next.....

Thursday, February 18, 2010

2010 Baseball Preview: NL Central

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-Digger's Daily-

St. Louis ran away with the Central division title last year. Chicago fans suffered another disappointing season after their Cubs couldn't live up to division favorite status. Milwaukee's pitching staff didn't survive the loss of CC Sabathia & Sheets. Excitement filled the air in Cincinnati. Too bad it didn't translate into wins. Houston's demise may take years to correct. Pittsburgh's future is finally looking bright with excellent young talent.

2010 will be a very competitive season for NL Central teams. Time for a brief look into how these teams shape up heading into spring training (in order of '09 standings).

St. Louis Cardinals (91-71):
Key additions: Brad Penny.
Key losses: Rick Ankiel, Mark DeRosa, Troy Glaus, Khalil Green, Joel Piniero, Todd Wellmeyer, John Smoltz.
I have to admit when I'm wrong. I didn't give the Cards any shot heading into 2009. Thanks to a very strong pitching staff, St. Louis ran away with the division. Pitching remains strong. I'm not sure about their lineup beyond Pujols & Holliday. Plus, no solid left handed bats are to be found. Left side of infield defense doesn't scare anyone on paper offensively or defensively. Not retaining DeRosa was a monumental mistake. LaRussa's managing skills will be put to the test again this year. No reason to think this proven manager will fold. However, there's a circus-like atmosphere already swirling as the Cards hired steroid junkie Mark McGwire as batting instructor. This guy should be banned from major league ballparks nationwide.
Projected rotation: Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Kyle Lohse, Brad Penny, ???
Bullpen: Ryan Franklin was outstanding in his first full season as Cards closer. Middle relievers must be sharp again to secure wins or it could be a long year.
Forecast: Cards or Cubs in '10? Cards do not impress me on paper but this won't stop them from proving me wrong again. One more move might be in store to solidify infield defense.

Chicago Cubs (83-78):
Key additions: Marlon Byrd, Kevin Millar, Xavier Nady, Carlos Silva, Chad Tracy.
Key losses: Milton Bradley, Neal Cotts, Kevin Gregg, Rich Harden, Aaron Heilman, Reed Johnson, Aaron Miles.
Cubs were high on most lists heading into '09. They never got in gear. Mark DeRosa was sorely missed. Internal squabbles, nagging injuries, porous pitching and horrible team chemistry doomed Chicago. The bad actors are gone. Cubs are ready to contend. Lineup is very strong. Rotation remains competitive. Late inning pitching remains a major question mark. Cubs will rise or fall on how well (or not) they protect late inning leads.
Projected rotation: Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster, Ted Lilly, Randy Wells, ???
Bullpen: Marmol is Chicago's new closer. Competition for bullpen roles is wide open.
Forecast: Tough to call right now. A few are returning from injuries. Bullpen slots yet to be determined. Cubs will challenge but fans shouldn't be thinking World Series. Especially after 100+ years of near futility.

Milwaukee Brewers (80-82):
Key additions: Doug Davis, LaTroy Hawkins, Randy Wolf, Greg Zaun.
Key losses: Mike Cameron, Frank Catalanotto, JJ Hardy, Jason Kendall.
Milwaukee never had any chance of success last year in my book. Not after getting rid of their best pitchers. Not when their lineup continues to make bad outs (strikeouts do not advance base runners). Defense was suspect. So, what's changed for this season? A better rotation. Overrated JJ Hardy is finally gone. Coaching staff hasn't been effectively teaching young Brewers hitters to be patient, to put the ball in play, to keep pressure on opponents. Milwaukee lives and dies by the long ball. It's not enough to count on raw power for 162 games when so many other areas are lacking. Interesting side note. Why did Milwaukee go after lefty starting pitchers when most Central teams have heavy right handed hitting lineups?
Projected rotation: Yovani Gallardo, Randy Wolf, Doug Davis, Jeff Suppan, David Bush.
Bullpen: Trevor Hoffman returns after a stellar '09 campaign. Bullpen is looking strong in all areas. A nice strength to have heading into '10.
Forecast: 2010 should be a better year for Milwaukee. Dangerous and powerful lineup has hopefully matured if these guys are to legitimately challenge for Central crown.

Cincinnati Reds (78-84):
Key additions: Orlando Cabrera.
Key losses: Willy Taveras.
Cincinnati's biggest achilles heel is Great American Ballpark. It offers no home field advantage. I believe it's a disadvantage for home team pitching staff. It will also be very hard convincing any #1 starter to become a Red. Hitters love playing here. But, managers will go crazy unless ground ball pitchers are finally brought into town. Don't hold your breathe. On the plus side. Reds are young energetic club. They should produce plenty of runs in 2010. Question is... how many will they surrender?
Projected rotation: Aaron Harang, Johnny Cueto, Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey, ???
Bullpen: Francisco Cordero returns to close. All other bullpen jobs up for grabs this spring.
Forecast: Reds are probably a .500 team at best right now. Outfielders are one of NL's weakest groups on paper. Reds not ready to challenge.

Houston Astros (74-88):
Key additions: Pedro Feliz, Brandon Lyon, Gary Majewski, Brett Myers.
Key losses: Miguel Tejada, LaTroy Hawkins, Jose Valverde.
Astros stuggled all year long in '09. They never got their game on track. Starting rotation was horrible. It doesn't look much better right now either. Lineup is above average but it's hard to win when trailing game after game. Looks like another year of playing from behind.
Projected rotation: Roy Oswalt, Wandy Rodriguez, Brett Myers, ???
Bullpen: Matt Lindstrom, closer? Really? All bullpen roles to be settled before game 162. Not looking good.
Forecast: Doom and gloom.

Pittsburgh Pirates (62-99):
Key additions: Ryan Church, Neal Cotts, Brendan Donnelly, Octavio Dotel, Akinori Iwamura,
Key losses: Mike Capps.
Pirates last winning season was 1992. The streak continues but their future is looking brighter. A few good young starting pitchers. Good young OF. Infielders are big question mark. So is finding someone with a winning attitude to lead this team. It's doubtful this squad will reach .500 but I expect them to play spoilers.
Projected rotation: Zack Duke, Paul Maholm, Ross Ohlendorf, ???
Bullpen: Dotel's arrival is welcomed with open arms for a team unable to get key late inning outs.
Forecast: Pitchers hold the key. Pirates are a long way from challenging. 2010 could be the year Pittsburgh begins earning respect. If not, then it's time for management to step aside.

Stay tuned... AL West on deck...

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

2010 Baseball Preview: AL Central

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-Digger's Daily-

After a series of trades and free agent signings, Detroit entered the 2009 season as the team to beat. They held a season high 7 game lead on September 6th and remained in first place right up until the very last pitch of the season. Minnesota beat Detroit in special one game playoff to decide AL Central. The Twins won in the bottom of 12, 6-5. Minnesota advanced, Tigers went home with tails between their legs.

2010 will be another tight race in baseball's anything can happen division. All teams not named Cleveland have either improved or matured. It's going to be a great race. Time to take a look at winter winners and losers (in order of '09 standings).

Minnesota Twins (87-76):
Key additions: Orlando Hudson, Jacque Jones, Jim Thome.
Key losses: Orlando Cabrera, Carlos Gomez.
Ron Gardenhire's Twins are good. They play solid defense, offense provides key hits in clutch situations. Rotation began slowly but solidified by years' end. Closer Nathan is lights out. Hardy & Hudson form Twins newest dp combo. I've never been high on Hardy. Limited defensive range and very high strikeout total. He will hit homers from time to time between unproductive bad outs. Mauer & Morneau are a deadly combo and lead this offense. On paper, they often don't match up well vs foes. But, when games are played, their scrappy style wins more than they lose.
Projected rotation: Baker, Slowey, Blackburn, Pavano, Liriano.
Bullpen: Lights out with Nathan anchoring talent group of relievers.
Forecast: Is there one more big season left in DH Jim Thome's bat? Twins hope so but he may not see much action unless powerful numbers are produced this spring. Which Liriano will show up this season? He went 12-3, 2.16 in '07 before posting miserable performances last year (5-13, 5.80). Pitching holds the key in '10. Twins should be right in the Central race to the final week.

Detroit Tigers (86-77):
Key additions: Austin Jackson, Jose Valverde, Max Scherzer, Phil Coke and young pitchers who should add depth when called up from minors.
Key losses: Placido Polanco, Curtis Granderson, Brandon Lyon, Edwin Jackson, Aubrey Huff, Fernando Rodney, Marcus Thames.
Tigers gained good inexperienced talent. Gave up great proven talent. Last year, I thought Detroit might challenge for World Series glory. They never lived up to expectations. Pitching doomed hopes last year. Not keeping Edwin Jackson won't help their '10 changes. New look batting lineup will scare many opposing rotations. It could be a very long year for the Tigers.
Projected rotation: Verlander, Scherzer, Porcello, Galaragga, ???
Bullpen: Valverde is their new closer. He many not see too many save opportunties. Middle relievers and setup jobs to be won in spring training. Forecast: As of now, it doesn't look good for the Tigers heading into spring training. Too many question marks from batting lineup decisions to defense and bullpen.

Chicago White Sox (79-83):
Key additions: Jake Peavy, Juan Pierre, JJ Putz, Omar Vizquel, Andrew Jones, Mark Teahen.
Key losses: Jermaine Dye, Octavio Dotel, DJ Carrasco, Scott Posednik.
Chicago hopes woes of '09 have been left far behind. These guys struggled all season long to score runs and still found themselves within contention into mid-September. 2010 lineup will generate plenty of excitement. Starting pitchers will have new found run support. Bullpen needs to protect leads. Skies the limit. Sox looking like front runners to me.
Projected rotation: Peavy, Buehrle, Danks, Floyd, ???
Bullpen: Jenks returns as Sox closer. Plenty of solid arms will duke it out this spring.
Forecast: Deep team. Lineup will create runs. Peavy & Buehrle will win 20+ each. Back half of rotation must put up solid efforts. Chicago looks like a major challenger to winning the AL crown.

Cleveland Indians (65-97):
Key additions: Not many impact players (aging vets or castoffs from other teams).
Key losses: Kelly Shoppach.
Cleveland has given away so much talent in recent years. Not too long ago this franchise seemed destined for greatness. Not anymore. This is going to be a very long rebuilding process. Avoiding 100 wins will not be easy. Too many question marks in all phases of their game.
Projected rotation: Carmona, Huff, Westbrook, ???
Bullpen: Kerry Wood (closer) is always one pitch away from arm troubles. He's their go to guy. Middle relief was a disaster last year.
Forecast: This team will rise or fall on their pitching arms. Starters need to keep games close and reliever need to thwart rallies. 2007 ALCS appearance seems like a distant memory.

Kansas City Royals (67-95):
Key additions: Rick Ankiel, Josh Fields, Chris Getz, Jason Kendall, Scott Posednik,
Key losses: John Buck, Coco Crisp, Miguel Olivo, Mark Teahen,
I had hoped KC was going to surprise the baseball world last year. Only one player did, Cy Young Award winner Zack Grienke (16-8, 2.16). He was masterful for a dismal team. They couldn't hit or pitch in clutch moments. Guess what? 2010 Royals will turn heads. Don't be surprised at all when these guys climb the standings. Many question marks on offense. However, new players could set the stage for a memorable season.
Projected rotation: Grienke, Meche, Davies, ???
Bullpen: Soria anchors a deep bullpen. Relievers have been a sore spot for KC in recent years. Looks good on paper right now.
Forecast: Outfield defense much improved. Veteran backstop Kendall knows how to handle young pitchers which is an instant bonus. If these guys learn to cut down on strike outs and put the ball in play then 2010 will be considered a success by seasons' end.

Stay tuned... NL Central on deck.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

2010 Baseball Preview: NL East

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-Digger's Daily-

Philadelphia was the NL's first team playing in back to back World Series since Atlanta in 1995 (won) & 1996 (lost). They're front runners to make it three straight in 2010. Atlanta tries to regain NL glory. The Braves finished first 14 of 15 seasons between 1991-2005 including 11 consecutive East titles. Florida's youth finds ways to win. New York's club invented new ways to lose day after day in '09. Washington re-tooled for '10.

Who will be the beast of the east this year? Time to check out off season winners and losers (in order of 2009 standings).

Philadelphia Phillies (93-69, Lost World Series):
Key additions: Roy Halladay, Placido Polanco, Danys Baez, Jose Contreras, Brian Schneider.
Key losses: Cliff Lee, Kyle Drabek, Pedro Feliz, Brett Myers.
Toronto dangled Halladay and the Phillies got him by way of a three team blockbuster. Time to celebrate? Maybe, maybe not. How did Philly brass cut loose post-season hero Cliff Lee? They could have had Halladay, Lee & Hamels dominating foes for years to come. Phils will not miss a beat without Lee this year. BUT.. one can only wonder what could have been only if the front office was shrewd enough to think "dynasty" instead of instant gratification. Monster batting lineup is much improved with the addition of Polanco.
Projected rotation: Halladay, Hamels, Blanton, Happ, Contreras
Bullpen: Disasterous for much of '09 before finally settling down in September. Lidge rebounded just in time for post season play after nearly being demoted (0-8, 7.21). Relievers will battle for jobs during spring training and should be fine heading into regular season play.
Forecast: Barring injuries, NL East is the Phils to win or lose. Very strong, very deep team.

Florida Marlins (87-75):
Key additions: no standouts
Key losses: Nick Johnson, Russ Gload, Jeremy Hermida, Matt Lindstrom, Scott Proctor, Brendan Donnelly.
How does this team keep threatening to win the East year after year? Simple. Great scouting. Great development system. Florida plays fundamental baseball. This franchise keeps churing out strong pitchers for future champions. Great team chemistry & attitude. Don't be surprised if they're knocking on the door once again.
Projected rotation: Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, Anibal Sanchez, ???
Bullpen: All jobs are open. Leo Nunez will be given first crack at nailing down the closer role. Spring training battles will be fun to watch.
Forecast: Never count these guys out. They play with heart and guts. Dangerous club. Signing a veteran slugger or flame thrower would instantly turn the Marlins into playoff contenders.

Atlanta Braves (86-76):
Key additions: Troy Glaus, Takashi Saito, Billy Wagner, Scott Proctor, Erik Hinske.
Key losses: Mike Gonzalez, Adam LaRoche, Kelly Johnson, Rafael Soriano.
2010 will be manager Bobby Cox final season. He's one of the all time greatest in baseball's history. The Braves got stronger gearing up for another pennant push. Atlanta hasn't finished higher than 3rd four years running since winning 11 consecutive division titles. Finger pointing begins with poor bullpen performances. It's been revamped for '10 so look out East. Now there's a new question... can this team score runs? Chipper and Glaus are nearing retirement and the rest of this lineup is very young. Defense could be troublesome too.
Projected rotation: Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrgens, Derek Lowe, Tim Hudson, ???
Bullpen: Revamped and suddenly lights out group highlighted by newcomers Wagner & Saito.
Forecast: If Atlanta can create runs then they'll be back in the thick of things once again.

New York Mets (70-92):
Key additions: Jason Bay, Gary Mathews Jr, Kelvim Escobar, Mike Jacobs, Ryota Igarashi,
Key losses: JJ Putz, Brian Schneider.
Mets completely fell apart last year. Not many teams played sloppier baseball than these guys. Even their new ballpark was severly critiqued. Injuries plagued most star players in '09. Reyes, Beltran, Delgado, Santana, Maine, Wagner, Pagan, Putz and a host of others all missed significant time. I'm not a fan of their current front office and baseball related decision making. They should be considered big losers this winter. Heading into 2010... no bonified starting 1B, C and weak starting rotation. Plenty of bargain salaried free agents are still available from role players to potential starters and the Mets aren't making any moves. NY needs to get every break in '10 to win more than they lose. Health is key #1. Defense #2. Solid pitching #3.
Projected rotation: Santana, Maine, Pelfrey, Perez, ???
Bullpen: Francisco Rodriguez was often victimized by shoddy defense. Setup men blew it all year long. Japanese import Ryota Igarashi is being counted on heavily. Escobar is slated as a reliever. What are the Mets thinking? Obviously, not clearly.
Forecast: If healthy, they might challenge. Far from dominating rotation. Bullpen still in trouble. Lack of batting power and defense still a question mark especially on infield's right side. Looks like another long season for Mets fans.

Washington Nationals (59-103):
Key additions: Chien-Ming Wang, Ivan Rodriguez, Jason Marquis, Eddie Guardado, Adam Kennedy, Brian Bruney and many potential contributors to minor league contracts.
Key losses: No one who will be missed.
I like what Washington has done this winter. Don't get me wrong as I believe it would take a baseball miracle for the Nationals to contend any time soon. On the other hand, respectability and a winning attitude probably got a boost with the addition of a few soon to be instrumental conttibutors. Signing Pudge will help young pitchers. Rotation and bullpen positions up for grabs (as always). Pitching has always been a very big problem for Washington. These guys never seem to throw strikes. Batting lineup will put up runs led by Zimmerman & Dunn.
Projected rotation: Up for grabs. Lannan & Marquis are the only locks as of now. Wang rebounding after multiple injuries and lack of effectiveness for Yanks. If healthy, a great signing.
Bullpen: Spring training to determines who makes big league squad. Personally, I'd like to see Bruney win the job.
Forecast: Playoffs are way off in the distant future. 2010 should be better than recent seasons.

NL East race will be great. Philadelphia remains obvious front runners followed by Atlanta & Florida giving it their all. New York & Washington have a long way to go. As for predictions, lets wait and see how I feel when rosters are finalized. Stay tuned.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

NBA Projecting $400M Losses

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-Digger's Daily-

NBA owners vs players.
$400M league-wide losses.
Current CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) expires 2011.

Trouble brewing? Apparently so after a contentious meetings between owners and player association reps turned sour. We're in the early stages of what promises to become very public and cantankerous negotiations. The realities of this situation are very clear. NBA teams are bleeding. $400M projected losses this season after years of losing millions as a result of the current CBA.

"The right adjectives were thrown around, and our proposal appropriately denounced. Our response is, 'You can denounce it, tear it up, you can burn it, you can jump up and down on it, as long as you understand that it reflects the financial realities of where we are," Stern said during his annual All-Star press conference.

"And if you would like to have your own proposal, as long as it comes back and deals with our financial realities, that's OK with us. That's fine with us. In fact, that's what we would like to do."

It's time professional athletes take notice of economic conditions. Many remaining baseball free agents have learned the hard way that owners wallets are no longer free flowing with outrageous contract offers. NBA players have luxurious contracts which can no longer be supported.

Stern criticized the union's behavior at the session, saying it earned "high marks on the list of theatrical negotiations." He revealed that the players' side brought in a lawyer who threatened that the union would be decertified, making negotiating more difficult.

Unions rarely seem willing to negotiate for lower revenues. Doesn't seem to matter what industry is losing money, unions rarely give up anything without a fight even when their position flies in the face of sound economic practices. Take a look at airline and automotive industries. Professional sports players are making unsustainable salaries in our current environment. Something has to give.

Stay tuned... this is only the beginning of what promises to be salary restructuring within most major sports. NFL & MLB will be next.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

30 Winter Olympians Banned from 2010 Games

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-Digger's Daily-

Olympic creed: "The most important thing in life is not the triumph, but
the fight ; the essential thing is not to have won, but to have fought well."

Olympic motto: Citius-Altius-Fortius (faster, higher, stronger)

What currently drives athletes to find new ways to cheat in their sports profession? Present day anti-doping testing continuously advances to new levels attempting to weed out stupid fools trying for artificial personal gaming advantages. Professional and amateur athletic associations have made ridding dopers priority number one.

2010 Winter Olympics are set to commence in Vancouver. The World Anti-Doping Agency, responsible for testing Olympians, released a statement claiming 30 athletes failed their drug tests and are banned from competition. It's a sad day when individual athletes disrespect their sport. It's border line criminal when Olympians embarrass an entire nation when caught red handed.

Too bad Olympians names & countries aren't made public. I'm certain, in some instances, doping is state sponsored. Quite an indictment. When individual countries can't control their own competitors then it rightfully makes one wonder if they're culpable.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

2010 Baseball Preview: AL East

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-Digger's Daily-

Football season is over. As I sit here today waiting on a winter blizzard to hit New York... baseball season comes to mind. Spring training begins in a few days. New York Yankees will soon attempt defending their World Series crown. Can they do it?

MLB's off season was relatively quite. There were a few blockbuster style trades. However, many quality free agents remain. No doubt our economy has something to due with owners not ponying up major bucks for players holding out for more and more. Or, are they using it as an excuse to collectively drawn down excessive contracts? Take your pick. Either way, remaining players will probably settle for less than they ever imagined (if they're even offered contracts).

Time to break down winter winners and losers division by division. Leading off... American League East (in order of 2009 standings).

New York Yankees (103-59, World Series Champions)
Key additions: Curtis Granderson, Nick Johnson, Javier Vasquez, Randy Winn, Marcus Thames.
Key losses: Johnny Damon, Brian Bruney, Melky Cabrera, Phil Coke, Jerry Hairston Jr, Austin Jackson, Hideki Matsui, Xavier Nady.
Simply put, if the Yankees starting rotation doesn't post a phenominal 2010 then it could be a long year in New York. Yankees lineup took a tremendous hit this off-season. Lost are clutch performers Damon and World Series MVP Matsui. A young Granderson is a welcomed addition & will be taught better plate discipline by veteran teammates. But, why bring back injury prone Nick Johnson as DH? It's a big unnecessary gamble. Johnson has a great eye at the dish. But, he's spent more time on the disabled list than playing field. Most concerning is the what seems to be the weakest Yankees bench in 20 years. Bench lacks big guns, defensive wizzards & clutch performers. NY has always been famous for depth and power. Where is it heading into '10? Yanks treading thin. One or two key early injuries can sink 2010 hopes.
Projected rotation: Sabathia, Burnett, Vasquez, Pettitte, Chamberlain.Bullpen: Questions return heading into camp. Depth was lost here too. Starting pitchers must go at least 7 innings consistently or games will be lost in middle innings.
Forecast: It's a 3 team race between NY, Boston & Tampa Bay. NY's hopes rest on starting rotation.

Boston Red Sox (95-67, Wild Card)
Key additions: Adrian Beltre, Mike Cameron, John Lackey, Marco Scutaro, Bill Hall, Key losses: Jason Bay, Nick Green, Takashi Saito.
I like the pieces GM Theo Epstein put in place heading into camp. Heavy depth at all positions. Solid batting lineup. Solid defense. Many think lineup will hit for less power. I'm not one of the many. Sox lineup will spread extra base hitting potential 1 thru 9. Plus, it's a lineup of smart players all capable of blasting double digit dingers. Francona is one of baseball's best field general's and his arsenol has been restocked 3 deep at nearly every position. Dangerous team if pitching rotation can stay healthy.
Projected rotation: Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tim Wakefield.
Bullpen: Plenty of arms competing for jobs. Papelbon is as good as they come. Forecast: This is a very solid, perhaps great, team if pitchers stay off DL.

Tampa Bay Rays (84-78)
Key additions: Dan Johnson, Kelly Shoppach, Rafael Soriano.
Key losses: Akinori Iwamura.
2008 AL champs stumbled in April and May last year (23-27). Lost was clutch performances all around from pitchers to hitters. Solid young starting staff is in place for years to come. Bullpen remains iffy. Lineup can put up runs in bunches. BJ Upton had a miserable '09 both in the field and at the plate. Mental lapses piled up on one of baseball's best young talents. He's key if Rays are to be successful. A complete team effort needed by all players if Rays are to challenge in one of baseball's strongest divisions.
Projected rotation: James Shields, Matt Garza, David Price, Jeff Niemann, ???
Bullpen: Rafael Soriano is the new closer (27 of 31 saves in '09). Relievers ruined a promising '09 after Tampa's World Series run of '08. Many new faces competing for jobs this spring.
Forecast: All depends on pitching and regaining '08 timely hitting. Tough division but Rays will give New York and Boston a run for their money. I'll reserve opinions until TB's final roster is in place. As of now, another 3rd place finish is on the way.

Toronto Blue Jays (75-87)
Key additions: John Buck, Alex Gonzalez, Kyle Drabek, Kevin Gregg.
Key losses: Roy Halladay, Marco Scutaro, Kevin Millar, Brandon League.
One has to feel for Cito Gaston. Toronto's future is in limbo. Plenty of question marks surround this team beginning with health issues. Gaston's club might be competitive but nobody is counting on the Jays contending. Their lineup has potential to put up runs. Defense doesn't appear to be an issue right now. On the other hand, pitchers might get battered all year long. Kyle Drabek was their biggest acquisition. Everyone is high on this kids future. It might take a year or two? Or, will he be a rookie phenom? It'll be too hard keeping up with the Jones' this year and expect bigger contracts to be dealt early due to lackluster home gate receipts.
Projected rotation: It's anyone's guess.
Bullpen: Jason Frasor appears set to lead the relievers. Bullpen injuries have destroyed Toronto in recent campaigns. It's not looking much better right not either.Forecast: Sometimes it's easier to perform well when everyone expects the worst. 100 losses on the way.

Baltimore Orioles (64-98)
Key additions: Miguel Tejada, Kevin Millwood, Mike Gonzalez, Garrett Atkins.
Key losses: Danys Baez, Melvin Mora, Chris Ray.
Look out baseball world. Can it be the Baltimore Orioles future is looking brighter than it has in recent memory? Yes! They're not ready to contend just yet unless they pull a Rays or Rockies season out of a hat. But, they're getting closer. Defense will improve. Batting lineup looking solid. Tejada is back and projected to start at 3B even though I personally think he should start at SS with Wigginton holding down the fort at 3B. O's eyes will be on developing future catching star Matt Wieters who must master handling a young pitching staff. O's rotation leaves much to be desired. Team officials seem high on their young hurlers with a new look defense backing them up.
Starting rotation: Kevin Millwood, Jeremy Guthrie, Brian Matusz, ???
Bullpen: Mike Gonzalez gets first crack at closing games. He struggled to save 10 of 17 last year but is only a few seasons removed for 24 of 24. He needs to get the job done or it's going to be another long year in Baltimore. It'll be a wide open field trying to secure pitching slots before spring training ends.
Forecast: The future is bright. O's will show brief flashes and shouldn't be taken for granted. Playing .500 baseball will be a major accomplishment for a franchise seeking their first winning season since 1997.

Plenty of headlines will come from AL East action. Obvious off season winners restocking quality players was Boston. Can their rotation go stride for stride with Yanks big guns? Can Tampa rekindle '08 magic? It's a three team race to the finish. As of this moment, my gut tells me Boston, New York, Tampa, Baltimore, Toronto. We'll see how I feel when rosters are finalized. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Streaking Teams Highlight Newest Power Rankings

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-Digger's Daily-

New Orleans Saints are NFL Champions! Baseball spring training begins this month. NBA, NHL, NCAA races are heating up. Danica Patrick splashed into the NASCAR scene. She'll rev up again this weekend in Daytona. PGA Tour not missing a beat.

Power ranking time. Here's how they look in my book.

1- LA Lakers (40-13)
2- Cleveland (41-11)
3- Orlando (35-17)
4- Boston (32-17)
5- Utah (31-18)
6- Denver (34-17)
7- Dallas (32-10)
8- Atlanta (32-17)
9- Phoenix (31-21)
10-San Antonio (29-21)

NCAA Men's
1- Kansas (22-1)
2- Syracuse (23-1)
3- Kentucky (22-1)
4- Villanova (20-2)
5- Purdue (19-3)
6- West Virginia (19-3)
7- Duke (19-4)
8- Kansas State (19-4)
9- Tennesee (19-4)
10-Brigham Young (22-3)

1- Washington (41-12-6)
2- San Jose (39-11-9)
3- Chicago (38-15-5)
4- New Jersey (36-20-2)
5- Vancouver (35-20-2)
6- Phoenix (36-19-5)
7- LA Kings (36-20-3)
8- Pittsburgh (35-22-2)
9- Colorado (33-17-6)
10-Ottawa (33-22-4)

1- Boston Red Sox
2- Philadelphia Phillies
3- New York Yankees
4- Tampa Bay Rays
5- Los Angeles Dodgers
6- Minnesota Twins
7- Seattle Mariners
8- LA Angels
9- St Louis Cardinals
10-Texas Rangers

NFL (final)
1- New Orleans
2- Indianapolis
3- Minnesota
4- San Diego
5- NY Jets
6- Dallas
7- Green Bay
8- Philadelphia
9- Cincinnati

Coming soon. Winners & losers during baseball's off-season.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Super Bowl XLIV: Colts vs Saints

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-Digger's Daily-

Super Bowl XLIV promises to be a fast paced shootout featuring two of NFL's top offenses. Peyton Manning vs Drew Brees. Each team might score 30+ points. On paper, I'd say these two teams will set a new Super Bowl record for points scored. Big scoring plays should be plentiful.

Peyton Manning, Colts - 4 NFL MVP's, 1 Super Bowl Championship, 50,000+ career passing yards, 366 TD's, lifetime 95.2 passer rating. Colts win or lose on his golden right arm. He calls most Colts offensive plays. He'll need 400 yards of precision passing to win.

Drew Brees, Saints - 2009 NFL best 109.6 passer rating, 4 consecutive 4300+ yard seasons, 15-2 as starter in '09 (includes 2 playoff wins), threw TD's to 10 different players.

Prediction: Weather will cooperate. Clear skies, 60 degrees predicted. Both teams come out firing. Ball control is key. Interrupting passing patterns key for both defenses. Protecting the ball extremely important for offenses. Saints take first half lead into locker room, 28-24. Saints lead at end of 3rd quarter, 38-31. Manning dominates 4th quarter.... Colts win, 45-41.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Indianapolis Colts Ready for Super Stampede

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-Digger's Daily-

Rookie head coach Jim Caldwell and his Colts have played clutch all season long. Indianapolis is one win from their second Super Bowl victory in four years (2006). Ironically, their opponent Sunday was one win from becoming the Colts opponent in the '06 game.

Indy rises and falls on the right arm of future Hall of Fame QB Peyton Manning. He's the Commander in Chief. His ever changing signals at the line keep defenses guessing. Even when they guess right Manning finds a way to get the job done. Fourth quarter comebacks are his specialty. Indy had plenty of close calls but usually found a way to victory (14-2). Playoff football has been near perfect with convincing wins over stingy Baltimore and New York.

How can the Colts slow down New Orleans? It won't be easy. Sentiment from fans seems to be on the Saints side. Hardly anyone I know seems to be rooting for the Colts. We should be treated to a great Super Bowl this weekend. Here's what the Colts must do to bring home another Lombardy Trophy....

Keys to Victory - Offense: Patience. Patience not to abandon running attack. Patience by Manning when passing lanes are jammed. If the Colts line can open up running lanes then Manning will have plenty of opportunities to lead long time consuming drives. Offense must protect the ball at all costs.

Keys to Victory - Defense: Dwight Freeney, Dwight Freeney, Dwight Freeney. Everyone has left Indy for dead without defensive star Dwight Freeney. All inquiring minds want to know if the Colts can step up? Rumors now speculating he'll play but there's no way he'll be effective in a fast paced game with a bum ankle. Colts only chance slowing down Brees is to keep plays in front of them... don't allow speedy Saints WR's to roam downfield. Saints run best from spread formations. Colts D doesn't match up well vs NFL's #1 offense. They only faced one, maybe two, high powered attacks all season. Saints fast pace could overwhelm these guys. Winning the turnover battle is the biggest key to slowing down Brees & Co. Lack of turnovers will most likely spell defeat.

Keys to Victory - Special Teams: Nothing exciting to write home about when it comes to Colts special teams play. They're not great at covering kicks. Not so hot returning punts and kickoffs. I'm expecting Saints returners to create great field position if given chances. Punter Pat McAfee really needs to angle kicks and keep New Orleans pinned deep. Advantage Saints.
Stay tuned for Super Bowl predictions.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Who Dat Saints Chase 1st Super Bowl

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-Digger's Daily-

Who Dat? New Orleans Saints (13-3) players are having the football season of their lives. A franchise best 13 wins, first NFC title, energized their rebuilding city, and now, a chance to win their very first Super Bowl. New Orleans football history is filled with highs and bag-headed lows since the Saints began play in 1967. They're riding a high now. Is it their time to win it all?

Head coach Sean Payton has all systems firing. A prolific offense led by Drew Brees and an opportunistic defense capable of making game changing plays. His biggest challenge on Sunday will be keeping his young team focused. Which way will he go with game planning? Will it be a big play day of stretching wide receivers deep down field vs an Indianapolis defense deficient in pass coverage? Or, will he choose a more patient time consuming strategy aimed at keeping Peyton Manning off the field of play?

Keys to Victory - Offense: Line needs to play huge. If Brees has time to find streaking receivers then they can score 45+ with quick strike plays. Who will be the go to guy at running back? Reggie Bush is getting all the press this week. His speed will open up great matchups out of the backfield on passing plays. Saints wide receivers are fast. They must avoid drops as every missed opportunity could soon become a game changer. Brees - one never knows how a QB will handle "The Big Game" pressures? He needs to stay calm and not force throws. Protect the ball at all times.

Keys to Victory - Defense: Is there really any way to contain Peyton Manning? There's only one way I see New Orleans being able to slow down the Colts offense. The defensive line has to disrupt Manning's timing. Stunts, bull rushes, zone blitzes, all of the above. Every once in a while he'll force one and New Orleans defensive backs will have to come up big. Keeping the defense fresh (stamina) is huge for both teams. This game could turn into a shoot out. Whichever teams D gets burnt first will spell doom and gloom.

Keys to Victory - Special Teams: Reggie Bush always seems one play away from breaking off a long touchdown. Last season he returned 3 punts all the way. None in 2009 with a low 4.8 average/return. Kickoff returns will be handled by Courtney Roby who boasts as 27.5 average. Thomas Morstead hopes not to be used but will be ready to boom a few punts when his number is called. Place kicking is a potential hazard. Garrett Hartley is unproven. Get ready for pressure kicks kiddo.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Terrell Owens Never Stops Blabbing

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-Digger's Daily-

Does Terrell Owens ever sit still long enough to realize how many dumb statements come flying out of his mouth? I've never understood how many professional analysts continue to call T.O. one of the games greatest. On paper, Owens statistics generally look very good. That is, until one scratches the surface. He's always among league leaders in passes dropped. Fans in San Francisco, Philadelphia, Dallas and Buffalo had to be sick to their stomachs watching T.O. drop passes then gleefully prance back toward the huddle (or sidelines). He's sideline rants, continuous bad mouthing teammates, poor practice routine, disrespect for coaches etc keeps his status far from one of the games best in my book.

Now here we are. It's Pro Bowl weekend in Miami. Super Bowl XLIV next Sunday. Maybe Owens was feeling lonely or far from the spotlight. His latest out of left field comments were reported Jan 28th....

"I know hands-down I'd be close to Jerry Rice's records if I had been with quality quarterbacks like he had. He had Joe Montana and he finished with Steve Young. That wasn't a dropoff.

"Say I had been with a guy like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning or Drew Brees all of my career. Are you kidding me?"

Hey T.O.... are you kidding us? You've played with Steve Young, Jeff Garcia, Donovan McNabb, Tony Romo. Young is Hall of Fame material. Garcia an All Pro. McNabb All Pro. Romo All Pro. All loved throwing the ball. Perhaps Terrell dropping so many passes, especially in key 3rd & 4th down situations, soured the confidence of QB's? Yet, year after year, he talks down to teammates. Has sideline temper tantrums. Disrespects teammates.

T.O. has always come across as a 'why me?', 'why not me?', attention seeker. Complaining all the time is probably his most well known attribute. Once again, his selfish style of play on and off the field stands out above all else. It reeks of insecurity. Grow up T.O.