Wednesday, February 29, 2012

2012 MLB Preview: St. Louis Cardinals

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-Digger's Daily-

2011 World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals attempt to become the first repeat champs of this century. The Cards bested Texas in one of the most exciting World Series in league history last year, 4 games to 3.

Two key cogs will be missing in '12. Manager Tony LaRussa (retired) and 3-time NL MVP Albert Pujols (left via free agency to LA Angels). Have no fear in Missouri - St. Louis remains the team to beat in NL Central action.

The Cards offense is well balanced. First year manager Mike Matheny will have an easy time penciling in daily lineups. St. Louis picked up Carlos Beltran to roam right and plan to shift Lance Berkman to first. World Series hero David Freese anchors third. Signal caller Yadier Molina is one of baseball's best defensively. Throw in Matt Holliday, Jon Jay and top of the order free ranging SS Rafael Furcal. These guys are certain to put up plenty of runs.

Their strength is pitching. Cards have a strong front three rotation of Carpenter, Wainwright & Garcia. Backing them up is a bullpen full of live arms.

Health is key to any teams success. Yes, the Cards have issues. Will Beltran's knee hold up? Can Holliday avoid DL time? How well will Wainwright rebound after Tommy John surgery? SS Fucal's been battling injuries in recent season's. Keeping these guys healthy during spring training is mission number one.

Prediction: Finished 90-72 (wild card) in 2011. 2012 will be a team effort as Cards take aim at another World Series. Expecting 92-95 wins and NL Central title (if healthy).

Friday, February 24, 2012

2012 Major League Baseball Predictions

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-Digger's Daily-

Spring training is here! Players reported to camp. Teams in early stages prepping for a new season filled with new hopes and dreams of glory. A few big trades, big names changing teams and big free agent salaries headlined a busy winter.

Here's a look at how the 2012 MLB season shakes out.

American League
New York Yankees
Boston Red Sox
Tampa Bay Rays
Toronto Blue Jays
Baltimore Orioles

Detroit Tigers
Minnesota Twins
Chicago White Sox
Kansas City Royals
Cleveland Indians

Texas Rangers
Los Angeles Angels*
Oakland A's
Seattle Mariners

National League
Philadelphia Phillies
Atlanta Braves*
Washington Nationals
Miami Marlins
New York Mets

St. Louis Cardinals
Cincinnati Reds
Milwaukee Brewers
Pittsburgh Pirates
Houston Astros
Chicago Cubs

San Francisco Giants
Arizona Cardinals
Los Angeles Dodgers
Colorado Rockies
San Diego Padres

Stay tuned for team by team previews.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Power Rankings - Top 10's

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-Digger's Daily-

It's been a long time between power rankings. We've done this on purpose for shock value as teams move in and out of rankings over time. Our power rankings shifted from weekly reviews to monthly. Enjoy.

1 - Miami Heat
2 - Oklahoma City Thunder
3 - Chicago Bulls
4 - San Antonio Spurs
5 - Orlando Magic
6 - Dallas Mavericks
7 - LA Clippers
8 - LA Lakers
9 - Indiana Pacers
10- Houston Rockets

1 - Detroit Red Wings
2 - New York Rangers
3 - Vancouver Canucks
4 - St. Louis Blues
5 - Boston Bruins
6 - New Jersey Devils
7 - Nashville Predators
8 - Chicago Black Hawks
9 - Philadelphia Flyers
10- Pittsburgh Penguins

NCAA Men's Basketball
(as of 2/20/12)
1 - Kentucky
2 - Syracuse
3 - Missouri
4 - Duke
5 - North Carolina
6 - Michigan State
7 - Kansas
8 - Ohio State
9 - Georgetown
10- Murray State

NCAA Women's Basketball
(as of 2/20/12)
1 - Baylor
2 - Stanford
3 - Notre Dame
4 - Connecticut
5 - Miami (FL)
6 - Maryland
7 - Delaware
8 - Ohio State
9 - Duke
10- Green Bay

1 - St. Louis Cardinals (defending Champs)
2 - Philadelphia Phillies
3 - New York Yankees
4 - Texas Rangers
5 - Detroit Tigers
6 - LA Angels
7 - Arizona Diamondbacks
8 - Tampa Bay Rays
9 - Atlanta Braves
10- Boston Red Sox

Friday, February 17, 2012

New Yorker's Dare to Dream

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-Digger's Daily-

The first champions in 2012 are the NFL's New York Giants. Dare to dream? How about this little fact. New York teams all on fire or set to excel. Is it possible New York sports teams will bring home the perfecta? NFL-NHL-NBA-MLB titles all in the same year. Don't laugh it off too quickly...

New York Rangers (37-14-5) on pace to shatter franchise best record. They're feeling extremely confident after knocking off defending champion Bruins earlier this week. Overall team health is good too. This team is hungry. Only Boston stands in their way of winning the Eastern Conference in playoff hockey.

New York Knicks newest sensation - "Linderalla Man" (Jeremy Lin) - is quickly turning non-believers into playoff fever fans. Knicks fans are starving for playoff basketball. Knicks players starving for respect. There's only one way to get both - just win baby! Recent winning streak fueled by Lin kicked off a Big Apple media blitz. Knickerbockers stars out of action when streak began soon to return to active duty. Everything suddenly blooming in Madison Square Garden.

Baseball's winter months were kind to a retooled New York Yankees club sporting a greatly improved pitching staff. Newest starter Michael Pineda brings a strong arm to the Bronx Zoo. Throw in CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Phil Hughes, Freddy Garcia and Ian Nova = healthy spring training battles and plenty of rotation depth for the first time in years. Aging lineup is ready for another run at World Series glory after getting bounced by Texas last season.

Add it all up and New York fans are having a great beginning to 2012. Dare to dream? Believers already getting caught up in New York fever!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Broadway's Newest Star: The Linderella Man

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-Digger's Daily-

New York's newest star is an unlikely hero. Jeremy Lin - a.k.a. "Linsanity", "Linderella", "The Linderella Man" - is lighting up opponents and energizing Madison Square Garden fans. Lin’s 89 points in his first three starts is the most by an NBA player since the merger in 1976-77.

Last night's performance vs LA Lakers - 38 points, 7 assists - brought everyone to their feat. The Knicks played without star starters Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire giving LA a distinct advantage heading into the contest. Or so they thought. Lin's performance set off a series of high five's and chest bumps throughout the contest. One great spin layup after another left Lakers players stunned on the court. By the time it was all over the Knicks cruised to a 92-85 home victory.

Kobe knows Lin - at least he does now after being clueless two night's ago. When interviewed before heading to New York, Kobe was asked about Lin's two previous breakout performances. He had now clue. After last night's game - players and fans from coast to coast know Jeremy Lin.

NFL had "Tebowing". NBA now has "Linning".

Lin was quoted after his latest thrilling game. "The journey was very different, tough at times, my family has been through a lot," he said, referring to getting cut by two teams and his several D-League stints. “It’s been an unbelievable journey. The whole last year and a half, the downs we had to go through. We’re just trying to enjoy everything and handle everything the right way." (NY Post).

How long can the ride last? All systems go for now. But, the word is out on this kid and opposing defenses will soon devise strategies to stifle Lin's recent surge. Not bad for an undrafted player from Harvard who bounced around from team tryout to team tryout before signing with Golden State in 2010. New York took a chance on Lin via waivers and it's been storybook ever since.

Welcome to the NBA Jeremy Lin. Broadway's lights are shining bright.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Giants Super Victory Unhinges Pats, Fans

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-Digger's Daily-

The New York Giants are Super Bowl Champions after snuffing out New England 21-17. As the Giants started post-game celebrations inside Lucas Oil Stadium a dejected and stunned Patriots team stumbled to their locker room. For the second time in five Super Bowls, New York's defense shut down New England's high powered offense and pulled off a last minute game winning drive.

Giants fans nationwide began celebrating as soon as Tom Brady's last play desperation heave fell harmlessly to the ground in the end zone. The man screams could be hear nearly everywhere in the tri-State area. It was a different story for the Patriots, their fans and one supermodel wife.

The Giants and Eli Manning once again staged an exciting fourth quarter comeback turning a Patriots victory into bitter defeat. Massachusetts lunatic college and university students used the opportunity to showcase occupy style mini-riots on campuses proving they really need educations on morality and dealing with life's twists & turns. Tom Brady's wife, Giselle, famously told off Giants fans heckling her "... my husband can't throw and catch" - a blatant reference to late game drops by wide receivers. Head Coach Belichick wasn't available for NBC's post-game interview. Tom Brady sat stunned once again in his locker. And, yes, Eli Manning went to Disney World.

Patriots and many game prognosticators wonder how the Giants won - or should I say - how the Patriots lost? The answer so obvious it's a wonder how any self respecting sports journalist has a problem figuring it all out. New York was simply the better team. They were better in nearly every phase of Super Bowl XLVI. Giants players rose to the occasion. Patriots players made mistakes.

New York took an early 2-0 lead because of a Tom Brady intentional grounding penalty from his own end zone on New England's first play thanks to the Giants unsung hero - punter Steve Weatherford. While most were talking of Brady vs Eli, Coughlin vs Belichick, over looked was special teams players. Every good coach will tell you special teams can make or break a team. Early in the game, Weatherford's outstanding punts kept New England deep within their own territory. Brady being called for intentional grounding was a very stupid play by a future Hall of Famer. There was no reason for the blatant play. Kudos to the referee's for having the guts to make an obvious call. After receiving the free kick, New York marched right down the field and quickly made the score 9-0.

New England made plenty of undisciplined and uncharacteristic mistakes. Take your pick, they were all costly. My short list:
1 - Brady end zone intentional grounding safety. Result: Pats first play gives NY 2 points! Giants 2 - Pats 0.
2 - On the Giants ensuing drive Pats called for too many men on the field negating a Giants Victor Cruz fumble in the redzone within Pats 10 yard line. Pats recovered the fumble but the penalty wiped out the 3rd down play. It was another turning point type play giving NY the ball on 1st and goal setting up an Eli to Cruz 2 yard touchdown. Giants 9 - Pats 0 thanks to Patriots uncharacteristic mistakes.
3 - Patriots defenders inability to recover 2 Giants second half fumbles in key situations.
4 - Brady was 16 for 16 during one stretch of the game - a Super Bowl record. He seemed to get injured on a Justin Tuck drive ending sack. Brady never looked the same.
5 - Leading by two, 17-15, Brady brilliantly scrambled away from Giants pass rush only to throw a terrible interception after he just lobbed the ball up towards Gronkowski. Poor decision as Welker and Branch were wide open underneath.
6 - After Brady's int, Pats forced a Bradshaw fumble but couldn't recover - again. Then, on 3rd and 2, Manning misfires but another costly penalty keeps the Giants drive alive. Instead of punting from their end zone, Giants maintain possession after an off-sides penalty.
7 - With 8:00 to go Pats begin a long drive only to have it end when Brady misfires to a wiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiide open Welker with 4:00 to go. Giants had burned 2 timeouts early in the 3rd quarter. Had this pass been completed then the game clock continues ticking with Pats inside Giants 20. Way too much flack thrown at Welker when it was Brady who misfired to a wide open man & NFL's leading catcher with 122 receptions.
8 - Final drive of the game, Giants leading 21-17, under 1 minute remaining. Drops by Welker, Branch & Fernandez set up a failed hail mary attempt.

Quite frankly, it's my belief the Patriots were flat out lucky not to have been blown out of this game. Giants built early 9-0 lead & were outplaying New England. Two huge penalties were drive killers. First was a 3rd and 1 holding penalty taking a 1st down away from NY inside Pats 20. NY settled for 3. NY again settled for 3 two drives later after another holding penalty wiped out a big play.

What about Giselle? Media now ripping her for post-game comments. Everything from don't dis your teammates to whatever else they can think up for eye grabbing headlines. She spoke up, so what? Was she wrong that Patriots players dropped passes? No. Did she single any one player out? No. Was she being harassed? Yes.

Win as a team, lose as a team. Giants won Super Bowl XLVI as a team. Punter, kicker, offense, defense, special teams, linemen, reserves, coaches & assistant coaches all contributed to victory. On New England's side - offense, defense, special teams, coaches, reserves, etc all contributed to defeat. That's football ladies and gentlemen.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Super Bowl Sunday XLVI - Giants vs Patriots Preview

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-Digger's Daily-

The time has come for a new NFL champion to be crowned on the grandest of stages - Super Bowl XLVI. Today's stakes are high. It's a rematch of SB XLII when the New York Giants upset an undefeated New England Patriots team. Giants QB Eli Manning is gunning for his second championship. Patriots QB Tom Brady takes dead aim at becoming only the NFL's third 4 time Super Bowl winning signal caller joining Pittsburgh's Terry Bradshaw and San Francisco's Joe Montana.

You've heard all the hype, predictions, sports shows and past game highlights. Now it's time for All World All Sports to chime in on game day.

Super Bowl XLVI preview - New York Giants vs New England Patriots

New England Patriots - AFC Champion - AFC East 13-3.
How they got to SB XLVI: Offense, offense, offense. Pats 513 points scored was tops in AFC action. Brady was one of two QB's surpassing Dan Marino's single season passing yardage record finishing with 5.235 yards. TE Rob Gronkowski caught an NFL record (for Tight Ends) 17 TD passes. Wes Welker led the league with 122 receptions. New England is a passing first offense team. Good thing they can score because so can their opponents. Patriots defense gives up many big plays. To New England's credit, defense played soft protecting insurmountable leads. These guys are much better than statistics suggest. Or, are they? Yes, they are but not nearly strong enough to derail a Giants attack clicking on all cylinder's. This game is also a rematch from earlier in the season (Giants won 24-20). Strength: Passing attack, Coach Belichick. Weakness: Running game, defense gives up big plays.

New York Giants - NFC Champion - NFC East (9-7)
How they got to SB XLVI: Giants began 6-2 and all were singing praises. Dropped to 6-6 and New Yorkers were calling for Coach Coughlin to be fired. Finished 9-7, won NFC East on final Sunday and knocked off NFC's top two teams in playoffs. Giants are hot. Confidence level never higher. Offense is clicking. Defense getting stronger play by play. This isn't your typical Giants team - not even close. Eli Manning leads a passing first attack. Can you believe it? Giants a passing first offense. Why? Because offensive line has been banged up all season and can't create running lanes for Bradshaw and Jacobs. Ball control is always key against Pats. Giants dominated time of possession in past Super Bowl's with a pounding running game. Don't expect to see it today unless line finally comes to life. Eli Manning will be searching for 3 targets - Cruz, Manningham and Nicks.

Keys to the game: We've heard all about Brady vs Manning for two weeks. Now, take a gander at some intangibles -
Crowd: Expect a home field advantage type ruckus coming from a New York Giants friendly crowd. Eli Manning is brother of Indianapolis QB Peyton Manning. Indy faithful will great him with open arms while cheering hard for Giants to dump Patriots. Loud indoor crowd might create signal calling problems near end zones.
Defense: This game is all about whether or not defensive pass rushers can disrupt QB timing. Giants pass rush set the stage for their SB XLII win in 2007. Getting after Brady today is key. Can Pats D line get enough pressure on Eli to force bad throws? Time will tell.
Offense: Playing indoors creates a fast track for speedy wide receivers. Offensive lines the key. Can they protect QB's and open running lanes?
Special teams: Often over looked in this match up. Both kickers can nail long field goals on turf. Kick coverage units for Giants has holes.
Coaches: We'll be watching NFL's two best game planners. New England's Belichick is a game day guru designing plays for maximum efficiency. Giants Coughlin is no slouch either.

Prediction: Everyone is expecting a high scoring game. This game has all makings of whoever has the ball last wins. Both QB's experts at late game winning drives. Despite all of the hype, I'm feeling a blowout in the making. Giants pass rush will create turnovers and scoring opportunities. Giants passing attack will be relentless before power football running attack kicks into high gear. Giants win huge. Final score: Giants 41, Patriots 24.