Thursday, March 29, 2012

Power Ranking Top 10's

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-Digger's Daily-

It's a great time of year to be a sports enthusiast. NCAA Basketball Tournaments. NBA & NHL teams fighting for playoff position. Baseball season soon to be in full swing. NFL teams putting pieces together for another new season. PGA & LPGA swingers tee off. NASCAR burning rubber. All in all, there's something for everyone.

Time to handicap (power rank) major sports top 10 teams.

1. St. Louis Cardinals (World Series Champions always return as pre-season #1 in All World All Sports polls).
2. Philadelphia Phillies
3. Texas Rangers
4. New York Yankees
5. Detroit Tigers
6. Los Angeles Angels
7. San Francisco Giants
8. Tampa Bay Rays
9. Milwaukee Brewers
10. Atlanta Braves

1. Chicago Bulls
2. Miami Heat
3. Oklahoma City Thunder
4. San Antonio Spurs
5. LA Lakers
6. Orlando Magic
7. Dallas Mavericks
8. Philadelphia 76ers
9. Indiana Pacers
10. Atlanta Hawks

1. New York Giants (Super Bowl Champions)
2. Green Bay Packers
3. New England Patriots
4. Pittsburgh Steelers
5. Baltimore Ravens
6. New Orleans Saints
7. San Francisco 49ers
8. Denver Broncos
9. Houston Texans
10. Detroit Lions

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

NASCAR (Sprint Cup Standings - current)
1. Greg Biffle
2. Kevin Harvick
3. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
4. Tony Stewart
5. Martin Truex Jr.
6. Matt Kenseth
7. Denny Hamlin
8. Clint Bowyer
9. Jimmie Johnson
10. Ryan Newman

Monday, March 26, 2012

Tebow Invades New York

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-Digger's Daily-

Never before has so much attention focused on a back up quarterback in New York. The New York Jets officially presented former Denver Broncos QB Tim Tebow to Big Apple reporters for a press conference this afternoon.

Much has been made about the Jets trading for Tebow. Mark Sanchez is New York's starter, period. New York sports sections have not been fans of the Jets newest acquisition. Get ready folks. Everything changes on a dime with fickle New York reporters. Over the years, New York papers have turned on long time sports legends from Roger Maris to Wayne Gretzky. Get ready Sanchez... reporters will quickly create rough times if the Jets stumble next September.

Many have publicly questioned why the Jets bothered bringing Tebow to an already disfunctional team. New York's 2011 season was a bitter disappointment to players and fans. Much was written regarding lack of team leadership and clubhouse turmoil. What are New Yorkers to think of Tebow's sudden arrival?

There's plenty of pro's and con's. Let's break it down.

Pro's. 1) Tebow is a class act. His dedication to the game - and life - is well documented. 2) Jets will score a grand slam in revenue generated merchandising of Tebow. 3) Tebow is a proven end of game miracle worker. 4) Defenses will have to adjust to Tebow's cat-like reflexes, scrambling ability and strength. 5) Jets can design specific Tebow plays from roll-outs to Wildcat offense. 6) He can be utilized in various formations - there's been hints of getting Tebow involved in other positions. 7) Perhaps other players can draw off Tebow's faith. 8) Tebow's presence should quickly mature Sanchez into a believer. 9) Sanchez will hopefully work much harder to execute game plans. 10) Sanchez knows Tebow is waiting in the wings for an opportunity to play forcing the Jets starter to get on the same page with coaches and receivers (missing in all of 2011). 11) Coaches hoping Tebow is a positive leader in the lockerroom. 12) Trading for a proven winner is anything but negative. Jets should feel secure in the knowledge their new #2 can step in at anytime for their current #1.

Con's 1) Jets players already criticizing their newest teammate. 2) Jets would be foolish to take too many snaps away from Sanchez - unless Sanchez doesn't improve from last season's mistakes. 3) Coaches will repeat grave mistakes allowing reporters to create circus like atmosphere. 4) Cost - Tebow is a high priced backup and cost them draft picks. It's win now or pay a heavy price later. 5) Sanchez knock is he's not a team leader as proven again in '11. He'll either step up or fold under Tebow pressure. 6) All eyes are on Tebow. It's too much too soon. Ryan has to get back on message (or find one). 7) For two consecutive years the Jets were in circus-like mode making wild unfulfilled Super Bowl predictions - if it happens again in 2012 then this current squad is doomed.

Jets football needs to quickly re-focus. Tebow's press conference is over. He's been introduced. Now it's time for coaches to grab the bull by the horns and concentrate on 2012 football. Ryan had better have a sit down with Sanchez - quickly. If Sanchez isn't ready to lead, truly lead, then he needs to fess up to Ryan. Sanchez hasn't shown late game leadership ability. Hasn't shown lockerroom leadership ability. Hasn't earned the respect from wide receivers or offensive linemen. Too much focus has been on Tebow. Truth be told, if Sanchez was all of the above then Tebow would be playing elsewhere.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Unsportsmanlike Conduct Sacks Saints

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-Digger's Daily-

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell slammed the New Orleans Saints "bounty" program. "A combination of elements made this matter particularly unusual and egregious." Goodell's statement also said, "a strong and lasting message must be sent."

In an unprecedented move Goodall suspended head coach Sean Payton without pay for the 2012 season, ordered Saints to forfeit second round draft picks for two years, indefinitely suspended former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, suspended GM Micky Loonis for 8 games, suspended assistanct coach Joe Vitt for six games and fined the organization $500,000. This all stems from New Orleans coaches offering cash bounties to their players for targeting/injuirng opposing players.

Good for Goodall. A harsh sentence for unsportsmanlike conduct. It's no secret NFL players try their best to levy hits to remember against opponents. But, it's another thing when coaches offer cash "bounties" to take out opponents.

Payton becomes the first NFL coach suspended for any reason. He's been accused of covering up extra cash bonuses to players by ignoring instructions from the NFL and Saints ownership to make sure bounties weren't being paid (after the league first caught wind last season). The NFL took down Payton for "falsely deny that the program existed," and for trying to "encourage the false denials by instructing assistants to 'make sure our ducks are in a row."

This was as blatent as it gets in professional football. Coaches paying players to inflict harm. I can guarantee you bounties exist far beyond the NFL. I'm willing to bet it happens in college & high school football too (probably without cash payments).

Football is a tough game. New Orleans will pay a heavy price for their actions. Quite frankly, losing second round draft picks for two years isn't harsh enough. First round picks are justified in a situation where the commissioner's office directly forewarned Saints coaches to end this practice - they did not. No denials coming from New Orleans either. Plenty of apologies - suggesting this practice was in place for at least a few seasons.

Hats off to NFL officials on using the Saints as examples. I'm amazed their shenangan's remained a secret for this long. It shouldn't surprise anyone to learn this practice has been in place with many teams in the past. Hard to imagine legendary Bears, Raiders and a handful of others not instituting bounties. There's one glaring difference - the NFL will no longer put up with this kind of behavior.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

2012 Preview: Colorado Rockies

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-Digger's Daily-

Colorado (73-89) endured a difficult season in 2011. Pitching was a sore spot last season. Don't expect anything different this season. Colorado is in store for another long year.

Their starting rotation boils down to spring training battles. As of now, most prognosticators expect the following opening day starting five: Jeremy Guthrie, Jhoulys Chacin, Drew Pomeranz, Juan Nicasio and Guillermo Moscoso. In my book, there's two locks - Guthrie & Chacin - with the final three slots up for grabs. Veteran Jamie Moyer is having a great spring and the Rockies would be crazy not adding this guy to the rotation. Alex White, Tyler Chatwood, Josh Outman and Esmil Rogers were considered competitors but none of those final four names are turning heads.

Michael Cuddyer (OF/1B) and Ramon Hernandez (C) are welcomed additions. Plenty of key losses from the lineup including once heralded catcher Chris Iannetta and closer Hudson Street. Also lost - Mark Ellis, Ty Wigginton, Seth Smith, Jason Hammel, Aaron Cook and a handful of other role players.

Depth has been lost but starters are strong. Around the horn: 1B Todd Helton, 2B Marco Scutaro, SS Troy Tulowitzki, 3B Casey Blake. Catching flies from LF to RF: Carlos Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler and Mike Cuddyer. Rockies have a well balanced lineup attack from top to bottom.
Rafael Betancourt is their new closer. There's a handful of players battling to fill bullpen roles yet to be settled. Colorado's bullpen will be the difference between winning and losing in a wide open NL West.

Prediction: A healthy offense will go a long way to winning games. 2012 lineup has no holes. A good mix of speed, power and contact. Defense is solid. Colorado's fate rest squarely on their pitchers ability to hold leads in tight situations. Lack of depth will only become a concern if regulars are sidelined for significant time. This team has much to prove. Success is within their grasp... or not. Handicapping this team heading into regular season play at +/-80 wins. Don't be surprised to see Colorado win the NL West. It'll probably turn out as win some, lose some.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

2012 MLB Preview: Seattle Mariners

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-Digger's Daily-

Does anyone remember Seattle won 116 games back in 2001? Seattle was a team on the rise. They reeled off 90+ wins in four consecutive season's to begin the new millennium. Since then, losers in 6 of 8 including 95 last year.

Good news on the horizon? Perhaps 2012 marks the beginning of a new Mariners era of better baseball. Don't expect miracles - or 80 wins. There's a nucleus of young talent and Seattle hopes these guys are the answer for years to come.

Starting rotation appears set with Felix Hernandez returning to dazzle hitters. If it wasn't for weak hitting teammates - Felix would be a 20 game winners year after year. Japanese import Hisashi Iwakuma was rated 2nd to Rangers Yu Darvish but there's concern over whether or not his shoulder is sound - and if his fastball is strong enough to get out Major League hitters consistantly? Jason Vargas is locked in. Blake Beavan and Hector Noesi hope good fortunes of spring secure April rotation slots.

Closer Brandon League saved 37 in '11. Seattle's bullpen was gassed by mid-season. Expect more of the same if starters faulter.

Seattle's biggest acquisition - Jesus Montero - came at the expense of future star flame thrower, Michael Pineda. It was well worth it for a M's team struggling to score runs. Montero is the real deal. He'll hit in the middle of a young, untested lineup. It's a make or break year for 1B Justin Smoak. Dustin Ackley is a star for years to come at 2B. SS remains a weak spot with Brendan Ryan. 3B/OF Chone Figgins has been a monumental bust for Seattle after tearing it up for the Angels. He's battling Kyle Seager for the starting nod at 3B. Ichiro returns to RF. CF Franklin Gutierrez hasn't lived up to hype. LF is Mike Carp's to win or lose this spring unless Smoak bombs out (then Carp moves to first). Behind the plate is Miguel Olivo who provides a little pop when not striking out. All in all, Seattle's lineup is weakest in AL West on paper. They're going to need heads up base running and timely hitting or this will be another long season.

Prediction: Seattle's lineup can't compete vs Texas and Angels. Montero, Ackley & Hernandez will put up great numbers. It's anyone's guess how the rest of this team does. Rebuilding comes in many forms. If young hitters struggle (Smoak, Gutierrez, Seager) then Seattle's make over will need another. 70+ wins is generous in this division but it's within reach if peaces fit.

Friday, March 16, 2012

2012 MLB Preview: Cincinnati Reds

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-Digger's Daily-

Cincinnati fans optimism is in high gear. Reds added three potentially key pieces to their team puzzle. Starting pitcher Mat Latos (from Padres), closer Ryan Madson (Phillies) & reliever Sean Marshall (Cubs) instantly upgrade Cincy's pitching staff. Dusty Baker must be smiling. Reds have a great opportunity to make a run at the Central title.

More good news for Reds fans. Gone from NL Central foes are two slugging 1B. Albert Pujols (Cardinals) and Prince Fielder (Brewers) signed big money contracts with American League teams.
Reds lineup packs a punch. Joey Votto (1B), Brandon Phillips (2B) & Jay Bruce (RF) are the core of a maturing lineup. Much is expected of LF Heisey & CF Stubbs. Reds are high on SS Zack Cozart.

Starting rotation has talent and should receive plenty of run support. Problem is pitching in a hitters friendly home park. Great American gives up runs in bunches. Cueto, Latos, Arroyo, Bailey & Leake must come out of the gates on fire. Cincinnati lacks a lefty starter which could hurt down the stretch.

New closer Madson will get plenty of save opportunities. Marshall joins a bunch of strikeout artists out of the pen (Masset, Chapman, Ondrusek & Bray). Cincinnati's pitching staff might lead the league in strikeouts.

Prediction: The future is now. Cincinnati has assembled a winning formula on paper. Champion Cardinals still favorites to win Central. Reds will challenge. MLB added another Wild Card team beginning in 2012. Reds appear to have the inside track. 90+ wins well within reach.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

2012 MLB Preview: New York Mets

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-Digger's Daily-

2012 will bring another disastrous season in Flushing for New York Mets fans. All factors suggest the Mets will be rebuilding for a long time to come. Only a few short years ago New York's "other" team was considered championship caliber. Times have changed. It all begins at the top.

Years of overspending on broken down veterans cost this club dearly. Not only did the Mets trade talent for over prices duds - they also mortgaged their minor league system which was one of the top farm systems in baseball.

Not too many bright spots for fans to trek into Flushing to see firsthand. Gone is fan favorite Jose Reyes. 3B David Wright is already hurting, again. He promises to be ready by opening day. At this point he shouldn't risk taking the field unless he's 110%. Only Johan Santana returning from a long injury hiatus offers a glimpse of something cheer about.

Around the horn projections: Ike Davis returning from injury at 1B. Daniel Murphy (2B) and Ruben Tejada (SS) form a weak double play combination. Wright hopes closer fences at remodeled CitiField helps power numbers. However, a muscle injured ribcage takes time to heal and strengthen.
From LF to RF: Jason Bay has been a huge bust. Starting slowly in spring training offers no hope - and not helping to create ready, willing and able buyers/traders. Andres Torres in CF (WHO?????). Lucas Duda quickly won over fans in '11 is being given every opportunity to win RF honors.

Josh Thole is the backstop. He'll have both hands full trying to tame an erratic and soon to be overworked pitching staff. There is no staff ace. Santana returns but hasn't pitched a full season since 2008. Mike Pelfrey, Jonathon Niese, R.J. Dickey & Dillan Gee. Good luck vs NL East. Middle men aren't going to scare any hitters unless they're jumping away from wild pitches. Pitching staff is an ugly combination. Frank Francisco (3.72) will try saving games (if the Mets ever have a lead).

Prediction: Mets will have a very difficult time winning games in NL East. Phillies, Braves, Nationals & Marlins can all out hit, pitch, run and defend. 100 losses well within reach. Citifield will continue getting panned from critics (including me). It's taken a long time and hundreds of thousands of complaints to finally get "Mets" owners to recognize former "Mets" players. This is a stadium built with Dodgers & Giants themes everywhere.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

NFL Free Agent Frenzy Takes Off

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-Digger's Daily-

Talk about a busy news cycle for NFL players, teams, owners and a future Hall of Fame QB. The spending spree is on! This week has been filled with rumors and lucrative contract signings. A few highlights include....

Peyton Manning. Jets are out. Broncos & Titans front-runners. If Peyton goes to Denver then Tebow will go. Denver is doing everything within their power to land Manning. Titans are coming on strong. What ever happened to Miami rumors? Are the Dolphins willing to pass over another top flight QB?

Calvin Johnson. Meet the NFL's highest ever paid WR - deal will be worth $132 million over the course of the 7 year extension with an NFL-record $60 million in guaranteed money. Believe it or not, CJ's deal saves Detroit $9M in cap money.

DeSean Jackson re-signs with Philly for 5 years, $48.5M. Eagles flopped in 2011. Good to see players being rewarded in off years... not.

Brandon Carr. NFL's top rated FA cornerback signs with Dallas for 5 years, $50.1M. A step in the right direction for underachieving Dallas Cowboys.

Cortland Finnegan. NFL's "other" top CB on the market signed with the Rams for five years and $50 million. Rebuilding Rams collecting puzzle pieces.

Kyle Orton. Cowboys pick up Romo's understudy. No QB controversy. At least not until December football rolls around.

John Carlson. TE was given 25 million reasons to sign with Vikings (5 years, $25M). Not sure this was a wise spending move for a team needing a ton of help on offense. Maybe the beginning of more to come.

Vincent Jackson. Penny pinchers no more. Tampa Bay coming on strong in free agency for the first time in recent memory. Tampa's era of mediocre teams coming to conclusion. VJ signs 5 year, $55M contract.

Carl Nicks. Bucs snatch All Pro offensive guard from division rival Saints and make him NFL's highest paid guard. 5 years, $47.5M will be worth every penny assuming Nicks continues All Pro status.

Eric Wright. Another strong Tampa Bay signing. Bucs hoping he's a difference maker in secondary. 3 big moves with more to follow.

Brandon Marshall. Perhaps it's time to revive curses. Miami's free falling began when Don Shula was shoved out the door. Next came Jimmy Johnson handcuffing Dan Marino. The post Shula/Marino years produced the ugliest brand of football in Miami Dolphins history. 2012 was to be a different story. Another new beginning. So what does Miami do? They just traded their only legitimate WR threat. Brandon Marshall heads to Chicago for two 3rd round draft picks. Great move by Bears - a team slowly building a great offense for new offensive coordinator Mike Tice.

Pierre Garcon. Last one out - turn off the lights. Colts may not win a game in 2012. Garcon ran out of Indy to sign with Washington - five years for $42.5 million.

Josh Morgan. Joins Garcon in Washington. Redskins finally have speed and pass catching ability at both starting receiver positions for the first time in recent memory. Now they need someone to throw the ball in their direction.

Keep an eye on your local sports ticker. Many more deals going on at negotiating tables across our nation. A few more big splash headlines coming soon....

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Peyton Manning Signs Contract with....

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-Digger's Daily-

Peyton Manning Signs Contract with (fill in the blank) will soon grace sports news pages in the coming days. In a not so stunning move - and completely professional by both the Colts and Manning - Indianapolis cut their star quarterback.

Manning's legacy in Indianapolis will live on forever. His on field and off field actions are a model for all to follow. Manning has created many programs aimed at helping the less fortunate - especially disadvantaged children. Peyton's NFL career has been exceptional. He had started 208 consecutive games. Indy won 10 or more games in 11 of 13 Manning's seasons. He compiled a 141-67 regular season record. Threw for 54,828 yards - 399 TD's - 94.9 rating. Won 2006 Super Bowl XLI. 4 time MVP. Records galore. Then came 2011. Manning's neck injury...

Peyton didn't play a single game in 2011. All concerned are asking two questions. First is all about health. Can or should Peyton risk further injury? Is he, or will he ever be, sound to play at the same high level? Second, assuming Manning wants to play... which team will he select?

To nobody's surprise Manning was cut by the Colts in a cost cutting move. Indy is in a massive roster restructuring fast forwarded after a dismal 2-14 season without their leader. Coaches and front office firings immediately after the season sent shock waves throughout Indianapolis. Everyone was caught off guard - including Manning.

I'm sure Manning will miss playing for the only franchise he's ever been associated. Time for him to turn the page. Many teams will come running. I'm sure he's already picked a few favorites. Here's a player who has nothing left to prove. He's done it all. Perhaps a political career after NFL? As for now, my only advice to Peyton is do what you know deep down in your heart is the right thing to do. If your neck is 110% healthy with little risk of permanent injury by way of a hard NFL hit... then go for it. If you're not 110% then retire with the same dignity illustrated throughout your professional life.

Peyton Manning Signs Contract with..... time to fill in the blanks.

New York Jets. Sanchez is the Jets future. Manning can be their now man. I can't think of a better tutor than Peyton Manning. Peyton & Eli playing in the same city, same stadium, opposite leagues. Intriguing to think of Manning vs Manning Super Bowl. Both Manning's grabbing headlines every week would bring a new level to New York football excitement. They'd both be on the same stage. The Jets promised a Super Bowl only to watch Eli & Giants win it again. Jets have plenty of WR weapons and his leadership can quickly turn around a leaderless team. There's no better bit. The Manning brothers take New York. Endorsements galore. Victories plentiful.

Miami Dolphins. Here's a team sorely missing a field leader for the entire century. Not a single top flight QB has been under center since Dan Marino retired following the 1999 season. Miami has some talent. Add another pass catcher and they're good to go. Pass protection shouldn't be much of an issue either. Miami's new owners itching for playoff return and will offer up a big dollar deal.

Tennessee Titans. Here's a team never mentioned? Why not? Manning's starred at University of Tennessee. Titans have a good line, solid receivers, a featured back and solid defense. They're probably a great fit. Manning can quickly turn this team into playoff caliber. Question is salary cap room. Hasselback proved he's not the answer to QB problems.

Washington Redskins. Perhaps only the Raiders have made as many (or more) worse player decisions than Washington under Snyder's rule. Revolving door of coaches, front office staff & player personnel. Redskins "NEED" a quarterback. They need a lot more too which is why Washington will be big bidders. However, there's no way Peyton enters NFC East to face Eli twice per season. And, there's no way Peyton signs with a shaky team. He's just not desperate enough to play here.

Arizona Cardinals. Plenty of hype trying to match Manning with Larry Fitzgerald. That's about as far as it goes. Offensive line isn't very good and options beyond Fitzgerald aren't consistent. On the upside, Cards could have top notch defense in 2012. Good climate. I just don't see it.

Seattle Seahawks. Seattle's QB is Tavaris Jackson. These guys need help. A team on the rise really needing a solid QB to compliment an ever improving roster. Not quite the team one pictures Manning finishing an illustrious career. He's high on their list. Are they on his?  Doubtful.

Kansas City Chiefs. It worked once before when KC brought in legendary Joe Montana to lead them into playoffs. Romeo Crennel holds no punching with enthusiasm of potentially signing one of the all time greats. If they commit to upgrading offensive line then these guys are in the running. KC can take the AFC West with Manning calling the shots.

Denver Broncos. I'm including Denver only because everywhere I turn their name enters Manning sweepstakes competition. Why? Tebow might not the answer just yet. This is a team in late rebuilding stages. Why commit so much money and cap space to a player in twilight of career vs signing multiple younger future stars? It'll be a tough call for Denver to make.

In my book the Manning sweepstakes has two legit contenders. I'm of the belief Manning knows exactly where he wants to play next season (if he doesn't retire). New York Jets or Miami Dolphins. Playing in the same city with brother Eli is too hard to resist. Option 2 is sunny Miami. Option 3, Tennessee. Expect a quick decision.

2012 MLB Preview: Pittsburgh Pirates

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-Digger's Daily-

Answer: 1992. Question: When was Pittsburgh Pirates last winning season? One play transformed Pittsburgh's destiny for decades. Barry Bonds refusal to better position himself in left field - stayed deep in LF instead of listening to teammate (CF) Andy Van Slyke to move in - allowed just enough time for slow footed and hobbling Braves 1B Sid Bream to score the winning run in bottom of 9th, Game 7 NLCS.

Soon thereafter Pittsburgh attempted cost saving measures. Star players signed multimillion dollar contracts elsewhere. Future talent never materialized while wearing a Pirates uniform. Pittsburgh has won more than 75 games only twice since 1992.

In an attempt to secure their new future Pittsburgh signed CF Andrew McCutchen to a 6 year $51.5M deal. McCutchen enters season number 4 with room to grow. A gifted defender and squad's top offensive threat. It was a good to see this team finally commit to a future.

As for the present, Pittsburgh hoped trading for A.J. Burnett would solidify a staff in need of veteran leadership. It didn't take long for a fluke injury to sideline the teams new number one starter. A fouled bunt attempt crushed Burnett's face. He's out for at least 3 months and probably longer without any baseball related activities for the foreseeable future. The rest of Pittsburgh's spring rotation battle is a hodgepodge of future contributor's and elder statesmen returning from injuries. Eric Bedard, Jeff Karstens, James McDonald, Charlie Morton, Kevin Correia and a few others battle it out this spring trying to earn a shot in the rotation. Joel Hanrahan (40 saves) returns to save victories. Middle relievers are a sore spot again heading into 2012. Spring training determines who makes the trip up north to begin the year.

Offense and defense will be interesting. 1B may become a platoon with Garret Jones/Casey McGehee. Neil Walker returns at second. Clint Barmes at short. Pirates hoping 3B Alvarez puts a disappointing '11 behind and makes great strides this year. Perhaps the Bucs most significant player is catcher Rod Barajas handling the pitching staff. McCutchen anchors the outfield with position battles in left & right taking place right now in Bradenton, FL.

Prediction: Don't expect much from Pittsburgh in 2012 - but don't count them out either. Starting rotation has ability to surprise. Talented hitters need day to day consistency. Bullpen is biggest question mark as middle relief is lacking in a big hitting division. 72+ wins is the line here. Pittsburgh fans are hoping their 2012 team becomes a Cinderella story taking NL opponents by surprise. Same old story. Same ending.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

2012 MLB Preview: Philadelphia Phillies

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-Digger's Daily-

2011 Philadelphia Phillies were picked by many to go all the way. They seemed on the right track until getting stymied in NLDS by eventual World Series winners St. Louis. More bad news. Slugging 1B Ryan Howard was injured on the series final play (ruptured Achilles). Howard will miss at least the first month of 2012.

2012 offense has many question marks. Predicted again to win the NL East by many. Health is already a nagging concern. In addition to Howard double play combination Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins haven't posted solid numbers in years. Blossoming LF John Mayberry is getting a chance to win the everyday job. Ty Wigginton opens up the season filling in for Howard at first. All in all, Phils lineup should be able to generate runs.

The heart and soul of this club has been a stellar starting rotation. 1-2-3 is Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. Vance Worley put together a solid rookie campaign going 11-3. Joe Blanton and Kyle Kendrick battle it out this spring for the last rotation slot. Phils pitching domination will make it difficult for any team to take 2 of 3 from these guys. New closer is ex-Red Sox fireman Jonathan Papelbon.

Prediction: NL East is Philadelphia's to win or lose. They shouldn't get too confident with Atlanta and suddenly competitive Washington aiming to knock off the top seed. 92+ wins well within reach.

Power Rankings Top 10's

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-Digger's Daily-

It's time for All World All Sports Power Rankings Top 10's. It's a fun time of year to be a sports fan. NCAA Tournament Basketball is right around the corner. Fitting we begin this weeks rankings with college basketball. Baylor's women's team is riding an incredible 31-0 season. NBA & NHL second half battles for playoffs means every game counts. Baseball spring training in full force - the regular season begins in less than a month! Power Rankings time....

NCAA Men's
1 - Kentucky
2 - Syracuse
3 - Kansas
4 - North Carolina
5 - Mizzouri
6 - Duke
7 - Ohio State
8 - Michigan State
9 - Marquette
10- Murray State

NCAA Women's
1 - Baylor
2 - Stanford
3 - Notre Dame
4 - Connecticut
5 - Maryland
6 - Duke
7 - Delaware
8 - Miami (FL)
9 - Green Bay
10- Tennessee

1 - Chicago
2 - Oklahoma City
3 - Miami
4 - Orlando
5 - San Antonio
6 - Lakers
7 - Indiana
8 - Clippers
9 - Memphis
10- Atlanta

1 - Rangers
2 - Vancouver
3 - Detroit
4 - St. Louis
5 - Pittsburgh
6 - Nashville
7 - Boston
8 - Philadelphia
9 - Chicago
10- New Jersey

1 - St. Louis
2 - Philadelphia
3 - Texas
4 - New York
5 - Detroit
6 - Angels
7 - San Francisco
8 - Tampa Bay
9 - Milwaukee
10- Atlanta

Friday, March 2, 2012

2012 MLB Preview: Miami Marlins

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-Digger's Daily-

Everything seems new in South Florida. New team name. New stadium. New uniforms. New spending habits. New manager. New free agents. Welcome to re-branded baseball - 2012 Miami Marlins.

Marlins Park makes its' regular season debut April 4th in Miami's home opener vs defending champion St. Louis. Marlins fans have plenty of reasons to be optimistic heading into 2012.

Miami was busy this off season shifting gears from usual selling ways to free agent buyers. They went all out in an unsuccessful attempt to land prized free agent Albert Pujols (Angels). However, they did land another sought after player - former Mets shortstop Jose Reyes. Reyes arrival means Hanley Ramirez moves from SS to 3B forming a tough left side infield. Miami's second big name signing is former White Sox southpaw Mark Buehrle. Toss in a new closer - Heath Bell - and Miami is ready to challenge in NL East. Leading the way is feisty manager Ozzie Guillen.

Guillen's club is strong on paper but there's plenty of question marks. Biggest concern is keeping Jose Reyes healthy. Reyes has a long history of leg issues. He's one of the game's top players when 100%. How well will Hanley Ramirez adjust to playing 3B? Ramirez worth ethic was called into question last year before injuries finished off a disappointing season. Ramirez stats have been on a steady decline after establishing himself as one of NL's top players from 2006-09. Hot headed Carlos Zambrano short tempered his way out of Chicago. Miami's taking a big chance on this locker room grenade. If Zambrano can keep his cool and return to old form then Florida has a deep starting rotation.

What to watch. Winter hype grabbed Miami headlines. Now it's time to play ball. Marlins have two slugging corner outfielders. 2012 represents a major maturing test for both Morrison & Stanton. Are these guys ready to improve their games? Stanton is a free swinging slugger who must put his bat on the ball with runners in scoring position. 166 strikeouts over shadowed 34 home runs (especially when 34 round trippers produced a paltry 87 RBI). Morrison jumped from 2 homers in '10 to 23 in '11. He's another in need of plate discipline. Fan favorite Gabby Sanchez began last season on fire (.322 thru May) only to struggle throughout the second half. He would have been traded if Pujols signed. Now, it's up to him to produce or be gone.

Starting rotation is curious. Can #1 starter Johnson finally stay healthy? Is Buehrle ready for NL action? Can weak link Nolasco learn to pitch out of jams? Steady Annibal Sanchez finally has a shot at run support. Is Zambrano ready to play ball or continue being an embarrassing distraction? Loads of both upside & downside potential on this staff.

Miami's offense will only be as good as their plate discipline. Free swingers up and down this lineup. Probable lineup has plenty of speed at the top with Reyes/Bonifacio hitting 1-2 followed by Hanley. Stanton probably cleanup followed by Sanchez, Morrison & Buck. Glaring weakness here is OBA - especially against division rival control artist pitchers.

Projection: An exciting year coming in Miami after less than stellar 90 losses 2011. Health history, lack of left handed hitting and low OBA must be addressed in pre-season action. NL East is quickly becoming one of best in baseball. It's hard to picture this squad challenging for division title. 82-85 wins is realistic. If new pieces fit, youngsters mature and good health prevails then Miami is a serious contender to challenge for Wild Card.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

2012 MLB Preview: New York Yankees

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-Digger's Daily-

Yankees GM Cashman had one clear priority after getting bounced by Detroit in ALDS. Starting pitching. Joining slimmed down staff ace CC Sabathia in the 2012 rotation figures to be newcomers Michael Pineda & Hiroki Kuroda. Two immediate impact style pitchers. Ian Nova hopes to improve on a solid rookie season (16-4). Phil Hughes is odds on favorite to nail down the fifth slot this spring.

Pineda represents the Yankees future. He has much to live up to after New York traded their top slugging prospect Jesus Montero to Seattle for Pineda. MP hurls ace material - often kept hitters flailing at great pitches. He surrendered just 133 hits in 171 innings complemented with 173 punch outs. He's a keeper unless short fences at Yankee Stadium prove unfriendly.

Yanks offense swings for the fences way too much. This is a 100 win team if hitters hit. New York's lineup is nightmare material for opposing pitchers. Jeter, Granderson, Cano, Rodriguez, Teixeira, Swisher, Gardner, Martin and new DH Ibanez. All potential .300 hitters. Nothing is more disappointing to Yankees fans when watching runners stranded in scoring position due to hitters not putting the bat on the ball. Way to many empty swings in 2011. Home runs are nice but when a single will do - as is the case most often - then put the ball in play.

Soon to be first ballot Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera enters his final MLB season. Baseball's best ever closer would love to leave the game on top. Yankees bullpen has been a sore spot in recent years attempting to protect leads for Rivera to save. Not much help came during off season. Robertson shines. Joba's coming back from major injuries. Soriano was once the heir apparent to Rivera but bombed miserably in during debut Yankee season. Logan is their situational lefty. Basically, the same cast of characters from last season have much to prove. Yankees are hoping new look rotation goes deeper in games offering needed rest for a bullpen over worked throughout 2011.

AL East is stacked with four solid teams. Boston, Tampa and Toronto should not be taken lightly. That said, this aging Yanks team is still tops.

Prediction: Yanks will go as far as starting rotation takes them. ARod needs a bounce back season at the plate. This is a 95+ win team unless injuries attack veteran performers. Not sold on Ibanez/Jones DH combo - except for relatively cheap price. Should be another exciting year in the Bronx.

2012 MLB Preview: Texas Rangers

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-Digger's Daily-

Oh so close. The 2011 Texas Rangers (96-66) were within one out (twice) of winning their franchise first World Series title. Question of the day wonders if they're able to put devastating World Series Game 6 in the rear view mirror speeding into 2012 regular season play? Yes.

2012 is very promising. Nolan Ryan & Co. made great strides this off season. Lost to division rival Angels is lefty starter CJ Wilson who set a record he'd rather forget last year (lost All Star Game, lost in ALDS, lost in ALCS and lost in World Series - ouch!). Gained is a pitcher who could quickly become the best in baseball. Japanese import Yu Darvish. This guy is the real deal 100%. A seven pitch pitcher. Throws all for strikes. His Japanese career absolutely stellar. Never an ERA above 1.88. Career 9.5 K/9. Pinpoint control. Gobble up Yu quickly in fantasy leagues.

Joining Darvish in Texas rotation is maturing Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison and flame thrower Nef Feliz. These guys really need to build on last year without any set backs. All talented. Ryan hopes to have them focused. Joe Nathan was brought in to save victories. All eyes watching his tender right arm in spring ball.

Can any team keep up with the Rangers offense? These guys will give rotation plenty of run support. Cruz, Hamilton, Napoli, Young, Kinsler, Beltre, Andrus and pretty deep backups at all positions heading into spring training. Health, as always, is key but this team has players on the ready if ugly disabled list bug pops up.

Prediction: 2012 Rangers are playoff caliber. Key is living up to expectations. Darvish is the real deal. Offense scores in bunches. Quick start in April is key to establishing a buffer zone vs improved division rival Los Angeles. 92+ wins.