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Friday, August 15, 2014

Retweet of the Day - August 15, 2014

The Daily Hat Trick Retweet of the Day is back! While preseason football is underway, the live bullets aren't flying yet and media outlets still need a little filler fodder for discussion. From Johnny Manziel to Michael Sam to 24 hour coverage of who is going to play with LeBron James in Cleveland, sports media can beat a dead horse like no other at this time of year.

Today's retweet is from Luke Matthews (@30Matthews):

"If ESPN doesn't send me an alert the next time LeBron or Michael Sam farts I'm going to be highly upset."

Taco night in Rams training camp?
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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

On to the Next One

Rory McIlroy's well publicized break up with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki was followed by rapid improvement and success in McIlroy's golf game. On Sunday, McIlroy won the PGA Championship, his second consecutive major tournament and fourth in his career. He has been quoted as saying that his golf game improved after the split because he could focus more on his game. Wozniacki is the subject of today's Chick Pic.

I guess Wozniacki, right, and Serena Williams, left, put their little beef behind them. And in Serena's case, it's way...waaaay behind her. 1
That's how great it is to be Rory. He can kick her to the curb! 2
Giggity.... 3
Kim Clijsters (right) giggity.... 4
I don't even recognize her as an underwear model (but I'd like to get familiar! ZING...!). 5
Looks great in a dress.... 6

Looks great sitting down in one, too.... 7

Rory is taking the whole situation in stride. 8
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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Robin Williams (1951-2014)

People who know me personally know that I am seldom at a loss for words. But today, I strained to find a subject to discuss. Truthfully, the current events subject dominating my thoughts was the tragic apparent suicide of actor and comic Robin Williams.

While he had a hysterical stand-up bit with his “theory” on the invention of the game of golf and a dramatic scene in Good Will Hunting involving Carlton Fisk’s dramatic home run in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, Williams is not a sports figure. However, there are some public figures whose lives transcend their core subject matter associations.
There is not a one of you reading this blog who hasn’t observed Williams’ work. I doubt there is one of you who haven’t had some joy or enrichment brought to your life at some point by his work. Whether you grew up on Mork & Mindy, enjoyed being a kid or felt like a kid again from his portrayal of Peter Pan in “Hook”, a Genie in “Aladdin” (my personal favorite), or a cross dressing dad in “Mrs. Doubtfire”, appreciated his side-splitting stand up acts, or were taken in by his dramatic acting roles, Williams probably touched your life for the better in some way.
We’ll get back to sports tomorrow at The Hat Trick. Today, I wanted to remember a talented man whose work nearly all of us knew and enjoyed. He is a man the world has lost and is mourning today.

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Monday, August 11, 2014

Wide Lefty

Rory McIlroy won the 2014 PGA Championship at the Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky, shooting a 68 on Sunday to finish 16 under par. McIlroy finished one stroke ahead of Phil Mickelson and two strokes over Rickie Fowler and Henrik Stenson in a highly competitive major tournament, the last of 2014. McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, won his fourth career major tournament. McIlroy made his final two puts to seal the win in near darkness, due to a near two hour weather delay yesterday.


Phil Mickelson narrowly missed big shot after big shot that could have potentially shaved that once stroke differential off of ol' Lefty's score, including a 25 foot putt for eagle on the 7th hole that missed by inches. Rickie Weeks narrowly missed a putt on the final hole that would have tied him with Mickelson. The fourth round of the PGA Championship was a contest of inches. Golf fastest rising superstar, had the inches on his side. I can only imagine that Mickelson spent much of yesterday evening kicking himself after being so close but so far away so many times in the final round.

It was that kind of day for Lefty. 3


Last month, I suggested that, notwithstanding McIlroy's rise to the undisputed ranks of golf's elite, neither he nor anyone would go on a tear the likes of Tiger Woods at the turn of the century (Woods missed the weekend cut after finishing six over after the first two rounds). While I stand by that hypothesis, a year in 2015 like his year in 2014 could cause me to question that assertion. Move over, Tiger, now there's something Rory-er.

This photo isn't from Sunday, but the picture says a thousand words about the juxtaposition of the careers of McIlroy, left, and Woods, right, right now. 1

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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Behind Every Good Man

On Tuesday, NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich hired former WNBA star Becky Hammon as an assistant coach. The hiring makes Hammon the first woman to be a full time, paid assistant coach in the history of the NBA. Once again, the NBA is ahead of the curve of social progress.


Beyond the fact that Hammon’s gender makes her hiring historic, I think this story is going to fade quickly. It will come and go whenever a member of the media wants something to write about or talk about, likely with more going than coming. Someone at some point will do or say something insensitive related to Hammon’s gender. It, too, shall pass.

I don’t know anything about Hammon’s knowledge of X’s and O’s. We are all acutely aware of the legacy and elite level of achievement of Popovich’s NBA head coaching career. Pop is five time NBA Champion as coach of the Spurs. He is the most accomplished active NBA head coach.  He is going to coast in to the Basketball Hall of Fame when he decides to retire and is eligible. In short, Coach Popovich’s selection of Hammon is all I need to know about her qualifications.

Considering the man who made the hire, I have little doubt about Hammon's coaching potential. 1


What none of us can truly know until we see the curtain rise on the 2014-2015 NBA season is what differences, if any, will there be in the dynamic of a woman coaching men. As human beings, we approach the opposite differently, even if slightly, in different situations. How will it translate in the hyper-competitive NBA on a team seeking its third consecutive Western Conference title and back-to-back NBA Championships?

Also, whether Hammon is successful or not (see her boss for why I think she will be), she will not be the last woman to coach in the NBA. She will not be a one-off. The WBNA has a plethora of knowledgeable players with high basketball IQ’s. The NBA is always looking for talent. It is inevitable that the men’s league will pick people with coaching potential from the women’s league, just like it does from the Developmental League and did with the now defunct Continental Basketball Association.

The question is: as more women enter the NBA coaching ranks and succeed, how long will it be before there is a woman hired as the Head Coach of an NBA team. It may not happen this year or even this decade, but Hammon has broken the glass ceiling of coaching. It’s only a matter of time before a woman is hired for the top job.

How long will it be before that happens and how long before a woman is the leader of men? What kind of personality in a woman will it take to manage and coach and lead and discipline 15 elite, millionaire, alpha-male jocks? Being an assistant coach is at a completely different level of demand than being the guy (or the girl).

Hammon in the WNBA. 3

Another question I have seen floated since Tuesday’s announcement is: will there ever be a woman to play in the NBA. Hammon gave the answer that every knowledgeable sports enthusiast already knew: “No.”

This isn’t the playground, it is major league sports. Sure, a high school girls hoops team could smoke a bunch of dudes without the technical knowledge or benefit of coaching that the girls team possesses. However, on the whole, men are bigger, stronger, and faster than women. The same applies when skimming the tiny, elite percentage of people occupying the 450 active roster spots in the NBA.

People who have played and closely followed sports know this truth. Casual fans or non-fans simply intrigued by the historic nature of Hammon’s hiring may not grasp or even buy into this concept. Consider that dunks are a routine occurrence, often a dozen times per night, in an NBA game and the vast majority of NBA players can go above the rim with ease. In the 18 year history of the WNBA, there have only been 20 dunks recorded by five players*.

This is the only competitive dunking involving a woman most of us will ever see live with our own eyes. 2

Hammon’s hiring is because of what she has upstairs, developed by years of what her body could do while competing against similarly talented peers. She need not be able to posterize Tony Parker to be effective from the sideline. Talk about it today. It will be yesterday’s news before tomorrow.

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Monday, August 4, 2014

Snap, Crackle, and Pop

The uncertain fly in the ointment in any athlete’s career is the possibility of, impact of, and recovery from injury. Whether a setback is temporary, prolonged, or career ending, they all have a profound effect on the sport and the athletes most connected to them in the sport. Three recent injuries have rocked the world of sports. The severity of the injuries are the inverse of the status of the players injured, but have impacted their respective sports profoundly.


Tiger Woods is the most accomplished and famous golfer of his time. While he is past his prime, he won more tournaments in 2013 than any other golfer and re-surged back to the world’s #1 ranking. Tiger has been nagged by injuries in recent years. He recently had back surgery that forced him off of the PGA Tour.
Woods returned for the Quicken Loans National tournament, missing the cut.Woods then competed in his first major tournament in the British Open, though he struggled and flamed out after a promising start in the first round. Woods recently withdrew from the final round of the Bridgestone invitational this past weekend due to pain in his back. Woods was three under par through the first three rounds.

There is much speculation about this recent setback for Woods. Will he participate in the upcoming PGA Championship? Will he be on the Ryder Cup team next month? The big questions are: 1) Can he be the #1 guy in golf again (on the course) and 2) When will it happen? This latest setback at best raises uncertainty about the future of Woods (and the popularity of golf as a whole) and at worst is another step in the decline of the greatest golfer of the 21st century.

Tiger's final shot at the Bridgestone. Not unlike a few unfortunate consumers of the tire.... 1


Indiana Pacers forward Paul George’s injury was so gruesome that I could not create a catchy subtitle for this section in good conscience. George suffered a compound fracture of his leg in international competition with Team USA, preparing for this year’s World Cup. He will miss the 2014-2015 NBA season.

George is a young guy and unlike ligaments, tendons, vertebrae, and joints, broken bones (particularly in young, healthy men) usually heal fully. George should be back at a high level one day. However, the window for the Pacers to win a title may have just shut with George’s injury. The competitive landscape in the NBA’s Eastern Conference is shallow and with LeBron James’ return to Cleveland and the breakup of the Heatles, the two time conference runner ups appeared to have their best opportunity to advance to the NBA Finals in spite of losing guard Lance Stephenson to free agency.

Now, George will not play next season. All Star forward David West, the veteran leader of the team, will be in his mid-thirties by the time George returns. The uncertainty hanging over the Pacers makes them a less attractive free agency destination to attract supporting players. It may be time to rebuild in Indianapolis.

James Harden, huge beard, right, comforting Damon Lillard, left. 2


New York Giants running back David Wilson was an embattled player in just his second year in the NFL. He began last season with an acute case of fumble-itis that jeopardized his status as the starting running back. He suffered a neck injury in Week 5 of the 2013 that ultimately ended his career.

David Wilson had spinal fusion surgery following the injury. He was cleared to return to football contact activities in late July. He suffered a burner in practice last week (a compression of the bones in the neck/spine). Today, Wilson and the Giants put out a statement indicating that he would be placed on injured reserve, meaning he cannot play this season, and that doctors are advising him not to play football again.

David Wilson is only 23 years old and it appears that his NFL career is over. Wilson came into the NFL in 2012 after demonstrating a wealth of potential at Virginia Tech. While he never had a breakout in the NFL, and in spite of the aforementioned struggles last season, Wilson demonstrated the talent to be a serviceable, productive, long-term NFL player.

In spite of the increased focus on player safety, football is a dangerous, high impact sport. It is a dangerous game. The future of no player is certain and careers can end in a flash. Wilson’s sudden departure from the game is another banal reminder of that dark reality.

Giants Training Camp 2014.... In just hours, Wilson's career will be over. 3
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Friday, August 1, 2014

Much Needed Rest

PGA Tour golfer Dustin Johnson suddenly announced an indefinite leave of absence from golf, including next month's Ryder Cup. Tiger Woods expressed disappointed surprise and he and Johnson will not be Ryder Cup teammates this year. Johnson will also miss the PGA Championship. Johnson did not elaborate, but it is all the cause I need to make his fiancee, Paulina Gretzky, the subject of today's Chick Pic.

Reported on The Jim Rome Show, reports that it was revealed that Johnson is serving a six month suspension after testing positive for cocaine. He has reportedly failed PGA drug tests for marijuana in the past. Also in the report, Johnson was alleged to have had inappropriate interactions with the wife of at least one other Tour player.

Given a choice between hanging out with her or hanging out with a bunch of dudes swinging a metal stick, I could understand his mindset. 1
Paulina is a team player. Johnson went the other direction regarding the Cup. Opposites attract. 2
Perhaps the man just needed a vacation. 3
Or needed some sun.... 4
Or a frolic in the pool.... 5
She may have needed some sun and a snack too! 6
She could be on a remake of Baywatch. 7
Swimming is great cardio! 8

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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Before the Clock Strikes 12

When the 2013 Major League Baseball Trade Deadline passed, what I remember most is that it was not memorable at all. that is not the case in 2014. A flurry of 11th hour trades with some All Star caliber players were dealt at the last minute this afternoon. These transactions are certain to impact both pennant races and may be the moves that tip the scales in favor of the eventual 2014 World Series champion. The following are the highlights of the day.


The Oakland Athletics eliminated any doubt to whether they are employing a "World Series or bust" strategy in 2014 with the trade of two-time Home Run Derby Champion and 2014 All Star cleanup hitter Yoenis Cespedes (.256, 17 HR, 57 RBI) to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for their ace, Jon Lester (10-7, 2.52 ERA, 149 Ks). The A's are getting a veteran leader in the prime of his career with loads of postseason experience and two World Series rings. The Red Sox are getting another budding superstar from the recent Cuban invasion of MLB who will provide a desperately needed infusion of power into the batting order. The A's also received Red Sox left fielder Jonny Gomes (.234, 6 HR, 32 RBI).

Cespedes had another year remaining on his contract and Lester is all but certain to be a two to three month rental for Oakland. The A's would probably not have been able to resign Cespedes after 2015, but they could have had him for another year.On the other hand, Cespedes was one of the highest paid members of the A's with a $10.5 million salary. His defection (and that of his salary on a financially frugal, small market team) in exchange for a bona fide ace pitcher who help could win a World Series is not the worst subtraction from the roster.


Red Sox: A
Athletics: B-


The Cardinals have employed hired guns before, but seldom at such a steep cost. In Lackey (11-7, 3.60 ERA, 116 Ks), the Cards are getting a solid starter who, at his best, plays at an All-Star caliber level. They also have a dirt cheap option that they are likely to exercise on Lackey in 2015. The cost was steep, however. Joe Kelly (2-2, 4.37 ERA) has shown he can be a solid starter, but Lackey will replace him in the rotation. Allen Craig, however, was thought of to be the future of the franchise and now he is gone. Craig (.237, 7 HR, 44 RBI) has had a down season and has a disastrous July, but his potential is evident. The Red Sox need hitters and gambled on his evident upside.


Red Sox: B+
Cardinals: B-

John Lackey 2

To quote the Fallout Boys, it ain't a scene, it's an arms race. The Tigers dumped the weak link in their rotation, Drew Smyly (6-9, 3.93 ERA) and centerfielder Austin Jackson (273, 4 HR, 33 RBI) while picking up the former Cy Young award winner in David Price (11-8, 3.11 ERA, 189 Ks) from the Tampa Bay Rays. This was a three team trade that also involved the Seattle Mariners. While Detroit still has some exploitable pressure point in its bullpen, its starting rotation now looks almost bulletproof, especially for a postseason run in which as few as three pitchers could be rotated.


Tigers: A
Rays: C
Mariners: C+

David Price pitched 7 innings in his final game as a member of the Rays. 3
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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Shake or Bake?

Baltimore Ravens star running back Ray Rice was suspended for the first two games of the 2014 NFL season by Commissioner Roger Goodell for violation of the league's Personal Conduct Policy. Earlier this year, Rice was seen on video at an Atlantic City hotel dragging his fiancée (to whom he is now married) by her hair from an elevator after knocking her unconscious. In contrast, Pro Bowl wide receiver Josh Gordon of the Cleveland Browns was recently suspended for a year for a repeat offense for the league's substance abuse policy after recently testing positive of marijuana. The NFL's has its crimes and punishments out of whack.

Unless they were planning an extreme sports honeymoon, I don't think Ray Rice wife thought she was signing up for the WWE treatment caught on the video above. 1

I understand that application of the Personal Conduct Policy is ultimately at the discretion of the Commissioner while the Substance Abuse Policy is written out as part of the players' collective bargaining agreement with the league. But to ding Rice for two games for cracking his lady upside the head and knocking her out like Bones Jones and to throw the book at Gordon for doing something that is legal in two states and a slap-on-the-wrist or less elsewhere seems out of alignment to me.

I'll keep this rant short, because I think it warrants little explanation. Gordon did something that's completely legal in two states, partially legal in about a dozen, decriminalized in about half, and less serious than a DUI or driving on a suspended license, in most states, if you get caught. Ray Rice could have easily done time on his first offense for knocking her out, potentially a felony. The NFL is out of whack with the rest of the country on that one. The message sent by this set of incidents is the wrong one.
Josh Gordon wears his intention to bake on his sleeve (and his back), unlike Mr. Rice, who wore Mrs. Rice's grill on the back of his hand. 2

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Keep It Locked in the Dungy

Former Super Bowl Champion and Pro Football Hall of Fame Finalist Head Coach Tony Dungy, one of the most respected figures in NFL history, waded ever so slightly into the pool of controversy on Monday. 

Dungy commented that he would not have drafted former University of Missouri defensive end Michael Sam, the NFL’s first openly gay player to be drafted. Sam was selected by the St. Louis Rams in the 7th round of the 2014 NFL Draft.

Dungy cited the distractions that would come with having the first openly gay player on the team as the reason. He went on to say, however, that Sam deserves a chance to play in the NFL. It was at this point that I had to stop and scratch my head.

Dungy can fiund at least one person who would agree with him. I'll bet Tyler Murphy (center, getting body slammed) wished that Missouri football coach Gary Pinkel didn't give Sam (right, #52, throwing Murphy to the ground) a chance. 2

Tony Dungy is one of my favorite Head Coaches in the history of sports. His pristine reputation is well earned. He is almost universally respected by players, peers, and media alike. But I think the good coach stepped into a little doo-doo with these remarks.

One of my biggest criticisms of most public figures, especially the “good guys”, is that they rarely say things to ruffle any feathers. Usually, people who are universally liked do not get to be that way by rubbing others the wrong way. They tend to think before they speak, make well-reasoned statements and choices in life, and demonstrate respect for their fellow men, even when they don’t necessarily agree.

That is a very safe approach to personal and public relationships. Safe doesn’t tell me much about a person’s deep inner core. When Dungy opined on the selection of Michael Sam, we tiptoed out of the safety zone. Good for him.

I don’t necessarily agree; football is a game of inches. Michael Sam was an accomplished enough pass rush at Missouri to win the 2014 SEC co-Defensive Player of the Year. I think that an edge, even a slight one, provided by a player in one of the four most important positions on the field (DE, CB, OT, QB) can make a difference between winning and losing. In my opinion, that trumps a social controversy which, for several years, has become exponentially less controversial with each passing day.

Still, the public sentiment is far from the level of consensus on an openly gay player in a masculine, often macho environment like a sports locker room, fire hall, police department, or military barracks. There will be additional attention from the media placed on Sam because of his known sexual orientation. It may make people uncomfortable to know that his orientation could affect his career prospects, but Coach Dungy offered just such an opinion.

Why would Coach Dungy hedge his bets by saying that Sam still deserves a chance to play? How can he say that when he just said he would not have drafted Sam?!?!? Is he saying that he wouldn’t have Sam on his team, but he would support another coach’s decision to bring Sam into camp? I doubt that he is saying he isn’t a good enough manager of his players to handle having Sam on the roster. What is he saying?


Tony Dungy made it quite clear that he would not have drafted Michael Sam. A man who has spent his career leading by example and even wrote a book called, “Quite Strength” is not setting a very consistent or strong example by turning around and saying Sam deserves a chance to play. Dungy would not offer that chance because of his orientation.

I think Dungy should demonstrate some of that quiet strength and stand behind his controversial and not necessarily popular beliefs. Own them; stand behind them; defend them. If not, then just “stay safe” and say nothing.

Quite strength...verbal weakness.
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Monday, July 21, 2014

Rory McIlroy Is The Next Superstar

Twenty-five year old golfer Rory McIlroy led the 2014 British Open from wire-to-wire, finishing 17 under par for the tournament by shooting a 71 on Sunday. McIlroy has won his third Major tournament in golf’s Grand Slam in four years. A Masters green jacket will complete the collection.

The Northern Ireland gold prodigy burst on to the scene three years ago with a victory in the U.S. Open. A PGA Championship victory in 2012 resulted in comparisons to golf’s biggest and most recognizable superstar, Tiger Woods, currently ranked #9 in the world. Rory is unquestionable one of golf’s “Big Three” along with Woods and Phil Mickelson.

While McIlroy (or anyone else) will likely never, ever experience a tear like Woods did from the late 1990s through the late 2000s, his dominating win on Sunday confirmed that he is the next young superstar in a golfing world that has been starving for one since Woods personal and professional lives began to decline in 2009. The irony is that while Tiger is past his peak, he is far from done. On the back end of his prime, perhaps approaching his twilight as a top ranked player, Woods is emerging into a rival-mentor of McIlroy.

After getting off to a promising start, Woods showed that he is far from "back". Ahead of schedule, perhaps...not "back". 2
Woods recorded more wins in 2013 than any other golfer on the PGA Tour and was ranked #1 before undergoing back surgery and being absent from the Tour until earlier last month. After shooting an impressive 69 on Thursday in the Open Championship, Woods had faded to the back of the pack by Friday. The road to recovery from major surgery is long. But as long a Woods continues to recover, the emergence of McIlroy offers the potential for many compelling golf narratives in the coming years.

One conclusion is clear to me. McIlroy is at the top of golf’s summit in rare company. The game is much more interesting when he, Woods, Mickelson, or one of a few recognizable people are winning. In the golfing world, for the time being, Rory is the story.

There is more to come with Rory, left, and Tiger, right. 3
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Friday, July 18, 2014

2014 Major League Baseball - American League - All Star Break

The second half of the season kicks off today. Yesterday we discussed the National League. Today, we'll talk about the A.L.. We previewed the American League at the start of the season and there have been a few surprises.!

American League

A.L. East

Tampa Bay Rays - It is a shame that one of the best run organizations in baseball with one of the best managers in baseball in Joe Maddon has one of the lousiest fan bases in baseball in terms of attendance. Nonetheless, expect the Rays to be in the pennant race discussion throughout the entire 2014 season. This team is loaded from top to bottom - pitching and hitting - but especially the pitching.

One area of concern is the youth movement in the starting rotation. Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi round out the bottom of the Rays' rotation. Between them, they had 32 career starts heading into the start of the season.

Describing the first half of the season as a "bitter disappointment" would be an accurate description of the Rays' season so far. That said, never, ever count out a team managed by Joe Maddon. The next two weeks will determine the fate of the 2014 Rays' season and the future of ace pitcher and former Cy Young winner David Price (9-7, 3.23 ERA, 164 Ks).

The Rays have won 13 of 18 and, excluding a catastrophic stretch in June in which they lost 14 of 15, they have been as good as their A.L. East rivals. The decision of whether or not to trade David Price needs to be made by the July 31 trade deadline. A waiver deal after the deadline may have too much uncertainty for the Rays and other teams involved. 

The Rays' starting pitching, sans Price, is mediocre and their closer-by-committee plan has yielded the underwhelming results one may expect. This team will have ZERO chance down the stretch without Price. So whether or not this team has a pulse at the end of the month will answer a lot of short an long term questions about this franchise and its key players.

Baltimore Orioles - The acquisition of Nelson Cruz from the Rangers at DH is going to deliver a burst of power to the O's lineup. Their pitching remains a big question mark. Their bullpen has been a potential source of heartburn for several years now. However, with Ubaldo Jimenez in the #2 spot in the rotation, manager Buck Showalter should seek an endorsement deal from Tums or Rolaids.

Which Jimenez can the Orioles expect? He has been consistently inconsistent throughout his career. His performance in his spot in the rotation could be make-or-break for Baltimore this season.

If I sing manager Buck Showalter's praises a thousand times, I cannot do it enough. This team has held its contention in the East together with Popsicle sticks, super glue, sluggers, and a tight bullpen. Their starting pitchers aren't "good enough" by any on-paper standard yet they are currently in first place. This team reminds me of the 2012 Orioles team, which Showalter steered to the playoffs, far above expectations.

Boston Red Sox - The defending World Series champions made a big pickup in luring veteran catcher A.J. Pierzynski away from the Chicago White Sox. Still, this team is not getting any younger, particularly in the starting rotation. Can this pitching staff grind through another long season and have the Sox in position to repeat come October? I don't think it is likely, but I would never shortchange manager John Farrell after the job he did last season.

When you're the defending World Series champs, even in a baseball-crazed town like Boston, you get a bit of a break when you're sniffing the cellar at the All Star break. Their starters are solid but their middle-relief will never get a Rolaids endorsement opportunity and the bottom half of their batting order may as well be swinging rubber garden hoses instead of wooden bats. 

Manager John Farrell says his team isn't throwing in the towel yet. Let me get that for you, Johnny boy! 

New York Yankees - The Yankees have a lot of their eggs in the Japanese import basket, as in 25-year-old rookie pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. Their pitching rotation is otherwise old with a lot of question marks. Picking up outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran will provide some life to the batting order, but at what cost? This team is not getting any younger while spending a fortune on veteran players past their primes.

Making matters worse, this team will be without Alex Rodriguez for the entire season. Like him or not, he's a far cry ahead of the bunch of people playing 3rd base for the Yankees this year that most fans have never heard of.

The Yankees were exceeding expectations, in the chase in the division race up to this point. Ace pitcher Masahiro Tanaka (12-4, 2.51 ERA, 135 Ks) is sure to be gone until September (elbow), assuming he does not need Tommy John surgery. With average to above-average but not game-changing hitters, a starting rotation that I would describe as anywhere from "mediocre" to "crap" (excluding interim ace Hiroki Kuroda), and an overworked bullpen, I don't see how the Yankees keep pace in this highly competitive division race. 

Toronto Blue Jays - The only pitching that this team will be doing will be its repeated hissy fits from getting smoked night in and night out. There may not be a worse collection of free agency busts, has beens, and unknowns in the majors than there are on the Jays pitching staff.

It isn't hard for me to admit I was wrong when I was completely wrong. And I whiffed on this team in the first half of the season. For a spell, the Blue Jays were the hottest team in baseball. The pitching staff has completely outperformed my expectations so far this year. In addition, they have a legitimate MVP candidate in Edwin Encarnacion (.277, 26 HR, 70 RBI).

Still, the Jays appear to be cooling off and while I don't expect a second half collapse, this team is a team whose core strength is hitting, not pitching. They have already given up the first place standing in the division that they had enjoyed for most of this season. Considering the age and track record of the pitching staff, I think the Jays are going to have trouble getting back into first place and staying there.

The decisions (or non-decisions) about one man, David Price, could determine the balance of power in the MLB pennant races. 1
A.L. Central

Detroit Tigers - Notwithstanding the trade of Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers, we can just hand the A.L. Central over to them now...again. There is an obvious loss of power from his (effective) replacement, third baseman Nick Castellanos (Miguel Cabrera moved from 3B to 1B). Still, the Tigers have the best player in the game in Miggy Cabrera.

They also have the best one through five starting rotation, in my opinion. At age 39, Joe Nathan is still among the elite closers in the game. Their young bullpen has as much upside, short and long term, as any in the game. And the Tigers' everyday position players match up well against any of the other 29 teams in the majors.

It is World Series or bust in Motown.

The Tigers are going to win this division, but the bullpen had better start demonstrating its upside or Motown will be in for another October disappointment. While the Tigers are collectively tearing the cover off of the ball, the starters can not work the innings needed for this team to win a World Series without more consistency and tightening in the pen.

Kansas City Royals - This team has steadily improved in each of the last three years. Apparently it plans on filling in the gaps with an, "out with the old, in with the new," philosophy. Five of the Royals eight everyday starters have four or fewer years of service in the majors, most age 25 or under. Not a single member of their entire bullpen has more than five years of service. However, their rotation is loaded with experience, anchored by "big Game" James Shields.

I don't expect this team to be playing in October, but is is not beyond the realm of possibility.

This team is only 2.5 games back in the A.L. Wild Card chase. They held the lead in the division, albeit for about 24 hours. The Royals have a real chance to break their 29 year playoff drought. Starting pitching, clutch hitting and plate discipline has gotten this team to this point. 

It needs to continue for K.C. to play into the month of October. This team does not have the power in its lineup to compensate for any extended gaps in the pitchers' performance. It has no room to take its proverbial foot off the gas.

Cleveland Indians - Great hitting is important but pitching is the difference between winning and losing in baseball. The Indians have a lot of guys who can hit. Their rotation is unbecoming of a playoff team. How they reached the postseason last year with their motley crew on the mound is beyond me, but don't expect that lighting to strike twice.

Ace pitcher Justin Masterson is going to have to win, win, win, no matter what when he gets the ball for this team to have any chance of keeping chase with the rest of the American League. Also, how Nyger Morgan performs in his return (did not play in 2013) after centerfielder Michael Bourn returns from the DL could be a difference maker in how far the needle moves for the Tribe in 2014.

The bats in the lineup will keep the Tribe discussion-worthy into August and perhaps September, but the pitching staff is just not good enough to get this team into the playoffs.

Chicago White Sox - Raise your hand if you aren't a White Sox fan and can name three or more of their eight everyday, position starters! I didn't think so.... No, Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko don't count; they're designated hitters.

Can you name anyone in their middle relief staff? No? Their starters are respectable enough to keep them out of the cellar this year. That's enough to keep the Southsiders ad the kings of Chicago baseball. It is sort of like being the big fish in an empty tank.

Bright spots: Pencil in first baseman Jose Abreu (.292, 29 HR, 73 RBI) for American League Rookie of the Year. Shortstop Alexi Ramirez (.282, 8 HR, 41 RBI, 45 R) is demonstrating that he is a legitimate star. The starting pitchers have not only been "respectable", but "good". The bullpen is a black hole, sucking the life out of any shot the Sox have for contending in 2014. A major overhaul of the relievers will put the White Sox in the American League playoff year.

Minnesota Twins - Phil Hughes was their big offseason pickup? Seriously?!? They can't be trying to pull a "Major League". They just got a new stadium! Were any of their everyday starters even born the last time this team won a World Series in 1991?

That they probably aren't going to lose 100 games is a moral victory for this team and its fans.

After spending his fair share of time on the hot seat in Kansas City, Ned Yost is another legitimate Manager of the Year candidate. 2
A.L. West

Texas Rangers - I expect a dogfight between these guys and the Oakland A's in the West this year. Picking up Prince Fielder was huge. Their starting rotation is loaded, with Alexi Ogando, good enough to be an ace on some rotations, being relegated from the rotation to the pen. The rest of the middle relief staff could be a weak spot for this team during the season. However, they are in capable hands in the 9th inning with Joakim Soria as their closer, assuming he is healthy and can revert back to form from his years with the Kansas City Royals. Big "if"...big potential if it works out. 

Father Time is undefeated and untied but the Injury Bug is in the Final Four every year. Their Disabled List looks like an All Star lineup (Prince Fielder, Matt Harrison, Alexi Ogando, and Derek Holland, for starters). The only good news for Manager Ron Washington is that he has a pretty valid excuse for being deep in the cellar this year. Except for ace starting pitcher Yu Darvish (8-5, 2.97 ERA, 142 Ks), he's working with a triple-A rotation and a ragtag bullpen. 

Oakland Athletics - The pitching is awesome. The power hitting is really good. Their problem, as it has been for several years, is hitting for average. This is going to be a problem for them in close games and in the postseason, should they advance that far. Still, expect the A's to be in the race all the way through September.

The acquisition of ace Jeff Samardzija (3-8, 2.78 ERA, 116 Ks) and starter Jason Hammel (8-6, 3.01 ERA, 107 Ks) via a recent trade with the Chicago Cubs has put this team in the driver's seat in the A.L. West. They're bashing the ball all over the park. The fact that Athletics General Manager and President of Penny Pinching Billy Beane traded three promising prospects (who cost very little) for two established veterans with seven figure salaries tells me that he thinks this team can win it all this year. I'm inclined to agree. The West is the A's division to lose.

Los Angeles Angels - Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. A decent batting lineup with underachieving starts, a good starting rotation, and a devil-may-care bullpen will not bring an American League pennant to L.A..

First baseman Albert Pujols, especially in light of his sluggish start to this season, is officially a red flag and on "free agency bust watch" if he cannot turn it around this year. Josh Hamilton began showing flashes, late last year, of what made him a coveted free agent after the 2012 season. So far, it has carried over into the first few games of this season.

Expect continued greatness from young, superstar outfielder Mike Trout. However, the Angels' plan of Pujols, Hamilton, and the same shaky bullpen should not get them much farther than last year - out of the playoffs. The x-factors are Pujols and Hamilton. Can Pujols shake off the injury bug and find himself again? Not a solid proposition at age 34, coming off of back-to-back declining seasons. Hamilton...there could be promising something there.

Albert Pujols (.279, 20 HR, 64 RBI) and Josh Hamilton (.295, 5 HR, 26 RBI, 46 GP) are back in the game and so are the Angels. The bullpen was this team's Achilles heel last year. They're turned it around in 2014 and are holding their weight and then some. This is an excellent team poised to challenge the two-time defending division champion A's. Late season transactions will determine whether the Angels are going to enter postseason play as a division champion or a Wild Card team. 

Seattle Mariners - "King" Felix Hernandez will continue to rule the mound. The Mariners' pitchers have not been the source their problems during the past several seasons. They can't hit. Bringing in second baseman Robinson Cano for a king's ransom was a step in the right direction. However, he is going to need an MVP-caliber season for the M's to deliver the run support that their pitchers will need to stay in any kind of postseason race. I do like the acquisition of Corey Hart at DH, if he is fully healthy, but it won't be enough.

The Mariners were red hot for a spell, but they will not be a serious pennant contender until they get some pop in their batting order. Acquiring shortstop Robinson Cano (.334, 7 HR, 57 RBI) was a big step in the right direction. Talk of reaching the playoffs is not far fetched but even if they can reach the postseason (which would be significant progress for this team) I would expect a swift exit. 

Their pitchers are awesome. Their hitters are just not good enough to win this division or the pennant. Period.

Houston Astros - Their youth push could pay dividends at the plate in 2014 but their pitchers are sub-par. The belly laugh? They brought back a member of their 2005 National League championship roster. Was it Andy Pettitte? No? Was it Roger Clemens? No. They brought back a member of their middle relief, "Bridge to (Brad) Lidge" - who was at the peak of a mediocre career back then - to be the closer!

Chad Qualls is terrible.

Not only do they have a real chance to lose fewer than 100 games for the first time since 2010, but they have a chance to not finish last. It sounds like sarcasm, bot the long-suffering fans of this franchise, myself included, know that it is a significant step forward for this team. The power in their batting order is developing rapidly. 

All Star Shortstop Jose Altuve (.335, 2 HR, 27 RBI, 41 SB, 49 R) is budding into a potential superstar. The young arms in the starting rotation are developing ahead of schedule. And while the bullpen is still, collectively, a knee-slapping joke, closer Chad Qualls (1-1, 1.95 ERA, 10 saves/12 attempts) has not been terrible!  

The trade for Jeff Samardzija may be what pushes Oakland over the top in the A.L. West. 3
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