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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Retweet of the Day - April 22, 2014

New York Knicks President Phil Jackson has wasted very little time in steering the team's ship in a different direction. On Monday, as expected, Head Coach Mike Woodson was let go. I'm sure that more cannings are forthcoming.

I can probably count the number of times I made my own tweet a Retweet of the Day on one hand. However, this one was retweeted more than once and ties media and sports culture together. Ever see the Geico commercial where, "Bad news doesn't always travel fast,"? Here's the Daily Hat Trick edition, from Yours Truly (@ech1997):

"You think going back to work after a holiday sucks? Mike Woodson would gladly swap with you. #Knicks #NBA #fired"

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Monday, April 21, 2014

Brew Ha Ha!

I enjoy sports. I play sports. I like baseball. I’m not a fan of WWE. I don’t think excessive brawling, long term, is good for any sport. I hate moments when I am involved in rec level sports in which one or two guys get carried away with elevated testosterone levels and an altercation ensues. I thought yesterday’s Easter Sunday brawl between the Milwaukee Brewers and Pittsburgh Pirates was awesome!'s epic! 1

Perhaps there is a subconscious part of me that craves a little sports nostalgia. The morning before the Brewers’ brew-ha-ha with the Pirates at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, I watched the “30 for 30” documentary “Bad Boys” on ESPN, about the Detroit Pistons teams of the late 80s and early 90s, including consecutive championships in 1989 and 1990. The Pistons were the villains of the NBA at that time. Nowadays, words like “thug”, “goon”, and “dirty” are often overused and misused. Those labels were perfectly fitting for the Bad Boys Pistons. The documentary was full of video highlights supporting that assertion.

Shortly after watching the program, I found myself craving little more aggression in my sports viewing than normal. I watched the Game 1 first round of the NBA Playoffs between the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers – two teams that do not like each other. The game officials kept the players on a short leash, dishing out fouls like people dish out candy on Halloween for the least, little sign of aggression. Blake Griffin of the Clippers and Andre Iguodala fouled out of the game. Five of the other eight starters would finish the game in foul trouble.

Ordinarily, I would complain that the officials were trying to control the game and exerting too much influence. Given the two teams participating and their recent histories, however, I understood the reasoning and it worked; there was only one technical foul and zero flagrant fouls during the game. While there were several moments in which I could see players exchanging some choice words (not “Holy Saturday” or wishing one another a “Fun Easter”), the extracurricular contact between players was minimal, to my temporary disappointment.

In the 80s and 90s, flared tempers followed flying fists or at least strong shoves were no uncommon between rival opponents with mutual contempt. Concerned for the image of the NBA, former Commissioner David Stern led the charge to put rules in place in the late 1990s that would bring the hammer down on players turning the basketball court into a boxing ring, including fines and suspensions for leaving the bench for a skirmish, let alone putting one’s hands on another player. The days of the NBA tough guys, as we knew them (especially in the Eastern Conference at that time), were over.

This was Bill Laimbeer being nice. 3


Major League Baseball, reactive rather than pro-active as usual, followed suit within a few years. In the 20th century, bench clearing brawls in baseball, especially between division rivals, were just a part of the game, albeit much less frequent, as fights are in ice hockey. Fines, if any, were of a token nature and suspensions were extremely rare unless malicious injuring resulted from a team fight. Lengthy suspensions were almost unheard of. However, with the NBA making pro-active strides to rid its game of thuggery and even NHL hockey tightening its controls over glove-dropping goons, MLB codified fines and suspensions into its rules that would make players feel more than a pinch if they incited or inflamed a fracas.

The “bench clearing brawls” that I grew up with, in which disrespect from a rival often ended with a few punches in the faces of one another, were replaced my mass player meetings on the diamond and stern talking-tos exchanged. Maybe someone might get pushed…perhaps even pushed to the ground. That’s it. Scenes of punches and pandemonium were being cleaned up in America’s Pastime.


So why am I talking about what happened yesterday? What happened exactly and what was so awesome about it? One would expect me to applaud the efforts to remove fighting from the sport and frown upon the caveman antics of two jocks in chest-thumping measuring contest gone bad. Right?

Pirates starting pitcher Geritt Cole served up a two out pitch in the 3rd inning that was smashed into center field by Brewers centerfielder Carlos Gomez. Gomez’s reputation for running hot precedes him. Yes, it’s that Carlos Gomez who was ready to single-handedly tangle with the entire Atlanta Braves roster in a similar incident last September.

Gomez gave his bat a little flip (which can tantamount to a little bird flip to the pitcher depending on the situation, past histories, and body language), began a less-that-full-speed jog to first and the ball watched (also a potential violation of the unwritten “baseball code”), presumably because he thought it would either be a home run or a long fly out. It was neither. The ball hit the wall and was in play, at which time Gomez began to high-tail it around the bases, stopping at third base with a triple. 

Cole went to back up third base on the play. On his way back to the mound, Cole uttered some choice words to Gomez about his conduct on the bases. Gomez took umbrage and told Cole what he could do with his “career advice” and tempers began to flare. Like a flash-bomb, words became heated, personal space was violated, and within seconds, both benches emptied.

This is not Gomez's first rodeo. 2

People were holding one another back, shoving, cursing and the coup de gras was Brewers reserve catcher Martin Maldonado delivered a knuckle sandwich to Pirates outfielder Travis Snider’s dome, both of whom left the bench when the fireworks started. Gomez, Snider, and Brewers bench coach Jerry Norton were ejected and a multi-game suspension of Maldonado is imminent.

While I doubt management of either club approved of the incident, sometimes you need to start a fire to stay warm. The excitement of season-opening April baseball tends to subside after a few weeks. It’s a long season and October is a F..A..R away. The NBA Playoffs and its related storylines dominate the front and back pages of the sports section (as well as the middle). Only the most die-hard of baseball fans have much motivation to pay a lot of attention to MLB until late June, leading up to the All-Star break, after the NBA Finals are over.

More so, too many baseball players look like they’re just going the motions until the September races heat up. Modern day players are so brand an image conscious that fans seldom get anything juicy in the sound bite department. Where’s the passion? Why should I care as a fan if every day is just another day at the office for the players?

Then…BAM! Two division rivals meet up. One team, the Brewers, is hot, in first place and off to a surprisingly fast start. The other, the Pirates, was a playoff team from last year with eyes on the division title and the pennant, yet is slumping early in the year with a sub-.500 record. The short fused player on the hot team dishes out a little more misfortune to the slumping team and the fireworks fly!

Sometimes you have to punch a guy in the face to keep the peace. 4

Yesterday’s blowup insured one thing: these division opponents, who meet each other no less than any other teams on their schedules, have upped the interest in their future games this season. Familiarity in sports mixed with contempt always makes for a better spectacle than without those two elements. For a sport that often drags behind the rest of the sporting world in evolving during a time of year in which the game is competing with the playoffs of two major sports leagues (NBA, NHL) and the ramping interest in next month’s NFL Draft, a good, old-fashioned brawl was just what the doctor ordered for MLB. 

The game ended in a Brewers win after a 14 game marathon. Free baseball...what do they do for an encore? 5
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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Retweet of the Day - April 17, 2014

As Holy Week nears its conclusion, much of the nation prepares for a weekend of family, friends, and celebration. Also, this weekend marks the beginning of the 2014 NBA Playoffs. It's a weekend full of something for everyone!

Not lost on those in the Twittersphere is that Easter Sunday falls on April 20th. Abbreviated, it's on 4/ in that "420", the pot smokers' Christmas, New Year's, and Fourth of July rolled into one (pun intended). Today's retweet is from Based Dandy (‏@NeezGod):

"420, NBA Playoffs, and Easter on the same day doesnt get any better"

I'll bet Blake Griffin is chiefin' right now!
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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics - April 16, 2014

The NBA Playoffs start this weekend. With the marathon run to the NBA Championship set to begin, you can expect to be fed a healthy dose of basketball statistics. The team that does this first can expect to win. A team without a player who can do that has never advanced past the second round. Etcetera, etcetera….
The Daily Hat Trick has a couple of factoids you can toss out over a frosty beverage while checking out the playoff action with friends, family and coworkers. Get ready to wow the guys with your vault of useless trivia. It’s, “Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics”!

As star-driven as the sport of basketball is, as much as a single player can elevate an entire team, it is mind-blowing that a team can have top five league leaders in four of the five major individual performance statistics (points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks) and not only be in 10th place in its conference and out of the playoffs, but no even have a winning record. That is the position that the Minnesota Timberwolves find themselves in (again). It begs the question: are Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio wasting their talents in the Twin Cities?
Wolves big man and three time All-Star Kevin Love averages 26 points per game and 13 rebounds per game, fourth and third in the NBA, respectively. Point guard Ricky Rubio dishes out nine dimes per game and steals the ball 2.3 times on a typical evening, placing him fifth and second, respectively in those categories. With players who are so good, how can the Wolves be so consistently bad?
Part of the T-Wolves’ misfortune is being in the talent-superior Western Conference in a division loaded with All-Star talent. The Northwest division is home to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder, a perennial front runner for the Western Conference championship. Also in the division are the Portland Trailblazers with 2013 Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard and All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge. Their regular season schedule is simply weighted to play more of the league’s better teams.
The other problem is that the Timberwolves have a mediocre to below average supporting cast around their two stars. In spite of being in the NBA Draft Lottery year-after-year, the Wolves have not parleyed their higher picks into higher talent. The 2014 version of the Wolves is an undersized front court (Love notwithstanding) with players who can shoot but intimidate nobody defensively.
The 2015 season may be Love’s last dance in Minnesota, with the seventh year of his contract approaching. Love will be an unrestricted free agent after next season. The odds of Love staying in place shrink with each loss.
Lakers, Knicks... get ready to start your bidding! 1

We know the narrative on MJ: 14-time All-Star, six NBA titles, five-time MVP, first ballot Hall of Famer…I would wager he is the consensus greatest basketball player of all time; he has my vote. I can only imagine that those of you who are basketball fans but not stat geeks would assume that in the best measurable year of the career of arguably the greatest player ever would have earned him the award for the Most Valuable Player for that season.
However, anyone not digging inside the numbers might regard the 1989 NBA season as a footnote in the career of Michael Jordan. He didn’t win the MVP. His team, the Chicago Bulls, did not win anything of note – They didn’t even win the Eastern Conference; in fact, they were next-to-last in the Central Division. Mike’s success was not even enjoyed vicariously by his Head Coach, Doug Collins. Collins was fired after the season.
While the path of Jordan’s career would trend sharply upward very quickly with the Bulls’ promotion of Phil Jackson to Head Coach the next season and winning his first NBA Championship ring in the year after, Jordan’s box scores never peaked more than during the valley that was the Bulls’ 1989 season. Jordan averaged 33 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists per game from the shooting guard position that year.  He also played over 40 minutes per night and averaged a tick under 3 steals and a blocked shot per game while shooting 55% from the field and 85% from the line, at or close to career highs.
For casual fans who only care about wins, losses, and what they seen on the highlight reels, those…stats…are...ridiculous! Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder has a stat line is similar but, across the board, slightly lesser that the aforementioned MJ stat line from 1989 and he is all but certain to win the 2014 MVP award. 
It would make for great barber shop conversation about the modern NBA versus the "golden years" of the 80s and 90s. How much more physical the play was back then.... How much more intense the competition was among the star players.... By the way, the winner of the MVP in 1989? Some Johnny come lately named Earvin "Magic" Johnson (23 PPG, 13 APG, 8 RPG, 91% FT - led the NBA).
He had to...taste...defeat a few more times before reaching basketball's summit. 2
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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Retweet of the Day - April 15, 2014

One can always find a little good news to go along with bad news. The bad news is that it is April 15th, tax day. And Uncle Sam wants pay up!

The good news is that Major League Baseball celebrates Jackie Robinson Day. Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball, thus shattering it in every other major North American sport 67 years ago today. The occasion is reflected upon at every major league ballpark. Among the festivities, every player wears Robinson's jersey number, 42, today.

Number 42 was permanently retired from MLB in 1997, with players wearing #42 at the time grandfathered in an exception to the rule. With future Hall of Fame pitcher Mariano Rivera's retirement following the 2013 season, there are no players remaining that don Robinson's number, except for on Jackie Robinson Day.

Today's retweet was something I simply found interesting. I don't know if this is any more than an anecdotal story, if it really happened, or if it is a bit of a tall tale. I don't remember the suggested controversy back in 1997, but that was 17 years ago. Even a sports junkie like myself can forget a few things that made everyone go, "hmm," at the time. The most interesting thing about today's retweet, from Paul R. Bear (@The_Paularbear): a reminder of who John Q. Fan thinks of as a good guy and a bad guy in the lexicon on baseball.

"Just so every1 knows, Ken Griffey Jr was the 1st to suggest everyone wear 42 on Jackie Robinson Day & Barry Bonds thought it was a bad idea."

Thank you for your courage, Jackie.
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Monday, April 14, 2014


Bubba Watson, 35, won his second Masters tournament in three years. The American golfer has always been among the better known participants on the PGA Tour. Sports enthusiasts who watch the occasional major or flip the tube on when Tiger Woods is in the running have heard his name and probably know that he is pretty good. Sunday catapulted Watson into golf’s unquestionably elite.

As usual, Rickie Fowler (above) injected some style into the Masters. He finished 5th. 4

When Watson won the 2012 Masters, the common media narrative treated Waston as a bit of a late-blooming underdog. Watson has talent. Watson can compete.

But Bubba is not Tiger; just wait until Tiger gets back on his horse (Tiger Woods finished 4th in the 2011 Masters). Bubba is not Phil Mickelson, an established repeat champion. Bubba is not Rory McIlroy; he’s on the wrong side of age 30. Watson’s 2012 Master’s win was a great golf feel good story, but don’t expect to see Watson’s name dominating the gold headlines in the coming years.

Yesterday eliminated any remnant of the “aw shucks”, quirky, good but not great image of Bubba Watson, currently ranked #2 in the world. From his left handed swing to hitting balls through trees and onto the green like a nine cushion billiards shot to his humble emotions exhibited after a win, Watson is a brand. He is known. He is a the top of the PGA Tour’s marquee.

Not an expression often used with golf, but Watson's trick shot on the 15th hole was "gangsta"! 3

Throughout the 2000s, the phrases “golf” and “Tiger Woods” have been almost synonymous among even the most casual of sports observers. While Woods is no longer the seemingly invincible force he was in his 20s and early 30s, he is still, indisputably, the premiere name (and premiere draw) in professional golf.

However, Tiger’s coattails have benefits. Phil Mickelson’s brand has benefited from sparring with Tiger on the Tour over the years. Young Rory McIlroy is positioning himself to be the next young, dominant golf prodigy in the coming years. With yesterday’s win, I think it would be difficult to argue that Watson is not among golf’s “Big Four”.

On the rise are stand outs like the (literally) colorful Rickie Fowler, age 25 (who finished 5th yesterday), and 20 year old Jordan Spieth, finishing 2nd. Spieth mounted a challenge in the fourth round to possibly become the youngest, ever Masters winner.

Runner up Jordan Spieth (left), 20, and 2014 Masters champion Watson (right), 35. 2

Every year, the Masters seems to give us a good story. Good golf stories are great for the game of golf. With the possibility that Tiger Woods may not compete on the Tour this year, rehabbing from back surgery, the rise of stars like Watson, McIlroy and others could not come at a better time for the PGA.

Assuming Woods’ health allows him to be competitive upon his return and assuming the profiles of players like Spieth and Fowler continue to rise, golf can expect to transform from the (seemingly) one man show it was in the 2000s to a series of rivalries in the 2010s. In major competition, Bubba Watson has drawn first blood.

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

2014 Major League Baseball Preview - National League

Yesterday, we previewed the American League. Today, the rest of the majors...! Teams are listed by division in their expected order of finish.

National League

N.L. East

Washington Nationals – The Nationals, anchored by Stephen Strasburg, are loaded in their starting rotation. This year, provided they stay healthy, the Nats should have enough pop in their batting order to give their arms the (relatively minimal) run support needed to win against most opponents. Last year was a bitter disappointment resulting from one bad break after another. Expect D.C. to put the train back on the track in 2014.

Atlanta Braves – What a surprise! The Braves are expected to contend again. Arguably one of the National League’s two best run franchises in the past 20 years, the Braves are not rebuilding after coming up short in the playoffs last year. They’re reloading. And they are loaded with power in their batting order.

Losing longtime ace starter Tim Husdon to the San Francisco Giants is going to remove some reliable stability from the rotation. Still, Atlanta has a lot of youth with a lot of upside in waiting, starting with new ace Julio Teheran. The Braves also went young in the bullpen. How that plays out remains to be seen. What is fairly certain is that if they can get to the 9th inning with a lead, closer Craig Kimbrel should nail it down 9 times out of 10.

Miami Marlins – To paraphrase Charles Barkley, they won’t be “turrble”. This team has a ton of young talent that I expect to demonstrate an exponential degree of development since last season. Jose Fernandez is on his way to establishing himself as one of the bright, young, future superstars on the mound. Giancarlo Stanton brings something the Fish haven’t had since trading Hanley Ramierz: a young star-potential player with some pop in his bat. Finally, picking up Jared Saltalamacchia from Boston behind the dish was a good move; the 2 position won’t be a black hole in the batting order.

Philadelphia Phillies –With this roster, you may as well hand the N.L. East division title over to them now…five years ago. They are long in the tooth from top to bottom.

New York Mets – This team’s opponents would already need to have their maple bats replaced with plastic whiffle ball bats just to keep the playing field level. Notwithstanding the crippling loss of ace Matt Harvey for the season (Tommy John surgery), the Mets have a respectable starting rotation. Their bullpen, however, appears to be an afterthought, with the big turd in the punch bowl being overweight, washed up Jose Valverde as the closer.

They have done very little to offset the anemic hitting that plagued them last season. They did acquire former All-Star centerfielder Curtis Granderson. But at age 33, coming off of an ineffective, injury-riddled season, I’m of the opinion that “The Grandy Man can’t ”!

That's the same blur that batters see when facing Strasburg. 1
N.L. Central

Pittsburgh Pirates – Losing A.J. Burnett to the Phillies cost the Bucs some experience, but also with his departure left some unreliability in big moments for which Burnett was becoming infamous in recent years. The rotation is reasonably solid. If Endison Volquez, now age 30, can turn it around – being the strikeout machine he was with the Cincinnati Reds while limiting the number of critical runs given up – the Pirates could put some distance between themselves and the rest of the Central division by the All-Star break. In spite of having reigning MVP centerfielder Andrew McCuthchen, this team is going to live and die with its arms.

St. Louis Cardinals – This team is loaded in the field. Their seasoned and (mostly) accomplished rotation is intact and healthy this season. Cardinals fans should keep an eye on the bullpen, however. They are very young with little experience relative to other bullpens. Still, last postseason showed us that “age ain’t nothing but a number” with the breakout performances of starting pitcher Michael Wacha and relief pitcher Carlos Martinez, both age 22.

Cincinnati Reds – This is a Big Red Pitching Machine. The big equalizer for the Reds is closer Aroldis Chapman, who will miss a few weeks after being hit in the head recently by a line drive. The sooner he returns, the sooner Cincy can race at full speed. Their lineup will be very dependent upon middle-of-the-order sluggers Joey Votto and Jay Bruce to provide adequate run support, though.

Milwaukee Brewers – The Brewers went from, just a few years ago, having the best position players in the National League but underwhelming pitching, to having a good pitching rotation (perhaps “very good”) but a cast of unknowns playing every day. Former MVP outfielder Ryan Braun’s return from a PED suspension will give the Brew Crew an offisive lift over last season.

Chicago Cubs – A collection of unknowns and has-beens in the field plus some never-will-be’s on the mound equals another finish in the cellar for the Cubs. I'm not sure where General Manger Theo Epstein is taking the Cubs.

Their mascot outfit is terrible.

McCutchen is a mega-star, but is he clutch enough to put the entire batting order on his back? 2

N.L. West

Los Angeles Dodgers – Let’s see. This team was in last place at the end of last June. They get some key players back healthy, such as shortstop Hanley Ramirez, call up a rock star in right fielder Yasiel Puig, and their pitchers all begin hitting their strides at once. Voila! L.A. runs away with the division.

I wonder what will happen this year with those key pieces in place on Opening Day. They have one obvious weakness, at the catcher position. They brought in veteran Drew Butera to call the signals behind the plate. I don’t know much about his defensive scouting report but he must be really good: he has hit below the Mendoza line for his career.

Otherwise, this team has no soft spots on its roster. This is a pennant or bust year for the Dodgers and they are set up to reach their goal. 

Arizona Diamondbacks – All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt is the real deal. The Snakes also added some significant power to the order in trading for Mark Trumbo from the Angles. Otherwise, the rotation is average. The bullpen is average. Their closer is average, perhaps a notch below average. Expect the result for the D-Backs to be average.

San Francisco Giants – Picking up starting pitcher Tim Hudson was a step forward for a team that struggled with previously accomplished but underachieving pitchers last year. Still, the Giants did little else to turn their play around on the mound. This is a team whose pitchers struggled in a pitcher’s park to defend their 2012 World Series title.

They need run support to compete. Picking up left fielder Michael Morse was a plus for the power in the batting order. Still, the roster remained otherwise largely unchanged in terms of hitting talent. They aren’t built to drive in runs in bunches.

Colorado Rockies – Their hitters are all studs, but that advantage is hedged off somewhat by playing in the thin air at Coors Field, where every hitter can get a little better. They brought in a lot of new pitchers and they are all lousy as a group. That disadvantage is heightened by playing in the thin air at Coors Field, where every pitcher has the scales tipped against them when facing power hitters. Their pitcher is 41-year-old LaTroy Hawkins, who is in the twilight of a long, competent, but unremarkable career.

It’s going to be a long, hot summer in the Mile High City.

San Diego Padres – Their pitchers are okay but their lineup looks like they may as well come to the plate with rubber hoses. If this were the NFL, I would say that this team could be on the clock.

There's more of Puig coming in 2014. 3

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A Master Away from the Links

The Masters tournament starts tomorrow, kicking the first of four PGA Tour major events. While superstar golfer Tiger Woods will miss the Masters for the first time in two decades rehabbing from back surgery, there will be plenty to see in Augusta, GA.

Not the least of media interest will be the fiancée of golfer Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky (daughter of Hall of Fame hockey player Wayne Gretzky). Miss Gretzky, already an Instagram selfie celebrity, made waves with a relatively racy cover shot on Golf Digest magazine. That's all the cause I need to make Paulina Gretzky, again, the subject of today's Chick Pic.

This is one way to get a bump in circulation. 1
I would have preferred this cover, but to each his own. 2
Another golden selfie opportunity.... 3
And another.... Paulina loves her some Paulina, as I'm sure you guys do, too. 4
Stick to modeling, Miss Gretzky. Diving isn't your thing, though we're still looking. 5
Always willing to lend a hand. 6
She's a team player, like so many other Chick Pic subjects. 7
And she is on Team Dustin! Smoking is bad, Dustin Johnson, but your smoking hot future wife is good (to view)! 8
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2014 Major League Baseball Preview - American League

While technically not a preview as the season is over a week old, The Daily Hat Trick, as always, tosses in its two bits on the upcoming MLB season, starting with the American League. Teams are listed by division in their expected order of finish.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Yankees fans should temper their expectations for Derek Jeter's swan song. 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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

The awards keep piling up for Cabrera. 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Prince Fielder could be the missing piece of the puzzle for the Rangers. 3

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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Four and OH!

It is rare that anything happens in life four straight times. It is especially noteworthy in sports. Parody in modern sports often prevents anything from happening in perpetuity.

This is more telling when four straight losses occur. The Buffalo Bills lost four consecutive Super Bowls  from the 1990 through 1993 NFL season. Nick Anderson of the Orlando Magic missed four consecutive free throws at the end of Game 1 of the 1995 NBA Finals against the Houston Rockets. Instead, the Rockets were able to tie the score, send the game into overtime and win en route to an NBA Championship.

Politics is the ultimate sport. Democrat Williams Jennings Bryan had four unsuccessful runs for president - three times as the Democratic nominee (1896, 1900, 1908) and once receiving votes at the Democratic National Convention but failing to secure the party nomination (1912).


Then there is the 0-4 of The Daily Hat Trick. From the Sweet 16 round on, I picked the Connecticut Huskies to lose four straight times, the last time being Monday morning. I was wrong four straight times. The Connecticut Huskies beat the Kentucky Wildcats, 60-54, to win the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Championship.

The was of course another occurrence that marked the fourth consecutive happening. The Huskies won their fourth NCAA Basketball Championship Game in four attempts (1999, 2004, 2011, 2014) - a perfect 4-0 in the final game of the Final Four.

Led by senior point guard Shabazz Napier, the Most Outstanding Player of the 2014 NCAA Tournament, the Huskies never trailed in the title game. Second year Head Coach Kevin Ollie won his first NCAA Championship. The incredible run of the eighth seeded Wildcats, who defeated then-undefeated Wichita State, defending National Champion Louisville, 2013 national runner-up Michigan, and #2 seed Wisconsin, came to an end.

This tournament featured more close games than in recent memory. Many deserving teams threw their hats into the ring, but only one team could survive through six rounds of the Big Dance. To the victor goes the spoils. The Huskies have further cemented their brand as an elite college basketball program.

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Monday, April 7, 2014

Path Less Traveled

The 8th seeded Kentucky Wildcats and the 7th seeded Connecticut Huskies will meet tonight in Arlington, Texas to decide the 2014 NCAA Men’s Basketball National Champion. UConn defeated the #1 seed Florida Gators in Saturday’s National Semifinal. Kentucky defeated #2 seed Wisconsin later that night. The other #1 and #2 seeds had long since been eliminated from the Final Four discussion. Indeed, a seed is nothing but a number.

Aaron Harrison has been an assassin in this year’s Big Dance. 1

Kentucky was the preseason #1 ranked team. They narrowly lost the SEC Tournament Championship Game to Florida, the #1 team in the country at that time. They were seeded 8th in the Midwest Region.

It sounds outrageous on its face until considering that the Region included the likes of defending National Champion Louisville, the number five team in the country at the end of the regular season, yet the fourth seed in the region. How is this possible? Undefeated Wichita State was the #1 seed in the bracket. Who else was in the Midwest region? Nobody special, just 2013 National Runner-Up Michigan and regular Final Four participant Duke, both 26-8 during the regular season.

Indeed, one could look at the Midwest Region and quickly mistakenly assume that the Big Dance shrunk from 68 teams down to 18. That was the gauntlet that the Wildcats ran. It didn’t kill them; it just made them stronger.

Kentucky was the last team cheering when the dust settled. 2


Connecticut was the 7th seed in the East Region. The seedings and pairings in that bracket made little sense to me at the start of the tournament. I was not the least bit surprised that both of the top two seeds failed to reach the Regional Finals.

I was stunned that Connecticut, at team with an attacking defense and a gifted point guard, but few shooters, was the team to advance to the Final Four from this region. From the Sweet Sixteen round on, I picked against Connecticut in each game. All three times, I was wrong.

Connecticut is a team with a Head Coach in Kevin Ollie who followed a legendary coach, Jim Calhoun, at a program with eligibility issues. In only his second season, Ollie is a win away from a National Championship. In rubbing out coaches Jay Wright of Villanova, Fred Hoiberg of Iowa State, Tom Izzo of Michigan State, and Billy Donovan of Florida – all successful coaches with either rising stars or past championships – Ollie let his team do the talking for him on the court.

Ollie has outcoached the field while his front court has out-physicaled every tournament opponent. His senior point guard, Shabazz Napier, has out manned everyone in his way. While observers may asked themselves, “How did this happen?”, Ollie’s Huskies simply stick with the coach’s process and make it happen.

Connecticut beat Florida in the regular season, too, with a buzzer beating bucket. They didn’t cut it so close on Saturday.  3


I’m 0-3 picking against UConn in this tournament. I’m willing to risk going 0-4. Kentucky is simply too good with too much talent, peaking too rapidly, and tested (while passing the tests) too thoroughly to lose this game tonight. A close game favors Kentucky and I don’t think Connecticut or any team is capable of running away from the Wildcats.

On the other hand, Connecticut has not only won, but put distance between themselves and their tournament foes, all but one of whom was a higher seed. Connecticut has the advantage at point guard. On paper, Kentucky would appear to have the advantage in coaching with John Calipari. However, Coach Ollie has shown us that we, the public, don’t know what his ceiling is. Expect a title game to be as dramatic as the games that led to it and brought these two teams together this evening.

Advantage: Kentucky

Coach Ollie, right, is making a lot of folks proud in the Tri-State area. 4
Don't forget to vote in the fan polls! 

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Friday, April 4, 2014

Just win, Lacy!

Earlier this week, reported the story of Lacy T., a member of the Raiderettes, the Oakland Raiders' cheer and dance squad. Lacy had the courage to take on the Raiders, and by extension the NFL, by protesting alleged unfair labor practices. The article, by Amanda Hess, is an interesting read.

I won't opine on complicated or controversial issues in this posting. Lacy and her fellow Raiderettes are the subject of today's Chick Pic.

Al Davis might be rolling in his grave. On the other hand, he may admire Lacy's chutzpah. 1
Hello, Raiderettes! 2
Lacy is trying to "kick it" to the man! 3
Cue Juvenile. 4
♪ Back that thing up! ♫ 5
Apparently the Raiders weren't in tune enough with the season of giving. 7
You go, Ms. T! Just win, baby! 8
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