It is the sixth week of the 2014 NFL season and with the Cardinals and the Bengals falling this past week, and rather convincingly I might add, this is the earliest that there are no remaining undefeated clubs since the NFL merger in 1970. What could that mean? How about that parity is great?
Yeah, last week in college football was freaking awesome. Is there any way this week’s games can match what we saw a week ago, or is the fun only beginning? Here are my predictions for Week 7.
It’s finally the day we’ve been counting down to for the past 5 months. No, not Christmas. It’s October 8th, 2014. The first day of the 2014-15 NHL Regular Season. There are four games featured tonight, and there are some to be some intense and wild ones. The Toronto Maple Leafs host the Montreal Canadiens at 7:00PM EST, a long time rivalry in which the teams seem to begin each and every season against each other. The Philadelphia Flyers will fly to Boston for a 7:30PM EST matinee. The Boston Bruins are the defending President’s Trophy winners and will look to keep their form. The Calgary Flames will play host to the new-look Vancouver Canucks at 10:00PM EST. Remember last year’s game which had 158PIM within the first two seconds of the game? Yea. Also at 10:00PM EST, The defending Stanley Cup champions will raise the banner in front of who else but the San Jose Sharks, the team they erased a 3-0 deficit against last Spring.
Montreal Canadiens at Toronto Maple Leafs
Long-time rivals since the league was created, it is well-known that the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens hate each other. In fact, this past summer, Josh Gorges declined a trade to Toronto for the fact that he hates them too much. In last year’s season series, Montreal took three games out of five. No matter how good or bad each team is, it’s always a physical, intense and close game. This season, it looks like Montreal may have the upper hand in the standings. As for tonight, I expect the same result. Toronto lost much of its depth this offseason and now feature a much younger and quicker team, with Orr and McLaren gone, and Komarov back in. Montreal has possibly the best goaltender in the world in Carey Price, and also 2012-13 Norris Trophy winner, PK Subban. I see Van Riemsdyk and Josh Leivo scoring for Toronto. While Pacioretty, Gallagher, and Eller will tally for the Habs.
Prediction: Montreal Wins 3-2.
Philadelphia Flyers at Boston Bruins
It’d be ridiculous at this point to suggest the San Francisco Giants are lucky. Luck doesn’t win you two trophies in three years, and it doesn’t land you a spot in the National League Championship Series, which the Giants clinched with a 3-2 victory over the Washington Nationals Tuesday night at AT&T Park.
Not everyone pegged this team for another deep run. In fact, after the Giants squandered a hot start and squeaked into the second wild-card position, many dismissed them.
Funny thing though…there’s just something about this squad led by veteran skipper Bruce Bochy. The Giants seem to enjoy the feeling of their backs against a wall, to thrive when the pressure is greatest and to find the strangest, most unexpected ways to come up big.
Take Tuesday’s clincher: The Giants scored on a bases-loaded walk, a weak ground ball and a wild pitch. They would have plated a second run on a wild pitch, when an intentional ball four to Pablo Sandoval in the bottom of the seventh sailed over Washington catcher Wilson Ramos’ head.
The ball, though, caromed hard off the backstop, and Buster Posey was tagged out trying to score from third.
It didn’t matter. The Giants clung to their one-run lead with more stellar innings from their stingy bullpen and eked out another memorable, nail-gnawing win.
It began with starter Ryan Vogelsong, who in many ways embodies the unflinching resiliency of the Orange and Black. A Giants prospect once upon a time, Vogelsong was dealt to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2001.
A Tommy John surgery and a stint in Japan later, he returned to San Francisco as a minor league free agent in 2011 and fought his way into the rotation.
The following season, Vogelsong was an October hero, posting a 1.09 ERA in four playoff starts and getting himself a ring.
Since then, the 37-year-old right-hander has been unreliable at best. His 4.00 ERA in the 2014 regular season certainly didn’t inspire overwhelming confidence as he took the mound Tuesday, with the Giants up 2-1 in the best-of-five series.
It was a must-win game for the Nationals, but it felt like one for the Giants. San Francisco did not want to go back to D.C. with the series tied and face either Stephen Strasburg or Jordan Zimmermann in an elimination contest.
Vogelsong helped ensure that wouldn’t happen, tossing 5.2 gutsy innings while giving up one run on two hits. He didn’t earn the win, though, thanks to Bryce Harper.
In the top of the seventh, with the Giants leading 2-1, Harper launched a towering home run into the water beyond the right field wall off hard-throwing Giants rookie Hunter Strickland. The bomb fired up the Washington dugout; for a moment, it looked like the loaded, 96-win Nats had some fight left in them.
Then the Giants worked their magic, loading the bases in the bottom of the frame on a pair of singles and a walk and scoring on the aforementioned wild pitch.
And that was it. Setup man Sergio Romo and closer Santiago Casilla, who have combined for six scoreless frames this postseason, tossed mostly uneventful eighth and ninth innings, and the Giants stormed the field to celebrate another trip to the NLCS.
The team they’ll face, the St. Louis Cardinals, knows a thing or two about playoff mojo. The Cards made the Fall Classic in 2011 and 2013. Add the Giants’ appearances in 2010 and 2012, and we’re looking at a fifth straight season when either San Francisco or St. Louis will represent the National League on baseball’s biggest stage.
The Cardinals are tough. They showed that by dispatching the Los Angeles Dodgers in four games in the NLDS, including two wins against sure-fire Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw.
The Giants, though, have now won seven straight playoff series, eight if you count the wild-card playoff win against Pittsburgh that started this latest run.
They’ve already added to the legend in 2014, winning the longest game in MLB postseason history, an 18-inning marathon Oct. 4 at Nationals Park, on a towering home run by first baseman Brandon Belt.
Really, the Giants don’t need to say anything. They let their play do the talking.
They’re confident. They’re collected. They’re cohesive. And they get it done, one way or another.
Call them what you like. Just don’t call them lucky.
On Tuesday night, the St. Louis Cardinals hosted the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 4 of the 2014 NLDS. The Cardinals led the best-of-five series two games to one at the start of the contest, putting themselves in position to advance to their fourth consecutive NLCS with a victory.
Standing on the brink of elimination, the Dodgers sent Clayton Kershaw to the mound, hoping their all-world ace could keep their team’s season alive.
Kershaw, who is expected to win his third Cy Young and perhaps the NL MVP award this year, was coming off an uncharacteristically bad start, giving up eight earned runs in 6.2 innings of work in Game 1 on Friday. For as historically great as the 26-year-old southpaw has been over his young career — becoming the first pitcher to lead the major leagues in ERA in four straight seasons — he has not been immune from running into trouble in the playoffs. Entering play today, Kershaw had a record of just 1-4 with a 5.20 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP in the postseason.
Pitching on three days rest, he appeared to be cruising along today, though, tossing six shutout innings and racking up nine strikeouts, seemingly making a statement. Then came the seventh, however, when Cardinals first baseman Matt Adams belted a three-run homer, which would ultimately prove to be the death blow for the Dodgers as they would ultimately lose the contest by a score of 3-2. Kershaw now falls to 1-5 with a 5.12 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP in the playoffs.
Some may be tempted to compare Kershaw’s October struggles to those of David Price, another terrific left-handed starting pitcher who has strangely enough encountered a similar string of tough luck in the postseason.
That said, Kershaw has at times shown that he can indeed be his dominating, brilliant self in the postseason. With the exception of the Adams’ home run, he threw a great game today, and he posted an 0.69 ERA with 18 strikeouts in two starts against the Atlanta Braves in the 2013 ALDS just a year ago.
Considering the extraordinary talent that Kershaw possesses, it should be safe to say that at some point, he will indeed find success in the postseason once again.
The writing has been on the wall for months now. The Bruins had too many defensemen on their roster. The only question was which of Boston’s defensemen would be traded. The answer to that question would undoubtedly be followed by another question, “Did they make the right decision?”
The first shoe to drop was the re-signings of Torey Krug and Reilly Smith. This elevated the Bruins’ team salary further over the salary cap, creating financial motivation for a deal. Add that motivation to the surplus of defensemen and the result is the trade of Johnny Boychuk.
The Bruins traded Boychuk to the New York Islanders in exchange for a 2015 2nd round pick, a 2016 2nd round pick (via NYI), and a conditional 3rd round pick in 2015 (if the Islanders trade Boychuk to another Eastern Conference team).
Boychuk was a fan favorite, known for his booming slapshot and lethal body checks, leading to a lot of public outrage over the deal.
As painful as it may be to hear this, Peter Chiarelli made the right decision.
Prior to the trade, the Bruins were approximately $3.6 million over the Salary Cap Ceiling, with Krug and Smith back in the fold. To accommodate that roster, the Bruins would have had to put Marc Savard on Long Term Injured Reserve (LTIR).
While this was possible, it would remove all of the team’s financial flexibility going forward. For a team with questions about their goal scoring, the ability to make a mid-season trade (or trades) could be vital to their Stanley Cup aspirations. The only trade option the team would have would be to send roster players out to create the cap space necessary to accommodate newly acquired players.
The biggest concern will be replacing Johnny Boychuk. As it stands now, either Torey Krug or Matt Bartkowski will be called upon to join Boston’s top four. Based on their defensive struggles, this is potentially a cause for concern.
Whether Claude Julien tabs Bartkowski or Krug as Boychuk’s replacement, they will be paired with Dennis Seidenberg on the second unit. Seidenberg, who missed the second half of last season and all of the postseason, is well-known for his work in the defensive zone. Seidenberg’s defensive ability will cover up for some of his partner’s inexperience, just as his partner’s offensive ability will allow Seidenberg to play his game and not try to force offense.
This trade also allows the Bruins to retain Kevan Miller as the 7th defenseman, a luxury that could prove crucial as the season goes along. Last season, when Seidenberg and Adam McQuaid were injured, the Bruins were forced to trade for Andrej Meszaros because they did not have enough depth on the backend. Maintaining this depth (David Warsofsky cleared waivers and will remain in Providence) will allow the Bruins to focus on other needs at the trade deadline.
The Bruins had a number of players that they could have moved instead of Johnny Boychuk.
On the defensive end, they could have realistically moved a number of players. The primary candidates in this group were Matt Bartkowski, Adam McQuaid, and David Warsofsky. Each of these players had a smaller role on the Bruins than Boychuk, making their loss easier to absorb. That said, these three players make less (combined) than Johnny Boychuk. That doesn’t even factor in that the Bruins would have to look further down the line for a 7th defenseman, if and when the need arose.
The Bruins had the opportunity to use an Compliance Buyout (or Amnesty Buyout) this summer, allowing them to terminate the contract of a player without salary cap ramifications. The primary candidate for this would have been Chris Kelly, who is making $3 million per year for the next two seasons. While this would have cleared a similar amount of cap space, the Bruins do not have the depth upfront that they do on defense. The buyout would have got the Bruins back under the salary cap ceiling, but it also would have created a need for another forward.
The team could have explored trading other forwards, such as Gregory Campbell or Loui Eriksson, but this too would have created additional holes to fill. By dealing from depth, the Bruins created financial flexibility, without creating additional areas of need.
There is no question that Johnny Boychuk will be missed, but the Bruins are better off in the long run having made this trade. They received future assets, financial flexibility, and resolved the overabundance of defensemen.
Pop some bubbly, Baltimore. You’re four wins away from the World Series.
The last time the Baltimore Orioles stood on baseball’s biggest stage was 1983, which, for those keeping score at home, was a long time ago.
Now, the Birds are on the brink. And, after a decisive sweep of the heavily armed Detroit Tigers in the American League Division Series, they’re well positioned to fly all the way.
It’s too much to call these Orioles underdogs. They won 96 regular-season games, after all, second-best in the American League, and they claimed the AL East crown going away.
But they entered the postseason carrying some question marks. Could the offense, hit by the losses of Matt Wieters and Manny Machado to injury and Chris Davis to an amphetamine suspension, still produce?
And would the starting rotation—which boasts a bevy of solid arms but no shutdown ace—hold up under the October glare?
As they celebrate in the Motor City, the Orioles have answered those questions with a resounding “yes and yes.”
There’s no other way to describe a weekend of college football where a remarkable 12 of the top 20 teams lost. Granted, five of these games featured top-20 match-ups, but even factoring that in, we still witnessed one of the most remarkable college football weekends in recent memory. With the smoke having cleared, and the AP and USA Today having released their latest polls, we can now take a look at the real winners and losers of an epic college football weekend.
1. The state of Mississippi
If you had stated at the beginning of the season that two of the top four teams in the country five games into the season would be Ole Miss and Mississippi State, then I would of called you guys a bunch of liars. However, today you would have been truly vindicated. Believe it or not, the current center of the college football universe is, in fact, the state of Mississippi. This past weekend, #11 Ole Miss knocked off #3 Alabama 23-17 and #12 Mississippi State knocked off #6 Texas A&M 48-31. This has now set up for a wide open SEC West race where Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and Auburn now all sit at 2-0. With both Texas A&M and Alabama lurking a game behind, expect this conference to go down to the season’s final weekend to determine the league’s representative in the SEC Championship Game.
2. Last year’s title game contenders
Both Florida State and Auburn won on Saturday, thereby avoiding the damage that wreaked havoc on the other top teams. Top-ranked Florida State went out and handled business on Saturday, sounding defeating an over-matched Wake Forest team by a score of 41-3. FSU went back to basics and their defense held Wake Forest to 40 rushing yards on 39 carries while their offense held its own by scoring the last 43 points of the game after spotting Wake Forest a 3-0 lead after one quarter. For fifth-ranked Auburn, it appeared that they would be involved in a tight battle against #15 LSU. However, Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall wanted nothing to do with that. Marshall went out and accounted for four scores, two through the air and two on the ground, in the first half to lead Auburn to a 31-7 lead and essentially ending the game after only thirty minutes of play. With these two results, both FSU and Auburn and now #1 and #2 in the latest polls and have their destiny in their own hands as they play out the season.
3. The College Football Playoff
What this past weekend has shown is that there is little to no separation between the top teams in college football this year. This bodes especially well for the inaugural season of having a four-team college football playoff. Right now, behind FSU the #2, #3, and #4 teams in the country are all in the SEC West meaning that more likely only one of them will be able to make the playoff. However, lurking behind them are high-quality teams that also seem poised to place themselves in contention for the national championship. Baylor has proven itself to be the class of the Big 12, Notre Dame has bounced back from a sub-par year last year, and Michigan State has recovered nicely from an early season loss to Oregon. By having four slots available for the national championship this season instead of two, every game matters between now and the playoff, as this past weekend clearly showed us.
1. The Pac-12
Going into this past weekend, the Pac-12 had four teams in the top sixteen. This past weekend, all four of them lost leaving the league a long-shot and producing a team capable of qualifying for the playoff. Going into the weekend, Oregon had the best shot at emerging from the conference and many people felt they were the best team in the country. However, the Ducks lost to an upstart Arizona team by the score of 34-29 on their home turf on Thursday night, effectively eliminating them from national title contention. The Ducks would have still had a chance if other top teams in the conference had won; however, that didn’t happen. Eighth-ranked UCLA lost to unranked Utah 30-28, fourteenth-ranked Stanford lost to #9 Notre Dame 17-14 and #16 USC lost to unranked Arizona State on a last second Hail Mary to lose 38-34. When all is said and done, Arizona of all teams now controls its destiny in the Pac-12 but it seems like even if they win out, the conference’s strength of schedule might not be enough to get the Wildcats into title contention.
2. Non-BCS Schools
With so many upsets, you would think that it would pave the way for some of the smaller, non-BCS conference schools to take advantage and to maybe creep into the top-15. However, that simply hasn’t been the case this year, and Saturday’s results verify this fact. On Saturday the only school that had a chance to make some noise was #18 BYU out of the Mountain West Conference. Unfortunately, BYU lost at home to unranked Utah State 35-20 and now has dropped out of the top-25. With BYU’s loss the only non-BCS conference school in the top-20 is East Carolina at #19. However, ECU already has one loss and even if they win out they won’t be able to crack the top-4 to make the year-end playoff.
3. The University of Michigan
Lastly, no coach this season has been under more criticism that Brady Hoke at the University of Michigan. The Wolverines have been struggling all season despite Hoke’s claims that the team still has a chance to be a national championship contender. Last weekend, after the team lost its third game of the season and students began to chanting “Fire Hoke”, Hoke and the entire Michigan staff faced criticism for putting in starting quarterback Shane Morris, despite the fact that Morris was exhibiting symptoms of a concussion. This past weekend, Michigan lost to Rutgers 26-24 to start 0-2 in the Big-10 Conference for the first time since 1967. With each passing week, the murmurs of both students and alumni are starting to get louder and louder in calls for Hoke to be removed as head coach of the Michigan Wolverines. At this pace, there is a strong chance that Hoke won’t be able around to finish out the season on the Michigan sidelines.
We are still three weeks away from the first playoff poll coming out for the 2014 college football season. The only thing we know for sure is that this year is wide open as Saturday showcased. With the conference season coming into full swing, expect more shocking upsets as teams vie for a spot in their conference championship games and, ultimately, to become one of the first four teams in college football’s inaugural playoff season.
One of the most tiresome things often heard in the last decade is that baseball needs a salary cap. This season should shut those critics up for a long time.
Think about it. Even before the postseason started, the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies all missed the playoffs. Earlier Sunday, the Baltimore Orioles reached the American League Championship Series for the first time since 1997.
Sunday night, the Kansas City Royals continued this unbelievable postseason, making it to the ALCS for the first time since 1985.
Now tell me again: Why does baseball need to shut the game down for a year when it already has a tremendous amount of parity?
The Royals have slowly built to this for several years. Ever since general manager Dayton Moore convinced owner David Glass to start investing in the farm system and scouting, the Royals have been among the teams to watch. Like any team that operates in fits and starts, however, the Royals took two steps back with every step forward.
This season, the Royals finally moved forward. If it wasn’t the rock-solid pitching of James Shields, the dependable bullpen that included closer Greg Holland, or sure-fire defense led by catcher Salvador Perez, it was the hitting.
Like with any team that plays out of the media spotlight, players like Billy Butler, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Alex Gordon are finally finding their way to the national spotlight. The Royals just swept the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in three straight games to set up what should be an ALCS to remember.
Sure, the critics will say this can’t last. Shields is likely gone after this season to free agency. Who’s to say the Royals may not make a run at him? The extra revenue from this postseason will spill over to much bigger crowds in 2015. And even if Shields takes off for “greener” pastures, what’s to say another pitcher might tell his agent that he wants to play in Kansas City?
There was a time when George Brett played for the Royals that Kansas City was a destination city. The Royals were rock-solid from the mid-1970s up to around 1990 before the team took a few steps backward.
Another era of success might be around the corner. Kauffman Stadium was rocking Sunday night when the Royals clinched the ALDS win over Los Angeles. No one wants to wake up in Kansas City. For once, the spotlight isn’t on the Kansas City Chiefs.
This is a baseball town. The Royals are living a dream.