Cubs Fire Manager Dale Sveum; Point To Regression of Rizzo, Castro as Reason

The Chicago Cubs announced on Monday that they have fired manager Dale Sveum after two seasons. The team went 66-96 this year and finished last in the NL Central. Sveum had a record of 127-197 over his two years at the helm. The dismissal of Sveum right after the season ended seems to feed into rumors that the Cubs will make a run after Yankees skipper Joe Girardi. Girardi’s contract is now up and he has been quiet about his plans for next year. Girardi had two stints with the Cubs as a player (1989-92; 2000-02.)

The Cubs are in the middle of a long-term rebuilding phase, so the poor record was expected these past two seasons. It appears that Sveum’s dismissal it isn’t necessarily about the large number of losses. To be fair, the Cubs did improve their record by five games over last year, despite a terrible finish to the season (they lost 41 of their last 59 games.) The major issue at hand seems to be the development of two players who are deemed essential to the Cubs’ long-term plans: Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo.

Since Sveum’s arrival after the 2011 season, he and Castro have had a rather tumultuous relationship. Over the past two years, Sveum had benched Castro numerous times in the middle of games for defensive lapses or not hustling in the field. While Sveum said he was just trying to get Castro to play the game the right way and grow up a little, it seemed to have an adverse effect on the shortstop. Castro saw his offensive numbers drop significantly, as his OPS went from .773 in 2011 to .753 in 2012 to .631 this season. He also saw his strikeouts climb from 96 to 100 to 129.

Considering that Theo Epstein, who came on as GM in late 2011 and hired Sveum to replace previous manager Mike Quade, signed Castro to an 8-year/$60 million extension in 2012, it is obvious that he wasn’t happy with the regression. Castro is a player to build a team around. But you don’t want to build a team around a disengaged .245 hitter who hates his manager.  The other player they looked to build their team around over the next few years, Rizzo, also regressed this year.

Rizzo, 24, was obtained by Epstein in a trade with San Diego in January 2012. At the time, he was regarded as the #37 prospect in baseball by MLB.com. After destroying the ball in AAA Iowa, he hit decently well in the 2nd half of 2012. In 87 games with the Cubs, he hit .285/.342/.463 with 15 HRs. This year, however, his production dropped. In 160 games, he hit .233/.323/.419 with 40 2Bs and 23 HRs. Not an awful season for a player in his first full major league year, but less than what was expected. More so when you realize that Epstein signed him to a seven year extension early in the year.

 

Epstein seemed genuinely upset about dismissing Sveum, who he’s known since back in his days with the Boston Red Sox. Sveum was the third base coach for the Red Sox in 2004-05. Here is one of Epstein’s quotes from today’s press release: “In his own authentic and understated way, Dale always put the team first and never complained about the hand he was dealt. He and his staff helped us excel in game planning and defensive positioning, contributed to the emergence of several players, and helped put us in position to make some important trades…I have no doubt that — much like Terry Francona, whom we hired in Boston after his stint with a losing Phillies club — Dale will go on to great success with his next team.”

 

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Premier League: Everton vs Newcastle Match Preview

Roberto Martinez Eyes Progress

Everton welcome Newcastle to Goodison Park hoping to pick up three points. While a League Cup exit at the hands of Fulham on Tuesday may have dampened an otherwise strong start to the new season, Everton look like a side that will feature prominently in this season’s race for Europe. Long-time manager David Moyes may have sought greener pastures in joining Manchester United, however the incoming Spaniard Roberto Martinez has already won over supporters. After drawing their first three matches of the Premier League season, the Toffees have won two on the trot and have looked good in doing so.

A fine 1-0 home win versus Chelsea was followed up by an impressive 3-2 success at West Ham thanks to two amazing Leighton Baines free-kicks and Romelu Lukaku’s first goal for the club. While a Champions League place as some are discussing seems to be beyond them, it could be that Everton challenge for one if they can stay consistent. A Europa League spot along with a good run in the FA Cup would mean a successful season for Martinez and company.

Martinez is relishing a chance to play against Newcastle on a Monday night in front of the floodlights at Goodison Park, something the Spaniard feels is special. “It is a classic environment to enjoy your football”, he said. “The evening kick-off and the special feel that being under the floodlights brings to Goodison.”

Jekyll And Hyde Magpies

Everyone’s relegation favourites after the first two matches of the season when they lost comprehensively to Manchester City 4-0 and only managed a 0-0 draw at home against West Ham, Newcastle have already had a roller-coaster season. Victories against Fulham and Aston Villa seemed to suggest that Alan Pardew’s side had turned the corner until Hull City beat the Magpies last weekend.

Back to square one then for a side who for the last year always seem to be near the word crisis. Set to face the only unbeaten side remaining in the Premier League, it could be a long night for Pardew should Newcastle revert back to the poor form of the season’s first two matches. 

Then again, it could be another surprise from Newcastle, who if nothing else have shown they can be resilient even when the going gets tough. With Liverpool, Sunderland, Chelsea, and Tottenham on the fixture list for the next month, Pardew will certainly want to pick up some points. Otherwise, he could come under real pressure should results go bad until November.
 
Much of this match depends on which Newcastle side shows up. If Newcastle can put together a solid 90 minutes then this could be quite the fixture. Everton meanwhile have already shown their ability to take care of business at home having recently put Chelsea to the sword at Goodison Park. Though Newcastle do possess some quality players, Everton have had a solid start under Martinez and will have every reason to believe they can pick up the three points. Everton 2-1 Newcastle.

Final Day of MLB Regular Season Filled With Drama and Excitement

The last day of the MLB regular season provided some drama and excitement. For starters, the Cleveland Indians locked up the top Wild Cards spot with a win against the Minnesota Twins. The Indians finished the season with a 10-game winning streak. The Tribe wrapped up the year with a 92-70 record and will host the Wild Card playoff game on Wednesday night. Who they face, though, remains to be seen.

That’s because both Tampa Bay and Texas are tied for the 2nd Wild Card. Both teams won on Sunday, giving them identical 91-71 records. Therefore, there will be a tiebreaker game played Monday evening in Texas. This isn’t a playoff game, but an additional regular season game being used to break the tie. Pitching in game #163 for the Rangers is rookie Martin Perez (10-5, 3.55 ERA, 1.34 WHiP.) He will matchup with the Rays ace, David Price (9-8, 3.39 ERA, 1.11 WHiP.) Price went on the DL in mid-May and missed 6 weeks, but has started to look more and more like pitcher who won the AL Cy Young last year.

The Rays/Rangers/Indians storyline wasn’t the only bit of excitement that occurred in the league on Sunday. In what was an extremely bright spot in an otherwise awful season, the Marlins’ Henderson Alvarez pitched a no-hitter against the AL Central champion Detroit Tigers. The right-hander, 23, needed only 99 pitched to get through 9 innings. However, after he finished the Tigers off in the top of the 9th, the score stood at 0-0, meaning that the Marlins needed to score in the bottom of the 9th to make the no-hitter official.

The Marlins did score, but in a way that was unique in baseball history. Miami won the game on a wild pitch, scoring Giancarlo Stanton from third, making this the first no-hitter in MLB history to end on a wild pitch. It was also the 4th no-hitter to be thrown on the final day of the regular season and the first since Mike Witt of the Angels threw a perfect game in 1984. The Tigers, having clinched the division a few days ago, played few regular players in the game. Nevertheless, I am sure that this is a memory that will last a lifetime for Alvarez.

There were some other accomplishments and achievements that occurred on Sunday. The St. Louis Cardinals finished with the best record in the NL and will have home-field advantage during the NL playoffs. The Angels’ Mike Trout finished the year as only the third player in MLB history to have 190 hits, 100 walks and 30 stolen bases in a season. The other two players were Lenny Dykstra in 1993 and Ty Cobb in 1915. Also, the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera officially won his third consecutive AL batting title when he finished the year with a .348 average. He is the first player to win three straight AL titles since Wade Boggs won four in a row from 1985 to 1988.

USC Fires Underachieving Head Coach Lane Kiffin After Loss to Arizona State

Early Sunday morning, the University of Southern California fired their head football coach, Lane Kiffin. This was on the heels of a 62-41 loss at Arizona State. The loss dropped USC’s record this year to 3-2 and 28-15 since Kiffin arrived four years ago. Kiffin was on a short leash entering this season. USC started last season ranked #1, only to drop completely out of the ranking by the end of the season. They ended the season by losing five of six.

The polarizing Kiffin has pretty much courted controversy wherever he’s gone. He also seems to somehow get high-profile jobs despite real accomplishments. He became the Oakland Raiders coach in 2007 at the age of 31. This was after serving as the Trojan’s offensive coordinator the previous two years. His time in Oakland was tumultuous, and ended after 20 games with a 5-15 record. His tenure was most noted for the way he was fired. Raiders’ owner Al Davis called him “a flat-out liar” and fired him for cause, meaning that he would not pay the rest of Kiffin’s contract.

Despite his awful record in Oakland and the tabloidish nature of his departure from the team, the Tennessee Volunteers picked him up at the end of the 2008 season. He replaced long-time head coach Philip Fulmer, who had led the Vols to the National Championship in 1998. Kiffin was given a 6-year contract worth over $14 million. Shortly after being hired, he drew criticism for accusing Florida coach Urban Meyer of recruiting violations. Kiffin ended up being publicly reprimanded by the SEC commissioner. He was forced to apologize for his remarks.

Kiffin’s first season with Tennessee ended with a 7-6 record and a bowl loss to Virginia Tech. That would be his only season there, as in January 2010, he left the school to take USC’s head coaching job. The way he departed and the fact that he left after only one season was met with much criticism. In fact, students rioted on campus after the news broke. Kiffin is still looked at as a much-hated figure in Tennessee. The mere mention of his name there will probably be met with an obscenity-laced tirade from a Vols fan.

After Kiffin’s hire at USC, the school was hit with sanctions that were the after-effects from the Reggie Bush era. The NCAA banned USC for two years from playing in the postseason and stripped them of 30 scholarships over a three year period. During the two year bowl ban, USC did pretty well, going 8-5 in 2010 and 102 in 2011. However, last year their record dipped to 7-6 and a loss in the Sun Bowl to Georgia Tech. There was a feeling that Kiffin might be fired after the bowl game loss, but he retained his position and was allowed to start off the 2013 season.

USC athletic director Pat Haden will hold a news conference this afternoon to officially announce Kiffin’s dismissal and discuss future plans. It isn’t clear who will fill in as head coach the rest of the season. Rumors are that Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio might end up being the next permanent head coach. Del Rio played his college ball at USC. He was a head coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars for 9 seasons, and took them to the playoffs twice. As for Kiffin, you’d think that he’d be done as a head coach at this point. But, failure to win and acting like an entitled d-bag has never stopped anybody from hiring him in the past. Let’s see if he can once again land on his feet.

Serie A: Torino vs Juventus Match Preview

Derby Dreams

For Torino, this derby will always be a welcome opportunity to get back into the history books and prevail over city neighbours Juventus. No longer the Italian force they were many decades ago, the Clarets have taken the back seat to the Bianconeri in the race for bragging rights in the city of Turin. 

However, that does not mean that Giampiero Ventura’s side will not have victory on their minds, as teams rarely rely on form in games like this one. With an average showing so far in the 2013/14 Serie A season, upsetting Juventus would constitute the perfect vehicle for Torino to jumpstart their campaign in.

Torino’s recent record against Juventus is lamentable: Not since the 1995/96 season have the seven-time Scudetto winners netted a victory over the Old Lady in the Derby della Molle. 

Juventus might have won seven of their last eight games against Torino in all competitions, but defender Cesare Bovo believes the Italian champions will find it particularly difficult against their cross-town rivals. “Sunday will not be a game like the others. Juve are strong and they know us, but this Torino side is in form”, declared the former Palermo centre-back.

Eye On The Table

Juventus’ 1-1 draw with Inter earlier this season means that La Vecchia Signora are not leading the Serie A pack, with the team currently sitting in fourth place, two points off leaders Roma. 

Coach Antonio Conte knows just how important a win in the derby away from home could be to aid his players in terms of morale, especially with the team tackling Galatasaray a few days later in the Champions League, a competition in which they aim to improve their standing following an opening day draw against FC Copenhagen.

The 2003 Champions League runners-up have not appeared as shiny as they have been in the past two seasons, often having to come from behind in matches this season. Luckily for them, their numbers against Torino are impressive ones, as they have managed to keep clean sheets in the past eight games that pitted them against Ventura’s side, winning seven. Furthermore, Juve are undefeated in 35 of their last 38 games on the road in Serie A, and will most likely prove to be very difficult adversaries for Torino, even with the game taking place at the Stadio Olimpico.

Torino have seen their luck fade away against Juventus in recent times. The Bianconeri are the better side at the moment in all fields of play, and against a team of Torino’s calibre, they should not encounter any difficulties in winning this match. The crowd will naturally be hostile towards the visitors, but expect Juventus to come out on top.

Cleveland Indians Are Red Hot at the Right Time; Tied With Tampa at Top Of Wild Card Standings

After pounding the hapless Minnesota Twins 12-6 last night, the Cleveland Indians are on the cusp of making their first postseason appearance since 2007. They are now tied at the top of the Wild Card standings with the Tampa Bay Rays. Both teams hold a one game lead over the Texas Rangers with 2 left to play. The Rangers finish the season against division rival Los Angeles while Tampa Bay wraps it up with Toronto.

The Indians, who’ve been in the Wild Card running pretty much all season, have been the benefactors of an extremely easy end-of-the-season schedule. They’ve won 13 of 15 and 8 in a row, as four of their final five series were against sub-.500 teams. In fact, the only two games they’ve lost in this time were against Kansas City, the only team with a winning record. The fact is, they’ve really needed this light schedule as both Texas and Tampa Bay have been red-hot at the end. The Rangers, after going through a swoon that led to them dropping out of the Wild Card lead, have now won 5 in a row. Tampa Bay has won 8 of the past 10.

If the Indians are able to hold on and make it into the Wild Card, it remains to be seen just how far they can go. On paper, the team does not look all that strong, and seems to have some glaring weaknesses. Manager Terry Francona has removed Chris Perez as the team’s closer, as he’s been absolutely terrible down the stretch. Since August 5th, Perez has an ERA of 7.85 and has allowed 7 HRs in 18.1 innings, while blowing 3 saves. Francona may go with setup man Joe Smith, or staff ace Justin Masterson, who is recovering from an oblique injury and doesn’t yet have his stamina back to start games.

With Masterson out as a starter, they are desperately lacking a true #1 starter. Ubaldo Jimenez has been solid this year (12-9, 3.38 ERA, 1.347 WHiP), but he’s only managed 176 innings in 31 starts, basically showing that he’s at most a 6-inning pitcher this season. He has been great in the past with Colorado, but he’s best served as a #3 or 4 right now. Sadly, he’s the best option Cleveland has right now. Their other starters (Scott, Kazmir, Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar, Zach McAllister) have been decent at times, but once again, nothing great.

As for offense, they are pretty much a middle-of-the-pack hitting team. They have some power, but their leading home run hitter only has 21 (Nick Swisher.) Michael Brantley leads the team in average at .288. They don’t have an everyday player with a slugging average over .500. Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana lead the team in that category, as both are at .451. They do have decent team speed, as four players are in double digits in stolen bases. But just like their starting staff, they lack that one major impact player right now. Kipnis may eventually become that player, but he isn’t quite there this year.

Even if the Indians don’t go far in the playoffs, just getting there is a heck of an accomplishment. This team won only 68 games last season. They haven’t had a winning season since 2007, when they were beat in the ALCS by Francona’s Red Sox. It seems like a no-brainer that Francona will get the AL Manager of the Year award, as he’s really gotten the most out of this squad. Perhaps they can continue to surprise in the playoffs as they’ve done all year.

St. Louis Cardinals Clinch Division Title; Still Fighting Atlanta Braves For Best NL Record

Despite the Pittsburgh Pirates winning 4-1 earlier Friday evening, the St. Louis Cardinals finally clinched the NL Central with a 7-0 win over the Chicago Cubs. All of the playoff teams had been determined in the National League by the early part of this week, but it was still mathematically possible for the Pirates to catch up with the Cardinals for the NL Central crown. That was taken away this evening and the Pirates and Reds, who are facing each other this weekend, will meet in the Wild Card playoff game next week.

For the Bucs, they knew that the likely scenario was them being in the Wild Card. However, they still have something at stake in their series with Cincy. If the Pirates can win one of these final two games, they will host the Wild Card game. Winning tomorrow would be best, as they can then rest their lineup with nothing at stake on Sunday. Also, they have rookie Gerrit Cole scheduled to start on Sunday. If they win Saturday, they will rest Cole and have him available on Tuesday out of the bullpen during the Wild Card game.

The Cardinals are also still hoping to finish with the best record in the National League. Currently, they are tied with the Atlanta Braves for that honor, as both teams are 95-65 with two games left to play. The Braves are wrapping up the season at home against Philadelphia. They squeaked out a 1-0 win Friday evening against Cliff Lee as Chris Johnson hit a solo homer in the 8th off the Philly ace.

Expect to see both St. Louis and Atlanta play a little harder these final two games, even though both have wrapped up their divisions. You have to figure both managers would prefer their teams to face either the Reds or Pirates rather than face the Dodgers, if for no other reason than the dodgers have two bona fide aces in their starting rotation in Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw. In a short series, as the NLDS is, it’s possible that you could see Kershaw and Greinke twice a piece.

This is the 3rd straight year that the Cardinals will make the postseason. However, this is the first time since 2009 that they’ve won their division. The last two years, they were a Wild Card team. Also, it should be noted that manager Mike Matheny has started his managing career with two straight playoff appearances. Last season, as a rookie manager, he took the Cards to the NLCS, where they lost to the eventual World Champion San Francisco Giants  in 7 games after having a 3-1 lead.