Grades: Rotation

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Fister was a big part of Detroit’s rotational success in 2012.

This week, its time to enter the rotation’s grades in the gradebook. Detroit’s rotation was its strength throughout the season and the main reason why the Tigers took the American League Pennant. But how exactly each pitcher did individually is a totally different question. Without further ado…

JUSTIN VERLANDER

GRADE: A+

Verlander’s 2012 campaign was only bested by Tampa Bay’s David Price, the Cy Young winner. As much as his win loss record paled in comparison with his 2011 campaign, he still had an extremely successful season.

2011: 24-5, 2.40 ERA, 250 Ks, 0.92 WHIP

2012: 17-8, 2.64 ERA, 239 Ks, 1.06 WHIP

Price had the gaudy numbers but there’s no question who the best pitcher in baseball is. 4 votes from the BBWAA in the closest vote in history is all that separated Verlander from repeating.

DOUG FISTER

GRADE: B+

If it weren’t for Fister’s injury early in the season, he would’ve been up there statistically with the game’s best. Fister has evolved into a true strikeout pitcher and is the best at holding runners on as well. His starts were paramount to the Tigers’ success down the stretch and it appears that he’s embraced the city as well, as he’s appeared in a few commercials where he’s speaking positively about Detroit. Taking a line drive to the head in the World Series and still having a quality start only speaks to how great his potential is.

MAX SCHERZER

GRADE: A-

In 2011, Scherzer was a solid, middle-of-the-rotation guy who could eat innings and give you a chance to win. In 2012, however, Scherzer elevated his pitching performances to a whole new level. Scherzer was a strikeout machine and competed with Verlander for the strikeout crown. Verlander and Scherzer would both finish with over 200 strikeouts and be the first Tigers duo in 40 years to accomplish that feat. But Scherzer was more than strikeouts. He would finish with 16 wins, the most in his career as well as stabilize the middle of the rotation. His contributions on the mound will definitely help the chase for another division crown.

RICK PORCELLO

GRADE: C

In his age 23 season, Rick Porcello definitely took a step back. His 10-12 record and 4.59 ERA didn’t help his case in the competition for a rotation spot next spring. However, the reason for his struggles might not even be his fault. His groundball rate is very high for a poor defensive team. Third baseman Miguel Cabrera and shortstop Jhonny Peralta don’t have the best range so those groundballs turn into basehits. But tinkering with his style is going to be necessary if he’s going to be in the rotation next year. Next year is crucial as the Tigers have a young arm in Drew Smyly that could easily slide into the rotation.

DREW SMYLY

GRADE: C+

While he didn’t start a game for the Tigers during the postseason, his contributions during the season were huge. Smyly won the fifth spot in the rotation out of Spring Training and pitched well for a rookie. He even got his first career win at Yankee Stadium. With guys like Verlander, Fister, and Scherzer on the team, Smyly didn’t have to be a big game pitcher but he still gave the Tigers a chance to win when he did pitch. He definitely could be in the rotation next season.

ANIBAL SANCHEZ

GRADE: B

The addition of Sanchez to the team was much like Fister in 2011. Even though he struggled in his first few starts, he turned around his tenure with Detroit, topped off with a shutout against Kansas City during the division run. Even during the postseason, Sanchez turned in great performances against Oakland, New York, and San Francisco, culminating in a 1.77 postseason ERA. If the Tigers sign him, Detroit will have the best rotation in the American League.

OVERALL ROTATION

GRADE: B

As stated before, the rotation was the key to the Tigers’ success. Verlander had yet another dominant year and was backed up by the efforts of Fister and Scherzer. Rick Porcello struggled in a make or break season and now has serious trade rumors surfacing about him. Drew Smyly’s emergence was a great surprise and his future looks bright, especially considering that he throws from the left side. Anibal Sanchez was a great addition to the team down the stretch but is going to need a lot of money to sign. This season was an impressive one for the rotation and next year looks to be more of the same.

AVAILABLE FREE AGENTS

While it doesn’t appear that the Tigers would sign two free agent starters, it never hurts to look at other options, especially considering that Anibal Sanchez might not sign with Detroit. Here are a few names that might help the rotation, if Dombrowski goes all in.

ZACH GREINKE: RHP, LOS ANGELES ANGELS

Greinke is the class of the starters’ market. The Tigers would have the best rotation in baseball if Greinke were to join but it would appear that Dombrowski is going to focus his efforts on signing Sanchez, a cheaper (not by much) option that is already familiar with Jim Leyland, Jeff Jones and the rest of the Tigers.

EDWIN JACKSON: RHP, WASHINGTON NATIONALS

Its probably true that Jackson isn’t on may fans’ lists for a free agent pickup. But keep in mind that with his down year in 2012, his value has gone down. However, there’s a good bet that his stuff would resurface by being back in the American League Central and with former teammates from 2009. If Sanchez doesn’t resign, Jackson could be an interesting pickup for Detroit.

RYAN DEMPSTER: RHP, TEXAS RANGERS

Back in July, the Tigers were in talks with the Cubs for Dempster who would fit in nicely at Comerica Park and their rotation. A veteran presence, he could have helped young guns like Porcello and Smyly but the Rangers came from out of nowhere to pick him up. He struggled in the American League, proving that a career National Leaguer’s stuff doesn’t always transfer well. He’d still probably fit in well considering Comerica is a far cry from the hitters’ haven that is The Ballpark in Arlington.

JOE SAUNDERS: LHP, BALTIMORE ORIOLES

Saunders is another veteran on the market who isn’t going to command top dollar but could still be an extremely effective weapon down the stretch. Throwing from the left side, he bolstered Baltimore’s rotation and won the inaugural American League Wild Card Game, in Arlington. He’s a solid pitcher and would also put the Tigers in the conversation for the best rotation in baseball.

ANIBAL SANCHEZ: RHP, DETROIT TIGERS

Of course, Sanchez is the first option Detroit’s going to pursue. However, it really is a bit much to demand $90 million over 6 years, based on a couple months and a successful postseason. Essentially, the only reason his stock has climbed is because of the postseason he had and the fact that Zach Greinke is the only starter on the market who has better stuff at a reasonable age. Dombrowski likes Sanchez but isn’t going to put the team, which might be cash strapped now, over a financial cliff for him. There are other options that are cheaper that could still help Detroit repeat as American League Champions.

Apparently, there’s less than twenty weeks left in the offseason. We’ll break down the hitters next week and. discuss the impact that the newest Tiger, Torii Hunter, will have on the lineup and in the field.

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College Basketball Preview

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At least both of these teams will be better than the Pistons.

Yes, readers! Its that time of year again! While most of us are going into hockey withdraw, being bored without baseball, and enduring the Pistons’ struggles once again, college basketball is here once again to take our mind off all these things. Both Michigan and Michigan State are going into the 2012-13 season with great squads and high aspirations. The Big Ten looks to be strong too with three teams in the top 5 (Indiana, Ohio State, Michigan) and five teams in the top 25 overall. But as to where they’ll all end up is anyone’s guess. Without further ado, we’ll look at Michigan and Michigan State’s teams for the upcoming season

MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS

2011-12 RECORD 29-8

BIG TEN RECORD 13-5

BIG TEN CO-CHAMPIONS (OHIO ST AND MICHIGAN)

LOST TO LOUISVILLE IN SWEET 16

PRESEASON RANK: 14 IN AP, 14 IN COACHES

The conversation on whether or not the Spartans will compete begins and ends with the man on the bench: Tom Izzo. The Big Ten’s longest currently tenured coach has 7 Final Four appearances and has simply dominated in recruiting for the last decade. Among those recruited, both Derrick Nix and Keith Appling will have to take the mantle of leadership and help coach this team on the hardwood. Incoming freshman Gary Harris will step into a scorer’s role and be a force in the Big Ten at an early age. Additionally, forwards Adrien Payne and Branden Dawson will have to play big in starting roles for the Spartans to continue their dominance in the Big Ten. Considering last year’s three way tie for the Big Ten Championship, it will be tough to compete but its not impossible. We should see another great season from Izzo and it could be another monumental season added to Izzo’s resume.

 

 

MICHIGAN WOLVERINES

2011-12 RECORD 24-10

BIG TEN RECORD 13-5

BIG TEN CO-CHAMPIONS (OHIO ST AND MICHIGAN ST)

LOST TO OHIO IN SECOND ROUND

PRESEASON RANK: 5 IN AP, 5 IN COACHES

John Beilein has drastically improved the Wolverines since he arrived from West Virginia. Michigan was a shadow of its former self when Tommy Amaker left town and for this team to be ranked #5 going into this season is a real accomplishment. However to continue that success, sophomore guard Trey Burke and junior guard Tim Hardaway Jr will have to maintain their high levels of play. While a set starting lineup hasn’t really emerged, it appears that senior Matt Vogrich, redshirt junior Jordan Morgan, and freshman Glenn Robinson III will join Hardaway Jr and Burke at tip off. As to what the season holds, Michigan’s freshman class is one of the best in recent memory, headlined by 6’10” athletic power forward Mitch McGary. McGary, being the #2 ranked recruit in the nation, immediately propelled the Wolverine freshman class to Beilein’s best and among the nation’s top 5 entering the season. As with the Spartans, I’ll expect Michigan to compete once again for the Big Ten Championship, despite challenges from fellow co-champions Ohio St and Michigan St. 

I think we’ve all been excited for this season, whether you’re a Spartan or a Wolverine. Both teams are legitimate Big Ten, and maybe even national title, contenders. It will be an interesting season throughout the Big Ten but make sure to watch on February 12, in East Lansing, and on March 2, in Ann Arbor, when both these teams clash. It could decide the fate of the Big Ten

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The Longest Winter in Memory

Will this guy close games for the Tigers in 2013? This winter will tell us.

 

In the sense of a timeline, teams that were eliminated long before the playoffs started, have the longest winter. However, in a relative sense, these Tigers, your 2012 Detroit Tigers, have the longest winter in baseball. It’s always tough for the World Series runners up but for the first time in six years, what feels like the longest winter lies ahead for the Motor City.

All the tests have been turned in and it appears the Tigers failed the biggest exam of all: the World Series. As a team, it didn’t work out. But individuals make up the team. So let’s take a look at how each player did individually and breakdown what could happen to each player this winter. However, so as to savor this baseball season we will look at each section of the team on a weekly basis. Today we will start with the bullpen.

AL ALBURQUERQUE:

GRADE: B

Al Al’s 2012 performance should get fans excited for next season. Although he missed most of the season coming back from shoulder surgery, when he did return, he was at full strength. His fastball is still in the 90s and his slider reminds me of a much better, much younger, Jose Valverde. Keeping that in mind, I would say he is the front runner, barring a free agent pickup, to be the new closer in 2013. Oh, how Detroit needs stability in the 9th….

DUANE BELOW

GRADE: C+

I’ll be honest, there’s really not much to be said here. Below performed to expectations; expectations that weren’t very high. He did exactly what Leyland needed: spot starts, mop up duty, and effectiveness against lefties. It’ll be interesting to see what happens to Duane in 2013 with the reenergized Phil Coke, a healthy Daniel Schlereth, and the emergence of Darin Downs, fellow bullpen lefties.

JOAQUIN BENOIT

GRADE: C+

2012 was definitely a step back for Joaquin Benoit. While he seemed to be on track in the first half of the season, his second half and postseason were very suspect. He ended up giving up 14 home runs, extraordinarily high for a shutdown 8th inning reliever. However, Benoit has been known to be streaky and considering the Tigers didn’t really have the ideal situation to use him, it really makes one think what he could’ve done if he had gotten out of his slump. However, 2013 will be a big season for Benoit as he could compete for a closing job.

PHIL COKE

GRADE: B+

Well, that was exciting, wasn’t it, Phil? Mr. Coke looked as though he played for the A’s with the intensity on the mound. What was looking to be a blasé season for Coke ended up to be a salvaged season and gave Coke the perfect ending for his season. Coke was a man on a mission in the postseason and despite the fact that he was the losing pitcher in Game 4, that will only fuel his competitive fire for 2013. If you think he’s in the running for the closer’s job, just remember his own words “Dude, you better bet your rear end…”

CASEY CROSBY

GRADE: C

A lot like Duane Below, there’s not much to break down here. Crosby’s performance for the Tigers in 2012 was adequate at best, as he was filling in for the injured Doug Fister. While he pitched well enough to stay in the rotation for a little while, it doesn’t look like he’ll be in the mix for a spot in the rotation or a spot in the bullpen. I’m looking at him as a throw in for a possible trade this winter. But if you see him pitching for the Tigers in 2013, it means the Tigers are in trouble.

OCTAVIO DOTEL

GRADE: B+

What a pickup! Dotel proved to be exactly what Dave Dombrowski was looking for: a versatile right hander who could pitch up to three innings and could be a 6th, 7th, 8th, or even 9th inning guy. The move paid dividends for the Tigers as, I’m sure many will agree, we all breathed easier when he entered the game. He also provided experienced veteran leadership from being on the 2011 World Champion St. Louis Cardinals. He is a free agent this winter if the Tigers don’t pickup his option but considering the success he had this season, Dombrowski will keep Dotel in Detroit for 2013.

DARIN DOWNS

GRADE: B

This was the bullpen feel good story of 2012. Darin Downs had pitched for 10 years in the minor leagues, overcome a skull fracture, and finally reached the major leagues in early July. What appeared to be a short stint in the majors actually turned into a career year for the 27-year old. His inexperience probably kept him off the playoff roster but as long as he continues to perform to his 2012 abilities, he should make the team out of Spring Training. I’m rooting for this guy and I know Jim Leyland is too.

LUIS MARTE

GRADE: C

Luis Marte was a wild card in the bullpen in 2012. Leyland seemed to like going to him and he was effective in the beginning of the season but after being sent down to Toledo and with the struggles of the offense not helping the pitching staff, his numbers dwindled. However, I believe with work on his walk rate, he could turn out to be a weapon that every bonafide contender needs: a long man with starter’s stuff. He was originally a starter when he signed with the Tigers but due to the lack of openings in the rotation, that’s just not going to happen. We can only hope that he can be as effective as, say, Alexi Ogando or Tim Lincecum in the postseason. This should be an interesting, and maybe career defining spring for Marte.

LUKE PUTKONEN

GRADE: D+

This is really scraping the bottom of the barrel here. Putkonen was originally a starter, like Marte, but couldn’t crack the rotation. However, when subjected to the bullpen, he was less than effective. Putkonen doesn’t belong in the majors and will probably be in Toledo coming out of Spring Training. However, much like Crosby, if you see him pitching, it means Detroit’s been hit with the injury bug.

JOSE VALVERDE

GRADE: F

Okay, maybe an F is a little harsh. But what we saw in the postseason was historical in the worst sense of the word. This man possessed an ERA over 30 and had a whip north of 4.5. While he isn’t the reason the Tigers lost the Series, I shudder to think what the city would’ve done if he had lost a game. As a closer, you HAVE to be effective. There’s no alternative, especially during the most important part of the season. Don’t get me wrong, I like the guy. I think he’s hilarious and he’s a great teammate. But you don’t pay a closer to be a great guy. You don’t pay him to be funny. And you don’t pay him to be a great teammate. You pay him to get three outs. It’ll be interesting to see where he’ll be in 2013 because Mr. D has made it clear that he won’t be pitching in Detroit.

BRAYAN VILLAREAL

GRADE: C+

Ah, the other V man in the bullpen with bad mechanics. Brayan was actually one of the better pitchers for the Tigers in the first half of 2012. However, his bad mechanics and tendency to be wild derailed what looked to be a career year. What should get Tiger fans excited in 2013 is his arsenal. He gets the most out of his 6 foot frame with a mid to high 90s fastball and a dazzling slider. If he works on getting his pitches down and getting better control, the Tigers have a formidable right-handed duo in Villareal and Alburquerque.

OVERALL BULLPEN

GRADE: C-

As much as certain individuals shined and certain individuals failed, the bullpen as a whole, throughout the 2012 season, was one of the weak points of the team. Different faces took center stage at various points of the season but that’s not how its supposed to work. The reason the Giants were in contention from Day 1 was because they could count on their bullpen. The Tigers shouldn’t have to go to a hot hand; you should go to the matchup advantage, something that Leyland loves doing. But when various relievers don’t do their job, that makes Leyland’s job that much harder. I’m not sure what Dombrowski can do on his front to improve this area of the team. I think this one lies on the players. They all have to get better and if they do, the Tigers could see themselves back in Series without serious concern when the starter leaves. Otherwise, it’ll be another trying season of wasted quality starts, blown saves, and concern for Tiger fans everywhere.

AVAILABLE FREE AGENTS

As much as guys like Bruce Rondon are our future, there’s always the possibility of them being traded or not being effective. On top of all that, Dombrowski has been known to spend money to fix major problems. But the question as to who the Tigers could add is a pressing one. Here’s a short list of relievers that the Tigers could add to bolster their bullpen.

MIKE ADAMS: RHP, TEXAS RANGERS

Adams has been a great 7th and 8th inning guy for Ron Washington and the Texas Rangers. However, with Neftali Feliz coming back from the rotation, Texas appear to be set in the bullpen. Feliz is ten years younger and throws almost 8 mph faster. He’d be a great fit in the Tiger bullpen and would bring stability back to the 7th, 8th, or even 9th innings.

RYAN MADSON: RHP, CINCINNATI REDS

Madson hasn’t played since 2011 but if the Tigers were to sign him, it wouldn’t be off the scrap heap. He was the predicted closer for the Reds going into the spring of 2012 before being lost for the season due to Tommy John surgery. Aroldis Chapman stepped into the closer’s role and simply dominated the National League in a historical season for the Reds. However, depending on whether Chapman will remain the closer or get moved to the rotation, Madson may or may not be going back to Cincinnati. He’s a lot like Adams and would be a great fit for the Tigers.

JASON GRILLI: RHP, PITTSBURGH PIRATES

Grilli is a former Tiger who has revitalized his career in Pittsburgh. While he doesn’t have closer’s stuff, he’s what you would call a “situational righty”. He’s the ideal pitcher for a manager like Jim Leyland, who’s tried to exploit situations with the wrong personnel. I’m sure Dombrowski would love to have him back on the team and he would love to play for the Tigers once again.

This concludes this week’s breakdown of the bullpen. We’ll tackle the starting rotation next week, the hitters the week after, and decide what looks to be the future for Jim Leyland and maybe upper management. It was a successful season for Detroit but this is only the beginning of a long winter for the Tigers.

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NBA Preview: Part II

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I would hope you enjoyed the first article enough to read this one. Then again, maybe not…

I purposely did not watch last night’s contests between Boston and Miami at eight and then LA and Dallas at 10:30. But I couldn’t avoid hearing the results as I turned on the radio this morning. Nevertheless, I will dissect the competitive playground that is known as the NBA’s Western Conference. We all know about the Lakers’ moves during the summer and how San Antonio continues to get older every year. But how will it all play out?

WESTERN CONFERENCE

PACIFIC DIVISION

  1. LOS ANGELES LAKERS (2012 RECORD 41-25, LOST TO OKLAHOMA CITY IN CONFERENCE SEMIS 1-4)
    It is popular opinion that the Lakers offseason moves, namely acquiring center Dwight Howard from the Orlando Magic, would put them at the top of the Pacific, as well as the West itself. I’m going to have to agree with that thinking. Kobe Bryant still has a few great years left and with a perfect complement in the backcourt in Steve Nash, he could have a historic season even at age 34. Nash is an assist machine and Kobe will do what he does best: score. However, if Kobe can’t do this, he has, quite possibly, the best frontcourt in Pau Gasol and the aforementioned Howard. Meta World Peace can now fill in the cracks and play lockdown defense; two things he excels at during this phase of his career. The Lakers are definitely going for it all this year but don’t expect this high level of play to continue for more than 3 years down the road.

  2. LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS (2012 RECORD 40-26, LOST TO SAN ANTONIO IN CONFERENCE SEMIS 0-4)
    What a difference a year can make! The evolution of Blake Griffin from a dunk showcase player to a serious 20-10 threat has payed off tremendously for the Clippers. A fallen franchise had the best winning percentage in franchise history last year and can definitely compete for another playoff spot again. Its a given that the Lakers have this division wrapped up but in regards of playoff positioning, the Clips are right in the hunt for home court advantage in the first round. As for the roster, Chris Paul is spending his prime in LA and is still taking pointers from former Piston Chauncey Billups. But beyond those marquee names, the roster doesn’t wow me. However, Philadelphia’s didn’t either and they still won a playoff series.

  3. GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS (2012 RECORD 23-43, DID NOT MAKE PLAYOFFS)
    Golden State has an interesting roster, almost a poor man’s Oklahoma City roster in terms of marquee former college players. Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Stephen Curry, and Draymond Green all had successful college careers but have yet to produce any NBA stardom. However, I honestly don’t think this is a team of busts. All of these players are relatively young and have had personal success in the past. Captained by savvy veteran power forward David Lee, this team should definitely improve and move up a notch in the division standings. Heck, this team could be one slam dunk draft pick from competing with the Clippers.

  4. PHOENIX SUNS (2012 RECORD 33-33, DID NOT MAKE PLAYOFFS)
    The Suns took a couple serious steps back this summer with the loss of Steve Nash, who’s now Kobe’s best friend, and Grant Hill, who also is in LA and could quite possibly be Blake Griffin’s best friend (maybe not). What’s left on the team is nothing to really get excited about. Shannon Brown, Jared Dudley, and Wesley Johnson are just some of the names on this grab bag of a team. In a divisional scope, they could fight with Golden State for the third spot or they could bottom out and have a “pathetic-off” with Sacramento. The result is a mystery but one that leaves even Suns fans wondering “Who cares?”

  5. SACRAMENTO KINGS (2012 RECORD 22-44, DID NOT MAKE PLAYOFFS)
    This could quite possibly be one of the saddest examples of a franchise in sports. Sacramento hasn’t been significant since the days of Chris Webber and Mike Bibby battling Kobe, Shaq, and Robert Horry in the playoffs, way back in the day. I like the names on this roster, I really do. Jimmer Fredette (yes, the Jimmer!), Tyreke Evans, and Thomas Robinson are all on this team. However, when you’re team is captained by Demarcus Cousins (A.K.A. Rasheed Wallace Jr), it doesn’t look good when you step out on the court. What makes this sad is that Sacramento has a true love for their basketball team yet there’s been talk in the League about moving them out of the Californian capital. I would hope that they could turn it around sometime soon but with a stacked conference, it doesn’t look like this situation will change anytime soon.

NORTHWEST DIVISION

  1. OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER (2012 RECORD 47-19, LOST TO MIAMI IN NBA FINALS 1-4)
    While my attention has drifted since the Pistons stopped be relevant, I’ll admit, that I didn’t totally stop paying attention to the NBA. I remember watching Kevin Durant dominate at Texas and win the Naismith Award as the first freshman ever. I watch him join the Supersonics as a rookie and figure himself out. So imagine last June when, Durant stepped onto the court in the NBA Finals, I was naturally excited for him. But it wasn’t just for him. In all of sports, Sam Presti is one of the smartest men in terms of constructing a team and it was evident last June. Durant is supported by Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, and newly acquired Kevin Martin. This team exudes youth but now has the experience to win a championship, as well as the Western Conference.

  2. DENVER NUGGETS (2012 RECORD 38-28, LOST TO LA LAKERS IN FIRST ROUND 3-4)
    Denver is going to finish the season in second place, partly because of point guard Andre Miller. Miller is an ageless wonder (36 years old) who still plays like he’s 26. He’s the perfect contrast to future floor general, Ty Lawson and will definitely help this team in the Xs and Os. However, Miller will have a little help in newly acquired guard Andre Iguodala. The two Andres will help lead this team to a second place finish, mostly because this is another division that isn’t extremely competitive. Based on their playoff performance last year, they could take a serious contender to the brink or maybe beyond.

  3. MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES (2012 RECORD 26-40, DID NOT MAKE PLAYOFFS)
    I’m predicting a huge culture change in Minnesota and it will begin and end with established star Kevin Love. Minnesota gives me the same vibe that Oklahoma City did when they began to construct a winning team. Love is joined by the Spanish Pete Maravich, Ricky Rubio who is a talented, deadly quick player who can change any game with his assists. Second year forward Derrick Williams should improve and surprisingly explosive guard Chase Budinger should give a jolt off the bench. There’s a lot of unknown players on this team but let’s be honest, did the NBA know most of the Thunder before they achieved success?

  4. UTAH JAZZ (2012 RECORD 36-30, LOST TO SAN ANTONIO IN FIRST ROUND 0-4)
    While Utah has decent experience in this tough division, they’re roster is made up of veteran role players. From Gordon Hayward, Paul Millsap, and Devin Harris to Al Jefferson, Raja Bell, and Josh Howard, any of these players could be traded to fill the gap on a team like the Lakers, Celtics, Thunder, or Heat. What that means, essentially, is that this won’t produce winning basketball. Hayward and Jefferson are probably the best players on the team but when Paul Millsap lines up at the 4, you’re gonna have a bad time. Despite making a playoff appearance last year, there’s a reason they got swept.

  5. PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS (2012 RECORD 28-38, DID NOT MAKE PLAYOFFS)
    Portland is stuck in a rut, much like Sacramento. While I don’t see the team going anywhere, unlike the Kings, there is very little to debate about on this team. The unquestioned leader would be power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who could start on many contending teams. Beyond that, this team is going absolutely nowhere. Poor drafts in recent years have doomed the team and veterans wouldn’t even be decent role players on any other team. Joel Pryzbilla needs to retire. Nolan Smith is playing on one of the only teams that would possibly think of him as a rebuilding piece. The rest are nobodys. Portland will also be looking to calculate their chances of winning the first overall pick in the Lottery.

 

SOUTHWEST DIVISION

  1. SAN ANTONIO SPURS (2012 RECORD 50-16, LOST TO OKLAHOMA CITY IN CONFERENCE FINALS 2-4)
    The day Tim Duncan retires will be the day that the Spurs dynasty ends. While San Antonio hasn’t brought home a title since 2007, they’ve remained competitive in a tougher and tougher Western Conference. Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker are still the Big 3 in Texas and can think on the same wavelengths. GM Peter Holt has done an excellent job in drafting younger role players to help his veterans. DeJuan Blair plays bigger than 6’7″ at center and cleans up missed shots by Gary Neal and Cory Joseph. This roster can compete in the West but needs to hold up for an entire season. Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker have only a few years left but this could still be a successful one.

  2. DALLAS MAVERICKS (2012 RECORD 36-30, LOST TO OKLAHOMA CITY IN FIRST ROUND 0-4)
    Dallas has a talented roster, once again highlighted by point forward Dirk Nowitzki. In what looks like a NBA 2K3 fantasy lineup, Dallas has useful veterans in Shawn Marion, Elton Brand, Vince Carter, and Chris Kaman, a lineup that can compete with the best of them. Dallas is not quite as old as San Antonio but until someone knocks the Spurs out for good, the Mavs will be in second place.

  3. HOUSTON ROCKETS (2012 RECORD 34-32, DID NOT MAKE PLAYOFFS)
    An influx of new talent and new faces on this team will ultimately result in a better showing this season. Jeremy Lin is now a Rocket and if he gets over being sick like he was in New York, Linsanity will continue in Texas. However, he is not alone! In the latest of blockbusters, Houston nabbed Thunder sixth man, James Harden last week. Both players can light up the scoreboard and will provide an instant upgrade over the likes of Kevin Martin. This should be an exciting season in Houston as they try to chase the upper echelon of the Texas Triangle, in San Antonio and Dallas.

  4. MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES (2012 RECORD 41-25, LOST TO LA CLIPPERS IN FIRST ROUND 3-4)
    Memphis has been another feel good story in the West, in addition to Oklahoma City and the Clippers. The Grizzlies could’ve had a second crack at the Spurs if they weren’t foiled by Blake Griffin and the Clips. However, Houston bolstering its offense this offseason by acquiring Jeremy Lin and James Harden. Rudy Gay has evolved into the leader of this team and Zach Randolph is finally becoming the player everyone thought he was going to be. With underrated players like Jerryd Bayless and Marreese Speights, Memphis can compete for one of the final playoff spots but its going to be that much harder with Houston being a drastically improved team.

  5. NEW ORLEANS HORNETS (2012 RECORD 21-45, DID NOT MAKE PLAYOFFS)
    As much as New Orleans would like to think that by adding one of the most accomplished players to yet play in the NBA (Anthony Davis), that they would have a drastic improvement in wins. Sorry, Hornets but the “Unibrow” isn’t going to stop the bleeding, at least on his own. While I don’t doubt that the number one overall pick’s mere presence is going to change something, New Orleans is still going to run guys like Greivis Vazquez, Hakim Warrick, and Ryan Anderson out there. As high as Austin Rivers’ draft stock was, I think its going to be a year in the school of hard knocks for Rivers. He left at least a year too early and this season could actually have an adverse effect on his development. Either way, its going to be another year in the Lottery for the Hornets.

 

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS: LA LAKERS VS OKLAHOMA CITY

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS: MIAMI VS BOSTON

NBA FINALS: LA LAKERS VS MIAMI

NBA CHAMPIONS: LA LAKERS IN 7

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NBA Preview: Part I

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Yes, no hockey has forced me to result to basketball this fall.

It’s been quite some time before I deeply submerged myself into the world of the NBA. I’ll admit, I had a deep attachment to the Pistons as a kid and relished the 2004 NBA Championship. But the days of Chauncey, Rip, Rasheed, and Ben are gone. After going through serious hardship as a club with the loss of an owner, the sale of the team, and the adjustment to new ownership, things are looking up for the Pistons. But what really drew me in to watch this season was the drafting of center Andre Drummond. General Manager Joe Dumars is constructing what appears to be the second coming of the 2004 team. However, one can’t predict how the Pistons will finish this season without looking at the rest of the league. So without further ado, I present, with revitalized enthusiasm, part 1 of the 2012-13 NBA Preview!

EASTERN CONFERENCE

ATLANTIC DIVISION

  1. BOSTON CELTICS (2012 RECORD 39-27, LOST TO MIAMI IN CONFERENCE FINALS 3-4)
    Yes, I’m going to continue to drink the Celtics Kool-Aid. Despite having aging stars in Paul Pierce (35 years old) and Kevin Garnett (36 years old), there’s a lot to like about this team, namely point guard Rajon Rondo. The past few years have been good to the Celtics, especially Rondo who could be regarded as the best point guard in the league after a Conference finals performance that could be the stuff of legend (playing with one arm due to injury). The loss of Ray Allen to the Miami Heat is actually going to hurt this team quite a bit but in terms of winning this division, it shouldn’t make a HUGE difference. The addition of Courtney Lee will help on both sides of the ball but won’t come close to the production that Allen contributed. Despite all of this, they are still the class of the Atlantic Division and will be competitive come playoff time.
  2. PHILADELPHIA 76ERS (2012 RECORD 35-31, LOST TO BOSTON IN CONFERENCE SEMIS 3-4)
    This fall will harken back to the days of Julius Irving. Philadelphia leapfrogged New York solely with the addition of Andrew Bynum. Bynum takes the throne of top center in the East with departure of Dwight Howard to Los Angeles. With a strong big man in the middle, it will give Evan Turner and Jrue Holiday room on the wings to shoot. They did, however, lose longtime scorer Andre Iguodala but added veteran Jason Richardson and wing man Nick Young. Both Richardson and Young give this team a sense of athleticism, something that will help especially on defense. This isn’t a 76ers team from the last 5 years; they’re looking to their round one victory over the top ranked Chicago Bulls as inspiration for this fall. I’m not sure if they can dethrone the Celtics but they’ll revive a long dead rivalry that’s only good for the NBA.
  3. NEW YORK KNICKS (2012 RECORD 36-30, LOST TO MIAMI IN FIRST ROUND 1-4)
    New York’s progress is much to be desired for those teams looking for significant improvement. However, I’m not quite sure that even at 28, Carmelo Anthony has the maturity to be “The Man.” I could sense that there was a problem with Jeremy Lin last year but there’s no way to prove anything. However, if he comes out, focused, determined, and dedicated to winning, things could be okay. But just okay, mainly because Amare Stoudemire will be out for at least six weeks, which automatically puts the team behind from the get-go. The contenders in this division all have a premier big man. Boston has Garnett. Philadelphia has Bynum. Heck, even Brooklyn has Brook Lopez. The absence of Stoudemire will be a huge test for the Knicks who have three big men over 37 (Rasheed Wallace, Marcus Camby, and Kurt Thomas). Experience should help but it won’t produce like Stoudemire will.
  4. BROOKLYN NETS (2012 RECORD 22-44, DID NOT MAKE PLAYOFFS)
    Mikhail Prokhorov’s American basketball project has taken their talents to Brookyn, an area that has longed for a hometown sports team since the departure of the baseball’s Brooklyn Dodgers. While I can’t speak for the fan base, I’m not sure if there will be a lot to cheer for in their first season in Brooklyn. Deron Williams and Joe Johnson will be spectacular in the backcourt but the dynamic of players on this team is interesting to say the least. Kris Humphries, Brook Lopez, and Andray Blatche form what could be one of the least cohesive frontcourts in memory. However, being in Brooklyn, playing alongside Johnson, and having the confidence of a reputable owner could give this team the resolve to compete. However, that’s a big “if” and I’m not buying anything more than fourth place this season.
  5. TORONTO RAPTORS (2012 RECORD 22-43, DID NOT MAKE PLAYOFFS)
    Ever since Chris Bosh turned traitor and left town, basketball has been a trying time in Toronto. (Heck, even Hedo Turkoglu didn’t want to play there!) But things can’t be all bad, can they? No, things are looking up for once in the NBA’s only Canadian franchise. There’s an influx of foreign youth on this team in Jonas Valanciunas and stalwart Andrea Bargnani. While this team won’t seriously contend for a few years, they will at least challenge Brooklyn for the fourth spot. But who knows? This team is a wild card, much like Brooklyn, and could even catch New York, if the Knicks can’t survive Stoudemire’s injury for the first six weeks.

 

CENTRAL DIVISION

  1. INDIANA PACERS (2012 RECORD 42-24, LOST TO MIAMI IN CONFERENCE SEMIS 2-4)
    Indiana has one of the deepest teams and have pretty much successfully rebuilt themselves back into a contender. Center Roy Hibbert is the best center in the division and could become an All-Star this season. Teamed with do-it-all forward Danny Granger, this duo is the stuff of contenders. Back when Indiana was at the top of the league, the team had similar players in Ron Artest and Jermaine O’Neal. However, the reason they’re my top pick in the Central is because of a player that’s not even on their team. Bulls point guard Derrick Rose is going to be gone for the majority of the season thus conceding the division crown to the Pacers. However, if the Pacers don’t have the division wrapped up by time Rose returns, it could be an epic fight to the death.
  2. CHICAGO BULLS (2012 RECORD 50-16, LOST TO PHILADELPHIA IN FIRST ROUND 2-4)
    As I mentioned before, the season’s success depends on the perseverance of the team to press on without Derrick Rose. The Bulls still have a very good team with center Joakim Noah and power forward Carlos Boozer in the backcourt but without Rose to feed the likes of former Piston shooting guard Richard Hamilton and small forward Taj Gibson. I’m not going to buy an epic meltdown as this is still a very good team but if they can stay competitive without Rose, they will be torture to deal with come the postseason.
  3. MILWAUKEE BUCKS (2012 RECORD 31-35, DID NOT MAKE PLAYOFFS)
    Milwaukee’s yet another interesting crew. Point guard Brandon Jennings is once again the unquestioned leader of the team and can make or break a game with his offense. He has an interesting supporting cast with solid players in Ekpe Udoh, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, and Mike Dunleavy Jr. On paper, this looks like a decent roster but most of these players have underperformed in their careers and have been thrown together in Milwaukee. Unfortunately for Milwaukee, they’re playing in an incredibly competitive division and will be lucky to compete for a playoff spot.
  4. DETROIT PISTONS (2012 RECORD 25-41, DID NOT MAKE PLAYOFFS)
    Finally, the Pistons have an optimistic look going into the upcoming season. Luckily for General Manager Joe Dumars, 19-year old Connecticut center Andre Drummond fell to the Pistons at the ninth overall pick. Drummond has the tools to become the next Dwight Howard…but could also turn out to be the next Darko Milicic. What lies ahead for Drummond is a mystery but it could be very different than Darko’s career, in that Drummond appears to be the backup center going into this season. Besides Drummond, Dumars has put his team back on the rebuilding road with the drafting of point guard Brandon Knight and power forward Greg Monroe, in previous years. However, Drummond looks to be the center piece in this rebuilding movement and if he can have success, the Pistons will take yet another step toward the right direction.
  5. CLEVELAND CAVALIERS (2012 RECORD 21-45, DID NOT MAKE PLAYOFFS)
    What used to be Lebron’s stomping grounds have turned into Kyrie Irving’s transformation into a Derrick Rose clone. Irving has similar tools to Rose and with the right supporting cast (boy, isn’t that a familiar term in Cleveland?) could bring the Cavs back like Rose brought the Bulls back. The way to build your team back up is with an excellent point guard and the Cavs have one. Yet the surrounding cast still smells of Lebron and are about as useful to Irving as they were to Lebron. Antawn Jamison and Anthony Parker have been replaced by younger, more useful, players like rookies Jae Crowder and Dion Waiters. However, youth alone rarely wins games. This year should be no different with Indiana and Chicago duking it out as well as Milwaukee and Detroit vastly improving.

 

SOUTHWEST DIVISION

  1. MIAMI HEAT (2012 RECORD 46-20 DEFEATED OKLAHOMA CITY IN NBA FINALS 4-1)
    There is no question that the Heat are the class of the Southwest Division. With the departure of Dwight Howard to the Lakers over the summer, it really weakened the division as a whole and essentially gave the Heat an automatic berth. Lebron has new teammates to conquer the East with in former Celtic Ray Allen and point forward Rashard Lewis. The Heat look to be even more of a juggernaut than last year, if that’s possible.
  2. ATLANTA HAWKS (2012 RECORD 40-26, LOST TO BOSTON IN FIRST ROUND 2-4)
    Atlanta’s looking to place second in this division and it doesn’t look like it’ll be that hard considering the Heat have first place locked up and the Magic and Bobcats will be looking at the lottery after the season’s done. Joe Johnson’s departure to Brooklyn will hurt the team but Josh Smith and Al Horford are still around and are now the center pieces with which the team is based on. Both are in the prime of their careers and can carry this team into the playoffs. Unfortunately for Atlanta, however, it’ll most likely be a question of who’s going to eliminate them once they get to the postseason.
  3. WASHINGTON WIZARDS (2012 RECORD 20-46, DID NOT MAKE PLAYOFFS)
    Washington is stuck between a rock and a hard place. They’ve been improving slowly but haven’t really gone anywhere at all. A third place finish this year wouldn’t do any good either but this roster, frankly, doesn’t have the talent to leapfrog Atlanta and challenge for a playoff spot. John Wall is a bright spot at point guard but with names like Martell Webster, Jannero Pargo, Emeka Okafor, and Trevor Ariza, the team has a blasé feel to it. It’ll be another trying year for basketball in D.C. but to think this is only the third place team really speaks to how bad this division is…
  4. CHARLOTTE BOBCATS (2012 RECORD 7-41, DID NOT MAKE PLAYOFFS)
    Last year was the worst for basketball in Charlotte. A historic winning percentage (the wrong type of historic) lay in store for the Bobcats and no amount of coaching changes, new arenas, or draft picks was going to change that. Things didn’t get better even after the season as the Bobcats bought into what Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was selling and took him second overall. Kidd-Gilchrist is still only 19 years old and is supposed to be a “Savior” to the franchise. While at Kentucky, Kidd-Gilchrist wasn’t even a starter but still parlayed it into an NBA career. I think Charlotte could’ve done so much better than him but hey, at least Kemba Walker will have someone to pass to this season…
  5. ORLANDO MAGIC (2012 RECORD 37-29, LOST TO INDIANA IN FIRST ROUND 1-4)
    How the mighty have fallen. To think the 2009 Eastern Conference Champions would be picked to finish last in 2013 is shocking. But not so much when you see how much of a diva Mr. Dwight Howard became in four short years. There were so many times when you just wanted him to shut his mouth about his satisfaction with the franchise and forcing out Stan Van Gundy as coach. Worse yet, he took a metaphorical dump on the city by leaving town the way he did and giving the team one of the worst rosters in recent years. From names like Al Harrington, Josh McRoberts, and E’Twaun Moore, this looks to be a terrible year in Orlando. At least it gives Magic fans an opportunity to calculate the chances of getting the top pick in the Lottery.

If you think the East is interesting (which you genuinely might not), wait till you see the West! Till next time, folks!

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A Poetic Look at the NFL

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Yes, poetry! We can be artistic too!

The following is a poem by a dear friend and longtime reader, Nicholas D’Alessandro. If you have your own submission you’d like to get published on the Sporting Mitten, feel free to email it to sportingmitten@gmail.com for review.

Oh the crazy NFL

A league that we think we all know quite well

But as week 7 comes, it’s getting as difficult as ever to tell

There’s upsets here and blown calls there

One of the things that make this game so great is its not always fair

Teams that are holding on are waiting to hit their hot streak

While it seems as if some surprise teams have already hit their peak

But it’s a long season and only about halfway through

With plenty of more exciting games for folks like me and you

Its what makes this game so great and America’s true pastime.

On any one play, any coach, player, or even ref can shine

And with this theory it might not always benefit your fantasy team, which is a bummer

But then maybe you should enjoy the game for what its worth instead of stressing about your team all summer

I’m sorry for that statement and that was rude

But what I’m trying to say is everyone can enjoy the game in whatever way they choose

With half a season yet to play and the playoff stretch coming up

This time of year is what will set the elite from the pups

So sit down, relax, and see the art before your eyes

Because as the season has thus far displayed, you never know who or what could surprise.

Go Bengals!

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World Series Preview

GO TIGERS

Tigers. Giants. They’re ready. Are you?

Its here. Its finally here, Detroit. I, myself, wasn’t sure when it would happen again. But its here. The Tigers have a chance to redeem themselves from 2006, when an extremely disappointing 5-game series loss to the Cardinals left everyone with a bad taste in their mouths. But six years later, under the same manager Jim Leyland, its the Giants that stand in the way of this generation’s World Series Championship. However, how exactly is this series going to play out? A breakdown in each part of the team will be more telling.

GAME 1 STARTERS: Justin Verlander vs Barry Zito

Based on initial look, it might seem like the Tigers have the overwhelming advantage in Game 1… and you would be right! Zito, while rejuvenated and reinventing himself as a Frank Tanana-type pitcher, is exactly the pitcher San Francisco would like to matchup with Verlander in Game 1. However, the Tigers hitters can hit a pitcher like Zito (Kansas City’s Bruce Chen) in a crucial game like this. A few or even one run might be all that Verlander will need to take an important Game 1.

ADVANTAGE: DETROIT

GAME 2 STARTERS: Doug Fister vs Madison Bumgarner

This is an intriguing matchup solely because I never thought I’d see either of these guys square off in a game, much less the World Series. Fister should be able to thrive at AT&T Park as the dimensions are much like Comerica Park, pitcher friendly. But how does he matchup against Bumgarner? Well, luckily for the Tigers, Bumgarner hasn’t been pitching very well during the postseason and I think this is the weakest of their four starter that the Tigers have to worry about. Bumgarner throws from the left side like Zito but at a side-arm angle. Either way, Fister should be better than Bumgarner and it should be a Tigers victory.

ADVANTAGE: DETROIT

GAME 3 STARTERS: Anibal Sanchez vs Ryan Vogelsong

This is yet another intriguing matchup as Sanchez and Vogelsong look to be mirror images-of each other. Vogelsong pitched his way into an All-Star appearance this year and was a great complement to Matt Cain. However, Sanchez proved his worth with a dominant performance in Game 2 against the Yankees. Both pitchers have the hot hand and look equal. I think it’ll be a matter of who will blink first as neither team has the advantage in Game 3.

ADVANTAGE: EVEN

GAME 4 STARTERS: Max Scherzer vs Matt Cain

This matchup reminds me of last round’s Game 4 in which Scherzer out performed the Yankees’ CC Sabathia. It looked to be in New York’s favor but the Tigers clinched. I think this game could set up in the Tigers favor as Cain should have the slight advantage but with the Comerica Park crowd as spirited as they should be it could go either way.

ADVANTAGE: EVEN

BULLPEN

San Francisco has banded together after losing closer Brian Wilson for the season. Closer Sergio Romo has really embraced the closer’s role and the rest of the bullpen (Mijares, Affedlt, Lopez) has remained stable. On the Tigers’ side of things, Phil Coke looks to be the de facto closer with Jose Valverde still trying to reinvent himself. Jim Leyland will go with a matchup scheme in the 9th but even Detroit fans aren’t completely sold on the bullpen.

ADVANTAGE: SAN FRANCISCO

LINEUP

Both lineups have struggled this postseason but have an unexpected player leading the way (Delmon Young and Marco Scutaro). San Francisco and Detroit both have a stellar leadoff man in Angel Pagan and Austin Jackson, who can get on, steal bases, and score. However, the lineup advantage tends to favor the Tigers as Pablo Sandoval, Buster Posey, and Hunter Pence are no match for Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, and the hot bat of Delmon Young. A Triple Crown winner, the man who hit behind him, and the ALCS MVP are can provide instant offense and get Detroit a lead.

ADVANTAGE: DETROIT

MANAGER: Jim Leyland vs Bruce Bochy

Both managers have storied pasts especially in the World Series. Leyland won it all with Florida in 1997 and won a pennant with the Tigers in 2006. Comparatively, Bochy won a NL Pennant with San Diego in 1998 and a World Series Championship with San Francisco in 2010. In fact, Bochy was a backup catcher for the Padres during their 1984 World Series matchup with the Tigers. However, if you had to pick one… you couldn’t. Both managers have done excellently with their respective teams. It’ll be interesting to see the chess match by both managers, especially in a National League park.

Overall, this is going to be a great Series. Both teams have fought hard to get here. The Tigers had to overtake the White Sox in the last week of September and had to overcome the upstart A’s as well as take down the veteran Yankees. The Giants had to face a gritty Cincinnati team and win three straight elimination games on the road, then win another three elimination games to make it to this point. Both teams feature excellent pitching, tough outs in the lineup, and veteran managers looking to add to their resume. I also think its ironic that in an All-Star Game dominated by Giants, Justin Verlander’s performance in the Midsummer Classic put the Tigers in this position. But those are the cards that have been dealt and I really don’t think its going to make a bit of difference for the Tigers. I think if the Tigers can continue to pitch like they have previously, its going to be a World Championship parade in Detroit afterward.

PREDICTION: TIGERS IN 5

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