Sunday, July 27, 2014

Lakers find their man in Byron Scott

After finishing dead last in the Pacific division out west and posting their worst record in franchise history at 27-55 under coach Mike D'Antoni last season, the team has announced their newest hire. With D'Antoni resigning back on April 30, the Lakers have finally put an end to their head coaching vacancy nearly three months to the day with the announcement of a four-year, $17 Million contract agreement with Byron Scott. With both free agency and the NBA Draft the top priorities during the early stages of the NBA offseason for the Lakers, GM Mitch Kupchak decided to hold off on hiring a head coach until the dust settled as the game's top free agents found homes. And with the Lakers failing to land either LeBron James or Carmello Anthony, both of whom they were willing to cater to and allow their voice to be heard in the hiring process for the next head coach, the team went on to offer the job to the man we knew they'd hire all along.

Though there were other interviewees which included George Karl, Kurt Rambis, Mike Dunleavy, Alvin Gentry and Lionel Hollins, the job was pretty much Scott's to lose from the get go. That became even more apparent as the interview process went on as Byron Scott returned for a second and third interview as most of the other candidates began signing elsewhere. With defense being a weak point for the team that failed to make the playoffs last season, the disciplinarian that Scott is known throughout the league to be should be a good fit for this Laker team. Scott also knows everything that needs to be known when under the bright lights of Hollywood. Not only does he know a thing or two about the franchise having played 10 seasons in L.A. and winning three titles with the "Showtime" Lakers, he's also quite familiar with the team he'll now be drawing up plays for as he served as an analyst on the Lakers' home station -- Time Warner Cable Sportsnet this past season. 
But what might have been the decided factor overall is his relationship with Lakers star Kobe Bryant. Having once upon a time called Byron Scott a teammate of his during his rookie season with the Lakers in 1996, Kobe has credited his new coach as being a mentor of his and someone he's always had a great deal of respect for and has expressed his interest in playing under Scott if the opportunity presented itself. With the organization expecting success only to be left disappointed each of the last few seasons with both Mike Brown and Mike D'Antoni at the helm, fans weren't hesitant to let their frustration be known. But being one of their own, Byron Scott will get somewhat of a free pass from Laker fans during this rebuilding stage and won't be chased out of the door right away if say the Lakers fail to make the playoffs again. But that's not to say coach Scott is expecting anything short of success from the purple and gold this year. 

Along with the new coaching staff, Laker fans will be seeing some new faces this season as well as some old ones. With Nick Young, Jordan Hill, Wesley Johnson, Xavier Henry and Ryan Kelly all re-signing to join Kobe, Steve Nash and Robert Sacre as returning players this year, the Lakers also made a few new acquisitions. After watching Pau Gasol walk via free agency and sign with the Chicago Bulls, the Lakers claimed former All-Star Carlos Boozer off amnesty waivers while also signing power forward Ed Davis. In need of some depth at the point guard position, the Lakers landed Jeremy Lin from the Houston Rockets along with a first and second round pick in next year's Draft. And last but not least is PF Julius Randle who the Lakers took with the seventh overall pick out of Kentucky in last month's Draft and second round pick Jordan Clarkson (Missouri, point guard) who L.A. acquired on draft night from the Washington Wizards.
Byron Scott's coaching resume includes two trips to the NBA Finals while with the then New Jersey Nets and a Coach of the Year Award (2008) with the then New Orleans Hornets. After taking over a Cleveland Cavaliers team that would end up losing LeBron James via free agency to the Miami Heat just days after his arrival, Scott would be fired from the Cavs in 2013. Scott also joins a long list of former Laker players who later went on to coach the team which includes: Pat Riley, Jerry West, Jim Pollard, George Mikan, Kurt Rambis and Magic Johnson. 

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Sunday, July 13, 2014

LeBron James: There's No Place like Home

Four years ago, fans of the Cleveland Cavaliers burned their LeBron James jerseys after the kid who grew up just a stones throw away in Akron, Ohio, ditched the state he was born and raised in for the sandy shores of South Beach. Now, those same fans will be racing to the nearest sporting goods store in hopes of purchasing a new one as all seems to be forgotten now that King James is heading back home. After exercising the option on the final year of his contract with the Miami Heat, LeBron made the decision to return home to play for the Cavs and restore his image and relationship with the city of Cleveland where he played his first seven seasons and won 2 of his 4 MVP Awards. And doing so in a much more appropriate manner than he did in July of 2010 when he announced his decision to take his talents to South Beach on live television. This time, King James did the complete opposite, sparring us from having to sit in front of a TV screen by revealing his decision in an essay released by Sports Illustrated. 

In his essay, one line best describes LeBron's decision to return home: "My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn't realize that four years ago. I do now." With LeBron receiving major criticism for having ESPN make a 30-minute spectacle out of his infamous "The Decision" special, his choice of announcing his return via letter has received praise and in some ways erases his shameful past. And though a return to the Cavs at some time during his career was inevitable, if anything stood in the way of LeBron returning, it was the rocky relationship between he and Cavs owner Dan Gilbert. Gilbert, who took numerous shots at his former star player for his departure to Miami and was arguably the most heartbroken regarding James' decision four years ago by calling him a "coward", went as far as saying the Cavs would win a ring before LeBron ever did and accused him of quitting on the team during the 2010 NBA Finals. Boy was he ever wrong.
Prior to being informed that he was once again the winner of the LeBron James sweepstakes, Gilbert apologized to James face-to-face for his mistakes and said the two, "had seven great years together and one terrible night." And as any smart owner would do if given the opportunity to acquire the best player in the world, Gilbert helped bridge the gap between he and LeBron and expressed his excitement via Twitter by welcoming James back home. This undoubtedly has to be the happiest Gilbert's been in years given the Cavs have missed the playoffs in each of the last four years and haven't had a winning season since LeBron's departure. But the luckiest man of all just might be the Cavaliers' newly hired head coach David Blatt who's job just got a lot easier, having inherited a team with not only the best player on the planet, but also a star point-guard in Kyrie Irving and the most coveted player in the 2014 NBA Draft in number one overall pick -- Andrew Wiggins. Not bad for a guy who will be making his NBA coaching debut.

Shortly after word got out that LeBron was returning to Ohio, Cavs fans poured out onto the streets to celebrate as if they just won an NBA title. Something they've never experienced in the 40+ year history of their franchise and hope this time around that their savior can deliver on. But don't go rocking out to the theme song of the Drew Carey show "Cleveland rocks" just yet. Unlike James' speech which helped fire up the Miami fan base when he was first introduced alongside Heat big three front mates Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh where he went on to say the team would win, "...not five, not six, not seven..." James wrote in his letter that he wasn't promising a championship to the people of Cleveland, adding that it won't be easy. But that didn't stop Cavs season tickets from flying off the shelves and selling out just hours after LeBron's return was announced, nor did it prevent several Las Vegas casinos from making the Cavs the favorites to win it all next season, where as the Miami Heat's odds have now plummeted despite both Bosh and Wade eyeing a return to South Beach.
For LeBron who has matured greatly since 2010, the return to Cleveland gives him a chance to recover the legacy many believe he tarnished by leaving his home behind to chase a ring and join forces with Bosh and Wade. After turning the page on that chapter of his career, James will be embarking on a new chapter which will feature him playing the role of mentor for the first time as he looks to take a bright young talent in Andrew Wiggins under his wing. That's unless Wiggins is dealt as rumors have now begun to swirl involving a possible trade for Minnesota Timberwolves star forward Kevin Love who has been "intrigued" by the thoughts of joining LeBron in Cleveland and has said he'd commit to a long-term deal with the team. But it won't be easy to accomplish as the T-Wolves have already declined an offer that included Dion Waiters, last year's first overall pick Anthony Bennett and Cleveland's first-round pick next year, while making it clear that they have eyes for Wiggins. Adding Love into the mix would certainly put Cleveland over the top as the favorites to come out of the Eastern Conference to contend for a title. But until then, 2014-15 might be a lot like 2006-07 when LeBron led the Cavs to an NBA Finals appearance but was unable to claim the title.

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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

San Francisco Giants Month in Review - June

Following a dominant month of May which saw the San Francisco Giants jump out to a blazing start, manager Bruce Bochy saw his team continue their winning ways through the first week of June. After taking two of three on the road in Cincinnati where the Giants have struggled in recent years and sweeping a three-game series at home vs the Mets, San Francisco stood at 41-20 with the best record in all of baseball. It would also be the best 60-game start to a season for the Giants since 1973. And on June 8, the Giants would witness their lead in the NL Western Division hike up to 9 1/2 games over the second place Los Angeles Dodgers. But any hopes of running away with the division, would come crashing down by months end.

After going 6-1 to begin the month of June, it was almost as if someone flipped a switch as the Giants began struggling both offensively and with their pitching which up to that point had been clicking on all cylinders. Right-hander Tim Hudson who through the first two and a half months as a Giant, looked anything but human on the mound. But a trio of bad outings in June for Huddy, who still boasts an ERA of 2.59, and three blown saves in a two week span for reliever Sergio Romo who would be stripped of his closing duties, would highlight some of San Francisco's pitching woes. The Giants would also experience a power outage on offense as the long ball which played a key role in the team's early success, went missing. Also gone missing would be the Giants' lead-off hitter and spark plug in Angel Pagan who's been sidelined since June 14, while nursing a back injury.
Overall, the Giants would finish the month of June going 10-16, losing 5 of their last 6 series' in the month. Bochy and company would witness their reign of 2+ months in first place come to an end as San Francisco seized the top spot in the NL West on the last day of the month. With the Giants having a day off, the Dodgers took advantage by blanking the Cleveland Indians to take a 1/2 game lead in the division. That lead wouldn't last long, however, as the Giants reclaimed first place the very next day with a win copped with a Dodgers loss. Heading into July, the Giants had lost 15 of 19 games entering the month, but despite their struggles, they would still hang on to one of the best records in the league at 46-36. It wouldn't be all doom and gloom for the orange and black in the month of June, however, as the month also witnessed Tim Lincecum hurl his second career no-hitter. His historic outing would also be the first of back-to-back shutout outings for the 2-time Cy Young Award winner who would also be awarded Player of the Week honors for the performance.

For the Giants, the month of July will feature the halfway point as the All-Star break commences from July 14-17 with the MLB All-Star Game taking place on Tuesday July 15. As for San Francisco's opponents, unlike the month of June where all eight series' were against teams at or below the .500 mark, July will be a much harder task as five of their nine series' will be against teams with winning records. One of those teams the Giants will be meeting with is their Bay Area rival -- Oakland Athletics who currently own the best record in the league. 

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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Lincecum Twice as Freaky vs Padres

After turning the ripe age of 30 years old less than two weeks ago, Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum treated himself to a late Birthday gift on Wednesday by twirling a game for the books. Having done things in pairs throughout his career, such as hoist a pair of Cy Young Awards and help pitch the Giants to a pair of World Series triumphs, the one better known as "The Freak" has now added a pair of no-hitters to his well decorated resume. Just less than a year after tossing a no-hitter on the road against the division-rival San Diego Padres, Lincecum repeated the feat against the same ball club, this time in front of the home fans for what is already the third no-hitter recorded in the Bigs this season, joining the Dodgers' Josh Beckett and Clayton Kershaw.

On a day where a sold out crowd of 41,500 packed into the beautiful AT&T Park for a 287th consecutive time, Giants fans witnessed one of their favorites toss the third no-hitter since the club opened the doors to AT&T Park in 2000 before his teammates awarded him with a Gatorade bath. Though Lincecum didn't completely baffle batters with his stuff on the mound, most notably with his fastball which he chose to throw with only 36% of his pitches on Wednesday afternoon, he simply didn't have to as his pinpoint accuracy helped him record outs in a much quicker fashion than we've been used to seeing this year. A six-pitch third inning and a seven-pitch seventh helped Lincecum cruise through the ballgame while needing 35-pitches fewer than he needed in his July 13 no-hitter last season. And on pitch number 113, San Diego's Will Venable hit a ground ball to rookie second baseman Joe Panik who in his fifth career Big League start, helped assist the final out of the ballgame to seal the no-no. The only blemish on the day for Lincecum came with one out in the second inning when he walked Padres third baseman Chase Headley. 
Finishing the game with 6 strikeouts, seven fewer than the 13 punch outs he accumulated in last year's no-hitter, Timmy threw 73 of his 113 pitches for strikes and had all four pitches in his arsenal working for him. After signing a 2-year, $35 Million deal during the offseason to stay with the Giants, which many thought was a bit much for a pitcher who hasn't performed anywhere near the level he did while being named to the NL All-Star team for four consecutive years from 2008-2011, Lincecum became one of only 32 players in MLB history to toss multiple no-hitters. Lincecum also joins an exclusive club of elite pitchers with multiple no-hitters and multiple Cy Young Awards which features Randy Johnson, Roy Halladay and Sandy Koufax. However, Lincecum and Koufax are the only two who can make the claim with a pair of World Series rings under their belt. 

Big Time Timmy Jim is also one of only four active pitchers to hurl multiple no-hitter's, Justin Verlander, Mark Buehrle and Homer Bailey being the others. Lincecum's feat on Wednesday gave the Giants 16 no-hitters in franchise history, and only he and Christy Mathewson have tossed multiple no-no's in a Giants uniform. But of all the no-hitters that have occurred, Lincecum is one of only two players to no-hit the same ball club more than once, joining Addie Joss of the Cleveland Naps who tossed two career no-hitters vs the White Sox.
While his efforts at the plate will more than likely be overshadowed by his performance on the mound, Timmy also went 2-for-3 on the day with a pair of singles and a walk and also scored a pair of runs to support his own cause as the (46-32) Giants pulled out the 4-0 victory to salvage the finale of the three-game set vs the Padres. For a starting pitching staff that has struggled mightily as of late, boasting an ERA of 5.05 in the month of June and has been the centerpiece to blame for the team's 3-11 skid over the last two weeks, Lincecum's masterful outing just might be the shot in the arm the team needs to jump start what began as a blazing start to the season. That start which saw the first place Giants get off to a 9 1/2 game lead in the division, has been reduced to just 3 games by the archrival Dodgers.

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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Clayton the Unhittable

Whatever's in the water cooler in the Los Angeles Dodgers' dugout seems to be working for the team's starting pitching staff which has produced the only two no-hitters thus far. After going nearly two decades without a single Dodger no-hitter, the boys in blue have now witnessed a pair of no-no's less than a month apart from one another in 2014. With Josh Beckett tossing the first no-hitter of the 2014 season back in May, the first by a Dodger since Hideo Nomo in 1996, L.A.'s ace Clayton Kershaw now has a no-hitter story to tell of his own. Having already established what appears to be a Hall of Fame worthy resume in just six full seasons and touted as the best pitcher in all of baseball, Kershaw's name will now be etched in the record books after logging his most dominant outing yet. And let's be honest, we all knew he was bound to toss a no-hitter sooner or later.

With the start of Kershaw's 2014 season anything but ideal, serving a stint on the disabled-list for the first time of his career just one start in after being awarded his second Cy Young Award last season and third consecutive ERA title, the 3-time All-Star appears to have put that behind him and has more than made up for his early absence. Having often been compared to Dodger great and fellow southpaw Sandy Kofax, Kershaw now has something else in common with the Dodgers legend now that he's got a no-hitter under his belt. Something Kofax knows plenty about considering he tossed four no-hitters of his own during his days, one of which being a perfect game. Though time will tell whether the 26-year old Kershaw can come even remotely close to Kofax's four no-hitters, his no-no would've been a perfect game had it not been for an error in the seventh inning by Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez who's errant throw to first base allowed the only base runner in the game for the Rockies.
To put into perspective just how dominant Kershaw's outing really was on Wednesday night, he struck out a career-high 15 batters and allowed only one 3-ball count while needing only 107-pitches (80 for strikes) as the Dodgers defeated Colorado easily by a final score of 8-0. Kershaw improved to 7-2 on the year while bumping his ERA down to 2.52 and more importantly helped L.A. close the gap on the division-leading Giants who's 9.5 game lead just two weeks ago has shrunk to just four games. Despite a disappointing outing in the series clinching game 6 of the NLCS last season which saw Kershaw surrender seven earned runs to the St. Louis Cardinals who went on to the World Series, the Dodgers agreed to a record-setting contract extension with their ace during the offseason, signing him to a 7-year, $215 Million deal, the richest contract ever signed by a pitcher. And so far, Kershaw's been worth every dime.

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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

San Francisco Giants Month in Review - May

Best in the Bigs - With baseball season in full swing as two calendar months are officially in the books, here's a look at the San Francisco Giants and the season they've had thus far through the month of May. Currently standing as the best team in all of baseball with a league best record of 37 wins and 20 losses, the Giants sit atop the NL Western Division with a 7 game advantage over the second-place L.A. Dodgers which is also the largest lead of any division. Winners of 8 out of their last 10 games, the Giants are heating up just like the weather and have been finding ways to win games with both their pitching and perhaps more surprisingly their hitting.

Through the first 50 games this season, the Giants stood at 32-18, the best start through the first 50 games for the franchise since the team opened their gates to AT&T Park in 2000, known then as Pac Bell. But as good as the Giants have been at home thus far, going 19-9, they've been equally as good on the road at 18-11 after taking 3 of 4 versus the Red Birds in St. Louis. Overall, the month of May saw San Francisco finish 10 games over .500 at a 19-9 clip despite having only two off days in the entire month, winning or at least splitting every series with the lone exception of a 3-game set in Pittsburgh where the Giants won the first game of the series before dropping the next two. Not even having Hunter Pence's scooter stolen has been able to slow down the team.
Part of the Giants early season success had a lot to do with the bat of first baseman Brandon Belt who stood among the league leaders in home runs after the first several weeks of the season before suffering a broken thumb vs the Dodgers after being hit by a pitch. The injury to Belt prompted Giants manager Bruce Bochy to call up outfielder Tyler Colvin who in limited action this season has come through big on a number of occasions. The label of San Francisco's most productive hitter, however, belongs to Michael Morse who up to this point has been everything the Giants hoped he'd be and more when they signed him during the offseason to provide some pop, hitting from the cleanup spot and leading the team in both home runs (11) and RBI's (38). Recently, Morse and co. has gotten some help on offense with what appears to be the resurgence of Pablo Sandoval who entered the month hitting near the Mendoza line but has been on a tear the last few weeks, riding a 12-game hit-streak and plating 4 Home Runs and 12 RBI's while hitting .368 in his last 10 games. Even with their backbone on offense in Buster Posey missing several days due to tightness in his lower back, the Giants have shown no signs of slowing down.

With dominant starting pitching and a shutdown bullpen being the formula for each of the Giants' World Series runs in 2010 and 2012, 2014 has seen much of the same. But hamstring injuries to both Matt Cain and Santiago Casilla, both of whom have become staples for the orange and black, has landed both pitchers on the disabled-list. Luckily for the G-Men, the ball club is rich in pitching and have been able to survive without them. Possibly the biggest story of the season for the Giants has been that of pitcher Tim Hudson who general manager Brian Sabean signed during the offseason for 2-years, $23 Million which at the time raised a few eyebrows given Hudson's age of 38 years old and a fractured ankle which he suffered in 2013. 11 starts into his 2014 campaign and the acquisition of Hudson now looks like a bargain as nine of those outings have seen him pitch at least 7 innings. Boasting an ERA of 1.75 and a record of 6 wins and 2 losses, Hudson has so far pitched his way into being an early Cy Young candidate. 
Hudson isn't the only Giants hurler who's been on a role as of late, teammate Madison Bumgarner took home NL Pitcher of the Month honors for the month of May after posting an undefeated record of 5-0 in six starts while collecting 48 strikeouts and walking just five. Upon being named the first Giants pitcher to be awarded Pitcher of the Month honors since teammate Tim Lincecum took home the honors in June of '09, Bumgarner saw his ERA dip from 3.74 to 2.85.

The month of June will see the Giants play 8 series against seven different teams, all of which currently stand at or below a .500 winning percentage. One of those series will be a two-game set on the road to face the Chicago White Sox where the Giants will look to improve on their perfect record of 6-0 this year during Interleague play and make it 8 straight wins versus American League teams dating back to last year which would set a franchise record.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Dodgers' Beckett no-hits Phillies

Baseball saw its first no-hitter of the 2014 season on Sunday when Josh Beckett of the Los Angeles Dodgers worked his magic to blank the Philadelphia Phillies in their own home. With such pitching stars as Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, both of whom who have hoisted Cy Young Awards during their careers as well as former All-Star Dan Haren and Korean sensation Hyun-Jin Ryu, it was the eldest of the bunch who did something neither of his teammates had accomplished before. Needing 128-pitches, 80 of which were for strikes, the 34-year old Beckett became the 24th Dodger in franchise history to toss a no-no (11th since the club moved to L.A.) and the first since Hideo Nomo no-hit the Colorado Rockies on September 17, 1996.

Beckett, a 3-time All-Star himself and a 2-time World Series champion, has had his fair share of ups and downs over the last few seasons but seems to have found his rhythm so far in 2014. Sporting a 2.43 ERA in 9 starts this year, Beckett saw his best outing yet on Sunday, striking out six and allowing three walks without yielding a single hit, which earned him NL Player of the Week honors. But the road Beckett has taken over the last year is almost as remarkable as the masterful performance he had on Memorial Day weekend. After struggling early in the season last year and eventually serving a stint on the disabled list where he began experiencing tingling in his fingers and numbing of his hands, it was learned that Beckett had been diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome. Fearing that he wouldn't be able to pitch again, Beckett underwent season-ending surgery in July and had a rib removed to relieve pressure on his nerves. Several outings into the new season and I think it's safe to say Beckett is healthy again.
Though the no-hitter was a first for Beckett who had made 320 starts prior to Sunday's 6-0 win over the Phillies, the man behind the dish who caught Beckett, had some experience however. Dodgers catcher Drew Butera added a second no-hitter to his resume on Sunday after catching one from Francisco Liriano back in 2011 while with the Minnesota Twins. Beckett's gem was nearly one-upped the following day when his fellow teammate Hyun-Jin Ryu took a perfect game into the 8th inning on Monday before Todd Frazier of the Reds hit a double to lead off the inning. The two combined for 17 straight no-hit innings, nearly becoming the first pair of teammates to toss no-hitters on back to back outings. L.A.'s streak of 17 hit-less innings is one that's only been matched one time in the last 30+ years when the Dodgers' cross-town rival Los Angeles Angels did it in May of 2012 which featured a no-hitter by Jared Weaver. The Dodgers (29-24), winners of their last three, are hoping Beckett's stellar pitching can continue as they look to gain some ground on the division-leading San Francisco Giants who hold a 4.5 game lead in the NL West.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Fish out of Water

In what was a forgetful season for the Miami Marlins in 2013, finishing dead last in the NL East with a National League worst record of 62-100, 21-year old pitcher Jose Fernandez was one of the lone bright spots for the struggling franchise. After boasting an ERA of 2.19 and a 12-6 record in 28 starts while being named to the NL All-Star squad last season, the Cuban born Fernandez who was shutdown in 2013 after pitching 172 1/3 innings, went on to take home NL Rookie of Year honors in what the Marlins were hoping would be a glimpse of the future. A future for the time being appears to be a little cloudy. Fernandez would see a similar start to his 2014 campaign, leading the league in strikeouts and among the league leaders in WHIP before being named April's NL Pitcher of the Month for the 20-20 Marlins. But on Monday, it all came crashing down.

Despite the precautions the Marlins have taken during Fernandez's young and brief big league journey, setting an innings limit during his rookie season, the team was unable to prevent their darling ace from falling victim to an arm injury. Following a May 9 start on the road against the San Diego Padres where he was hit hard, allowing six hits and five earned runs in five innings, Fernandez experienced some discomfort in his right elbow which an MRI later revealed to be a tear in the ulnar collateral ligament. After meeting with team doctors, it was learned that Fernandez would need to undergo Tommy John surgery to repair the ligament, thus putting an end to his 2014 sophomore campaign. For the Marlins, the news is devastating as Fernandez is not only their best player and one of the premiere pitchers in all of baseball, but he's a fan favorite. And for a ball club that has struggled to fill seats since opening the gates to their new ballpark in 2012, the absence of Fernandez will hit that much harder.
Though there's been a laundry list of young pitchers that have seen their 2014 season come to an end already this season such as Atlanta's Kris Medlin, Tampa's Matt Moore and Oakland's Jarrod Parker among others, as well as towards the end of last year as was the case for Mets phenom Matt Harvey, the injury to Fernandez is the most surprising considering how well the Marlins groomed and pampered him, setting up an innings limit and keeping a close eye on his pitch counts. Not to mention the clean history of never sustaining an arm injury in his past. With a 12 to 18 month expected recovery time for their star pitcher, all the Marlins can do is wait it out and hope for the best. Still in the process of rebuilding the franchise, the Marlins who weren't expected to make a whole lot of noise coming into the season, boast the best home record in all of baseball at 17-5, thanks in large part to their starting pitching which will now be without its leader. With Fernandez no longer in the running for the NL Cy Young Award which many including myself thought he would end up winning this season, L.A.'s Zack Greinke looks like an early candidate to potentially prevent teammate Clayton Kershaw from winning the hardware for a third consecutive season.

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Saturday, May 10, 2014

Yu almost had it

If someone had asked me before the season started who I thought would be the first pitcher to toss a no-hitter this season, without hesitating, I would've said Texas' Yu Darvish. After retiring the first 26 batters he faced last season when pitching against the Houston Astros back on April 2, Texas' ace Yu Darvish watched out no. 27 go right between his legs into center field for a hit, erasing what would've been the 23rd perfect game in MLB history. Despite the disappointment that he had to have felt coming oh so close to making history, there he stood with a smile on his face after flirting with a perfect game. Though he would fail to etch his name into the record books and reach baseball immortality on this night, Darvish, who has more than lived up to the hype since transitioning his game from Japan to the Major League's just two seasons ago, has established himself among the top pitchers in the game today. 

And on Friday night, the Japanese All-Star was once again on top of his game and appeared to be on his way to pitching a game for the ages in Arlington. From the first inning on, Darvish was hitting his target and had several pitches working for him which would spell doom for the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox who would have their work cut out for them. At one point in the game, Darvish hit a streak of six consecutive strikeouts before eventually finishing the game with 12 K's, while retiring the first 20 batters he faced. And then what appeared to be a harmless fly ball to shallow right field off the bat of Big Papi David Ortiz, fell in between second baseman Rougned Odor and outfielder Alex Rios as both players looked at one another thinking the other one was going to make the catch. Darvish would catch a break, however, as the call would be ruled an error by the official scorer. A rare call given the ball failed to touch either player. Rios would be the one changed with the error, one any teammate would be willing to sacrifice if it meant their pitcher still had a chance at making history. 
Though the error wouldn't break Darvish completely, it would have an effect on how he pitched the rest of the game as he went on to walk two of the next three batters he faced. But even then, the 27-year old hurler still had a no-hit bid in tact. That was until he reached the dreaded ninth inning. With 26 outs recorded and a goose egg in the hit column for the Red Sox, Ortiz came up one last time as the only batter standing in the way of Darvish and his no-hitter. But even with the shift on, playing Ortiz to pull, Big Papi who just innings earlier was the cause of an error that wiped out any chance of a perfect game, snuck a ground ball single in between the second baseman and shortstop on the 126th pitch on the night by Darvish who came just one out shy of a no-hitter for the second time in as many seasons. It would be the final batter of the night for Yu who was pulled by skipper Ron Washington and received a thunderous ovation by the 45,000+ in attendance who stood and applauded Darvish's masterful performance. For the second time after nearly making history, Darvish would be forced to watch another man record that 27th out that he came so close to recording as Rangers reliever Alexi Ogando retired the next batter, sealing Texas' 8-0 win and leaving Darvish still seeking his first complete-game.

Darvish joins hurler Dave Stieb as the only pitchers to have multiple no-hit bids broken up with 2-outs in the ninth inning. Stieb had it happen three times while a member of the Toronto Blue Jays, including twice in back to back starts in 1988. With the season still young and plenty of starts left in the promising career of Yu Darvish, I've got a feeling the third time will be a charm. 

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Monday, April 28, 2014

South Side Sensation

After finishing dead last in the AL Central division during the 2013 season and nearly hitting the dreadful 100-loss mark, the Chicago White Sox weren't expected to be a whole lot better in 2014 with another year of rebuilding. But less than a month into the new season, the South Siders have already began to show improvements. One of the more glaring upgrades appears to be in the form of Cuban slugger Jose Abreu who's sizzling start to the season has helped the Sox stay afloat at 13-13 on the year. With the likes of Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig at the plate and Aroldis Chapman on the mound just to name a few, hoping to strike gold with the next big talent from Cuba has become all the craze throughout the MLB and the Chicago White Sox appear to be the latest club added to that list. After showcasing his skills for the Cuban National team during last year's World Baseball Classic, Abreu defected from Cuba in August of 2013 and established residency in the Dominican where he was then eligible for free agency. Soon after, the White Sox signed Abreu to a six-year, $68 Million deal.

Less than a month into his 2014 rookie campaign, it's safe to say the former Cuban MVP and home run champion has had little trouble transitioning his game from his homeland to the Major Leagues, having already set numerous records in the bigs as he leads the league in both home runs and runs batted in. With four RBI's in Sunday's win over the Tampa Bay Rays, bringing his total to 31, the red-hot Abreu broke the record for the most RBI's by a rookie in the month of April, leapfrogging the previous record held by Albert Pujols who drove home 27 RBI's in 2001 while a member of the St. Louis Cardinals. As for the most RBI's in a single month by a member of the South Siders, Abreu needs just five more ribbie's to catch Harold Baines who holds the franchise record with 36 RBI tallied back in June of 1987. Abreu's 10 home runs in the month of April are also a rookie record and are the second most ever hit by a member of the White Sox, one shy of teammate Paul Konerko's 11 HR's which he hit in 2010, a mark Abreu could tie and possibly even surpass with three games left before the start of May.
Maybe even more shocking than the totals Abreu has put up in less than a month of his big league service and will most likely result in him being named both AL Rookie and Player of the Month, is the ball he destroyed a few weeks ago, tearing the cover off a ball he fouled off. The ball looked like something that landed in the neighbors backyard that their dog had got a hold of and turned into his own personal chew toy. While Abreu still remains new to the league which means big league pitchers will eventually learn his tendencies the more at-bats he gets and the more games he plays, the early success probably comes as little surprise to the brain trust of the Chicago White Sox given the ball club shelled out more than $20 Million more than what the Dodgers signed Abreu's fellow countryman Yasiel Puig who's four years younger than Chicago's new slugger. That's not to discredit Puig who single-handedly helped turn around the Dodgers' 2013 season last year, but just goes to show how highly the White Sox front-office thinks of Abreu.

Something that is awe-inspiring regarding Abreu's home run totals, however, is how many long ball's he's been able to hit out at home despite the cool weather Chicago is still facing. While it's nearly impossible to predict just how many he'll finish with come seasons end or whether or not he can maintain his productivity at its current pace, it's safe to say that he'll be a fan favorite on the south side of Chicago for many years to come. Not to mention he's the one player I'm most hoping to see named to this year's Home Run Derby where maybe he'll face off against last year's winner and fellow Cuban -- Yoenis Cespedes.

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