Kale's Korner

Ramblings about the world of sports

Archive for the month “January, 2012”

The Year of the Tigers

The Detroit Tigers had a problem.

Their No. 3 hitter, Victor Martinez, tore his ACL over the winter and the 12-month rehab meant the Tigers would be without one of their best hitters in the 2012 season. Martinez doesn’t have the awesome power of teammate Miguel Cabrera, but V-Mart is highly efficient. His .330 batting average along with 40 doubles, 12 home runs and 103 RBI last year made him a force in the Tigers lineup. But with Martinez sitting out all year, the Tigers needed to find another big bat to help them defend their AL Central championship and move them one step closer to the World Series.

So the Tigers picked up Prince Fielder.

Fielder signed a nine-year, $214 million contract last week with the Tigers. This seems like a great acquisition and in many ways, it is: The Tigers were able to replace V-Mart’s bat in the lineup (and then some), Fielder is only 27 while V-Mart is 33 and the signing makes the Tigers the odds-on favorite to repeat as AL Central Champs and even has some in the media talking about a trip to the World Series.

All those things are great, but what happens when Victor Martinez comes back in 2013?

With the emergence of Alex Avila at catcher, Victor Martinez handled the DH duties most of the year and at his age (he’ll be 34, coming off a torn ACL) the Tigers won’t want to risk having V-Mart play anywhere in the field. That leaves Cabrera or Fielder to play first base. Cabrera will probably have to move to third base, a position he played for the Florida Marlins from 2003-07, but that was a very different looking Miguel Cabrera. (This was him in 2007, this is him now.) The Cabrera that we see nowadays would be a defensive liability at third base. He’s not as laterally quick as he used to be and his accuracy could be worse after not throwing for the better part of four years.

If Cabrera is not ready to play third base, what do the Tigers do if they don’t want to take Fielder or Cabrera out of the lineup? Are they really going to sit down a player who is a career .303 hitter with a $13 million contract?

And if Cabrera does play third and he struggles, the money that the Tigers are paying these Big Three plus Verlander will make it difficult to find much help at the hot corner.

This year will bring lots of home run blasts and fun, but the next season will bring a lot of questions.

Reviewing the First Quarter of the NBA Season

If the NBA season were a regulation game, this week would signal the start of the second quarter.

While it’s true that a game, and a season, can’t be won in the first quarter, both can definitely be lost. (Ahem, Knicks.)

Here’s a look at the good, the bad and the ugly for each conference at the end of the first quarter of the season:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Here’s a look back at my Eastern Conference preview. (My projections are going relatively well. Except for the Knicks, but we’ll get to that later.)

Most Impressive Team: Chicago Bulls. The Bulls have the best record in the East despite injuries to Derrick Rose and Luol Deng keeping them out of action for some games. They are the most complete team in the NBA, with solid depth at each position, and they play fantastic defense. The 86.3 points they give up per game is best in the league. The more I watch the Bulls, the more I like their chances to beat the Heat in the playoffs.

Most Impressive Player: Andrea Bargnani. Who? He may play for the Toronto Raptors, but look at the stats! Bargnani is averaging 23.5 points per game with 6.5 rebounds. Bargnani is sixth in the league in scoring! On Tuesday, Bargnani scored 36, while going 12-for-12 from the FT line, in a win against the Phoenux Suns. Bargnani has played in only 13 or the Raptors’ 19 games because of a calf injury. Hopefully he can stay healthy and remind fans that, yes, Canada still has a basketball team.

Least Impressive Team: New York Knicks. The Knicks were the runaway favorite in this category. Just when you think they’ve got it together after a 30-point win over the Charlotte Bobcats, they lose the next night to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Nothing is working for this team. Carmelo has 16 points total in the last two games. Amare isn’t getting enough looks. Tyson Chandler is the only one rebounding. (You know it’s bad when Knicks fans are eagerly awaiting Baron Davis’ arrival.)

Playoff Prediction: I’m still not sold on the Philadelphia 76ers. I think they’ll make the playoffs, but they just don’t have a go-to guy that can get them a bucket when they desperately need it. At this point, my final four from the East would be: Chicago, Miami, Atlanta and Indiana. I still like Miami over Chicago in the Eastern Conference Finals.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Here’s my Western Conference preview. (Besides picking Dallas to win the West and Minnesota to finish last, I’d say things are going swimmingly.)

Most Impressive Team: Minnesota Timberwolves. The T-Wolves are 8-10 and as much as I hate to say it, they are fun to watch. Ricky Rubio is doing Ricky Rubio things and Kevin Love is doing Kevin Love things. The supporting cast is not good enough to win in the playoffs, but the T-Wolves could sneak their way into an 8-seed. If Derrick Williams, Martell Webster and Wayne Ellington continue to develop, this team could be a force in years to come. The record may not be impressive, but considering how competitive they’ve been and how much better this team looks over last year, the T-Wolves are certainly playing well above expectations.

Most Impressive Player: LaMarcus Aldridge. He just continues to get better year after year. Aldridge is averaging 22.5 points, 8.9 boards, 2.8 assists and 1.2 steals per game. All those numbers are higher than Aldridge’s numbers during his break-out season last year. The Trail Blazers look solid and they have the steady play of Aldridge to thank for their great start.

Least Impressive Team: Dallas Mavericks. Championship hangover? The defending champions would be on the outside looking in, if the playoffs started today. Dirk is averaging less than 18 points a game and he’s out for the next two games. The Mavs look old and their big offseason acquisition, Lamar Odom, has played terrible. Odom is averaging just 7 points and 4 rebounds a game.

Playoff Prediction: Lots of quality teams out West. The Thunder should win the conference and after that, it’s pretty much anyone’s guess. I’ll take OKC, Denver, LA Clippers and LA Lakers in the final four. I’ll stick with OKC over the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.

NFL Conference Championship Picks

Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots (3:00 ET Sunday, CBS)

The Patriots, and specifically Tom Brady, put on a show last week against the Denver Broncos winning 45-10. Tom Brady threw six touchdowns, including five in the first half, to make sure this game was never in doubt. The Patriots come into this week’s game on fire, winning their last nine games.

The Ravens did not look so spectacular last weekend. Baltimore unimpressively beat the Houston Texans 20-13. Ray Rice ran for just 60 yards on 21 carries, but the defense carried the Ravens to the win. That, or T.J. Yates was really bad. (Probably a little bit of both.)

Needless to say, the Patriots have the momentum coming into this game. The Patriots are on fire, Tom Brady is in the zone and the Patriots get to play at home. The status of Ed Reed’s knee is concerning for Ravens fans, as well as his comments about his QB Joe Flacco. I’m not sure calling out your quarterback before going on the road for the AFC Championship is a good idea, but I’m glad someone called out Flacco. Flacco has looked bad all year. Maybe they should just have Ray Rice run and throw the ball. He is 1-for-1 with 1 TD on the year.

Some people have the Ravens as an upset pick, but I don’t see it. The Ravens just aren’t that good of a road team. They went 4-4 on the road this year with losses at the Jaguars, Seahawks, Titans and Chargers. Not exactly the cream of the crop in the NFL.

Tom Brady will keep rolling because no one can stop the tight ends and Wes Welker.

Pick: New England 30-16

 

New York Giants at San Francisco 49ers (6:30 ET Sunday, FOX)

The Giants and 49ers both have a lot of momentum coming into this game. The Giants beat the 15-1 Packers in Lambeau thanks to some mistakes from Aaron Rodgers and his receivers, but the Giants deserved the win. They made the big plays and they didn’t make any crucial mistakes.

The 49ers won the most exciting game of the weekend thanks to some great play calls (See: Alex Smith’s 28-yard TD run) and great individual performances (See: Vernon Davis and his 180 receiving yards with 2 TD’s).

These teams played each other on Nov. 13 in San Francisco and the 49ers won 27-20. The Giants didn’t play well that day, Eli Manning threw 2 INT’s and they only had 93 rushing yards. Some of this can be attributed to the 49ers great defense, but the Giants didn’t have RB Ahmad Bradshaw who is such a big factor in New York’s offense. Unlike his fellow RB Brandon Jacobs, Bradshaw is quick and his ability to make a difference in the passing game opens up the field for the big play wide receivers.

I like that Bradshaw is back for the Giants, I like that the Giants defense is finally healthy and I like Eli Manning in January. But mostly, I don’t like picturing Alex Smith winning the NFC Championship.

Pick: NY Giants 27-18

Why the Celtics are in trouble

While watching the Boston Celtics fall to 4-8 last night, I was surprised at just how bad the Celtics looked. I knew they weren’t playing well to start the season, but I figured being out of shape from the lockout was the main reason for the slow start. Unfortunately for Celtics fans, they wish getting into shape was the only problem with this team.

My main takeaways from their game against the Thunder:

  • They are old. I know I’m not telling you something new, but the Celtics looked soooo slow last night. I know they were playing one of the youngest teams in the NBA, a team that makes most of their opponents look slow, but it was shocking at just how much of a difference there was in the tempo of their play. Other than Rajon Rondo, the rest of the Celtics’ starting lineup has played a lot of games over their careers (Ray Allen – 15 years, Paul Pierce – 13 years, Jermaine O’Neal – 15 years, Kevin Garnett – 16 years). Speaking of old, the way that Pierce was shooting 3′s last night made it look like he was two-hand pushing a medicine ball towards the rim. With Durant and Westbrook effortlessly shooting fadeaways from all spots on the court last night, Pierce must of been thinking about how nice it would be to be young again.
  • The Celtics can’t score. When you’re scoring less points per game than the Charlotte Bobcats and the Sacramento Kings, you know you’re in trouble. The Celtics are averaging less than 90 points a game and the reason is quite simple. As Mike Fratello and Chris Webber pointed out on the broadcast last night, the Celtics only have two players that can create their own shot: Pierce and Rondo (And to be honest, do you really want Rondo shooting anyway?). Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett both need to be “passed open.” They can’t dribble to create their own shots, they are spot up shooters who need to have their feet set before they catch the ball and go up with it. Teams with the athletic ability of the Thunder can guard players like Allen and KG, so it’s up to playmakers to make plays.
  • They have a very limited bench. Besides Brandon Bass, who should be starting over O’Neal, the bench for the Celtics is suspect to say the least. Mickael Pietrus hit some big shots last night, but he’s not exactly the guy you can count on night in and night out to perform. With the offensive problems the starting five has, the Celtics need a spark from their bench players, but no one on the Celtics bench has shown they are capable of filling that role.

Losing Jeff Green, for the whole season, was a big blow to the Celtics. During his time with the Thunder, Green was a proven scorer that would have provided a lot of energy for this older Celtics team. I know Green did not play well during his brief time in Boston last year, but I think he would have been more comfortable starting the year off with the Celtics. His role would have been more defined and he would have had a huge impact on this team.

Unfortunately for the Celtics, they don’t have time to wait until Jeff Green gets back.

NFL Divisional Weekend Picks

New Orleans Saints at San Francisco 49ers (4:30 ET Saturday, FOX)

The second round of the NFL playoffs starts Saturday afternoon with the best matchup of the weekend. The Saints offense got off to a rough start against the Lions last week with two fumbles in the first half. After halftime, Drew Brees and his friends took control of the game scoring five touchdowns on five possessions.

I think the Saints offense will build on the momentum they built up last week to beat the 49ers. The 49ers have an outstanding defense, but the Saints have proved they can score on anybody. The big issue people were having with the Saints advancing deep into the playoffs this year was the fact that the Saints were going to have to beat teams outside, rather than play in their cozy dome. The weather doesn’t look like it will be an issue, so I’ll take the Saints big.

Pick: New Orleans 31-10

Denver Broncos at New England Patriots (8:00 ET Saturday, CBS)

Tim Tebow led the Broncos to a huge win over the Pittsburgh Steelers last week. 316 passing yards with 2 passing TD’s and one rushing score was pretty impressive for Tebow’s first-ever playoff game. With all the talk about Tebow in the past week, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas’ performance got completely overlooked. Thomas had 204 yards receiving and the game-winning TD. I like Thomas’ skills and his size, so it was good to see him play well in a big game.

Unfortunately for Tebow and the Broncos, we’ve seen this game before.

And there’s no reason to expect anything different this time around. The Patriots are healthy and this time they have the luxury of playing at home. Even though the Pats are the one-seed in the AFC, they are still vulnerable to an upset on their way to the Super Bowl. But not this week.

Pick: New England 38-13

Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens (1:00 ET Sunday, CBS)

The Texans dominated the Cincinnati Bengals last week, but the Baltimore Ravens are a different animal. The Ravens have a great defense and they also have running back Ray Rice on offense. Rice finished second in rushing yards this season with 1,364 yards and 12 TD’s. Rice also caught 76 passes for 704 yards and 3 TD’s and he even threw a passing TD.

Rice will be nice and I think T.J. Yates will struggle with the staunch Raven D. Yates has looked component in the starting QB role, but it takes more than a component quarterback to advance far in the playoffs. (Unless you’re Super Bowl-winning Trent Dilfer.)

Pick: Baltimore 17-9

New York Giants at Green Bay Packers (4:30 ET Sunday, FOX)

In most cases, I would say that it is better to have a bye in the first week of the playoffs than to have to play another game. But for high scoring teams that rely on tempo like the Giants and Packers, I would rather play in the first week of the playoffs to make sure I’m firing on all cylinders. The Giants are rolling, while Aaron Rodgers and most of the offensive starters for the Packers haven’t played a game in two weeks.

The Packers may come out sluggish, and if the Giants can pounce, the Pack will be in trouble. We’ve seen teams struggle going into Lambeau Field on cold, January days. Fortunately for the Giants, they play well in the cold with their power running game duo of Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs.

Eli Manning has had a fantastic year and I think he keeps it going in this game. The rust will show for the Packers in the first half. I think the Giants will get the early lead and ride it to another victory.

Pick: New York Giants 34-31

 

Westbrook’s Time

The Oklahoma City Thunder, widely regarded as one of the deepest teams in the NBA, got a little thinner Saturday night when backup point guard Eric Maynor collapsed to the floor against the Houston Rockets. Maynor’s torn ACL will keep him out for the rest of the season.

Scott Brooks gave the traditional coach speak after the game saying that everyone must be ready to step up and play. The player that will receive the most playing time as a result of the injury is rookie Reggie Jackson. The Boston College product received little playing time before Maynor’s injury, but he played well during the first game without Maynor.

Jackson went 4-9 from the field, scoring 11 points and dishing out 4 assists in 23 minutes against the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday.

Along with Reggie Jackson, starting PG Russell Westbrook will have to assume a larger role. As much as fans get upset with Westbrook’s shot selection (and the disapproval is warranted), the Thunder need his scoring. However, with Maynor’s injury, Westbrook will have to play more minutes and he will have to assume more of a passing role.

Maynor’s ability to get open shots for others has helped fellow bench players James Harden, Daequan Cook and Nazr Mohammed have tremendous starts to the season. With Westbrook having to play more time with the second unit, he will have to keep the bench players involved to help this team stay at the top of the Western Conference.

A lot has been said about Westbrook’s shot selection and his relationship with Kevin Durant. Now is his time to show Thunder fans that he can score consistently and keep his teammates involved. The Thunder need both to have a chance at an NBA championship.

NFL Wild Card Weekend Picks

Sorry for the lack of posts over the past week. I’ve been busy getting ready to head back to school, but you can expect more regular posts starting on Monday!

Cincinnati Bengals at Houston Texans

I want to pick the Bengals, but Andy Dalton’s health concerns me. The Texans must think it’s laughable that people are concerned with the health of the Bengals starting QB. Houston’s entire roster has been on the injured list at some point this year.

Houston will win this one because Arian Foster is way better than Cedric Benson. Neither team is going to let their QB’s fling the ball around in this game because there is too much at stake. A better running game, along with home field advantage will carry the Texans to the next round.

Pick: Houston 24-16

 

Detroit Lions at New Orleans Saints

I have a feeling this game will be a lot like the last game these two played against each other.

Drew Brees will get his team out to a big lead, only to see Matthew Stafford and the Lions rack up big yards to make the score look semi-reasonable. The Saints are too good to lose to this Lions team. They have the home field advantage and as we’ve seen all year with the penalties that the Lions continue to rack up, this Detroit team is not mentally prepared to win in January.

Pick: New Orleans 38-28

 

Atlanta Falcons at New York Giants

This is the game I’m looking forward to the most. Both teams have won three of their last four. The Falcons are 4-4 on the road, while the Giants are 4-4 at home. Both teams have great WR’s: Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz vs. Roddy White and Julio Jones.

The main reasons I’m taking the Giants are because I like the ability for the G-Men to get pressure on Matt Ryan and because this game is being played outdoors. The Falcons are a dome team that was built to play fast under pristine conditions.

Also, Eli Manning at home seems a lot safer than picking Matt Ryan on the road.

Pick: NY Giants 31-27

 

Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos

The Steelers have injuries everywhere. That list doesn’t even include starting safety Ryan Clark, or starting RB Rashard Mendenhall, who tore his ACL last week.

If this game were a month ago, the Broncos would be picked to win this game. But Tim Tebow has struggled mightily (In two games against Kansas City this year, Tebow completed a total of eight passes) and the defense isn’t helping either.

This Pittsburgh defense is too good, and they will be able to stop Denver’s one-dimensional rushing attack.

Pick: Pittsburgh 20-6

Thoughts from the Fiesta Bowl

Things looked bleak for the OSU Cowboys as Andrew Luck drove Stanford down the field with less than two minutes left in the fourth quarter of the Fiesta Bowl. The score was tied and Luck was picking apart the tired Cowboy defense.

Luck was 8-for-8 passing in the fourth quarter, including 5-for-5 on the last drive of regulation, setting up his team to win back-to-back BCS Bowls.

Stanford was a chip shot field goal away from sending Andrew Luck out on top. The last chapter of Luck’s historic college career looked to be his greatest.

With 52 seconds left, the Cardinal offense became inexplicably conservative. The second coming of Peyton Manning was resigned to handing the ball off twice before Jordan Williamson came on to kick a 35-yard field goal to put an exclamation point on the end of Luck’s book.

But the kick went left.

Overtime.

Twenty minutes, and another missed field goal later, the Oklahoma State Cowboys were celebrating their school’s first BCS bowl victory in the middle of University of Phoenix Stadium.

Stanford may have had Mr. Luck, but Lady Luck was on the Pokes side.

Here are some of my thoughts on OSU’s biggest win in school history:

  • Crazy stat from CBSSports.com college football writer, Brett McMurphy: Mike Gundy was 13-15 before the “I’m a man, I’m 40″ rant. Since then, he is 46-15. 46-15!!! He’s more than a man, he is the man!
  • COLTON CHELF!!!!! Five catches for 97 yards for the 5’9″ former walk-on. Before the Fiesta Bowl, Chelf had 27 catches for 394 yards for his career! Tracy Moore’s absence opened the door for someone to step up, and Chelf did. What a fantastic game and a great way for the senior to go out.
  • Justin Blackmon is really good. He was born to catch touchdowns and he did just that in Glendale. Blackmon’s three receiving touchdowns tied a Fiesta Bowl record and his 21-yard catch on 4th & 3 in the fourth quarter was one of the biggest plays in school history. If Blackmon doesn’t get that first down, Stanford kicker Jordan Williamson would have had a much better Fiesta Bowl experience.
  • I’m glad I had a chance to see Andrew Luck in person. Viewing him from afar, I was a bit skeptical of all the hype surrounding Luck. He’s been talked about nonstop since the middle of last season. Now that I’ve seen him in person though, I’m sold. He was 8-for-8 in the fourth quarter, he can throw on the run, he can scramble for positive yards and even though he handed the ball off 45 times, you could tell he was in complete control of this game.
  • Oklahoma State’s defense did not play as poorly as the final score would indicate. It seems like OSU apologists have been saying that all year. However, the defense’s ability to contain Stanford was impressive considering they were on the field for a staggering 41 minutes and 47 seconds, not including overtime. (Compared to OSU having the ball for only 18 minutes and 13 seconds.) They gave up a lot of yards on the ground, but they made plays when they had to. They kept OSU in the game when the offense struggled at the beginning of the game and they forced a critical field goal at the beginning of the fourth quarter to keep the Cowboys within a score of Stanford, 31-24.
  • Stanford’s band is the most overrated band of all time and completely classless. No one I was with could understand what they were doing. All we could hear was annoying banging of drums. It didn’t sound good because you couldn’t tell what they were playing and their lack of respect was ridiculous. The band played throughout the trophy presentation and OSU’s alma mater. Very disappointing.
  • Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor was impressive. His O-Line was opening up huge holes, but Taylor’s ability to push for the additional yards was outstanding. It seemed like it took two or three OSU defenders to take him down every play.
  • Brandon Weeden tore another defense to shreds. And his mobility was on full display (Granted, it’s not much of a display) with his two-yard TD run to tie the game at 21 before halftime. (I winced, I held my breath, I closed my eyes, I cried, I cheered and then I passed out during the two-yard score.) After a terrible first pass that resulted in an interception, Weeden went 29/41 for 399 yards and 3 TD’s. Weeden went 12-for-14 in the fourth quarter and he threw a perfect ball to Colton Chelf on the 24-yard gain in overtime that sealed the victory.
  • As Quinn Sharp’s game-winning field goal split the uprights late Monday night, the OSU crowd cheered on their champions as the players donned “Fiesta Bowl Champs” shirts and hats. A 12-win season, Big 12 Champions and Fiesta Bowl Champions. What a year.
  • Hearing the cheers of “Orange Power” as we walked out of University of Phoenix Stadium was awesome, but it left me with one question: When does next season start?

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