My significance is found in pointing to Someone far more significant.
— Lecrae (@lecrae) May 9, 2012
We’ve completed an entire month of Major League Baseball and from Ozzie Guillen angering his entire fan base and Bryce Harper’s debut, to a perfect game and many walk-off homers, April certainly had its memorable moments. Here are nine things we will remember from the first month of the big league season.
1. Manager’s mouths
In the American League, Bobby Valentine publicly questioned Kevin Youkilis’ emotional and physical commitment, which only stirred up a hornet’s nest in Boston’s clubhouse. The Red Sox players have been resistant to embrace Valentine since he was hired, and this situation did not help. Dustin Pedroia immediately jumped to Youkilis’ defense and said this about Valentine: “That’s really not the way we go about our stuff here. I’m sure he’ll figure that out soon.”
The Red Sox players are definitely having trouble adjusting to their new authority and it has coincided with a slow start (just 11-11 and last in the AL East). Valentine should temper his criticism in the media concerning his player’s work ethic, especially this early in the season. That’s definitely something that can be kept behind closed doors.
But if there is anyone to blame for Boston’s slow start, the players need to look at themselves. Boston is not losing games because of questionable managerial decisions, they are losing because they have played poorly. And the main culprit has been their pitching, which has produced a 5.54 ERA (13th of 14 in the American League). With pitching like that, the Red Sox would need to average more than six runs a game to have the chance to win. And really, can a manager who is willing to disguise himself so that he can re-enter the dugout after being ejected be that hard to play for?
And in the National League, Ozzie Guillen decided that he would find a way to insult the very fan base that the Marlins are trying to fill their new stadium with when he said, “I love Fidel Castro.” You are certainly within your constitutional rights to voice your opinion on politics, but that doesn’t mean you always should. Especially when it’s in favor of a man who all Cubans collectively hate. Many Cubans risked their lives just to reach America and have freedom from the tyrannic dictator, and many of them live in Miami. Guillen caused unnecessary PR damage to the Marlins and it may be costing them at the turnstiles.
I hope something positive comes out of this situation, though, and that it brings awareness to the plight of many people in a country just to the south of us. And I hope that Ozzie can learn from his ignorance or arrogance, whichever it is, and that the community in Miami will forgive him.
Hopefully, both Valentine and Guillen can learn from their mistakes and be successful in their positions. And it wouldn’t hurt them to read James 3 once or twice…
2. Pujols’ slump
Albert Pujols signed a $250 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels, and he did not hit a home run in the entire month of April. Say it ain’t so Albert! Maybe that’s why he did not want to be called “El Hombre.”
I’m sure the main reason for Pujols’ slump is mental. He’s probably putting a lot of pressure on himself to perform after signing a big deal. Couple that with playing for a new team, a new owner, new manager, and breaking in a new hitting coach, and it has to be tough for him to have a clear head right now. Even though that big contract doesn’t look so good from the Angels perspective right now, I bet by the end of May or June Pujols will be back to the power-hitting machine he is.
3. Bryce Harper’s debut
This month could be remembered for watching the debut of a once-in-a-generation-type player, or it could be remembered for one of the most overhyped players in history. Bryce Harper certainly has all of the physical tools to be a great player like Ken Griffey Jr. or Willie Mays, but, assuming Harper remains healthy, it will be the mental side of his game that will make or break his career. Can he make adjustments throughout a game and season? Can he hit major league off-speed pitches? Can he transition to the outfield (he was a catcher in high school)? Can he deal with the constant media attention?
Time will tell on whether or not the 19-year-old phenom will be a Hall of Fame talent, but one thing is for sure, he may be the first player to get mooned while recording his first career hit. (Not going to link to that here, but it’s out there somewhere.)
4. The old guys still have it
Jamie Moyer (49) – After missing last season because of Tommy John surgery, Moyer made history by becoming baseball’s oldest man to win a game. He pitched quite well in April, recording a 3.14 ERA.
Chipper Jones (40) – Larry Wayne Jones, Jr. announced in spring training that this will be his final year, and it looks like he will be going out strong. Despite missing the first week and a half of the season and getting scheduled days of rest a couple of games each week, Jones has driven in 12 runs, and hit three homers in just 15 games.
Todd Helton (38) – Helton has hit four home runs and driven in 16 runs, and he’s already had some clutch hits this season, with a walk-off homer and a game-tying grand slam (with former Vols teammate Peyton Manning in attendance).
Also, two more veterans (Andy Pettitte and Johnny Damon) are poised to make impacts in the coming weeks.
Pettitte, 39, is working his way back to the Yankees after a year of retirement. Given the state of the Yankees rotation, he will be leaned on as an ace. And Damon, 38, will join the struggling Cleveland Indians lineup (the team hasn’t hit a home run in 11 games) on May 1st.
5. Brian Wilson out for season
Sports Spectrum’s most interesting man in baseball will be out for the season and have Tommy John surgery. The entertainment value of Giants baseball fell down a notch.
6. Matt Kemp’s hot start
Kemp turned a lot of heads in spring training by saying he wanted to be the first 50-50 (HRs-steals) player in baseball. Given his torrid start (.417, 12 HRs, 25 RBIs) he has a chance to get to 50 home runs, but he’s hitting so many extra base hits, it’s hard to see him getting enough chances to steal bases (only 2 steals this month).
7. David Wright is back
The New York Mets moved Citi Field’s fences in this offseason and David Wright is benefitting big time. Since the Mets new ballpark opened in 2009, Wright has not been the .300 hitter that he was at Shea Stadium. The past two seasons, Wright has seen his average dip below .300, bottoming out at .254 last season. With the shorter field, Wright seems much more comfortable at the plate and is second in the National League in hitting, with a .389 average.
8. D.C. Area in first place
On April 30, both Baltimore and Washington were in first place in their divisions. Fans should remember April 2012 well, because it’s hard to see either team being there at the end of September.
Baseball had its first perfect game of the season, and its 21st in Major League Baseball history, when the White Sox’ Philip Humber retired all 27 Seattle Mariners hitters. And considering that this is Humber’s fourth major league team since 2007, this may be the only thing he will ever be known for.
Here’s a tweet from Mr. Perfect about perfection:
Throwing a perfect game is an awesome moment in a ballplayer’s life.But it pales in comparison to knowing a truly perfect God. Jer 9:23-24
— Philip Humber (@Philip_Humber) April 23, 2012
The NFL Draft starts on Thursday, April 26 and former Michigan State quarterback, Kirk Cousins, will be hoping to hear his name called by an NFL team some time in the early rounds. In our story about from the Summer 2011 issue of Sports Spectrum, Cousins talked about his future in the NFL.
The future looks bright for Kirk Cousins.
Entering his senior year of college, typically a college football player’s most productive year, Cousins is already first in Michigan State history for passing percentage in a career, and is the career leader for passing efficiency. He will also have a chance to finish first or second in passing yards, total offense, passing completions, touchdowns and passing attempts this season.
After sharing the Big Ten title with Ohio State and Wisconsin last season, an outright Big Ten title and a BCS birth is the goal.
And after that, the NFL will be calling. Cousins is projected as the top senior quarterback, according to NFLDraftScout.com and many other publications.
A great season could mean big things for the future of the Illinois-born gunslinger. First round pick? Franchise quarterback? Future Hall of Famer?
Cousins grew up in a Christ-centered home; his father was a minister, and his mother was also a believer. At the age of 7, he accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior. But it didn’t mean he lived a perfect childhood.
“It wasn’t until…about my junior year of high school that I started to realize the sacrifice and commitment that it took to be a Christian,” Cousins says. “What it meant to not just claim to be a Christian, but as I John 2:6 says ‘to walk the walk,’ and to really live the life that Jesus lived and to follow after Him with everything you got; to be a disciple and not just somebody who claimed to be a Christian.”
After living in the Chicago area during his early childhood, the Cousins family moved to Holland, Michigan, where Cousins attended Holland Christian School.
Cousins started at quarterback in his junior and senior years when he set 35 school records for passing and total offense. He even led the team to their first playoff berth. However, there was not a lot of buzz for Cousins as a major college prospect. Scout.com ranked him as only a two-star quarterback in 2006, and Cousins’ college scholarship choices were limited as he only visited Toledo and Western Michigan before committing to Mark Dantonio and Michigan State.
Holland Christian may not have helped raise his football profile as high as other schools, but attending the school proved to play a major part in Cousins’ spiritual growth. In particular, a Bible teacher at the school became his mentor and led him to the Promised Land.
“I had a Bible teacher by the name of Ray Vander Laan…he’s a very, very gifted teacher. He was the teacher and one of the people aside from my family, who had a major impact on really creating a passion for the Bible and a passion for Jesus in my life. His teaching was just on such a level that inspired me to become a disciple of Jesus. I had him for two semesters in high school and I went on a two-week trip with him as my guide to Israel, the summer between my senior year of high school and my freshman year of college… three days after I got back from Israel, I moved into my dorm at Michigan State.”
“It was a good experience to be saturated in the Holy Land and in scriptures for two weeks, and then to end up at Michigan State. I felt like my mind and my heart were in the right place when I began college.”
Life at Michigan State
After redshirting his first year at Michigan State, he saw limited action in five games the following season passing for 310 yards and two touchdowns. The next year Cousins was named co-captain, took over Brain Hoyer’s starting quarterback spot and took full advantage of the opportunity passing for 2,680 yards, 19 touchdowns and posting a 60.4 completion percentage.
He followed that with even better numbers last season: 2,825 yards, 20 touchdowns, and a 66.9 completion percentage.
Coming into this season he had 35 career touchdowns, and ranked sixth all-time in Michigan State history.
Cousins understood, though, that success on the football field wasn’t the only thing he needed to be focused on at school. He wanted to grow spiritually.
“When you go to Michigan State you feel like you are alone in trying to live out your faith and it can be hard to find fellow Christians,” Cousins says. “It’s important to be with other Christians to help keep you accountable.”
Cousins spent the first four years rooming with fellow Christian and teammate Aaron Bates, a four-year starting punter for the Spartans, who now has aspirations of an NFL career. Bates and Cousins’ friendship was integral in growing their faith.
“He was a Christian, as well, and to live with a guy like that made a big difference. He and I would do a lot of work with Athletes in Action and we would go to the weekly meetings and be involved in a Bible study in our apartment amongst the team and other athletes, and that was a big part of my development.
“I’ve tried to be a Daniel at Michigan State and stand up for what I believe in. In Daniel 1, Daniel and his three friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did that. And I’ve tried to basically live out the passage in Daniel 1 in my experience here at Michigan State and stand up for what I believe in no matter what and honor God above everything else.”
Looking to the Future
When Cousins graduates, he will finish with a degree in kinesiology. He always thought he would become a doctor, but NFL scouts have him thinking of an NFL career.
“It’s a dream of mine, just like anybody who plays college football,” he says.
But Kirk realizes that his future is not his to plan, it’s in God’s hands.
“Ultimately, the whole NFL thing and the future in general, whether you are playing in the pros or just your future, whether you’re an athlete or a college student in general, most of us don’t know what’s going to happen in the next few years.”
“It’s a little bit scary because I’m the kind of guy who likes to have a plan and likes to have things laid out.”
“We have to trust in the Lord’s plan and we have to walk with Him and honor Him and trust Him, and at times it’s not easy. He doesn’t lay out an obvious plan for us at all times and we just have to walk by faith and trust that everything will be His best plan for us.”
“Having a relationship with Jesus Christ is so important because He provides that compass in life to direct you and guide you and give you not only a moral compass, but just a compass in terms of wisdom to know what kind of decisions to make.”
Bryce is joined by Steve Copeland from Sports Spectrum magazine to yapp about the Masters.
-Steve sheds light on Bubba’s personality and talks about his interview with Bubba for the magazine.
-Bryce talks about Bubba’s future and his potential impact on the golf world.
-Bryce and Steve discuss Bubba’s faith and the fact a Christian won on Easter.
-Bryce and Steve yapp about Bubba’s crying!!
-It’s a Bubba love-fest on the latest edition of SPORTS YAPP, aka, a Bubbacast!
For the show’s hub and other SPORTS YAPP related updates, visit SPORTSYAPP.com
162 reasons to be excited for Major League Baseball this year…
(1) For Opening Day, where everyone is 0-0 and even the Cubs can dream of a championship season.
(2) For presidential first pitches.
(3-4) For baseball in Japan, where two regular season games were played last week between Seattle and Oakland.
(5) Because Bobby Valentine is back in baseball…
(6) which gives the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry a new twist and new life…
(7) which means no fried chicken or beer during the middle of games for Boston…
(8) which means the players should be a little more focused during games…
(9) and hopefully, for more disguises.
(10) Because this will be future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones’ final season. He is one of the best switch hitters of all time, up there with Mickey Mantle and Eddie Murray…
(11) and Chipper will have played all 19 of his seasons with the same team…
(12) and all but two of them for the same manager, Bobby Cox.
(13-39) Because there will be about 27 weeks of Kevin Millar’s daily “Got Heem” segment on Intentional Talk, which is always hilarious.
(40) If you have no idea what I am talking about, here’s the Giants’ Brian Wilson (another reason to be excited), who created the term:
(41) For hot dogs at the park.
(42) For Jackie Robinson Day, where every player wears the number 42 in honor of the man who broke the color barrier in baseball; giving inspiration and hope to the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s.
(43) The No. 42 is retired throughout MLB (Yankees legendary closer Mariano Rivera was already wearing it when baseball retired the number league-wide, but he was allowed to keep it and will be the last man to wear that number).
(44) The number worn by the real Home Run King, Hank Aaron, who played for the Braves before finishing his career with the Brewers. He hit 755 career home runs.
(45) John Kruk on Baseball Tonight.
(46) Because we had “Tebowmania” in the NFL and “Linsanity” in the NBA this year, we will surely get a phenomenon in the MLB? I’m guessing “Strasmas” in Washington for Stephen Strasburg.
(47) Tom Glavine, who wore No. 47 and is one of the past two 300-game winners who will be in the booth for Atlanta Braves games this season.
(48) Speaking of 300-game winners, only the recently un-retired Andy Pettitte (240) and the “I’ll never retire” Jamie Moyer (267) are active pitchers with more than 200 wins.
(49) Because Jamie Moyer is still playing. At 49 years old, he is the oldest player in baseball after making the Colorado Rockies starting rotation this year.
(50) Because the Marlins opened a brand new ballpark…
(51) debuted a new name…
(52) and a new logo this season.
(53) Because the Marlins also made a ton of moves, including hiring media favorite Ozzie Guillen as manager.
(54) Because the Marlins also signed Ozzie’s former ace from Chicago, Mark Buehrle…
(55) and closer Heath Bell…
(56) and signed shortstop Jose Reyes to a huge deal…
(57) which means Hanley Ramirez is reluctantly moving from shortstop to third base…
(58) which makes you wonder if there will be any drama from Ramirez, since drama has happened with him in the past.
(59) Because if all of these moves can’t improve attendance, then baseball in Miami will never succeed. So, maybe some other city (like Charlotte, N.C. or Nashville) will get a team.
(60) Because the mound is 60 feet and 6 inches away from home plate, which probably feels too close when your are trying to hit the Reds’ Aroldis Chapman, who was clocked at 105 MPH on the radar gun in 2010.
(61) For Roger Maris, who hit 61 home runs in a single season without the aid of PED’s, which can’t be said about the guys who passed him (Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds…).
(62) So maybe this is the season we see someone hit a clean 62…
(63) though after the strange overturn of Ryan Braun’s PED suspension, who knows if baseball is actually testing the players correctly. My excitement is for the hope that MLB will test correctly.
(64) For Magic Johnson, who is part of the ownership group that bought the Los Angeles Dodgers, and who will be great for L.A. and MLB as a whole.
(65) Speaking of Los Angeles, the team from Anaheim signed Albert Pujols…
(66) which figures to make the rivalry between them and the Texas Rangers a lot more intense.
(67) Because Josh Hamilton is in a contract year for Texas, and guys usually put up career numbers during those seasons. Will Hamilton help the Rangers get back to their third straight World Series?
(68) Because with Albert Pujols gone, as well as legendary manager Tony La Russa, it will be interesting to see if the Cardinals will be able to make it back to the playoffs and defend their championship crown.
(69) Because Billy Beane’s “Moneyball” system of managing an organization resulted in a few playoff appearances and a great movie (although it still hasn’t brought Oakland a championship. So, I’m hoping for a Hollywood-like season for the A’s.
(70) For Peter Gammons (I’m pretty sure he once covered Babe Ruth), who will be covering baseball yet again this year.
(71) For Bob Costas occasionally calling games for the MLB Network, which takes you back to the 90′s with baseball on NBC.
(72-75) Because the AL East race could go in four different ways this year – Toronto, Tampa Bay, Boston, and New York should all be in the mix.
(76-78) Because the NL East race has three primary contenders: Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Miami…
(79) and the Nationals are rapidly improving and could find themselves in the race as well…
(80) though you have to wonder if the Braves will feel the effects of last season’s epic collapse (not likely, though, which is why I’m excited).
(81) Because Prince Fielder signed with Detroit, where his father Cecil once played…
(82) and which Tiger fans surely love…
(83) especially since they are the favorite to win the AL Central now.
(84) For Brian Wilson’s beard.
(85) For the Nasty Boys 2.0 – Atlanta’s Kimbrel, Venters, and O’Flaherty.
(86) Because Marlins’ ace Josh Johnson is fully healthy and a prime Cy Young candidate in the NL.
(87) For Ozzie Guillen press conferences.
(88) For Bobby Valentine press conferences.
(89) For R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball.
(90) Because Theo Epstein is now the general manger of the other cursed MLB franchise, the Chicago Cubs. He helped break the Curse of the Bambino, why not break the Curse of the Billy Goat?
(91) For Day games at Wrigley Field in the summer.
(92) For games in Miami without rain delays (The new stadium has a retractable dome).
(93) For day games in the summer in Atlanta. Even though everyone seems miserable – players, fans, umpires, and even dogs on Bark in the Park days – the snow cone vendors make this a bearable day…
(94) For empty $2,000 seats behind the plate in Yankee Stadium. (I know, it’s a strange thing to be excited about, but no regular season baseball game is worth that much.)
(95) The possibility that the Pirates could end their streak of futility (19 straight losing seasons). I have hope because they did so well last year by leading their division midway through the summer.
(96) For MLB.TV, which streams every game through the internet.
(97) The number of home runs Toronto’s Jose Bautista has hit the past two seasons.
(98) Because if you build it he will come.
(99) Because baseball is America’s pastime.
(100) Because Stone Cold said so.
(101) For making trips to cities just to watch baseball.
(102) The number of games the Phillies won last year, even though it resulted in a disappointing first round exit in the NLDS.
(103) For John Smoltz’s terrible jokes on the MLB Network.
(104) For the home run derby.
(105) For baseball movies on TV like The Sandlot…
(106) and Field of Dreams…
(107) and Major League…
(108) and The Rookie…
(109) and Bryce Johnson’s favorite, Rookie of the Year.
(110) Because there will be 10 teams to make the playoffs this year, so your favorite team can remain in the race just a little longer.
(111) Because there needs to be something to watch on TV during the many off days involved in the NBA playoffs.
(112) For Fenway Park.
(113) For the train in Houston.
(114) Because the All-Star game is always played at 100 percent effort.
(115) Because the Mets can actually score runs at home, now that they have moved the walls in.
(116) To see phenom Bryce Harper’s eventual arrival into the big leagues.
(117) To see if Yu Darvish can make the transition from Japan.
(118) Because Kansas City will host the All-Star game and has legitimate hopes to finally have a winning season.
(119) Because recently retired players Mike Matheny and Robin Ventura take over for the Cardinals and the White Sox, respectively. Will they command the barely younger clubhouses’ respect?
(120) To see if the addition of Jonathan Papelbon as closer will give the Phillies the best pitching staff ever.
(121) For walk-off homers.
(122) For homer-stealing catches at the wall.
(123) To see Rick Ankiel’s arm in the outfield.
(124) To see whether or not Adam Dunn will break double digits in hits off of lefties (just six last season).
(125) Because pitching legend Curt Schilling is on Baseball Tonight. (Bloody dress socks?)
(126) For any Brian Wilson interview.
(127) To see Angels’ closer Jordan Walden’s funky pitching motion.
(128) For another year of MLB The Show on PS3.
(129) To see if Ubaldo Jimenez can find his 2010 form and help the Indians make the playoffs.
(130) For Justin Verlander’s dominance on the mound.
(131) Because Matt Kemp says he wants to be the first 50-50 player (50 HRs, 50 SBs).
(133) Because Giants catcher Buster Posey is back from injury.
(134) For 19-inning games that last into the wee hours of the morning.
(135) For the 2,430 games that will be played this season.
(136-145) For the first night that baseball will have all 10 of ESPN’s Top 10 plays.
(146-155) For the first night that baseball will have all 10 of ESPN’s Bottom 10 plays.
(156) Because Orioles fans probably still believe Cal Ripken Jr. could still help their terrible team.
(157) Because Orioles fans probably think that even Tim Tebow could help their terrible team.
(158) To see youth baseball players emulate their favorite player’s batting stance.
(159) For MLB’s RBI baseball program, which stands for “Reviving Baseball in the Inner Cities.”
(160) For the two and a half hours you pay close attention to the game and nothing happens…
(161) and for the 3 seconds that some fans look away (or get something from the concessions) and miss a home run.
(162) And for attempting to write a column this long and absurd.
We have a winner in the Sports Spectrum Bracket Challenge! Congratulations to Jayne S. Jayne beat everyone, including all of Sports Spectrum’s staff, so she will be receiving one of everything from Sports Spectrum’s store!
Last night, Kentucky beat Kansas 67-59 to finish off their dominant season with a 38-2 record. But before we get to last night’s observations, some quick things from the Final Four.
- Louisville fought really hard to stay competitive with Kentucky and forced the game into a pace that would give them a chance to win. Unfortunately, Louisville couldn’t hit outside shots, making just four three-pointers. You have to shoot well from outside when you are playing against a dominant shot blocker like Anthony Davis.
- Ohio State has to feel like they let one get away. The Buckeyes led most of the game (they were up by nine at halftime), and didn’t give up the lead until 2:48 remained. Kansas had only lead 2-0 before that point. It was alarming how bad a game All-American Jared Sullinger had for the Buckeyes, shooting just 5-of-19 from the field and struggling to get his shot off against Kansas’ Jeff Withey. At one point, Withey blocked Sullinger’s shot three times in one possession. Deshaun Thomas stayed in foul trouble all night and also played poorly, shooting just 3-of-14. Withey had 7 blocks and helped slow the Buckeyes offense in the second half.
Now to the championship game.
- It’s wild to see such a dominant performance from a player who only scores six points, but that’s what Kentucky’s Anthony Davis did. Along with those six points, he had 16 rebounds, five assists, three steals, and six blocks. Kansas tried to go to the rim last night, but if Davis wasn’t blocking shots, he was altering them. Many times Kansas would rush a layup, or take a difficult shot in trying to avoid the newest “Sultan of Swat.”
- Kansas’ Thomas Robinson played with great effort but did not score efficiently. He had 18 points and 17 rebounds, but he shot just 6-of-17 from the field. I was impressed with him in the tournament, though. He definitely looks like the second-best prospect heading into the NBA draft.
- It was fun to see all of the shot blockers in this game. We knew about Davis, but teammates Terrence Jones and Darius Miller also had two blocks each. And Withey gave Kentucky’s offense fits as well, blocking four shots. There were 16 blocked shots in this game, five by Kansas, and 11 by Kentucky.
- Even though Davis may have been the player of the game, a lot of credit has to go to Doron Lamb for leading Kentucky’s offense. Lamb scored 22 points and seemingly hit all three of his three-pointers when Kansas had the potential to make a big run.
- Unfortunately, after last night’s game, Kentucky fans went bonkers back in Lexington, starting riots, flipping cars, and burning couches. Someone even got shot. A really strange way to celebrate a championship in my opinion.
- It will be interesting to see where all of Kentucky’s players get drafted. With the way they played such great team ball all year, it’s difficult to know how individuals like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or Maquis Teague will do when more of the pressure is on them to make plays each night.
- It will also be interesting to see if John Calipari, potentially linked to the Knicks head coaching job, will want to try his hand at the NBA again since he has his long-awaited NCAA Championship. If he does leave now, I think he will command much more respect in an NBA huddle than he did the first time around when he coached the New Jersey Nets.
Calipari said on ESPN radio’s Mike and Mike show this morning that he would relish the opportunity to try and go undefeated in college, so he may have zero interest in the NBA.
Two more games decided the final two entrants into the Final Four. What did Rick Pitino say would happen to the state of Kentucky if Louisville pulls off the upset? And why North Carolina can’t simply blame Kendall Marshall’s injury for their loss against Kansas.
Oh, and by the way, Jayne S. is now leading the Sports Spectrum bracket challenge. And guess who has crept up to number 3…that’s right, your’s truly. I was three for four in my Final Four picks, not bad. Let’s get to Sunday’s games…
#1 Kentucky vs. #3 Baylor SOUTH REGION
Final Score: 82-70 Kentucky
- Kentucky was absolutely dominant Sunday night. After Baylor spent the first few minutes setting the pace with a 10-5 lead, Kentucky seemingly turned on a switch and couldn’t miss the entire game.
- Part of the reason Kentucky couldn’t miss was Baylor’s defense. There was a stretch in the second half where Baylor played more physical on defense and was able to slow Kentucky down for a while. Unfortunately, they didn’t play defense like that in the first half, it might have been a closer game.
- There were a few uneasy moments when Kentucky center Anthony Davis fell to the floor with an apparent knee injury. UK and Charlotte Bobcat fans were able to breathe again once he was able to walk it off and return to the game.
- Kentucky went to the free throw line 44 times.
- Kentucky had nine blocks; six from Anthony Davis and three from Terrence Jones.
- Baylor senior Quincy Acy gave it all he had, scoring 22 points and bringing down eight rebounds.
Player of the Game: Anothony Davis – Davis is so disruptive down low. Baylor had many drives to the basket that would normally equal in two points, but were simply swatted away.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino on potentially beating Kentucky: “There will be people in Kentucky who will have a nervous breakdown if they lose to us,” Pitino said.
Up next for Kentucky: Louisville
The state of Kentucky is in a frenzy. Just for by reaching the Final Four, UK students were burning couches in the streets. I can’t imagine what will fans may do when either school beats their rival for the right to play in the National Championship. Why is it that people want to destroy things when their favorite team wins something?
#1 North Carolina vs. #2 Kansas MIDWEST REGION
Final Score: 80-67 Kansas
- North Carolina looked a lot better than they did Friday night when Ohio took them to overtime. For most of the way they were confident playing without Kendall Marshall.
- Until Bill Self switched Kansas to a triangle and two zone on defense late in the second half. After that, North Carolina had trouble in their half court offense and never really figured it out.
- Tyler Zeller and John Henson combined for just ten rebounds.
- James McAdoo came off the bench for the Tar Heels and led the team in scoring with 15 points.
- All of Kansas’ starters scored in double figures.
Player of the Game: Jeff Withey – Tyshawn Taylor had 22 points for Kansas, but center Jeff Withey was perfect from the field and had 15 points, eight rebounds and all three of the Jawhawks’ blocks.
Missing more than Kendall Marshall: North Carolina didn’t just lose because they didn’t have Kendall Marshall. Sure, it played a role, but the game was tied at 47 at the half and was neck and neck until the last two or three minutes. Backup point guard Stillman White wasn’t bad, as he played another game without turning over the ball and had seven assists. The Tar Heels were dominated down low and out-rebounded 39-30. Zeller had just six boards after having 23 against Ohio. John Henson only had four rebounds. The Tar Heels made just two 3-point shots. And Harrison Barnes, likely a top-5 pick in this year’s NBA draft, shot just 5-14 from the field, which is not what you would expect from a guard ready to start in the NBA. And considering that North Carolina has still had four likely first-round NBA draft picks on the floor (Barnes, Henson, Zeller, McAdoo) to Kansas’ one (Thomas Robinson), it’s not like they were deficient of talent without Marshall.
Up next for Kansas: Ohio State
Kansas is one of the few teams that has the big men to bang down low with the Buckeyes Jared Sullinger. Jeff Withey and Thomas Robinson will split time guarding him and Jayhawk fans hope that they can slow Sullinger down. What would stink is if either Robinson or Sullinger get on foul trouble early. You would like to see both teams best players on the court in a heavyweight matchup like this. Kansas beat Ohio State earlier this season, but Jared Sullinger sat out with back spasms. This game will be a lot different with him on the court.
So now the Final Four is set, and we have will have a bunch of heavyweights competing for the title. All four schools have won the NCAA tournament before, and the four combined have won thirteen NCAA championships. Louisville (1980,1986) will take on in-state rival Kentucky (1948, 1949, 1951, 1958, 1978, 1996, 1998) and Ohio State (1960) will take on Kansas (1952, 1988, 2008). So if you are pulling for the team with the least amount of success, you’ll be a Buckeye fan, which seems ironic considering the amount of success they have on the football field.
TOP 10 YOUNG PLAYERS
1. Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves – The Braves youngster won Rookie of the Year in 2011 and set a rookie saves record with 45 saves. If that’s what he can do in his first year on the job…
2. Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers – The Rangers dished out more than $110 million to sign Darvish. First, the Rangers had to pay about $51 million to his Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, just to negotiate with him. Then they settled on a $60 million, six-year deal. Considering pitching expert Nolan Ryan has final say on all Rangers signings, Darvish must be good. Last year, he finished with a 1.44 ERA and had a Japanese career ERA of 1.72.
3. Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals – It will be interesting to see how quickly Harper continues to move up through the Nationals minor league system. The No. 1 pick of the 2010 draft, Harper tore apart Class A pitching by batting .318 and hitting 17 homeruns. His average was down once he moved to Class AA (.256), but he still knocked 14 over the fence. This spring training will likely determine where Harper starts out, but I’m sure many Nationals fans would love to have him on the big-league roster on Day One.
4. Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals – After spending most of last season rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, Strasburg should be good to go for his first full season as a major leaguer. Considering his starts before the injury were called “Strasmas,” the Nationals have a big ticket seller.
5. Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves – Freeman lost out on Rookie of the Year honors to his fireball-throwing Braves teammate, Craig Kimbrel, but Freeman’s numbers were solid. He hit 21 homers, knocked in 76 runs and finished the season with a .282 batting average. The slender first baseman figures to be a key cog in the middle of the order in Atlanta for many years.
6. Matt Moore, Tampa Bay Rays – Called up in September last year and pitched so well in three games that they gave him the Game 1 start of the ALDS. No experience? No problem! Moore pitched seven shutout innings and won the game. This year, Moore, who throws a mid-90’s fastball, figures to be the No. 3 man in the rotation behind David Price and James Shields. There are such big expectations for this guy that the Rays have already locked him up with a five-year, $14 million deal, despite having very little major league experience.
7. Jesus Montero, Seattle Mariners – In his 61 at-bats last season for the Yankees, Montero hit .328 with four home runs and 12 RBIs. Now that Montero has been traded to Seattle, he figures to have most of the playing time behind the plate for last year’s most anemic offense (last in runs scored, batting average, and on-base percentage, to name a few).
8. Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds – Still a young guy learning how to pitch, but considering he was once clocked at 105 mph (an MLB record), he can make a few more mistakes on the job than most guys. But the Reds need to figure out what they are going to do with him. He’s getting tested as a starter in spring training and it’s given them mixed results. You have to wonder if it would be better to groom him as the long-term closer.
9. Josh Reddick, Oakland A’s – Was poised to become Boston’s starting right fielder before a trade for Andrew Bailey and Ryan Sweeney sent him west to play “moneyball” for Oakland GM Billy Beane. Reddick is major league ready and is a building block for Oakland’s future.
10. Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs – Rizzo, who the Cubs acquired in a trade from San Diego this offseason, is looking to become the Cubs cornerstone first baseman they’ve been searching for since Mark Grace left town. Rizzo may start the season in the minors, as 29-year-old Bryan LeHair has been given the first base job to start in April, but the long-time minor leaguer may not be able to hold off the younger (22), talented, power-hitting Rizzo for very long.
TOP 10 RELIEVERS
1. Mariano Rivera, N.Y. Yankees – Still the best closer in baseball, despite being 42 years old. Rivera has amassed 603 career saves and last season finished second in the American League with 45. He has finished with a sub-2.00 ERA the past four seasons.
2. Jonny Venters, Atlanta Braves – Despite not being his team’s closer, Venters might be the game’s most dominating reliever. He throws a mid-90’s fastball with wicked movement to go along with his knee buckling slider leaving many helpless in the batter’s box. In his first two seasons as a big-leaguer, Venters struck out 189 batters, pitched 171 innings, and gave up only three homers.
3. Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves – The 23-year-old is the only one standing in the way of Venters being the Braves full-time closer. If you can believe it, Kimbrel’s fastball is both harder (high 90‘s) and has more movement than Venters. Kimbrel set a National League rookie record by saving 46 games last year. If he can improve his control (3.7 BB/9 last year), he might challenge Rivera’s saves record by the time he’s 35.
4. John Axford, Milwaukee Brewers - Has beaten out a 600-career saves man (Trevor Hoffman) and the single-season saves record holder (Francisco Rodriguez) the past two years to earn the closers job in Milwaukee. Axford led the NL in saves last season with 46.
5. Jose Valverde, Detroit Tigers – Finished last season perfect, saving 49 of 49 games, and leading all of Major League Baseball in saves.
6. J.J. Putz, Arizona Diamondbacks – After a few seasons of being forced (by the Mets and White Sox) into a set-up role, where he is not comfortable, Putz flourished as closer of the resurgent Arizona Diamondbacks. He logged a career-best 45 saves and had an ERA of 2.17, helping the D-Backs complete a worst-to-first season.
7. Eric O’Flaherty, Atlanta Braves – O’Flaherty is the third man in the Braves “Nasty Boys 2.0” and had, statistically, the best year of any of them, finishing the season with an 0.98 ERA in 73.2 innings.
8. Brian Wilson, San Francisco Giants – Last year was frustrating. Even before battling injuries down the stretch, Wilson struggled to hold onto leads early in the season, but he was able to eventually get it together until having to sit out half of August and most of September because of an elbow injury. However, the one thing that Wilson does not lack is confidence, and assuming he has good health, he figures to have a strong rebound season.
9. Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies – Has not been the same pitcher he was early in his Boston career, but a change in leagues and teams gives him a fresh start and a clear mind.
10. Heath Bell, Miami Marlins – Miami signed Bell in the offseason to solidify the back end of the bullpen. Bell has 134 career saves and had at least 40 in the past three years, all with San Diego.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Cincinnati Reds closer Ryan Madson was ranked seventh on this list, but was recently lost for the season to an elbow injury and will have Tommy John surgery.