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The Biggest Sports Rule Changes and How They Have Affected History

Everyone knows that the only constant in life is change.  This rule applies to life and it also applies to the sports world, and sometimes the rules make a huge difference on the history of the game.  In each major sport, a specific rule has changed the outcome of some of the most famous records, most famous games, and the history of some of the most famous players.

Baseball

Baseball, first played in the mid-1850’s in New York’s Metropolitan area, has changed drastically over the years.  The first rule that jumped out at me on the list was that in 1887, base on balls were recorded in the statbook at as a hit.  Making it an even weirder stat was the fact that five balls were needed to record a base on balls and four strikes were needed for a strike out.

If you look at the record book, the top two single-season leaders for hits, Pete Browning and Tip O’Neill, both came in 1877.  They each recorded 275 hits on the year with Browning drawing 55 walks and O’Neill drawing 50 of his own.  What is still impressive is that even if you take away the walks both drew in the season, their hits (225 and 220) would still rank in the top 100 of all-time for hits in a season.

Pete Browning had 275 hits in 1877 but walks also counted as hits.

Pete Browning had 275 hits in 1877 but walks also counted as hits that year.

The rule was changed after just one season and the walks were taken away from both players, but were later given back in 1999 by Major League Baseball.  Still, Browning and O’Neill are not recognized as the leaders on the list, but rather Ichiro Suzuki, who smacked 262 hits in 2004 to break George Sisler’s 84-year record.

On the single season hits list, nine of the top 100 players on that list accomplished their feat in 1887.

When looking at pitchers and their overall statistics, two rules jump out that might have changed the history books.  First, in 1893 the pitching distance was moved back from 50 feet to 60 feet, six inches.  Just think about that for a second.  Back when I played baseball for my town’s travel team, the fifth and sixth grade mounds were 48 feet away.

Looking back at the history book, 18 of the top 100 single-season ERA marks occurred before 1876.  Once again, the Major Leagues did away with counting stats in the official record book before 1876, but career marks included any outings before 1876.  That includes Jim Devlin who is fifth on the list, John Ward (7th), and Al Spalding (9th) amongst others.

Also, in 1917 the “spitball” and all other “freak pitches” were banned from the game of baseball because they gave pitchers way too big on an advantage.  Many more of those career leaders in ERA pitched before 1917, and while there might not be a direct correlation with the spitball, there is something to be said for it.

Not that Ricky Henderson would care, but maybe Ty Cobb (4th all time in steals) and Honus Wagner (10th) would remember that in 1920, ninth inning uncontested steals were discarded and fielder’s indifference was introduced.

While times were completely different back then and starters threw innings upon innings, wouldn’t it be interesting to know who would have closed and saved all of the 1927 Yankees’ games?  Or the 1906 Cubs, who finished with 116 wins?

From 1936 to 1943, a span of eight years, the New York Yankees won 799 games.  In that span, Johnny Murphy “finished” 219 games for the Yankees.  He only started 12 games for the Yankees in those eight years so he was clearly the go-to guy for the Bronx Bombers.

Unfortunately for Murphy, the Yankees had 77, 82, 91, 87, 76, 75, 88, and 83 complete games in that span.  For a guy coming out of the bullpen whose teams won 1259 games over his 13 year career (average of almost 97 wins per season), it stinks that the save was not around.

Football

The biggest change to the rules of football, which really has happened in every sport, is probably the number of games in each season.  However, when the NFL went from 12 games to 14 games in 1960 and to 16 games in 1977.  Two or even four extra games every year did wonders for players playing in that era and made some stats somewhat tainted.

Take the NFL’s rushing records, which to many are the most historic and valued of any in the game today.  The current leader, Emmitt Smith, rushed for 18,355 yards over the course of 226 games and 15 seasons.  That leaves Smith with an average of 81.2 yards per game played in.

Walter Payton, regarded by most as the game’s greatest rusher of all time, rushed for 16,726 yards over the course of 190 games and 13 years.  This means Payton rushed for 88.03 yards in each of his games, on average.

Barry Sanders is third on the all-time list with 15,269 yards in 153 games over ten years, leaving him with an average of 99.79 yards per game.  Sanders left the game earlier than most had wanted him to, but injury forced him out of the game as he did not want to end up with life-lasting pains.

As good as all three of those rushers were, they all played in 16-game seasons (with the exception of Payton’s first three years in the league).  Now let’s take a look at Jim Brown, running back for the Cleveland Browns.

He played just nine years in the league, with his first four being 12 game seasons.  The last five were 14 game seasons and overall, the Syracuse alum rushed for 12,312 yards in 118 games.  That gives him an average of 104.33 yards per game over the course of his career.  Let’s say Brown was able to play all 16-game seasons during his career.  That would give him an extra 26 games during his career and, when multiplied by his yards per game, gives him an extra 2,712 yards in his career.

That total would give him 15,024 yards for his career, right behind Barry Sanders for fourth all-time instead of eighth, where he stands now.  Remember also that Brown retired when he was 29 years old, the same age that Barry Sanders rushed for 2,053 yards and the same age Payton rushed for 1421 yards.  Emmitt Smith would rush for over 1,300 yards when he was 29 and would play six years after that age.

While the style of the game meant that players did not play as long as they do now, the games played sure had a lot to do with it.

Basketball

By far, the two biggest changes to the NBA in the league’s history have been the shot clock and the three point line.

Starting in 1954, the NBA introduced the 24-second shot clock that saw a huge jump in points scored per game.  George Mikan and Bob Cousy are two players who can be found partially in the “pre-shot clock era” and had their points per game affected because of it.

While the NBA itself was affected greatly by the introduction of the shot clock, the three point line affected player’s stats much more.

Beginning in 1979, the NBA put in a stripe that, when shot behind and made, would count for three points.  The introduction of the three point line was the cause of much higher scoring games and, in return, more scoring records that were broken.

John Havlicek ranks 14th all-time on the NBA’s scoring list but never once played in an NBA game with a three point line.  As a 6’5″ guard/forward with a solid jump shot, it’s a good bet he would have shot up the charts if some of his baskets were worth three points.

Imagine what kind of numbers Bob Cousy would have put up with a three-point line.

Imagine what kind of numbers Bob Cousy would have put up with a three-point line.

Because it was the introduction to a completely new rule that some people had never seen before, it is hard to project what players would have done with the three point line.  Pistol Pete Maravich set the record of 3,667 points at Lousiana State in just three years to become the leading scorer in college basketball history.  He did this all without the three point line as well.

Also, in 1944, the three second violation was introduced that said no player could be in the paint for more than three seconds at a time.  Twenty years later, Wilt Chamberlain was dominating posts inside like no one else had, so the lane was extended from 12 feet to 16 feet.

Can you imagine Wilt Chamberlain, for the first eight years of his career, in a lane that was two feet smaller on each side?  It’s a good thing for defending players that he did not come into the league before the three second lane violation was introduced.

What Does it All Mean?

It’s hard to call any of the records or numbers used in examples as tainted or not as legitimate as another in a different era.  The game has changed drastically and with it comes rule changes.  Just about every rule change on any list you look at in major sports has made the game better in the long run.

In baseball, unrealistic numbers were being put up by pitchers and it was simply too hard for batters to keep up.  While pitchers still continue to out-do hitters as a whole, the playing field has been evened since the mound was lowered and the rubber was moved back.

In football, instant replay has changed the game around compeltely.  No longer do referees have the final say on calls and are considered infallible.

Games have been added to the schedule that have changed records because, simply put, more games could be played.  16 game seasons and more wildcard teams have added more importantce to the regular season and elongated the greatest game on earth.

In basketball, the game has been changed completely to make it more exciting and to see numbers go up.  The shot clock was probably the biggest rule change of any sport that made the game more strategic and more difficult.  Only the best shooters and quickest players would survive.

The three point line evened the playing field so that teams could make a comeback when trailing late in a game.

Rules will continue to come and go and records will continue to be broken.  It will be interesting to see an article written on the same thing 40 years from now.

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July 31, 2009 Posted by | Baseball, Basketball, Football, MLB, NBA, NFL | , , | Leave a comment

The Top Storylines For the Packers as Training Camp Begins

Saturday will officially begin the 2009 Green Bay Packers season as players show up for the first day of training camp.  Coming off a lackluster six win season in 2008, the youngest team in football is ready to rebound and prove that they can win without a certain number four behind center (don’t worry, that’s the last he will be mentioned in the article).

As it is for most teams entering training camp, the next two weeks will prove who belongs on the final 53 man roster and who does not.  Players will step up, some will flop, and others will look to improve their skills and make the Packers a playoff team come 2010.

With a new scheme in order and many draft picks looking for roster spots, headlines are sure to be everywhere on this football team.  Here are the top five to watch for heading into tomorrow’s camp.

Packers Transition to the 3-4 Defense

Easily the biggest story heading into camp this year is the overhaul of the Packers’ defense.  Ranked 20th in yards allowed and 22nd in points allowed, defensive coordinator Bob Sanders was fired and replaced with veteran coach Dom Capers.

At 58, Capers is as experienced as they come with over 30 years of coaching, including three defensive coordinator stints and two head coaching jobs with the Carolina Panthers and Houston Texans.

Along with Capers came former Panthers defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac to coach the defensive line and former All-Pro Kevin Greene who will coach the outside linebackers.

The 3-4 defense that Capers is installing this summer is the first change to a Green Bay Packers’ scheme in 15 years.  The change may be a bumpy one but it looks as though most of the pieces are there for the Packers.

Just about every player involved in the front seven will be changing roles and the big question is whether or not progress can be made in just one off-season.

Newcomer B.J. Raji, who specifcally played defensive tackle in a 4-3 scheme at Boston College will rotate between both line positions in the new alignment.

Former tackles Justin Harrell and Johnny Jolly will both move to defensive end positions, something neither have done their whole careers.  While the end positions in the 3-4 are similar to the tackle spots in the 4-3, new terminology and assignments will make for a challenging camp.

Cullen Jenkins, who was having an outstanding year at defensive end before suffering a season ending injury, now moves to the end position in the 3-4.  The same goes for Mike Montgomery as well.

Ryan Pickett looks to man the ever-important nose tackle position in the 3-4 after spending his first five seasons as a tackle in the 4-3.

At the lineback position, Aaron Kampman and Brady Poppinga will man the left side as rush linebackers.  Kampman’s transition has been a bumpy one in the media, but all signs point to him having a successful season.  He is a hard worker and has never been one to pout, and while his stats may be down his production on the field will not.

Jeremy Thompson has the perfect body for a 3-4 linebacker and is showing great signs in his transition to the two point stance.  He will battle the latter of the Packers’ first-round selections, Clay Matthews III, for the starting outside linebacker spot.

B.J. Raji will be vital to the success of the Packers' new 3-4 scheme this year.

B.J. Raji will be vital to the success of the Packers' new 3-4 scheme this year.

In the middle, A.J. Hawk and Nick Barnett will hopefully make a smooth transition to the new defense.  Barnett has been on in the inside his whole career and Hawk showed promise inside when Barnett went down with his injury last year.

The Packers will need a solid rotation on the defensive line and will need to be quick at linebacker.  Battles for the right outside linebacker spot as well as at defensive end will showcase the preseason, but even bigger will be the mental aspect.

A new coordinator means new schemes and terminology and just two weeks to figure it all out.  While OTA’s seemed to go smoothly, real football starts when the pads come on and the players go full speed.

Third Wide Receiver Spot Up for Grabs

Greg Jennings has solidified himself as a number one receiver in the league and was rewarded with a huge contract extension this off season.  The extension will keep him in Green bay for the next four years and will continue to burn defenses with passes from Aaron Rodgers.

Donald Driver is becoming the definition for an “ageless” wonder and has shown no signs of slowing down despite being 34 years old this coming year.  While he did not go deep as often as he had in the past, he has become an excellent slot receiver perfect for the Packers’ West Coast offense.

Past the top two positions on the depth chart, the rest of the unit is a mystery.  James Jones and Jordy Nelson will compete against each other over the coming month to see who will step up and become the third option for the Packers.

Jones had an excellent rookie season and showed tons of promise for the future before struggling in his sophomore season.  Slowed by injuries, he appeared in just ten games and catching just 20 balls.

Fully healthy this year, he looks to get back in the swing of things and become a flanker opposite of Jennings.  With decent size at 6’1″ and 218 pounds and a whole lot of toughness, he will probably get the first look in camp.

Aiming for the third spot on the depth chart right behind Jones will be second year receiver Jordy Nelson.  In his rookie season, Nelson finished with 366 yards and a couple of touchdowns as the third option in the offense.

Head coach Mike McCarthy loves to spread the field use a ton of different packages so both should see ample playing time this year, but it would help the offense if one of the two would step up and become the more reliable option.

My money is on Jones because of experience, but Nelson has all the physical tools.  If one of them can step up and deliver on the flanker position, it will keep Driver in the slot where he is best.

Questions Regarding the New(er) Offensive Line

Last year, the Packers’ offensive line gave quarterback Aaron Rodgers very little time to throw and even less time for Ryan Grant to get through holes.

This year, the line will look somewhat different with acquisitions of Duke Preston and draftees T.J. Lang and Jamon Meredith.

Like most linemen on the Packers last year, left tackle Chad Clifton had a below average season as he gave up 6.5 sacks.  That number ranked 21st amongst left tackles but the position is his to lose.

Daryn Colledge may be the future at left tackle, but he will continue to shine at left guard as long as Clifton is on the roster.  Newcomer T.J. Lang has the versatility to play multiple positions and will back up Colledge if he does not win a spot outright.

Allen Barbe is favored to win the starting right tackle job this year.

Allen Barbe is favored to win the starting right tackle job this year.

The progression of Josh Sitton has allowed Jason Spitz to see time at center.  He will battle Scott Wells for the job and has the upper hand to start camp.

Sitton or free agent signing Duke Preston will be relegated to the right guard duties, with Sitton expected to come out on top.

Right tackle will be the biggest battle on the offensive line, with Allen Barbre and Breno Giacomini battling it out.  Meredith and Lang might also see time there, but their true positions are at left tackle and guard, respectively.

The unit will need to improve in a huge way if the offense is going to get anywhere, but a younger and more athletic line this year should get the job done.  Experience will still be an issue but there is a lot of promise and this unit could be the highlight of camp if a few players step up in a big way.

All Three Quarterback Must Improve Their Play

For the second consecutive season, Ted Thompson and the Packers will head into camp with three young quarterbacks with very limited experience.  Outside of the seven games back-up Matt Flynn appeared in, Aaron Rodgers is the only quarterback with any NFL experience.

True, another year of film study, practice, and Mike McCarthy quarterback coaching will do wonders for Flynn and Brian Brohm, but they both must improve from what they did last year.

In the Tampa Bay game, Flynn looked completely lost and many wondered how ugly next week would have been had Rodgers not played.  Despite starting all 16 games last year, AA-Rod will have his nicks and bruises all year and Flynn will need to prove he can manage a game.

As for Brohm, this camp will be huge for him because he needs to start living up to his second-round billing.  Once thought of as a first overall pick, he has not shown any indications of being a future quarterback anywhere in the league.

Patience will be key with both young quarterbacks, as even Rodgers looked terrible his first couple of years.  The difference is Rodgers was playing behind The Ironman (OK, sorry I mentioned him again) and Flynn and Brohm are not.

As for Rodgers, he had a great first year as the true starter for the Packers, but his late game decisions left a lot to be desired.  Yes, the defense put him in terrible spots and he was forced to try to make plays, but his fourth quarter numbers were terrible and if he wants to make the jump to the elite quarterbacks in the league, he needs to find ways to win games on his own.

The Future of the Secondary is Now

While veterans Al Harris and Charles Woodson will enter this year as one of the league’s best duos at cornerback, the future is uncertain and this year’s training camp could go a long way in getting a sneak peak at what is to come.

At 32 and 34, Woodson and Harris are on the later stages of their careers and will need to soon be replaced.

Last year, Tramon Williams stepped up in a huge way and proved he is ready to step in for either of the two, whenever that is.  Last year, it was for Harris and he did an exceptional job.  The sky is the limit for Williams as he looks to be one of the heir apparents for the starters.

Tramon Williams is one of the best nickel cornerbacks in the NFL.

Tramon Williams is one of the best nickel cornerbacks in the NFL.

Aside from Williams, former second rounder Pat Lee looks to improve on an injury-ridden rookie season that saw him play in just five games, primarily on special teams.

He has good size and played his college ball in the rough and tough SEC and will be asked to step up as the dime back in this year’s system.

Will Blackmon has become an above average punt returner that will guarantee him a spot on the roster, but if he can work on his skills as a cornerback and become a viable option there, his value would increase even more.

My prediction is that Lee’s progression is going to take longer than just this year.  Losing time your rookie season is the worst time to lose and it will take him longer to get into a rhythm.

At the safety position, Nick Collins will enter camp unhappy but will be there.  This shows a lot to Ted Thompson that, despite his desire for a new contract, he is still a team-first player that wants to win.

If he goes out and repeats his performance early in the year, I could see him getting a contract extension worth big money.

On the other end, Atari Bigby will be coming back from a season-ending injury that limited him to seven games.  Battling with him for a spot will be Aaron Rouse who looks to be more of a special teams specialist than anything else.

This year will be important for the secondary and could determine how it looks two or three years from now.

July 30, 2009 Posted by | Football, Green Bay Packers, NFL | , , , | 1 Comment

Doug Melvin: Let the Milwaukee Brewers’ Season Go Already

Following a pathetic and embarrassing loss for the second consecutive night to the worst team in the Majors before edging one out tonight, it has become quite evident that the Milwaukee Brewers are no longer contenders in this year’s National League Pennant race.

The Brewers have still been outscored in the first three games of their series against the Washington Nationals by a total of 27-16.  That’s 27 runs given up to a team with 32 wins this season.  The offense has been fine for whatever that is worth and Ryan Braun is starting to heat up in a massive way.  Hitting in front of Prince Fielder, Braun had slowed down but now has his batting average up over the .315 mark and has joined Fielder at the 20 home run mark.

Outside of the 3-4 combo of Braun and Fielder, the Brew Crew simply can’t find anyone that wants to drive in runs.  J.J. Hardy and Mike Cameron represent the only other Brewers that have driven in over 40 runs this season, but neither of them are batting over .250.

Casey McGehee has been a splendid surprise this year and is a big reason why Mat Gamel will get continued looks in Triple A and be able to improve his overall game instead of struggling in the Majors day in and day out.  Craig Counsell has done a great job as the second part of the platoon and has done so much more than has been asked of him.

Corey Hart is as confusing a ballplayer as you are going to find.  He has the biggest ups of anyone in the lineup but can disappear for weeks on end.  While he is definitely part of the near future (which we will get to in a second), with the Brewers struggling so much it’s hard to watch Hart go about his game.

The offense has not been the problem for the Brewers, however.  Fourth in runs scored and eighth in batting average in the National League, combined with two of the best hitters in the league means the Brewers’ offense will keep them in most games.  Their home-run hitting “style” means a comeback could be just around the corner at any moment and, as shown by the surplus of come from behind wins, it usually is.

No, the problem this year is clearly in the starting pitching and unfortunately for the Brewers, can not be fixed this year.  Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Jarrod Washburn, Erik Bedard, and even Doug Davis would be huge upgrades for the pitching staff and might even put them back in the division race.

But my message to Doug Melvin is this: the 2009 season did not go the way that you planned for it to go, but ruining the future for a chance to get your butt kicked by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the first round of the playoffs is not the way to fix it.

Let me explain why.

It is obvious that if Melvin were to pull the trigger on a deal, it would be for a starting pitcher.  His thought process would have to be that he believes the Brewers are just one pitcher away from being able to contend in the National League Central.

This is hardly the case.  Let’s say the Brewers make a deal for Roy Halladay or even Jarrod Washburn and trade only minor leaguers in the process.  The newly acquired pitcher would shoot up to the top of the rotation as the team’s ace and be followed by Yovani Gallardo.  That one-two punch would be pretty good and definitely be capable of winning the division.  Unfortuantely, those two only make up 40 percent of a Milwaukee Brewers rotation that is otherwise incapable of winning anything.

With Jeff Suppan hitting the DL any one of these days and Dave Bush already there, Braden Looper would move into the third spot in the rotation.  Following him would have to be Manny Parra and then a combination of Carlos Villanueva/Seth McClung/Mike Burns/Tim Dillard.

Basically, the Brewers are not one pitcher away from becoming a staff worthy of a division crown.  While one of those pitchers able to be acquired would help out a ton, throwing three starters with ERA’s over 4.50 and WHIP’s over 1.30 is not going to get it done.

Do the Brewers really trust Braden Looper to win a crucial game three in the playoffs?

Do the Brewers really trust Braden Looper to win a crucial game three in the playoffs?

The inconsistency of the pitching staff has made it so that not even an ace coming on to the staff would made a big enough difference.

Known for one of the best minor league systems in all of baseball, it’s no secret that the Brewers are loaded with young talent.  As can be seen, the talent has transitioned into wins over the last couple of years.  The top two players in the organization, Alcides Escobar and Mat Gamel, have shown significant improvements in recent times and are knocking on the Major League door.

In any trade for an ace, one of the two would have to be involved as well as other potential pieces to the future.  By forgetting about this season and letting it play out, Melvin will save the future left side of the infield and let the farm system continue to flourish.

J.J. Hardy’s contract will be up at the end of the 2010 season and, as sad as it is for the ladies to see him go, Escobar has not only been waiting in the shadows for his chance to shine, but he has been dominating the minors in that same shadow.

If the Brewers feel Escobar is ready to come up and start at shortstop next year, trading Hardy is an option as a few teams have shown interest this year and that would seem to carry over.  As for right now, the general consensus is that Escobar is not quite seasoned enough to take over the reigns of an infield mid-season.  What that means is Hardy is unlikely to be dealt before this year’s trade deadline.

While that might not matter if Melvin is considering bagging the season, Escobar’s progress could be messed up if he is thrown into the situation too early, much like a rookie quarterback who starts from day one.

At the hot corner, Mat Gamel is the future and has the potential to hit thirty home runs and drive in 100 runs batting behind the likes of Braun and Fielder.  Too many fans expected him to light up the world and become an instant five hitter that would send the Brew Crew offense to the top of the rankings.

While he had his ups and downs, the Brewers’ management saw enough in him to keep him in the big leagues even when he was not starting every day.  He batted .239 with four home runs and 16 RBI’s and was getting on base at a .336 clip.

In the field, it became clear that Gamel will not be in the running for any Gold Gloves, but he has an absolute cannon attached to his arm that resulted in some pretty darn good plays.

As we have seen with Rickie Weeks, being patient with Gamel will be key to success in the future, and an impatient move like trading the young third baseman is not the answer this year.

Speaking of Rickie Weeks, it is extremely important that everyone remembers just how big of a season he was having before going down with a season-ending wrist injury.  His on-base percentage of .342 in the leadoff spot was outstanding and his nine home runs through 36 games had the Brewers rolling.

The injury could not have been worse for Weeks, who was finally breaking out after some polishing from coach Willie Randolph.  The occasional head scratcher error was there but his play in the field was much improved and he showed signs of a young Alfonso Soriano in the lead off spot.

Give him time Brewers fans: Mat Gamel is going to be the real deal.

Give him time Brewers fans: Mat Gamel is going to be the real deal.

It’s tough to win a division when your third best hitter (at that point in the season) goes down with an injury that affects the whole team.  The trickle effect was seen clearly as Craig Counsell was asked to play much more game after game, Casey McGehee was somewhat discovered but still used more than Macha would have liked.  Subsequently, Bill Hall had to play more and Mat Gamel saw inconsistent playing time because of it.

Going back to the farm system, the acqusition of Felipe Lopez meant two minor leaguers in Cole Gillespie and Roque Mercedes left the system for yet another three month rental who will not be back next April.

Next season, a healthy Weeks will be back in the lead off spot and pounding away at the baseball.

Finally, the number one reason why Doug Melvin needs to let the Brewers’ 2009 campaign go already is because it is not neccesarily over.  Amazing as it sounds, the Brewers are just four and a half games back of the division leading St. Louis Cardinals.

Winning the division will not be easy by any stretch, but if it is not expected then it becomes a win-win situation.  Think about it this way: the Boston Red Sox are three and a half games back in the American League East and nobody is counting them out, right?

Yes, I understand the Red Sox would trounce the Brewers any day of the week, but proportionally the analogy is pretty much spot on.

The Cardinals have traded away young prospects to get much needed offense behind slugger Albert Pujols, but if they can not stay healthy then they are not a lock to take home the division.

The Cubs have been pitching outstanding all year but it still remains to be seen whether or not their offense can stay with them for the stretch run.

The Astros always hang in it but find a way to screw things up with managament and injuries.

The Brewers have the third best shot to win the NL Central behind the Cardinals and Cubs, but it isn’t out of the question to think they can do it.  With such a powerful offense that is trying to break the “streaky” tag associated with them and a starting pitcher that does everything he can to get a win every fifth day, they could be one great stretch away from winning it.

If they go ahead and win the division with the team they have right now, then that’s great and they accomplished a whole lot with not a lot of pitching.  But Doug Melvin needs to let the weak Brewers try to compete in the weak NL Central.

With the wild card probably coming from the National League West, the winner of the National League Central will more likely than not have a five game series with the Los Angeles Dodgers that should not take five games to determine.

If Melvin is serious about winning a championship, he will not go for it this year because it just isn’t there. If he wants to win a division, then go get Roy Halladay and win 85 games to top the Central.  Something special could be brewing (no pun intended) in the near future, and Melvin would be foolish to screw things up on such a weak and unmeaningful season.

July 28, 2009 Posted by | Baseball, Milwaukee Brewers, MLB | , , , | Leave a comment

Green Bay Packers’ WR Corps Second to None

Heading into the 2008 season, many wondered how Aaron Rodgers would fare in his first season as the man in charge of running the Green Bay Packers’ offense. After the off-season fiasco that was Brett Favre, Rodgers knew that if he did not produce quickly the Packers faithful would have very little patience.

Lucky for Rodgers, his offense sported the best receiving corps in the NFL and only got better as the year went on. The 24-year-old from California would finish his pressure-filled season with 4038 yards, 28 touchdowns, just 13 interceptions, and a passer rating of 93.8, that ranked him sixth in all of football.

While his late-game production was disappointing to many, and the Packers’ 6-10 record did not impress, Rodgers got his first year as a starter under his belt and gained experience that will only make him better this upcoming fall. Along with the experience he has gained, the guys he will be throwing to also make things a little easier.

Leading the way for the Pack, fresh off his contract extension, is Greg Jennings. Entering his fourth year, the 25-year-old from Western Michigan, has already shot into the top ten discussion when it comes to receivers. Over the last two years, Jennings has racked up over 2200 yards and twenty one touchdowns to lead the Packers.

After signing a contract extension this summer, he went and trained in Minnesota at a camp hosted by Larry Fitzgerald. Chris Carter and Jerry Rice were two of the highlights of the camp and there is no doubt Jennings learned some valuable tidbits while attending.

Outside of his talent, Jennings is everything you could ask for in a star wide receiver. He doesn’t have his own show on VH1 and he has no plans, that I know of, to change his last name to a spanish number. When he scores a touchdown, he finds his teammates instead of a cell phone hidden in the goal post. When another receiver scores a touchdown, he is the first to congratulate him instead of asking for the ball more.

He does things the right way and the fact that the combo of Rodgers and Jennings is signed for the next four years means good things are about to happen for the Packers offense. A large part of why Jennings is the way he is can be attributed to his friend and teammate who lines up away from him every Sunday.

Donald Driver will be entering his eleventh season as a Green Bay Packer and has showed little signs of slowing down. Seemingly ageless, Driver was on the right side of his fifth straight 1,000 yard season despite handing over the reisngs of a number one receiver to Jennings.

After the Alcorn State grad was a surprising no show at the voluntary mini-camps, many wondered whether or not he was happy with his contracts. I wrote on why Driver was wrong if he thought he deserved a pay raise, and clearly so did Driver as he explained the matter was family, not contract, related.

With the depth at wide receiver the Packers have this year, it would not be a shock to see Driver’s numbers decrease from last year. Mike McCarthy has explained he would like to run the ball more and the aforementioned depth is a good problem to have. Don’t expect Driver to slack on effort or pout if he doesn’t see the ball enough. He is the epitome of a guy that straps on his helmet and goes out and plays the game.

While Jennings and Driver will be holding down the one and two spots on the depth chart, the third option is wide open and the Packers will have two very solid players fighting for the position.

In my eyes, the front-runner to win the job is last year’s second round selection Jordy Nelson. In his rookie campaign, the 24-year-old from Kansas State, racked up 366 yards receiving and a pair of touchdowns in the limited time he saw on the field.

Jordy Nelson will hopefully avoid a second year slump this year.

Jordy Nelson will hopefully avoid a second year slump this year.

His blocking skills were also a very positive note from Nelson’s rookie season and it is a trait that should give him even more playing time this year. When I watch him play, I see a younger Brandon Marshall. He goes up and fights for balls with his huge frame at 6′3″, 217 lbs. and fights like a tight end to gain extra yards.

If Nelson does not win the job, James Jones will be the reason why.

After an outstanding rookie season that saw him haul in 47 passes for 676 yards and a couple of touchdowns, injuries slowed his second year to a screeching hault. Combined with rumors of him falling out of favor with the coaching staff, his season was limited to ten games that saw him catch just 20 passes and score once.

In week 15 against Jacksonville, Jones racked up 132 yards on five catches and began to show his old form from two seasons ago. Early returns have been all positive for him, and even if he does not beat out Nelson he will be a heck of a fourth wide receiver.

The front-runner to grab the fifth and probably last wideout spot this year is Ruvell Martin. Despite just thirty one catches over the last two years, Martin has been a clutch target for his quarterbacks and is an above average blocker.

Brett Swain and undrafted free agent Jamarko Simmons both have shots at making the team and it would not be crazy to think the Packers would keep six receivers on their roster if someone warranted in a spot. As it goes for these five, they make up the deepest corps in the league.

They have great chemistry with each other and love whenever someone succeeds. No one in the group has an ego bigger than the team and they all strive for greatness. They work hard at their craft and are developing with Rodgers every day.

Training camp will tell a lot of the story on just how good this group can be along with running back Ryan Grant and tight ends Donald Lee and the rising Jermichael Finley, but all signs point to this group having another stellar year for the high-powered Packers offense.

July 26, 2009 Posted by | Football, Green Bay Packers, NFL | , , , | 1 Comment

Matt Holliday to the Cardinals: A’s Win the Deal

Friday, All-Star left fielder Matt Holliday was traded from the Oakland Athletics to the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for three minor-league prospects. It was a huge addition for the first place Cardinals, who are trying to win the tight National League Central division.

In his first two games for the Cards, Holliday has connected on four and two hits and added RBIs in each of the games.

The short-term results of the trade show that the Cardinals came out on top in the deal, receiving a No. 4 hitter who will bat behind Albert Pujols and make their lineup all that more dangerous. Along with Mark DeRosa, the Red Birds have traded themselves into a situation that makes them the sure-fire favorites to come out on top in the division.

However, the Athletics wil be the team to come out in the end, receiving three players all capable of reaching The Show in the near future.

The main part of the deal was third baseman Brett Wallace, ranked as one of the Cardinals’ top prospects this year. In 62 games this year with Triple A Memphis, Wallace is batting .293 with six home runs and 19 RBI and a .346 on-base percentage.

Matt Holliday makes the Cards front runners in the division, but are they contenders?

Matt Holliday makes the Cards front runners in the division, but are they contenders?

Drafted 13th overall in the 2008 Draft, Wallace has shot up the ranks and is expected to reach the Majors by the end of next year.

His body and conditioning are somewhat in question and some believe he will not be able to stay at the hot corner his whole career. Scouts say his athleticism is better than his body would suggest, but the video I have seen of him makes me believe otherwise.

Hitting from the left side of the plate makes him even more valuable and his work ethic seems to be all there. After trading starting third baseman Jack Hannahan earlier this year, Wallace should find himself in the starting lineup next year for the A’s.

Eric Chavez’s back will probably prevent him from ever being the same type of player he once was, so Wallace looks to be a very solid addition.

In addition to Wallace, the Athletics also picked up right fielder Shane Peterson and right handed pitcher Clayton Mortensen.

Peterson, 21, was the Cardinals’ second-round pick in the same 2008 Draft that Wallace was selected in. Recently promoted to Double A, Peterson has also done well for himself (.284 batting average and .33 on-base percentage) and has great potential.

The pitcher traded in the deal, Mortensen, is 24 years old and is the only player that has seen time in the Majors. As a supplemental pick in the 2007 Draft, he was 7-6 in Triple A this year with a 4.37 ERA and a 2.41 K/BB ratio. Both those numbers are down from last year, and if there is any team that loves young pitching, it’s Billy Beane and the A’s.

What the Cardinals receive in the trade is more than likely a rental for a half a year as Holliday is eligible to become a free agent next year. Whether or not he stays with the Cards after this year, they still receive an excellent hitter that will make the Cards’ lineup a force.

Slugger Albert Pujols leads the league in walks and has had little help after he gets on base.

In a division that has been mediocre at best, the Cardinals hold a half-game lead on the Cubs, but two other teams (the Brewers and Astros) are within two-and-a-half games. With a solid starting rotation and a bullpen that has gotten the job done, the Cardinals have now filled their last major void in a bat behind Pujols.

While anything can happen once a team makes it to the playoffs, the general consensus is that the winner of the National League Central will play the Dodgers in the first round and have little shot at advancing in the second season.

The A’s, currently 17 games back of the first place Angels, are in re-building mode after failing to compete in what was supposed to be a very winnable division. The trade for Holliday last season was made by Beane and the A’s to boost their lineup, but the stars never aligned for either party.

Instead of getting two draft picks in losing Holliday to free agency next year, the A’s basically received the same compensation a half a year early, plus Mortensen. Known for sporting the best young players in the game, the A’s get three very good players that are projected to hit the majors in a ballpark near you very soon.

Unless the Cards have plans to re-sign Holliday and make him a Cardinal for a long while, this trade makes little sense. Wallace is going to make one heck of a third baseman, something that the Cardinals have but could use an upgrade on.

If they shift Mark DeRosa to second base or right field and put Skip Schumaker in the other spot, third base opens up right away.

Troy Glaus will become a free agent after this year and is still recovering from shoulder surgery that has caused him to miss the whole year.

As I have said the whole year, if a team in the NL Central believes they have a shot to win the pennant, then go ahead and make a move to put yourself in a better situation to win. However, it is my opinion that no team in the Central is in “win now” mode and needs to stay put at the deadline.

What the Cardinals have now done is put themselves in a very tough spot if they do not win this year. It is true they have a solid core of young talent in Rick Ankiel, Ryan Ludwick, Brendan Ryan, and Colby Rasmus, among others, to go along with Pujols and DeRosa.

But if the Holliday trade backfires and he continues to play just average baseball and proves that his stats in Colorado were somewhat inflated, they are in a very tough situation and have lost out on two, maybe three prospects.

While they will receive the two draft picks for Holliday being a Type A free agent, Wallace and Peterson were already proven picks.

Time will tell whether or not the Cardinals made the right move and while they are now the front-runners in the NL Central, that does not say all that much. On the other hand, the A’s have made good on their trade for Holliday from last year and picked up a darn good third baseman in the process.

July 25, 2009 Posted by | Baseball, MLB, St. Louis Cardinals | , , | Leave a comment

Packers Sign Fullback Rookie Quinn Johnson

Quinn Johnson will be a great lead blocker for Ryan Grant next year.

Quinn Johnson will be a great lead blocker for Ryan Grant next year.

Wednesday general manager Ted Thompson announced that the Green Packers had come to terms on a deal with fullback Quinn Johnson.  The first of two fifth round draft choices for the Packers, Johnson started 15 times for Louisiana State while racking up 34 yards and five touchdowns on the ground and 54 yards receiving on five catches.

As the lead blocker for the Tigers, Johnson was known as a brusier that acted almost as another offensive lineman.  Johnson was rated as the second best fullback in last year’s draft behind Syracuse’s Tony Fiammetta and will have a chance to earn a roster spot and playing time for the Packers next season.

Last year, the Packers kept two fullbacks on their roster in Korey Hall and John Kuhn. Their play was less than stellar as the Packers ranked 17th in rushing and 24th in rushing touchdowns.

While it is unlikely Hall, Kuhn, and Johnson all make the squad this year, the competition is good for all three and should make for an exciting training camp.

With the signing of Johnson, six of the Packers’ eight picks have now been signed.  The only two remaining unsigned picks are both first rounders, B.J. Raji and Clay Matthews III.  Training camp starts next Friday, August 1st.

July 22, 2009 Posted by | Football, Green Bay Packers, NFL | , , | Leave a comment

The Stretch Run Is Now for the Milwaukee Brewers

While today’s date of July 21st means that there are over ten weeks left in baseball’s regular season and that division races will not heat up for about another two months, the Milwaukee Brewers’ most important stretch of the summer is starting right now.  Over the course of the next five weeks, the Brewers will face the Pirates nine times, the Nationals eight times, the Braves three times, the Padres six times, the Astros six times, the Reds three times, and the Dodgers three times.

Do you know what the similarity between all those teams is, outside of the Dodgers?

As of last night, none of them had a record over .500.

It’s an outstanding chance for the Brewers, who have the easiest schedule of any National League team, to gain ground on the rest of the division and have a solid cushion come September.

Over this span of a month and a week, the Brewers’ lackluster pitching staff will have a chance to dominate against some of the worst offenses in the National League.  The best offense they will face is the Atlanta Braves, who rank just seventh in the National League in runs scored.

The Brewers’ offense will need to come around and give the pitching staff extra run support if they want to succeed in this stretch.  In that span, they will face four pitching staffs in the top ten in ERA in the National League, but also face the Padres (15th) and the Nationals (16th).  Let’s take a look at each of the matchups the Brewers will be taking on and how they can fare.

Pittsburgh Pirates: 41-51

The Brewers lost last night’s game to the Pirates, which ended a drought of over a year that the Bucs had not come out on top.  In the remaining eight games, five will be played at PNC Park and the other three will be at Miller Park.  I believe the Brewers should be able to take three of five on the road from the struggling Pirates and should be able to sweep one of the worst road teams in baseball at Miller Park.  Six out of eight wins is easily doable for a Brewers team that has had the Pirates’ number for quite some time.

Washington Nationals: 26-66

The Brewers will play a pair of four-game series against the worst team in baseball in this span and I do not think it is a stretch to say the Brewers can take seven of these games.  There is nothing positive going for this ballclub right now and they do not do anything well.  The Brewers will send their top four in the rotation at the Nationals when the two teams meet at Miller Park.  Washington has been swept an unbelievable ten times this year and has won a series just six times all year.  Seven out of eight wins might sound crazy for the Brewers right now, but it could happen pretty easily.

Atlanta Braves: 47-46

The Braves are playing very well right now and are trying to catch up to the red-hot Phillies in the NL East.  Unfortuantely for the Brewers, the Braves will send their three best pitchers to the hill in Miller Park next week in Tommy Hanson, Derek Lowe, and Javier Vazquez..   Atlanta has been decent on the road this year and they are a team the Brewers have had trouble with this year.  I’d like to see two wins here but think the Brewers will come out with just one.

San Diego Padres: 37-56

Had it not been for the Nationals’ historically bad season, the San Diego Padres would be the laughing stock of the National League.  They currently sit 22 games out of first place and, despite playing average baseball at home, can not do anything on the road.  For the three games at Miller Park, look for the Brewers to come out playing great baseball against one of the worst pitching staffs in baseball.  Four of six games going to the Brewers looks to be a good estimate against a pretty bad Padres team.

Houston Astros: 47-46

The Astros are playing very good baseball right now and are tied with the Brewers in third place as it stands right now.  After taking four out of six games in Houston, the Brewers will play the Astros three times at Miller Park and go back to Minute Maid Park again for three.  With the ‘Stros playing good ball right now, I could see a split coming in the six games these two teams will play.  Houston pitching has been picking it up lately and will keep them in close games.

Cincinnati Reds: 44-48

The three games the Brewers play against the Reds in this span will all come at home, which should bode well for the hometown Brewers.  Milwaukee was 4-2 against the Reds at Miller Park and should be able to take two of three from the Reds when they come to town.

Assuming the Brewers are able to take one game from the Dodgers in their three game set, I can see the Brewers going 24-13 in this span, give or take a game.  Just because the talent level is down does not mean the Brewers will be able to sit back and relax.  They are playing terrible baseball at the moment and will need to pick things up if they want to have a chance.  However, when they play their brand of baseball and are on, runs like these are more than capable of happening.  24 wins over this five week span would put the Brewers at 71-59 and likely in first place.

The Cubs will play the Phillies six times, the Dodgers four times, the Rockies four times, and the (hopefully healthy) Mets three times before September.  The Cardinals will play the Phillies three times and the Dodgers seven times in that span as well.

The race should be tight because it seems like none of the three teams wants to gain any ground on the other.  But the Brewers need to strike now while the competition is not hot because in September, things heat up quickly.  In the season’s last month, Milwaukee will play 29 of their last 32 games against teams with a record currently over .500.

If the Brewers are not up at least two games by the end of August, there will be no point in watching in September.

July 21, 2009 Posted by | Baseball, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Houston Astros, Milwaukee Brewers, MLB, Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals | , , , | 2 Comments

Quick Random Thought on the Milwaukee Brewers

Call me crazy or call me in a bad mood, but the Milwaukee Brewers are not contenders this year.  I’m not talking about being a contender for the World Series or even the National League pennant.  No, I am talking about being in the race to even come close to winning the National League Central.

You might be asking why so let me tell you.

The Brewers have the worst starting pitching in the National League Central and I really do not even think it is close.  First off, we do not have an ace on our staff (Wainwright, Lilly, Oswalt, Cueto, Duke) and at best have a number two pitcher (Gallardo), a number three pitcher (Looper), a number four pitcher (Suppan), a number five pitcher (Parra) and a pitcher that has no place in a major leauge rotation (Burns).  If you look at it that way, each one of those pitchers is being asked to bump up a spot and act as something more than they are.  Maybe that’s the reason all but Gallardo are having awful years.

Here’s another reason why we have no shot.  Outside of Felipe Lopez, Ryan Braun, and Prince Fielder, our offense is as worthless as a toothbrush to a guy with no teeth.  J.J. Hardy has one good week for every five weeks of pathetic late swings and misses.  Mike Cameron started red-hot then went absolutely ice cold, picked it up recently and is now back to earth.  Corey Hart really hasn’t been as good as people are saying and Casey McGehee is more than likely a flash in the pan.

Craig Counsell has been asked to play every day since Rickie Weeks went down and his production has gone way down.  It’s been great that he has filled in during such an important time for the Brewers but it’s really starting to fade on me.  Jason Kendall has actually been OK but I have more power than he does.

In the bullpen, someone needs to let Seth McClung know that any time he would like to get his head out of his rear end would be fine with me.  The 10.13 ERA and 0-2 record in July has been great, pal.  And getting a pitch off before Ken Macha could take you out of a game that you completely blew was real classy.  Then not looking at him when he took you out of the game?  Nice.

Look, we have a shot to win this division because the Cubs use whiffle bats on offense and the Cardinals are using kids off the street to bat behind Albert Pujols.  But when I take off the homer goggles that every sports fan in America has for their respective team, the Brewers have A TON of holes that does not add up to a division championship.

Hopefully the arrival of Felipe Lopez (four hits and a walk tonight) and a potential trade of Roy Halladay will change things, but wow do the Brewers look bad as of late.  Done with the rant, have a good one Milwaukee.

July 20, 2009 Posted by | Baseball, Milwaukee Brewers, MLB | , , , | 2 Comments

Brewers Acquire Felipe Lopez From Diamondbacks

After splitting a four-game series against the Cincinnati Reds to open up the second half of the season, Doug Melvin and the Milwaukee Brewers made a splash in the National League Central race as they traded for second baseman Felipe Lopez from the Diamondbacks.

Lopez, 29, will be placed in the leadoff spot in the batting order right away to give the Brewers an outstanding bat at the top of the order.  With a batting average of .301 and an on-base percentage of .364, the move will allow Jason Kendall to move back down to the eight spot in the batting order.  Corey Hart, who also saw at-bats in the leadoff spot, will move back down to the six or seven spot that should give more consistency to the lineup.

Hart batted .250 in the nine games he led off, Kendall was batting .242 there, and Craig Counsell hit .267 batting first.  Lopez will give the Brewers an every day player that can lead off and get on for sluggers Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder.

Another plus in the trade is that utility man Craig Counsell will go back to his “fill-in” role where he can get more days off and stay fresher in the second half of the season.  Casey McGehee will take over responsibilities at third base as prospect Mat Gamel is expected to be sent back to Nashville.

Lopez is able to play second base, shortstop, or third base and was a reason that general manager Doug Melvin pulled the trigger on the trade.

“Felipe is an accomplished veteran player who gives us versatility at three infield positions,” Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said. “He has been a very productive player at the top of the order with respect to both batting average and on-base percentage.”

Felipe Lopez is an excellent addition to the top of the Brewers' lineup.

Felipe Lopez is an excellent addition to the top of the Brewers' lineup.

The trade marks the second season in a row that Melvin has traded prospects for a one-year rental.  Last year, C.C. Sabathia came over to the Brew Crew in a trade that sent Matt LaPorta, among others, to Cleveland.  With just one year left on his contract and a surplus of middle infielders on the roster, Lopez will more than likely walk away after this year.

This year’s prospects traded to the Diamondbacks included AAA outfielder Cole Gillespie and Class A RHP Roque Mercedes.

Gillespie, 25, has spent four years in the Brewers minor league system and was ranked as high as ninth by Baseball America on the Brewers’ prospects list.  In his career, he has a .281 average with 42 home runs and 208 RBI’s in the 398 games he has appeared him.  He was struggling this year in AAA Nashville, hitting just .242 with seven home runs and 25 runs batted in.

Mercedes holds a career record of 20-22 with nine saves and a 4.50 ERA, but at just 22 still has a decent amount of potential in him.  He has pitched well this year with a 1-1 record and 1.08 ERA in 29 appearances for Class A Brevard County.

The Brewers currently stand in third place in their division, three games behind the St. Louis Cardinals.  In a division that is completely up for grabs, any move could be a difference maker and general manager Doug Melvin is hoping this will be it.

July 19, 2009 Posted by | Baseball, Milwaukee Brewers, MLB | , , | 2 Comments

Grading The Milwaukee Bucks: Summer League Edition

With the games completed and recapped, it is now time to grade out the 2009 Milwaukee Bucks roster.  It was an important summer for the young squad that needed a lot of questions answered during the five-game span in Las Vegas.  Let’s see how it all went down.

Jodie Meeks, SG: Drafted in the second round, 41st overall, Meeks was expected to fight for a roster spot behind shooting guards Michael Redd and Charlie Bell.

In order to do this, he was going to have to shoot lights out and show he was capable of playing defense at an NBA level despite his slightly undersized frame at 6’4″.  Well, After five games in the Summer League, it is looking more and more like Meeks was a huge steal in the draft and should have no problem making the roster.

During the five games, Meeks averaged a team-high 19 points while shooting a blistering 55.7 percent from the field.  The junior from Kentucky showed a complete range of shooting as just eight of his 39 field goals were from behind the arc.  Known for being a pure shooter in college, scouts wondered whether or not he could contribute in other areas of the game.

Defensively, Meeks had a steal in all five games and, from what I saw, did not look overmatched at all.  He only averaged 2.2 rebounds per game, but that number did not need to be any higher than that.

Originally, I thought Meeks could be the second coming of Eddie House for the Bucks, but not I believe Meeks could be something special to come out of this draft.  He reminds me a lot of Michael Redd who was also a pure shooter in college selected in the second round.  In fact, Meeks (41st) and Redd (43rd) were taken by the Bucks in almost the exact same spot.

For whatever the Summer League is worth, which admittedly lacks on the defense, Meeks proved he is here to stay.  GRADE: A

Brandon Jennings, PG: Despite Meeks’ hot shooting, most eyes were on the 10th selection in this year’s NBA draft.  Many wondered how Jennings would play in his first “American basketball” game in over a year.  After struggling in Europe in his only year there, Jennings showed that he is fully capable of playing and succeeding in the NBA.

After a shaky first game, Jennings ended the summer averaging 14.6 points and 8.2 assists.  He looked blazing fast in the games as one scout said he “was the fastest player on the court, with or without the ball”.  He showed glimpses of Steve Nash on his passing ability, Deron Williams on his range from deep, Chris Paul with his ability to get to the lane and finish with a floater, and a little bit of Allen Iverson in his pick-pocketing abilities playing on the ball.

Brandon Jennings showed a lot of promise this week in Las Vegas.

Brandon Jennings showed a lot of promise this week in Las Vegas.

Jennings will have to shoot better in the regular season (37.9 percent) but in a shot-happy summer league, that number is not completely accurate.  His turnovers were also up at 4.2 per game but his passing abilities were not questioned during the week.

He is still raw and will need some work, but after a week it looks like the Bucks made nicely on their gamble of Jennings.  GRADE: B+

Joe Alexander, SF: Many believe that general manager John Hammond decided to trade Richard Jefferson to 1) save money and 2) put in on Joe Alexander to become a starting small forward in the NBA.

Over the week, Alexander showed flashes of talent but also played out of control at times.  What this means is he might be a year or two from completely breaking out but will need to harness his athleticism and turn it into a basketball player.

Alexander averaged 16.6 points and 6.4 rebounds to go along with 1.4 assists and 1.4 blocks per contest.  The number that jumps out to me is the rebounding display that Alexander put on.  In the games I watched, he positioned himself well and was aggressive on the glass.

He shot just 39.7 percent from the floor but went to the basket strong, averaging 7.6 free throws per game. He also turned the ball over just five times in the 160 minutes he played.  GRADE: B

Amir Johnson, PF: Everyone in Milwaukee and their grandmothers are expecting a breakout season for Amir Johnson this year, but last week was not a good start.

Johnson really had just one game that could be considered a plus, occurring against the Bulls when he went for 17 points and eight rebounds.

Fouls were a problem for Johnson all week, however.  In the four games he played in, he racked up eight, six, six, and seven fouls in each of the contests.  It looks as though he will need to add more strength to survive in the NBA post.

Offensively, he shot 60 percent from the field and averaged 10.5 points per game.  He is smooth and finesse down low and can really get up as seen in the alley-oop dunks thrown from Jennings.  He reminds me a lot of a Tyrus Thomas that will play more in the post.

Johnson had his highs and lows during the week, but much more will be expected out of him over the course of the season.  GRADE: B-

Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, F

I was very excited going into the summer to see if Mbah a Moute could build on his fantastic 2008 campaign.  Unfortuantely, he struggled to find his rhythm over the week and did not improve much.  For the week, he averaged 7.8 points and 6.4 rebounds but failed to stand out amongst everyone else.

It seems as though we can expect much of the same from Mbah a Moute next year, which isn’t neccesarily a bad thing but just not a better thing.  GRADE: C

Will McDonald, C

Outside of the starting five for the Bucks, no one else made much of a splash.  McDonald was the “best of the rest”, averaging 5.3 points and 4.3 rebounds in an average of 16 minutes in the three games he appeared him.  He is a longshot to make the team but had a decent week.  GRADE: D

July 18, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, Milwaukee Bucks, NBA | , , | Leave a comment

Recapping the Milwaukee Bucks Summer League

Following draft night on June 25th, Bucks’ general manager John Hammond must have been excited about the upcoming year.  After trading last year’s most consistent starter in Richard Jefferson and letting fan favorite and starting power forward Charlie Villanueva walk away, it was clear the team was moving in a different and younger direction.

The additions of Amir Johnson as well as Brandon Jennings and Jodie Meeks through the draft gave the front office a positive attitude heading into the future.  Throw in Joe Alexander, an athletic forward who showed promise and a lot of athleticism at time last year, and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute from last year’s draft class, and this was a team worth getting excited about.

A week and five summer games later, Hammond must be feeling A LOT more excited.

The Bucks finished up their Summer League mini-season Thursday with a last second loss to the Toronto Raptors.  It marked the fifth game in Las Vegas for the Bucks who finished a very respectable four and one on the trip.  Here’s an entire recap of the week that was.

Game One: Bucks 65, Mavs 59

Both the Bucks and Mavs showed a good amount of rust in the first game for each team, with the Bucks pulling away down the stretch.  Jodie Meeks and Joe Alexander led the Bucks with 14 points apiece and Brandon Jennings put in ten points of his own.

Both teams matched up fairly evenly the whole game, but the big difference was at the charity stripe where the Mavs shot just 56.5 percent (13-23) compared to the Bucks 75 percent (18-24).

Game Two: Bucks 80, Cavaliers 69

The two teams stayed neck and neck in the first half before the Bucks went on a 25-3 run in the third quarter to pull away from the Cavs in the second Summer League game.  The star of the night was Brandon Jennings who had 23 points and eight assists to go along with five steals on the night.

The Bucks played arguably their most efficient game of the summer, turning the ball over just ten times compared to 23 Cavalier turnovers.  Joe Alexander struggled from the field for the second straight game while Jodie Meeks shot lights out for 16 points, including eight in the decisive third quarter.

Game Three: Bucks 91, Kings 86

Joe Alexander finally broke out of his shooting slump to score 24 points on eight-of-13 shooting while adding a team-high seven rebounds and Brandon Jennings showed off an array of talent that led to 13 points, 14 assists, and seven steals.

Jennings, the tenth overall pick in the NBA draft, improved his statline for the third straight game as he seems get more and more comfortable with the NBA game flow.   It was the best game offensively for the Bucks who won their third straight game of the summer.

Jodie Meeks continued his tear with 20 points on eight of 12 shooting.

The Bucks matched up against two familiar faces in Marquette’s Wesley Matthews and Jerel McNeal.  Matthews poured in 14 points while McNeal added two of his own.

Game Four: Bucks 87, Bulls 72

The Bucks won their fourth consecutive game of the Summer League in their most spread out fashion as four players scored in double figures.  Amir Johnson posted his best line of the week with 17 points and eight rebounds against some pretty stout talent in James Johnson and Taj Gibson.

Brandon Jennings posted 14 points and nine assists against the border rivals and Jodie Meeks went for 16 points.

The Bucks led for the majority of the game which allowed reserve Will McDonald to log 18 minutes of his own.  He made the most of it, scoring nine points and hauling in five assists.

Game Five: Raptors 84, Bucks 83

The Bucks were one shot by Quincy Douby away from ending the Summer League with a perfect 5-0 record, but fell to the Raptors in the league finale.

Jodie Meeks stayed red hot this summer, scoring 29 points on 12-23 shooting, including four from downtown.  Joe Alexander finished up nicely, scoring 14 points on 7-14 shooting for the Bucks.

Brandon Jennings struggled to take care of the ball as he committed eight turnovers, but finished the game with 13 points and seven assists.

Meeks was awarded first team All-Summer League honors after his performance in the game and wowed many Bucks’ front office personell.

Tomorrow player breakdowns can be found right here.

July 16, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, Milwaukee Bucks, NBA | , , | Leave a comment

LIVE In-Game All Star Game Updates

For the first time ever, Strotty’s Blog will be live blogging during the 2009 All Star Game in Busch Stadium in St. Louis.  Here’s to hoping it goes well.  All times are central standard time.

7:05: Welcome to Strotty’s Blog Live Blogging Updates in what hopes to be the first of many live updates.  I hope you have fun watching the game and keep updated on my blog as the Midsummer Classic goes on.

7:10: I have to say it was pretty cool watching President Obama talk to all of the players in the clubhouse.  Pretty amazing when you think of the spectrum all of those guys are on.  Players are being introduced right now.  Biggest cheer of the night easily goes to Pujols, while the stadium was primarly boos when Ted Lilly was introduced.  No comment.

7:26: The presidents doing the introduction for the game tonight was pretty awesome.  Really makes you think about who the real all stars are.  Now it’s time to play ball!  Here’s my prediction:  National League jumps out to a big lead before the American League overtakes it.  A late push by the National League gives them a win for the first time in 11 years.

7:38: Primarily cheers from the crowd when President Obama came out but I could hear some boos as well.  Fox’s outstanding camera work didn’t let me see if he made it to Pujols’ mitt but I guess he did.  Nice job, Prez.  Can we play yet?

7:47: American League definitely sporting better pitching, but I’ll take the National League’s lineup seven days a week.  Ironic that Lincecum gets the first pitch tonight after being the only player not to participate in last year’s game.  Yeah he was sick but still.

7:53: Didn’t realize just how impressive Ichiro’s resume JUST in the MLB is.  Braun’s in right field even though he was the leading vote getter in the outfield?  I guess he has the best arm out of him, Victorino, and Ibanez but still weird to see him out there.  Ichiro single and Jeter gets hit.  Here we go again, NL.

7:59: Ouch.  Pujols makes an error that costs the National League a run and Hamilton just put another one on the board with a fielder’s choice.  Michael Young grounds out to end the inning but the AL goes up 2-0 after half an inning.  The “Stay Forever Young” Pepsi commerical is just awesome.

8:07: 1-2-3 for the National League in the first.  Pretty impressive when you realize that 1-2-3 is Hanley-Utley-Pujols.  Lincecum is out for the second inning and is going up against Roy Halladay, who is wearing Evan Longoria’s helmet with no logo.  Fouled off two fastballs but looked absolutely silly on a curveball.  Moving on.

8:18: President Obama and I now agree on two things: gun control and not cheering for the Cubs.

8:24: Yadier Molina just tied the game up and is it obvious that Tim McCarver really doesn’t like Barack Obama? Oh, and Prince Fielder, the most dangerous pinch hitter in the history of the game, just gave the NL a lead.  Heir to the throne does it again…

8:32: Pujols does his best Hoover vacuum impression that inning and Ryan Franklin goes 1-2-3 in the top of the third.  Mark Buehrle will start the third inning for the AL.

8:37: I find it really ironic that the fastest paced pitcher in the game (Buehrle) is going up against the slowest paced hitter (Braun).  Haha, Buehrle was looking quite antsy on the mound.  Alas, Braun grounds out to shortstop and Buehrle goes 1-2-3 in less than four minutes.  Too good.

8:41: Dan Haren is this year’s most underrated pitcher.  2.01 ERA and .188 BAA?  Unbelievable.  Out of chips and salsa. What to do, what to do…

8:47: As much as I love pitcher’s duels during the regular season, I want to see some offense and there’s not a whole lot going on right now.  Hopefully Ibanez and Wright will change that next inning against the Royals’ Zach Greinke.

8:54: Just saw Prince Fielder absolutely destroy some Cubs’ catcher on a commercial for “The Bigs 2” videogame.  That pretty much sold me on the game…

9:01: Chase Utley just made the play of the night so far getting Crawford out at second on a groundball from Ichiro.  That got me thinking…would Crawford on first and Ichiro batting be the hardest double play to turn on any two guys in the game?  Joe Buck just said that 30 players are making their first all-star appearance.  Bud Selig should be VERY happy with that number.

9:04: Question: Does anyone go to the opposite field better than Joe Mauer?  Answer: No.  Tied up at three as Jeter scores for the AL.

9:11: End of five innings and we are all tied up.  With both team’s pitching staffs probably deciding the game, my guess is that the AL comes out on top.

9:14: Trevor Hoffman comes in and gets Adam Jones on two pitches.  Only Hoffman can make an All Star look silly on a 79 mph pitch.  Love him.  Check that, five pitches and three outs.  GOTTA love him.

9:22: Who was the creepy guy that Fox just showed right before Justin Upton grounded out to shortstop?  Either way, we’re done with six and all knotted up.  Both teams still have a good amount of pitchers so I doubt Maddon and Manuel will be sweating this one out.

9:34: Carl Crawford makes the absolute play of the game, robbing Rockies’ outfielder Brad Hawpe of a go-ahead home run in left.  Tejada also smacks one to the warning track but just a long out.  Home field in the World Series comin’ down to the end…love it.

9:44: Granderson looks so good when he swings the bat.  His one-out triple has the American League in good shape.  Victor Martinez draws the intentional pass to set up the double play ball for Adam Jones.

9:48: Adam Jones, who has no reason to care which league gets home field advantage in the Fall Classic, breaks the tie with a sacrifice fly to deep right field.  4-3 and now Heath Bell is on the line for the loss.

9:56: Joe Nathan has nasty stuff.

10:01: Orlando Hudson with an RBI single off of Joe Nathan has Adrian Gonzalez to third with two outs.  The St. Louis native Ryan Howard steps to the plate with a chance to tie or take the lead.  This time it counts!

10:08: Howard swings and misses at a pitch that went 60 feet, 2 inches and the threat is over.  Sandman in half an inning and the drought should be 12 years running.  So close NL!

10:12: K-Rod goes 1-2-3 in nice fashion and now the NL has three outs left against Mariano Rivera who has not given up a run or walk in seven All Star Game innings.  He also has three saves.  He is also not human.

10:21: Surprise, surpirse.  The AL wins again.  If anyone stayed with me through the three hours and 16 minutes, thanks a lot!  Guess game three of the World Series at at Miller Park is fine!

July 14, 2009 Posted by | All Star Game, Baseball, MLB | , , , | 1 Comment

Brewers Will Be Well Represented During All-Star Festivities

Over the next three days, Busch Stadium in St. Louis will be called home to the best of the best as players take part in the Futures Game, the Home Run Derby, and the 80th All Star Game.  In years past, one or two Milwaukee Brewers would make the trip to the Midsummer Classic while the rest of the team took their extended vacation while watching the game on the television.

This year, the Brewers will be one of eight teams to have a participant in all three of the events.

On Sunday, AAA-Nashville shortstop Alcides Escobar and A-Wisconsin second baseman Brett Lawrie will participate in the Futures Game to show off their talent and give Brewers fans a taste of what is to come in both the near future and distant future.

Escobar was called up last September when the Brewers’ roster moved to 40 and went one for two with a double.  In AAA Nashville this year, he has seen his hitting vastly improve as he enters the game with a .296 batting average with three home runs and 28 RBI’s.  He has also contributed 61 runs and 30 stolen bases in the 87 games he has played in this year.  Known for his outstanding glove in the field, Escobar is waiting quietly in the wings behind J.J. Hardy at shortstop.

Lawrie is farther away from The Bigs than Escobar but is showing signs that he could get there soon enough. Playing for the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers this year, he is batting .269 with nine home runs and 44 RBI’s.  Considering he is just 19 years old and was moved from catcher to second base in the middle of the year, Lawrie has done pretty well for himself.

Escobar, from Venezuela, and Lawrie, from Canada, will play on the World Roster against the U.S. Roster in the matchup Sunday.  The Brewers have had a very good history with players that have appeared in the Futures Game that includes Ryan Braun (2006), Prince Fielder (2004), Rickie Weeks (2004), Corey Hart (2002), J.J. Hardy (2003), and Yovani Gallardo (2006).

The next night, the fireworks will fly as the Home Run Derby takes place.  Contestants in this year’s derby include Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard, Adrian Gonzalez, Brandon Inge, Joe Mauer, Carlos Pena, Nelson Cruz, and Milwaukee’s own Prince Fielder.

Hopefully Prince Fielder will fare better in this year's Home Run Derby.

Hopefully Prince Fielder will fare better in this year's Home Run Derby.

This year, Fielder has torched opposing pitchers for 22 home runs and 78 RBI’s.  His slugging percentage is a gaudy .616 and he is getting on base at a .438 mark.  This year’s derby will be Fielder’s second of his career.  Back in 2006, Fielder hit three home runs in the first round but did not advance.

This will be the third straight year that a Brewer will take place in the Home Run Derby, as last year Ryan Braun advanced to the semi-finals hitting 14 home runs in the two rounds he participated in.

Some skeptics believe that participants in the derby mess up their swing after participating, which has led some of the bigger names to pass on the competition.  Braun, who had hit 23 home runs before the All Star Break, hit just 14 after the break in 2008.  In 2007, Fielder hit 29 home runs before the derby, but connected on just 21 after.

Either way, Fielder has found a new stroke to his swing that has his right elbow lower, and the benefits have been easily seen.

Tuesday, Fielder will join fellow teammates Ryan Braun and Trevor Hoffman in the 80th All Star Game.  Braun will start in left field after receiving the most votes in the National League outfield and Fielder will be a reserve behind slugger Albert Pujols.

Hoffman was added to the roster yesterday after Dodgers closer Jonathon Broxton was ruled out of the game due to a toe injury.  It will be Hoffman’s seventh appearance as Fielder and Braun make their second appearances.

Even Rollie Fingers, who played four years in a Brewers jersey, will be participating in the always entertaining Celebrity Softball Game.

All things combined, the Milwaukee Brewers will be represented very well and will look to bring home some hardware as well as a good representation of the ballclub and organization.

July 12, 2009 Posted by | All Star Game, Baseball, Milwaukee Brewers, MLB | , , , , | 1 Comment

Dunked On or Not, LeBron James and Nike Right to Take Tapes

Last week, Xavier’s redshirt sophomore Jordan Crawford was participating in an after-practice scrimmage at the LeBron James Skills Academy in Akron, Ohio.  Crawford, formerly of Indiana, had an outstanding week of drills and games that NBA scouts alike were able to watch and take note of.  The highlight of his week really came when he supposedly dunked on LeBron James who had tried to block Crawford on the flush.

The dunk occurred 20 minutes into the two-hour scrimmage, and after the dunk, the players continued playing their game as usual.  The dunk came to light when it was revealed that Nike officials had confiscated two different tapes of the dunk and the rest of the scrimmage.

According to the Nike officials, the reason they took the tapes had nothing to do with the facial that LeBron received via the 20-year-old.  The officials were quoted as saying:

“Unfortunately, for the first time in four years, two journalists did not respect our ‘no videotaping’ policy at an after-hours pick-up game Monday evening following the LeBron James Skills Academy.”

Ryan Miller, one of the journalists that was filming the game, claims that Nike never told him about the policy and he felt he had done nothing wrong.  Whether Miller was confused by what Nike had told him or whether he was told something incorrect, the fact remains that no videotaping is allowed after the practices.

Jordan Crawford might have dunked on LBJ, but rules are rules when it comes to videotaping.

Jordan Crawford might have dunked on LBJ, but rules are rules when it comes to videotaping.

It isn’t like Nike made up the rule after the dunk had occurred so that the tapes had to be taken away.  Think about it: have you ever seen footage of college players and pro players taking part in a scrimmage?  The Academy has been running for four years and no one ever misunderstood the rules or filmed during practice.

I’m not going to be blind in knowing that there’s a chance LeBron tried to save his behind by not letting the tape get out.  Can you imagine how many views that footage would get on Youtube?  However, from a legal standpoint, LeBron and Nike were also trying to save their behinds because Miller and the other camera man were breaking the rules.

Rules are rules and unfortuantely Miller broke them and was reprimanded for it.  It just so happened that LeBron was dunked on during the rule breaking. In an era of Youtube, Twitter, and cell phones with video capability, recruiting violations can happen anywhere and at any time.  With high school prospects in attendance, videotaping was taken very seriously by Nike and they acted on it.

Had this happened during a time when filming was allowed, there’s a great chance (can’t be positive) that LeBron would have gotten a chuckle out of it when he saw it air everywhere on ESPN.

The other problem I have with how this is all being handled is when LBJ is compared to MJ in this situation.  Everywhere I have read and people I have talked to tell me that there is no way Jordan would have let something like this happen.  That he would have taken his poster dunk like a man and wouldn’t have tried to hide like LeBron did.

I realize that wearing number 23 and number nine in the Olympics and just about EVERYTHING else has LeBron compared to Jordan, but there’s no way these two players can be compared in this stance.  As was mentioned before, Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, and any other form of communication has made it possible for everything to be reported.

Had this happened to Jordan in 1990 in a gym in Akron, Ohio, it might have made the back page of the Akron Beacson Journal sports section.

Does a guy like LeBron really need to save his ego and rep?  Did he think that when people saw this dunk they would put their Cavs jerseys on eBay in exchange for a number 55 Xavier jersey?  I don’t think so.

July 11, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, LeBron James, NBA | , , | 2 Comments

The Five Most Important Milwaukee Bucks Players This Summer

The Milwaukee Bucks currently stand at 1-0 in this year’s Summer League after a 65-59 victory over the Dallas Mavericks.  Second round pick Jodie Meeks led the way for the Bucks with 14 points on six-of-nine shooting while second year player Joe Alexander added 14 points of his own and seven rebounds.  It was a good start for the Bucks, who will need a big summer out of a few players to get ready for their semi-makeover this upcoming season.

With Richard Jefferson being dealt to the Spurs and Charlie Villanueva bolting to the Pistons this offseason, a few young players must step up and show that they are worthy of receiving the minutes left by Jefferson and Villanueva.  Along with the voids that need to be filled, depth at point guard and power forward will be very important next year, and the summer should give the Bucks a better grasp of where they stand.

Let’s take a look at the five players that need to prove they belong this summer.

1. Brandon Jennings, PG, First Round Pick in 2009

Not only does the 19-year-old Jennings need to prove that he was the right selection for the Bucks at number ten, but he must also prove that his game transitions over to the NBA.  Last year, Jennings skipped out on the University of Arizona to play in Italy where his stats dropped but his upside remained.

This summer, Jennings will have starting point guard duties and need to prove he can handle the reigns of leading a team.  Head coach Scott Skiles puts a lot of trust in his point guards, meaning Jennings will need to make good on this responsibility if he wants to see the court in the upcoming season.

In his first game, Jennings scored ten points in 25 minutes on three-of-12 shooting to go along with three rebounds, three assists, and two steals.  He turned the ball over just two times and nailed a three pointer in the contest.  In his first actual game on American soil in about two years, all of his points came in the second half as he seemed to calm down throughout the game.

The Bucks are hoping Jennings will shoot out of the gates like Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook did last year and prove himself to be an All Star in the making this summer.

2. Joe Alexander, SF, First Round Pick in 2008

In his rookie year, Alexander was buried in the depth chart that saw him log just over 12 minutes a game where he averaged 4.7 points and 1.9 rebounds.  Drafted based on his freak athleticism and upside, Alexander will get a chance to shine this summer and find a spot in the Bucks’ rotation and potentially starting lineup.

Part of the reason John Hammond felt comfortable enough trading Jefferson this offseason was because he believed Alexander can be the small forward of the future.  He has no problem getting to the rim and has an above average jump shot, but he needs to use his size better and add muscle to his frame.

If the first Summer League game was a sign of things to come, Alexander had seven rebounds in the contest including five on the offensive end.  Despite going 4-18 in the contest, it showed that Alexander is gaining confidence in his shot as well as getting to the rim as he seen by his seven free throw attempts.

3. Amir Johnson, PF, Acquired via trade this off-season

The acquisition of Johnson was easily John Hammond’s biggest dice roll this year.  Many experts believe that he will thrive in a new setting and seeing consistent minutes, away from the bench role he saw for three years in Detroit, but his first game in the Summer League was anything but a breakout performance.

Johnson started at center for the Bucks, logging 21 minutes while totaling four points, four rebounds, seven turnovers and seven personal fouls.  It was hardly a good start for the 22-year-old California native, who has the potential to be the next Josh Smith on defense if he can harness his potential.

The best part about Johnson is that he is still young and will have many opportunities to get better on a Bucks team that lacks depth and needs a power forward to step up and start.  His full potential is probably two or three years away, but the Bucks could really benefit from him making improvements this summer.

4. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, F, Second Round Pick in 2008

Of all the returning players coming to the Bucks next year, Mbah a Moute tops the list as the one I am most excited about.  As a second round pick last year, he was not expected to be much more than a practice body that could provide good minutes off the bench if needed.  However, he proved to be much more than that, playing in all 82 games while starting 51 of them.

This season, he will look to improve on last year’s success and fight for the starting small forward position.  Despite being a tweener at both forward positions, Mbah a Moute showed that he is capable of playing multiple positions and roles on the team.  As he works on a better post game and adds muscle to his frame, he has the potential to be a double-double threat every night.

5. Salim Stoudemire, PG, signed this off-season

Call this my major sleeper pick, but I believe Stoudamire still has a whole lot of potential in him and can make the Bucks roseter this year and have an impact.  His rookie season was the best of his three year career, but battling the likes of Joe Johnson and Mike Bibby for playing time isn’t the best way to show off your skills.

In the first Summer League game, Stoudamire played 13 minutes and contributed six points with a rebound, assist, and two steals.  While it was nothing spectacular, the point guard position will be a big time mystery heading into the season and Stoudamire can make his case for minutes this summer.

Ramon Sessions and Jennings will head the depth chart and Luke Ridnour will see decent minutes as well, but if Stoudamire can prove his point in the summer, he will find a spot on the Bucks roster.

July 11, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, Milwaukee Bucks, NBA | , , , | Leave a comment