• 2015 already looking promising for Chicago Cubs

    From the curse of the Billy Goat to Steve Bartman, the past 106 years of baseball on the north side of Chicago have been nothing, but disappointing. The Chicago Cubs haven’t won a World Series since 1908 and their last World Series appearance was in 1945.

    Despite these unfathomable truths the Cubs still have hope.

    For one, Hollywood predicted a Cubs World Series win in the 1989 movie “Back to the Future II.” But more importantly, the Cubs are actually built to contend not only this year, but for many years to come.

    Theo Epstein, President of Baseball Operations for the Cubs, has made all the right moves after leaving the Red Sox for Chicago in 2011. Despite finishing in last place in the N.L. Central the past three years under Epstein, the Cubs have the top-ranked farm system in baseball.

    Led by Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Jorge Soler, the Cubs have at least one hitting prospect at every position on the diamond. If things go the way Epstein has planned, the Cubs farm system won’t be as highly glorified as they are now because Soler will be in the majors and Bryant should be up shortly after. Russell is close behind as well. And while second basemen Javier Baez and outfielder Arismendy Alcantara are no longer considered prospects, they are young guys in the Cubs’ system.

    Before the offseason, the Cubs had 40-1 odds to win the World Series but after signing left handed ace Jon Lester to a six-year, $155 million deal and adding Joe Maddon as the new manager, their odds increased to 12-1.

    The pitching staff beyond Lester is also impressive. Kyle Hendricks led the team with a 2.46 ERA posting a 7-2 record over 13 starts. Jake Arrieta struck out 167 in only 156.2 innings last season. Newly acquired Jason Hammel posted a 2.98 ERA and despite struggling last season, Travis Wood is still a former all-star. The five starters look nothing but strong on paper.

    The two cornerstones of the franchise, shortstop Starlin Castro and first basemen Anthony Rizzo, were the Cubs only All-star selections last season. Castro led the team with a .292 batting average and Rizzo was second in the National League with 32 homeruns.

    "It's going to happen this year," Rizzo said. "It's what we're going to do. We're going to play and we're going to win the NL Central, you can quote me on that. We should be the team, with all due respect to every other team; we're going to do some things this year. That's what we're going to put our sights on and we're not going to accept anything else.”

    A World Series win might not happen this year, but the Cubs fans have to be satisfied in the direction this team is going. In the end, all that matters is who makes the postseason. The Kansas City Royals were able to win the pennant last year in the wild card spot. If the Cubs can clinch a wild card spot, anything can happen.

    The lineup is stacked from top to bottom and the starting rotation is solid. Epstein has made all of the right moves to this point and now it’s time to see if they can produce.

  • Texas Stars and Austin Spurs starting to find streaks

    The Texas Stars, the minor league AHL team for the Dallas Stars, are still trying to find their legs to defend their AHL Calder Cup.  

    Within the past week, the Stars have finished 2-2 going 2-1 against rivals San Antonio Rampage and losing to Oklahoma City Barons. 

    The Stars faced the Rampage early last week and needed to gather the win as the Rampage sat seven points above the Stars in the West Division standings.  Ramgage goalie Dan Ellis who boasted a .923 save percentage in the contest while Stars rookie Gemel Smith scored four of his six goals this season against Ellis. 

    But, this time around, the Stars could not be stopped as they cruised to a 6-1 victory.  After a tight first period, Cameron Gaunce’s score put the Stars on top 1-0.  They exploded in the second period with a four goal second period. 

    Smith continued his success against the Rampage with two goals and Jamie Oleksiak led all skaters with three points (one goal, two assists). 

    With the win, the Stars are just one point back of the eighth spot and two points behind for the No. 6 seed. 

    However, in the next two weeks the Stars travel for a difficult six-game road stretch. 

    In basketball, the San Antonio Spurs’ D-league team, the Austin Spurs finished on a good note before the All-Star break last week. 

    Spurs rookie Kyle Anderson was named the D-League performer of the week as the team went 2-0 against Grand Rapids Drive while Anderson averaged 19 points, 11 rebounds, 5.5 assists, and 1.5 blocks. 

    During this six-game win streak for the Spurs, JaMychal Green and Bryce Cotton were named to the D-League All-Star team for the Western Conference.  Along with them, Jarell Eddie competed in the three-point contest. 

    The Spurs headed into All-Star break 22-9 and looking good to make a run into the playoffs.    

  • Brett Favre soon to earn acknowledgment for Hall of Fame career

    This summer, Brett Favre will be inducted into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame.

    Some of you may know Favre as the old guy on the Wranglers commercial holding a football for no reason. Or you may know him as the Jets quarterback for one season. Or you may even know him as the Minnesota Vikings quarterback, who was the targeted player by the New Orleans Saints “Bounty Boys.”

    But to the NFL, Favre is the legendary Packers quarterback that led the team for 16 years, the quarterback with two NFC titles, 11 Prop Bowl appearances, three NFL MVP titles, and a Super Bowl win. 

    But there's more. 

    Favre collected nearly 72,000 career-passing yards, 508 career touchdowns and a career passer rating of 86.

    Yes, he is the guy who retired twice, but that should not be his legacy. Maybe that is what we remember because it is what happened recently, but there is so much more to Favre.

    Not only will we remember Favre for the way John Madden said his name, but also for the legend he was. For those 16 seasons on the Packers, he played in every single regular season game except for one game in his first season.

    Prior to Favre’s arrival in Green Bay in 1992, the Packers achieved relatively little on field success for about 24 years after the departure of Vince Lombardi. Favre led where needed and took the team back to prominence. The Packers team seen today is because of Favre.

    So next time you see a Wranglers commercial, I hope you notice the legend in the yard wearing jeans and throwing a football. Salute Brett Favre in your best John Madden voice.

  • All-Star Weekend predictions

    Fans of the NBA All-Star Weekend festivities can breathe a sigh of relief. The NBA has changed the format again from last year’s team concept for All-Star Weekend. Last year’s team concept did not bode well with the fans so they are modifying it once again. So hopefully we will get a more entertaining All-Star Weekend.

     

    Lets start from the top: the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge. This year’s new format still features players in their first two years in the league. But it separates the top players by USA and World rosters. The World roster is featured by Andrew Wiggins (Canada) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece), while the USA roster has Victor Oladipo and Michael-Carter Williams leading the way. The World Roster is filled with big men such as Steven Adams and Rudy Gobert that could give USA some trouble in the paint. However the guard play of USA is far superior than the World team’s, so I’ll give the slight edge to USA. 

    Team USA wins this and Oladipo is crowned MVP. 

     

    Next up, the Degree Shooting Stars Challenge. This one is quite simple, it comes down to who can knock down that half court shot fastest. Chris Bosh’s team is the defending champ but I think he loses that title this time around.

    I’m taking team Westbrook which includes Russell Westbrook, Penny Hardaway, and Tamika Catchings to win this competition. 

     

    Now the fun starts. The Taco Bell Skills Challenge features quick and speedy guards from across the league and showcases their skills in an obstacle course. The format has players going head to head in a bracket style tournament. Another change has the obstacle course ending in a three pointer. That is a big game changer as it eliminates some players right away.

    Give me Jeff Teague in this event. He may not be the quickest of the bunch, I’ll give that to John Wall, but he will be able to make the passes and finish the three pointer rather quickly. 

     

    Probably the most anticipated event of the entire weekend is this year’s Foot Locker Three-Point Contest. Participants include the Splash Brothers, Wes Matthews, JJ Redick, Kyrie Irving, James Harden, Mr. Automatic Kyle Korver (we need to get him a nickname), and defending champ Marco Belinelli. The field is said to be the greatest of all-time by many. It includes the top five players in three pointers made so far in the season. So picking this apart will be difficult, because how do you separate the best of the best? Well I’ll go with the process of elimination and say Belinelli won’t repeat and Wesley Matthews doesn’t seem like he can hang with the big names. Plus I don’t like the idea of him going first. As for Curry, arguably the best shooter in the game, I don’t think his game translates to the three point contest so he’s out. Harden and Irving face the same problem.  They aren’t much of spot up shooters, they create their own three point shots. JJ Redick is my dark horse pick, because honestly if he didn’t shoot so well he wouldn’t be in the league right now. Which leaves Klay Thompson, who has my favorite shooting stroke in the league, and Mr. Automatic himself. Both are great spot up shooters and both can light it up on any given night. 

    Its a toss up between these two but I’ll give the nod to Thompson winning it all. Its hard to bet against a dude that dropped 37 points in one quarter. 

     

    To wrap up the Saturday night events comes the Sprite Slam Dunk contest. It is usually my favorite event to watch however in recent year’s it has been a disappointment to say the least. Again this year we are stuck with no big name players. However one of my favorite players to watch, Greek Freak, Giannis Antetokounmpo is pretty intriguing but I think his frame and size prevents him from doing a dunk appealing in a contest. Having said that, if there was a contest for posterizing players, he’d be at the top of my list. Mason Plumlee has the same problem, I don’t like the idea of having a big 7-footer in the dunk contest. We don’t care about how powerful of a dunker you are, its about finesse and don’t tell me Plumlee has finesse. 

    I’ve seen Oladipo throw it down plenty during games and he has the creativity but the rookie Zach Lavine is my pick to win it. And if you have any doubts, just search Zach Lavine’s highlights on youtube, you won’t be disappointed. The kid can fly. 

     

    Last but not least, the All Star game itself. Its a fifty fifty bet on who wins since it’s the best of the best, and honestly it doesn’t really matter who wins. 

    But I just like the Western Conference roster a bit more

    And the fact that overall, the West is so much better than the East tells me the West will win. And I’ll go ahead and appoint Anthony Davis as the MVP. I think he will get plenty of easy dunks early on, snatch a good deal of rebounds, and block quite a bit of shots. And yes, I believe this is foreshadowing for Anthony Davis. He has plenty of MVP’s coming his way soon. The dude will be the dominant force in the NBA within 2 years. 

  • Clippers in trouble?

    As we pass the halfway mark, teams are starting to cement themselves as contenders or pretenders barring any unforeseen injuries. Well unfortunately for the Clippers, that injury just happened. All-Star power forward Blake Griffin will require surgery on his right elbow due to a staph infection. He is expected to miss 4-6 weeks of action. 

    When asked on the extent of the injury, head coach Doc Rivers said he hoped to have Griffin back in about ten days. However he admitted he knows that is a stretch and it is more likely to take Griffin about a month to come back from the surgery. Now Rivers and company are forced to replace Griffin’s productivity to stay in the hunt for the playoffs. 

    In the offseason the Clippers signed big man Spencer Hawes with hopes he would be the perfect big man to compliment Griffin and Deandre Jordan. He has been a disappointment to say the least. Hawes looks lost at times on the court and is still finding his rhythm with his teammates. But now he won’t have much time to get adjusted, as he will slide into the starting lineup in place of Blake Griffin. 

    Honestly, the biggest issue is staying in contention of the playoff race. Currently, the Clippers have a 5 ½  game lead over the Pelicans who sit ninth in the West. However, Oklahoma City is also creeping up to contend for that eighth and final playoff spot. I’m not suggesting the Clippers are in jeopardy of missing the playoffs, but if Griffin is out for about a month, the race will definitely tighten up for the final month of the regular season.

    The Clippers face their toughest stretch of the schedule in the next few weeks, which is the exact amount Griffin is expected to miss. Let’s say he misses a month, in that time frame the Clippers play the Rockets twice, the Grizzlies twice, Spurs, Mavs, Blazers, and Warriors all once. That is an insane stretch for a team that will be playing without arguably their most important player. 

    And to make matters worse, the Pelicans have been making a push lately. Anthony Davis as MVP is gaining more and more traction as his team continues to fight for playoff contention. And quietly Tyreke Evans is posting gaudy numbers lately. The Thunder are also right there fighting for that eighth spot. The Thunder are desperately awaiting the All-Star break so they can get Durant fully healthy and make their run to grab that eighth spot. 

    So, yes the Clippers should feel a bit pressured. They are one small collapse away from losing their footing in the playoff race.

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