Sunday, March 31, 2013

Is NL Central Baseball's Most Competitive Division?

The National League Central has a reputation in some quarters, and that reputation isn't entirely good. It also isn't entirely fair.
Over the past 10 seasons, the Central produced the most playoff teams of the three NL divisions, as well as the most NL pennant winners. And once again in 2013, the odds are good that multiple playoff teams will come from the NL Central.
The clubs in best position to do that are the ones that did it last year. The reigning champion Reds made a nice upgrade to their lineup, bringing in Shin-Soo Choo to lead off, but otherwise bring back most of a club that won the division by nine games. The Cardinals lost two starting pitchers from their end-of-year starting five, but they're confident in what they have to replace Chris Carpenter and Kyle Lohse.
So it's no exaggeration to say the rest of the division is chasing the Redlegs and Redbirds. After all, one or both of those two teams has made the postseason in each of the past four seasons.
Each of the three challengers has reason to think it's closer to the top. The Pirates made a major upgrade at catcher, and they're counting on steps forward from some promising young players. The Brewers believe they fixed the bullpen that cost them so many wins last year. The Cubs overhauled their rotation, likewise fixing what was their biggest problem in 2012.
They're all still chasing the Reds and Cards, but they may be getting closer.
You may notice someone has been left out of this discussion, by the way. That's because there's a little more elbow room in the Central this year. Formerly baseball's most populous division, it's now down to five clubs thanks to the Astros' move to the American League West.
We polled our NL Central beat writers -- Brewers reporter Adam McCalvy, Cardinals reporter Jenifer Langosch, Cubs reporter Carrie Muskat, Pirates reporter Tom Singer and Reds reporter Mark Sheldon -- and asked them to rank the clubs in four major categories as well as to give some input as to the race as a whole.
This was the closest call, and a true three-team race. Milwaukee led the NL in scoring last year, a mere 11 runs ahead of St. Louis. Cincinnati was well behind in ninth, but will have a full season of Joey Votto and new acquisition Choo. All three clubs have deep, dangerous lineups. In the end, it's the Cardinals by a nose, thanks to the combination of a superb heart of the order, significant contributors at seven of the eight everyday spots, and top prospect Oscar Taveras on the way. The Brewers will do without Corey Hart for the early part of the year, costing them a serious power threat from a lineup that's built on power. And while the Reds are improved, it's hard to believe that they've improved so much as to narrow what was a large gap. All three teams will score some runs, that much is for sure.
Our selection: Cardinals
This was the one area where there was real consensus -- unanimity, in fact. When you're able to move a talent like Aroldis Chapman to the bullpen, it's a pretty good indication. The Reds have the two keys to a quality rotation: front-line quality and depth. Johnny Cueto has the second-best ERA of any NL starter over the past two seasons, and he's backed by four legitimate big leaguers in Bronson Arroyo, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey and Mike Leake. Latos and Bailey both have upside to be more than quality mid-rotation starters, to boot. If everything goes right, the Cardinals have a group that could match Cincinnati's, but St. Louis has many more questions in its starting five. Jaime Garcia in particular could be excellent, but must prove he's healthy. Milwaukee could have a sneaky-good rotation headed by Yovani Gallardo and Lohse, followed by some very talented youngsters, but with young talent comes unpredictability. The Pirates have reason for optimism, and the Cubs are improved, but the Reds and Cards have the two best rotations in the division.
Our selection: Reds
The Reds had the NL's best bullpen ERA last year, and they bring pretty much the entire group back -- headed by the amazing Chapman, he of the 100-mph heat and wicked slider. Jonathan Broxton returns for a full year in a setup role, and pitchers like Sam LeCure, Jose Arredondo and Alfredo Simon provide depth. This is an excellent group, and it should be helped by a rotation that ought to eat up lots of innings. The Cardinals were a close runner-up in our poll, thanks to their strong end-game sequence of Edward Mujica in the seventh, Mitchell Boggs in the eighth, and Jason Motte in the ninth -- plus emerging youngster Trevor Rosenthal. The Pirates, Brewers and Cubs each got a little consideration, but as with the rotations, this is basically a two-team race.
Our selection: Reds
The Reds may be a little weaker defensively than they were a year ago, but they still outpace the division, according to our panel. Gold Glovers at two infield positions is a very good start, with Brandon Phillips and Votto making up an airtight right side of the infield. Zack Cozart is a quality defender at short, and there's quality at the outfield corners. Drew Stubbs will be missed in center, but this is still a solid defensive team. The Pirates are strong up the middle with Russell Martin, Clint Barmes and Andrew McCutchen all plus defenders, and the Cards will likewise be strong at catcher, shortstop and center field. This is not a division laden with top-flight defensive teams, but they're nearly all pretty solid, and Cincinnati is at the top of the heap. Defense was the only category where all five teams were named on at least one ballot.
Our selection: Reds
The Reds are deep and potent, one year after cruising to a division title and coming up just short of an NL Championship Series appearance. They pitch. They hit. They play defense. They addressed their primary weakness on offense. And they have the depth to withstand some injuries.
Last year's runner-up is in the best position to dethrone the champs. The Cardinals once again sport an extremely dangerous lineup and should have a deep bullpen. The uncertainty is in their rotation, which could be very good but has quite a few questions.
The Pirates and Brewers both had tastes of contention last year, and each returns a similar formula to what they used a season ago. The Bucs will try to ride their starting pitching and just enough offense to their first winning season since 1992. They're hoping that the addition of Martin, plus the maturing of some young hitters, will be enough to put them in the picture at year's end.
The Brewers bring a high-powered offense that will likely once again live by the home run, though they'll have to do without Hart for a while. Their rotation has promise, and added some quality and stability with Lohse, which should take pressure off some of the youngsters. Meanwhile they'll hope that a revamped bullpen is good enough after it struggled last year.
The Cubs should be better. The question is how much better. They upgraded their rotation, but health questions surround Matt Garza and Scott Baker, leaving it unclear just who will be in their starting five. The long-term prognosis here is good; the 2013 prospects are a bit fuzzy.


Saturday, March 30, 2013

WHL East 2nd Round Playoff Sked

Husky WHL Eastern Conference Semi-Final
(Series I)

Game 1 - Fri Apr 5 7:00 PM Medicine Hat at Edmonton
Game 2 - Sun Apr 7 4:00 PM Medicine Hat at Edmonton
Game 3 - Tue Apr 9 7:00 PM Edmonton at Medicine Hat
Game 4 - Wed Apr 10 7:00 PM Edmonton at Medicine Hat
Game 5 - Fri Apr 12 7:00 PM Medicine Hat at Edmonton*
Game 6 - Sun Apr 14 6:00 PM Edmonton at Medicine Hat*
Game 7 - Wed Apr 17 7:00 PM Medicine Hat at Edmonton*

Husky WHL Eastern Conference Semi-Final
(Series J)

Game 1 - Thurs Apr 4 7:00 PM Red Deer at Calgary
Game 2 - Fri Apr 5 TBD Red Deer at Calgary
Game 3 - Monday, Apr 8 7:00pm Calgary at Red Deer
Game 4 - Tuesday, Apr 9 7:00pm Calgary at Red Deer
Game 5 - Thursday, Apr 11, 7:00 Red Deer at Calgary*
Game 6 - Saturday, Apr 13 6:00 Calgary at Red Deer*
Game 7 - Tuesday, Apr 16 7:00 Red Deer at Calgary *

Nationals League East

You could call it the Nationals League East.
Let's recap: Washington captured the division title last season. Led the Major Leagues with 98 wins. Improved, on paper at least, by adding right-hander Dan Haren to the rotation, Rafael Soriano to the bullpen and Denard Span to play center field. And, oh, by the way, the Nationals should have both ace right-hander Stephen Strasburg and 2012 NL Rookie of the Year Award winner Bryce Harper for the entire season.
As everyone knows, though, games aren't played on paper. Before the postseason invitations are passed out, there will be countless twists and turns that can't possibly be foreseen.
The Braves have averaged 90 wins a season since Frank Wren became their general manager prior to the 2008 season, and after adding outfielders B.J. Upton and Justin Upton, Wren thinks this is his best team yet.
"I don't see a big hole. We're in pretty good shape," he told reporters. "Just from seeing what these guys are capable of. It's by far the most athletic team, it has the most speed, is the most powerful, has the most balance. Now we've got to go play."
The Phillies have as many big names as anybody: Roy Halladay, Chase Utley, Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard, Cliff Lee, Michael Young, Jimmy Rollins, Jonathan Papelbon. These are pedigreed players with histories of success. But they also raise legitimate questions about age and health.
"I still think we definitely know how to win games and we're going to find a way," said manager Charlie Manuel. "We're definitely going to stay there all year. We ain't going nowhere. We have a chance to have a big-time season."
Mets manager Terry Collins was asked early in Spring Training about his outfield situation. "Still searching," he said succinctly. That could end up being the theme for the season as the Mets bring back basically the same team that finished fourth last year and is now minus NL Cy Young Award winner and 20-game winner R.A. Dickey. The hope is to offset that with more innings from Shaun Marcum and Dillon Gee and improvement from Jonathan Niese and Matt Harvey and, if all goes well, the arrival of top prospect Zack Wheeler later in the season.
Three non-roster invitees -- relievers LaTroy Hawkins and Scott Atchison and outfielder Marlon Byrd -- are projected to make the Opening Day roster. That can be a difficult way to make a living in a division that's gotten better, at least at the top.
Everybody knows that the Marlins underwent an extreme makeover last season, but youth and enthusiasm can sometimes go a long way.
"It's definitely a great opportunity for everybody," said veteran Juan Pierre. "I think if everybody pulls together that we can actually have a good team. I know we're going to have to outwork guys. I know the young guys are working and eager to go."
With all that in mind, we polled our NL East beat reporters -- Mark Bowman (Braves), Anthony DiComo (Mets), Joe Frisaro (Marlins), Bill Ladson and Joey Nowak (Nationals) and Todd Zolecki (Phillies) -- and asked them to rate each team in four major categories and then slot them. Here's how they voted:
With the exception of Michael Morse, the Nationals return the same group that led the division in runs (731), home runs (194) and OPS (.750) last season. And it's not a stretch to suggest that shortstop Ian Desmond, second baseman Danny Espinosa and even Harper can get better. The Braves lost Chipper Jones to retirement, Michael Bourn to free agency and Martin Prado in a trade with the Diamondbacks. But that deal brought Justin Upton from Arizona, and B.J. Upton was signed to take Bourn's spot. With that, a lineup that was heavily left-handed is more balanced. And that's important in a division in which the other top contenders are stacked with lefty starters: Gio Gonzalez and Ross Detwiler for the Nats, and Hamels, Lee and John Lannan for the Phillies.
Our selection: Braves
Gonzalez won 21 games in 2012, made the All-Star team and finished third in the NL Cy Young Award voting ... and that's not good enough to be the Nationals' Opening Day starter. And Jordan Zimmermann, who had a 2.94 ERA, is listed third on the depth chart. Yes, Washington's starting pitching, topped by Strasburg, is that good. And Strasburg, free of the innings limit that led to him being shut down in September, is poised to have a breakout season. The Phillies signed 28-year-old Hamels to a six-year, $144 million contract, the third-largest deal ever for a pitcher at the time, and are counting on him and Lee to be elite starters. What could make the difference between whether the Phils have an excellent rotation or just a very good one is Halladay. The two-time Cy Young Award winner turns 36 in May and is coming off a season during which he was bothered by back and shoulder problems.
Our selection: Nationals
Atlanta's Craig Kimbrel is the only pitcher in Major League history to strike out at last half the batters he faced in a season. He whiffed 116 in 62 2/3 innings while allowing just 27 hits and 14 walks for a remarkable 0.65 WHIP. Along with lefties Eric O'Flaherty and Jonny Venters, the Braves can shorten games. Pretty impressive. But consider the back end of the Nationals' bullpen: Drew Storen saved 43 games in 2011. Tyler Clippard saved 32 (in 37 opportunities) last season. And Rafael Soriano saved 42 for the Yankees before signing on to be the Nats' new closer. The Phillies lost 20 games in 2012 when they were tied or leading going into the eighth. So the addition of setup man Mike Adams could be one of the best under-the-radar signings of the winter and help get more games to Papelbon.
Our selection: Braves
The Braves led the NL in both fielding percentage (.986) and defensive efficiency ratio (.705), with the Nationals just one point behind in each category. In allowing Bourn to depart as a free agent and trading Prado, replacing them with the Upton brothers, Wren seemingly gave up some leather for more lumber. Still, Atlanta might have the best defensive outfield in baseball. Tight glove work was a hallmark of the Phillies while winning five straight division titles, a trait that was noticeably missing last season when they finished 81-81. Even though free-agent acquisition Young hasn't played third base full-time since 2010, he had a solid spring in the field, and a healthy Utley at second should improve the defense.
Our selection: Braves
Nationals. Despite being pounded by injuries, Washington became just the fifth team in modern big league history to improve by at least 10 games for three consecutive seasons. Can the Nats keep the streak alive? They'd have to win 108, but if they stay healthy, that doesn't seem impossible.
Braves. Atlanta added to an impressive foundation after winning 94 games in 2012 and may be the best team in baseball not favored to win its division. And if the rotation comes together, the Braves certainly have the ability to chase down the Nationals.
Phillies. The Phils have a lot of question marks -- Halladay, Howard, Young, Utley, both corner outfield spots -- but if things come together, there are still a lot of players on their roster who have proven they know how to win.
Mets, Marlins. New York still has David Wright. Miami still has Giancarlo Stanton. Both teams have some impressive talent coming through the system. If they can get off to a quick start and then push some of their prospects, anything's possible. Just ask the Orioles or Athletics.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Making An Impact

More and more Canadians are playing college ball as the game grows in our country. Here is a list of Canadians playing college baseball. I am guessing you may see a few of these kids this summer in the Western Major Baseball League.

To look at the list, click here

Angels Are Favoured In AL West

The American League West was one fearsome foursome last year. The A's won the division in stirring fashion, riding a fantastic second half to overtake the favored Rangers on the final day of the regular season. The Angels weren't too shabby, either, missing out on October despite winning 89 games. Not to be left out, the Mariners took a step forward as well, improving by eight wins from 2011.
Now, the West gets even more wild with the addition of the Houston Astros, who move from the National League Central to give every division in baseball five teams. And it looks like the same three teams will be the ones duking it out for division supremacy come September.

The A's, who last year took eventual league champion Detroit to the maximum five games in the Division Series, appear to be just as strong, if not stronger, with a deeper bench, a healthy Brett Anderson to lead an already formidable pitching staff, and slugger Yoenis Cespedes looking to build on a year of valuable experience.
The Rangers might have lost Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli, but they still have Adrian Beltre and Ian Kinsler to complement a stellar rotation that's led by Yu Darvish and Matt Harrison. Alexi Ogando moves back into a starting role from the bullpen, and the relief corps is solid.
And then there are the Angels, who made the most noise of anyone in the AL West, and maybe anyone in the big leagues, when they landed Hamilton via free agency, putting him smack in the middle of a lineup that already included last year's rookie sensation, Mike Trout, and Albert Pujols.
Seattle beefed up its lineup with Kendrys Morales and Michael Morse. Houston is young and talented and doesn't have anything to lose.
We polled our AL West beat reporters -- Jane Lee (A's), Alden Gonzalez (Angels), T.R. Sullivan (Rangers), Greg Johns (Mariners) and Brian McTaggart (Astros) -- and asked them to rank the teams in four major categories and give input as to the race as a whole.

This one wasn't even close. Every writer picked the Angels on top, and for good reason. Trout, the leadoff man, almost won the AL Most Valuable Player Award while cruising to Rookie of the Year honors. His combination of speed, power and on-base percentage is unheard of for practically anyone, let alone a 20-year-old. If Pujols and Hamilton can stay healthy enough to notch 550 at-bats each and Mark Trumbo can chip in another 30-plus home runs, the Angels' offense could be the best in baseball. The Rangers, A's and Mariners have nice pieces throughout their batting orders but none can match the pure star power of the Angels.
Our selection: Angels

This vote came down to the wire, with the Rangers barely beating the A's. It's a judgment call, too. To back the Rangers, you have to believe that Harrison will repeat or improve upon his stellar 2012, that Darvish will do the same in his second big league go-round, that Ogando will shine and that Derek Holland will be more like he was in 2011 (16 wins) than in his inconsistent '12. If you like the A's here, you're betting that Jarrod Parker and Tommy Milone will be every bit as good as they were in pacing the rotation as rookies last year, that Anderson will stay healthy all season and that the club won't miss Brandon McCarthy, who left for Arizona via free agency. Otherwise, they're well covered with a mix of Bartolo Colon, A.J. Griffin and Dan Straily.
Our selection: Rangers

Oakland took this category in unanimous fashion, and it's easy to see why. The late-innings combination of hard-throwing Ryan Cook, Sean Doolittle and closer Grant Balfour was phenomenal last year and a huge reason the team won the division, and lefty specialist Jerry Blevins and sidearming righty Pat Neshek delivered good numbers as well. The Rangers finished second in this category, largely because of their veteran horse of a closer, Joe Nathan, but the Mariners received some votes, too. Young fireballers Carter Capps and Stephen Pryor figure to do well setting up emerging closer Tom Wilhelmsen.
Our selection: A's

You know you're a good defensive club when everyone's new favorite center fielder, Trout, is moved to left field because the organization is convinced that Peter Bourjos is even better in center than Trout. Hamilton can hold his own in right, and you've also got past Gold Glove winners at shortstop (Erick Aybar) and first base (Pujols). That's a powerful combination around the diamond that barely beat out Texas, which still has the best third baseman in the AL in Beltre, a brilliant fielding shortstop in Elvis Andrus and a new addition at catcher, veteran A.J. Pierzynski, who gets it done behind the plate.
Our selection: Angels

The Angels cruised here, primarily because of the sheer power they display on paper after the Hamilton signing. The starting rotation should be good enough with Jered Weaver up top and veterans C.J. Wilson, Joe Blanton, Tommy Hanson and Jason Vargas beneath him. The bullpen is solid if not spectacular. Mike Scioscia remains one of the game's most respected managers. There's quite simply a lot to like.

Then again, Oakland and Texas are the ones who were battling it out at the end of last season, and both look good again. The A's might be even better than last season, although they'll have to fight the notion that their magical 2012 run was a fluke. They've shored up their team all around and their young pitching staff is a year wiser. Their skipper, Bob Melvin, has done wonders with clubhouse chemistry and confidence.

The Rangers have lost some pop in the lineup but have also opened up opportunities for players such as David Murphy and Leonys Martin to prove what they can do with a healthy helping of at-bats. The pitching remains, as does a strong core under manager Ron Washington. Maybe with some of the pressure off after two World Series appearances and last year's disappointing end-of-season finish that included a loss to Baltimore in the AL Wild Card game, the Rangers will rise again.

Seattle manager Eric Wedge loves what he sees. He's got more bats in the lineup, with Morales, Morse and a healthy Franklin Gutierrez, and he's got young players who were learning on the job the past few years (Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley, Kyle Seager, Michael Saunders and others) and might be ready to excel. He's also got Felix Hernandez at the top of his rotation. The Mariners will have to hit a lot better than it has in the past three seasons if they are to have any hope of contending. Wedge, for one, believes they will.

The Astros are moving to a new league and a new division with a new manager in Bo Porter and a low payroll as general manager Jeff Luhnow continues a bold rebuilding plan. This year might be a tough one, but there's a lot of talent in place and the team is collecting an impressive array of prospects. If it doesn't happen this year, it might very well happen soon.

This And That

That screen capture won't go down in TSN's highlight film anytime soon. I don't know what happened in the TSN headquarters on Wednesday night, but I'm guessing TSN brass did. Say what you will, but that was some big-time egg on the face of Canada's #1 sports network. Mistakes will happen and fortunately for the network, it wasn't Bob McKenzie or Darren Dreger reporting the trade. It does sound as if Jarome Iginla perhaps may be to blame by shunning the Bruins for the Penguins, but the bottom line is "you don't need to get it first, you just need to get it right".

Here's a question for you Flames fans. Who was the greater player to wear the flaming 'C". Was it Iggy or was it Theoren Fleury? I might say the latter.

Farewell to Costa Maragos. After 23 years of being a fixture on the CBC Saskatchewan news, Costa hung it up on Thursday night. Hey Costa, if you decide you're getting back into being a newsreader, you can't have the afternoon gig at CKRM----at least not yet! Like there would ever be a decision by Harvard management if he expressed an interest. Back when Roy Shivers got fired, we were all looking for comments from him, but he was doing his best to evade us. I was getting ready to do the sports show at CJME when I received a phone call from Costa. He was kind enough to let me know that he had an exclusive interview with Roy and that my name had come up. He said he listened to the show all the time when on his way home and he thought I'd be interested in Roy's famous statement when asked who should replace him. That quote being "It can be Carm Carteri, John Gormley or Mitchell Blair as far as I care since they seem to have all the answers." That statement of course shocked, but flattered me at the same time.  Kudos to CTV for putting competition aside to do a story on Costa Thursday night as well. He is a Regina legend and whoever fills his spot at CBC will have some big shoes to fill. I'm guessing that makes Mr. Seniority in Regina now my former co-worker at CJME Alec Docking. He's been in the biz for many years and I'm guessing retirement will soon be knocking on his door as well.

The Canadian country band "High Valley" was in the CKRM studios Friday afternoon. I was introduced to the band and I knew that they were from the tiny town of Lacrete, Alberta which is in the Peace Country. I worked in Peace River and spent some time in Lacrete so I happened to mention that to the band. When they asked what my name was, one of the guys recognized it as the play-by-play guy for the senior hockey league (North Peace Hockey League). That was a long time ago. I was impressed.  I have heard they put on some pretty good shows and I would have liked to seen their performance at the Casino Regina show lounge on Thursday but alas I had other plans.

I can't wait for opening day to get here. For some reason, I'm more excited than usual about the start of the baseball season. I'm a big baseball fan as it is, but even though the Cubs are going nowhere, I'm really looking forward to the season.

I feel bad for Lorne Molleken. He went from being the toast of the town in Saskatoon when the Blades won 18 straight to everyone wanting him out of town after the team was swept in four straight by Medicine Hat. This statement may not make me popular in Saskatoon, but if the Blades rebound to win the Memorial Cup, they don't deserve it. I'm not a big fan of a host team being decided months before the event for a variety of reasons. I understand you can't just parachute a Memorial Cup into a place with short notice, but the WHL won't have two deserving reps at the event. It would be better if both Portland and Edmonton or whoever ends up in the league final were there. Again though, that is just my opinion and things won't be changing anytime soon.

I also feel bad for Rich Preston as he was shown the door in Lethbridge this week. Rod Pedersen said Rich turned down an opportunity to join Darryl Sutter in Los Angeles because he didn't want to give up on the Canes. Rich is a good man and if he doesn't find another WHL gig, he will get back into the NHL. Current Pats p x p man Phil Andrews has suggested current Pats assistant Malcolm Cameron would be a good replacement for Preston. I can't disagree with that.

The Swift Current Broncos were jobbed in Game 4 of their series against Calgary. It was obvious to everyone except the stripes that the Hitmen scored their goal in overtime thanks to a gloved pass. The Hitmen even admitted it in talking to CTV's Lee Jones after the game. It just begs the question again as to why officials are off-limits when it comes to post-game comments. If they are the story, which they were in this game, they should have microphones thrown in front of their face to explain their side of the story. Guys like Ed Hochuli and Jim Joyce have done it in the past without any hesitation, but others won't. Leagues should change that policy because as fans we sometimes deserve an explanation and one that shouldn't come from the league.

I never have and I never will understand the hate that some factions of the Rider Nation has for general manager Brendan Taman. The guy can do the job and the list of players that he has brought into this league over his career is a sparkling one. I highly applaud the Riders for the two year contract extension they gave Taman. This team continues to make the right moves in my mind. Will it translate into success on the field. We will find out in June!

Marquette officially killed my March Madness bracket!

Alex Rodriguez will make more money this year than the opening day roster of the Houston Astros! Think about that for a second. Speaking of the Yankees, they have Vernon Wells AND Lyle Overbay. Who's next? Shannon Stewart? John MacDonald?

Gregg Drinnan's book on the tragic bus crash that took the lives of four Swift Current Broncos is a great read. I highly recommend it to any hockey fan out there.

Pete Paczko and I taped the 100th LockerTalk this past Tuesday on Access 7. Have we really done 100 shows? Pete has done many more when the show was called Sportszone and I helped out for a couple of years on that program, but it has been a great snapshot as to what a great city Regina is when it comes to the athletes, the coaches, the volunteers, etc. etc. Its great that some of these people get the 15 minutes of fame that they deserve. We are much more than a football and hockey city folks.

How about Rey Williams' interview with Rod Monday in the Sportscage. The linebacker did not pull any punches when talking about Kent Austin. It just makes those two games between the Riders and Ti-Cats that much spicier this season. I don't think it will happen, but can you imagine the electricity inside Mosaic if those two teams met on GC Sunday!

Happy Easter everyone! If you are travelling, keep it between the lines!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Riders Extend Taman's Contract

Saskatchewan Roughrider President/CEO Jim Hopson announced today the contract extension of General Manager Brendan Taman. The new two-year extension will see Taman continue in his role with the organization through the 2015 season.


“Brendan has proven himself to be a valuable member of our organization. By completing this extension we have created continuity within the Riders Football Operations,” stated Hopson. “We feel Brendan is continuously increasing the talent level of this team and we are excited to move forward under Brendan’s direction.” 


Taman is entering his fourth year as General Manager of the Riders and fifth season since returning to the club in 2009. Taman took over complete control of the football operations department in November of 2011.


“I am once again grateful for the vote of confidence shown to me by Jim Hopson and the Riders Board of Directors,” stated Taman. “I understand and welcome the expectations and responsibilities that go along with having this position. My job is to keep moving this team forward and I am confident we have the people in place to do that.”


Taman had a busy winter heading into the 2012 season. He filled a vacancy by hiring current Head Coach Corey Chamblin and completed an overhaul of the previous year’s roster  by adding CFL veterans like Dominic Picard, Brendon Labatte, and Jock Sanders while adding new talent like Kory Sheets, Xavier Fulton, Terrell Maze, and Drew Willy. The 2012 Canadian Draft saw the Riders select stalwarts Ben Heenan and Sam Hurl.

In January 2013, Taman orchestrated a trade acquiring Geroy Simon, the CFL’s All-Time Leading Receiver and then locked up free agents Tyron Brackenridge, Dwight Anderson, Weldon Brown, Ricky Foley and Renauld Williams.

Taman is entering his 26th season in the CFL and has appeared in three Grey Cup Championship games in the past six years.

NL West Up For Grabs

It was with a team concept beyond compare that the Giants took the National League West title and ran with it in 2012, staving off elimination at every turn all the way to a second World Series title in three years.
With that team intact almost to a man, it's hard to wrest the favorite's role away from the Giants in the NL West, a division that historically has been difficult to predict. Two years ago, for instance, defending the NL West and World Series titles didn't go so well for the Giants, who didn't make the playoffs in 2011.

This time around, the Dodgers are putting their vast resources to work to try and topple their rivals, first with their blockbuster trades of last summer and then by signing the top free-agent pitcher on the market over the winter.
Yes, it appears the Giants-Dodgers rivalry, which dates back decades and extends from coast to coast, will decide the fate of the NL West this season. But if the mercurial and somewhat unappreciated division has taught us anything over the past several years, it's that you never quite know how things will shake out.
"I think sometimes this division doesn't get quite the credit it should, because there's tremendous pitching in this division, and a lot of great athletes," said Giants manager Bruce Bochy, who has managed in the NL West since 1995, first with the Padres for 12 seasons and now with the Giants. "It's a division where there are pretty big ballparks -- ours, L.A., San Diego -- where you've got to play the game of baseball. I think it's a balanced division all the way around."
Indeed, it's a division that has seen all five of its members reach the postseason in the past seven season, something no other division can come close to matching. From the Dodgers' back-to-back titles in 2008-09 and the Rockies' Wild Card run in '09 to the Padres' narrowly missing the playoffs in '10 and the Diamondbacks' surprising title in '11, everyone has been in on the action in recent years.
Obviously, there are variables in play, such as injuries -- the Dodgers will start the season without third baseman Hanley Ramirez (thumb), the Giants are concerned about Pablo Sandoval's throwing elbow and the Padres have lost star third baseman Chase Headley (thumb) for the start of the season. The Giants don't have to be reminded about how much health can affect one's chances, having seen Buster Posey's leg injury in 2011 foil their playoff hopes and then a healthy Posey winning NL Most Valuable Player honors in 2012.
All things considered, the staff of reporters who cover the NL West -- Corey Brock (Padres), Steve Gilbert (D-backs), Ken Gurnick (Dodgers), Chris Haft (Giants) and Thomas Harding (Rockies) -- give the Giants a slight edge over the Dodgers as the 2013 season begins.
Here's a breakdown of the division based on their input on four categories and the overall outlook:

After what the Dodgers did last summer in adding Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, they vaulted to the top of the division on the offensive side -- especially if Crawford regains his health. Ramirez being out obviously hurts, but the Dodgers remain the class of the division, beating out the Rockies, who are a potentially explosive club if the Carlos Gonzalez-Troy Tulowitzki duo gets cranking again after some struggles in 2012. The Giants have a much better offensive club than they did after their first World Series title, at least.
Our selection: Dodgers

While the Dodgers have done well to create one of the top 1-2 punches in the game with Zack Greinke joining lefty stud Clayton Kershaw, the Giants have arguably one of the best five-man outfits in the game. It starts at the top with the steady and strong Matt Cain, who has gone at least 217 innings while going no higher than a 3.14 ERA in the past four seasons but has yet to crack the top five in Cy Young voting. If two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum can get back on track after a plummet in 2012, he'd help make up a fantastic fivesome. Arizona's rotation, with Brandon McCarthy added to a veteran core and Rookie of the Year runner-up Wade Miley looking for an encore, deserves mention as well among the division's best rotations.
Our selection: Giants

To understand the veteran depth of the Giants' bullpen, all one needs to do is consider how last season unfolded. Brian Wilson pitched in only two games, but Sergio Romo and Co. delivered clutch outing after clutch outing, particularly down the stretch and into what was a practically flawless postseason. The Diamondbacks added Heath Bell to give J.J. Putz three former closers setting him up, so they figure to have the late innings in good hands as well.
Our selection: Giants

The adage of building a defense from the middle is part of what makes the Giants solid with the gloves. Shortstop Brandon Crawford looked in the second half of 2012 like a Gold Glove waiting to happen, and he was bolstered by the veteran presence of second baseman Marco Scutaro beside him. With an MVP behind the plate in Posey and a guy called "Crazy Horse" in center field in Angel Pagan, the Giants are strong up the middle. Arizona is banking on pitching and defense to make a run, but the spring injury to young center fielder Adam Eaton gets them off to a rough start in that department.
Our selection: Giants

Duplicating the blueprint of a World Series team was not the right formula in 2011, but there's reason to believe this World Series encore has a better chance of success, as long as injuries are avoided. This time, it's Pagan and Scutaro along with right fielder Hunter Pence who must prove they can deliver the goods around the homegrown core of talent the Giants possess. After its amazing ride in October, it's difficult to imagine this team losing all that momentum and fading away.

From the time the Dodgers made their blockbuster moves last summer, concerns about all the stars fitting into a team concept could be heard all around baseball. True, things didn't come together well for the Dodgers down the stretch, but entering a full season with Greinke (health permitting) added to the mix, the Dodgers will be a force to be reckoned with not only in the division, but beyond it -- giving the NL West two very viable contenders for playoff spots.

A lot is riding on Arizona's season after the club dispatched star outfielders Justin Upton and Chris Young to build a team that will look to keep the line moving rather than relying on the homer. Martin Prado's presence figures to be a key element of that. The pitching is there, but this is a team that could be very good or could have trouble finding its way.

The Padres couldn't have had a more devastating injury than the one to Headley that will cause him to be out for probably the first month of the season after a breakout 2012, but this was a team that was on the rise as last season concluded. The Rockies should get more out of their core players but the old dearth of pitching has returned, so it'll have to be with offense that the Rockies make their way up the NL West standings.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Can Tigers Repeat In AL Central?

In terms of payroll and panache, the Detroit Tigers have no equal in the American League Central.
In terms of performance, well, we'll just have to wait and see

A year ago, the Tigers were the overwhelming favorite to rise above the rest in a division that, in terms of winning percentage, has been one of the weakest in baseball in recent years. The Tigers lived up to the predictions, though perhaps not to the degree of dominance so many expected. They won the division crown with just 88 regular-season wins, outlasting the White Sox in the final stretch.
Once again, the Tigers, who went on to take the AL pennant before a World Series sweep at the hands of the Giants, will be the overwhelming favorite when the 2013 season begins next week. And once again, they've improved themselves considerably on paper, getting Victor Martinez back healthy, adding Torii Hunter and ensuring Anibal Sanchez will be in the rotation for a full season.
But things have not exactly been quiet in the Central in recent months. The Indians, surprisingly, landed arguably two of the top five position players available in the free-agent market in Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, high-profile players to go with their new high-profile skipper, Terry Francona. The Royals, hungry to augment a young lineup with a ton of upside, swung a blockbuster trade for James Shields and Wade Davis, while also adding Ervin Santana to the starting five and re-signing Jeremy Guthrie.
While the White Sox weren't exactly aggressive in the winter market, they were legit contenders for all but two weeks of 2012. They ought not be overlooked. And while the Twins might not be counted as contenders at present, they do have a healthy Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau on hand from the get-go, so they might be able to shake off the sting of consecutive 90-plus loss seasons and improve the depth of the division.
Right now, it's a division that belongs to the star-studded Tigers. It's up to the others to push them off the pedestal.
With a new season on the horizon, we polled our AL Central beat writers -- Indians reporter Jordan Bastian, Tigers reporter Jason Beck, Twins reporter Rhett Bollinger, Royals reporter Dick Kaegel and White Sox reporter Scott Merkin -- and asked them to rank the clubs in the four major categories and assess their contention status. The results are as follows:

The Indians should be big of bat and fleet of foot; the Royals could become an elite offense if Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas both reach their potential; the White Sox showed last year what it means to have Paul Konerko and a productive Adam Dunn in the heart of the order; and the Twins' middle-order trio of Mauer, Morneau and Josh Willingham is imposing. But Detroit is undoubtedly the top of the class here, with a Nos. 1-5 -- Austin Jackson, Hunter, reigning MVP Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Martinez -- group that is about as good as it gets.
Our selection: Tigers

The Tigers are unmatched here, too. Justin Verlander has been, hands down, the AL's best pitcher over the last three seasons, building on his legend every fifth day. With Doug Fister healthy after last year's oblique issues, Max Scherzer having come into his own in the second half of '12 and Sanchez back in the mix as a more-than-capable No. 4, the Tigers have a rotation built for October.
Our selection: Tigers

The Royals relief crew had the sixth-best collective ERA in the game last year, and this was all the more impressive considering they were called upon for more innings than any other AL unit. With Greg Holland, Kelvin Herrera, Aaron Crow and Tim Collins in the back end, Kansas City boasts a strong assemblage of power arms who can rack up strikeouts. An improved starting staff should help the bullpen solidify all the more. The Indians, with Chris Perez and Vinnie Pestano forming an effective eighth-ninth tandem, also rate highly.
Our selection: Royals

The White Sox rated well in error count and advanced metrics last year, and the Royals have the makings of what could be a strong defensive cast. But our crew gave the Indians the nod here, largely on the might of what could be an elite, athletic outfield of Bourn in center and Michael Brantley and Drew Stubbs in the corners.
Our selection: Indians
So, what's the overall outlook for the five AL Central clubs? Here's our collective take on it:

Tigers. Detroit was the best and arguably got better. The Tigers have a big question mark in the ninth inning, but they have a lineup that should build leads and a starting staff that should protect them. This is a club built for the World Series, but there is still business to take care of in the division.

Royals, White Sox. Our crew had Kansas City and Chicago here. The Royals reinvented their rotation, hoping to take advantage of that burgeoning young core in the field and give Kansas City its first winning ballclub in a decade. The White Sox tend to get overlooked after a lackluster winter, but if Chris Sale and Jake Peavy stay healthy, they'll continue to be a factor.

Indians. Cleveland is a totally different team than it was a year ago, and it's going to be interesting to see how the pieces coalesce. If the rotation, one of the worst in baseball last year, comes together, they have the lineup and bullpen to contend.

Twins. Minnesota, like Kansas City, will have a dramatically different rotation and a manager on the hot seat in Ron Gardenhire. The Twins hope to stay healthy and return to respectability after two years in the basement.


Ron Lancaster Jr. Dies In Hamilton

Family and football: that was the life of Ron Lancaster Junior.
The former Ticats assistant coach, known as R.D., was found dead in his Hamilton apartment on Tuesday night. Tina Lancaster, R.D.'s ex-wife, said he was in constant contact with daughters Brittany, 20, and Brie, 18, and they called police when they hadn't heard from their Dad in several days.
“It he died of natural causes. He had been ill on and off but there was nothing that the doctors had diagnosed,” said Tina Lancaster, who spoke to the coroner on Wednesday. “He died peacefully.”
The son of former Ticats and Riders great Ron Lancaster, R.D. served as an assistant coach in Toronto, Edmonton, Hamilton and Winnipeg. He made five Grey Cup appearances and won three championships, including the 1999 title with Hamilton.
Lancaster also served as head coach at the University of Manitoba from 1993 to 1995 and as an assistant at McMaster, University of Toronto and Acadia from 1985 to 1990. He began his coaching career as the offensive coordinator at Central Collegiate in Regina.
“Right now, he's in a better place drawing up X's and O's with his Dad – I can see them now with the clipboard,” said Tina. “Nothing brought more joy to him.”
Since 2007, Lancaster had been teaching and coaching junior and high school football in Hamilton. He was 50.

(Hamilton Spectator)

Remembering Mike Weirs Masters Win

In celebration of the 10th anniversary of Mike Weir's historic victory at The Masters in 2003, TSN and Global will broadcast the original documentary 4 DAYS IN APRIL: THE MIKE WEIR STORY. The 30-minute documentary premieres Wednesday, April 10 at 9:30 p.m. ET on TSN and debuts on Global on Saturday, April 13 at 2 p.m. ET.

4 DAYS IN APRIL: THE MIKE WEIR STORY is a joint commission by TSN and Global and was produced by Project 10 Productions in partnership with IMG. The film is directed by Project 10 Production's Kevin Foley, an award-winning producer and director who has worked in sports broadcasting for more than 13 years. Foley recently won his second honour from the prestigious PromaxBDA Sports Marketing Awards in New York City, winning Best Spot + Best Long Form Promo. His critically acclaimed projects have also won New York Film Festival awards and a Gemini nomination. Foley's brother Sean is a renowned golf instructor who has worked with some of the biggest names in golf, including Tiger Woods and Hunter Mahan, Justin Rose, and Canadian Stephen Ames.


TSN and Global are official Canadian broadcasters of THE MASTERS.



Ten years ago this April, Brights Grove, Ont.-native Mike Weir reserved a spot on the Mount Rushmore of Canadian sports. Already the benchmark for Canadian golf, Weir rolled into Augusta National under the radar and left the hallowed grounds a national hero - becoming the first Canadian to wear the Green Jacket.


For the first time ever, the man responsible for one of the greatest chapters in Canadian sports history goes on the record to tell his story. Told by Weir, his rivals, contemporaries and those in his inner circle, 4 DAYS IN APRIL: THE MIKE WEIR STORY relives Weir's dramatic journey to the putt that clinched the coveted Green Jacket and changed his life forever.


4 DAYS IN APRIL: THE MIKE WEIR STORY includes on-camera interviews with Tiger Woods, Wayne Gretzky, Gary Player, Nick Price, Sean O'Hair, Justin Rose, Hunter Mahan, Lorie Kane, Fred Couples, and Trevor Immelman.


Grey Cup 101 Party Pass

The 101st Grey Cup Festival is pleased to unveil the all new “Team Party Pass.” This is the first time this pass has been available at a Grey Cup Festival and will allow patrons entry to all of the team hospitality rooms at Evraz Place and the Downtown Party Tent for one price.


The Team Party Pass will allow entry to the hospitality rooms for the B.C. Lions, the Calgary Stampeders, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, the Toronto Argonauts, the Atlantic Schooners, the Hamilton Tiger Cats as well as Riderville and the Downtown Party Tent. 


Unlike previous Grey Cup Festivals where each team party charged a separate daily admission, one pass is good for ALL hospitality rooms at Evraz Place for all three days!  Thursday enjoy the hospitality at Riderville as well as with the Atlantic Schooners, Toronto Argonauts and Hamilton Tiger-Cats.  Friday and Saturday night the B.C. Lions, Calgary Stampeders and Winnipeg Blue Bombers will also be extending their own unique welcome.


“The Team Party Pass is an idea that has been discussed at Grey Cup Festivals for a number of years,” stated 101st Grey Cup Festival Executive Director Neil Donnelly. “This announcement is a culmination of months of work and discussion and we owe a huge thanks to members of the 101st Grey Cup Festival volunteer committee and to the other CFL teams that have joined us in this initiative. More importantly, this is a great opportunity for CFL fans looking to experience as much of the Grey Cup Festival experience as possible.” 


Team Party Pass tickets will be available to CFL season ticket holders from April 8th to April 19th. All CFL season ticket holders will receive an e-mail with instructions on how to purchase the Team Party Pass.


All event tickets, including the Team Party Pass will be available to the general public in June, 2013.


Team Party Pass

Thursday November 21st – Saturday November 23rd

12:00 noon – 1:00am Daily

Evraz Place

Tickets: $60 plus applicable service fees for Season Ticket holders (online only)



·         Your pass will include one (1) dated ticket for each of the three days. This will allow you to share the tickets with family or friends if you aren’t able to attend all three days. On the day indicated on your ticket, simply exchange it at the door for a wristband which is good for that day only. Wristbands are non-transferable.

·         With your wristband you will also have access to the Downtown Party Tent located in Victoria Park in downtown Regina (subject to programming of other events and space available).

·         Purchases will be limited to four (4) passes per season ticket account, subject to availability.  Any tickets purchased in excess of this amount may be voided.

·         You must be 19 years of age or older to attend.


In addition to the Team Party Pass we will also be hosting a number of exciting events including the CFL Player Awards, the Gala Dinner, the Countdown to Kickoff Party as well as concerts at the Brandt Centre, the CFL Alumni luncheon and a number of free events around the city.  Further details will be posted at as they become available over the coming months.