Monday, March 31, 2014

Dressler Is Ready For His Shot

Weston Dressler is ready for his football career to resume south of the border. As you will see in this story from the Kansas City Star, he is more than ready to start contributing.

Who Has Stolen The Cup??

National League East Preview

Atlanta Braves

Strengths: The middle of the lineup -- Freddie Freeman, Justin Upton, Evan Gattis -- and back of the bullpen, led by closer Craig Kimbrel, are areas the Braves count on. The durability of Gattis is a bit of a wild card since he'll be the regular catcher for the first time, but he has legit power (21 homers in 354 at-bats last season). Kimbrel had 50 saves and an incredible 98 strikeouts in 67 innings while allowing just 39 hits. Power arms Luis Avilan, David Carpenter and Jordan Walden help get the game to him. Atlanta's relievers combined for a franchise record 2.46 ERA in 2013.

Weaknesses: All you need to know is that the Braves probably know more about 23-year-old Julio Teheran, who has just over a year of big league service time, than any of their starters who will open the season. Mike Minor and newly-acquired Ervin Santana are each expected to miss a start or two and Gavin Floyd, coming off Tommy John surgery, could be back by the end of April.

Spot to watch: Center fielder B.J. Upton batted just .184 in his first year with the Braves after signing a five-year, $75.25 million deal, and second baseman Dan Uggla hit only .179 in the third year of his five-year, $62 million contract. Especially with the rotation iffy until reinforcements arrive, strong seasons by both players would be a big boost to the offense and help prop up the rotation, especially at the beginning of the season.

Sign of trouble: Third baseman Chris Johnson batted .321, but he had a batting average on balls in play of .394. Shortstop Andrelton Simmons hit 17 home runs. In his previous three seasons, including the Minor Leagues, he hit a total of nine. Right fielder Jason Heyward has shown he can be a difference-maker, but he has been inconsistent while suffering two unavoidable injuries last season. It will be a bad omen if Johnson and Simmons slip and Heyward doesn't step up.

They'll be rolling if ... : Santana, Minor and Floyd have to pitch deep into games when they become available. As good as the bullpen is, the relievers could be burned out early if the starters don't eat enough innings. So if the rotation can take some of the pressure off the bullpen, the Braves should be in position to keep a lot of games close early and win them late.

Miami Marlins

Strengths: Pitching, pitching and more pitching. Even though the Marlins lost 100 games last year, they set a franchise record for team ERA. The rotation is led by reigning NL Rookie of the Year Award winner Jose Fernandez, and he's backed up by hard-throwing right-hander Nathan Eovaldi (3.39 ERA in 18 starts) and Henderson Alvarez (3.59 in 17 starts). Both should have upside. Jacob Turner (3.74 in 20 starts) and Tom Koehler round out the rotation. The bullpen is anchored by Steve Cishek, who had 34 saves and struck out 74 in 69 2/3 innings while allowing just 53 hits.

Weaknesses: The Marlins didn't just finish last in runs scored in the Major Leagues last season: They scored 85 fewer runs than the White Sox, the team immediately above them. The Fish were also last in batting average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage. They finished last in home runs even though left fielder Giancarlo Stanton is one of the most feared sluggers in baseball; opposing teams routinely pitched around him. To try to protect Stanton and inject some pop, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, first baseman Garrett Jones and third baseman Casey McGehee have been added. McGehee hit 28 home runs for Japan's Rakuten Golden Eagles last season.

Spot to watch: The Marlins have an abundance of young talent like left fielder Christian Yelich, shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria and center fielder Marcell Ozuna, so how quickly the kids develop is a key. The 23-year-old Ozuna deserves extra attention because he's coming off surgery to his left thumb and is making a position change. He's primarily been a right fielder throughout his career, and while he has the speed and arm strength to play center, it's not the position he's accustomed to.

Sign of trouble: An injury or prolonged slump to any of the first three starters would put manager Mike Redmond in a pickle. There's depth in the rotation, but it's still young. And even if the offense improves, this team figures to go as far as its pitching takes it.

They'll be rolling if ... : Miami's lineup has a nice blend of youth and experience with Saltalamacchia, Jones, McGehee and second baseman Rafael Furcal. If the youngsters blossom and the veterans come together and force pitchers to give Stanton something to swing at, the Fish could be a dangerous team.

New York Mets

Strengths: Even with Harvey out until at least August, the Mets should be competitive most nights because of their starting pitching. Dillon Gee led the team in wins last season. Jon Niese was 5-2 with a 3.00 ERA after coming off the DL on Aug. 11. Wheeler had an impressive rookie season. Add in free-agent acquisition Bartolo Colon and manager Terry Collins has four starters capable of pitching 200 innings. Daisuke Matsuzaka figures to open the season as the fifth starter, but hotshot rookie Syndergaard is expected to be called up during the season, and with Rafael Montero also available, there is some depth in case of injuries.

Weaknesses: Where are the runs going to come from? The Mets finished 11th in the NL with 619 runs scored last year, but they traded their most productive bat, out-of-nowhere surprise Marlon Byrd, to the Pirates with a month to go last season. To replace him, they signed left fielder Curtis Granderson and right fielder Chris Young. Third baseman David Wright isn't the home-run threat he used to be and has missed significant playing time because of injuries in two of the last three years. General manager Sandy Alderson looked into replacing Ruben Tejada at shortstop. Catcher Travis d'Arnaud is a key. He needs to hit.

Spot to watch: The expectation is that Ike Davis will probably end up being the starting first baseman over Lucas Duda, and the Mets have no idea what to expect from him. He could be the player who hit 32 homers and drove in 90 runs with a .771 OPS in 2012. Or he could be the player who hit nine homers with 33 RBIs and a .661 OPS last season while also spending time at Triple-A Las Vegas trying to regain his swing. The answer could help determine how many games the Mets win this season.

Sign of trouble: Lack of production from Davis at first base, d'Arnaud at catcher and the shortstop position (the Mets have at least contemplated the possibility of signing free agent Stephen Drew) would be a problem. And if Colon, who turns 41 in May, can't come close to matching his stellar 2013 season with the Athletics or another starter goes down, the highly regarded Syndergaard can't be expected to be an immediate ace.

They'll be rolling if ... : The top four starters are the lynchpin for the season. Manager Terry Collins needs Niese, Gee, Wheeler and Colon to approach 800 innings. If that happens, the team should be in most games. It's said that all a starting pitcher can do is keep his team in the game and give the hitters a chance to win it. If healthy, all these pitchers are capable of that.

Philadelphia Phillies

Strengths: A rotation headed by left-handers Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels and bolstered by the late acquisition of right-hander A.J. Burnett gives the Phillies a 1-2-3 punch that should match up against anybody once Hamels is 100 percent. He will open the season on the disabled list following a bout of shoulder tendinitis and is expected to miss the first month. Right-hander Kyle Kendrick showed his potential (6-3, 3.12 ERA) in his first 12 starts last season. Veteran right-hander Roberto Hernandez, who walked one or fewer batters in 15 of his 24 starts for the Rays last year, was signed as a free agent.

Weaknesses: The Phils scored 610 runs in 2013 -- their second-lowest full-season total since 1972 -- and will come back with virtually the same lineup this season, with the exception of unproven Cody Asche at third base and 36-year-old Byrd in right field. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has stressed repeatedly that the team needs its veteran nucleus -- shortstop Jimmy Rollins, second baseman Chase Utley, first baseman Ryan Howard and catcher Carlos Ruiz -- to play up to its capabilities, but lack of production continued to be a concern during Grapefruit League play.

Spot to watch: Before rupturing his Achilles on the final play of the 2011 NL Division Series, Howard had averaged more than 43 home runs the previous six years. In the last two seasons he's hit a total of 25. And while the cleanup hitter isn't the only reason they didn't make it back to the postseason in 2012 and '13 after winning the division five straight years, that's a big part of it. Howard says he's now recovered, so if he can bounce back it would be significant for a team that ended last season with its fewest home runs (140) since 1998.

Sign of trouble: Closer Jonathan Papelbon's velocity dropped in 2013 and he blew seven save opportunities, six of them with two outs in the inning. If he's not more effective, manager Ryne Sandberg may have to start juggling a bullpen that doesn't have an obvious ninth-inning alternative.

They'll be rolling if ... : Hamels had the seventh-lowest run support among all Major League starters last season. Lee had the sixth-best ERA in the NL, but he went just 14-8. The Rays scored a total of 17 runs in Hernandez' 13 losses. If the lineup can produce enough runs to support the rotation and the bullpen comes together, the Phillies could be in good shape.

Washington Nationals

Strengths: With a top of the rotation (Strasburg, Zimmermann, Gonzalez) that combined for a 3.20 ERA, general manager Mike Rizzo added right-hander Fister (14-9, 3.67 for the Tigers) in what certainly looks like one of the better offseason pickups. Strasburg has to be considered a strong NL Cy Young Award candidate, while and Gonzalez (third in 2012) and Zimmerman (seventh last year) can't be ruled out for hardware, either. With the announcement that left-hander Ross Detwiler will open the season in the bullpen, new manager Matt Williams had Tanner Roark, Taylor Jordan and Chris Young to choose from as the fifth starter.

Weaknesses: The bench was an issue last season. The Nationals hope to have addressed it with several moves. Outfielder Nate McLouth (.786 career OPS against right-handed pitching) was given a two-year contract after Scott Hairston (.815 vs. lefties) was acquired last season. Jose Lobaton was signed as a backup catcher and Jamey Carroll was added for infield depth. If Anthony Rendon wins the starting spot at second base, Danny Espinosa will have to make the transition to being a part-time player.

Spot to watch: Keep an eye on center fielder Denard Span. On Aug. 20, Span was batting .264 with a .669 OPS. From that point until the end of the season, he went on a tear that included a 29-game hitting streak, batting .329 with an .835 OPS in those games. And the Nats, who had a losing record before Span started hitting, finished with a flourish, going 26-12 to close out the season. The leadoff spot is always important, of course, but Washington especially like its chances if Span can pick up where he left off.

Sign of trouble: The Nationals replaced hitting coach Rick Eckstein with Rick Schu at midseason last year. When the schedule ended, the team had scored 75 fewer runs and the team OPS had dropped from .750 to .710. As a result, everybody will be watching the bats closely when the season opens.

They'll be rolling if ... : Right fielder Jayson Werth had a .931 OPS last year. Bryce Harper remains one of the most exciting young players in baseball. But both missed significant time with injuries last season. If they stay healthy and the rest of the lineup plays up to its capabilities, Washington should be tough to beat.

Back To Saskatoon

The Saskatchewan Roughriders announced today that they have reached a two year agreement with the University of Saskatchewan to hold 2014 and 2015 training camp at Griffith’s Stadium in Saskatoon.


This will mark three consecutive seasons the team will travel to the U of S campus to hold training camp after the Green and White held practice sessions there in 2013.


The 2014 edition of Saskatchewan Roughrider training camp will open with on field workouts beginning Sunday, June 1st. The team will stay in Saskatoon practicing through Friday, June 13th at which time they will return to Regina ahead of their first preseason game June 14th at Mosaic Stadium versus the Ottawa REDBLACKS.


Further details including practice times and fan events will be released at a future date.   

NHL Three Stars Of Week

Ottawa Senators center Kyle Turris, Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron and St. Louis Blues right wing T.J. Oshie have been named the NHL’s “Three Stars” for the week ending March 30.


Turris led all players with seven points (4-3—7) and a +7 rating (tied) to help the Senators (31-29-14, 76 points) go 3-0-1 and move within six points of a Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference. He opened the week with one goal in a 4-3 shootout victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning March 24. After posting two assists and a shootout goal in a 3-2 loss to the Florida Panthers March 25, Turris recorded his fifth game-winning goal of the season, a career high, in a 5-3 triumph over the Chicago Blackhawks March 28. He then capped the week with 2-1—3, his second three-point performance of the season, in a 6-3 win over the Calgary Flames March 30. The 24-year-old native of New Westminster, B.C., leads the Senators with a career-high 25 goals and +21 rating this season, and also has set single-season bests in assists (30), points (55) and games played (74).


Bergeron (5-1—6) found the back of the net in all four games, extending his goal-scoring streak to seven contests (8-2—10) while helping the Bruins (52-17-6, 110 points) maintain the top spot in the NHL standings. After tallying Boston’s lone goal in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Montreal Canadiens March 24, Bergeron scored twice, including his seventh game-winner of the season, in a 3-0 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks March 27. He then added 1-1—2 in a 4-2 triumph over the Washington Capitals March 29 and wrapped up the week with his 27th goal of the season, plus another tally in the shootout, in a 4-3 win over the Philadelphia Flyers March 30. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Bergeron is the first Bruins player to score in seven consecutive team games since Cam Neely, who found the back of the net in eight straight from Dec. 9-23, 1990. The 28-year-old native of Ancienne-Lorette, Que., has appeared in 75 games this season, posting 27-29—56 while ranking second in the NHL with a +36 rating.


Oshie tied for second in the NHL with six points (4-2—6) in three games to help the Blues (50-17-7, 107 points) remain in first place in the Western Conference. He registered 1-2—3, his 14th multi-point game of the season, in a 5-3 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs March 25. Oshie then recorded his first career hat trick, including the game-winning goal, in a 5-1 triumph over the Minnesota Wild March 27 before being held off the scoresheet in a 4-2 loss to the Dallas Stars March 29. The 27-year-old native of Everett, Wash., has set career highs in nearly every offensive category this season, including goals (21), assists (39), points (60) and game-winning goals (5), while playing in 73 of 74 contests.

(NHL Media)

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Something To "Mitch" About

Question: If you root for both the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Regina Pats, is it safe to say its been a bad month for you.  What an utter collapse by the NHL's version of the blue-and-white. They can still make the playoffs if they finish strong, but I don't think many saw them losing eight in a row and looking bad in doing it.  Dion Phaneuf has turned into a joke and its safe to say the Leafs will be trying to peddle him in the off-season. God forbid if Kevin Lowe should answer a call from Air Canada Centre in the off-season.

As for the Pats, their collapse is inexplicable or is it? This team asked for what they got by keeping Brandon in the race the last two games of the regular season. They gave the Wheat Kings all the momentum they needed by allowing Brandon to take three of four points in the last two games of the season and they rolled from there. The Pats won just one of their last eight games as they bow meekly out of the playoffs and leave Regina hockey fans bitter as they thought this was the year they would get to the 2nd round of the playoffs if not further. The Regina hockey fan has every reason to be upset and they are if conversations I had with people this weekend were any indication. However, all is not lost. This team still has a pretty solid core coming back. Daniel Wapple will be back in net and the team has Carter Hansen, Morgan Klimchuk, Connor Gay and Dryden Hunt all coming back as 19 year olds at forward with Kyle Burroughs and Colby Williams representing the 19 year old age group on the blueline. Sam Steel will get into the lineup on an everyday basis and more should be seen from guys like Brady Reagan and Rylee Zimmer. The future looks good which is encouraging.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers held a job fair at Investors Group Field on the weekend. Did they find a running back, some linemen and a secondary?

You will want to listen to the Sportscage (like I know you do as the ratings suggest) late next week as Rod is off to Florida for the Riders mini-camp. He will have all access to the camp and will speak with many individuals including Coach Chamblin. There will also be a special Saturday show as Dan Plaster and RP break it down and give you all the info you need to know from the weekend get-together in Bradenton. I really don't know if Bradenton is ready for those two.

My thought process on Kory Sheets making the Raiders took a sharp 180 upon word Maurice Jones-Drew has signed with the football team. Darren McFadden and Jones-Drew will fight for the starting running back job which makes me think either Sheets will have to one helluva camp or make the squad as a special teamer. His previous NFL experience may put the kibosh on him wearing the silver and black. I still wish Kory luck, but I'm starting to think at this time he will be back in green before 2014 is over.

Those hoping Desean Jackson wouldn't sign with Kansas City and his old coach Andy Reid because of what it would to do to Weston Dressler were forgetting one big thing. Jackson is an outside receiver and Dressler will be playing the slot if he makes it as a Chief. Whether or not Jackson wears Chiefs red is irrevelant to Dressler's chances.

Speaking of Jackson, the Eagles apparently got rid of him because of unsubstatianted rumours he was involved in gang activity, yet they embrace receiver Riley Cooper who as we know hurled racial slurs during last year's off-season. This is your NFL Roger Goodell!

What a tremendous weekend in Montreal! Major League Baseball certainly got the message that Montreal wants baseball back as nearly 100-thousand people poured into Olympic Stadium for two meaningless baseball games. The only thing missing was Dave Van Horne yelling "Up Up and Away" as Melky Cabrera pounded his 8th inning homerun to give Toronto the win on Saturday. I hope the Jays do this again in future years and I'd love to see them wear Expo jerseys while doing it. There is a long ways to go before baseball thinks about Montreal again, but they have to now. They have no choice.

The season starts in earnest today with the Jays in Tampa. I had the opportunity to speak to ESPN's Dan Shulman and John Kruk in a conference call last week and I asked them about Toronto's chances. Both aren't expecting any playoff baseball at Rogers Centre and both say you can blame the pitching when it comes right down to it. If Toronto finishes above 500, I'll be surprised. There is talk Alex Anthopoulos might have the carpet pulled from underneath him if the Jays struggle this year. He didn't get the desired results last year after making moves and he made no moves this year for whatever reason. That talk just might become reality.

There's a lot of good ball teams as the season starts. If you want a World Series prediction from this blogger, I am going with the Dodgers to beat the Rangers.

What a basketball game Sunday between Kentucky and Michigan. It had everything and then some. Michigan lost on what was simply an amazing three pointer with mere seconds left on the clock. I'm not sure how you could have guarded Aaron Harrison any better, but the freshman drained it thus ending what was a roller-coaster of a game emotion-wise for this "Mitchigan" fan. I had been at the Four Seasons watching Michigan State-Connecticut with State alum Luc Mullinder.  I had to leave after it was over and its probably a good thing because I was besides myself watching Kentucky and Michigan go mano-a-mano. That might have been the best basketball game I've seen in a long time.  I could sit and watch college basketball for the excitement, the drama and the emotion any day of the week. However, you give me the NBA and I'm looking for the remote. The NBA is just missing something that the college game has.

Great tweet which was retweeted by the National Post's Bruce Arthur. Aaron Harrison's 3 pointer gave Kentucky an added 330-thousand dollars in revenue. How much will he see of that. ZIP!!! Tell me again how the NCAA isn't a business and they aren't ripping off their players by paying them. They don't deserve millions, but they deserve more than they get.  I remember the ESPN 30 for 30 when Michigan's Chris Webber is looking at his jersey in a sporting goods store and he can't afford to buy it. That's just sad and ludicrous on so many levels.

Happy Birthday to my good buddy Rob Vanstone. He turned 50 on Sunday. Rob informed me Sunday night in his best John Foley (the old Stampede Wrestling manager) imitation that he had had a party and I wasn't invited. What Rob failed to mention was the party was in a phone booth on Park Street near the Leader-Post.

Is there such a thing as a phone booth anymore?

Speaking of the Leader-Post, the iconic (and fellow Seahawks fan) Ian Hamilton had a beauty in his Saturday column "The Spectator". Ian wrote “The NFL is suing rapper M.I.A. for $16.6 million for her on-camera middle-finger salute during the halftime show of Super Bowl XLVI.“Strangely, the league isn’t suing the Denver Broncos, who were M.I.A. during Super Bowl XLVIII.” BOOM!!!

That's a good place to end this one. Have a great Monday and know it will warm up sooner or later. It will won't it?

National League West Preview


Strengths: The rotation ranks among the best in the game, led by Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke as a dynamic 1-2 -- although Kershaw being scratched from his first U.S. start on Sunday isn't a good way to start the season. Hyun-Jin Ryu isn't far behind -- he looks even better than he did last year. Dan Haren is solid and there are proven options -- Josh Beckett, Paul Maholm and Chad Billingsley -- for the No. 5 spot. The bullpen, anchored by Brian Wilson and Kenley Jansen, is deep and talented. A return to form by Matt Kemp, coming off shoulder and ankle surgeries, would make a good offense lethal. Hanley Ramirez is an MVP candidate, and Puig's superlative talent is unquestioned.

Weaknesses: The bench might not be as deep as last year with Justin Turner, Chone Figgins and Mike Baxter filling the voids left by the departures of Nick Punto, Skip Schumaker and Jerry Hairston. Juan Uribe might not replicate his excellent 2013 season. There could be a morale issue if Puig, Kemp, Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier all stay healthy and there's room for only three of them in the outfield. Truth is, this team is so deep and has such huge financial resources, it's difficult to find any serious deficiencies.

Spot to watch: Second base has been the most apparent concern with the exit of Mark Ellis and the need for Cuban native Alex Guerrero, a natural shortstop, to get more experience at a position that's new to him. Dee Gordon, with his blazing speed and impressive skills, could be the answer. If he puts the ball on the ground and uses his wheels, he can drive pitchers and catchers crazy. Turner and Figgins offer veteran support.

Sign of trouble: Puig's immaturity remains a bright red flag. It was hoped that he'd calm down and settle in after his astonishing rookie season, but the impulsive sophomore continues to make internal waves. His buddies, Ramirez and Uribe, can help straighten him out, but it's up to Puig to listen, learn and act professionally. Also, an injury to rock-solid catcher A.J. Ellis could be disruptive to the pitching staff.

They'll be rolling if ... Puig settles down, respects teammates and the game, and lets his talent speak for him. The pitching staff remaining relatively healthy and Kemp coming back with power and swagger would go a long way, too.


Strengths: Assuming a return to form and the pushing aside of some spring struggles by a couple of its members, the Giants' rotation was, is and will be the most important aspect in how they fare. With Madison Bumgarner becoming the man on the mound envisioned when he arrived in the Majors four years ago at age 20, it's up to Matt Cain to become Matt Cain again, after his first truly disappointing season. Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong look to get back on track -- but both have some struggles in Arizona to put behind them. Catcher Buster Posey seems to be the only rock-solid certainty, having established an amazing level of consistency so early in his career.

Weaknesses: Until the offense proves otherwise, it's always going to be the aspect that stands out as an area of concern for the Giants. The lineup could be better than in years past with Angel Pagan at the top and healthy again, Posey and Hunter Pence in the middle, and a lighter Pablo Sandoval lighting up baseballs again. Adding Michael Morse could boost the power at the bottom of the lineup, and the infield Brandons -- Belt and Crawford -- both are due to take their offense to the next level. Also, the bullpen, which has been huge in the team's October success in the past, could be the team's soft underbelly.

Spot to watch: The top of the lineup should be manned by two veterans coming off down years, but both Pagan and second baseman Marco Scutaro dealt with back issues this spring. With Pagan's leadoff qualities and Scutaro's never-miss swing, their ability to stay healthy and provide the kind of 1-2 catalyst to the best of their capabilities, the rest of the offense could start motoring, taking some pressure off the pitching staff. But it appears Scutaro is headed for the disabled list to start the season, so that table-setting twosome will need to wait to get things going.

Sign of trouble: Already an issue this spring, health is a big issue among the many veteran players important to the cause. Scutaro, the No. 2 hitter and a veteran presence, is in particular a concern.

They'll be rolling if ... Panda becomes dangerous again. If Sandoval can rekindle the type of dominance he displayed in the 2012 postseason, he can make the lineup a lot more exciting. Posey and Pence will be counted on, but a return to form by Sandoval is key to the Giants returning to a winning place again.


Strengths: With MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt leading an offense that added Mark Trumbo in a trade with the Angels, the D-backs have a little more pop in their lineup, and they're hoping for an upswing by Miguel Montero and a next step forward by A.J. Pollock at the top. Martin Prado is the type of player who can be a catalyst, so if he can pick up where he left off at the end of last season, he might help drive the D-backs to a more consistent offensive showing.

Weaknesses: The rotation was not the team's greatest strength before Patrick Corbin's elbow injury, and the 24-year-old All-Star underwent Tommy John surgery this week in a turn of events that damaged the rotation right at the top. Free-agent acquisition Bronson Arroyo is hoping for a healthy start and the D-backs are optimistic that Archie Bradley can make his move to the Majors sometime this season -- both would be helpful in turning this weakness into a strength.

Sign of trouble: It already happened when Corbin sustained his devastating elbow injury. It's true for any team, but the D-backs knew they couldn't afford injuries -- it was what got them in trouble last year, and they're not off to a good start in that department this year.

They'll be rolling if ... The starting rotation gets off to a good start, saving a bullpen that is experienced and upgraded with the arrival of Addison Reed from the White Sox. If veterans like Arroyo and Brandon McCarthy can hold things together, and Trevor Cahill can step up to do some of the heavy lifting with Corbin gone for the year, things will look brighter in the desert this summer.


Strengths: The Padres have several talented core players, led by Chase Headley on the offensive side and Andrew Cashner at the top of a rotation that might be as talented as any during manager Bud Black's tenure. Headley had a remarkably strong finish to the 2012 season but needs to shake off some 2013 struggles in order to reclaim a place among the elite third basemen in the league. If shortstop Everth Cabrera can be back in a productive place after his suspension in relation to the Biogenesis investigation, he can deliver a spark at the top.

Weaknesses: The question with the Padres is always: Can they score enough runs? It's a harsh call to say it's a weakness with Headley and Carlos Quentin in the heart of the lineup, but it's a tall order for any group playing half its games at Petco Park to score a ton of runs. If Jedd Gyorko can continue to deliver the type of power he did in his rookie season, he'd be one reason to believe the Friars will be able to generate enough offense, home and away.

Sign of trouble: The Padres were too acquainted with the disabled list last season, and already they'll be putting it to use as newcomer Josh Johnson will start the season on the disabled list with a flexor strain in his right forearm. That's not a good start for the guy who was going to be their Opening Day starter.

They'll be rolling if ... The rotation holds up long enough to welcome back Johnson, and if they manage to get off to a better start than their 10-16 April of a year ago, that might get them on the right track.


Strengths: The middle of the order, if healthy, has some of the game's top talent in shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, a duo that can do some damage. Last year's addition of Michael Cuddyer proved to be valuable, complete with a batting title. Health is a huge factor, in particular for Tulo, who was plenty productive last season but played in only 126 games, after appearing in only 47 the year before. As long as it doesn't become overworked, the bullpen is another area that is stacked up well, leading to Rex Brothers and LaTroy Hawkins at the end.

Weaknesses: The starting rotation, hoping for good things from newcomer Brett Anderson and a quick return by Jhoulys Chacin, out with shoulder issues, could make a move upward. But there's a great deal of uncertainty regarding the starters, with pretty much all of them having arm issues in recent years. But Jorge De La Rosa is coming off a strong season, and this is a talented group that includes Juan Nicasio, who had an impressive spring. If things go well, starting pitching could flip to being an area of strength. It won't be easy to start that quest with Chacin down, though.

Sign of trouble: As much as Tulo and CarGo and Cuddyer can be a tough row for pitchers to work through, just how productive they will be will depend on the supporting cast, the biggest question mark being at the top -- where leadoff-by-committee is a possibility, though Charlie Blackmon got the most at-bats there this spring.

They'll be rolling if ... They get quality starts coming right out of the gate, especially with Chacin unavailable. Giving the offense its best chance to

Saturday, March 29, 2014

American League West Preview

Oakland Athletics

Strengths: The A's have soared with a deep pitching staff, a disciplined offense emphasizing the long ball, and a defense featuring Coco Crisp in the middle of one of the game's best outfields. The loss of Parker, and elbow issues apparently forcing A.J. Griffin to the sideline for the first month, have forced general manager Billy Beane and manager Bob Melvin to dip into their depth. The rotation is young, with free-agent import Scott Kazmir the old hand at 30. Sonny Gray has All-Star talent, and former reliever Jesse Chavez had a brilliant spring. Sturdy Dan Straily and Tommy Milone fill out the rotation. Jim Johnson assumes Grant Balfour's closer's role, and Luke Gregerson enhances a superb bullpen (sixth-best ERA in Majors at 3.22). Josh Donaldson is a star at third, and rebound seasons by Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick should give the offense a lift.

Weaknesses: Everything revolves around the rotation, and how well it holds up. Beane and Melvin favor strike-throwers, which should keep Crisp and Co. busy running down drives in the gaps. The A's did not have good defensive metrics in 2013, with limited range in the infield and negative numbers behind the plate. Only Donaldson at third and the outfielders rated above the norm. This team doesn't run much (74 steals), preferring to wait for the big blast (186 homers). It worked in the regular season, but not against Detroit's overpowering arms in a five-game ALDS defeat.

Spot to watch: Second base. Holdovers Eric Sogard and Alberto Callaspo are joined by versatile Nick Punto, who elevates any club with his attitude and skills. Sogard has the best range of the trio, Callaspo the best bat, and Punto is a winner. Punto also lends support at shortstop for Jed Lowrie. Callaspo, Lowrie and Punto are switch-hitters, giving Melvin a lot of options in matchups.

Sign of trouble: Cespedes has to find some consistency. He endured a sophomore slump, hitting 26 homers with 80 RBIs, but his runs created fell from 90 to 65. He never really found the groove that made him a breakout star as a rookie. His .240/.294/.442 slash line was nowhere close to what it should be, and he didn't exactly tear it up in the Cactus League. When he's right, Cespedes is one of the best left fielders in the game. If he falls into a funk, expect to see a lot of newcomer Craig Gentry in left.

They'll be rolling if … Reddick and Cespedes bring the thunder with Brandon Moss (30 homers) behind Crisp, Lowrie and Donaldson, the offense once again will send off major sparks. And if Griffin makes it back in May to solidify the rotation, and Johnson picks up where he left off to nail down 40-50 saves, and the infield defense holds its own.

Texas Rangers

Strengths: A star-studded lineup with a rotation to match. Fielder should flourish at Global Life Park with its inviting right-center alley. A return to MVP Award-caliber play form by the first baseman would not be a major surprise after a down year in Detroit. Choo is an on-base machine whose power numbers also should climb in Texas. Adrian Beltre is one of the game's best players and leaders, and Leonys Martin has all the tools in center. Elvis Andrus and Profar should evolve into an electric middle-infield tandem. Darvish has the deepest, most wicked repertoire in the game. The anticipated returns of quality lefties Holland and Harrison will enrich the rotation. By then, Tanner Scheppers and Robbie Ross, both making the transition from relief work, hopefully will have established themselves as solid starters, along with Martin Perez. A terrific bullpen loses Joe Nathan, but Joakim Soria is a proven closer.

Weaknesses: Soto's loss to open the season hurts. Free-agent pickup J.P. Arencibia has a lot on his plate, learning a new pitching staff and a new division. His backup is Robinson Chirinos. Fielder and Choo should elevate the team on-base percentage that dipped to .323 last year. Uneven efforts in the rotation early on could pressure the Rangers' offense to produce in big numbers.

Spot to watch: Catcher. Arencibia and Chirinos have a lot to handle. Along with the multiple responsibilities behind the plate, the duo will be asked to supply some offense. Arencibia is a .212 career hitter in three seasons with Toronto, and he batted only .194 with a .227 on-base percentage in 138 games last year. He did supply power with 21 homers. Chirinos, a Venezuelan, hit .179 in 13 games for the Rangers and .257 at Triple-A Round Rock.

Sign of trouble: If the makeshift rotation doesn't pan out, there could be repercussions impacting both the bullpen (adding stress) and the offense (creating pressure to generate crooked numbers). The bullpen also could suffer significantly with Ross and Scheppers moving into the rotation. The catching situation isn't as stable as expected in Soto's absence.

They'll be rolling if … Fielder bombs away in the formidable company of Beltre, Choo, Alex Rios and Mitch Moreland. And if the rotation stabilizes before it's too late, and the bullpen manages to maintain its familiar level of excellence.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Strengths: Trout is the game's best all-around player. Pujols looks better than he has in several years, and Hamilton is more comfortable in his second season in Southern California. Raul Ibanez still can launch them. Kole Calhoun in right field could be a breakout player. Erick Aybar has won a Gold Glove Award at shortstop, and Howie Kendrick is steady at second. Weaver and Wilson are a terrific tandem atop the rotation, and free-agent reliever Joe Smith will be a big lift to a bullpen that was under siege last year. Smith figures to set up for closer Ernesto Frieri.

Weaknesses: Only three teams in the Majors made more errors last year than the Angels. The defense struggled across the board, along with the relief corps and the rotation. Pujols at first should solidify the infield, and starting the season in center, rather than left, will have Trout in a great frame of mind. With Trout, Hamilton and Calhoun, this could be an excellent defensive outfield. Except for Trout and Aybar, there isn't a lot of speed here, but Calhoun is an aggressive baserunner.

Spot to watch: Catcher. Veteran Chris Iannetta and Hank Conger will be asked to bring the best out of Garrett Richards and Tyler Skaggs, the young starters at the back of the rotation, along with No. 3 starter Hector Santiago.

Sign of trouble: If Richards and Skaggs struggle, the Angels will be hard-pressed to replace them. There isn't a lot of depth in the rotation throughout the system. Matt Shoemaker and Wade LeBlanc are the likely candidates should a starter go down or scuffle to get deep enough in games.

They'll be rolling if … Trout is Trout, Pujols is vintage Pujols and Hamilton is vintage Hamilton. And if the rotation holds up, relieving stress on the bullpen. And if the defense plays with more consistency than last season.

Seattle Mariners

Strengths: Cano brings a superstar presence to a lineup that has struggled in recent seasons. This is not the NBA, where LeBron James can transform an entire team, but Cano certainly can make a difference, defensively as well as offensively. He's one of the five best all-around players in the game. Hernandez is to the pitching staff what Cano is to the lineup. King Felix, in his prime as he turns 28 on April 8, will welcome the return of Hisashi Iwakuma from his finger injury. If Taijuan Walker and James Paxton are as good as advertised, this will be one of the Majors' premier rotations. Brad Miller has the look of a first-rate shortstop.

Weaknesses: Only three clubs -- the Twins, Astros and White Sox -- scored fewer runs in the AL in 2013. The bullpen last year was ravaged with a 4.58 ERA, which ranked 28th in the Majors. The defense was abysmal, particularly in the outfield. Those areas must be upgraded significantly. Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley, who has been driving the ball, need to perform to their talent levels, as third baseman Kyle Seager did last year. If not, starting pitching and Cano won't be enough to challenge in this division. Somebody -- Smoak, Corey Hart, Logan Morrison -- has to protect Cano. As great as he is, Robinson can do it alone. Nobody can.

Spot to watch: Closer. Unpredictable Fernando Rodney can be very, very good -- as with the Rays in 2012, with 48 saves and a 0.60 ERA -- or very, very ordinary. He needs to be good for the Mariners to secure late leads, stay in the hunt and give Hernandez and Iwakuma shots at 16-20 wins.

Sign of trouble: If the Mariners aren't getting sufficient production behind Cano, he might lead the AL in intentional walks. Nobody wants to face this guy in a game-turning situation -- especially if there's no real threat coming up next. The catching, outfield roles and back of the rotation need to be relatively defined and stable.

They'll be rolling if … Cano drives the offense with support, and Walker's inflamed shoulder early in camp is fully healed and he takes flight behind Hernandez and Iwakuma, and the defense is sturdy and the bullpen comes through.

Houston Astros

Strengths: Center fielder Dexter Fowler seemingly has adapted extremely well to the move from Colorado to Texas, and Robbie Grossman is taking advantage of his opportunity to shine in left. Jason Castro provides rare power production to the catching role. Second baseman Jose Altuve is a catalyst, and Matt Dominguez is a superb third baseman. Scott Feldman brings a veteran's wisdom to the top of the rotation, and Jerome Williams, a starting candidate along with Dallas Keuchel, Brad Peacock and Lucas Harrell, is a sturdy veteran who can deliver quality innings in any number of roles. Infielder Marwin Gonzalez made the Opening Day roster with a strong spring. The farm system is loaded. Patience, please.

Weaknesses: The obvious weakness is playing in perhaps the toughest division in baseball, although AL East and NL Central fans will argue the point. The Astros had their moments last year in their introduction to the AL West, including a 10-9 edge over the star-studded Angels and going 9-10 vs. the Mariners. But, realistically, they need their young talent to arrive as soon as possible to make an imprint. There are question marks all over the place for now, the hope being they'll be replaced by exclamation marks in a season or two.

Spot to watch: Closer. Manager Bo Porter plans to go with a committee to open the season, including right-handers Anthony Bass, Josh Fields, Matt Albers, Chad Qualls and lefty Kevin Chapman. Veteran Jesse Crain could claim the job outright when he returns from biceps tendinitis surgery.

Sign of trouble: If the rotation doesn't hold up, it will place undue pressure on a bullpen that crumbled under the weight of 534 innings last year, fifth-most in the Majors. Its 4.92 ERA was the highest among all bullpens, and it succeeded in only 52 percent of save opportunities, also the worst in the game.

They'll be rolling if … Everything falls perfectly and division rivals struggle out of the gate, giving the young Astros the confidence they can compete with the rich and famous.

Montreal Hits A Grand Slam

It was a weekend of looking back and also ahead for those hoping to bring Major League Baseball back to Montreal.

More than 96,000 fans poured into Olympic Stadium for two pre-season games between the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Mets.

It marked the brief return of Major League Baseball to Montreal for the first time since the troubled Expos franchise left the city after the 2004 season.

Fans rooted for the Blue Jays, who didn’t disappoint, sealing both of their victories late in each game with a 5-4 win on Friday evening and a 2-0 victory Saturday afternoon. The crowd chanted “Let’s Go Expos!” during the games and flung their arms up into the air for the wave several times. Many seemed in no hurry to leave the stadium when Saturday’s game ended.

The official attendance was 50,229 for Saturday’s game, which followed a pre-game ceremony honouring the 1994 Expos. That team had the best record in baseball when the season ended in mid-August with a players’ strike.

Fans stood and cheered as Larry Walker, Marquis Grissom, Moises Alou, John Wetteland and other members of that team walked onto the field. One of the loudest ovations was for former Expos manager Felipe Alou. Former mascot Youppi! was with them wearing an Expos jersey on top of a Canadiens one.

“It’s very emotional. We were all a very close-knit group,” former Expo reliever John Wetteland said before the game.

“And it went beyond playing the game together. We honestly did stay in the clubhouse for an hour or two after the game, talking about the game,” Wetteland said.

“We loved learning about the game. We were all young. We were all in the same boat. We all didn’t really know how good we all were. We just went out and under Felipe’s leadership kicked everybody’s (butt). And we loved that.”

Rondell White expected to have goosebumps, walking through the tunnel and hearing his name called out.

“It feels great. Good to see everybody,” he said prior to the tribute.

He also called it bittersweet, “thinking about the ’94 team and what could have happened. But it’s great. It’s great to see everybody.”

The wistful what-if questions were inevitable for a team that was on a tear in the shortened 1994 season.

Walker acknowledged he has wondered many times what could have happened if they played the entire season and stuck together afterward. The Expos traded key players in a controversial salary dump after that season and Walker signed with the Colorado Rockies as a free agent.

“It’s all hearsay and just make-believe. But I think if the strike lasted two weeks like it was supposed to and what we were told, then I don’t know if baseball would still be here, but I can tell you right now there would have been some helluva good teams that would have lasted a little bit longer. It seemed that kind of put a crush to our dream and after that the team split up. It would have been nice to see what would have happened.”

It was fun to be back, Walker said.

“It’s fun to see the guys, looking forward to going on the field and looking up in the stands today.”

A gala was also planned for Saturday evening at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the 1994 team.

For some, the two exhibition games organized by promoter Evenko were a chance to show Major League Baseball that Montrealers miss the game.

“We understand folks this is going be a little journey,” said Former Expo Warren Cromartie, who has been spearheading the Montreal Baseball Project, a grassroots group that’s trying to bring baseball back to the city.

“Right now, we’re right in the middle of it. We’re making some noise. We’re doing the right protocol,” Cromartie said.

“As you can see the city of Montreal really, really miss their baseball. I think they recognize just how much they really love their ‘nos amours’,” Cromartie said.

“This is a stepping stone to the ultimate, which is to bring baseball back here in Montreal,” he added.

John McHale Jr., executive vice-president of administration with Major League Baseball, didn’t expect such large crowds.

“I was certainly willing to call success an average of about 25,000 fans per game. This is astonishing,” said McHale, whose father John was the Expos’ first president.

“There is a fire that burns brightly here for Major League Baseball and that’s a message that I’ll be proud to carry to the commissioner.”

His mandate from MLB Commissioner Bud Selig was to come to Montreal and assess for him “the state of avidity for baseball, to see how the facility looked and how the games were staged and to report to him on the general level of enthusiasm,” McHale said.

“I’m going to tell him that things were better than even I expected and that I was very, very, favourably impressed,” he said.

McHale cautioned it would be a mistake to try to draw conclusions from what he plans to tell the commissioner.

“I know of no situation which should encourage anybody to think there is going to be expansion in the near future. And as to relocation ... those are issues which have to be dealt with by local clubs. It’s not up to us to instigate that nor would we ever be provocative in that regard.”

It would be great to bring a baseball team to Montreal and see it succeed, Walker said.

It was a tough time the years leading up to 1994, said Walker, who added it was hard to fill the building. But when any franchise doesn’t win, “it’s tough to ask people to come out and support a team that sucks,” he said.

“That’s kind of where we were. Then ’94 came along,” Walker said. “To this day, I’ve played in a lot of ballparks and this is by far the noisiest ballpark when this place is full.”

“You get to first base and you can’t even have a conversation with the first baseman because it’s so damn noisy, and that’s a great thing.

“Good memories like that are what need to be talked about and the bad memories and people not showing up and stuff, throw that out the door and let’s start over,” Walker said.

(Montreal Gazette)

Friday, March 28, 2014

National League Central Preview

St. Louis Cardinals

Strengths: No team in the Major Leagues is deeper, both in terms of the pitching staff and the lineup. While they led the NL in scoring last season, that had a lot to do with a non-sustainable .330 average with runners in scoring position. The core of the team was revealed in October, when Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Joe Kelly, Lance Lynn, Trevor Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez and others held opponents to a .208 batting average and an average of 3.2 runs in 17 postseason games. All of the pitchers are back, including Shelby Miller, a non-factor last October.

Weaknesses: There really aren't any. But defense could be an issue at times, especially at shortstop (Jhonny Peralta) and the outfield corners (Matt Holliday and Allen Craig). The one area where they might be most vulnerable is catching depth behind Molina, but that feels like nitpicking.

Spot to watch: First baseman Matt Adams opens the season playing against left-handers and right-handers, with Craig in right field. But once outfielder Oscar Taveras -- the team's No. 1-ranked prospect -- arrives, Matheny will have to figure out how to fit four players -- Adams, Craig, Holliday and Taveras -- into three spots. General manager John Mozeliak and the Cardinals' player-development pipeline has produced so much talent that playing time could become an issue.

Sign of trouble: There are a high number of young players in important spots. If guys like Wacha, Miller, Rosenthal, Martinez and rookie second baseman Kolten Wong struggle, the Cards could be a 90-win team instead of 100.

They'll be rolling if ...: Carpenter follows up his 2013 season by becoming one of baseball's top third basemen. He's moved across the infield to open a spot for Wong (with free agent Mark Ellis signed to provide insurance), which set up the trade of David Freese for center fielder Peter Bourjos. Along with Holliday, Craig, Molina and Peralta, Carpenter makes the Cardinals a team opposing pitchers don't want to face.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Strengths: While much is made about the defensive shifts that Hurdle employed last season, that's hardly the only reason the Bucs are a terrific fielding team. McCutchen, the 2013 NL Most Valuable Player Award winner, and Starling Marte gobble up fly balls from right-center to the left-field line, and catcher Russell Martin is a defensive difference-maker. That plays well for the pitching staff, especially a bullpen that can hold its own against the Cardinals, which says a lot. Jason Grilli , Mark Melancon, Tony Watson and Justin Wilson give up runs grudgingly.

Weaknesses: There was a lot of talk in the offseason that the lineup could use another bat. The Pirates don't have that big bopper at first base and might have to compensate again with midseason trades, as they did when they added Byrd and Justin Morneau last season. An injury to McCutchen or Pedro Alvarez could be devastating. Hurdle would like more aggressive baserunning, but there isn't much speed behind Marte and McCutchen.

Spot to watch: Can Wandy Rodriguez return from his second-half arm trouble in 2013 to solidify the starting rotation? He has done little since being acquired from Houston in a midseason trade in 2012, but he had a solid Spring Training. While there are big arms on hand in Gerrit Cole and in the Minors in Jameson Taillon and Nick Kingham, the rotation gets thin in a hurry if pitching coach Ray Searage can't get production from Rodriguez and free-agent acquisition Edinson Volquez.

Sign of trouble: If McCutchen, Alvarez or Neil Walker slow down, it will be bad news for a lineup that was ninth in the NL in scoring last year. The Pirates have an intriguing hitter in the wings in outfielder Gregory Polanco, but they would rather ease him into the lineup when things are clicking, as opposed to looking to him as a major piece.

They'll be rolling if...: The starting rotation reaches its potential. Cole looked like Justin Verlander at times last year, and Francisco Liriano unlocked his potential. Charlie Morton pitched well enough to earn a three-year contract.

Cincinnati Reds

Strengths: Rookie manager Bryan Price takes over a very balanced team, along the lines of the Cardinals. The Reds are built around three dependable run-producers in Votto, Bruce and Brandon Phillips. Cincinnati is always solid in the field, with Bruce being one of the best two-way players in the league and Votto and Phillips not being far behind. The starting rotation is a paper strength, but all three members of the 1-2-3 combination (Bailey, Cueto and Latos) missed some time in Spring Training.

Weaknesses: The bullpen seemed like a strength until Chapman was struck in the face by a Salvador Perez line drive last week. Chapman could be out until June, and you have to wonder if he'll rebound from that horrific incident to pitch well at any time this season. Jonathan Broxton and Sean Marshall could also open the season on the disabled list, leaving J.J. Hoover as the closer early in the season.

Spot to watch: Billy Hamilton, replacing Choo in center field, will be an electrifying force if he continues to hit like he did in Spring Training. His game-turning speed was neutralized by a .308 on-base percentage in Triple-A last season, so it's important that he gets off to a good start.

Sign of trouble: Cueto's lack of availability at key times has been a big issue the past two seasons. The health of the starting rotation is a huge key, with the reliable Bronson Arroyo allowed to leave as a free agent. Tony Cingrani and Mike Leake are important pieces, and the Reds could need a lot of starts from David Holmberg or someone else from the farm system.

They'll be rolling if ...: Votto, Bruce, Phillips, Todd Frazier and Ryan Ludwick all hit 25 or more home runs, as they are capable of doing. The Reds are going to have to score a lot of runs to support a pitching staff that is reeling on its way home from Arizona.

Milwaukee Brewers

Strengths: The Brewers are strong up the middle, with young, contractually controlled players in catcher Jonathan Lucroy, shortstop Jean Segura and center fielder Carlos Gomez. The hope is that second baseman Scooter Gennett and left fielder Khris Davis establish themselves as part of the core going forward.

Weaknesses: The bullpen could have trouble holding leads. Jim Henderson is being entrusted with the closer's job for the first time entering a season, and GM Doug Melvin made a good move by re-signing Francisco Rodriguez to provide some insurance. But getting to those guys will be a challenge for the group behind them. Left-hander Will Smith, acquired from Kansas City for Nori Aoki, could be the difference-maker who turns this group into a strength.

Spot to watch: Can Garza, signed to a four-year, $50 million contract, and Yovani Gallardo give Milwaukee a 1-2 combination to match up to the front of the NL Central's other starting rotations? Both have long intrigued scouts and executives with their potential, but they haven't delivered consistent results. Health has been Garza's question, and Gallardo is trying to bounce back from a subpar season. If they bounce back, they could join Kyle Lohse, Marco Estrada and Wily Peralta to give the Brewers a run at the top of the division.

Sign of trouble: Injuries to the position players could be a major problem as the farm system doesn't have Major League-ready replacements in the wings. First baseman Hunter Morris is the only top position-player prospect who played above Class A last season.

They'll be rolling if ...: Braun bounces back from his suspension and a persistent problem with his right thumb to put up numbers close to his NL MVP Award-winning totals from 2011. He's moving to right field so Davis can play left. The Brewers could have a good lineup if Braun and Aramis Ramirez do their parts.

Chicago Cubs

Strengths: Youthful enthusiasm, maybe? Heading into the third season of the Epstein regime, the Cubs have continued to focus their efforts on the 22-and-unders. The farm system is beginning to produce hitters on the verge of the Major Leagues, which could make the second half of the season fun. Barring a setback, power-hitting shortstop Baez should crash the lineup by midseason, with the only question being where he plays as the team remains invested in Starlin Castro. Third baseman Bryant and outfielders Jorge Soler and Albert Almora should follow, with yet another infielder, Arismendy Alcantara, an intriguing wild card.

Weaknesses: Having traded Alfonso Soriano to the Yankees last summer without replacing him, the Cubs could have a difficult time scoring runs. They outscored only the White Sox and Marlins last season and that was with Soriano as the leading run-producer. Michael Olt, acquired from Texas in the Garza trade, is a lottery ticket as part of a third-base platoon and there's hope that Castro ends his regression as a hitter. Anthony Rizzo hit 23 home runs, but he didn't approach his ceiling last season.

Spot to watch: The starting rotation is thin enough already, with no top prospects pushing for spots, yet Opening Day starter Jeff Samardzija remains a subject of constant trade speculation. He was watched closely by scouts in Spring Training, but the situation could change in a hurry. Another strong season could lead to a long-term extension, as no team in the Majors has more financial flexibility than the Cubs.

Sign of trouble: Epstein and Hoyer believe they've addressed their bullpen problems with the addition of Jose Veras to be the closer, Pedro Strop in a setup role and Wesley Wright to share some of the lefty load with James Russell. Arodys Vizcaino was throwing 98 mph in Spring Training and could become a major piece after getting some innings with Iowa. Nothing would unravel the team quicker than problems in the bullpen.

They'll be rolling if ...: First-year manager Rick Renteria helps Castro rediscover the game that prompted the Cubs to give him a seven-year, $60 million contract as a 22-year-old. He's led the NL in at-bats each of the past thee seasons, but his batting average dropped to .245 last year, during which he also regressed as a defender. Epstein and Hoyer remain committed to Castro as their shortstop, but they would love for him to re-establish his trade value.

Hitters on the Brewers and Cubs can tell you how underrated the NL Central is. They get heavy servings of the powerful arms of the Cardinals, Pirates and Reds on a regular basis, so they weren't surprised to see those three teams in the playoffs last year. That could happen again, but opinion is somewhat divided on Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. There's no question about the Cards, who join the Tigers as baseball's strongest division favorites. The only question with Matheny's team is whether it can win 100 games in the regular season, and whether it will win it all in October.


This And That

A weekly collection of thoughts running through my muddled brain in no particular order
--I think its safe to assume that barring any miracles the Regina Pats are going to bow out of the playoffs after the first round again. This will not leave a good taste in the mouths of Regina hockey fans who desperately want this team to advance to the second round if not further. After soiling the linen in Games 1 and 2, it is my only hope they can push the series to five games and give it a solid effort win or lose in that game. Some have mentioned its time for a long-rumoured sale to finally become reality. I can't argue that.
--Give Regina goaltender Dawson McAuley some credit. It couldn't be easy for the young man to face the sharks that are the Regina media after some less than stellar play in Games 1 and 2. He stood there and answered every question though. Compare that to Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf who ran out of Air Canada Centre after a loss to the Blues this week without answering questions. Yes, Phaneuf finally did answer the media's questions by phoning up the Tim and Sid show on Sportsnet, but really phoning those two up is like hearing a tree fall in the forest. Did anyone of substance really hear it? He then admitted he made a mistake when speaking to reporters on Thursday. I'm sure he had been well-rehearsed before going out there.
--For those bemoaning the Pats fate, relax. Its just another year where Saskatchewan teams sit idly by and watch Alberta teams compete in the 2nd round. Swift Current may get there, but once again the Alberta teams dominate the WHL final four in the East. Wouldn't it be great to see a Saskatchewan final four one year with say the Pats, Warriors, Blades and Raiders as the final four teams from the East. Once again, its been far too long since the WHL final paid a visit to our province.
--Unexpectedly there was a lot of good baseball talk on the Sportscage Thursday. I think there's a real market for baseball in this town, but people just don't talk about it enough. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact you can see the Riders and Pats close up and there are guys from here that you can watch on a nightly basis in the NHL, but there is no connection to Saskatchewan amongst MLB. There's a lot more golf fans in Saskatchewan now that Graham DeLaet is doing his thing. I will be interested to see how the Mets-Jays exhibition series goes in Montreal this weekend. There is a definite appetite for the game to return to Montreal, but I just don't see it happening anytime soon. There is still a lot of bitterness with many for the fact the Expos were robbed of what some perceive to be a World Series title in 1994 when they were the best team when the strike hit. As I said on the Cage Thursday, there is no guarantee the Expos win the World Series. None whatsoever.  The 2001 Seattle Mariners won 116 games and didn't win it all. You can make the argument all you like, but the reality is no one knows whether Montreal would have won it all that year or not.
--The CFL's decision to review pass interference is dumb, but I will say its not as dumb as some of the moves being considered in the NFL like making the convert a 35 yard kick. I'm not sure what Roger Goodell is doing, but moves like that and the one in which players can no longer dunk the ball over the goal-post is just done.
--Jennifer Jones has indicated her rink isn't ready to call it quits after winning the Olympics. Does this mean we are going to see a Jones-Rachel Homan rivalry over the next few years. I wouldn't doubt it.  On the mens side, the Kevin Martin rink has broken up and it appears the Jeff Stoughton and Glenn Howard ones are also. The tides are changing on the mens side. Can it change enough so that a Saskatchewan mens team wins the Brier?
--I will not be disappointed if the Leafs don't make the playoffs.
--Scraping the windshield in late March is not cool!
--I'm hoping "Mitchigan" can make it to the Final 4 again, but it will be tough. The game against Tennessee doesn't scare me as much as the game against the winner of the Kentucky-Louisville match-up.
--I hope there is a special place in hell for those who roar past me and then get into my lane just so they can turn thus delaying traffic while Douchebagus Extraordinarus moves along.
--Who allowed Arsenio Hall to come back to TV. Who?
--When I wave winter goodbye, which finger will I be using?
--Have a great weekend!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Just Embarassing

American League Central Preview

Detroit Tigers

Strengths: Fresh off back-to-back Most Valuable Player Awards, Cabrera is presumably healthier after sports hernia surgery, and Justin Verlander, reigning Cy Young winner Max Scherzer and Sanchez front a rotation that could be one of the best in the game. As long as the Tigers have that core, they have a chance to go deep into the season, particularly now that they've answered the closer question mark with the signing of Joe Nathan and have improved their defense.

Weaknesses: What was once a deep, power-packed lineup now lacks balance and leans heavily right-handed with Fielder and Jhonny Peralta absent. The loss of Iglesias to shin fractures means the defensive gains in the infield won't be quite as great as projected. Meanwhile, the bullpen needs a bridge to Nathan, and the loss of Rondon complicates that search.

Spot to watch: The left side of the infield was once a source of offensive strength. Now, it's a source of questions. Rookie Nick Castellanos could be the next great Tigers hitter, but nobody knows what to expect, particularly on the defensive end, given that he only recently returned to playing third base. Couple that with the shortstop situation and the Tigers' mad scramble to patch the hole -- they've added Andrew Romine and Alex Gonzalez in recent days -- and there's no telling what to expect at that position.

Sign of trouble: Given the expected regression in run production, the Tigers will lean on their starting pitching more than ever. If the rotation shows cracks, there's not much the Tigers can do to work past them.

They'll be rolling if ...: Torii Hunter, Austin Jackson, Alex Avila and other veteran supporting hitters do their part to balance the lineup. Jackson tore up the Grapefruit League, showing signs of rejuvenation with Ian Kinsler stabilizing the top of the order. Avila looks healthier than he has in three years, so last year's strong second half might not have been an aberration.

Cleveland Indians

Strengths: The clubhouse culture Francona helped instill was a nice storyline, but the Indians' real strengths are their versatility and Francona's shrewdness in handling the daily lineups and getting the most out of his bench. The addition of right fielder David Murphy fits that framework, as does the experiment of employing Carlos Santana at third. If Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn and Asdrubal Cabrera perform closer to their career norms than they did last year, an offense that tied for fourth in the AL in runs scored could improve.

Weaknesses: Beyond Justin Masterson, there isn't anything resembling a bankable commodity in the rotation, if only because Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister and Danny Salazar have just 96 career Major League starts between them. Replacing the innings and impact left behind by the departures of Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir is essential, and an inordinate amount of pressure will be heaped on the shoulders of the 24-year-old Salazar after his brief but electric break-in last year. The jury is still out on whether Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer, the latter of whom was sent to Triple-A, can be counted on as worthwhile depth pieces.

Spot to watch: Santana's third-base trial has been encouraging enough that the Indians don't feel he'll be a total train wreck at the hot corner, and the Indians like him there as a means of retaining flexibility at designated hitter. One-time top prospect Lonnie Chisenhall, who still has plenty to prove on both sides of the ball, will have to fight for playing time at third.

Sign of trouble: If the hamstring problems that plagued Bourn late last season (prompting surgery) and again late in spring camp remain an issue, the Indians will have a problem atop their lineup and a big question in left field because Michael Brantley will need to shift to center.

They'll be rolling if ...: Salazar's secondary stuff proves it can play in the bigs and Kluber and McAllister make good on the promise they've shown in spurts.

Kansas City Royals

Strengths: The Royals have the finer points of the game down pat. They have three reigning Gold Glove winners in Alex Gordon, Salvador Perez and Eric Hosmer, and, most important, they don't have a single defensive weakness -- that's part of what allowed them to have a better-than-expected starting staff last season. Their bullpen, anchored by underrated closer Greg Holland, is loaded with high-velocity arms and is arguably one of the best in the game. Speaking of speed, the Royals have it on the basepaths, too, as they led the Majors with 153 steals. The Royals could be a scary club if the lineup, which now features Nori Aoki and Omar Infante at the top and Gordon in a run-production spot, reaches its prescribed level.

Weaknesses: The lineup hasn't reached its prescribed level yet -- not even in the second-half surge last season, when the runs-per-game output improved only incrementally from 3.97 to 4.04. The Royals were 64-13 in games in which they scored four or more runs. They'll need more of those games, especially given the loss of Ervin Santana from a rotation that could see some regression.

Spot to watch: The rotation comes with two big questions: Can Yordano Ventura and his 100-mph fastball make a seamless transition to the bigs right from the start? And can free-agent import Jason Vargas plug the gap left behind by Santana, whose 3.24 ERA over 211 innings was instrumental in Kansas City's ascent over the .500 hump?

Sign of trouble: If Mike Moustakas, after a scorching camp, falters again, and/or Hosmer can't carry over his strong second half from 2013, it will be difficult for the Royals to put up playoff-caliber run production.

They'll be rolling if ...: Aoki and Infante come as advertised in terms of creating scoring opportunities and Gordon takes a liking to his new role as a run producer.

Minnesota Twins

Strengths: Some of Joe Mauer's offensive value was tied to his position behind the plate, but that only matters if he's healthy enough to stay on the field. The move to first base will allow Mauer to be more durable and possibly more productive overall, considering that he was limited to 113 games last year. The starting staff, which posted a 5.26 ERA last year, has nowhere to go but up, and the addition of Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes, as well as Mike Pelfrey being another year removed from Tommy John, should point it in the right direction. The Glen Perkins-led bullpen is stout, and, most important, so is a farm system that, even with Miguel Sano on the shelf, still boasts the likes of Byron Buxton, Alex Meyer and Kohl Stewart.

Weaknesses: We said the rotation was headed in the right direction. We didn't say it was elite, by any stretch of the imagination. And neither, in fact, is an offense that ranked near the bottom of the AL in average (12th), on-base percentage (11th), slugging percentage (11th) and runs per game (13th) and made no significant outside acquisitions.

Spot to watch: The Twins are hoping for a big rebound from Aaron Hicks after his rookie year yielded an adjusted OPS a ghastly 35 percentage points below the league average. And whether or not Hicks sticks, all eyes will be on Buxton as the consensus No. 1 prospect in baseball begins the season in Double-A with the possibility of being called up in September, if not sooner.

Sign of trouble: If Nolasco gets hurt and can't give the Twins the prescribed 200 innings and/or Hughes' escape from the Bronx bandbox that is Yankee Stadium does not yield the intended results, well, what then? The Twins can't afford for their rotation to go backward -- or even sideward.

They'll be rolling if ...: Josh Willingham, after enduring knee issues in 2013, returns to his 2012 form and pairs with a more durable Mauer and a developing Oswaldo Arcia to give the Twins a solid middle-of-the-order attack.

Chicago White Sox

Strengths: As bad as 2013 was, it's easy to forget that in 2012, the White Sox were right in the thick of the Central race until the tail end of the season. The presence of Chris Sale, who might be the best left-handed starter in the game not named Clayton Kershaw, obviously provides a good foundation in the bid to get back to that level. The offense, which scored just 598 runs last year, should see improvement with the additions, dating back to last July, of Avisail Garcia, Jose Abreu and Adam Eaton. Even with Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn around, this will be a team largely guided by youth. And with youth comes upside.

Weaknesses: With youth also comes unpredictability, and we've yet to see if the reformed lineup translates into the ability to more consistently get on base (among AL clubs, the Sox ranked 14th in on-base percentage and last in walks). Beyond Sale and Jose Quintana, too little is known about a thin rotation that also features 24-year-old Erik Johnson, the oft-injured John Danks and Felipe Paulino. And the bullpen has to find a reliable closer after the trade of Addison Reed to Arizona.

Spot to watch: On the heels of what Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig did in their initial break-ins, the eyes naturally veer toward Abreu as he assimilates to the big league stage. The White Sox caution that his development will be a marathon, not a sprint, but the pure right-handed power he showed in camp is a source of intrigue.

Sign of trouble: Much is being asked of Eaton as he adjusts to a new club and new league, and his Major League experience to date is a small and somewhat underwhelming sample. If he starts slow, so too will the Sox.

They'll be rolling if: Garcia and Abreu prove to be the real deal. Suddenly, the Sox would have one of the most potent middle orders in the league, from a power perspective.


Maybe the Tigers' star power dictates the division and they run away with it. But one can certainly envision a scenario in which the AL Central resembles the NL Central of a season ago and a legitimate three-team race emerges between Detroit, Cleveland and Kansas City.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

SNET All Over Baseball's Return To Montreal This Weekend

With Opening Day right around the corner, Sportsnet has a baseball bonanza on deck this weekend to prime fans for the start of the Blue Jays season – across TV, radio, digital and print. The action gets into full swing on Friday at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT on Sportsnet 360, with live coverage of the first of two Blue Jays spring training games being played at the historic Olympic Stadium in Montreal vs. the New York Mets (full broadcast info below).

Immediately following the Blue Jays final pre-season game on Saturday, Sportsnet presents Blue Jays In-Focus – an in-depth, four-part series looking at the personalities and compelling storylines impacting the 2014 Blue Jays. The first installment in the series, Edwin Encarnacion: On Home Turf, airs Saturday, March 29 at 3:30 p.m. ET/12:30 p.m. PT on Sportsnet East, Ontario, West and Pacific. Full details regarding the Blue Jays In-Focus series is available below.

MLB Central Season Preview hosted by Jamie Campbell caps off the busy baseball weekend on Sunday, March 30 at 3 p.m. ET/Noon PT on Sportsnet East, Ontario, West and Pacific. The one-hour show preps baseball fans for the upcoming season, featuring exclusive interviews, features and analysis on all 30 MLB teams.

Below are the key details regarding Sportsnet’s baseball-packed weekend, the Blue Jays In-Focus series, and Sportsnet magazine’s Blue Jays Preview special issue:

Sportsnet’s Blue Jays and MLB Coverage – March 28 – 31

Friday, March 28
•Connected – Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on Sportsnet East and Ontario when Hazel Mae anchors a special edition of Connected live from the Big O in Montreal, featuring guests Alex Despatie and Joanne Vrakas of Breakfast Television Montreal. Stephen Brunt also joins the desk to chat about Montreal’s deep baseball history, while reporter Hugh Burrill hits the streets to talk to fans about the possible return of baseball to their beloved city
•Blue Jays Central – Following Connected, Jamie Campbell and analyst Gregg Zaun broadcast live from Montreal, setting up the weekend series, including a special pre-game ceremony honouring the ’94 Expos on Friday night
•Live Game Coverage – Sportsnet’s live game coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT on Sportsnet 360

Saturday, March 29
•Blue Jays Central – Campbell and Zaun return to preview the Blue Jays’ final pre-season game at 12:30 p.m. ET/ 9:30 a.m. PT on Sportsnet ONE, including a special tribute to former Expo great Gary Carter
•Live Game Coverage – Sportsnet’s live game coverage begins at 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT on Sportsnet East, Ontario, West and Pacific and on Sportsnet 590 The FAN
•Blue Jays In-Focus: The first installment in the series, Edwin Encarnacion: On Home Turf, airs immediately follwing the Blue Jays game at 3:30 p.m. ET/12:30 p.m. PT on Sportsnet East, Ontario, West and Pacific

Sunday, March 30

MLB Central Season Preview (3 p.m. ET/Noon PT on Sportsnet East, Ontario, West and Pacific)
•Exclusive Interviews •Sportsnet’s Hazel Mae sits down with player agent Scott Boras, known as the most powerful man in the game
•James Cybulski goes one-on-one with this past winter’s most coveted free agent
•Gregg Zaun visits a psychic in an attempt to hand over the reigns of predicting how the season will unfold
•Special Guests – Analyst Gregg Zaun, Stephen Brunt and MLB Insider Jon Morosi all join the panel and provide their thoughts on the 2014 MLB season
•Toronto Blue Jays – the experts examine a new season and chance of success

Monday, March 31
•Blue Jays Season Opener – vs. Tampa Bay Rays at 3:30 p.m. ET/12:30 p.m. PT on Sportsnet East, Ontario, West and Pacific and on Sportsnet 590 The FAN

CFL Players Strike A Realistic Option

Could the CFL actually be a victim of labour woes? Could part of the season be lost because the league and the players can't come to an agreement on a new CBA. It sounds ridiculous to think a work stoppage could happen, but the reality is it might. Here's the latest in a story from the Winnipeg Free Press.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Riders Sign Two Receivers

The Saskatchewan Roughriders announced today that import receiver Duke Calhoun and non-import receiver Guillaume Rioux have signed with the team. As per club policy financial details of the contracts were not released.

Calhoun (6’2 – 200) joins the Riders after spending parts of three seasons in the NFL. The Memphis, Tennessee native played two seasons with the New York Giants after originally signing with the team as an undrafted free agent in 2010. The 26-year old played nine regular season games for the Giants. He was forced to miss the entire 2012 season after suffering an injury at Oakland Raiders training camp.

Before going pro, Calhoun played four seasons at the University of Memphis totaling 212 receptions for 2,981 yards and 19 touchdowns in 49 career collegiate games.

Rioux (5’9 – 180) has signed with the Green and White after spending the previous five seasons at the University of Laval. The 25-year-old set a school record for career all-purpose yards, on his way to being named a 2013 league all-star and CIS All-Canadian. He is a three-time Vanier Cup champion.

NHL Three Stars Of Week


Nyquist led all players with six goals and tied for the League lead with seven points to help the Red Wings (33-24-14, 80 points) earn seven of a possible eight points and move into the first Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference. He opened the week with two goals in a 3-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs March 18. Nyquist followed that up with 1-1—2, including the primary assist on Daniel Alfredsson's last-second overtime winner, in a 5-4 triumph over the Pittsburgh Penguins March 20. He then scored his fifth game-winning goal of the season in a 3 2 victory over the Minnesota Wild March 22 and capped the week with 2-0—2, his fourth multi-goal game of the season, in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Minnesota Wild March 23. The 24-year-old native of Halmstad, Sweden, has 23-17—40 in 46 games this season, including 7-1—8 during a five-game goal/point streak and a League-leading 18 goals in 23 games since Jan. 20.


Lundqvist posted a 3-0-0 record with a 1.67 goals-against average, .942 save percentage and one shutout to backstop the Rangers (39-29-4, 82 points) to three consecutive victories, helping the team move into third place in the Metropolitan Division. He began the week by making 35 saves in an 8-4 triumph over the Ottawa Senators March 18, moving past Mike Richter and into sole possession of first place in Rangers history with his 302nd career victory. Lundqvist then stopped 25 shots in a 3-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets March 21. He capped the week by making 21 saves for his 50th career shutout (and fifth of the season) in a 2 0 victory over the New Jersey Devils March 22, passing Ed Giacomin for the most blank sheets in franchise history. The 32-year-old native of Are, Sweden, has appeared in 55 games this season, compiling a 28-22-4 record with a 2.42 goals-against average and .919 save percentage.


Iginla tied for second in the NHL with five goals in four outings to help the Bruins (49 17 5, 103 points) extend their winning streak to 12 games and take over the top spot in the NHL standings. He recorded 2-0—2 in a 4-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild March 17. Iginla followed that up with his seventh game-winning goal of the season, his most in one campaign since 2007-08 (9), in a 4-2 triumph over the New Jersey Devils March 18. After being held off the scoresheet in a 2-0 win over the Colorado Avalanche March 21, Iginla (2-0—2) posted his sixth multi-goal game of the season in a 4-2 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes March 22 to pass Hockey Hall of Famer and Bruins legend Johnny Bucyk for sole possession of 25th place on the NHL's all-time goals list (558). The 36-year-old native of Edmonton leads the Bruins with 28 goals and ranks second on the team with 58 points in 71 games this season, including 9-1—10 in his last eight contests.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Grey Cup 2015 To Winnipeg

The CFL commissioner will award the Blue Bombers the 2015 Grey Cup on Wednesday, the Free Press has learned.
Mark Cohon is scheduled to be in Winnipeg Wednesday and while the club wouldn’t comment Monday, it has been in negotiations for several months with the province and city to pave the way to a successful event.
The Bombers were promised a Grey Cup by the CFL when they broke ground on Investors Group Field.
One stumbling block to the event is an enclosed press box at the new stadium. Cohon visited the park last summer and stated the Bombers would have to convert the open-air press box before being granted a Grey Cup. This remains a work in progress but is expected to be finished soon.
After the Grey Cup is made official, the next step will be the official announcement of the NHL bringing its Heritage Classic outdoor game to Winnipeg in late February or early March of 2016.
The Jets have been told they will host an outdoor game and have told the NHL they want to play in 2016. An official announcement is expected this summer.
The plan is for the Bombers to erect temporary seating to boost capacity at IGF to 40,000 from 33,000 for the Bango Bowl in the 2015 regular season and then keep those stands in place for the Grey Cup and then hand over the stadium to the NHL for the Heritage Classic

(Winnipeg Free Press)

Something to "Mitch" About

--WTF??!! That is what many who went to the Brandt Centre are asking this morning after seeing the Regina Pats get spanked on back to back nights by the Brandon Wheat Kings. I'm not going to sit here and berate a bunch of kids who don't get paid like the pros do, but I'm also not going to sugarcoat anything. That was just plain embarrassing. There was no motivation, there was no energy, there was no nothing this weekend and it showed. Those who thought the season was over when Daniel Wapple got hurt appear to be right. Yes, the Brandon Wheat Kings need two more wins to take the series, but as one person texted me during the second period. It appears as if I won't be seeing you at Game 5. Is there any reason right now to think I will be? I'd just like to know what happened to the team that we enjoyed during the regular season because the team we saw in the first two games is the team many thought we were going to see in the regular season. The Pats have never had a lot of success in Brandon, but they need to find a way to pull not just one win out of Westman Place, but two.

--Some interesting numbers on WHL attendance can be found by going to

--Forget what I said about the light being perhaps at the end of the tunnel for the Oilers. Saturday's 8-1 spanking by the Flames shows this team has to once again blow it up and start from square one. Pathetic doesn't even start to describe that one.  That being said, I am becoming a big Ben Scrivens fan. His comments after the game about a fan who threw a jersey on the ice were outstanding. I couldn't agree more. As for the incident with Taylor Hall and Dallas Eakins, grow up Dallas. If your skin is that thin, get the hell out. At least there are two players on that team who obviously give a damn about what is going on and are embarrassed while you just sit there and try to make up one excuse after another, I was sure wrong about this guy. There are a bunch of other players on that team who just don't seem to give a damn. Its time for yet another complete overhaul and that too is embarrassing.

--Can we just skip the Stanley Cup playoffs and have the Bruins and Blues compete in the Cup final, I don't think there are two better teams in the league with apologies to all you Penguins and Sharks fans.

--The only playoff action at Air Canada Centre this year might be courtesy the Raptors. What has happened to the Leafs?

--Part of me really wanted the Oil Kings-Raiders game Saturday afternoon to be solved by the shootout. Its what the WHL didn't want, but asked for. It would be absolutely preposterous in my mind to have a playoff game be decided by a shootout.

--Had a small chat with Estevan Bruins coach Chris Lewgood at the Pats game. I was pulling for Chris this year as he made his SJHL debut. He helped make Pilot Butte the team it is in the Junior B loop and he will bring a winner to Estevan because he is that devoted to the cause. I hope he is given a chance to show what he can do. I think he will.

--Speaking of SJHL coaches, I heard a very interesting rumour about an SJHL coach being perhaps wooed by a WHL club and it wasn't Humboldt's Dean Brockman or Yorkton's Trent Cassan.  I've perhaps maybe said too much already, but don't be surprised if after the SJHL season is done, you hear this person moving up to the WHL.

--Watching the NCAA's shows me how good of a basketball program Canada is going to have in the next few years. Guys like Andrew Wiggins, Nik Stauskas and Kevin Pangos are certainly representing us well in March Madness. Wiggins won't be going to the Raptors in this year's NBA draft, but one has to think the Raptors might want to look at a Canadian kid as a possible draft pick to help grow the sport and perhaps give the franchise a homegrown posterboy.

--TSN advertises March Madness and then puts the majority of programming on TSN2. The same goes with opening day baseball where one game will be on TSN with a tripleheader on TSN2. This isn't a way to make Canadians buy your channel. It only angers them. TSN needs to start putting some more mainstream sports onto the main network especially with the NHL going bye-bye at the end of the year.

--After a great start to the tournament, things have fizzled big time for this blogger. I still have my Final Four teams all in tact, but I only have 10 of the Sweet 16 teams and that is not even close to acceptable compared to past years.

--There are reports out of Ontario saying neither the coach or the GM of the Saginaw Spirit went to the funeral of Terry Trafford. He is the 20 year old player who committed suicide after being kicked off the team. It is said the two stayed home to look after grief counseling for those who needed it. Ummmmmmm....didn't most players in the organization go to the funeral?  What a weak excuse! It is unconscionable that neither Greg Gilbert or Jim Palafittio did not go.

--Aaron Sanchez needs to be a part of the Jays starting rotation.

--Some baseball insiders say the Cubs have the most promising minor league system in the majors and that success could be a couple of years away. Really? Could it be?  I'll believe it when I see it.

--The ads for the Masters just make me long to swing the clubs.

--So much for the thought of Canada having an Olympic and world sweep in curling.  I didn't see the final, but it would appear Rachel Homan and crew imploded at the end. Should this surprise me considering the events of the weekend?  Yes, it was a very disturbing one for teams I root for. At least Michigan won!

That's all I got.  Have a great week!