After an incredible weekend of golf at Augusta National, the 2012 Masters Tournament has proven that you don’t need Tiger Woods to make the PGA exciting again. Here are some of the Tiger-less storylines from this past weekend: Continue reading
Well, it was another normal offseason for the
Florida Miami Marlins. We spent hundreds of millions of dollars on proven MLB talent, didn’t get rid of any key players, filled holes in our starting and relief rotation, and built a new baseball-sized ballpark. Wait, did I just write that?
Ok, so it wasn’t exactly a normal offseason. But with all this new talent and a new cool, calm, collected manager at the helm, the Marlins should definitely win the NL East, right?
Let’s break down the division and we’ll see how the Fish drop:
1. Miami Marlins: Led by pitching ace Josh Johnson (who last year had one of the greatest duels in recent memory with Philadelphia’s Roy Halladay) and former shortstop-now-third-baseman Hanley Ramirez, the Marlins will be significantly more competitive this year. And with an expanded 10 team playoff system, the signing of Jose Reyes, Heath Bell, and Mark Buehrle couldn’t have come at a better time. A new stadium and skipper will hopefully bring out the fans for the first few years, but is ballpark’s modern/artistic design enough to sustain Miami’s interest over the long haul? That’s the subject of another post altogether.
2. Washington Nationals: The main issue for the Nats is to stay healthy. This is particularly true for former all-star Ryan Zimmerman and first baseman Adam LaRoche. Despite LaRoche’s slow and short start last season, expect him to come out with bats blazing. We also saw the emergence of Mike Morse, who ended up being one of the MLB’s best hitters last year. During the offseason, the Nats acquired MLB veteran pitcher Edwin Jackson and former Oakland A’s up-and-comer Gio Gonzalez (SP). Oh, there’s also a guy by the name of Stephen Strasburg who is supposedly a pretty good pitcher, too (although he’s got to work on his pop-ups). Expect the Nats to give the NL East an even harder time they did last year (they finished 3rd…oh, you didn’t know that? yeah, they no longer suck).
3. Atlanta Braves: Youngster Jason Heyward and former all-star catcher Brian McCann lead this Braves team who are looking for redemption after a complete meltdown last September, culminating in the most insane Closing Day of all time. Dan Uggla clearly found his rhythm last year with his 33-game hit streak last year and now that Martín Prado has gotten used to LF, he should provide solid defense in the outfield (not to mention he’s a pretty good hitter too). And you can bet your ass that Chipper Jones is gonna end his hall-of-fame-bound career with a bang. Don’t forget about last year’s NL rookie of the year and Atlanta’s star closer, Craig Kimbrel.
4. Philadelphia Phillies: It’s the Phillies. Need I say more? Actually, yeah. They may have the best pitching rotation in baseball (and that is statistically inarguable) and may have added Jonathan Papelbon to their bullpen, but early injuries to stars Ryan Howard and Chase Utley could affect how they start the season and may hamper their lineup efficiency for the first few games. Ok, seriously…let’s talk reality. The Phillies have the best team in the NL East hands down. In fact they may be the best team in the NL (St. Louis, I’m looking at you, now). Expect these guys to finish at the top.
5. New York Mets: Going into the offseason, the Mets knew that they had to improve their bullpen. So what did they do? They signed three relievers, pretty much all at once. Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana is back and healthy, but we have yet to see what effect his shoulder surgery complications will have on that wicked change-up. And although Jose Reyes has taken his talents and dread-less look to SoBe, Mets fans can still breathe easy with sluggers David Wright and Jason Bay in the lineup.
So how will these offseason changes affect the standings at the end of this year? Here are my predictions for how the NL east will finish:
Eight-and-a-half years ago, I witnessed what is to me the greatest sports story in South Florida history: the 2003 Florida Marlins playoff run. This team epitomized everything that was great about sports. It was a fun team to watch, it had old and new faces, it was an underdog in every sense of the word, and it created one of the most unbelievable playoff runs of all time.
Sports are meant to be an escape. Like a good book, a strong NBA match-up takes you away from the real world and, for a few hours, it makes you forget about your responsibilities. Remember that 25 page report your boss asked you to “whip up” over the weekend? No you don’t. You’re too busy watching stoic defenders get posterized in front of a manic crowd.
Sports are meant to unite the masses. About a week ago, some asshole in a Ford F950 riding on 44’s cut you off without using his blinker…and the prick didn’t even wave. Guess what? You just high-fived him after seeing that ridiculous diving catch by the centerfielder. Or better yet, your team just fumbled the ball on the 1-yard line on what would have been the game winning drive and you proceed to learn new profanities from said ass-clown while you both denounce your sports faith and inexplicably bond like brothers.
Sports are meant to bring friends and families close. Think about it. How many times have you made plans with your friends under the premise of watching “the game?” If you answered “none”…actually, if you answered anything less than 20: stop reading this, find the big obnoxious X in the top right corner of your screen (or top left for you Applephiles), click it, and proceed to beat yourself over the head with a mallet.
Sports are meant to be fun. Just like an intricate oil painting, sports….no, you know what? Fuck it. This one is self-explanatory. If you need me to explain to you why sports are fun through some horribly structured and uncreative analogy, you’ve obviously never played one. Please see the above paragraph for further instructions.
Finally, sports are meant FOR THE FANS. It’s such a simple concept that gets lost in the madness of owner talks, player unions, $200 million contracts, and NCAA sanctions. The reason why sports even exist is to entertain the fans. It’s not about the players or the coaches, and it’s certainly not about the owners or the leagues. Without fans, sports would not exist. Period.
So how the hell does this all relate to Miami? Two words: Winning and Misery.
There is nothing harder for a sports fan to witness than your team’s self-destruction during the season or, worse yet, in those many months between the championship game and opening day. And if you follow South Florida sports, you are no stranger to this situation. The Marlins dismantled their 1997 World Series team about as quickly as it took me to decide that I hate the horrendous outfield sculpture that now infects their new ballpark. In the years between the end of the Hardaway-Mourning era and the emergence of Dwyane Wade (called the Dark Times), the Miami Heat struggled to find their identity and were just plain irrelevant in the NBA. And now the Dolphins, the second biggest cause of heart-disease in Kendall behind Sergio’s bistec empanizado, are rapidly committing sports suicide by amputating key members of their squad.
But keep your heads up, Miami sports fans. Yes, Pat Riley was right when he said that there’s only winning and misery. But what
Don Corleone Mr. Riley didn’t fully articulate is that without misery, there would be no winning. Without the years of irrelevance, that feeling when the Miami Heat won the 2006 NBA Championships would not have been nearly as euphoric. Without these months of turmoil and heartbreak, the moment when the Dolphins become Super Bowl contenders again will not be nearly as amazing. Without that self-destruction following 1997, watching the Marlins in 2003 beat the Giants, come back against the Cubs, and dominate the seemingly unbreakable Yankees would not have been as memorable or as significant in this sports fan’s life.
So to all Miami sports fans: keep your heads up, keep on cheering, and you’ll eventually get the chance to rush the field at the AFC championship game and scream “SUCK IT BRADY!” at the top of your lungs. And you can bet your ass that F950-guy will be standing there next to you with two middle fingers up in the air.
If you had to pick one player on the Miami Heat to be labeled the team’s X-Factor, who would it be? By instinct, most would yell “LeBron” without a second thought. But let’s take the time to analyze how the Heat play and whether or not the team’s success is directly related to LeBron’s personal stats.
Before we begin, let’s get one thing straight. LeBron James is currently the best overall player in the NBA and would win an MVP race if the voting were to take place tomorrow. Even Bill Simmons agrees. No ifs, ands, or buts, folks. He’s averaging 27, 8, and 7 and he would win the Defensive Player of the Year if it wasn’t for Dwight Howard and his “I can see them from space” shoulders. He can guard any player (including Howard) at any position, he can play virtually the entire game with little-to-no effect on his energy level, and he’s a smart player on both ends of the court. He has the second highest assist-to-turnover ratio on the team with a near 2:1 and he pretty much never gets into foul trouble (he has committed 4 fouls only three times this entire season).
But do the Heat lose when he’s doing poorly? The short answer: not really. In the Heat’s 11 losses to date, LBJ is averaging 28-9-6.5. The increase in rebounds is due to the fact that in a few of those losses, the team was without Chris Bosh so LeBron stepped up his presence on the boards. In fact, LBJ scored more than 30 points in 4 of those 11 losses. So the Heat lose despite LeBron’s numbers.
Then, if it’s not LeBron, the Heat’s X-Factor has to be either Bosh or Wade, right?
In the Heat’s 11 losses, LBJ and Wade attempt more field goal attempts than their average without a significant change in their PPG. Every additional shot they take is another missed opportunity for the Heat’s bench/supporting cast. Well-timed three pointers by Mario Chalmers and the occasional jumpers from Udonis Haslem and Shane Battier allow the Heat to spread the floor and split the defense more effectively. It also gives Wade an LeBron better access to the rim, allowing them to take higher percentage shots.
Last year, the most-beloved Heat statistic was the team’s winning percentage when the Big 3 score at least 75 points in a game. This season, especially rolling into the playoffs, it will come down to the Heat’s ability to handle bench depth from teams like Chicago and San Antonio. And defense from your bench players, particularly Battier and Haslem will be key in stopping these deep teams.
So who is the Heat’s X-Factor? The answer is everyone but LeBron and Wade (and Eddy Curry). More specifically, I would say Shane Battier and Udonis Haslem are at the core of that group. The Heat showed last year that even with some offensive inconsistencies, they used their defense to get them to the championships. The offense is significantly better this year and, as long as the bench can support the starters on the defensive end and on the boards, the Big 3 can do what they do best: score in transition.
One last note: Norris Cole has to put his recent string of so-so games and stupid mistakes behind him quickly. He provides a great burst of energy when he comes in for Mario Chalmers at the tail end of both halves, but he needs to be able to learn how to control the tempo of the game and, more importantly, how to set up the Heat’s semi-unorganized half court offense when transition buckets are not available. If he can bring his passing and his court vision up to the level it was at earlier this season, there’s no reason to even consider bringing Derek Fisher to South Beach.
Well, I guess it would be cool to have the Big 3, Pat Riley, and the President of the Players Union on one team.