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A band of misfits won the World Series in 2010. Two years later, the Giants simply banded together. Their second title in three seasons felt more scripted than ad-libbed, as a fantastic defense made plays behind a talented pitching staff, and NL MVP Buster Posey steadied the entire operation from behind the plate. The Giants survived six playoff elimination games and became the first NL team since the Big Red Machine in the 1970s to win two World Series in a three-year span. But these Giants aren’t seen as a dynasty yet, mostly because they’ve had so much turnover in their everyday lineup. There will be new challenges as the Giants seek to wear the crown a bit better this time around, especially since the archrival Dodgers all but broke into Fort Knox while loading up their roster with former All-Stars since the middle of last season. Even though the Giants brought back all their impact players from a year ago, they might be considered, by some, underdogs to win the West. It’s a role that has suited them just fine.
The Giants received at least 30 starts from five different pitchers — and all five return this season. Stalwart ace Matt Cain had no complaints after signing a $112 million extension, throwing the first perfect game in the Giants’ 129-year existence, starting for the NL All-Star squad and capping it off with another World Series ring. Madison Bumgarner, who turned 23 in August, topped 200 innings for the second consecutive year. Well-traveled Ryan Vogelsong proved his breakout 2011 campaign was no fluke; he led the NL in ERA as late as Aug. 12 and completed at least six innings in each of his first 21 starts — the longest streak by a Giant since Atlee Hammaker in 1983. As for Barry Zito, long the butt of jokes for his $126 million contract? He paid dividends as the Giants went 21–11 in his starts — including 14 consecutive wins to end the season, if you include his three playoff starts. Those fantastic four made it easier for the Giants to absorb a wildly erratic year from two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum, whose 5.18 ERA was the highest among all NL pitchers to qualify for the ERA title. But this lines up to be the NL’s best rotation in 2013.
It’s hard to replace a ninth-inning presence like Brian Wilson, but the Giants made a successful adjustment after the black-bearded Taco Bell pitchman was lost to elbow surgery on the season-opening road trip. After non-tendering Wilson and letting him become a free agent, the Giants will be in committee mode again to open the season. Sergio Romo is expected to get first crack at the ninth inning after he fearlessly threw his sweeping slider and 88 mph two-seamer to escape every big spot in the playoffs. The Giants re-signed valuable lefthander Jeremy Affeldt to a three-year contract and wrapped up righthander Santiago Casilla for three more years, too. Casilla saved 19 of his first 20 chances last season before yielding the closer job in July. Sidewinding lefty Javier Lopez also returns; he’s allowed one home run in two-plus seasons as a Giant.
Brandon Crawford is a Bay Area native who grew up idolizing Royce Clayton. When Crawford took over the everyday shortstop position, his idol gave him one piece of advice: Stabilize the infield. Crawford struggled to do that in the first two months of last season while committing 12 errors in his first 59 games. But he committed just six miscues after that, and he was a playmaking force in the postseason while mixing in a few clutch hits. The Giants paired Crawford’s youth with second baseman Marco Scutaro’s professionalism after they acquired the league’s best contact man (he misses on just 5.3 percent of swings he takes) from Colorado at the trade deadline. Scutaro, the NLCS MVP, hit .362 for the Giants during the regular season, and he carries a 20-game hitting streak into 2013. The 37-year-old probably won’t approach those numbers, but he’s a reliable hit-and-run presence for a team that thrives on crossing the plate without home runs.
The bad news: Pablo Sandoval spent a lot of time on the disabled list for the second straight year. The good news: The switch-hitter has no more hamate bones to break, after dealing with surgeries to repair fractures in both hands. Sandoval, the World Series MVP by virtue of his three-homer game off of Justin Verlander, is forever on the verge of an MVP-caliber season. Although his weight is scrutinized, he’s a gifted athlete who moves well enough to be a solid defender at third base. Brandon Belt endured an up-and-down first season but showed flashes of the pure-hitting talent that allowed him to rocket through the minor leagues. The former pitching prospect is a Gold Glove-caliber presence at first base, even if he hasn’t put up the kind of power production associated with the position. Expect Posey to log 30 or so starts at first base as the Giants seek to save the legs of their most gifted hitter.
Angel Pagan’s career year included a MLB-leading 15 triples, which broke the Giants’ San Francisco-era franchise record previously held by Willie Mays. The club responded by signing him to a four-year, $40 million contract — a bit of a reach for a 31-year-old who’d only played in 125 games twice in his career. But the Giants didn’t have another in-house candidate to replace Pagan’s leadoff presence, since top prospect Gary Brown isn’t ready yet. Right fielder Hunter Pence reached 100 RBIs for the first time in his career, and even managed to knock in 45 runs in 59 games as a Giant despite hitting .219. The Giants’ toughest task in the outfield will be replacing the production of Melky Cabrera, who was leading the majors in hits and runs on Aug. 15 when he was suspended 50 games for a positive testosterone test. Gregor Blanco, a non-roster invitee last spring, will get the bulk of time in left field. But a former 2010 World Series hero, Andres Torres, was re-signed to a one-year contract and will compete for at-bats. The switch-hitting Torres is likely to start against lefthanders.
What a difference Posey makes. In 2011, when a vicious home plate collision destroyed his ankle and ended his season in May, the Giants coughed away the division in the final eight weeks. Posey didn’t take long to reestablish his offensive presence and poise behind the plate. He’s the cleanup centerpiece the Giants had lacked ever since Barry Bonds retired. Posey became the first Giant since Bonds in 2004 to drive in 100 runs; more notably, he became the first NL catcher to win a batting title since Ernie Lombardi in 1942. Not bad, considering it was his first full season in the bigs.
Joaquin Arias is a better right-handed hitter than the numbers indicate, and he can fill in at three infield positions. Backup catcher Hector Sanchez developed a good rapport with Lincecum and Zito, and the switch-hitter is far from an easy out. Aubrey Huff and Xavier Nady are gone, so the Giants could look within the system for depth, with outfielders Roger Kieschnick and Francisco Peguero knocking on the door.
In three seasons, Bruce Bochy went from being viewed as a slow-talking retread to a certifiable genius with a Hall of Fame résumé. He brilliantly shuffled a tired rotation in the postseason and turned Lincecum from an inconsistent starter into a radioactive weapon in long relief. Brian Sabean returns for his 17th season — the longest consecutive tenure of any current GM in the game. It’s hard to find a manager and GM who are more on the same page than Bochy and Sabean.
Not only did the Giants get the band back together by re-signing Pagan, Scutaro and Affeldt, but they also brought back a 2010 World Series hero in Torres. They can’t count on smooth sailing to another division title, though, given their rivals’ free spending.
CF Angel Pagan (S)
Rare hitter whose game thrives at AT&T Park, which is made for triples.
2B Marco Scutaro (R)
Veteran knocked in 44 runs in 243 at-bats after joining the Giants last summer.
3B Pablo Sandoval (S)
Judged Miss Universe pageant over the winter, now hoping for an all-world season.
C Buster Posey (R)
Patient, disciplined, confident and calculating; Posey is a pure hitter.
RF Hunter Pence (R)
Plate discipline is lacking, and he doesn’t look pretty, but he still finds a way to drive in runs.
1B Brandon Belt (L)
The “Baby Giraffe” hit .254 before the break, .293 after it; only hit seven home runs in 411 at-bats.
LF Gregor Blanco (L)
Superb defender is a solid OBP guy but wears down when he plays every day.
SS Brandon Crawford (L)
Wasn’t even a finalist for the Gold Glove last season, which was a crock.
OF Andres Torres (S)
A year after trading him to Mets for Angel Pagan, Giants scooped him up again as a free agent.
INF Joaquin Arias (R)
Former top prospect hit .303 vs. left-handed pitching in his first season with the Giants.
C Hector Sanchez (S)
Caught 25 of Barry Zito’s 32 starts and 16 of Tim Lincecum’s 33, allowing Buster Posey’s legs to stay fresh.
1B Brett Pill (R)
Beat Clayton Kershaw with a two-run homer, but had arthroscopic knee surgery in March and will miss the start of the season.
OF Francisco Peguero (S)
Tooled-up and with a cannon arm, Peguero needs to get on base more to become an everyday player.
RH Matt Cain
His 14 strikeouts in a perfect game matched Sandy Koufax for the most all-time.
LH Madison Bumgarner
His 16 wins were most by a Giants lefty since Kirk Rueter in 1998.
RH Tim Lincecum
Delivery was a mess as he led NL in losses, runs allowed, earned runs, wild pitches; second in walks.
LH Barry Zito
Pivotal win in Game 5 of NLCS at St. Louis was his first in postseason since 2003 with A’s.
RH Ryan Vogelsong
Postseason ace (3–0, 1.09 ERA in ’12) has thrown 41 quality starts over last two regular seasons.
RH Sergio Romo (Closer)
Only Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman and Eric O’Flaherty posted a lower ERA among NL relievers.
LH Javier Lopez
Sidearm specialist held lefties to a .191 average and did not allow a hit in 3.0 postseason innings.
RH Santiago Casilla
Had a 1.82 ERA after Aug. 1 but didn’t regain closer role; saved 25 games total.
LH Jeremy Affeldt
Filthy curveball artist has thrown 42.2 consecutive innings without allowing a home run.
RH George Kontos
Made huge improvement stranding inherited runners, especially in playoffs.
RH Chad Gaudin
Is now pitching for his eighth franchise in last six seasons.
LH Jose Mijares
He had seven holds and a win after joining the Giants in early August.
Despite new ownership and a new TV deal, it looks like it’s going to be more of the same for the Padres. While the NL West rival San Francisco Giants are coming off a second World Series title in three seasons and the Los Angeles Dodgers continue to spend lavishly, the Padres appear content with the status quo. They hope Chase Headley will replicate his big season, and they will continue to build from within. They don’t seem inclined to go after big-name free agents, even though they are bringing in the fences at Petco Park. The Padres were so bad in April and May that a strong second half couldn’t lift them out of fourth place.
The Padres were hit particularly hard by injuries to starters last season, beginning when projected Opening Day starter Tim Stauffer was scratched hours before first pitch due to a sore elbow. Stauffer came back in May and made only one start before the injury flared up again. Then again, it wasn’t a powerhouse rotation to begin with. Edinson Volquez, one of four players obtained from Cincinnati for Mat Latos, bounced back nicely from a disappointing final season with the Reds. Jason Marquis made 15 starts after coming to San Diego from Minnesota, and posted the lowest WHIP (1.302) of his career. Eric Stults seemed to get better as the season progressed. The Padres won eight of his final 10 starts. Tyson Ross, who never found his groove in Oakland last season, has earned the fifth spot with s strong spring.
Injuries weren’t limited to the rotation. Huston Street, who replaced Heath Bell as the closer, was on the disabled list twice, with lattisimus dorsi and calf injuries. Nonetheless, he made his first All-Star team and converted 23-of-24 save opportunities. The Padres gave him a $14 million, two-year contract extension. San Diego will look for some stability in the bullpen, where 19 different pitchers made at least one appearance last year. The pen featured seven rookies, including righthanders Brad Boxberger (2.60 ERA in 24 games), Brad Brach (3.78 ERA in 67 games), Dale Thayer (3.43 ERA in 64 games) and Nick Vincent (1.71 ERA in 27 games). Luke Gregerson is the only remaining pitcher from San Diego’s former 1-2-3 punch in the pen, which included Mike Adams and Bell.
The Padres injected some life into their dismal season when they released second baseman Orlando Hudson and placed shortstop Jason Bartlett on the disabled list with a knee injury on May 17. On the same day, the Padres brought up Everth Cabrera, who has been with the Padres off and on since 2009, and exciting Alexi Amarista, who stands just 5'7" and was obtained from the Angels in the deal for reliever Ernesto Frieri. Cabrera became the first Padres player to lead the National League in stolen bases, swiping 44 bags in 48 attempts. While Cabrera took over at shortstop, Amarista split time with Logan Forsythe at second base. Forsythe is the projected starter at second, but Amarista will definitely be in the mix. Top prospect Jedd Gyorko could force himself into the picture if he continues to hit well.
After failing to put up the kind of numbers expected of a third baseman in his first four big-league seasons, Headley more than made up for it with a career year in 2012. The Padres, who control Headley’s rights for two more seasons, would like to see him do it again. He’ll get a late start this season due to a fractured thumb that will cost him the first month or so. With a more aggressive approach and adjustments to his swing that helped him cope with spacious Petco Park, he hit .286 with 31 home runs and led the National League with 115 RBIs. Headley was rewarded with his first Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards, and he finished fifth in NL MVP voting. On the other side of the infield, Yonder Alonso had a solid rookie season. He started 144 games at first base, hit .273 and led all big-league rookies with 39 doubles, which set a Padres rookie record. Alonso is one of four players obtained from the Reds for Latos the previous offseason.
Two of the three probable starters, left fielder Carlos Quentin and center fielder Cameron Maybin, have contract security. The Padres haven’t yet bestowed that on right fielder Will Venable. Quentin had a mixed season, showing the power the Padres sought when they obtained him from the White Sox but missing considerable time after having arthroscopic knee surgery during spring training. Quentin played in only 86 games, hitting .261 with 16 homers and 46 RBIs in 284 at-bats. After being reinstated from the 15-day disabled list on May 28, he announced his arrival by hitting five home runs, four doubles and driving in nine runs in his first six games. If he can stay healthy, he can do some damage at Petco Park. The Padres gave Quentin a $27 million, three-year contract that runs through 2015. During spring training, the Padres signed Maybin to a $25 million, five-year contract. He started slowly but set career-highs by playing in 147 games and driving in 45 runs, and tied his career-best with 44 walks. Maybin made several spectacular catches, including robbing Matt Kemp of a go-ahead homer in a Padres win at Dodger Stadium in early September. Venable made a career-high 103 starts, 80 of them in right, while hitting .264 with nine homers. Chris Denorfia started 60 games in right and proved his worth by setting career-highs with a .293 average, 102 hits, 19 doubles, 56 runs scored and 130 games played.
The Padres were thrilled with Yasmani Grandal after he made his big-league debut on June 20. He hit .297 with 16 extra-base hits and 36 RBIs in 60 games, with 52 starts. Then they were shocked when Grandal was suspended for the first 50 games of 2013 after testing positive for testosterone. Grandal’s suspension gives the job back to Nick Hundley, who seemed expendable after an awful season. Hundley was given a $9 million, three-year contract extension during spring training, then proceeded to hit just .157, was demoted to Triple-A and then, after being recalled, suffered a season-ending knee injury. Backup John Baker also returns.
Denorfia is practically a starter, platooning with Venable in right field and also making starts in left and center. Amarista excited fans with his speed and hustle as he played second base and a little bit at shortstop. Baker ended up starting 52 games at catcher and will be called on again early this season due to Grandal’s suspension. The Padres like Mark Kotsay’s veteran leadership — in the clubhouse as well as in the dugout — so much that he’ll be back at age 37.
The Padres picked up the options for 2014 and ’15 for manager Bud Black, who is the eternal optimist. On one hand, he’s perfect for this club because of his positive nature. On the other hand, there are some who would like to see Black get on his players more. Like Bruce Bochy before him, Black seems destined to shepherd a team that’s barely given a fighting chance by ownership. General manager Josh Byrnes says the Padres were inspired by seeing another low-budget team, the Oakland A’s, reach the playoffs last season.
The Padres teased their fans with a strong finish in 2009, followed by a 90-win 2010 season that fell just short of the playoffs. They appear to be following the same script, although losing 10 of their final 15 games of 2012 put a damper on what had been a strong second half. The Padres might inch closer to finishing .500 or slightly above, but that’s probably about all the fans can expect this season. If they’re really going to contend, that probably won’t happen until 2014 or later. Their payroll is expected to increase beyond last year’s $55 million, but much of it will go toward salaries decided in arbitration rather than to free agents. A big clue came when the Padres were extremely quiet during the Winter Meetings.
SS Everth Cabrera (S)
Recalled on May 17 and became first Padre to lead NL in stolen bases with 44 in 48 attempts.
2B Logan Forsythe (R)
Played in 91 games, including 73 starts at second, and hit .273 in first full big-league season. Could lose playing time to top prospect Jedd Gyorko, who will fill in at third during Headley's absence.
3B Chase Headley (S)
Former second-round pick became the first player in Padres history to have two months with 30-plus RBIs. Will miss the start of the season with a fractured thumb, but hopes to return in April.
LF Carlos Quentin (R)
Limited to 86 games after knee surgery; five of his 16 homers came in his first six games.
1B Yonder Alonso (L)
Made 144 starts, had .348 on-base percentage and hit .273 with Padres rookie-record 39 doubles.
RF Will Venable (L)
Played in career-high 148 games, including 103 starts; tied career-best with .264 average.
CF Cameron Maybin (R)
Set career highs with 147 games played and 45 RBIs and tied career-high with 44 walks.
C Nick Hundley (R)
Rough year included demotion to minors, .157 average and season-ending knee injury.
C John Baker (L)
Played in 63 games and started 52; threw out only 9-of-58 basestealers.
UT Jesus Guzman (R)
Utilityman made first Opening Day roster and started 65 games at three different positions (plus DH).
OF Mark Kotsay (L)
Hit .271 with two homers and nine RBIs as pinch-hitter; started 29 games. Should make a terrific manager some day.
OF Chris Denorfia (R)
Made career-high 77 starts in outfield; batted leadoff in 45 games, hitting .303.
IF Alexi Amarista (L)
Injected life into middle infield after trade from Angels; first career home run was game-winning grand slam.
RH Edinson Volquez
Was 11–11 with 4.14 ERA in first Padres season; threw first complete game, a one-hitter vs. Houston at Petco.
LH Clayton Richard
Workhorse set career-highs with 218.2 innings, 14
victories and 31 homers allowed.
RH Jason Marquis
After release by Twins was 6–7 with 4.04 ERA in 15 starts for Padres before breaking left wrist.
LH Eric Stults
Waived by White Sox; went 8–3 with 2.92 ERA in 18 games with Padres, including 14 starts.
RH Tyson Ross
Struggled mightily with Oakland last season, but has rebounded with a strong spring.
RH Huston Street (Closer)
First-time All-Star converted 23-of-24 save opportunities; earned two-year extension.
RH Luke Gregerson
Had career-bests with 2.39 ERA and nine saves in team-high 77 appearances.
RH Dale Thayer
Was 2–2 with 3.43 ERA and seven saves in 64 games in his longest big-league stint.
RH Brad Brach
Was 2–4 with 3.78 ERA and led all NL rookies with 67 appearances, second-most on team.
LH Joe Thatcher
Bounced back from 2011 shoulder surgery to pitch in 55 games, going 1–4 with 3.41 ERA.
LH Tommy Layne
Made jump from Double-A to majors, going 2–0 with a 3.24 ERA in 26 appearances.
RH Anthony Bass
Split between rotation and pen; went 2–8 with 4.73 ERA and had first career complete game and save.
This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for March 29.
• They're about to start playing games that count in MLB. These lovely WAGs will be watching, including David Wright's fiancee, Molly Beers (pictured).
• A roundup from last night, which saw another No. 1 seed go down to defeat.
• Noted white man Doug Gottlieb planted his foot in his mouth last night, but Sir Charles has his back.
• Step aside, Tebowing and Kaepernicking. Now we've got Dufnering. And it's tremendous. Here are three of the Duf-man's buds showing us how it's done. Note the half-pack of Skoal in the lower lip.
• Big Ten and Pac-12 fans might wonder how anything SEC football-related could be underrated, but here you go: The SEC's All-Underrated Team for this spring.
• Lane Kiffin, report to the principal's office: Pac-12 coaches on the hot seat.
• Yesterday's incoherent tweet was a joke, but now that Phil Jackson is on Twitter, let's hope for a continuing stream of zingers like these.
• Jerry Buss continues to burnish his reputation as a ladies' man even in death. There's news that he left a Bentley and a condo in Hawaii to a 20-something girlfriend.
• An announcer accidentally referred to a part of the male anatomy. Uncontrollable giggling ensued. If that's your idea of entertainment, enjoy today's video.
--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
• The Tournament's second weekend is upon us. To celebrate, Coed presents the Cheerleaders of the Sweet 16.
• Florida Gulf Coast is only the latest in a long history of NCAA Tournament Cinderellas. Here's a rundown from Mandatory.
• All good things must end, and the Bulls, minus three starters, ended the second-longest winning streak in NBA history. After the game, some dumb fan tried to grab a souvenir from an angry LeBron, who was in no mood to suffer fools, possibly because he's tired of the hack-a-Bron strategy that opponents are using.
• SEC East, beware: Georgia has an x-factor for the upcoming college football season.
• The latest from USC (okay, Spurrier, we'll call them the other USC), including video of Matt Barkley's reaction to his Pro Day performance.
• Today in signs and wonders: A Reds fan created a "miracle pancake" with the Cincinnati logo, then offered it on eBay.
• Phil Jackson joined Twitter yesterday. His avatar is badass, but apparently it's tough to type with all those rings.
• Pot, meet kettle: Rick Reilly asked Aaron Craft about being annoying.
• Today's video: One last moment of anti-Heat schadenfreude, courtesy of some dude named Jimmy Butler.
--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
• The Big 12 didn't have a very good hoops season. Only one team from the league, perennial power Kansas, is still alive. But that doesn't mean the league's cheerleaders aren't among the elite. Here's a sample.
• The last time the Heat lost, the Harlem Shake video had not been released. Those were glorious times.
• Dirk Nowitzki vowed in late January not to shave until the Mavs reached .500. He's working on an epic beard. Deadspin brings you its evolution.
• Once upon a time, Mark Cuban was sleeping on a floor with six other guys in a three-bedroom apartment. What he and other wildly successful people were up to at age 25.
• The U-Dub is an intriguing team to ponder for the 2013 college football season. Here's the news from Seattle from ace Pac-12 bloggers Ted Miller and Kevin Gemmell.
• Randall Cunningham, who was years ahead of his time, turns 50 today, and he looks every bit of it. And I suddenly feel very, very old.
• Dubya was on hand last night to watch Brittney Griner score 33 points, six of them on three dunks. Well, not dunks like you and I think of them, but dunks nonetheless.
• The Phillie Phanatic tried to make out with the local Fox traffic reporter. When you see her, you'll understand why.
• Phil Mickelson hits an amazing flop shot over a guy standing right in front of him. That guy is more trusting than I am.
• It may seem paranoid for coaches to close spring practices to the media, but they have their reasons.
• Blake Griffin hit what would have been the season's best buzzer beater. Unfortunately, he cheated and it didn't count.
--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
• Today's celebrity gossip: "Nashville" actress Hayden Panettiere is once again dating meathead boxer Wladimir Klitschko, if their PDA at Sunday's Heat-Bobcats game is any indication. That's them, being photobombed by Rory McIlroy. Now back to our regular programming.
• Along with the shining moments, March Madness brings with it some crushing disappointments. Here are 10 of the biggest so far.
• LeBron James celebrated the Heat's 27th consecutive win with an amazingly dorky videobomb. It's good to be the King.
• Attention Pac-12 fans: If your team's out of the tournament (or even if it's not), there's plenty of football news going on. Kevin Gemmell has it covered.
• They'll rearrange your face, then tell you you're still ugly: The best MMA trash-talkers.
• It's spring break time for many students. Of course, there are some athletes for whom spring break is a constant state of mind.
• Each fall in the SEC brings an amazing influx of new football talent. Here are the 25 newcomers to watch.
• Arizona pitcher Daniel Hudson didn't like his new baseball card. And no wonder: The photo they used was from his season-ending injury.
• A tennis player was stung by a wasp in an indelicate place. She did not enjoy the experience.
• The Red Sox are having trouble selling tickets. The solution: Cheap beer!
• Nike has an interesting take on Tiger Woods' return to the top. Wonder if Elin agrees with the sentiment?
• Today's video amazingly combines elements of hockey, hoops and drinking into one amusing package.
--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
• Step aside, Katherine Webb: It's Amanda Marcum's time. The wife of Florida Gulf Coast coach Andy Enfield is ready for her close-up. That's her in the photo, in case you were wondering.
• FGCU's a great hoops story, but you want a human interest angle? They've got that covered, too.
• Shane Larkin is Miami's best player, but Julian Gamble is college basketball's best photobomber, and it's not close. Another Hurricane superlative: Jim Larranaga busted out the best postgame coach dance of all time, and nominations are now closed.
• Here's some crack for hoops junkies: 16 amazing stats from the Tournament's first weekend. Also: An assortment of first-weekend superlatives.
• Baseball royalty: Mets PR director Jay Horwitz is the King of the Butt-Dialers.
• Here's an opinion that's sure to generate discussion: AJ McCarron will go down as Bama's greatest quarterback ever. Remember, this is the school that produced Joe Namath.
• Sergio Garcia made his reputation as a 19-year-old hitting a closed-eyes shot from the base of a tree at the PGA Championship. Yesterday, he topped himself: Sergio hit a shot out of a tree. I've had to hit it out of the trees plenty of times, but not like this.
• Instant classic: Tiger, Arnie and Trevino go Ninja for EA Sports.
--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
Freshmen have led teams to national championships. They’ve won National Player of the Year honors and Defensive Player of the Year honors. Even more rookies have gone on to be top picks in the NBA Draft.
Kentucky’s Anthony Davis did all those things in a single season in Lexington. That's why he tops our list of the greatest freshman seasons.
Here are Athlon Sports’ picks for the top 10 greatest freshman seasons:
1. Anthony Davis, Kentucky 2011-12
Stats: 14.2 points, 10.4 rebounds
His case for top freshman: Davis didn’t simply have one of the best freshman seasons in college basketball history -- he had one of the best seasons of any player. If there was an award to be won or honor to receive, Davis earned it. He was the consensus national player of the year, a unanimous All-American, the national defensive player of the year and the Final Four Most Outstanding Player. After leading Kentucky to its eighth national title and first championship since 1998, Davis was the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft. The only other players to win the Naismith Award, the Final Four MOP and then be selected first overall in the draft all the in the same season were Kansas’ Danny Manning and. UCLA’s Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. With a 7-foot-four wingspan, Davis was a defensive force, setting an NCAA freshman record and Kentucky record with 186 blocks.
2. Kevin Durant, Texas 2006-07
Stats: 25.8 points, 11.1 rebounds
His case for top freshman: In the first season impacted by the NBA’s rule to require draftees to be a year removed from high school, Durant showed what a new breed of precocious freshmen could do in college. He swept the National Player of the Year awards and remains the only freshman to do so. In his only college season, Durant was the only player in the country to finish in the top 10 in scoring and rebounding – he finished fourth in both. Despite Durant’s prolific season, his play didn’t translate to postseason success. Texas lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to USC, led by another freshman, O.J. Mayo. The Longhorns also couldn’t solve Kansas, who won the Big 12 regular season title and defeated the Longhorns in the Big 12 Tournament final in overtime. Durant was the second pick in the 2007 NBA Draft behind the oft-injured one-and-done Greg Oden.
3. Carmelo Anthony, Syracuse 2002-03
Stats: 22.2 points, 10 rebounds
His case for top freshman: Some freshman-led teams have come close, but Anthony became the first rookie since Pervis Ellison in 1986 (Louisville) to lead his team to a national title. Anthony was a second-team All-American in his only college season, but none were better in the NCAA Tournament. Anthony was the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, helping Jim Boeheim to his first national championship. In the final against Kansas, Anthony scored 20 points with 10 rebounds and seven assists. A game earlier in the national semifinal against Texas, Anthony had 33 points and 14 rebounds. His elite play led Syracuse to a title, but it wasn’t limited to March. During the regular season, Anthony finished with 22 double-doubles, the most for a freshman since Virginia’s Ralph Sampson in 1980.
4. Chris Jackson, LSU 1988-89
Stats: 30.2 points, 2.5 rebounds
His case for top freshman: Jackson, who later changed his name to Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, turned in one of the all-time best freshman seasons nearly two decades before it became commonplace for first-year players to rewrite record books. Jackson averaged 30.2 points per game, which remains a Division I freshman record. It also remains the seventh-highest scoring average in SEC history. Since Jackson’s freshman season, only two SEC players have topped 25 points per game in a season – Jackson as a sophomore, and LSU’s Shaquille O’Neal in 1991-92. Jackson finished the season as a consensus All-American, but the Tigers lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to UTEP.
5. Wayman Tisdale, Oklahoma 1982-83
Stats: 24.5 points, 10.3 rebounds
His case for top freshman: Tisdale was the forefather to the great freshmen of the 2000s. It’s fitting, then, his name is on the National Freshman of the Year award. In 1983, Tisdale was the first freshman to be a first-team All-American while also earning Big Eight Player of the Year honors. He accomplished both feats again as a sophomore and a junior.
6. Kevin Love, UCLA 2007-08
Stats: 17.5 points, 10.6 rebounds
His case for top freshman: During better times for Ben Howland at UCLA, the coach relied primarily on veterans. Love was the exception during the Bruins’ run of Final Fours. Love led UCLA in scoring and rebounding in the Bruins’ last of three consecutive appearances in the national semifinal. He also finished the season with 23 double-doubles; Michael Beasley is the only other freshman to amass more. Love was a consensus All-American and the Pac-10 Player of the Year, one of only two freshmen to earn the honor.
7. Michael Beasley, Kansas State 2007-08
Stats: 26.2 points, 12.4 rebounds
His case for top freshman: Like Durant’s college career, some of his Big 12 records didn’t last long. A year after Durant lit up the Big 12, Beasley did the same a year later. Beasley set a Big 12 single-season record by averaging 26.2 points per game, breaking Durant’s record of 25.8. Beasley finished with 13 30-point games, the most for any Big 12 player in a season (Durant had 11). Beasley’s 28 double-doubles also remains a national freshman record. Unlike Durant, Beasley didn’t pick up any National Player of the Year awards – that hardware in 2008 went to North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough. Like Durant and Texas, Beasley and Kansas State failed to get out of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, losing to Wisconsin in the second round.
8. Jared Sullinger, Ohio State 2010-11
Stats: 17.2 points, 10.2 rebounds
His case for top freshman: Ohio State has had more success with star freshmen in recent years than any other Big Ten team. Sullinger may have been the best of a group that includes Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr. Unlike Oden, Conley and big men B.J. Mullens and Kosta Koufos, Sullinger elected to stay for his sophomore season. As a freshman, Sullinger was a consensus All-American and the Big Ten’s first National Freshman of the Year since Michigan’s Chris Webber in 1992. Though Ohio State spent the entire season ranked in the top four, Sullinger and the Buckeyes finished their season in the Sweet 16 with a loss to Kentucky.
9. Derrick Rose, Memphis 2007-08
Stats: 14.9 points, 4.7 assists, 4.5 rebounds
His case for top freshman: Hard to believe as it is, Rose wasn’t the most decorated player on his own team as a freshman. That distinction went to All-American and Conference USA Player of the Year Chris Douglas-Roberts. Rose belongs on this list, though, as the point guard of a team that played for a national title before falling 75-68 in overtime to Kansas. Rose averaged 20.8 points, 6.5 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game in the NCAA Tournament, but his missed free throws late in regulation of the title game sealed Memphis’ fate. Months later, Rose was the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft.
10. John Wall, Kentucky 2009-10
Stats: 16.6 points, 6.5 assists, 4.3 rebounds
His case for top freshman: John Calipari started at Kentucky the same way he finished his time at Memphis – with an elite one-and-done point guard. Wall followed in the footsteps of Rose and Tyreke Evans at Memphis and preceded Brandon Knight and Marquis Teague at Kentucky. In leading Kentucky to a 35-3 season, Wall was the National Freshman of the Year and the Associated Press and coaches’ pick for SEC Player of the Year (Oddly enough, teammate DeMarcus Cousins was the coaches’ pick for SEC Freshman of the Year). Wall was blocked for most National Player of the Year awards by Ohio State’s Evan Turner, but Wall did earn the Adolph Rupp Trophy. Go figure.
Honorable mention: Greg Oden, Ohio State 2006-07
Stats: 15.7 points, 9.6 rebounds
His case for top freshman: For a least a year, Oden vs. Durant was a heated debate. Durant was the consensus Player of the Year, but Oden and fellow freshman Mike Conley Jr. helped Ohio State reach the national championship game. Oden ended up going first in the NBA Draft, but it was the last time he’d have the edge over Durant, who became an NBA superstar while Oden’s pro career has been derailed by injuries. As a college player, Oden holds the distinction of being the only freshman to win National Defensive Player of the Year honors by averaging 9.6 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per game.
The start of the 2013 college football season is still months away, but it’s never too early to start thinking about preseason predictions and some of the top games to watch in each conference — and since Notre Dame isn't in a conference, the Fighting Irish stand alone.
So, too, does the difficulty of their schedule.
Brian Kelly led the Irish to the BCS National Championship game in 2012 well ahead of schedule. And while no team might have been capable of beating Alabama in that game last year, the Irish were plenty deserving of being in the game. Notre Dame plays one of, if not the, most difficult schedules each and every season. The 2013 slate is no different as major powerhouses like Michigan, Stanford, USC and Oklahoma dot the calendar. Toss in teams like Arizona State, Michigan State, Pitt and BYU and the Irish are looking at playing upwards of nine or 10 teams that played in bowl games last season.
If Notre Dame runs the table in the '13 regular season, it will be completely worthy of playing in the title game once again.
Notre Dame 2013 Schedule
Aug. 31 Temple
Sept. 7 at Michigan
Sept. 14 at Purdue
Sept. 21 Michigan State
Sept. 28 Oklahoma
Oct. 5 Arizona State (Arlington)
Oct. 12 Bye Week
Oct. 19 USC
Oct. 26 at Air Force
Nov. 2 Navy
Nov. 9 at Pitt
Nov. 16 Bye Week
Nov. 23 BYU
Nov. 30 at Stanford
* Breaking in the new lineup against Temple at home is one of the easiest ways the Irish could have possibly opened their season. The Owls won't press the new starters on defense too much as they lack the playmakers to challenge the Irish. This is a perfect way to start the year for Kelly's bunch.
* The warm up in the opener will be just that for a huge Week 2 test on the road against rival Michigan. Devin Gardner is now under center for Michigan and Brady Hoke's offense will now be much more traditional — and more difficult to stop. The new defensive starters need to grow up quickly in order to be prepared for the trip to Ann Arbor — a place where the Irish haven't won since 2005.
* Fans in the Midwest who love the regional rivalries with the Big Ten should be sure to sit back and enjoy another three-game, early-season schedule with the Big Ten. Soon, the Irish will be playing five ACC games each season, meaning the Big Ten rivalries are the ones that will fall by the wayside. So relish the back-to-back-to-back games with Michigan, Purdue and Michigan State.
* Following the Big Ten portion of the schedule, the Irish welcome Big 12 powerhouse Oklahoma to town before heading to Dallas to take on Arizona State in Cowboys Stadium. The Sooners are rebuilding at quarterback and on defense, so this should be a brutal but winnable test for the Irish. The Sun Devils, with an elite offense, might actually be the tougher test for the Golden Domers.
* The bye week is nicely situated to allow for Kelly's team to take a deep breath following a tough first six weeks to the season and before a visit from USC. Although you can pretty much throw out the records when these two historic teams get together, giving Kelly two weeks to prepare affords the Irish a major advantage.
* The triple option portion of the schedule comes at a good time. The defense might have been susceptible to the option early in the season but the depth chart should be stabilized by the time Air Force and Navy show up in '13.
* The second bye week is placed perfectly between a road trip to new ACC team Pitt and a tricky final two weeks of the season. Getting an extra week to prepare for BYU and Stanford is huge for Notre Dame as those two teams could be two of the top five teams it will face in 2013. Finishing the year at Stanford is great for the fans but could be dangerous if ND is back in the national title picture.
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Ohio State has another postseason hero.
After Aaron Craft made the game-winning three-pointer to defeat Iowa State in the round of 32, LaQuinton Ross had a monster second half and the game-winning three-pointer to defeat Arizona 73-70 and move onto the Elite Eight.
Deshaun Thomas led Ohio State in scoring as usual, but Ross had 14 points in the final eight minutes, capped by a three-pointer at NBA range with two seconds remaining.
At one point of the season, it would have been tough to imagine anyone but Thomas taking the final shot in a close game, but not in the NCAA Tournament.
Athlon Sports' Braden Gall had a chance to sit down with Ohio State's Sam Thompson following the win:
They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2013 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 20 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.
No. 10: Lee Westwood
Born: April 24, 1973, Worksop, U.K. | Career PGA Tour Wins: 2 (22 on European Tour | 2012 Wins (Worldwide): 2 | 2012 Earnings (PGA Tour): $3,016,569 (24th) | World Ranking: 13
Brandel Chamblee's Take
Westwood will turn 40 years old in April of 2013, and the only thing missing from his substantial resume in golf is a major win. Perhaps like his friend Darren Clarke, who waited until he was in his fourth decade to finally win a major, Lee will find shades of gray to his liking. The odds do not favor him, however, as only three of the last 56 majors have been won by men in their 40s. Lee has decided to move to the United States; one suspects that the move is a last hard push at the only thing the game has denied him. If the comfort of living here improves his short game — he ranked dead last in 2012 — he might join Vijay Singh and make his 40s his best years.
Major Championship Résumé
Masters - T2
U.S. Open - T10
British Open - T45
PGA Championship - Cut
Best Career Finishes:
Masters - 2 (2010)
U.S. Open - 3rd/T3 (2008, 2011)
British Open - 2 (2012)
PGA Championship - T3 (2009)
Top-10 Finishes: 14
Top-25 Finishes: 24
Missed Cuts: 16
Athlon's 2013 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 20 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, reigning FedExCup champion Brandt Snedeker, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.
Back in December, Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney introduced Jim Deshaies as the team’s new television analyst and said he would be “the guy who will call the next World Series team for the Cubs.” The last guy to call a World Series team for the Cubs was…well…no one. The Cubs’ first televised game was in 1946, and the team was last in the World Series in 1945. The Cubs haven’t been to a World Series in more than 65 years, haven’t won a World Series in more than a century, lost 101 games in 2012 and made offseason moves that were patchwork for another season of rebuilding. So fans might be forgiven for saying the usual “Wait ’til next year’’ before the season even begins. The second year of the Theo Epstein Era could be similar to the first, with promising players taking their lumps and marginally talented veterans filling up roster spots. Epstein promised the turnaround process would take time and asked fans to show patience. But the resolve of even the most patient Cubs fans was tested last year as the franchise lost 100 games for only the third time ever.
Last year the Cubs opened the season with Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija, Chris Volstad and Paul Maholm in the rotation. They ended the season with Justin Germano, Chris Rusin, Jason Berken, Volstad, and Travis Wood. Samardzija threw the most innings (174.2) and was shut down in early September. He could become the ace of the staff. Garza, who was supposed to be traded last offseason and again during the season, suffered an elbow injury a few weeks before the trading deadline and is back to give the rotation some stability. The healthier he gets, the hotter the trade rumors will get. Shortly before Christmas, the Cubs agreed to a four-year, $52 million deal with Edwin Jackson and a two-year, $10 million pact with Carlos Villanueva. Jackson went 10–11 with a 4.03 ERA with the Nationals in 2012. Travis Wood and Scott Feldman seem to have locked up spots in the rotation. Villanueva will have a place at least until Garza returns. It will be interesting to see how Scott Baker, coming off Tommy John surgery last summer, will figure in as the season progresses. He won 38 games for Minnesota from 2008-10.
The Cubs nearly traded closer Carlos Marmol in the offseason. He can either be unhittable or wild. His 11.7 strikeouts-per-nine-innings ratio is impressive, but his 7.3 walks-per-nine-innings ratio is alarming. Marmol was demoted for a few weeks last May. If that happens again, expect Kyuji Fujikawa, a Japanese import signed to a two-year deal in December, to slide into the closer’s role. Fujikawa posted dominant numbers in the last six seasons as the closer for Hanshin. He had 202 saves with a 1.36 ERA and a 0.855 WHIP. Southpaw James Russell and righthander Michael Bowden could become valuable setup men.
While many people in baseball believe shortstop Starlin Castro and second baseman Darwin Barney will occupy the Cubs’ middle infield for years to come, there are others who believe that minor leaguer Javier Baez is the team’s shortstop of the future because of his superior defense. Castro is erratic, but he and Barney, a 2012 Gold Glove winner, will team together for another year at least. Castro is a gifted offensive player who led the Cubs in hits for the second year in a row. Barney, the Cubs’ fourth-round pick in 2007, needs to improve his .254 average. He hit .303 in Wrigley Field but only .206 on the road.
First baseman Anthony Rizzo and third baseman Ian Stewart are on the opposite ends of the offensive spectrum. Rizzo is an up-and-coming player who many in the organization believe has All-Star potential. Epstein and his lieutenants drafted Rizzo when they were with the Red Sox. Current Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer dealt for Rizzo while he was an executive with San Diego. Then Hoyer joined the Cubs and acquired Rizzo once again. The left-handed hitter showed some power (15 home runs in 337 at-bats) and hit for average (.285) in a half season with the Cubs. Can he keep it up during a full season? This is the year to find out. Between stints on the DL, Stewart hit .201 in 179 at-bats in his first year with the club after hitting .156 in an injury-filled season with Colorado in 2011. Stewart signed a one-year deal in December to remain with the Cubs. But the injury bug has struck once again as Stewart is dealing with a strained quad. Luis Valbuena and Brent Lillibridge will share the position until Stewart is proven healthy and productive.
Left fielder Alfonso Soriano had one of his best seasons as a Cub, hitting .262 with team highs in homers (32), RBIs (108), doubles (33) and total bases (280). He has two more years remaining on his contract, and current management would love to move him and dump his large salary. But as long as there are no takers, Soriano will return and should provide a solid bat, improved defense and veteran leadership. Steady David DeJesus will likely man center field again after moving over to right when rookie Brett Jackson was promoted. Jackson struggled in the big leagues, and it’s doubtful he’ll open the season as a starting outfielder. DeJesus led off and had a team-high 61 walks. His seven stolen bases were third on the team. The Opening Day right fielder could be left-handed hitting newcomer Nate Schierholtz, who has a career average of .270 in six seasons with San Francisco and Philadelphia. He, like Soriano, has a cannon for an arm, and the two should make baserunners think twice about taking that extra base.
With just 63 games under his belt, Welington Castillo will be given the nod as the Cubs’ starting catcher. Last year, in his first significant action in the majors, Castillo hit .265 in 170 at-bats with 51 strikeouts. He is regarded as an outstanding defensive player. If he can just hit a little, he will be a more-than-adequate replacement for Geovany Soto, who was traded last season.
Outfielder Dave Sappelt showed some hitting and speed in a brief stint with the Cubs and could make a case to stick around. Backup catcher Steve Clevenger, a left-handed hitter, has hit .309 in 548 games in the minors but just .202 in his first 71 big-league games and could share backup duties behind the plate with Dioner Navarro. Clevenger can play first and maybe even some third if his bat comes to life. Valbuena filled in when Stewart was hurt last year. He didn’t impress with the bat but was a good fielder. Scott Hairston and Brent Lillibridge bring experience and versatility to the bench.
Epstein cleaned house in his first year with the Cubs. With all of the changes comes an adjustment period — which will require patience from the long-suffering fans. Epstein didn’t get it done with the Red Sox overnight, but he eventually delivered two World Series crowns to the city. His plan is to stock the minor league system with valuable assets. It figures to pay off in the long run, but the struggles in the short term will continue.
The offseason moves were underwhelming. It’s pretty clear there will not be a quick fix. But there is hope that the Cubs will be an improved team in 2013. The starting pitching should be better, and the lineup has some potential if Rizzo develops into a consistent producer and Soriano continues to deliver. There have been times in the not-so-distant past — 1998, 2003 and 2007 — when the Cubs have stunned the baseball world by making the playoffs the season after winning fewer than 70 games. There aren’t, however, many signs pointing in that direction for 2013.
CF David DeJesus (L)
Will become a more effective leadoff man if he can improve against lefties (.149 last year).
SS Starlin Castro (R)
Proven hitter for average — .297 in three full seasons — but is probably a better fit for a No.2 hitter than No.3.
1B Anthony Rizzo (L)
Hit .338 with runners in scoring position in his first run with the Cubs last year.
LF Alfonso Soriano (R)
Slugged .499, hit 32 homers and drove in 108 runs in ’12. Will continue to be shopped.
RF Nate Schierholtz (L)
Was known as “Nate the Great” with Giants. Ready to rebound after a toe injury hampered him last August.
3B Ian Stewart (L)
Hoping back-to-back nightmare seasons at the plate — and in the health department — are behind him. But a strained quad has sent him to the DL.
C Welington Castillo (R)
Solid defensive tools for a player who could be around awhile if his offense develops.
2B Darwin Barney (R)
Already has a Gold Glove under his belt. Has the tools to be a solid No. 2 hitter eventually.
IF Luis Valbuena (L)
He’s an ideal candidate as a late-inning replacement; good glove but light bat (.219 in 2012), but will fill in at third until Stewart gets healthy.
C-1B Steve Clevenger (L)
Will be challenged by Dioner Navarro for the backup backstop position in spring training.
C Dioner Navarro (S)
Has just 369 at-bats over last three seasons total.
OF Dave Sappelt (R)
Could grab the final spot on the roster if prospect Brett Jackson is shipped back to Class AAA.
OF Scott Hairston (R)
Utility player will get lots of at-bats, especially against left-handed pitching.
UT Brent Lillibridge (R)
If he shows he can offer anything offensively, the valuable defender can keep a job.
RH Jeff Samardzija
Impressed in his first extended time as a big-league starter and led the club with 180 strikeouts.
RH Matt Garza
Could be dealt if he bounces back from elbow injury; has a 15–17 record in two seasons with the Cubs. Strained lat will keep him out for at least the first few weeks.
RH Edwin Jackson
Has been on eight teams since 2003 but picked up the long-term contract he’s been seeking with the Cubs.
RH Scott Feldman
Had a 5.00-plus ERA in 2010 and 2012 for Texas and is now looking for success in the National League.
LH Travis Wood
Second on the team with 14 quality starts last year, but will have to fight to win the final rotation spot.
RH Carlos Marmol (Closer)
Will enter the season as the Cubs closer, but don’t be surprised if the team shops him aggressively.
RH Kyuji Fujikawa
Will open the season as a setup man, but has the tools to close. Put up dominant numbers in Japan.
RH Shawn Camp
Had six losses but led the squad with 18 holds last year; tied for the NL lead with 80 appearances.
RH Carlos Villanueva
Has valuable experience as both a starter and reliever; a strong spring could vault him into the rotation. Should fill in for Garza in the rotation.
LH James Russell
Seven wins and a 3.25 ERA in 2012 gives him an edge as the top left-handed setup man in 2013.
RH Michael Bowden
Had a 2.95 ERA with the Cubs in 30 appearances after a long stint with Class AAA Iowa.
RH Hector Rondon
Rule 5 pick should spend the summer eating lots of innings in Chicago.
The Reds dove head-first into the 2012 season determined to make a run at more than just the NL Central division when they traded away Edinson Volquez and two prospects to acquire starting pitcher Mat Latos. That run might have fallen short in a five-game loss to eventual World Series champion San Francisco in the divisional series, but it showed the organization that it isn’t far away. As was the case last offseason, general manager Walt Jocketty didn’t hesitate to make another significant trade. He acquired outfielder Shin-Soo Choo from Cleveland in a three-team exchange that sent center fielder Drew Stubbs to the Indians and minor league shortstop Didi Gregorious to Arizona. Jocketty strengthened a club deficiency by parting ways with talented players who weren’t going to fit into Cincinnati’s future plans. The Reds struggled with their 1-2 hitters last year, but Choo’s presence in the leadoff spot followed by Brandon Phillips should solidify the batting order and provide plenty of opportunities for Joey Votto, Ryan Ludwick and Jay Bruce to drive in runs, especially at hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park.
This is a maturing group that could be as good as any rotation in the majors for the next few years. Only Bronson Arroyo (36) will be older than 27 during the season. Johnny Cueto was a Cy Young candidate last season, and Latos went 9–2 with a 2.43 ERA over his final 19 starts. Homer Bailey set career highs for wins (13), starts (33), quality starts (21), innings (208) and strikeouts (168). No NL starter has more wins, starts or innings pitched since 2006 than Arroyo. With the experiement to move closer Aroldis Chapman into the rotation now ended, Mike Leake is back in. Leake, the team’s first-round pick in 2008, started 30 games last season and threw 179.0 innings.
Chapman proved to be one of the best closers in the game last season with 38 saves and 122 strikeouts in just 71.2 innings. Aside from a second lefthander to go along with Sean Marshall, the bullpen has plenty of pieces. Jonathan Broxton, who has 111 career saves, is the primary setup man. Marshall, signed through 2015, started last season as the closer but was moved into a setup role as Chapman emerged and excelled in that role. Jose Arredondo had 66 appearances for a bullpen group that led the majors in ERA (2.65) and saves (56) and led the NL in opponents’ batting average (.219). Arredondo seemed to tire down the stretch and wasn’t as effective late in the year. J.J. Hoover, acquired in a trade with Atlanta last April, has closer-type potential and could provide valuable innings that Nick Masset was slated to handle last year before a spring training injury sidelined him. Masset had shoulder surgery in September, and his availability for the start of this season is unknown. The Reds aren’t going to wait around for him. Sam LeCure, once seen as a potential No. 5 starter, has found his niche as a long reliever who can be counted on in tight situations. He allowed just two hits over his final 10 appearances last season as he set a career-high with 48 games. Manny Parra, a member of Milwaukee’s starting rotation for three seasons, has found a home in the bullpen.
Phillips did everything but win the Gold Glove last season, while Zack Cozart became the first rookie to start at short for the Reds on Opening Day since 1971. His development made Gregorious expendable. Cozart showed good power with 33 doubles and 15 home runs, but his .246 average was a detriment at the leadoff spot. He’ll hit down in the order this season. Phillips was the team’s MVP. He’s versatile enough to hit in any spot in the order — an ability similar to what Barry Larkin showed in his playing days for the Reds — but should settle into the No. 2 hole behind Choo and in front of Votto. Phillips and the Reds agreed on a six-year extension last season in part because he’s grown from a highlight-reel defensive player into an all-around threat.
Votto missed 48 games with a knee injury and didn’t have the same pop in his bat when he returned in September, but he was still respected enough that he managed a .474 on-base percentage, 94 walks and 18 intentional walks. He hit .337 with 44 doubles but just 14 home runs and 56 RBIs. Better production at the top of the lineup and a return to full health should make Votto an MVP candidate. Todd Frazier takes over the everyday duties at third for Scott Rolen after being a fill-in at multiple positions last season when he was third in NL Rookie of the Year balloting. There will be more pressure on Frazier to produce this season now that he has a starting role. Last season, he was the guy everyone wanted to see more of in the lineup. Those people will get their wish this season.
Bruce is a two-time All-Star and will be just 26 this season. He improved on his consistency, going through fewer lulls at the plate, and increased his home run total (34) for the fifth straight season. He finished with 99 RBIs. Choo will be playing center field on an everyday basis for the first time in his career, but the smaller dimensions of Great American Ball Park should make that an easier transition than it might sound. Ludwick found his groove in the second half of last season and carried it right through the postseason, earning a two-year deal. He finished with 26 homers and 80 RBIs, including hitting .421 with runners in scoring position over his final 57 chances. He has legitimate power to be the cleanup hitter and provide protection for Votto in the lineup. If this threesome has any major weakness, it would be defensively, especially in center.
Devin Mesoraco might be the catcher of the future, but Ryan Hanigan is still the catcher of the present. He’s got great rapport with the pitching staff (3.05 ERA with him behind the plate), throws extremely well and handles the bat admirably. He hit .274 mostly batting in the No. 8 hole. Mesoraco got plenty of experience last season but didn’t see much action down the stretch. He hit only .212 with five home runs and 14 RBIs.
The Reds will be more versatile off the bench this season. Chris Heisey can play all three outfield spots and gives some speed and power. Xavier Paul found a niche as a left-handed bat, something missing for much of last season. Infielder Jack Hannahan was signed as a free agent from Cleveland and provides another left-handed bat and can play first and third. Infielder Jason Donald was also part of the Choo deal and will give the Reds depth in the middle of the defense.
Owner Bob Castellini has set winning as a priority, and the entire organization follows his lead. Jocketty identified the team’s needs and addressed them by re-signing Ludwick, trading for Choo and signing Hannahan. Manager Dusty Baker signed an extension through 2014 late last season. He’s criticized for a constant shuffling of the lineup, but his formula keeps players fresh, and players respond well to his style.
The Reds are on the short list of contenders to win the World Series. The starting pitching is coming into its own, especially if Bailey continues the maturity and development he showed last season. This is a strong defensive team, even with the loss of Stubbs, and the lineup has the potential to be as good as any in the majors.
CF Shin-Soo Choo (L)
Career .289 hitter will provide decent pop in center field; had 43 doubles and 16 HRs with Cleveland last season.
2B Brandon Phillips (R)
Had 52 multi-hit games to lead club while batting leadoff (28 games), third (43 games) and fourth (73 games).
1B Joey Votto (L)
Led Reds in OBP for third straight season, joining Joe Morgan as only player to accomplish the feat.
LF Ryan Ludwick (R)
Hit .313 with 21 doubles, 18 home runs, 53 RBIs in his last 80 games, securing his spot in the everyday lineup.
RF Jay Bruce (L)
Joined Ryan Braun and Miguel Cabrera as only players with at least 34 homers, 35 doubles and 99 RBIs.
3B Todd Frazier (R)
Won Players Choice Award as the NL’s outstanding Rookie after ranking in the top 10 among rookies in BA, HR, RBIs.
SS Zack Cozart (R)
Became one of four shortstops in franchise history to have 30 doubles and 15 home runs in a season.
C Ryan Hanigan (R)
Caught 11 of the 12 shutouts by the pitchers and six of nine complete games by starters.
C Devin Mesoraco (R)
Optioned to Class AAA in August before returning in September, making just two appearances the rest of the way.
OF Chris Heisey (R)
Started 80 games and received the team’s Heart & Hustle Award for his passionate play.
OF Xavier Paul (L)
Found his niche as a pinch-hitter after July call-up, hitting .314 in 55 games for Reds.
IF Jack Hannahan (L)
Experienced at all four infield spots, primarily at third base and first base, but has had lingering back issues.
IF Jason Donald (R)
Has yet to have a full season in the big leagues but has versatility to play third base, second base and shortstop.
RH Johnny Cueto
Cy Young candidate also helped himself at plate with 17 sacrifices, tying Philadelphia’s Juan Pierre for NL lead.
RH Mat Latos
Has already made 105 starts before his 25th birthday,
including 30-plus each of last three seasons.
RH Bronson Arroyo
Has thrown 200 or more innings seven of last eight
seasons. The one season he didn’t, he had 199 innings.
RH Homer Bailey
Finally finding consistency to match first-round talent. Won four starts in a row last July for first time in career.
RH Mike Leake
Was odd man out with Chapman in rotation but has earned his way back in the rotation with Chapman closing.
LH Aroldis Chapman (Closer)
Got a long look as a starter, but with a week or so to go before the season, was moved back into the closer’s role.
RH Jonathan Broxton
Saved all four chances he got when Chapman was out with shoulder soreness in September.
RH Jose Arredondo
Had a career-high 66 appearances last season with 62 strikeouts, also a career best.
RH J.J. Hoover
Allowed 17 hits in 30.2 innings over two stints with Reds,
including 0.71 ERA in final 11 appearances.
LH Sean Marshall
Didn’t allow an earned run in his final 15 appearances of the season or any runs in final 13 games.
RH Sam LeCure
Set a career high with 48 appearances, including throwing at least 2.0 innings 12 times.
LH Manny Parra
A former starter with the Brewers, he held lefties to a .229 average in 62 games in relief last season.
It will all come down to pitching. Heard that one before, Brewers fans? Offensively, Milwaukee has a versatile and explosive lineup built to contend right now. The Brewers led the National League in runs, home runs and stolen bases a year ago, and every regular returns in 2013. So while Bernie Brewer should be plenty busy again this year, the hope is that the bullpen phone won’t ring so much. The team took a major step in improving the rotation while hopefully lessening the load on the bullpen with the signing of Kyle Lohse late in spring training. He and Yovani Gallardo are the only proven winners in the starting rotation, and the bullpen, though largely remade, was arguably the worst in the majors last year.
In Gallardo and Lohse, the Brewers boast two aces at the top of the rotation. Gallardo is a workhorse who almost always keeps his team in the game and can be counted on to be among the league leaders in strikeouts. He has started three consecutive Opening Days, and there’s zero doubt that he’ll again anchor Milwaukee’s rotation. Just how soon Lohse will be ready this season is a question, given that he signed on March 26, just six days prior to the Brewers’ first game. A victim of a shrinking free agent market, the 34-year-old inked a three-year deal for $33 million. Lohse has been a double-digit winner just five times in his 12-year career, but was 30-11 with a 3.11 ERA in just under 400 innings for the Cardinals over the past two seasons. He will offer a huge boost to the rotation. However, the contract may not look so good in 2015. The big question is, who will follow them? Veterans Marco Estrada and Chris Narveson, both of whom have pitched well in starting roles in the past, are the third and fourth starters. Both missed time with injury last year (Estrada missed a month with a quad strain; Narveson was out nearly the whole year with a torn rotator cuff) and both have experience pitching out of the bullpen, so manager Ron Roenicke may opt to put one or both of them there to solidify a shaky relief corps. Mike Fiers was surprisingly effective over his first 16 starts (8–6, 2.85), but seemed to tire as he faltered down the stretch (1–4, 7.09 in last six starts). Mark Rogers, a former No. 1 draft pick who saw his ascent slowed by injuries, finally got his chance and pitched well, striking out 41 in 39 innings. Big Wily Peralta, the organization’s top pitching prospect, threw well in his first big-league stint late last year (2–1, 2.48). He’ll get a shot at some point this season.
There’s nowhere to go but up. Brewer firemen had a bad habit of starting more infernos than they extinguished for a significant stretch of 2012, dooming any chance Milwaukee would return to the postseason for a second consecutive year. The good news is that flame-throwing closer John Axford seemed to fix his problems late in the year (converting 17 of his final 18 save opportunities), and just about all the other arsonists are gone. After toiling in the minor leagues for 10 years, Jim Henderson finally made it to The Show in 2012 and pitched well enough that he’ll be the set-up man for Axford. Brandon Kintzler, another late-season addition, will also get plenty of late-inning work. Lefties in the bullpen have been a rarity in recent years, but the Brewers picked up two from the Washington Nationals in the offseason, Tom Gorzelanny and Mike Gonzalez. So, the Brewers return the closer who led the majors in blown saves and everybody else is either new or relatively unproven. A recipe for success?
Milwaukee’s middle infield promises to be one of the most dynamic in the National League. At second, Rickie Weeks worked hard to dig himself out of a major early-season hole (raising his average from .190 to .230 by hitting .282 over his final 65 games), and his powerful bat is a rarity at the position. As always, the question is whether he can stay away from injury. The Brewers have struggled to find a reliable shortstop for several years, but the Crew believes they’ve found one in 23-year old Jean Segura, the key pickup in the Zack Greinke trade. Though he’s a free-swinger, Segura has the tools at the plate and in the field to be a fixture in the Milwaukee infield for years to come.
At third, Aramis Ramirez was just what the Brewers hoped for in his first year in Milwaukee, putting up his usual impressive numbers at the plate (hitting .300 and collecting 100 RBIs for the seventh time and notching his 10th career 25-homer campaign) and leading all NL third basemen in fielding percentage. At first, Corey Hart settled into his new position nicely and didn’t let the transition affect his offensive performance. However, knee surgery in January will delay his season up to a month. Veteran shortstop Alex Gonzalez, who has 1,536 games at short and none anywhere else on the diamond, will don the first baseman’s mitt to start the season. His season ended last year after just 24 games due a torn ACL.
If you’re a fan of the No. 8, you’d better enjoy watching Ryan Braun wear it because odds are it will never be donned by anyone else ever again in Milwaukee. Braun seems assured of going down as one of the Brewers’ all-time greats, and he’s still only 29 years old. One of the game’s most prolific sluggers, Braun followed up on his MVP season by posting numbers that were just as gaudy, leading the NL in homers, total bases, runs and OPS. In center, Carlos Gomez has finally established himself as a legitimate everyday player. He’s always been a plus defender, and last year he became much more consistent at the plate, putting up career bests in just about every category and ranking as one of only five players in the majors with at least 15 homers and 30 stolen bases. There was no more pleasant surprise in Milwaukee last year than Norichika Aoki. Arriving from Japan with little fanfare, Aoki’s emergence allowed Hart to move to first base. As a catalyst at the top of the lineup, Aoki has a nice blend of speed and occasional power.
Roenicke has a nice problem behind the plate with two more-than-capable backstops. Starter Jonathan Lucroy ranks among the top hitting catchers in the game today; his .320 average last year was the best among Milwaukee catchers in team history. When he missed a long stretch due to a hand injury last year, Martin Maldonado stepped in and showed he belonged in the bigs. Defensively, he’s better than Lucroy, and he more than holds his own at the plate. Expect him to see more action than the typical backup.
The bench has rarely been a strong point in Milwaukee, and this year is no exception. With regulars firmly established at every position, there will be little opportunity — barring injury — for significant at-bats for anyone on the pine. Logan Schafer is a nice fourth outfielder, bringing superior defense and great speed. Taylor Green is a capable left-handed pinch-hitting option, and Maldonado will spell Lucroy behind the plate.
Brewer fans have every reason to be confident in the franchise’s leadership. Even though he’s cut payroll back this year, owner Mark Attanasio has shown a willingness to spend money and make bold trades to give the team a chance to win. GM Doug Melvin has assembled a group that has won consistently, a fact that should not be taken for granted in Brew Town. The franchise has posted four winning seasons the last six years; this after zero plus-.500 campaigns the previous 14 seasons. Roenicke made a great first impression, leading the Crew to the NLCS in 2011, but last year may have been a more impressive performance, guiding the club through an early offensive slump and a midseason bullpen meltdown to eventually get the team back in playoff contention.
Brewer fans are a little confused about how to approach this season, and with good reason. Is it a rebuilding year? With a group of unproven starting pitchers and a re-tooled bullpen, it looks that way. Is the Crew a contender? With a proven offensive attack, it’s hard to count them out. Here’s the most positive way to look at it: Expectations will be lower than they were a year ago. The team can hit. Axford may have solved his problems, and the rest of the bullpen is new. A bunch of talented young pitchers are looking to make their mark. It’s more fun to be the hunter than the hunted. Sound good, Crew fans? If not, there’s always the Sausage Race.
RF Norichika Aoki (L)
Versatile offensive threat who ranked among NL’s most potent rookie bats in 2012.
2B Rickie Weeks (R)
Veteran overcame horrendous early-season slump by
hitting .282 over final 65 games.
LF Ryan Braun (R)
Perennial All-Star is only player in the majors with 100 runs and RBIs in each of last four seasons.
3B Aramis Ramirez (R)
Steady presence at hot corner batted .327 over final 111 games, raising average from .218 to .300.
C Jonathan Lucroy (R)
Arguably best offensive catcher in team history; .320 average was tops ever among Brewer catchers.
CF Carlos Gomez (R)
Solid defender coming off career-best year at plate — notched career highs in homers (19) and steals (37).
1B Alex Gonzalez (R)
The veteran shortstop who lost most of last season to a knee injury, will be the stopgap at first until Corey Hart is healthy.
SS Jean Segura (R)
Highly touted prospect was key acquisition in Zach Greinke trade; hit .329 in final 22 games.
1B Corey Hart (R)
Moved to new position and still excelled at plate, ranking among NL leaders in HRs and extra-base hits. Knee surgery in January has delayed his season.
INF Taylor Green (L)
Became first Brewer since Prince Fielder (2005) to collect first two career homers as pinch-hitter. A strained hip has landed him on the DL, but he shouldn’t miss too much time.
C Martin Maldonado (R)
Outstanding defensive catcher gets results — team was 10 games over .500 in his 58 starts.
OF Logan Schafer (L)
Speedy centerfielder is ideal fourth outfielder with good defensive skills.
INF Jeff Bianchi (R)
Second-round pick in 2005 made his first appearance in the majors last year, hitting .188 in 69 at-bats.
RH Yovani Gallardo
Ace produced second-most quality starts in NL (25); has four straight seasons with 200-plus strikeouts
RH Kyle Lohse
The Cardinals’ ace in 2012 pitches to contact. He had a 1.090 WHIP last season, but just 143 whiffs in 211 innings.
RH Marco Estrada
Bounced back from injury to go 5–2 with 2.03 ERA in final eight starts of season.
LH Chris Narveson
Opened season in rotation but suffered year-ending rotator cuff injury after just two starts.
RH Mike Fiers
Ranked third among NL rookies in wins (nine), strikeouts (135), ERA (3.74) and IP (127.2).
RH John Axford (Closer)
His 81 saves over last two seasons are third-most in MLB; had career-high 93 K’s in ’12.
RH Jim Henderson
Made big-league debut after 10 seasons in minors; pitched well enough to earn set-up role in ’13.
RH Brandon Kintzler
Worked way back from injury to add stability to Brewer pen; retired 12 of 14 first-batters faced.
RH Mark Rogers
Lost his spot in the rotation after team signed Lohse; struck out 41 in 39 IP a year ago. Begins the season on the DL, but not too serious.
LH Mike Gonzalez
Veteran lefty held left-handed batters to .179 average last year; has 56 career saves and could be closer in a pinch.
LH Tom Gorzelanny
Steady veteran lefty is equally effective against left- and right-handed hitters; can also spot start.
RH Alfredo Figaro
Non-roster player has earned the final spot in the pen.
RH Burke Badenhop
Could be the odd man out when Rogers returns.
After another unlikely October comeback, the Cardinals won three quick games against San Francisco and found themselves one victory away from a second consecutive National League pennant and the World Series. It was where they planned to be. It was not how they planned to get there. The Cardinals took several detours before their seventh National League Championship Series since 2000, navigating around a spring training injury to ace Chris Carpenter and the loss of Albert Pujols (to free agency) and Tony La Russa (to retirement). Rookie manager Mike Matheny inherited the 2011 World Series champs and drove them to contention despite a maddening offense. The Cardinals scored the second-most runs in the NL, but did so in gulps. In 44 of their 162 games they scored two or fewer runs and went 5–39 in those games. A third consecutive second-place finish in the NL Central meant the Cardinals needed the grace of Bud Selig’s second Wild Card to reach the postseason. Once there, the offense helped oust Atlanta in the Wild Card Game and proved timely for the Cardinals’ record rally from a 6–0 deficit to Washington in Game 5 of the NL Division Series. Then, true to the trend, the lineup wilted. The Cards scored one run in the final three games of the NLCS, and the Giants claimed the pennant. Denied a fourth trip to the World Series in nine years, the Cardinals confronted their contrast: To match the team that was one win shy of the World Series, they first had to address what also made them the team that finished nine games behind Cincinnati.
Adam Wainwright returned from the elbow surgery that stole his 2011 season, but Carpenter had recurring nerve issues in his right shoulder and eventually surrendered to surgery. Second-year righty Lance Lynn won 18 games as his sub. Kyle Lohse’s 2.86 ERA anchored the rotation’s 3.62 ERA, fourth-lowest in the majors. Jaime Garcia struggled because of a shoulder injury that did not require surgery but will be closely monitored during the spring. The absences tested the Cardinals’ pitching depth, and they passed with surging prospects. Joe Kelly, Trevor Rosenthal, and Shelby Miller — all 24 or younger — proved themselves capable of joining the rotation. Wainwright became stronger as the season progressed and appears to be back in Cy Young form. Carpenter, on the other hand, appears to be at the end of his career due to continued nerve problems. Lynn has nailed down a spot in the rotation, as has Garcia as long as his shoulder holds up. It’s now Miller’s time to join the group as the fifth starter.
After weeks of letting leads slip in the unsteady seventh inning, the Cardinals’ grip improved with the addition of Edward Mujica. Acquired at the trade deadline, the splitfinger-firing righty gave Matheny an effective, three-step approach: Mujica in the seventh, NL holds leader Mitchell Boggs in the eighth and closer Jason Motte (42 saves) in the ninth. That trio was the backbone of a bullpen that had an average age of 26 in the postseason and, led by Rosenthal’s 100-mph heat, overpowered with fastballs often surpassing 97 mph. But it was still lacking a lefty. The Cardinals signed veteran lefty specialist Randy Choate, who has held left-handed batters to a .173 average since 2010, and expect him to further simplify the relief recipe.
Rafael Furcal’s season ended with a torn ligament in his right elbow in August. Rehab created optimism, but his elbow didn’t hold up in spring training and he’s lost for the season. Rookie Pete Kozma’s unexpected punch from shortstop in September fueled the postseason run. He’ll get the call from the start of the season this year. It remains to be seen how he can produce over the long haul. Matheny will have an interesting decision at second. He has incumbent Daniel Descalso, a solid defender, and Matt Carpenter, a third baseman by trade. Carpenter batted .294 with an .828 OPS last season. Contrast that with Descalso’s .227/.627. Both will get some time there as Matheny must choose between offense and defense, at least until Carpenter gains some experience.
Allen Craig’s move to everyday play at first base happened a year earlier than expected, but his production was exactly as imagined. Despite missing a month recovering from knee surgery, Craig delivered 92 RBIs and a .522 slugging percentage. Since 2011, Craig’s .889 OPS ranks 17th among hitters with at least 700 plate appearances, and he’s the only one in the top 24 who hasn’t been an All-Star. That should change. Craig and third baseman Dave Freese were two of the five Cardinals who hit at least 20 home runs, a first for the club. Freese set career highs in homers and RBIs because of one big change: health. The hero of the Cardinals’ 2011 October run played more than 100 games in the majors for the first time in 2012. Now healthy again is an issue as a balky back has landed Freese on the DL to begin the season. Optimistically, he’ll miss no more than a week or so.
With Pujols away and Lance Berkman reduced to 32 games due to knee injuries, Carlos Beltran became a worthy and necessary complement to Matt Holliday. Beltran’s 32 home runs and 97 RBIs were his highest totals since 2007. Holliday’s .903 OPS since 2010, his first year with the Cardinals, ranks fifth in the NL, and he and Beltran are the only current teammates to rank in the top nine in OPS during that span. Often hitting back-to-back, they were bookends in the field around Jon Jay, who became a deft center fielder and then a capable leadoff hitter when Furcal faltered. With three stalwarts, prospect Oscar Taveras offers intrigue in the outfield. The heir to Beltran in right, Taveras, 20, could see playing time in center if he sticks out of spring training, which isn’t likely.
Yadier Molina’s record-setting season ended with a fourth-place finish in the NL MVP, the highest for a Cardinals catcher since Tim McCarver was second in 1967. On his way to a fifth consecutive Gold Glove Award, Molina became the first Cardinals’ catcher in more than three decades to hit 22 home runs and drive in 76 runs. With a .315 average, he led the team in batting for the second consecutive season, all while nurturing a pitching staff to a 3.60 ERA with him behind the plate. Molina started 133 games, leaving few for Tony Cruz, an adept backup despite the limited activity that will likely continue. Molina enters the first season of a five-year, $75-million extension signed in March 2012 insisting that “what I did was good, but I know I can do more.”
The Cardinals moved quickly this winter to add the player they believed their bench missed late in games last summer. Ty Wigginton signed to provide right-handed power potential and a veteran presence — “a piece, by definition, that you (cannot) get from your system,” GM John Mozeliak explains. Greenhorns and a rotating cast of minor leaguers will still be asked to provide bench options — like rookie slugger Matt Adams, a true left-handed threat — but Wigginton’s addition concedes that an unproven and improvised bench left Matheny shorthanded last season.
A rookie manager, Matheny showed he could work around injuries, integrate youth, and massage a lineup to avoid overtaxing players. Over the winter, the club tinkered with the roster to better fit his managing style. Mozeliak’s increased imprint on the organization includes the expanded use of analytics and a business model that rewards in-house players and avoids bidding wars. In five seasons as GM, Mozeliak has routinely made midseason moves to solve weaknesses, like the bullpen in 2011 and 2012. The trades have recently been subtle, yet substantive. Now with a cache of young pitching talent, he has the means and awaits the motivation to make a splash.
The Cardinals had a quiet winter, content to use a thin free-agent market for fine-tuning. With several aging contributors, health remains their biggest risk, but less so as the club has a stronger, self-sufficient farm system ready to keep them consistently competitive. There are many routes to their stated goal of annually reaching the playoffs. And the Cardinals, twice a champ as the Wild Card, know October’s abiding rule: A team just has to get in it to win it.
CF Jon Jay (L)
In his first year as the everyday center fielder, Jay seized the leadoff role with a .303 average when batting No. 1.
RF Carlos Beltran (S)
Seven-time All-Star brought desired jolt to Pujols-free lineup, with 32 homers and 97 RBIs, his best totals since 2007.
LF Matt Holliday (R)
Through nagging hip and back injuries, outfielder played 157 games and was an offensive fulcrum with team-high 102 RBIs.
1B Allen Craig (R)
In his first season as an everyday player, ranked seventh in the NL in both average (.307) and slugging (.522).
C Yadier Molina (R)
After signing a 5-year, $75-million extension, Molina set career highs in home runs (22), RBIs (76), and batting average (.315).
3B David Freese (R)
Adding 2012 health to his 2011 heroics, Freese set highs for homers (20), RBIs (79) and games played (144). Injuries continue to plague Freese this spring as a bad back has landed him on the DL again.
2B Daniel Descalso (L)
Emerged as the starter at second in September, overcoming a difficult offensive season with sure-handed play at the pivot.
SS Pete Kozma (R)
Thrust into starting job at short late last season, he responded with a .333 average and a .569 slugging percentage in 26 games.
UT Matt Carpenter (L)
Called “offensive spark” for production in a reserve role, he’s being outfitted for more playing time and a new position. He replaces Freese at third (his natural position) to start the season, but it will be interesting to see if he hits enough to replace the better defender (Descalso) at second once Freese returns.
UT Ty Wigginton (R)
Craving a seasoned presence for clubhouse and right-handed pop for the bench, Cards signed veteran who hit 22 HRs in 2010.
1B Matt Adams (L)
The slugger had 24 strikeouts and 21 hits in an audition last season.
C Tony Cruz (R)
Proven to be a reliable backup for his handling pitchers and ability to also play corner positions.
OF Shane Robinson (R)
Need for a right-handed-hitting center fielder off the bench creates an opportunity for solid-fielding Florida State alum.
IF Ryan Jackson
Recalled when Freese went on the DL.
RH Adam Wainwright
Gaining strength with each start after elbow surgery, Wainwright went 5–1 with a 2.75 ERA in six August starts.
LH Jaime Garcia
Inconsistency stemmed from a shoulder injury he insists he can overcome without surgery. Has 2013 to prove it.
RH Lance Lynn
Burly righty filled Carpenter’s spot in the rotation with an 11–4 record and 3.41 ERA in first half before stamina faltered.
RH Jake Westbrook
Sinkerballer’s 3.97 ERA was his lowest in a full season since 2004, and his overall sturdiness earned an extension for 2013.
RH Shelby Miller
The top prospect finally joins the rotation full-time.
RH Jason Motte (Closer)
In first season as surefire closer, Motte collected every save for the Cardinals, tying for league lead with 42. A sore elbow has shelved the former catcher and could delay his season.
RH Mitchell Boggs
Fulfilling his promise to be an impact pitcher in 2012, power righty led NL and set club record with 34 holds. He’ll close in Motte’s absence.
RH Edward Mujica
Acquired at the trade deadline, veteran righthander became the seventh-inning solution with 18 holds and a 1.03 ERA.
RH Fernando Salas
Led team with 24 saves in 2011, but that workload may have contributed to erratic, ragged results in 2012.
RH Trevor Rosenthal
Flamethrowing rookie was a postseason revelation as he struck out 15 of the 30 batters he faced in October.
LH Marc Rzepczynski
Perhaps miscast as a specialist; Cards hope addition of second lefty allows “Scrabble” to reset and thrive in late innings.
LH Randy Choate
The 37-year-old received a 3-year, $7.5-million commitment from the Cards because he’s the lefty neutralizer they lacked.
RH Joe Kelly
Will take on the long relief role if Motte is out for an extended time.
If the season ended in mid-September, the Pirates’ streak of 20 consecutive losing seasons would be over. Alas, the Major League campaign continues to run through September, and the Pirates have to find a way to keep playing well throughout the entire season. Their record after Aug. 1 the past two seasons is a combined 37–76, costing them a chance (twice) at making a run at a postseason berth. So how do the Pirates get over the hump in the final third of the season?
Righthander A.J. Burnett and lefty Wandy Rodriguez, both acquired in trades last season, are the top two starters. Burnett went 16–10 with a 3.51 ERA after coming over from the New York Yankees in the early days of spring training. Rodriguez was acquired from Houston in a late-July trade and was 5–4 with a 3.72 ERA in 13 games with the Pirates and 12–13 with a 3.76 ERA overall. Righthander James McDonald went 9–3 with a 2.37 ERA before the All-Star break but finished 12–8 with a 4.21 ERA and was yanked from the rotation in the season’s final weeks. One of pitching coach Ray Searage’s biggest challenges this spring will be to get McDonald back to his first-half form. Another priority for the affable Searage will be finding a way to turn Jeanmar Gomez, acquired from Cleveland in a January trade, into a reliable starter. The 25-year-old Gomez had a 14–16 record in three years with the Tribe, but he had his worst season in 2012, going 5–8 with a 5.96 ERA in 20 games, including 17 starts. He’ll probably start the season in the bullpen until he proves he has turned the corner. The Bucs will turn to one youngster and one journeyman to complete the rotation. Lefty Jeff Locke, just 25, will get a chance to start every fifth day. Jonathan Sanchez, with just one successful season — 2010 with the Giants — on his résumé, will begin the season in the fifth spot.
Setup man Jason Grilli will be elevated to closer following the offseason trade of two-time All-Star Joel Hanrahan to Boston. Hanrahan converted 76-of-84 save opportunities during his two years as the Pirates’ closer. Meanwhile, Grilli has five saves in 10 big-league seasons. However, the Pirates are convinced the 36-year-old can pitch effectively in the ninth inning after he struck out 90 batters in 58.2 innings last season. They signed him to a two-year, $6.75 million deal in the offseason. Mark Melancon, who came over in the Hanrahan trade, will get a chance to pitch in a setup role despite struggling (6.20 ERA in 41 games) with the Red Sox last season. Jared Hughes will also pitch late in games after proving to be durable as a rookie in 2012. He worked in 66 games and recorded a 2.85 ERA. Tony Watson served as the lone left-handed reliever for most of last season and led the team with 68 appearances, posting a 3.38 ERA. Righthander Chris Leroux, out of minor league options, is likely to make the team as well. Gomez will pitch in long relief early, but he should eventually replace Sanchez in the rotation.
The double-play combination of shortstop Clint Barmes and second baseman Neil Walker is not the flashiest in the big leagues, but they form a solid defensive duo. Barmes struggled at the plate last year in the first season of a two-year, $10.5-million free agent contract, hitting only .229 with eight home runs in 455 at-bats. Walker hit .280 with 14 homers but missed most of September with a herniated disc in his lower back.
Few big-league hitters have more raw power than third baseman Pedro Alvarez, but he is still refining his game. He hit 30 home runs in 2012, his first full season in the majors, but also had a .244 batting average and 180 strikeouts. First baseman Garrett Jones had the best season of his five-year career, hitting .274 and belting 27 homers. However, Jones is a career .198 hitter against left-handed pitchers and will be often spelled against southpaws by Gaby Sanchez.
Center fielder Andrew McCutchen had his best season yet in 2012 as he won back-to-back National League Player of the Month awards in June and July, hitting a combined .405 with 14 home runs in 52 games. He capped the year by winning his first career NL Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards. He finished the season hitting .327 with 31 home runs and 20 stolen bases. A group of five players — Starling Marte, Alex Presley, Jerry Sands, Travis Snider and Jose Tabata — began the spring competing for the other two starting spots. Marte hit .257 with five homers and 12 steals in 47 games as a rookie last season, while Presley, who began the year as the starting left fielder, batted .237 with 10 homers. Sands played in 70 games with the Dodgers the past two seasons and hit only .244 with four homers. Snider battled hamstring problems after being acquired from Toronto in a late-July trade last season and hit just .250 with one homer in 50 games. Tabata flopped in the first year of a six-year, $15-million contract, posting a .243 batting average with only three home runs. For now, the Pirates will go with Marte and Snider. But both are one slump away from demotion.
The Pirates made a rare free-agent splash by signing Russell Martin for two years and $17 million after he hit a career-high 21 home runs for the Yankees. He also hit a career-worst .211 but should be a big upgrade defensively from Rod Barajas.
Michael McKenry is a solid No. 2 catcher with pop who hit 12 home runs in 88 games last season. Sanchez hit just .241 with four homers in 50 games after coming over from the Marlins last year but is being counted on as the top right-handed hitter off the bench. Josh Harrison is below average defensively, but he is valuable because he can play almost anywhere on the infield and both corner outfield spots. John McDonald, acquired from Arizona late in spring training, is the backup at middle infield. He is a terrific defender. Tabata, one of the odd men out in the outfield competition, should stick as the fourth outfielder.
Hurdle has changed the culture of the clubhouse and instilled confidence and a winning attitude in a young club during his two years as manager. While he may not be a master strategist, and his bombastic nature can be wearing at times, he is a motivator. General manager Neal Huntington has hit some potholes along the way but has improved the talent throughout the organization during his five-year tenure. Huntington has whiffed on a number of free-agent signings, so it’s important that Martin — who received a big-money contract by the penny-pinching Pirates’ standards — plays well enough to warrant his deal in 2013.
The last two seasons have ended in disappointment for the Pirates. But there’s no denying that this franchise has made significant progress in recent years. The Pirates went 79–83 last season and were just three wins away from finally ending their streak of sub-.500 finishes. Making a run at the postseason might be a stretch — even in the era of the second wild card — but a winning record appears to be a realistic goal in Pittsburgh.
LF Starling Marte (R)
Has the power and speed to be a star, but needs to raise his .300 on-base percentage.
2B Neil Walker (S)
A solid all-around second baseman with some pop in his bat, though back problems are a concern.
CF Andrew McCutchen (R)
Already one of the game’s biggest stars at 26, and he still has room to improve his all-around game.
1B Garrett Jones (L)
Mashes right-handed pitching, but his troubles against lefties keep him from playing every day.
3B Pedro Alvarez (L)
Plenty of pop in his bat, but he also has plenty of holes in his swing; struck out 180 times last season.
C Russell Martin (R)
Figures to give his new team solid run production and a strong presence behind the plate.
RF Travis Snider (L)
Has seemingly been a prospect forever, but this season might be now or never for him.
SS Clint Barmes (R)
Solid glove work is the only thing still keeping him in the lineup; hit a career-low .229 last season.
C Michael McKenry (R)
Solid backup has surprising pop in his bat for a little guy, and pitchers love throwing to him.
1B Gaby Sanchez (R)
Late-season power surge in 2012 provides hope he can offer more run production in 2013.
UT Josh Harrison (R)
A true hacker as he has drawn just 13 walks in 480 big- league plate appearances.
OF Jose Tabata (R)
Still just 24, but the regression of his power and speed is alarming; has only 11 home runs in 1,072 at-bats.
SS John McDonald (R)
The outstanding defender was picked up from Arizona late in spring training.
RH A.J. Burnett
Still has great stuff at 36 and was rejuvenated last season by getting traded from the Yankees to Pirates.
LH Wandy Rodriguez
Southpaw’s outstanding command allows him to compete with an average arsenal.
RH James McDonald
Has the stuff to be an ace but lacks both the confidence and mental toughness to be a top-of-rotation fixture.
LH Jonathan Sanchez
Discounting his breakout (and fluky?) 2010, he’s 26-46 with a 1.52 WHIP and 5.09 ERA for his career.
LH Jeff Locke
Only twice in 10 career starts has he completed six innings, never more than that. But in his last start in 2012, he allowed just two hits and one run over six innings to the Braves.
RH Jason Grilli (Closer)
The journeyman is throwing harder than ever at 37 and was dominant last season as a set-up man.
RH Mark Melancon
Pirates hoping a switch back to the National League will get him back on track after a horrible year with Boston.
LH Tony Watson
Took a little bit off his fastball last year in his first full big-league season and gained better command.
RH Jared Hughes
He has an outstanding sinker and could be dominant if he develops a stronger second pitch.
RH Chris Leroux
Tall pitcher whose arm angle makes it difficult for hitters to pick up his pitches.
LH Justin Wilson
Converted starter has hit 99 mph with his fastball out of the bullpen.
LH Jeanmar Gomez
Gets a fresh start in the National League after a rough 2012 with the Indians.
Like everyone's brackets, some of Athlon Sports' NCAA Tournament picks did not fare so well (Thanks, West region).
That's not going to stop us from giving it another try. Our editorial staff picked every game in the Sweet 16, hopefully with better luck this time around.
|David Fox||Braden Gall||Mitch Light||Mark Ross|
|Marquette vs. Miami||Miami by 4||Marquette by 2||Miami by 3||Marquette by 3|
|Arizona vs. Ohio State||Ohio State by 6||Ohio State by 7||Ohio State by 4||Ohio State by 5|
|Syracuse vs. Indiana||Indiana by 9||Indiana by 13||Indiana by 4||Indiana by 7|
|La Salle vs. Wichita State||Wichita State by 8||Wichita State by 5||Wichita State by 7||Wichita State by 8|
|Oregon vs. Louisville||Louisville by 15||Louisville by 14||Louisville by 14||Louisville by 12|
|Michigan vs. Kansas||Michigan by 3||Kansas by 6||Michigan by 7||Michigan by 5|
|Michigan State vs. Duke||Duke by 4||Duke by 4||Michigan State by 2||Michigan State by 3|
|Florida Gulf Coast vs. Florida||Florida by 12||Florida by 17||Florida by 17||Florida by 9|
The Sweet 16, as always, finds a way to capture the imagination.
The NCAA Tournament moves into the second weekend with its share of storylines, even if the biggest one from Dunk City seems to overshadow all.
Few people saw Wichita State, the runner up in the Missouri Valley, advancing this far. And even fewer could have tabbed La Salle to go on a run out of the First Four.
Beyond those out-of-nowhere stories, the Sweet 16 will feature games that have the look of Final Four matchups: Indiana-Syracuse, Duke-Michigan State, Ohio State-Arizona.
Here’s a quick look at Thursday’s games, including times, television networks and broadcast pairings.
THURSDAY SWEET 16 VIEWERS GUIDE
All times p.m. Eastern
No. 3 Marquette vs. No. 2 Miami
Time and TV: 7:15, CBS
Region: East, Washington, D.C.
Announcers: Verne Lundquist, Bill Raftery
What to watch: Miami’s miracle season was thrown a curve ball when center Reggie Johnson was lost for the weekend following knee surgery. He’s played 20 minutes in a game once since Feb. 27. But at 6-10, 292 pounds, he’s Miami’s biggest big man and another senior. The Canes will have to adjust. This will be against a Marquette team that’s liberal in going to its bench.
Game in a Tweet: How to win close games: Marquette was 20 of 25 from the free throw line in the second half last week.
No. 6 Arizona vs. No. 2 Ohio State
Time and TV: 7:47, TBS
Region: West, Los Angeles
Announcers: Kevin Harlan, Len Elmore, Reggie Miller
What to watch: Aaron Craft vs. Mark Lyons. Arizona point guard Mark Lyons scored 27 points against Harvard and 23 against Belmont. Can he keep that up against one of the best defenders in the nation in Craft?
Game in a Tweet: Thad Matta faces his former assistant Sean Miller for second time (first was an OT Buckeyes win in 07 Tourney).
No. 4 Syracuse vs. No. 1 Indiana
Time and TV: 9:45, CBS
Region: East, Washington, D.C.
Announcers: Verne Lundquist, Bill Raftery
What to watch: Temple’s Khalif Wyatt had his way with Indiana, who curiously did not use Victor Oladipo to defend him at times. How will the Hoosiers’ match up with Michael Carter-Williams? Indiana’s ability to play against different styles will be tested: After facing Temple’s grinding game, the Hoosiers face Syracuse’s 2-3 zone defense.
Game in a Tweet: Syracuse is looking to reach the Elite Eight for second straight year and second time since 2004 title.
No. 13 La Salle vs. No. 9 Wichita State
Time and TV: 10:17, TBS
Region: West, Los Angeles
Announcers: Kevin Harlan, Len Elmore, Reggie Miller
What to watch: Florida Gulf Coast has stolen the thunder of these two programs, one of whom will be a game away from the Final Four. La Salle went 2-9 in the Tourney from 1956-2012. The Explorers are 3-0 this year behind a guard-heavy lineup that has shot lights out in all but one half of one game this offseason. And what of the personality of Wichita State, led by talkative head coach Gregg Marshall?
Game in a Tweet: This game will produce the 12th team seeded ninth or lower in the Elite Eight since 1985, possibly first 13th seed or lower (La Salle).
The start of the 2013 college football season is still months away, but it’s never too early to start thinking about preseason predictions and some of the top games to watch in each conference.
The Pac-12 and the Big 12 are the only two conferences that play a nine-game schedule. In the Big 12, a nine-game slate works perfectly, as the conference has a round-robin format. In the Pac-12, things work a little differently. All 12 teams will play nine games, but some programs have to hit the road five times during conference play. While the unbalanced schedule creates some problems, playing more conference opponents is always a good thing.
Oregon and Stanford are the clear frontrunners to win the Pac-12 North title. But the South is expected to be a four-way battle between Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA and USC. The Bruins have the inside track since they are the defending division champs. However, USC has a favorable schedule, and the Sun Devils are a team on the rise in Todd Graham’s second year.
2013 Pac-12 Schedule Analysis
Aug. 31 Northwestern
Sept. 7 Portland State
Sept. 14 Ohio State
Sept. 21 Bye Week
Sept. 28 at Oregon
Oct. 5 Washington State
Oct. 12 at UCLA
Oct. 19 Oregon State
Oct. 26 at Washington
Nov. 2 Arizona
Nov. 9 USC
Nov. 16 at Colorado
Nov. 23 at Stanford
Nov. 30 Bye Week
* Welcoming two Big Ten teams to town in the first three weeks wouldn’t normally instill fear in the Golden Bears. However, those two programs combined for 22 wins a season ago. And both expect to compete for a Big Ten title this year as well. This is an extremely difficult way to start a coaching tenure for Sonny Dykes.
* The first bye week is perfectly positioned, but the second is completed wasted. The first off week is positioned between two preseason top-five national title contenders (Ohio State and Oregon) and should give Cal time to lick its wounds and prepare for the Pac-12 opener. The second off weekend comes in the season finale, and unless Dykes miraculously leads his team to a North Division title, it will go to waste.
* The Bears will play all nine Pac-12 games on consecutive weekends with no rest. And other than possibly Washington State at home and a road trip to Colorado, it will face seven bowl teams from a year ago. With a tough non-conference slate, Dykes will need to pull a few stunners in league play, most likely at home, to reach the postseason. More on that…
* Cal will play five road conference games and four home tilts. And needless to say, it gets no favors on the road. Oregon, UCLA, Washington and Stanford all come away from home as well as Colorado. It puts more importance on home wins in swing games against Washington State, Oregon State, Arizona and USC. Having guaranteed losses on the road isn’t always a bad thing if it means a few upsets at home.
Aug. 31 Nicholls State
Sept. 7 at Virginia
Sept. 14 Tennessee
Sept. 21 Bye Week
Sept. 28 California
Oct. 5 at Colorado
Oct. 12 at Washington
Oct. 19 Washington State
Oct. 26 UCLA
Nov. 2 Bye Week
Nov. 9 at Stanford
Nov. 16 Utah
Nov. 23 at Arizona
Nov. 29 Oregon State (Fri.)
* Throughout history, playing non-conference games against programs like Virginia and Tennessee would be considered marquee intersectional tilts - especially, all the way across the country in Charlottesville. However, both programs are achieving at all-time lows and neither should be able to compete with the Ducks.
* The crossover schedule from the South Division is extremely generous. Games against Utah and Colorado shouldn’t be tests and UCLA comes to Eugene. The Ducks should be heavily favored to sweep the South in those three this fall.
* The first off weekend comes following the non-conference slate and will give the Ducks a chance to breathe before beginning conference play in what should be a manageable early Pac-12 slate. A trip to Washington might be the only close game of the bunch before UCLA comes to town.
* The second off weekend is placed perfectly, following a tricky home game with UCLA and a huge road test at Stanford. The trip to Palo Alto might easily be the toughest game on the Ducks schedule this fall and getting two weeks to prepare will help in a big way. And it will come on primetime TV on a Thursday night. Count us in.
* Oregon should be on upset alert late in November in the desert. Weird things happen when teams visit Arizona late in the year, and Rich Rodriguez’ team will be much better in Week 13 than they will be in Week 4 or 5. A look ahead to rival Oregon State may only further the trap game theory against the Wildcats.
* Oregon will play five home Pac-12 games.
Aug. 31 Eastern Washington
Sept. 7 Hawaii
Sept. 14 at Utah
Sept. 21 at San Diego State
Sept. 28 Colorado
Oct. 5 Bye Week
Oct. 12 at Washington State
Oct. 19 at California
Oct. 26 Stanford
Nov. 1 USC (Fri.)
Nov. 9 Bye Week
Nov. 16 at Arizona State
Nov. 23 Washington
Nov. 29 at Oregon (Fri.)
* Mike Riley’s non-conference slate this year is very manageable. While Eastern Washington and San Diego State have won a lot of games in recent years, neither should be able to compete with the Beavers. A 3-0 mark out of the league is a must way to start for Riley (but more on that in a second).
* The beginning of Pac-12 play couldn’t be easier as crossover games with Colorado and Utah are also must-wins for Oregon State. Those two are penciled in as fifth and sixth in the South Division. Following the bye week, the Beavers get Washington State and Cal. This team could easily be 7-0 to start the year — and really must start that way — if it wants to contend because…
* The second half of the season is absolutely brutal for Oregon State. Stanford, USC, at Arizona State, Washington and at Oregon is about as tough a five-game slate as there is in the league. The only comfort is the bye week situated before USC and the road trip South to Arizona State. A 2-3 mark in this span would be considered successful. Two of those (USC and Oregon) will take place on Friday night.
* Oregon State will play five road Pac-12 games.
Aug. 31 Bye Week
Sept. 7 San Jose State
Sept. 14 at Army
Sept. 21 Arizona State
Sept. 28 at Washington State
Oct. 5 Washington
Oct. 12 at Utah
Oct. 19 UCLA
Oct. 26 at Oregon State
Nov. 2 Bye Week
Nov. 7 Oregon (Thur.)
Nov. 16 at USC
Nov. 23 Cal
Nov. 30 Notre Dame
* Not playing in the first weekend has to drive David Shaw nuts. Not only does it delay the hype of a season opener, but it wastes an opportunity to rest his team late in the year between games. The non-conference slate early in the season is perfect for Stanford to break-in his new lineup. Don’t expect Army or San Jose State should press the Cardinal.
* The first five Pac-12 games of the year are nicely positioned with the tougher ones —Arizona State, Washington and UCLA — all coming at home. If one or two of those are Pac-12 title game previews, the Cardinal are lucky they will come at home. Getting one of the South Division contenders Arizona State to start league play isn’t ideal but at least its in Palo Alto.
* While the first off weekend is horribly placed, the second bye is perfectly situated in the toughest three-game stretch of the schedule. Following a tough road trip to Oregon State, Stanford gets the extra week to prepare for the most important game of the year when Oregon comes to town on Thursday night. A trip South to USC one week later has Letdown Alert written all over it.
* Finishing the year with California and Notre Dame at home should be fun for Cardinal fans. The two biggest rivals of the year will cap a tough final month in which three out of four will take place at home.
Aug. 31 Boise State
Sept. 7 Bye Week
Sept. 14 at Illinois
Sept. 21 Idaho State
Sept. 28 Arizona
Oct. 5 at Stanford
Oct. 12 Oregon
Oct. 19 at Arizona State
Oct. 26 California
Nov. 2 Bye Week
Nov. 9 Colorado
Nov. 15 at UCLA (Fri.)
Nov. 23 at Oregon State
Nov. 29 Washington State (Fri.)
* The 2012 season ended with a tough but thrilling two-point loss to Boise State in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas. These two will play back-to-back games as the Broncos come to town to open the season in must-see action involving the opening of new Husky Stadium.
* The first off weekend will allow Washington time to reflect on the tough first weekend and prepare for another tricky non-conference game across the country in the Big Ten against Illinois.
* Last year, Washington struggled through a nasty early season Pac-12 slate. The 2013 season won’t be any different. Arizona, at Stanford, Oregon and at Arizona State is as tough a four-game swing as there will be in the league and a 2-2 record would be considered excellent.
* While the early slate is tough, the close to the season is relatively easy. Games with California, Colorado and Washington State at home are must-wins. The off weekend will help as well. Road trips to UCLA and Oregon State are tough but winnable.
* Washington will get five home Pac-12 games this fall.
Aug. 31 at Auburn
Sept. 7 at USC
Sept. 14 Southern Utah
Sept. 21 Idaho
Sept. 28 Stanford
Oct. 5 at California
Oct. 12 Oregon State
Oct. 19 at Oregon
Oct. 26 Bye Week
Oct. 31 Arizona State (Thur.)
Nov. 9 Bye Week
Nov. 16 at Arizona
Nov. 23 Utah
Nov. 29 at Washington (Fri.)
* While Auburn and USC underachieved in 2012, playing back-to-back road games against two of college football’s top programs is a tough way to start for anyone — much less an embattled coach entering his second, but very important season. At least, Southern Utah and Idaho offer some chances at success in the first month because the Pac-12 slate begins in brutal fashion.
* To start Pac-12 play, Wazzu will play the best three teams in the division and will have to visit Cal over a four-week span. A 1-3 mark to start league play would be positive for Mike Leach.
* The first bye week comes after eight consecutive game weekends including five brutal opponents. Having two weeks to prepare for one of the South Division’s top contenders in Arizona State might allow Leach to gameplan for the huge upset. Don’t be shocked if Wazzu plays well against the Sun Devils.
* The second bye week comes oddly after just the one game with Arizona State. But with winnable games in the final three weekend, it comes at a good time. Arizona, Utah and Washington are better teams but getting an extra week to prepare for the home stretch could bode well for Leach and Company.
* Washington State will play five road Pac-12 games.
Aug. 30 Northern Arizona
Sept. 7 at UNLV
Sept. 14 UTSA
Sept. 21 Bye Week
Sept. 28 at Washington
Oct. 5 Bye Week
Oct. 10 at USC
Oct. 19 Utah
Oct. 26 at Colorado
Nov. 2 at California
Nov. 9 UCLA
Nov. 16 Washington State
Nov. 23 Oregon
Nov. 30 at Arizona State
* With Arizona breaking in a new quarterback, the non-conference schedule is a perfect way to start the season. The Wildcats open with Northern Arizona, UNLV and UTSA, which should be three easy victories. And with Arizona heavily favored, it should allow coach Rich Rodriguez to work in a couple of quarterbacks to get snaps in game action.
* The first bye week of the season comes at a good time for Arizona. After playing three non-conference opponents, the Wildcats will have a chance to use the bye week to regroup and sort out the quarterback situation before playing at Washington. Arizona hasn’t had much success recently in Seattle, as it has lost its last two matchups on the road against the Huskies.
* While a bye week before Pac-12 play starts is ideal, Arizona’s second off date has some awful timing. The Wildcats won’t play on Oct. 5, which comes one week after their first bye. With eight Pac-12 games still ahead, the early bye weeks could hurt Arizona later in the season, especially if it suffers any significant injuries.
* Even though Arizona has to play Oregon, it has a favorable crossover schedule with games against Washington State, Washington and California. The Wildcats defeated the Huskies last season and California and Washington State are picked near the bottom of the conference.
* Arizona must play three of its first four conference games on the road, including a trip to USC. The Wildcats are just 1-4 in their last five games at USC.
* After playing most of their early Pac-12 games on the road, the Wildcats play three out of the final four at home. The November homestand should help Arizona close out the season on a high note, as it has winnable games against UCLA and Washington State.
* An interesting trend has developed in the Arizona-Arizona State rivalry in recent years. The Wildcats have won two in a row at Tempe but lost its last two matchups in Tucson? So does home cooking mean anything in this series? 2013 will be an interesting case study.
Aug. 31 Bye Week
Sept. 5 Sacramento State
Sept. 14 Wisconsin
Sept. 21 at Stanford
Sept. 28 USC
Oct. 5 Notre Dame (Arlington)
Oct. 12 Colorado
Oct. 19 Washington
Oct. 26 Bye Week
Oct. 31 at Washington State
Nov. 9 at Utah
Nov. 16 Oregon State
Nov. 23 at UCLA
Nov. 30 Arizona
* Although there are some other ill-timed byes in the Pac-12, Arizona State might earn the award for the worst with its opening week off date. The Sun Devils can use the extra week to prepare for early season games against Wisconsin, Stanford and USC, but an off date in the first week of the year certainly isn’t ideal for Todd Graham’s team.
* After an early bye week, Arizona State finally takes the field for its opener on Sept. 5 against Sacramento State. Playing the Hornets on Thursday night is a plus, especially since the Sun Devils welcome Wisconsin to Tempe on Sept. 14.
* Arizona State and Wisconsin will meet for only the fourth time on Sept. 14. The Sun Devils own a 2-1 edge, but the Badgers won the last meeting 20-19 in Madison in 2010. Arizona State’s run defense is a huge focus for Todd Graham and his defensive staff this spring, and playing a team like Wisconsin with two potential All-Big Ten backs should give the defense a gauge of where it stands heading into Pac-12 play.
* Arizona State opens Pac-12 play with two huge contests: at Stanford and USC. The Sun Devils have lost their last two matchups against the Cardinal, including a 33-14 defeat at Stanford in 2009.
* If Arizona State wants to win the South Division, it has to breakthrough against USC. The Sun Devils are just 1-12 in their last 13 games against the Trojans, with the last victory coming in 2011. Arizona State lost 38-17 at USC in 2012.
* While Arizona State catches Stanford in crossover play, the rest of its games with the North are favorable. The Sun Devils host Oregon State and Washington, along with a road date against Washington State in crossover play – three games they should be favored to win.
* Could the Nov. 23 showdown between Arizona State and UCLA decide the South Division champ? The Bruins have won back-to-back division titles, but the Sun Devils weren’t too far behind last season. Arizona State has lost three out of its last four games to UCLA. However, the last two losses in the series have come by a combined three points.
* Here’s an interesting stat to consider in the Arizona-Arizona State rivalry: The home team has not won since 2008. The Sun Devils won 41-34 in Tucson last season.
Aug. 31 Colorado State (Denver)
Sept. 7 Central Arkansas
Sept. 14 Fresno State
Sept. 21 Bye Week
Sept. 28 at Oregon State
Oct. 5 Oregon
Oct. 12 at Arizona State
Oct. 19 Bye Week
Oct. 26 Arizona
Nov. 2 at UCLA
Nov. 9 at Washington
Nov. 16 California
Nov. 23 USC
Nov. 30 at Utah
* Mike MacIntyre should be a good fit at Colorado, but the Buffaloes could have a hard time finding victories in 2013. Since there are few guaranteed wins, getting the season started off with a victory against Colorado State is a must. The Buffaloes have won two out of the last three against their in-state rival. But the Rams won 22-17 last season.
* Central Arkansas is one of the few breaks on the schedule, but Fresno State in Week 3 is no easy matchup for Colorado. The Bulldogs destroyed the Buffaloes 69-14 last season and should be a heavy favorite in this matchup.
* The first bye week of the season comes at a good time for Colorado. After getting non-conference play finished, MacIntyre and his staff will have an opportunity to evaluate his team before opening Pac-12 action at Oregon State.
* The Sept. 28 meeting visit at Oregon State will be Colorado’s first trip to Corvallis. The Buffaloes and Beavers have not played since 1988 and interestingly enough, no matchup has taken place in Corvallis.
* While the Buffaloes will be better in 2013, they are likely to be a double-digit underdog in most of their Pac-12 games. So where are the opportunities to earn a victory? How about Nov. 16 against a rebuilding California team? Or Nov. 30 on the road at Utah? Again, opportunities are limited for Colorado. But it should be more competitive than it was last season in conference games.
Aug. 31 Nevada
Sept. 7 Bye Week
Sept. 14 at Nebraska
Sept. 21 New Mexico State
Sept. 28 Bye Week
Oct. 3 at Utah
Oct. 12 California
Oct. 19 at Stanford
Oct. 26 at Oregon
Nov. 2 Colorado
Nov. 9 at Arizona
Nov. 15 Washington
Nov. 23 Arizona State
Nov. 30 at USC
* The defending Pac-12 South champions open the year with a wildcard matchup. Chris Ault retired at Nevada at the end of last season, and the school hired Texas A&M assistant Brian Polian as its new head coach. While the Wolf Pack return quarterback Cody Fajardo and some solid pieces on both sides of the ball, it’s hard to know what to expect with a new coaching staff.
* After a bye in the second week of the season, UCLA hits the road for the final time in non-conference play to take on Nebraska. The Bruins won 36-30 in Pasadena last season, and the overall series between these two teams is separated by just one contest (5-6). However, UCLA has lost its last four trips to Lincoln. With two explosive offenses, expect plenty of points when these two teams meet on Sept. 14.
* With both of their bye weeks before October, UCLA will have to navigate a difficult conference slate with no off date until after the Nov. 30 game against USC. And that’s assuming the Bruins don’t win the division and play in the conference title game.
* UCLA’s first two games of conference play should be victories – at Utah and California – but after is where the competition kicks up a notch. The Bruins have arguably the toughest crossover schedule in the South Division, playing at Stanford and Oregon, while hosting Washington. If there’s a reason to pick against UCLA to repeat as Pac-12 South champions, the schedule might be the biggest obstacle.
* UCLA has lost its last four matchups against Oregon. The Ducks won 60-13 in Eugene during the last regular season game between these two schools.
* UCLA has lost five in a row to in-state rival Stanford. The last victory for the Bruins on the Farm was on Sept. 1, 2007.
* Regardless of what happens in the crossover games against Oregon and Stanford, UCLA’s division title hopes could rest on a November stretch that starts with a road trip to Arizona on Nov. 9, then a home date against Washington, which is followed by a home matchup against Arizona State and a short trip across town to play USC on Nov. 30. Even if the Bruins lose to Oregon and Stanford, they can likely win the division by beating both Arizona State and USC.
Aug. 29 at Hawaii
Sept. 7 Washington State
Sept. 14 Boston College
Sept. 21 Utah State
Sept. 28 at Arizona State
Oct. 5 Bye Week
Oct. 10 Arizona
Oct. 19 at Notre Dame
Oct. 26 Utah
Nov. 1 at Oregon State
Nov. 9 at California
Nov. 16 Stanford
Nov. 23 at Colorado
Nov. 30 UCLA
* Due to a road trip against Hawaii to open the season, USC will play 13 games in 2013. With the team still on scholarship limitations, is the extra game a bad thing? It’s hard to say, but USC shouldn’t have much trouble with Hawaii or Boston College in non-conference action. Assuming USC doesn’t suffer a rash of injuries before the heart of Pac-12 play, it shouldn’t hurt too much by playing an extra game.
* Outside of the road trip to Notre Dame, USC’s toughest non-conference game will be against Utah State. The Aggies went 11-2 last year and return much of their core, including quarterback Chuckie Keeton.
* Although Washington State should be improved, the Trojans should get a good barometer test of where they stack up in the Pac-12 with a Sept. 28 game at Arizona State. The Sun Devils handled USC 43-22 in Tempe in 2011 but lost 38-17 to the Trojans last year. Arizona State and UCLA are the early favorites to win the South Division. But if USC can go on the road and win, the Trojans can throw their hat into the conversation as well.
* The first bye week of the season comes at a perfect time for USC. With a key South Division game against Arizona on Oct. 10, along with the annual matchup with Notre Dame, the off date is a good chance for the Trojans to regroup.
* USC has won five matchups in a row at Notre Dame. Interestingly enough, the Fighting Irish have won the last two in Los Angeles. Notre Dame should be favored, but the Trojans played the Fighting Irish tough last season, despite losing quarterback Matt Barkley to a shoulder injury the week before against UCLA.
* The Trojans have a favorable crossover schedule with the North Division. Most importantly, USC does not play Oregon. The Trojans host Stanford and play on the road at Oregon State, but they also miss Washington. For a team that underachieved last season, USC has the schedule to make a quick rebound in the conference standings.
* Will USC establish control in the rivalry with UCLA once again? The Bruins snapped a five-game losing streak to the Trojans last year. However, USC has won seven in a row at home.
Aug. 29 Utah State
Sept. 7 Weber State
Sept. 14 Oregon State
Sept. 21 at BYU
Sept. 28 Bye Week
Oct. 3 UCLA
Oct. 12 Stanford
Oct. 19 at Arizona
Oct. 26 at USC
Nov. 2 Bye Week
Nov. 9 Arizona State
Nov. 16 at Oregon
Nov. 23 at Washington State
Nov. 30 Colorado
* Utah opens its 2013 campaign with back-to-back games against in-state foes. The first matchup is against Utah State, a team breaking in a new coach in Matt Wells. However, the bigger storyline in this game should be revenge. The Aggies snapped a 12-game losing streak to the Utes last year, and with a challenging Pac-12 slate ahead, Utah needs this game to get bowl eligible.
* With only nine returning starters, the Sept. 14 game against Oregon State should give Utah a good barometer test of where it stands in relation to the rest of the Pac-12. The Beavers won nine games last season and are expected to be picked in the top four of the Pac-12 North. Are the Utes going in the right direction? We should have a better idea after the Sept. 14 game against Oregon State.
* Can Utah continue its recent run of success against BYU? The Utes have won four out of the last five meetings, including a 54-10 blowout victory in Provo. Expect the Cougars to have revenge on their mind this season.
* The first bye week comes at a good time for Utah, as the upcoming stretch against UCLA, Stanford, Arizona and USC will be challenging. And considering the schedule, it’s very possible Utah enters November with a 2-6 record.
* In 2013, Utah will play Stanford for the first time since 1996. The Cardinal won the last meeting on Sept. 7, 1996, but these two programs have met only five teams in school history.
* This will be the first meeting between Utah and Oregon as Pac-12 foes. The Utes and Ducks last met 2009 in Eugene but have played 26 times in school history.
* Wins in Pac-12 play are difficult to find for Utah, and the season finale against Colorado could be the only guaranteed victory. The Utes lost to the Buffaloes in Salt Lake City in 2011 but defeated Colorado 42-35 in Boulder last year.
Related College Football Content
Barring any late movement, college football’s coaching carousel for 2013 has ended.
As with any offseason, there were plenty of changes nationally. Over 100 coordinator jobs have changed hands from 2012 and there were numerous moves among the assistant ranks.
It’s too early to tell which hire is the best but give Arkansas’ Bret Bielema, Kentucky’s Mark Stoops and NC State’s Dave Doeren credit for building excellent staffs at their new jobs.
Another name to watch is Don Brown, moving from Connecticut to Boston College. He helped to coordinate a top-10 defense in Storrs last season and should be a huge asset to a program that has dropped off in recent years.
Which coaching hires will have the most impact for 2013? Keep an eye on these names:
College Football's Top Coordinator Hires for 2013
Dave Aranda, Defensive Coordinator, Wisconsin
Aranda has been on a fast track through the coaching ranks since serving as a co-defensive coordinator at Delta State in 2007. The California native joined the Hawaii coaching staff as a defensive line coach in 2008 and served in that capacity until the start of the 2010 season when he was promoted to coordinator. In Aranda’s first season as a coordinator, the Warriors led the nation in forced turnovers (38) and scored five defensive touchdowns. In 2011, Hawaii was once again one of the top defenses in the WAC, recording 35 sacks and finishing third in the conference against the run. Aranda joined Utah State for one season and led the Aggies a finish of 14th nationally in yards allowed and seventh in points allowed. Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen will help mold the defense, but Aranda is clearly a coordinator on the rise after his stints at Utah State and Hawaii.
Related Content: 2013 Wisconsin Spring Preview
Chris Ash, Defensive Coordinator, Arkansas
Ash followed Bret Bielema from Wisconsin to Arkansas and will coordinate the Razorbacks’ defense in 2013. In two years as a coordinator in Madison, the Badgers ranked 15th nationally in total defense in back-to-back seasons. Before coming to Wisconsin, Ash worked at Iowa State from 2002-06 and made a short stop at San Diego State (2007-08), before coming back to Ames in 2009. Ash is considered a good secondary coach, which should help Arkansas improve a pass defense that ranked 113th nationally in 2012.
Related Content: SEC's All-Underrated Spring Team
Mike Bajakian, Offensive Coordinator, Tennessee
Bajakian has quietly developed into one of the nation’s most underrated coordinators. The New Jersey native has followed Butch Jones at each of his coaching stops, starting with Central Michigan in 2007. Under Bajakian’s watch, the Chippewas were one of the MAC’s top offenses, as he helped tutor record-setting quarterback Dan LeFevour. After three seasons in Mount Pleasant, Bajakian joined Jones for three years in Cincinnati, and the Bearcats finished first or second in scoring in the Big East during his tenure. Tennessee’s offense is in need of repair after quarterback Tyler Bray and receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson left for the NFL. The competition is tougher in the SEC, but Bajakian should ease the transition at quarterback and with the new receiving corps.
Related Content: 2013 Tennessee Volunteers Spring Preview
Don Brown, Defensive Coordinator, Boston College
New Boston College coach Steve Addazio seems to be a good fit in Chestnut Hill, and he made one of the top moves of the offseason by hiring Brown from Connecticut. The Massachusetts native has a wealth of experience in the Northeast, including stops at Yale, Dartmouth, Brown, UMass, Northeastern and Maryland. Brown is known as an aggressive coordinator, and he guided the Huskies to a top-10 finish nationally in fewest yards allowed in 2012. Boston College doesn’t have as much talent as Connecticut had on defense in 2012, but the Eagles should improve under Brown’s watch in 2013.
Neal Brown, Offensive Coordinator, Kentucky
Kentucky is one of the toughest jobs in the SEC, but new coach Mark Stoops has pieced together an excellent coaching staff to turn things around in Lexington. Brown is a perfect fit to direct the Wildcats’ offense, as he played for Kentucky from 1998-2000 and is a native of Danville. Brown has five years of coordinator experience, including the last three at Texas Tech. During his tenure in Lubbock, the Red Raiders averaged 475.7 yards and 34.8 points a game. Life in the SEC will be tougher, but Brown is going to improve Kentucky’s offense.
Matt Canada, Offensive Coordinator, NC State
Canada is on his third job in three years and reunites with Dave Doeren after one season at Wisconsin. He started his career as a grad assistant at Indiana and worked his way up the ranks to coordinate Northern Illinois’ offense in 2003. After one season as the Huskies’ coordinator, Canada left for Indiana and stayed in Bloomington until 2010, when he joined Doeren at Northern Illinois. In 2011, the Huskies averaged 38.3 points a game, and under Canada’s direction in 2012, Wisconsin averaged 393.3 yards per game and ranked 13th nationally in rush offense. Canada needs to develop a quarterback, but his track record suggests NC State should make a smooth transition to its new offense for 2013.
Jim Chaney, Offensive Coordinator, Arkansas
After Derek Dooley was canned at Tennessee, Chaney didn’t have to look far for his next job. The Missouri native stays in the SEC, moving from Knoxville to Fayetteville to coordinate the offense for Bret Bielema. Chaney joined Tennessee in 2009 after a three-year stint in the NFL, leading the Volunteers to an average of 475.9 yards per game in 2012. In addition to his successful stint with Tennessee, Chaney helped tutor Drew Brees at Purdue and also spent time in the NFL as an assistant with the Rams. Bielema was a run-first coach at Wisconsin, and it’s likely Arkansas will keep a similar offensive approach. However, Chaney’s background on offense allows the Razorbacks to implement some spread principles to blend with a pro-style attack.
Bill Cubit, Offensive Coordinator, Illinois
The Fighting Illini’s offense was a disaster last season, ranking 119th nationally with 296.7 yards per game. Coach Tim Beckman canned co-coordinators Chris Beatty and Billy Gonzales, which opened the door for Cubit to come to Champaign. The Pennsylvania native was Western Michigan’s head coach from 2005-12 and made stops as an offensive coordinator at Missouri, Rutgers and Stanford. The Fighting Illini’s offense has a lot of question marks, but Cubit’s veteran presence should help this unit escape the Big Ten’s cellar in 2013.
D.J. Durkin, Defensive Coordinator, Florida
Durkin isn’t a name known to most college football fans, but he is highly regarded among coaches around the nation. He started his career at Bowling Green as a graduate assistant in 2001 and served in a similar role at Notre Dame from 2003-04. He returned to Bowling Green as a defensive assistant in 2005-06 and was hired at Stanford by Jim Harbaugh in 2007. After three years with the Cardinal, Durkin joined Urban Meyer at Florida in 2010 and remained on staff after Will Muschamp was hired. Durkin won’t have to coordinate the defense alone, as Muschamp will have a large say in the game plan. But the Ohio native’s quick rise through the coaching ranks shows just how much confidence Muschamp has in him to lead the defense.
Related Content: 2013 Florida Gators Spring Preview
D.J. Eliot, Defensive Coordinator, Kentucky
Eliot was Mark Stoops’ right-hand man at Florida State, as he helped to develop some of the Seminoles’ defensive linemen into NFL talent. Eliot has paid his dues in the coaching ranks, spending time as an assistant at Wyoming, Houston, Miami, Texas State, Tulsa and Rice. This will be Eliot’s first time holding the defensive coordinator title, and Stoops will likely have a large role in the defense each week. However, Eliot is a rising star in the coaching ranks and should help Kentucky’s defensive line develop into an SEC-ready unit in 2013.
Virginia’s staff got a major overhaul in the offseason, as Mike London hired former NC State coach Tom O’Brien as an assistant, Jon Tenuta replaced Jim Reid as defensive coordinator, and Fairchild was hired after Bill Lazor left for the NFL. Fairchild has a solid resume, spending time as an assistant with San Diego State, New Mexico and Colorado State, before spending seven years in the NFL with the Bills and Rams. He also served as Colorado State’s head coach from 2008-11. Fairchild isn’t going to turn Virginia’s offense into the ACC’s most-prolific unit, but his experience in the NFL should help the Cavaliers find a spark in 2013.
Tony Franklin, Offensive Coordinator, California
Franklin is highly regarded for his work with spread offenses and has been successful at most of his stops, with the exception of a failed stint at Auburn. The Kentucky native spent the last three years working under Sonny Dykes at Louisiana Tech and is following Dykes to California. In a wide-open conference like the Pac-12, Franklin’s spread offense should have no trouble getting on track. Give Dykes and Franklin some time and the Bear Raid offense should rank near the top of the Pac-12.
Scott Frost, Offensive Coordinator, Oregon
The playcalling duties in Eugene will fall on the shoulders of new coach Mark Helfrich, but Frost was promoted to offensive coordinator after Chip Kelly’s departure. The former Nebraska quarterback is a rising star in the coaching ranks and could have a shot to run his own program in the near future.
Dave Huxtable, Defensive Coordinator, NC State
Huxtable is another well-traveled assistant to make this list of top coordinator hires for 2013. The Illinois native made stops as a coordinator at Georgia Tech, North Carolina and UCF, before joining Bret Bielema’s staff at Wisconsin in 2011. After one year with the Badgers, he followed Paul Chryst to Pittsburgh and led a Panther defense that allowed just 21.1 points a game in 2012. Huxtable’s job won’t be easy in 2013, especially since NC State has to rebuild its linebacking corps and secondary this offseason. However, this looks like a good hire for new coach Dave Doeren.
Jeff Jagodzinski, Offensive Coordinator, Georgia State
Remember him? Jagodzinski has been nearly invisible since he was fired from Boston College for interviewing for an NFL job in 2008. After the bizarre end to his tenure at Chestnut Hill, Jagodzinski served as Tampa Bay’s offensive coordinator but was fired before the first game and worked for one year as the head coach for the UFL’s Omaha Nighthawks. He also spent 2012 working as the wide receivers coach at Ave Maria University. Jagodzinski is a proven coach and has an NFL background. This is a hire that should pay big dividends for FBS newcomer Georgia State.
Ellis Johnson, Defensive Coordinator, Auburn
As evidenced by his horrendous 0-12 record at Southern Miss last season, Johnson just isn’t cut out to be a head coach. However, the 61-year-old coach is one of the offseason’s top assistant hires, as Gus Malzahn brings the veteran coordinator aboard to coordinate the Tigers’ defense. Johnson is no stranger to life in the SEC, as he coached at Alabama from 1990-93 and then again from 1997-2000. He coordinated the defense at Mississippi State from 2004-07 and at South Carolina from 2008-2011. Johnson should help improve an Auburn defense that allowed 420.5 yards and 28.3 points a game last season.
Brian Lindgren, Offensive Coordinator, Colorado
At 32 years old, Lindgren is a name to watch in future head coaching searches. He started his coaching career at the University of Redlands in 2005 and moved to Northern Arizona in 2006. Lindgren spent six seasons with the Lumberjacks, before joining Mike MacIntyre at San Jose State in 2012. The Spartans averaged 34.7 points and 446.2 yards per game with Lindgren at the controls last year. Expect Colorado to show marked improvement on offense this year, which only figures to raise Lindgren’s profile even more going into the offseason.
Clancy Pendergast, Defensive Coordinator, USC
Pendergast should be an improvement over Monte Kiffin, who never seemed to figure out an answer for slowing down spread offenses. In two out of his three seasons coordinating the California defense, the Golden Bears ranked No. 1 in fewest yards allowed. Pendergast is changing USC’s scheme, which has been referred to as a 5-2 scheme in spring reports. With the returning talent, the Trojans should have one of the most-improved defenses in the nation.
Jeremy Pruitt, Defensive Coordinator, Florida State
Pruitt is an interesting choice to replace Mark Stoops as the Seminoles' defensive mastermind. The Alabama native has only been an assistant on the FBS level since 2010 and served under Nick Saban as a secondary coach. While his resume is thin on collegiate experience, Pruitt did work at prep powerhouse Hoover High School in Alabama for three years, including the final two seasons as defensive coordinator. Pruitt doesn’t have much experience, but he is regarded as an excellent recruiter and learned from one of the best at Alabama.
Related Content: 2013 Florida State Spring Preview
Mike Smith/Matt Wallerstedt, Co-Defensive Coordinators, Texas Tech
The Smith-Wallerstedt combination should work out well for Texas Tech’s defense. The Red Raiders showed improvement on that side of the ball last year and return eight starters for 2013. Smith joins his alma mater after working as an assistant with the Jets, while Wallerstedt comes to Lubbock after one season with Texas A&M. Wallerstedt also has experience as a defensive coordinator from 2010-11 at Air Force and during the 2000-02 seasons at Wyoming. With Smith’s NFL background and Wallerstedt’s experience in defending spread offenses from the Mountain West, this pairing should continue to get Texas Tech’s defense moving in the right direction.
Jon Tenuta, Defensive Coordinator, Virginia
Tenuta is a well-traveled assistant and is returning to his alma mater after a three-year stint at NC State. He is no stranger to the ACC, as he also has stops at Maryland, North Carolina and Georgia Tech on his resume. Under Tenuta’s watch in 2012, the Wolfpack recorded 2.5 sacks a game and forced 24 turnovers in 13 games. He is known for his aggressiveness, which should help a Virginia defense that managed only 1.4 sacks a game and forced 12 turnovers in 2012.
Mike Yurcich, Offensive Coordinator, Oklahoma State
Yurcich was an off-the-radar hire by Mike Gundy, but all signs point to this being a home-run pick. The Ohio native has spent only one season on the FBS level (graduate assistant at Indiana), but he was a successful coordinator at Shippensburg, coordinating an offense that averaged 529.2 yards per game in 2012. Yurcich won’t be asked to make many changes, as Oklahoma State plans on keeping the same offense that Dana Holgorsen and Todd Monken have built over the last few years. Even though his experience on the FBS level is virtually nothing, Yurcich’s performance on the lower levels suggest Oklahoma State’s offense won’t miss a beat.
Related Content: 2013 Oklahoma State Spring Preview
Six Wait and See Hires for 2013
Cam Cameron, Offensive Coordinator, LSU
Is Cameron the answer for LSU’s sluggish offense? The veteran NFL assistant has to help the Tigers’ passing attack, which has lacked in recent years. Cameron was fired from the Ravens after Week 14 of the 2013 NFL season and has not coached in college since 2001.
Related Content: 2013 LSU Tigers Spring Preview
James Coley, Offensive Coordinator, Miami
Coley is regarded as an excellent recruiter in South Florida but lacks experience as a playcaller. Although Coley held the offensive coordinator designation at Florida State, Jimbo Fisher called the plays for the Seminoles. Coley served as FIU’s playcaller in 2007 – a season in which the Golden Panthers averaged 15.1 points a game.
Dennis Erickson, Co-Offensive Coordinator, Utah
Erickson was brought in to tutor Utah offensive coordinator Brian Johnson, but he will also have the final say on the headsets in 2013. Erickson was out of coaching in 2012, after spending 2007-11 as the head coach at Arizona State. Having a veteran presence like Erickson will help, but Utah has a young quarterback and must replace running back John White.
Scot Loeffler, Offensive Coordinator, Virginia Tech
Loeffler was not impressive during his one-year stint at Auburn, as the Tigers ranked 115th nationally in total offense. However, he was regarded for his work at Michigan from 2002-07 and spent one year in the NFL with the Lions. Loeffler is tasked with getting Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas back on track.
Ron Prince, Offensive Coordinator, Rutgers
Prince had a mediocre 17-20 stint as Kansas State’s head coach from 2006-08. Since then, he’s served as an assistant in the NFL and worked for one year as Virginia’s special teams coach in 2009. From 2003-05, Prince was the Cavaliers’ offensive coordinator under Al Groh, and he directed an attack that averaged at least 26 points a game each year during that span.
Ted Roof, Defensive Coordinator, Georgia Tech
Roof returns to his alma mater looking to turn around a defense that has struggled to improve in recent years. However, he has a shaky resume, as his defenses at Auburn were nothing special, and his one season at Minnesota resulted in a defense that ranked 10th in the Big Ten in yards allowed. While Roof’s defenses have turned in some suspect performances, he did coordinate a Penn State defense that ranked second in the Big Ten in fewest points allowed in 2012.
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Whether it's turnover in Toronto, sophomore superstars, or Dodger dollars, there's no shortage of storylines coming this 2013 baseball season. To get you up to speed before opening day, here's a look at everything you need to know.
1. Oh, Canada!
We could probably fill this story with 15 things to watch about the Toronto Blue Jays alone. This team begs for attention, from so many angles, and we know that at least one country will be watching closely. Rival executives have long believed that Canada’s only baseball team, backed by the Rogers Communications fortune, was a sleeping giant. Now, the Blue Jays are wide awake, with emerging young talent (Brett Lawrie), steady veterans (Mark Buehrle), power hitters (Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion) and speedsters (Jose Reyes and Emilio Bonifacio). The Jays could have as many as three aces around Buehrle, who was part of the bounty that general manager Alex Anthopoulos extracted from the Miami Marlins in a November blockbuster. Brandon Morrow has some of the best stuff in the league, Josh Johnson is a former ERA champion, and R.A. Dickey just won the National League Cy Young Award for the Mets. The bullpen is loaded with power arms. The folksy and fiery John Gibbons is back as manager after four years away. And — oh, by the way — the revamped lineup includes Melky Cabrera, who gained a measure of infamy last season when he flunked a steroids test shortly after winning the MVP award at the All-Star Game. The San Francisco Giants refused to activate Cabrera during the postseason, yet won it all in his absence. Cabrera, who cashed in with the Jays for two years and $16 million, would be worth watching wherever he went, to see if he’s anything more than a league-average player without the juice. Here, though, he’s just one storyline on a team that seems poised to take advantage of an AL East that, for the first time in two decades, could be theirs for the taking.
2. Sophomore Stars
Every now and then, the Rookie of the Year Award winners seem destined to have a significant impact on the future of the game. Think Albert Pujols and Ichiro Suzuki in 2001, Eddie Murray and Andre Dawson in 1977, or Tom Seaver and Rod Carew in 1967. It’s been only one season, of course, but Mike Trout and Bryce Harper already have that look. Trout was the runner-up to Miguel Cabrera as the AL Most Valuable Player, putting together the best all-around season of any player in the majors, factoring in speed (an MLB-high 49 steals), power (30 homers) and his nightly highlights on defense. And he just turned 21 in August. Harper is even younger, playing his entire season before turning 20, and while his skills are not quite as advanced as Trout’s, he posted one of the best age-19 seasons in baseball history, batting .270 with 22 homers, 59 runs batted in and 18 steals, while also playing strong defense and showing exceptional instincts. Both players approach the game with passion and relentless drive, and possess such a diverse set of skills that they do something memorable every night. We never know what’s coming next from this pair, and we sure can’t wait to find out.
3. New Dimensions
The ballpark that gave up the fewest home runs last season was AT&T Park, whose tenants, the San Francisco Giants, won the World Series. Yet building a winning team in an extreme pitcher’s park has been much more challenging for the teams in the 28th- and 29th-ranked parks for home runs. The San Diego Padres (Petco Park, 28th) and the Seattle Mariners (Safeco Field, 29th) have not won much lately, and they decided after the season to move in their fences. In San Diego, the power alleys will be reduced by 12 feet in left field and nine feet in right. Another part of the right field wall will come in by 11 feet. In Seattle, the left field walls will be pulled in, in various spots, from four to 17 feet, with a four-foot reduction for much of right field. “We have been an outlier in terms of the difficulty hitting in our ballpark,” Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik says. “What we really want to be is a fair ballpark for pitchers and hitters. That’s the biggest thing.” Neither the Padres nor the Mariners (whose retractable roof does not enclose the ballpark) can do much about the cool and heavy local air, which can depress the flight of a ball. But at least their hitters won’t be as frustrated as before. Now, of course, the teams need to find hitters talented enough to take advantage. That could be a much bigger challenge.
4. Dodger Dollars
It’s been quite a debut for the new owners of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who last May paid $2.15 billion for a team emerging from bankruptcy with a payroll just over $100 million. Now the payroll is doubled, Dodger Stadium is being renovated, and the team is stuffed with TV stars. That’s no coincidence, since the Dodgers’ spending has everything to do with a lavish new deal for their cable rights. The Yankees showed the value of must-see players (who also win) on the wildly successful YES Network in New York. The Dodgers haven’t grabbed a playoff spot since 2009, so it will be fascinating to see if all their imports can come together and lead them back. Stan Kasten, the team president, promised that it would take more than dollars to win. “I always say smart beats rich,” he said. “The Yankees got as good as they are because they’re both smart and rich. We’re working on it.” All of the newcomers, even Zack Greinke, must prove the Dodgers smart for believing that their best days are in front of them, not behind them. If it turns out that the Dodgers paid Greinke for his Royals success, Carl Crawford for his Rays success and Hanley Ramirez for his Marlins success (and so on), this could turn into a big-budget Hollywood flop.
5. Hamilton’s New Home
It was time for Josh Hamilton to leave the Texas Rangers. After five seasons in which he led them to their first two World Series, the fans had turned on him, and the team made a tepid offer to bring him back. Even so, the Rangers served Hamilton well in his time there, creating an environment in which he could manage his complicated life and thrive. A hefty contract (five years, $125 million), new teammates and a ballpark that is less hitter-friendly bring challenges that Hamilton, a recovering addict, must navigate now that he’s with the Los Angeles Angels. “I have a past history of making mistakes with drugs and alcohol, drinking twice in seven years, which is not good for me,” Hamilton said after signing. “They’re going to help me with my support system to put things in place that I had with the Rangers.” If Hamilton stays clean, he will add another dangerous bat to a glittering lineup that last year added Albert Pujols from St. Louis. Splashy annual signings do not guarantee success, and the Angels are starting to look like their 1980s teams, put together largely by poaching stars like Rod Carew, Reggie Jackson and Fred Lynn from other teams. But if Hamilton makes a smooth transition, the Angels could power their way to the World Series for the first time in more than a decade.
6. Oriole Luck
The 2013 Baltimore Orioles will be a fascinating case study in luck. All last season, as they clawed to their first playoff berth in 15 years, they battled the perception that their success was a freakish product of extraordinary good fortune. Never mind that the Orioles won 93 games — their success in one-run games made them a prime candidate for a major regression, or so the thinking went. The 2012 Orioles were 29–9 in one-run games, the best winning percentage in such games for any team in the modern era. It would seem to be unsustainable, but the Orioles believe that their power (214 homers, ranking second in MLB) and dominant bullpen (3.00 ERA, ranking fifth) give them a distinct edge in close games. They lost one power hitter this winter, Mark Reynolds, but bring back four others who hit at least 22 home runs. They’ll also have a healthy Nick Markakis and will get to see heralded third baseman Manny Machado, 20, for a full season. And, of course, they retain manager Buck Showalter, the master in-game strategist, who has turned around every team he has managed but still seeks postseason glory.
7. New League for the Astros
The Houston Astros’ 51-year run as a mediocre National League franchise is over. They won a single pennant, in 2005, and were probably best known for the now-outdated innovations of artificial turf and the domed stadium. They ended their NL existence with the two worst seasons in club history, losing 106 games in 2011 and 107 last year. It’s a good time to start over, and the Astros are all about new beginnings. They move to the AL West this season, bringing a rookie manager, new uniforms and a largely anonymous and ever-shifting roster. General manager Jeff Luhnow cleaned house in his first year on the job, and former Nationals coach Bo Porter gets his first chance to lead a team. He doesn’t appear to have much talent to work with, though chances are he will find a gem or two in the massive haul of players Luhnow has acquired in trades, waiver claims and Rule 5 draft picks. Given the size of their market, their new cable revenue, and their annual high draft position, the Astros could be a power in a few years. But that time is not now, and a new batch of opponents may not be enough to bring fans back to Minute Maid Park. The Astros’ presence could boost the win totals of the A’s, the Rangers and the Angels, making it possible for both AL wild cards to come from the West Division.
8. Davey’s Farewell
Tony La Russa retired as a champion with the Cardinals in 2011, and now Washington’s Davey Johnson will try to do the same. Johnson, 70, has declared this to be his final season as a manager, after stops with the Mets, Reds, Orioles, Dodgers and, after more than a decade out of the dugout, the Nationals. He guided the Nats to their first playoff appearance last season, earning the National League Manager of the Year award but losing to St. Louis in a five-game division series. The Nationals were one strike from victory but still lost, the reverse of Johnson’s greatest moment as a manager, when his Mets came within a strike of losing the 1986 World Series, only to stage a furious Game 6 comeback against Boston. That remains Johnson’s only championship team, but he has a chance for another with the Nationals, who led the majors in wins last season (98) and added the durable veteran Dan Haren to the league’s best rotation. Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals’ ace, will have no innings restrictions this year, and Denard Span, the speedy new center fielder, adds another element to the offense. Johnson, brash as ever, welcomes the expectations for his young team. “World Series or bust, that’s probably the slogan this year,” he says. “But I’m comfortable with that.”
Six players were suspended 50 games last season for violating baseball’s steroids policy, the most since 2007. The last three to be caught — former San Francisco Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera, Oakland Athletics pitcher Bartolo Colon and San Diego Padres catcher Yasmani Grandal — tested positive for testosterone. So did the Milwaukee Brewers’ Ryan Braun, in Oct. 2011, before his suspension was overturned last spring. It seems to be no coincidence that some players believe they can successfully avoid the testers when it comes to testosterone, and Michael Weiner, the executive director of the players’ union, called it a troubling trend. He vowed in the offseason to “make sure that our deterrent on testosterone is as strong as it can be,” adding that talks were underway to improve the detection of the drug. The sagas of Braun and Cabrera, especially, were major stories in 2012, and the issue bears watching again this season — for the players caught using testosterone, or (one hopes) for the reduction in positive tests.
10. Padded Hats
Twice in the final two months of last season, a pitcher was struck in the head by a line drive. Brandon
McCarthy, then of the Athletics, suffered a skull fracture, brain contusion and epidural hemorrhage in September. The Tigers’ Doug Fister, pitching in the World Series, stayed in the game with no apparent side effects. There is no way to entirely remove the possibility of a batted ball striking a pitcher who does not have time to react, and as McCarthy and Fister showed, the effects of such a blow can vary widely. But baseball deserves credit for trying to reduce the risk. In December, ESPN reported that MLB had examined caps with interior padding and planned to send them to some pitchers for suggestions. Baseball was said to be working with six different companies on prototypes and was hoping to have samples available for pitchers to wear in spring training. Of course, that doesn’t mean pitchers will like them. The caps must be vigorously tested, and beyond that, they must be unobtrusive, since pitching depends so much on precise, repetitive movements. Baseball could try the caps on minor leaguers — the lab rats of the game — before requiring them in the big leagues. But if there’s a way to keep pitchers safer without disrupting their routines, baseball is obligated to consider it. Here’s hoping the prototypes meet with approval and help prevent a tragedy.
11. Kris Medlen
It’s rare to hear old-timers rave so enthusiastically about newcomers. But the Braves’ Kris Medlen was just that impressive late last season. “I would have liked to have played with Kris Medlen, because I do think he has a communication with a force in pitching that most of us can’t talk to,” Braves announcer Don Sutton, the Hall of Fame pitcher, said in September. “It’s an awareness, it’s a sixth sense.” Don’t blame Sutton for hyperbole; Medlen, at the time, was in the middle of an unprecedented roll. The righthander set a major league record by reeling off 23 consecutive starts in which his team won, a streak that began in 2010, stretched through Tommy John surgery and lasted through the end of the 2012 regular season. Medlen’s luck ran out in the wild card game, which he lost despite pitching well, but it will be fascinating to see if he can carry the full-season load as the Braves’ next ace, at age 27. Short and stocky — 5'10", 190 pounds — he does not look the part of a dominant starter. But that’s what he was, with a turbo changeup that helped him post a WHIP of 0.913. Had he thrown enough innings to qualify, that figure would have led both leagues. Not just last year, either — but in each of the last eight seasons.
12. Will Anyone Show Up in Miami?
The Marlins bet big on 2012, and when everything went wrong, owner Jeffrey Loria gave up. There’s no other way to say it. The grand vision of a high-payroll team managed by Ozzie Guillen was given just one season to succeed, before the front office went into the franchise’s default mode and slashed the payroll. The champions of 1997 and 2003 were gutted, piece by piece, and so it is again. Fans in South Florida were already skeptical of Loria, who had promised things would change if only the taxpayers would build him a stadium. Now that he has it, and has slid back so quickly into a major rebuild, the sense of betrayal is greater than ever. Attendance — which reached only 12th in the league last year — seems certain to sink back to last, where it was each season from 2006 through 2011. Loria, of course, should be used to intimate gatherings at his ballparks. He also presided over the final years of the Montreal Expos, and he seems determined to once again turn a nice profit as a welfare case while driving another franchise into oblivion.
13. Royal Contenders
When Darryl Motley caught Andy Van Slyke’s fly ball to win Game 7 of the 1985 World Series for the Royals, a young Dayton Moore was there, watching from a hillside along I-70 as his favorite team reached the pinnacle. Moore, who was 18 then, could not have known that the Royals would never return — not even to the playoffs, let alone the World Series — for at least 27 years. As general manager of the Royals, it’s Moore’s job to get Kansas City back to being a contender, and as he approaches his seventh year there, the time is now. The Royals won only 72 games last year, their 17th losing season in the last 18. But Moore has positioned them to contend now, acquiring four starting pitchers since the 2012 All-Star break — Jeremy Guthrie, Ervin Santana, James Shields and Wade Davis. The last two came from Tampa Bay in a controversial December trade that cost the Royals the Minor League Player of the Year, outfielder Wil Myers, and three other prospects. The hope is that homegrown young players like Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas will blossom this season, while homegrown veterans who have signed long-term deals, like Billy Butler and Alex Gordon, continue to do their thing. It’s a risky bet, because young, cost-efficient players like Myers are the lifeblood of a small-market franchise. But the Royals are tired of losing, and Shields sees parallels to his former team. “They definitely remind me of our ’07 season going into our ’08 season, in the Rays’ organization,” Shields says. “I think there’s a good possibility we can step in that direction.” The Royals will be overjoyed if that happens; the Rays won the pennant in 2008 and have contended ever since.
14. Bert to the Desert
If you’ve seen “Baseball Tonight” on ESPN (and since you’re reading this magazine, we’ll assume you have), you know Steve Berthiaume, the host who skillfully combines irreverence with insight. Now he’s the play-by-play man for the Arizona Diamondbacks, giving real baseball lovers another reason to stay up late for those telecasts out West. It’s a treat to hear Vin Scully call the Dodgers and Dick Enberg behind the Padres’ microphone, two old pros still going strong whose familiar sound takes us back through the decades. Berthiaume is just a rookie in this role, with little play-by-play experience, but we’re willing to bet that he’s a rising star whose deep appreciation of the game will make him a fixture on our televisions for a generation. The Diamondbacks might not be the most interesting team in the National League West, but Berthiaume will make them worth watching.
15. Three Injured Yanks
Few players have had as much impact on baseball in the last decade and a half as Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Alex Rodriguez, and each has undergone major surgery since his last game. Jeter’s season ended in the dirt near second base in Game 1 of the ALCS, when he broke his ankle stretching for a ground ball. Rivera’s ended in May, on the warning track in Kansas City, when he tore his right ACL chasing a fly ball in batting practice. Rodriguez learned after the season that he needed surgery on his left hip. Jeter and Rivera are scheduled to be recovered in time for Opening Day, while Rodriguez is likely out until June. How will Jeter, already limited in range, handle another year in the field at shortstop? How will Rivera, at age 43, respond to the longest break from pitching in his career? And will the rapidly deteriorating Rodriguez be able to summon any of his past greatness, or is he destined to be an albatross for the Yankees in the final five years — yes, five years — of his contract? No athlete, no matter how successful, is guaranteed a fairy-tale ending. And few will be scrutinized as closely as these Yankees.
—by Tyler Kepner
The fact that Virginia Tech, despite playing in its 20th straight bowl game and finishing last season with a winning record, was labeled one of the nation’s most disappointing teams in 2012 tells you just how far this program has come. The reality for Frank Beamer and his Hokies is that last season was just that, a disappointment. After all, Beamer’s bunch was expected to be a top-25 mainstay, win the ACC Coastal Division once again and contend for another conference championship in 2012, yet none of that materialized as the Hokies managed just enough wins to maintain its bowl streak and finish .500 in the conference. Despite last season’s shortcomings, the expectations haven’t changed in Blacksburg, so the onus will be on the coaching staff, featuring several new faces on the offensive side, and the players to put in the work this spring if the Hokies hope to get back to where everyone expects them to be – atop the ACC and among the nation’s best teams. The schedule-makers did their part, as Virginia Tech will not face either Clemson or Florida State, the top two projected teams from the Atlantic Division, in the regular season.
Virginia Tech Hokies 2013 Spring Preview
2012 Record: 7-6 (4-4)
Spring practice dates: March 27-April 20
Returning Starters: Offense – 4, Defense – 9
Passing: Logan Thomas, 220-of-429, 2,976 yards, 18 TDs, 16 INTs
Rushing: Logan Thomas, 174 att., 524 yards, 9 TDs
Receiving: Demitri Knowles, 19 rec., 240 yards, 1 TD
Tackles: Jack Tyler, 119
Sacks: James Gayle, 5
Interceptions: Antone Exum, 5
Redshirts to watch: WR Joel Caleb, LB Deon Clarke, DE Ken Ekanem, RB Trey Edmunds, WR Joshua Stanford, CB Der’Woun Greene, RB Chris Mangus, WR Mark Irick
Early Enrollees to watch: CB Brandon Facyson, QB Carlis Parker, OT Jonathan McLaughlin, OT Parker Osterloh
|Aug. 31||vs. Alabama (Atlanta, Ga.)|
|Sept. 7||Western Carolina|
|Sept. 14||at East Carolina|
|Sept. 26||at Georgia Tech (Thurs.)|
|Oct. 5||North Carolina|
|Oct. 19||Open Date|
|Nov. 2||at Boston College|
|Nov. 9||at Miami|
|Nov. 23||Old Dominion|
|Nov. 30||at Virginia|
Offensive Strength: Quarterback. Senior Logan Thomas will be entering his third year as the starter under center. Despite his struggles (51.2 completion percentage, 16 INTs) last season, Thomas broke his own single-season school record for total offense. The talent is clearly there; it’s just a matter of Thomas getting the most out of it on the field.
Offensive Weakness: Playmakers. Thomas is the team’s leading returning rusher, as the running back who gained the most yards rushing last season was J.C. Coleman with 492. Coleman (21 rec.) also is the leading returning receiver, as the departure of the Hokies’ top three wide receivers leaves sophomore Demitri Knowles’ 19 receptions as the most among the remaining pass catchers.
Defensive Strength: Experience. Nine starters are projected to return on a defense that ranked among the top 32 teams in the nation in total, scoring, rushing and pass defense.
Defensive Weakness: Linebacker. Jack Tyler, who is the ACC’s leading returning tackler, is the lone starting linebacker who is back. Tariq Edwards, Ronny Vandyke and Chase Williams, all of whom started at least one game at linebacker last season, also return and should get a chance to state their case for a starting job this spring.
Spring Storylines Facing the Hokies
1. Learn a new offense. After going from 35th in total offense in 2011 to 81st last season, Frank Beamer decided to shake up his coaching staff on that side of the ball. Beamer hired former Auburn offensive coordinator Scott Loeffler to overhaul the offense. While the vast majority of Hokies fans were more than ready for a change, Loeffler’s one season at Auburn doesn’t exactly give the fan base a reason to stand up and cheer. The Tigers ranked near the bottom of FBS schools in total (115th of 120), scoring (112th) and passing (112th) offense, and fared just slightly better than the Hokies did in rushing (148.4 ypg compared to 145.9 ypg) the ball. Loeffler has a talented quarterback to work with in Logan Thomas, but plenty of other question marks after that. As last season showed, the defense can only be expected to carry this team so far. The offense needs to do its part too, so this spring is critical as Thomas and company work with the new coaches.
2. Find a running game. Virginia Tech went from No. 28 in the nation in rushing offense (186.9 ypg) in 2011 to No. 79 (145.9 ypg) last season. Quarterback Logan Thomas was the team’s leading returning rusher in 2012 with 524 yards, marking the first time in two decades (1992) that the Hokies’ top rusher had less than 600 yards. A big part of “Beamer Ball” is running the football, so one of Loeffler’s priorities this spring is to sort out the backfield rotation and find a way to run the ball effectively. There’s no shortage of candidates at running back with senior Tony Gregory and sophomores J.C. Coleman and Michael Holmes all back. The problem is those three combined to average 4.4 yards per carry and seven rushing touchdowns last fall. Coleman, who led all backs with 492 yards on the ground, figures to get the first shot at lead-back duties. Redshirt freshman Trey Edmunds also will enter the mix this spring. The offensive line also will need a fair share of attention with three starters gone from a group that helped the running game manage a measly 3.7 yards per carry. New offensive line coach Jeff Grimes has his work cut out for him this spring as he sorts all of his options and figures out his depth chart.
3. Find Logan Thomas more help in the passing attack. Fair or not, a lot of the blame for Virginia Tech’s offensive struggles last season has been placed on the performance of Thomas. While the quarterback struggled at times with his accuracy (51.2 completion percentage, 16 INTs), he led the team in rushing and broke his own school record for total offense in a single season. The reality is Thomas needs more help from both the running game and his own pass catchers. The top three receivers from last season – Marcus Davis, Corey Fuller and Dyrell Roberts – are all gone, but the trio also was inconsistent at times throughout last fall so perhaps change at wideout won’t be a bad thing. New wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead does have the benefit of getting D.J. Coles back. The senior sustained a knee injury in last season’s opener against Georgia Tech and ended up missing the entire season. Coles should be one of Thomas’ main targets, if he can stay healthy. Sophomore Demitri Knowles came on as last season progressed and his 19 catches are the most among the returning wideouts and tight ends. If he continues to improve, he could pair with Coles to give Thomas two trusted targets. The Hokies also need young players like Joel Caleb, widely regarded as the top prospect in the 2012 signing class, redshirt freshman Joshua Stanford and others to step up and make an impression this spring. Thomas’ breakout 2011 campaign came when Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale were finishing out their collegiate careers. If Thomas wants to finish his Hokies’ career on a high note, he will need help from those on the receiving end of his throws.
4. Identify Jack Tyler’s running mates. Tyler, an All-ACC linebacker and the conference’s leading returning tackler, is back to man his starting linebacker spot. With Bruce Taylor, who led the team with 5.5 sacks, and Jeron Gouveia-Winslow both gone, linebacker is the most unsettled spot on the Hokies’ defense. Tariq Edwards, who played in just seven games because of a leg injury, should get the chance to start alongside Tyler provided he’s able to show he’s fully recovered and hasn’t lost a step. Sophomore Ronny Vandyke, who started two games last season, also figures to get a chance to lay claim to the other starting linebacker spot. Junior Chase Williams and redshirt freshman Deon Clarke will get plenty of looks this spring as well as defensive coordinator Bud Foster looks to develop a healthy and productive two-deep at this critical position.
5. Filling Antone Exum’s spot. The good news for Foster is that his defense is expected to return nine starters this fall, including a deep defensive line corps. The bad news is that one of those starters, second-team All-ACC cornerback Antone Exum tore his ACL in January. To his credit, Exum is aiming to be ready for the season opener on Aug. 31 against two-time defending national champion Alabama, but the reality is Foster probably should plan on not having his best cover corner (5 INTs, 16 PBU in 2012) and one of his senior leaders to start the season. The secondary still has plenty of experience coming back in fellow senior corner Kyle Fuller as well as starting safety Detrick Bonner and rover/safety Kyshoen Jarrett. What remains to be seen is if sophomores Donaldven Manning or Donovan Riley are ready to step up if Exum isn’t ready to play. The Hokies also will welcome Fuller’s younger brother, Kendall, one of the top cornerback recruits in the nation, into the fold this summer.
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The Braves have endured their share of postseason frustration. They are 9–20 in playoff games since sweeping the NLDS in 2001 — but have managed to remain relevant through changing times in the tough NL East. Since its run of 11 straight division titles ended in 2006, Atlanta has had a winning record in five of seven seasons and made the playoffs in 2010 and ’12. If the Braves are going to threaten the Washington Nationals in 2013, they’ll do it behind a solid young pitching staff and the addition of the Upton brothers: center fielder B.J. via free agency and left fielder Justin via trade. They’ll also need either Freddie Freeman or Jason Heyward — or perhaps both — to take the next step offensively.
How shrewd did the Braves look last September, when Kris Medlen was the best thing going in the majors, and the Nationals had shut down ace Stephen Strasburg to rest his arm? Both were in their first full seasons after Tommy John surgery, and both were on about a 160-inning limit. But the Braves looked smart for pitching Medlen in relief the first half of the season — at least in the long run. Once Medlen joined the rotation on July 31, he went 9–0 with a 0.97 ERA in 12 starts. He enters 2013 as the staff ace, which is saying something for a pitcher with only 30 career starts. Tim Hudson, who has a 49–26 record over the last three seasons, is a solid No. 2 starter. His numbers were up a bit last year — with a 3.62 ERA (third-highest of his career) and 8.4 hits per nine innings (most since 2009) — but he still has several good seasons in his right arm. Brandon Beachy, the Braves’ best starter the first two to three months last season, aims to return from Tommy John surgery around the All-Star break. Paul Maholm, who was acquired at the trade deadline last year, and Mike Minor, who solidified a spot in the rotation with a dominant second half, give the Braves two quality lefty starters. Julio Teheran, considered a top prospect for a few years, finally has an opportunity to shine
In two seasons since taking over for Billy Wagner, Craig Kimbrel has emerged as the elite closer in the National League. He’s a big reason why the bullpen is one of the Braves’ strengths and among the best in baseball. After winning the NL Rookie of the Year in 2011, Kimbrel finished fifth in NL Cy Young voting last year and was eighth in the NL MVP race. He’ll try to match John Smoltz as the second Atlanta closer to post three straight 40-save seasons, after collecting 46 and 42 saves, respectively, in his first two full big-league seasons. Jonny Venters, who struggled to find consistency with his patented sinker, wasn’t as effective in 2012 as he was the year before. But Eric O’Flaherty followed his breakout season of 2011 with another outstanding campaign. Luis Avilan was a sleeper of a find in Double-A, and the Braves added power righthander Jordan Walden from the Angels in a trade for Tommy Hanson. Manager Fredi Gonzalez kept his word not to overuse the back end of the bullpen like he admittedly did in ’11.
Dan Uggla knows no middle ground. In his first two seasons with the Braves, he’s endured long stretches of being either hot or frigid. He hit .185 over the final 99 games last season, though he did manage a more-than-respectable .298 clip with nine extra-base hits and 14 RBIs over the final 23 games. Uggla still finished with 19 home runs — well off his 31 per year average — but struck out 168 times. The Braves are excited to see what they’ll get in a full season from Andrelton Simmons, a 23-year-old shortstop who was taken in the second round of the 2010 draft. Simmons is an energetic defensive standout who contributed more offensively than the Braves anticipated. He hit .289 with 19 RBIs in 166 at-bats in 2012. Simmons is a candidate to bat in the leadoff spot.
The Braves were aware that Chipper Jones’ departure would be problematic, but this offseason reinforced the difficulty of replacing him. The Braves’ original intent was to put Martin Prado at third base and acquire another left fielder and leadoff hitter. As it turned out, it took the trade of Prado to acquire their left fielder Justin Upton. In doing so the Braves acquired a platoon partner for Juan Francisco at third in Chris Johnson. Francisco remains a project, but he has huge power potential. The left-handed hitter needs to drop weight and eliminate extra rotation from his swing, but he took steps in that direction in winter ball in the Dominican. Given Jones’ departure, the Braves will also look to Freeman at first base for more offensive production. Freeman avoided a sophomore slump last season, hitting 23 home runs with 94 RBIs, but he needs to improve his .259 batting average.
The Braves love the combination of speed and power both Uptons bring, especially B.J. in center field, as well as their right-handed bats to balance their lineup. Many experts believe the Uptons and Heyward make up the best outfield in the National League. Outfield defense is certainly a team strength. Heyward won his first Gold Glove award in 2012, a big step in his progression as a young star. Offensively, Heyward made strides as well, rebounding from a rough sophomore season to hit a career-high 27 home runs, steal 21 bases and drive in 82 runs. Justin Upton played most of last season at Arizona with a deep bruise on his left thumb suffered on the first weekend of the season but still tied for second in the NL with 107 runs scored. With better health, he should improve on his 2012 totals of 17 homers and 67 RBIs, his lowest numbers in those two categories since 2008.
Another injury-plagued season cost Brian McCann what would have been a sixth Silver Slugger in seven major league seasons. He was hampered by right shoulder and knee problems and underwent shoulder surgery over the winter. The Braves hope he needs only a week or two in April to get healthy and is soon back to being the perennial All-Star and one of the top offensive catchers in baseball. The Braves lost well-respected backup David Ross to free agency — he signed with the Red Sox — but they believe Gerald Laird will fill in nicely, bringing the experience of playing in back-to-back World Series with the Cardinals and Tigers.
Re-signing Reed Johnson, the right-handed outfield bat the Braves added at last year’s trade deadline, gives the Braves a quality fourth outfielder. Johnson, who hit .270 in 43 games with the Braves last season, can play all three outfield spots, but isn’t expected to see much time. Jordan Schafer should also earn a roster spot. Paul Janish, who is recovering from shoulder surgery, or Ramiro Pena will back up at shortstop. Veteran minor leaguer Matt Pagnozzi will back up Laird until McCann returns.
The Braves stuck by Gonzalez after their September collapse in 2011 and saw the fruits of that decision when he led them to a berth in the Wild Card Game last fall. Gonzalez learned from previous mistakes: He didn’t overwork the back end of the bullpen, he wasn’t afraid to bench Uggla at times when the second baseman was struggling, and he worked Jones in and out of the lineup to keep him healthy. General manager Frank Wren bolstered the offense by acquiring the Uptons, but there is risk. B.J. and Justin strike out frequently and will join a lineup that lost its most disciplined hitter in Jones.
Despite the splash of the Upton acquisitions, the Braves will have a tough time challenging Washington for supremacy in the NL East, but their rotation and bullpen are strong and return largely intact. With Medlen starting all season, Beachy poised to return around the All-Star break, the Braves like their chances to return to the postseason.
SS Andrelton Simmons (R)
Rocket-armed defender who showed he could hit too with a .289 average, three HRs in 49 games as a rookie.
RF Jason Heyward (L)
Career-high 27 HRs and 21 steals, making him first 20/20 Brave since Andruw Jones in 2000.
RF Justin Upton (R)
Tied for second in the NL with 107 runs despite playing most of the season with a damaged left thumb.
1B Freddie Freeman (L)
Led the Braves in RBIs with 94 and second in homers with 23, but batting average fell from .282 to .259.
CF B.J. Upton (R)
Had career-high 28 HRs, added 31 steals last season for Tampa; 160-plus strikeouts for third straight season.
C Brian McCann (L)
Injury-plagued season saw career low in batting average (.230); 121 games were lowest total since 2005. Shoulder surgery
2B Dan Uggla (R)
Streak of five straight 30-plus-homer seasons ended with 19 home runs; hit career-low .220.
3B Juan Francisco (L)
Hit nine HRs in only 192 ABs, and nine more in Dominican League. Power potential gets him starting shot.
C Gerald Laird (R)
Hit .282 in 63 games for Detroit; will be No. 1 catcher in April as McCann recovers from shoulder surgery. Matt Pagnozzi will back up Laird.
OF Reed Johnson (R)
Led majors with 18 pinch hits and was second with .419 pinch-hit average; could win platoon role in left field.
IF Ramiro Pena (S)
Probably gets nod while Paul Janish recovers from shoulder surgery.
3B Chris Johnson (R)
Acquired in the deal with Justin Upton, Johnson could be a valuable platoon partner at third with Francisco.
OF Jordan Schafer (L)
Back for second tour with Braves.
RH Kris Medlen
NL pitcher of month for August and September went 9–0 with a 0.97 ERA in 12 starts after moving into rotation.
RH Tim Hudson
Put up 3.62 ERA despite coming off spine surgery and pitching through bone spurs in ankle.
LH Mike Minor
Came into his own in second half of last season, going 7–4 with 2.21 ERA over last 15 starts.
LH Paul Maholm
Went 4–5 with 3.54 ERA in 11 starts as a Brave after midseason trade from Cubs.
RH Julio Teheran
Long considered a top prospect, with injury to Brandon Beachy and trade of Delgado, the path is cleared.
RH Craig Kimbrel (Closer)
Converted 42 of 45 saves while posting 1.01 ERA with 116 strikeouts and 14 walks in 62.2 innings.
LH Eric O'Flaherty
Allowed only four earned runs in 49 innings (0.73 ERA) in 55 appearances after May 2.
RH Jordan Walden
Closer with Angels (32 saves, 2.98 ERA in 2011) acquired in Tommy Hanson trade. Fastball can touch 100 mph.
LH Jonny Venters
ERA jumped from 1.84 to 3.22, reflecting struggles with his sinker and midseason elbow soreness.
LH Luis Avilan
Surprise of the year in the bullpen, going 1–0 with 2.00 ERA in 31 games after July 4 call-up from Double-A.
RH Cory Gearrin
Side-armer guns for first regular job in majors; 1.80 ERA over 22 appearances with the Braves in 2012.
RH Cristhian Martinez
Dependable long man with above-average change-up; went 5–4 with 3.91 ERA in 54 appearances in 2012.
Talk about a nasty case of buyer’s remorse. In a dizzying span of less than a year, the Miami Marlins: Went through a ballyhooed rebranding. Spent $191 million on three big-name free agents. Moved into a beautiful new downtown ballpark. Served as reality-show fodder for Showtime. Underperformed miserably. Fired manager Ozzie Guillen with three years left on his contract. Hired a rookie manager (Mike Redmond) out of A-ball. And, last but not least: Tore down their roster via a 12-player mega-dump deal with the Blue Jays. Just like old times, eh? South Florida baseball fans, at least what’s left of them, reacted with predictable rage after seeing five proven big-leaguers, including Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson, shipped off for a boatload of mostly prospects. Redmond will be asked to pull a Joe Girardi (circa 2006) and whip a bunch of young prospects into a competent big-league ballclub as quickly as possible. Good luck.
Ricky Nolasco, the ace by default, wanted out in the immediate aftermath of the blockbuster deal. The Marlins refused to accommodate him, mostly because Nolasco, who turned 30 this offseason, was the only member of their projected rotation with more than 19 career wins. Plus, if they traded Nolasco and his $11.5 million salary, their net payroll, which opened last season at a franchise-record $112 million, would drop to less than a third of that figure. Henderson Alvarez, who pitched to a 4.85 ERA while spending last season in the Jays’ rotation, is a notable step down from the fellow Venezuelan righthander he essentially replaces (Anibal Sanchez). Young righthander Nate Eovaldi, who came over in a July deal with the Dodgers, has a lot to learn and will likely get 30-plus starts’ worth of education this year. At least he showed signs of sustainable effectiveness during a late-season audition. Wade LeBlanc, the former Padres lefty with 19 wins in five seasons to his credit, figures to occupy one slot. Veteran Kevin Slowey, who last pitched in the majors in 2011 with the Twins, has impressed enough this spring to earn a shot to start the season. But Jacob Turner, acquired from the Tigers last season, will be a key cog in the rotation in the future. He will get a call at some point this season.
Steve Cishek was a revelation for the Marlins in the second half of the 2012 season. The young sidewinder blew just one save after taking over for Heath Bell at the All-Star break. That was enough to convince the Marlins to dump Bell on the Diamondbacks — he wound up costing them $14 million for one horrible season — while turning over the closer’s reins to the former fifth-round draft pick. Sinkerballer Ryan Webb should emerge as the top option for the eighth inning, while Mike Dunn is the best option from the left side. It’s pretty much a no-name bullpen, but after the Marlins relief corps blew 22 saves a year ago, the team is willing to take its chances on some kids. Veterans Jon Rauch and Chad Qualls were signed late and bring some experience and stability.
The Marlins have had more than their share of standout shortstops in their brief-but-volatile history. Edgar Renteria and Alex Gonzalez each helped them win a World Series, while Hanley Ramirez and Reyes were more noted for their offensive prowess. Now along comes Adeiny Hechavarria, the Cuban defector who should start building his Gold Glove collection in the not-too-distant future. At least that’s what the Marlins are hoping after making him the centerpiece of their deal with the Blue Jays. Hechavarria may hit eventually as well, but so far his bat has only been truly lively in the light air of Las Vegas and the Pacific Coast League. Returning at second base is Donovan Solano, who shined with the Marlins after the Cardinals let him leave as a minor league free agent last winter. The 25-year-old Colombian hit .295 in 285 at-bats with the Marlins in his first season in the big leagues. Solano’s step forward made veteran Omar Infante expendable.
You wouldn’t want to run a relay race with these guys. Logan Morrison, moving back to his original position of first base after spending the past few years in left field, is coming off another arthroscopic knee surgery. When healthy, he’s a defensive weapon at first. Getting his legs underneath him also might help reverse a two-year decline at the plate. But he won’t be near full speed by Opening Day, so Casey Kotchman will likely start the season at first. But Morrison should be back by the end of April. At third base, the Marlins are betting $2.75 million that Placido Polanco’s back woes will somehow subside at age 37. Polanco, who attended college in Miami, has played in the postseason five times. That probably won’t be happening again this season.
If the Marlins were as smart as they seem to believe they are, they would have locked up All-Star right fielder Giancarlo Stanton with a long-term deal before dealing away half their roster. Instead, the burgeoning young slugger ripped the organization in the aftermath of its latest Great Selloff. Stanton, who already has 93 home runs in three seasons, can’t be a free agent until after 2016. However, further static from Stanton, along with what promises to be knee-buckling trade offers from lustful suitors, could accelerate his inevitable departure considerably. Juan Pierre, one of the heroes of the 2003 World Series team, is back to play left field. He signed a one-year, $1.6 million deal after a solid bounce-back year (.307 with 37 stolen bases) with the Phillies. Journeyman Justin Ruggiano looks like the smart bet in center field after a breakthrough season a year ago. The former Tampa Bay Ray hit .313 with 13 home runs in only 288 at-bats in his first season with the Marlins.
John Buck never could hit enough to justify that $6 million annual salary. Maybe, the Marlins figure, they will fare better with a platoon of young Rob Brantly, who came over from the Tigers in the Sanchez/Infante deal, and veteran backup Jeff Mathis. Brantly has a sweet lefty stroke and some pop. Unfortunately, Mathis is pretty much all mitt at this point. His combined OPS in eight big-league seasons is a putrid .570, and he doesn’t do much better against lefties than he does against righthanders. Mathis fractured his collarbone early in spring training, so youngster Kyle Skipworth could begin the season as Brantly’s backup.
Ruggiano will get some competition in center field from Gorkys Hernandez and even Chris Coghlan. Hernandez is out of options after enjoying a big winter season back home in Venezuela. Veteran reserve Greg Dobbs is an excellent safety net for those often-hobbled starters at the corner infield spots.
At the press conference to introduce new manager Mike Redmond, Marlins baseball czar Larry Beinfest admitted the organization had strayed from the Marlins Way — a term that he defined as “outperforming our challenges.” Exactly what challenges the Marlins still have now that they’re playing in a publicly funded, $515 million, retractable-roof ballpark was unclear. Redmond, a key backup on the 2003 World Series champions, has the right blend of personality and energy to get the most out of this young group. Even so, most expect a 100-loss season and a third straight year in the basement of the National League East.
Say this for the Marlins: They don’t do anything halfway. In the abstract, what they have attempted in churning nearly their entire roster since the middle of last season makes some sense. It’s probably the quickest way to return to consistent playoff contention and eventually end a nine-year playoff drought that now ranks as the fifth-longest in baseball. However, there’s that nagging little piece about $360 million in public money going toward a ballpark that was supposed to help them compete with richer clubs in more traditional baseball markets. The Marlins aren’t giving any of that money back, but they did find a way to offload more than $236 million in future contract obligations since the middle of last season. In the process, they just may have destroyed once and for all the fragile connection that had existed between South Florida and its twice-crowned baseball club.
LF Juan Pierre (L)
Veteran slugged just .190 against lefties, .405 against righties for the Phillies in 2012.
3B Placido Polanco (R)
Missed a combined 112 games the past two seasons with the Phillies, mostly due to back issues.
RF Giancarlo Stanton (R)
Hit 494-foot homer at Coors Field last year, longest in the big leagues since 2009. Probably feels like the Lone Ranger in Miami now.
C Rob Brantly (L)
Already owns big-league home runs off of Stephen Strasburg and reigning Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey.
CF Justin Ruggiano (R)
Career .226 hitter in parts of three big-league seasons before shocking breakout with Marlins last year.
2B Donovan Solano (R)
Made just two errors in 58 games at second base after taking over for the traded Omar Infante.
1B Casey Kotchman (L)
His averaged dropped 77 points from 2011 to 2012, but he’s a stellar defender and capable off the bench once Logan Morrison is healthy.
SS Adeiny Hechavarria (R)
Career OBP of .286 in 172 minor league games outside hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League.
C Jeff Mathis (R)
Has a .198 batting average in nearly 1,600 career plate appearances in the majors. Makes his living with his defense and arm. A broken collarbone early in spring training has opened the door for Kyle Skipworth to start the season as the backup.
3B Greg Dobbs (L)
Started a combined 166 games the past two seasons for the Marlins.
UT Chris Coghlan (L)
Former NL Rookie of the Year remains on the radar due to his versatility.
1B-OF Logan Morrison (L)
Reached base at .436 clip after the count ran full in 2012, with two hits, 15 walks in 39 plate appearances. Should be in the lineup at either first base or left field every day once his knee is sound.
RH Ricky Nolasco
Has posted an ERA lower than 4.48 just once in seven big-league seasons.
RH Henderson Alvarez
Only two big leaguers (Clayton Richard and Rick Porcello) allowed more hits than Alvarez in 2012.
RH Nate Eovaldi
Needs 5,613 more strikeouts to catch the only other big leaguer from Alvin (Texas) High School (Nolan Ryan).
LH Wade LeBlanc
Turned in quality starts in just three of nine late-season opportunities.
RH Kevin Slowey
Hasn’t pitched in majors since 2011, but was impressive in spring training.
RH Steve Cishek (Closer)
Converted 14-of-15 save opportunities after replacing Heath Bell at midseason.
RH Ryan Webb
Sinkerballer posted a nearly two-to-one groundball/flyball ratio (47-to-26) after Aug. 1.
RH Jon Rauch
Has thrown at least 50 innings every year since 2006.
LH Mike Dunn
Career walk rate is 5.7 per nine innings in parts of four big-league seasons.
RH A.J. Ramos
Struck out 13 and allowed eight hits in 9.1 innings as a rookies last season.
RH Chad Qualls
Veteran allowed 12 of 27 inherited runners to score while logging 52.1 innings for Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and the Yankees.
RH John Maine
Will serve as long relief man — and probably gets lots of work.
After the 2011 season, the Mets lost the NL batting champion, Jose Reyes. After last season, they lost the NL Cy Young Award winner, R.A. Dickey. Yet when Sandy Alderson announced Dickey’s trade to Toronto, he declared, “We’re certainly not punting on 2013.” He had to say it — with attendance already plummeting at Citi Field, the Mets don’t need their general manager conceding a season — but it’s clearly misleading. The Mets have no intention of contending this season, which will be the fifth losing campaign in a row for the franchise. On the positive side, they seem to be collecting a promising group of prospects who could grow together in years to come.
The Mets say they wanted Dickey to return, but their offer of a contract extension (two years, $20 million) was laughably out of line for a Cy Young Award winner in an industry with cash. They traded him to Toronto for an impressive prospect haul, but did not get a starter back in the deal. Without Dickey, Johan Santana moves back to the No. 1 spot, and while he has fought valiantly through a variety of physical problems, he’s proven to be unreliable for a full season. Shaun Marcum, twice a 13-game winner for Milwaukee, was signed and should provide quality innings if his shoulder doesn’t get too balky. The starters behind them offer long-term hope, with steady lefty Jon Niese and rising star Matt Harvey. Niese quietly had an outstanding season, going 13–9 overall and posting a 2.93 ERA in the final four months, never once walking more than three in a game over that span. Harvey, the seventh overall pick in the 2010 draft out of North Carolina, had an exciting debut, with a 2.73 ERA in 10 starts and 70 strikeouts in 59.1 innings. The rotation falls off steeply after that, with Dillon Gee, a replacement-level righty, having missed the second half of the season after having a blood clot removed from his shoulder. Until Santana is ready for a regular load, Jeremy Hefner will fill in. But the prize of the group for the future is top prospect Zack Wheeler.
Frank Francisco had a 3.55 ERA for Toronto in 2011, and he reversed those digits for the Mets in 2012 — 5.53. That’s not what the Mets had in mind when they signed him for two years and $12 million, but Francisco, in fairness, did not blow a save after June 5. He missed all of July with an oblique strain and may have had arm problems, too. He underwent surgery in December to remove a bone spur from his elbow, and is questionable for Opening Day. If he pitches well, he’ll be trade bait for contenders this summer. Setup man Bobby Parnell was not the best righthander named Robert Allen on the team — that was Robert Allen Dickey — but he did enjoy a strong season, with a career-high in games (74) and a career-low 2.49 ERA. He also earned his seventh save on the final day of the season to give himself another career-best mark. He’ll close until Francisco is completely healthy. Beyond Parnell, though, the bullpen is threadbare. Veteran Brandon Lyon signed late and should be an effective innings eater from the right side. Non-roster veterans Scott Atchison, LaTroy Hawkins and lefty Pedro Feliciano will add depth and give manager Terry Collins some good matchup options. Lefty Josh Edgin can also be a decent match-up guy.
As up-the-middle combinations go, they’re not exactly Robinson Cano and Derek Jeter. The Mets’ Daniel Murphy and Ruben Tejada are adequate but limited at the plate, both hitting for a respectable batting average but offering little power or speed to go with it. They’re viable big leaguers, which is saying something for this team, but they’re not difference makers. Advanced defensive metrics are not always reliable, but according to Fangraphs, Murphy’s Ultimate Zone Rating ranked 20th of 22 qualifying second basemen in the majors. Tejada was better, but still not among the upper half at his position, ranking 13th of 21 qualifying shortstops. A strained intercoastal muscle may keep Murphy on the shelf to start the season.
This is by far the Mets’ offensive strength. While Ike Davis struggled at Citi Field last season, he managed to smash 32 homers and drive in 90 runs. He needed only 16.2 at-bats per home run, ranking third in the National League, and at 26 years old, he still has time to get better. Across the diamond, third baseman David Wright had his best season since 2008, the year before the Mets moved to Citi Field, where he struggled at first with the distant dimensions. Moving in the fences suited Wright, who hit more long balls at home (12) than he did on the road (nine). A two-time Gold Glove winner, he also excelled in the field, with the best Ultimate Zone Rating among NL third basemen, according to Fangraphs. The Mets locked up Wright with an eight-year, $138 million contract extension that binds him to the team through 2020.
The Mets won the wild card in 2000 with an outfield of Benny Agbayani, Jay Payton and Derek Bell, and advanced to the World Series that year with Timo Perez replacing Bell. That’s a ragtag group, to be sure, but a juggernaut compared to the outfield in Flushing these days. The Mets have few outfielders who would start for other teams, with Collin Cowgill, veteran Marlon Byrd and Lucas Duda likely to hold down the starting spots. Cowgill — who bats right and throws left — will play for his third team in three seasons after stints with Arizona and Oakland, hoping to establish himself as an everyday player. He showed decent power and an ability to reach base in the minors, so he’s worth a look. Duda is the most established hitter, but he lumbers on defense and the bases and struggled to make up for it at the plate last season. Byrd, a non-roster player, has seen his better days, but should hit for a decent average.
The Mets believe they acquired a foundational piece in Travis d’Arnaud, who is so highly regarded that he’s been traded twice for Cy Young Award winners before his first game in the big leagues. He was hitting .333 with 16 homers and 52 RBIs at Class AAA Las Vegas last year before his season ended when he tore the posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee while sliding to break up a double play. He also missed half the 2010 season with two bulging disks in his back. Those are troublesome issues for a young player, but the Mets were willing to bank on d’Arnaud’s potential while also acquiring a veteran, John Buck, who could be the starter early in the season. With little hope of contending this year, the Mets have determined they are best-served by leaving d’Arnaud in Class AAA to the start the season, delaying his eventual free agency by shortening his major league service time.
For a team with so many holes in the starting lineup, the Mets actually have a decent bench, with useful players like infielder Justin Turner, outfielder Mike Baxter and Jordany Valdespin, an infielder/outfielder. Valdespin had five separate stints with the Mets last year and set a single-season club record for pinch-hit homers, with five.
The Mets play hard for manager Terry Collins, but a lack of talent and a rash of injuries have doomed them down the stretch in the past two seasons. Collins burns to win and has vaguely raised questions about his team’s effort at times, but that is mostly just frustration, and players appreciate his generally positive approach in an atmosphere that can be harsh. Alderson knows how to build a winner, but he has mostly been limited to low-cost, low-impact moves, essentially treading water until the team has shed its glut of bad contracts. Owner Fred Wilpon and his son Jeff, who essentially runs the team, have sold minority ownership shares but have yet to prove they have really recovered from the havoc Bernie Madoff wreaked on their finances.
This season marks the 20th anniversary of the Mets’ last 100-loss season, and they could be headed for another. These Mets could be very bad, and only the filleting of the Miami Marlins will save them from the basement of the NL East. The good thing is that the future is finally coming into focus, and fans can watch Harvey, d’Arnaud, Wheeler and others develop while knowing that Wright will be here for the long haul.
SS Ruben Tejada (R)
In 78 games as the leadoff man last year, he attempted just four stolen bases.
2B Daniel Murphy (L)
His .291 average trailed only Robinson Cano, Marco Scutaro and Aaron Hill among everyday second basemen.
3B David Wright (R)
Greatest Met never to play in World Series faces a long road to get there. For now, just trying to get healthy to avoid starting the season on the DL.
1B Ike Davis (L)
Outstanding power, but must prove he can handle lefties and hit at Citi Field.
RF Marlon Byrd (R)
Veteran batted .270 in 34 games with the Red Sox last season, which was 200 points higher than his first 13 games with the Cubs.
LF Lucas Duda (L)
His OPS in the second half of the 2012 season was a miserable .644.
CF Collin Cowgill (R)
With .291 average in five minor league seasons, he’s ready for a shot.
C John Buck (R)
After making All-Star team with Jays in 2010, hit .213 in two years for Marlins.
OF Mike Baxter (L)
Sacrificed chunk of his season to save Johan Santana’s no-hitter with diving catch at wall.
UT Jordany Valdespin (L)
Pinch-hitter extraordinaire who started at five positions (LF, CF, RF, 2B, SS) as a rookie. Will get some regular time at second until Murphy is 100 percent.
IF Brandon Hicks (R)
Has a .133 career average in parts of three seasons with Atlanta and Oakland.
IF Justin Turner (R)
Proved himself to be a capable reserve (he hit .269 in 171 at-bats) after a year as a starter.
C Travis d’Arnaud (R)
Vaunted prospect should make debut in ’13 and stay for years to come.
LH Jon Niese
Won 13 games with a career-low 3.40 ERA in his third season as a starter.
RH Shaun Marcum
Has gone 33-19 with a 3.62 ERA over last three seasons.
RH Matt Harvey
Power righty projects as long-term ace; only gave up 42 hits in 59.1 innings last season.
RH Dillon Gee
Missed second half after having blood clot removed from shoulder in July.
LH Johan Santana
The danger of backloaded contracts — Santana will make $25.5M in 2013. A balky shoulder may keep him on the DL to start the season.
RH Jeremy Hefner
Former fifth-round pick of the Padres is leading candidate to replace Santana while the former Cy Young winner is disabled.
RH Frank Francisco (Closer)
First pitcher since 2009 to have at least 20 saves and an ERA above 5.50. Elbow inflammation is not a good sign; likely headed to DL.
RH Bobby Parnell
Especially stingy at Citi Field, with 1.54 ERA at home last season. Will close in place of the injured Francisco.
RH Brandon Lyon
Averaged 61 games and 62 innings over last seven seasons.
RH Scott Atchison
Was effective with Boston last season: a 1.58 ERA in 51.1 innings and a 0.994 WHIP. The 37-year-old has logged more than 1,000 innings in the minors and Japan, just over 200 in the majors.
RH LaTroy Hawkins
In 2009 and 2011 he had a combined 2.26 ERA; an unimpressive 4.97 in 2010 and 2012. Maybe 2013 will follow that trend.
LH Pedro Feliciano
Led the NL in appearances all three years from 2008-10 totaling 208 games, but hasn’t pitched in bigs since.
LH Josh Edgin
Held lefties to .164 average (9-for-55), which was good enough to earn another look.
The Phillies are no longer the team to beat in the NL East. Maybe that will be beneficial, because this graying club, which was knocked from its lofty perch by injury and a horrible start in 2012, can use all the edge it can get. “Everyone is a little angry,” says Jimmy Rollins, the team’s longest-tenured player and a key contributor on five straight division championship clubs from 2007-11. “We have that chip on our shoulder to go back out there and prove this is still our division.” Injuries to Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Roy Halladay contributed to a woeful 37–50 record before the All-Star break in 2012. Improved health and performance led to a 44–31 second half and fueled hopes that this team, aging but still high on accomplished star power, might have one more run in it.
What’s up, Doc? This is one of the most important questions facing this team. If Halladay is close to the pitcher he was in his first two seasons with the club, the Phillies will be in the enviable position of having three top starters. If Halladay struggles as he did in 2012, the Phils will have to get by with just two. Indications this spring are that the latter might be the case. Having Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee atop the rotation still puts the Phils in good position in the arms race. Hamels continued to blossom into an elite pitcher in 2012, and management recognized his importance by signing him to a six-year, $144 million contract in July. At 29, Hamels’ time to lead this staff has come. He’s talented enough to join Halladay and Lee as a Cy Young winner and lines up to make his first Opening Day start. “I’m still looking for him to have a really big year — 22, 24 wins,” manager Charlie Manuel said after Hamels’ career-best 17 wins in 2012. “It’s in there.” Lee’s win total was down in 2012, but he remains one of the best. He had a brilliant second half and joined Hamels with a top-10 ERA (in NL) finish. After finishing first and second in NL Cy Young voting his first two seasons in Philly, Halladay was a different pitcher in 2012. His 4.49 ERA was his highest in a season in which he pitched over 70 innings. Shoulder problems, likely caused by the wear and tear of over 2,700 big-league innings, sent him to the disabled list for seven weeks. When he was on the mound, he used off-speed stuff more than past years as he tried to compensate for reduced velocity and movement on his signature sinker and cutter. There is no more dedicated pro athlete than Halladay, who turns 36 in May. He has vowed to come back strong in 2013. If he does, everyone from the front office to the cheap seats will breathe easier, and the rotation will be deeper and more formidable. Kyle Kendrick and newcomer John Lannan, the third lefty on the starting staff, round out the rotation. Kendrick gained valuable confidence by recording a 3.20 ERA in his final 12 starts last season. Lannan has something to prove after being pushed out of Washington’s rotation by more talented arms last season. He made 30-plus starts and had a sub-4.00 ERA three times in Washington.
Even with Jonathan Papelbon converting 38-of-42 saves chances, the bullpen was a fatal weakness in 2012. Phillies relievers helped dig that huge first-half deficit by recording a 4.72 ERA, second-worst in the majors, before the break. The eighth inning was particularly disastrous. For the season, the Phils blew an unsightly 13 eighth-inning leads. Management believes it has fixed the problem with the signing of Mike Adams, one of the best setup men in the business. He and Papelbon could form one of the best back-end tandems in baseball. Antonio Bastardo, a lefty with strikeout stuff, will be key in the late innings as well. The Phils are hoping for the emergence of some of their young, high-upside relievers, most notably Mike Stutes and Jeremy Horst.
The best middle infield combo in franchise history could be nearing the end of a storied run together. Rollins and Utley are both 34. Utley, once the game’s top run-producing second baseman, has averaged just 100 games the last three seasons because of injuries, particularly bad knees. He enters the final year of his contract. He believes he can manage his way through the season, but his batting average and slugging percentage the last two seasons are just .258 and .426, respectively. Rollins won his fourth Gold Glove in 2012 and can still pick it and throw it with the best. He’s never been a prototypical leadoff man because of his aggressive approach at the plate, but he did score 102 runs in 2012. He is signed through 2014 with an option for 2015.
Veteran stars Howard and Michael Young both have something to prove. Howard, long one of the game’s premier power bats, missed three months while recovering from a torn Achilles in 2012. He returned to drive in 56 runs in 260 at-bats, but batted a career-low .219 and struck out 35 percent of the time, a career-worst. Management has challenged him to improve his physical conditioning and approach at the plate. With good health and a full spring training, Howard should hit 30-plus homers and push for 120-plus RBIs. The team needs that from him. Young, who became a spare part after 12 decorated seasons in Texas, takes over at third base. Defense could be an issue, but Young’s deficiencies at third will be tolerable if he can rebound from a career-low .682 OPS and put up numbers similar to 2011 when he hit .338 with 106 RBIs.
This area has been unsettled since Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence were traded in July, and it remains one of the club’s biggest concerns. Management hoped to add a power-defense package in center field, but settled for slap-hitting Ben Revere, who was acquired from Minnesota. The speedy Revere can run down balls, but his arm is weak and his power nonexistent. In their search for a run-producing corner bat, the Phillies signed Delmon Young, last season’s ALCS MVP for Detroit. Liability doesn’t begin to describe him defensively, but he has some pop and his right-handed bat will come in handy. He had ankle surgery. While he recovers, John Mayberry Jr. and Laynce Nix will likely platoon in left field. The Phillies desperately need Domonic Brown to finally seize control of right field, but to this point, the former top prospect has been disappointing.
Carlos Ruiz hit every ball hard, reached career-highs across the board, and became a valuable middle-order bat while making his first All-Star team in 2012. What does he do for an encore after hitting 50 points above his career average? Well, first he’ll serve a 25-game suspension for testing positive for a banned stimulant late last season. At 34, will Ruiz pick up where he left off when he returns, or was his big season a one-year wonder? One thing is sure: Ruiz will handle pitchers well. The staff has great respect for his game management. Veteran Erik Kratz, who showed power, presence and a strong throwing arm while Ruiz was out with a sore foot in 2012, will get the call while Ruiz serves his suspension.
Sure-handed infielder Freddy Galvis is an important piece off the bench. He gives the club a strong defender when Utley or Rollins needs rest, and he can help protect a late lead at third. Kevin Frandsen earned his way into a utility/pinch-hitting role by hitting .338 in 195 at-bats with the big club in 2012. The possibility of outfield platoons could keep the bench sharp.
Manuel is the most successful manager in club history. In eight seasons, he has guided the Phils to the best record in the NL (727–569), five division titles, two pennants and a World Series title. At 69, Manuel is in the final year of his contract. He says he hasn’t decided whether he wants to manage beyond 2013, but a succession plan may have been put into place when Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg was promoted from Triple-A manager to big-league third base coach. Sandberg is considered an excellent managerial prospect.
With Hamels and Lee, the Phils have a great place to start, and with Adams and Papelbon, a good place to finish. Up the middle, the team is solid with Rollins and Ruiz. If Howard and Young rebound, and Halladay and Utley stay active and productive, this club will push for a playoff spot.
SS Jimmy Rollins (S)
Led NL shortstops in runs (102), extra-base hits (61) and fielding percentage (.978) in 2012.
2B Chase Utley (L)
Finally enjoying a full spring training game since missing the last two springs because of chronic knee issues.
3B Michael Young (R)
Lifetime .301 hitter and seven-time All-Star has played just 65 games at third base since 2010.
1B Ryan Howard (L)
He had 46 RBIs in his final 47 games in 2012 to finish with 56 in 260 at-bats.
C Carlos Ruiz (R)
Tied for second among National League catchers with 47 extra-base hits in 2012. Is suspended for the first 25 games for a positive PED test.
RF Domonic Brown (L)
Had seven assists in final two months of 2012, second-most in NL in that span.
CF Ben Revere (L)
His 37 infield hits (nine bunts) were third-most in the majors in 2012.
LF John Mayberry Jr. (R)
Played in career-high 149 games, including 107 starts, in 2012; only had 46 RBIs in 441 at-bats. Will likely platoon with Laynce Nix until Delmon Young’s ankle is completely recovered from offseason surgery.
IF Freddy Galvis (S)
Was leading team with 15 doubles when he sustained season-ending cracked spine last June.
IF Kevin Frandsen (R)
His 37 hits in August 2012 were tied for third-most in the National League.
C Erik Kratz (R)
Threw out 12-of-30 (40 percent) potential basestealers in 2012, and 18 of his 35 hits were for extra bases.
OF Ender Inciarte (L)
Rule 5 pick hasn’t advanced past High-A with Arizona where he hit .319 last season.
OF Laynce Nix (L)
Hit .342 in his first 17 games in 2012 then missed two-plus months with a calf strain.
LH Cole Hamels
Notched a career-high 216 strikeouts in 215.1 innings in 2012.
LH Cliff Lee
His 2.45 ERA after All-Star break was fifth-lowest among NL starters.
RH Roy Halladay
Did not have a complete game in 2012 for the first time in over a decade. Struggling to find velocity this spring.
RH Kyle Kendrick
Durability is valuable — has never been on the disabled list; had a career-high 6.6 K/9 IP in 2012.
LH John Lannan
He is 39–39 with a 3.80 ERA in 115 starts against teams other than the Phillies.
RH Jonathan Papelbon (Closer)
Has reached at least 30 saves in each of the last seven seasons.
RH Mike Adams
In 285.2 career innings in the NL, he has 2.11 ERA, 295 strikeouts and 85 walks.
LH Antonio Bastardo
Ranked third among qualified big-league relievers with 14.02 strikeouts per nine innings in 2012.
RH Mike Stutes
Showed promise in 2011, but missed much of 2012 with shoulder injury.
LH Jeremy Horst
Held left-handed hitters to a .170 average (8-for-47) with 17 strikeouts in 2012.
RH Chad Durbin
Returns to Philadelphia after pitching for Cleveland and Atlanta the last two seasons.
LH Raul Valdes
Lefties his just .149 last season; righties marginally better at .183.
There are many things that history could choose to remember about the 2012 Washington Nationals. There was the debut of Bryce Harper, one of the most dynamic rookies to emerge in recent years. There was the franchise’s first division title and first playoff appearance since it moved from Montreal in 2005. And there was the cementing of Davey Johnson’s credentials as a Hall of Fame manager, as he was named Manager of the Year at season’s end. However, in all likelihood, the 2012 Nationals will still be remembered years from now as the team that willingly chose to shut down its ace — when he was completely healthy. In sidelining Stephen Strasburg in such a fashion, the Nationals cited, among other things, their window for winning future titles. That window is now wide open, and the way history ultimately views the Great Strasburg Shutdown of 2012 will depend largely on how the team performs in 2013 and beyond.
As with virtually every segment of the Nationals’ roster, the rotation is blessed with a plethora of younger, controllable players. Even with a couple of generic slop-ballers at the back end, a front three of Strasburg (presumably unleashed in 2013), lefty Gio Gonzalez and righthander Jordan Zimmermann would take this team a long way. But with the December free-agent signing of righthander Dan Haren to fill the role (held in 2012 by Edwin Jackson) of veteran innings-eater, the Nationals can boast a formidable back end of Haren and hard-throwing lefty Ross Detwiler — ensuring that, no matter where an opponent catches the Nationals in their starting rotation, they will be facing a tough night at the plate. An intriguing option for depth is flamethrower Christian Garcia, who emerged as a bullpen force late in 2012.
The shocking end of the Nationals’ 2012 season, in Game 5 of the NL Division Series against the Cardinals, could leave lasting marks on young closer Drew Storen, who blew a two-run ninth-inning lead after the Nationals were one strike away from advancing. While Johnson and the Nationals still believe in Storen, the team signed free agent Rafael Soriano to be the 2013 closer. Two of his 42 saves for the Yankees last season came prior to Mariano Rivera tearing his ACL in May. Storen joins Tyler Clippard to form what could be the most dominant setup tandem in baseball. Righthanders Craig Stammen and Ryan Mattheus, stalwarts in 2012, will return to their middle-relief roles. Lefty Zach Duke, who pitched well during a September call-up in 2012, is expected to fill the long reliever role held last year by Tom Gorzelanny.
Although the Nationals explored trading away second baseman Danny Espinosa this winter — less an indictment of Espinosa than a sign of how highly they regard backup Steve Lombardozzi — the team will return its double-play combo of Espinosa and shortstop Ian Desmond in 2013, and will be perfectly happy to do so. Switched out of the leadoff spot midway through the season (into a more comfortable role as the primary sixth hitter), Desmond had a breakout season that saw him earn his first All-Star appearance and Silver Slugger award (he was also a finalist for a Gold Glove), while becoming the emotional leader of the clubhouse. Espinosa strikes out too much and tends to go into long, deep funks at the plate, but he could also be poised for the same sort of breakout in 2013 that Desmond had in 2012.
After reviving his career with a huge 2012 season (33 homers, 100 RBIs, Silver Slugger, Gold Glove, sixth in MVP voting), veteran first baseman Adam LaRoche paid a visit to free agency seeking a long-term deal, but was victimized by the draft-pick compensation rules in the new CBA, and ultimately returned to the Nationals on a two-year deal. LaRoche’s return gives the Nationals a top glove man and a critical left-handed bat in the middle of their lineup. Meantime, Ryan Zimmerman returns at third base following a strange 2012 that is best viewed as being divided into pre- and post-cortisone segments. On June 23, he received his first shot of the painkiller for his ailing shoulder, and his sagging numbers immediately took off. In the end, the popular Zimmerman wound up with a season in line with his career norms, then had a clean-up surgery on the shoulder immediately after the season.
The Nationals had been searching for years for a dependable leadoff hitter/center fielder, and over the winter they finally found their man in Denard Span, acquired via trade with Minnesota. Not only is Span a talented offensive and defensive player, but the Nationals also can envision other pieces falling into place with him on board: Harper (in left) and Jayson Werth (in right) move seamlessly to the corners, while Werth can be freed from the leadoff spot. If all three stay healthy and perform to expectations, the Harper-Span-Werth outfield could be among the best in baseball.
Kurt Suzuki, acquired in an August trade with Oakland, was supposed to have been little more than a two-month stopgap, filling an acute down-the-stretch need but ceding the starting job in 2013 when starter Wilson Ramos returns from injury. However, Suzuki played a critical role in the Nationals’ run to the NL East title. Lest we forget, however — Ramos was considered one of the brightest young catchers in the game before a season-ending knee injury in May. The two catchers proved in spring training that they were deserving of the starting job, and Johnson has decided to begin the season using Ramos and Suzuki every other day, keeping both fresh.
The Nationals were blessed with a potent, highly functional bench in 2012 and will be looking to reconstruct a similar one this year. To that end, they signed Chad Tracy, their top pinch-hitter in 2012, to a one-year extension for 2013, and they will return Lombardozzi, talented fourth outfielder Roger Bernadina and outfield/first base backup Tyler Moore as well.
The highly publicized shouting match between Johnson and GM Mike Rizzo last summer was less a sign of discord within the braintrust than a reminder that these are two bull-headed men who — with plenty of justification — believe strongly in their own abilities. They also happen to like and respect each other. Although Johnson will be 70 on Opening Day and has already indicated that 2013 will be his final year, he remains at the top of his game mentally. (And if Johnson does indeed step down after 2013, the Nationals appear to have already identified his successor in bench coach Randy Knorr.) Rizzo, too, has ascended to the upper tier of his profession, turning a perennial loser into a well-run, self-sustaining, winning organization that is the envy of his peers.
When Johnson blurted “World Series or bust” during the December 2012 Winter Meetings, he wasn’t being boastful or jingoistic. He was merely stating the obvious: This is a team built to win it all. In fact, all along 2013 was the Nationals’ target for contending — it just so happens that they arrived a year early in 2012. One could even argue that the franchise was caught unprepared for what befell them, based on the lack of a better plan for handling Strasburg’s innings limit. It is always dangerous to define your season as requiring a World Series appearance in order to qualify as a success, since the postseason is a crapshoot to some degree. But at least on paper, the Nationals appear to be as well equipped as anyone to survive both the marathon of the 162-game season and the sprint of October.
CF Denard Span (L)
The type of pure leadoff hitter the Nationals had been lacking; slapped 38 doubles and stole 17 bases in ’12.
RF Jayson Werth (R)
Thrived as leadoff hitter, but Nats believe he’ll be a perfect fit behind Span.
LF Bryce Harper (L)
After historic rookie season, ceiling in 2013 appears limitless for the 20-year-old outfielder.
3B Ryan Zimmerman (R)
Played through shoulder injury, put up representative numbers, with 25 HRs and 95 RBIs.
1B Adam LaRoche (L)
Silver Slugger/Gold Glove exacta spoke to his immense value to the Nationals in 2012
SS Ian Desmond (R)
Arguably the best shortstop in the majors last season; had career highs in average (.292), HRs (25), RBIs (73).
2B Danny Espinosa (S)
Power numbers dipped slightly from 2011 rookie season, but Nationals aren’t giving up on him.
C Wilson Ramos (R)
Will need to earn job back after suffering ACL tear last May that ended his season.
C Kurt Suzuki (R)
Cameo after August trade was enough to earn shot at regular playing time in 2013.
OF Roger Bernadina (L)
Versatile glove-man and emerging hitter could start for many teams; valuable reserve for the Nats.
UT Tyler Moore (R)
Pure hitter was a crucial part of 2012 bench; hit 10 home runs in only 156 at-bats.
IF Chad Tracy (L)
Davey Johnson’s favorite pinch-hitter (12 hits in 46 at- bats) in 2012 returns in same role.
UT Steve Lombardozzi (S)
Steady infielder added outfield to his duties in 2012, increasing his value to the Nats.
RH Stephen Strasburg
The former No. 1 overall pick is poised for huge 2013 after being freed from controversial innings leash.
LH Gio Gonzalez
Won 21 games in his first season with the team, kept command issues at bay, kept clubhouse loose.
RH Jordan Zimmermann
Despite bringing heat, ranked eighth in the National League with only 2.0 walks per nine innings.
RH Dan Haren
Has averaged 220 innings pitched since 2005, though injuries plagued him in 2012.
LH Ross Detwiler
On any other staff, he’d be a No. 2 or No. 3, but the Nats are glad to have this 10-game winner in No. 5 hole.
RH Rafael Soriano (Closer)
Saved 42 games and blew just four last season for the Yankees.
RH Drew Storen
Had a 0.989 WHIP in regular season; 2012 season was going swell until ninth inning of Game 5 of NLDS.
RH Tyler Clippard
Had strong run as closer in Storen’s absence, but the Nationals value him as a setup man.
RH Craig Stammen
Paced the Nats’ 2012 bullpen with 88.1 innings pitched; only gave up 70 hits but walked 36.
RH Ryan Mattheus
Trusted seventh-inning man allowed opposing batters to hit .161 with runners in scoring position.
LH Zach Duke
Longtime starter shined in bullpen role last September, and earned himself a big-league contract for 2013.
RH Henry Rodriguez
Needs to cure wildness (22 walks in 29.1 IP in 2012), but Nats still believe in his power arm.
They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2013 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 20 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.
No. 11: Adam Scott
Born: July 16, 1980, Adelaide, Australia | Career PGA Tour Wins: 8 (8 on European Tour | 2012 Wins (Worldwide): 1 | 2012 Earnings (PGA Tour): $2,899,557 (25th) | World Ranking: 7
Brandel Chamblee's Take
Scott has long had one of the most beautiful swings in the game, but for most of his career there was a sense he was underachieving, particularly in the majors, where prior to 2011 he had played 39 times and managed only four top 10s. In early 2011, however, he switched to the anchored putter, and he has finished in the top ten four times in the eight majors since, twice finishing second. He's still not a great putter but has the ability to drive the ball longer and straighter than anyone in golf.
Major Championship Résumé
Masters - T8
U.S. Open - T15
British Open - 2
PGA Championship - T11
Best Career Finishes:
Masters - T2 (2011)
U.S. Open - T15 (2012)
British Open - 2 (2012)
PGA Championship - T3 (2006)
Top-10 Finishes: 8
Top-25 Finishes: 19
Missed Cuts: 15
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There are many reasons why fans gravitate to the college ranks over the professional ones. For those of us who love college sports, NCAA basketball is a vastly superior product over the NBA. Yes, the NBA features the best athletes in the world playing the game, but many point to a boring regular season, lack of overall defense and me-first holier than thou attitude that comes with million-dollar salaries.
While the level of athlete isn’t even comparable in the college game, there are many other reasons why its more enjoyable. Student sections, campus life, small towns, deeply connected alumni bases, dramatic game play, cheerleaders, defensive effort and kids playing for the love of the game are at the top of that list. But college arenas and stadiums are more intimate and interwoven into the history of a school unlike the NBA buildings (minus maybe Madison Square Garden or the Boston Gardens).
And the traditions of the college game — like arena nicknames — are priceless. Here are college hoops best arena nicknames:
1. The Pit, New Mexico (University Arena)
New Mexico’s famous basketball-only arena opened in 1966 as University Arena and was renamed officially as “The Pit” in 2009. It got its nickname from how the building was constructed, as the floor of the arena is 37 feet below “ground level,” meaning the court is actually built inside of a pit. Because it was built into such a small space with steep grading and relatively tight quarters for 15,411 capacity seating, the Lobos have enjoyed one of the loudest home quarter settings in all of college hoops. It cost a relatively affordable $1.4 million to build and the building itself reminds fans and opposing players that it sits a mile above sea level as well.
2. The Phog, Kansas (Allen Fieldhouse)
Named in honor of former head coach Dr. Forrest C. Allen, who led the Jayhawks program for 39 years and was nicknamed “Phog” for his distinct booming fog-horn voice. Allen Fieldhouse was opened in 1955 following four years of construction, the building currently seats 16,300 and originally cost just $2.5 million to build. The Phog is widely regarded as one of the loudest building in college basketball, and thanks to decades of great teams, is arguably the toughest place to win in all of sports. At home, Kansas is 107-2 since 2007, 263-14 since 1994 (the last renovation) and 699-108 all-time, so all who enter clearly must “Pay Heed.”
3. The Barn, Minnesota (Williams Arena)
One of the older buildings in the nation, Williams Arena was opened in 1928 and cost just $650,000 to build. Its 14,625 rowdy Golden Gophers fans and rounded ceiling shape give it a raucous barnyard feel — which is how the student section (The Barnyard) and building got their of their nicknames. The most unusual characteristic of the building, however, might be the raised floor design. The court is roughly two feet above player benches, press row and the first rows of seats. The Barn has hosted both The NCAA basketball finals (1951) and a pair of Frozen Fours (1958, 1966).
4. The Kennel, Gonzaga (McCarthey Athletic Center)
McCarthey Athletic Center was opened in 2004 and goes by The New Kennel or K2 to fans in the know, however, The Kennel is the best and most fitting. The nickname has carried over from the previous facility in Spokane, the Charlotte Y. Martin Center, and couldn’t be more appropriately named. The Bulldogs play extremely well at home and the boisterous fans pack the tight 6,000-person arena each and every home game. The Kennel cost Gonzaga $25 million to build.
5. The RAC, Rutgers (Louis Brown Athletic Center)
Rutgers’ basketball arena was originally titled the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC) when it opened in 1977. It was renamed in 1986 as the Louis Brown Athletic Center but the nickname stuck through the name change. The 8,000-seat building hosted the New Jersey Nets from 1977-81 as well as the Scarlet Knights basketball and volleyball teams. The home team hasn’t been a championship contender, but Rutgers plays great at home and the fans are intimidating close to the action. The RAC just sounds like a great place to play hoops.
6. The Slim Gym, San Diego (Jenny Craig Pavilion)
Jenny Craig Pavilion, or the JCP, was opened in 2000 on the beautiful Toreros campus in San Diego, Calif. Named after famous weight loss guru Jenny Craig, the building quickly became known as the Slim Gym for obvious reasons. The punny nickname is one of the most creative and original nicknames in college hoops. JCP seats 5,100 patrons and cost $17.5 million to build.
7. Octagon of Doom, Kansas State (Bramlage Coliseum)
Kansas State plays all of its men’s and women’s basketball games in a place known as The Octagon of Doom. It seats 12,528, was opened in 1988 and cost $17.5 million to build. The nickname comes from the building’s eight-sided shape and was started by fans who would bring octagonal shaped signs with “Doom” written them due to reputation of tenacious defense. The Manhattan arena’s nickname has quickly (2007) become one of the best pseudonyms in college sports.
8. The Tad Pad, Ole Miss (C. M. Smith Coliseum)
The Ole Miss Rebels have called C. M. Smith Coliseum home since 1965-66 when the building was originally called Rebel Coliseum. Smith was a three-sport star at Ole Miss, a coach and eventually became the Athletic Director in Oxford. The important Mississippi personality went by “Tad” and so the 9,061-seat building is now referred to as The Tad Pad.
9. Dome of Doom, Wyoming (Arena-Auditorium)
With a formal name like Arena-Auditorium, its no wonder the fans in Laramie came up with a nickname for their basketball arena. The 15,028-seat building was built in 1982 for $15 million and is officially the highest arena in NCAA Division I basketball. Situated at 7,220 feet above sea level, the Dome of Doom, or “Double-A,” literally causes headaches to opposing teams and fans.
10. The Rock, Seton Hall/NJIT (Prudential Center)
165 Mulberry Street in Newark, N.J., is home to one of the most well-used buildings in college sports. Named affectionately for the Rock of Gibraltar corporate logo of Prudential Financial, The Rock is home to three different hockey teams, namely the New Jersey Devils, and has hosted both the New Jersey Nets and New York Liberty of the professional basketball ranks in the past. But why it makes this list is famed Seton Hall basketball — as well as NJIT — calls The PC home. The 18,711-seat building (for basketball) cost an astronomical $375 million to build back in 2007.
The Best of the Rest:
11. The Thriller Dome, Georgia Tech (Alexander Memorial Coliseum)
12. Dean Dome, North Carolina (Dean Smith Center)
13. The Hump, Mississippi State (Humphrey Coliseum)
14. The Dunk, Providence (Dunkin Donuts Arena)
15. The O-Dome, Florida (Stephen O’Connell Center)
16. The Pete, Pitt (Petersen Events Center)
Old-School Honorable Mention:
Big Brown Box that Rocks, Loyola-Chicago (Alumni Gym)
From 1924 to 1996, Loyola-Chicago called Alumni Gym home. The 2,000-seat building was known for its crazy fans and eventually became known as the Big Brown Box That Rocks.
Chamber of Horrors, New Orleans (Human Performance Center)
New Orleans began playing Division I basketball in 1969 and called the Human Performance Center home until 1983 and then again following Hurricane Katrina from 2005-08. It seated just 1,200 fans was known as The Chamber of Horrors.
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