Articles By Josh Kipnis
by Josh Kipnis
Google his name, and a fictional soap opera character is all you will find. Click on his bio on NBA.com and you will find they haven’t even bothered writing one. Ever heard of Norris Benjamin Cole? Didn’t think so.
The Miami Heat defeated the Boston Celtics last night, 115-107. LeBron James and Dwayne Wade each scored over 20 points, but it was Miami’s rookie sensation, Norris Cole, who stole the show.
The Celtics were without Paul Pierce for a second straight game and it seemed as though they would not have nearly enough offensive firepower to compete with the most elite team in the league. Boston trailed by as much as twenty at one point.
Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen refused to concede, catching fire early in the fourth. They trimmed the lead down to three with one minute remaining in the game. Doc Rivers called a timeout to discuss the ensuing Heat possession.
In a situation like this one, Rivers had to pick his poison. Which of the Big 3 do you want taking the final shot? James, Wade, and Bosh had already combined to score 68 points.
LeBron held the ball on the left elbow, jab stepping and looking as if he was about to throw up his signature fade away. The shot clock struck four and in the corner of his eye was Cole at the top of the key, practically begging for the ball. Cole caught the pass and pump faked a three, sending Rondo off balance, allowing the rookie to take a dribble inside the arc and drill the open jumper with 2.3 on the shot clock (gotta love the much-needed milliseconds on the shot clock). Who is this guy?
Norris Cole was the 28th overall pick in this year’s draft. The pick belonged to the Chicago Bulls, but they traded his rights to the T-Wolves who then dealt him to the Heat. The 6 foot 2 inch, 23 year old was the Horizon League Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year his senior season at Cleveland State.
Cole was absolutely sensational in Miami’s home opener. He was 8 of 16 in the field with 20 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals. 14 of his 20 came in the 4th quarter. In the final three minutes, he scored 9 straight points.
“You grow up and live for moments like that,” Cole said after the game. Cole was then asked if this would be a common theme in the future. “It’s only my second game; I don’t know what normal is.”
I can tell you what isn’t normal, a rookie receiving MVP chants in his second NBA game.
With 9.3 seconds left, Cole approached the free throw line. “MVP! MVP! MVP!” It wasn’t for James, Wade, or Bosh; it was for the rookie whose talents somehow landed in South Beach.
Ryan is one of my best friends. He has been an avid sports fan his entire life. Originally from New York, he sticks to his hometown roots when it comes to his favorite teams. In return, I hate them all (with good reason).
You see, while Ryan seems to know his stuff about sports, he seems to lack any and all logical reasoning when it comes to his own teams. Every offseason I hear, “Did you see that move we just made? Dude, no way we don’t win it all.” Seriously, ever single season. Even yesterday as we watched his beloved Knicks on Christmas day, I had to sit and listen to him yap about Melo, Stoudemire, Chandler, and Davis being the best four players in the league. “Dude the NBA finals are ours!”
There’s another Ryan from New York who seems to fit this exact same mold—none other than the New York Jets’ head coach, Rex Ryan.
Over the past few years, Ryan has become infamously known for his pre-game rants about how good his team is and how they are going to kick the other teams a**. No joke, last year before a matchup with the Patriots he claimed he “came [to the Jets] to kick [Bill] Belichick’s a**.”
He continued to display this nonsense we’ve come all too familiar with before Saturday’s game against their inner-city rival, the New York Giants.
“I recognize that they’re an excellent football team,” he said. “But I think we’re better.” It didn’t end there.
“And that’s the truth…I don’t care about Tom Coughlin or anybody else. I know what I believe and I don’t care if it’s acceptable and everybody—I really don’t care. I’m worried about my opinion…I could care less what anybody thinks.”
My point exactly. It’s gotten to the point where Ryan consumes himself with his own opinion. He cares more about what he is going to say to the media than what he will say to his own players. It’s one thing to act cocky in the locker room, I know you have to do that as a head coach, but is it really necessary to publicly guarantee a victory every week?
The past two years, Ryan has told reporters that the Jets will win the Super Bowl. But why bother? We know that is what you are aiming for; every team is trying to win it all. The problem is that Ryan’s trash talking is exactly that—trash. Nothing he says matters anymore.
The Giants ended up beating the Jets, 29-14. After the game, Giants running back, Brandon Jacobs, bumped shoulders with Ryan. The two exchanged some unpleasant words and still did not have pleasant things to say after the altercation.
"They got a big-mouthed coach, a big mouth and a big-bellied coach that talks too much and now it's finally time to shut up," Jacobs said when asked about the incident.
Tom Coughlin, the Giants’ head coach, ignored everything Ryan had to say. “Talk is cheap,” he said. After the game he put it best. “We won the game, and that’s the statement.” Short, sweet, and most importantly, the truth.
The Jets fell to an 8-7 record after the loss. With the final week of the regular season approaching, they no longer control their own destiny for a playoff berth. It’s a long shot to say the least. First, the Jets have to beat the Miami Dolphins who have come alive these last few weeks. Second, they need to start saying some prayers. They need the Bengals to lose to the Ravens AND the Titans to lose to the Texans AND the Raiders to lose to the Chargers. The other way the Jets are in is if the Bengals lose AND the Titans lose AND the Broncos lose to the Chiefs.
You think Rex Ryan will guarantee a playoff berth now?
Which game would you rather see televised? The Seattle Seahawks hosting the St. Louis Rams or the Pittsburgh Steelers visiting the San Francisco 49ers? Let me guess…
In a battle of 10-3 teams, Monday Night Football regained the drama it lacked in previous weeks. Finally, we were going to see a game that mattered; at least we hoped.
I turned on the TV around 8:40pm last night, thinking I had already missed the opening kickoff and the majority of the opening drive. To my surprise, I didn’t miss anything. It’s unsure whether fate intended the pun or not; the lights went out at Candlestick Park.
Before the first whistle sounded, the sold out stadium of 69,732 went dark. The start of the game was delayed 15 minutes because of “transformer malfunctions.” While many might believe it was simply an act of chance, I maintain a much different theory.
Steelers LB James Harrison was serving his one-game suspension Monday night for his vicious helmet-to-helmet blow on Browns’ rookie QB Colt McCoy in Week 14. Last night, almost immediately after the power outage, Harrison tweeted, “If I can’t play then can’t nobody play…Lights out!” I can still hear his evil laugh echoing the tunnels of Candlestick. Touché, Mr. Harrison. Touché.
Finally, the switch was flipped. Lights, Camera, Football!
Ben Roethlisberger took center stage first. Roethlisberger was doubtful to play all week with a bad left ankle. But once you question his toughness, you might as well assume he will play. He hobbled out to his team’s huddle (seriously, he could hardly walk on that left leg), and marched the offense down the field. One pass after another, he proved the ankle would hardly be a factor. Amazing, considering he was hardly putting any weight on the bum ankle, so vital to supporting the motion of his follow through. But just as you wanted to tap your foot to the beat of Big Ben’s rhythm, he missed a note. 49ers’ cornerback Carlos Rodgers picked off a poorly thrown ball for his 6th interception of the year. The lights were starting to dim (not just on the Steelers’ offense, but Candlestick Park).
A second power outrage? You can’t be serious. Enough is enough James Harrison. After a second 15-minute delay, the lights came back on and the game resumed.
The Steelers’ offense, however, was still in need of a night-light. Roethlisberger turned the ball over three more times--twice on interceptions, and once on a fumble. “It’s very frustrating to feel like you let down your team and your fans and your coaches,” Roethlisberger said. “I’m not going to make excuses. I played a bad football game, I turned the ball over and that one’s on me.” His performance begs the question of whether or not he should have played in the first place. Big Ben practiced with the team just twice all week. But regardless, you have to figure he gives you a better shot at winning than backup Charlie Batch.
It’s not like the running game gave him much help either. All night long, the Steelers seemed afraid of the dark. Pittsburgh couldn’t find any success against San Francisco’s D, unable to ever cross the goal-line of the end zone. Check out this stat: San Francisco has not allowed a rushing touchdown all year long. In 14 straight games, they are the only team in NFL history to do so.
Or maybe it was the big bad monster underneath the bed. Aldon Smith, a rookie linebacker out of Missouri, is making his case for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Last night, he added 2.5 sacks to his season total (12.5), ranking him third in NFL in the category. Smith, along with the rest of the Niners’ pass rush, hurried or sacked Roethlisberger 11 times in the ball game. Even on two good legs, I doubt Big Ben could’ve done much damage.
The San Francisco offense, on the other hand, seemed ready for anything Pittsburgh would bring at them. The Steelers defense, ranked 1st in total yards allowed, was simply ineffective.
After allowing 18 sacks in the last 3 games, the 49ers offensive line was in need of an impact performance this week; which is exactly what happened. Quarterback Alex Smith was never sacked in the entirety of the game.
With a force field around him, Smith was able to take his time, and continue his theme for the year, minimizing turnovers. He was 18/31 passing for 187 yards and a touchdown. Hardly ideal numbers for a fantasy quarterback, but they are all that is necessary in coach Jim Harbaugh’s west coast offense. “A tremendous job by Alex Smith,” Harbaugh said after the game. “He was just on the money all night long.”
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin also had nothing but good things to say about Harbaugh and his team. “I think we need to acknowledge that was 49er football tonight. We played the game on their terms.”
With the impressive victory on a national stage, it seems that many more teams will be playing on 49ers’ terms in the future.
by Josh Kipnis
The Chris Paul madness is over. Finally. The NBA’s opening tipoff starts in 10 days, so what do you say we stop talking about free agency and start focusing on the actual game.
In the aftermath of the lockout, it seems nothing has changed. The players remain the puppet masters, despite a coup attempt from the owners this summer. By far, the most hyped difference is the shortened 66-game schedule set to tipoff on Christmas day. But have you given this idea a real thought yet? Sure, you were pissed the season was delayed a month, but have you considered what affect this new schedule will have on every team?
Players are not going to be getting the rest they previously cherished. In years past, each team played 82 games in 170 days. That’s a game in every 2.07 days. This year, teams will have to play 66 games in 123 days--averaging a game every 1.86 days. It seems like a small change, but think about Lakers’ center, Andrew Bynum. He missed 28 games last season, and that’s when the Lakers played just about every other day. Shortening his rest in between games is the last thing they need.
Playing this often, the keys to success this year are going to be youth and depth. By the season’s end, the youngest and freshest teams are going to be whirling dervishes in comparison to the stagnant play of the elderly (can you say hip replacement?) Who will make a run in the playoffs? Who will uncharacteristically struggle? The answers may surprise you.
Los Angeles Clippers
The whole Chris Paul mess pushed me back and forth on this one. I wish they could’ve found a way to keep Eric Gordon, but nevertheless, they got one of the two best point guards in the game. With Kaman, Aminu, and Gordon gone, their depth diminished, but not too much. Re-signing DeAndre Jordan, as well as bringing on Caron Butler and Chauncey Billups this off-season was huge. The Clippers starting five is as good as anyone (I feel like I should be slapped in the face. The Clippers?). Billups may be aging, but that’s where Eric Bledsoe comes into play. Holding onto him was key, and he could be up for the 6th Man Award this season.
What is happening in the NBA! Since when can the Clippers and Pacers both be good in the same year? Seriously, stop laughing; this team has some weapons. Danny Granger averaged over 20 PPG in 2010, and I see no signs of those numbers declining. The biggest flaw in Granger’s game though, was his efficiency rating--last season, he ranked 50th (You would too if you had the offensive supporting cast of Roy Hibbert, Tyler Hansborough, and Darren Collison). But that problem is solved. Indiana signed Hornets’ star and leading scorer David West, taking pressure off Granger and adding a much-needed veteran voice to this young squad. I see them in the playoffs in a five or six spot.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Do I dare say it? I really (really) want to. NBA Champs…
How cool would it be to see this team win it all? The only thing holding me back is experience. Durant averaged 27.7 PPG last year, making him the youngest player in NBA history to win the scoring title. But will he ever emerge as a clutch player? It is the only thing missing in his repertoire (aside from any sense of defensive intensity). We’ve seen him fade into the shadows during crunch time too much. It’s time for the Durantula to cast his web.
I know I said youth and depth were needed, but I’m making an exception here. Why? Three words: Derrick Freakin Rose. He single-handedly carried his team to the Eastern Conference Finals last spring, and this year he will continue his success. The new schedule plays to his strengths perfectly. He is the epitome of a whirling dervish.
Los Angeles Lakers
For the first time (ever?) the Lakers will be the second best team playing in the Staples Center. The Clippers and Lakers are polar opposites this year. While the Clippers begin to build their youthful organization, the Lakers are evaluating retirement plans and checking into nursing homes. There is absolutely no chance the Lakers can survive this season. 66 games in 123 days will prove to be way too much for LA to handle. Consider the ages of their starting lineup: Bryant (33), Fisher (37), Gasol (31), Meta World Peace (32. “The Artest formally known as Ron”), and Bynum (24. His knees have more fluid than the Bears’ Sam Hurd has cocaine.) And the players coming off the bench? Aside from newly acquired player, Josh McRoberts, they have three guys (Matt Barnes, Steve Blake, and Luke Walton) who are all 31. They simply don’t have what it takes this year. The Odom trade is going to kill them. I know Kobe is a winner, but too many things are falling out of place. They will still make the playoffs, but it won’t be any higher than a five seed.
Kevin Garnett is already lashing out at Commissioner Stern for not giving teams enough of a pre-season. A few days ago, Garnett told reporters that, “Timing is everything.” Sorry KG, if that’s the case then looks like your Celtics have a whole lot of nothing. The Big Three isn’t what it used to be. Period. Each year they pride themselves on having the best defense in league. But can they continuously hold opponents under 100 points with this much mileage? Pierce (34), Garnett (35), and Allen (36) will outperform each and every team mentally, but the physical aspect is what’s lacking. And how about Rondo? The speedster is most effective in transition, pushing the ball up the court whenever the chance presents itself. Will Coach Doc Rivers even let him though? A transition offense isn’t an effective game-plan when you have a bunch of old men limping up the court. Also, how will the off-season trade rumors play with Rondo’s emotions? Lamar Odom sure didn’t like it.
Christmas is just 10 days away, and that means we are inching ever so close to NBA basketball again. This year’s schedule is something we haven’t seen before. With so many games being played in so little time, age, stability, and depth have never been so significant. Who will be the superior team in LA? Can the Celtics continue to be a beast in the East? Does Durant have what it takes to go the distance? Only time will tell. Basketball is back, baby!
by Josh Kipnis
The owners of the NBA are cry-babies. We saw them whine and tear during the lockout, and now they think that’s the only way they can get what they want. They crawl up to Daddy (Commissioner David Stern), scrunch up their chubby little cheeks, and let him fix the problem in his little princess’ life.
Pappa Stern was protecting his kin this past Thursday when he vetoed a three-team trade that would send Chris Paul to the Lakers; Luis Scola, Kevin Martin, and Lamar Odom to the Hornets, and Pau Gasol to the Rockets.
“Wha wha wha. It’s just not fair!”
So David Stern did the only thing he felt he could do, veto the trade. Is this guy ever going to think outside the box? It’s starting to get ridiculous.
Stern claimed that the Hornets were “better served with Chris [Paul] in a Hornets uniform than by the outcome of the terms of that trade.” Maybe. But still, he would undoubtedly hang up that uniform at seasons end. Paul’s contract expires this summer, and last time I checked the definition of a current asset, it had the word CURRENT in it. The NBA officials ruling on this trade are completely blind of the future. Do they not understand? If Paul is not traded this year the Hornets will be left with nothing next season.
During the lockout, we saw this exact same mindset. The lockout was lifted, but in the least effective way possible. Both the players and the owners were dissatisfied with the deal reached, and are definitely going to opt out of the current bargaining agreement six years from now (If you take $300 million out of my pocket each year for the next six years, I’m going to be back for you). Neither side got what they wanted, and soon the boomerang is going to start flying back this way.
Stern has no sense of what is going on in his league anymore. He’s lost it. Does he understand what a bargaining chip is? By vetoing this trade, he is essentially destroying any future success the Hornets can have.
When this deal took place I was pumped. Paul’s career was finally going to mean something, the Hornets weren’t going to be treated like Cleveland, the Knicks weren’t going to get him, and LeBron was going to go another year without a ring. It was perfect. But nooooooo, the spoiled little owners threw a tantrum and Daddy wasn’t going to let that happen. Gimme a break.
To this day, I have never seen a trade vetoed-not even in Fantasy Sports. It’s time for Stern to get off his high horse and stop ruining this league.
by Josh Kipnis
The Cincinnati Bengals have come a long way since the fallout of Carson Palmer and Chad Ochocinco a year ago. Rookies Andy Dalton and A.J. Green will surely be the future faces of this organization, but it seems they lack the firepower needed to make a final push towards the playoffs.
The Bengals could very well be one of the best six teams in the AFC, but when it comes down to it, it’s how you compare to the rest of your division, not the entire conference. And for the Bengals, the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers are steering the ship.
Going into Week 10, Cincinnati was tied atop the AFC North with a 6-2 record. That week, however, was the beginning of an uphill climb in their schedule. Losing back-to-back meetings against the Ravens and Steelers, the Bengals are now stranded on an island--third place in the toughest division in football. So with six games left in the season, can the Bengals win the North? A wild-card? I say No, and here’s why:
The remaining schedules for Pittsburgh and Baltimore allow them to waltz into the playoffs. Check out the final six games for each of these teams, along with my predictions.
Steelers (12-4) Ravens (13-3) Bengals (10-6)
@ Chiefs—W vs. 49ers—W vs. Browns—W
vs. Bengals—W @ Browns—W @ Steelers—L
vs. Browns—W vs. Colts—W vs. Texans—W
@ 49ers—L @ Chargers—W @ Rams—W
vs. Rams—W vs. Browns—W vs. Cardinals—W
@ Browns—W @ Bengals—W vs. Ravens—L
Steelers: In two weeks, the Steelers host the Bengals in a very decisive matchup. The way I see it, if Dalton couldn’t beat Pittsburgh in Cincy, it’s going to be that much harder for him to pull out the win with Terrible Towels waving in his face. As for their Week 15 matchup in San Francisco, I could really see this one going either way. Both defenses are tough against the run, which is why I have to give the edge to Pittsburgh--the team with more weapons in their passing game. Even if the 49ers pull this one out, the Steelers would finish 11-5 and hold the tiebreaker over Cincy.
Ravens: Roger Goodell is a family man. He has to be when you consider the Thursday night game this year: 49ers-Ravens with the Harbaugh brothers coming together for Turkey Day. But don’t expect them to mind their manners in front of Mom and Dad. This is a sure-fire food fight waiting to happen. The 49ers have to skip their Wednesday practice to fly across the country, giving them just 2 ½ days to prepare for their most difficult matchup this season. Jim Harbaugh forgets to leave room for dessert. The Ravens prevail.
Bengals: Hosting the Texans in Week 14, expect this game to go down to the wire. Houston is the best rushing attack in the league while Cincinnati is ranked 3rd in run defense. With Schaub out indefinitely, Houston becomes too one-dimensional and the Bengals come out on top. The way I see it, their only shot is to win out, beating the Ravens and Steelers in the process. Not happening. Andy Dalton and the rest of the offense are too inexperienced to beat two of the best defenses in the NFL. In the first eight games of the season, Dalton threw seven interceptions. In the past two weeks, against the higher profile players and coaches in Baltimore and Pittsburgh, Dalton has thrown five interceptions. This trend will surely continue.
by Josh Kipnis
There is no dispute: The past few years for the Carolina Panthers, Cincinnati Bengals, Arizona Cardinals, and San Francisco 49ers have been a struggle. But this year, a group of rookies have swept in and rescued these damsels in distress. Here is my list of the “Rookie Superheroes” halfway through the season.
Superman - Cam Newton
Superhuman strength and speed, as well as the ability to fly, are among his key attributes. The scouts thought he wasn’t good enough, but boy were they wrong. It’s been years since we’ve seen a rookie dominate like Newton. His “freeze breath” is sending more than a chill down the spines of NFL teams. He does it all: threads the needle in the pocket, escapes pressure with dazzling footwork, and bulldozes defenders with brutal force. His only kryptonite is his 2-6 record; but you can’t blame Newton for having below average teammates. Newton ranks 3rd in the NFL in total touchdowns and 6th in passing yards. I have him as my Offensive Rookie of the Year and possibly even a backup for the NFC in the Pro Bowl.
Batman and Robin - Andy Dalton and A.J. Green
Ever since the demise of Carson Palmer and Chad Ochocinco, the Bengals have been in search of a new dynamic duo. They found just that in this year’s NFL draft with 1st rounder A.J. Green and 2nd rounder Andy Dalton. You hardly ever see a pair of rookies having this much success. The two have hooked up for 599 yards and 5 TDs. Together, they have the Bengals back in playoff contention. Cincinnati is 6-2 this season and tied for first in the AFC North. The next few games are crucial for this young Bengals squad as they take on the hard-nosed defenses of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens. Will Dalton and Green continue their heroic success? Let’s see what kinds of gadgets Batman and Robin pull out of their tool belts next.
The Flash - Patrick Peterson
Keep your eyes peeled or you might just miss him, seriously. Did you see his game-winning 99-yard punt return last week? The kid was backpedaling faster than players could run forwards. Peterson has accumulated three punt return touchdowns this season, two of which were the go-ahead scores for the Arizona Cardinals. He doesn’t even play offense and he is tied for second on the team in touchdowns. Talk about a playmaker.
Professor X - Jim Harbaugh
What goes on inside the mind of 1st year coach, Jim Harbaugh? Under Harbaugh, the 49ers already have more wins than their entire season last year. At 7-1, it looks as if San Francisco is going to run away with the NFC West. The key to their success has to be attributed to their coaching. The offense is night and day in comparison to last year. Just look at how much of an impact Harbaugh has made on Alex Smith. In 2010, Smith was thrown in and out of the starting lineup, but in 2011 he has proven that there is no better man for the job. Smith ranks 5th in completion percentage and has thrown the fewest interceptions in the NFL. Harbaugh, a former NFL QB, clearly has imparted his wisdom on Smith and the rest of the 49ers team.
by Josh Kipnis
The San Francisco 49ers are the best all-around team in the NFL. Yes, the Packers are undefeated. Yes, Aaron Rodgers could be the best passer we have ever seen. But teams without the Greek God of Quarterbacks have to have a balanced attack and consistency in all aspects of the game. If we are determining a team with the best offense/defense combination, I have to pick the Niners.
Jim Harbaugh, making his rookie debut as an NFL coach, has essentially clinched the NFC West with an 8-1 record (2nd place sits at 3-6) and the third easiest schedule remaining in the league. This will be the 49ers’ first playoff appearance since 2002, also marking the last time the team finished with a winning record.
Passing: San Francisco falls far below par when it comes to passing yardage. While other teams might mock the 4th lowest passing total in the NFL (179.6 yds/game), this stat proves to be the teams’ greatest strength. Sure, they might not pass for 300+ yards, but Harbaugh chooses to focus on a much more important facet of the game: turnovers. While quarterback Alex Smith’s longest touchdown is 44 yards this season (shortest among active starters), he has only thrown three interceptions all year long (tied with Rodgers for least in NFL). A key part of this efficiency is Smith’s use of his tight ends. Of the 11 TDs he has thrown, 7 of those have been to a TE. Hitting big, easy targets with reliable hands is exactly the strategy Smith needed to reinvigorate his young career.
Last Week: Frank Gore has been sensational. He set a franchise record this season by stringing together five consecutive games with at least 100 yards rushing. However, this past Sunday, the 49ers’ offense had to prove how successful they could be without the seventh best rusher in the NFL. It was the first time this season that San Francisco was in a “pass-first” scenario. And wouldn’t you know it, the offense flourished. Smith threw for 242 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT beating the Giants 27-20.
Big Plays: While offensively they do not rely on big plays, the Niners’ defense does. San Francisco has the second-most recovered fumbles and eighth-most interceptions. Cornerback Carlos Rogers has excelled this year, leading the league with 5 INTs. These game-changing turnovers are a major reason why San Francisco has given up the fewest total points in the entire NFL. If you don’t have the ball, it makes it a lot more difficult to put points on the board.
Linebackers: The 49ers have the best linebacking corps in all of football. NaVorro Bowman is second in the league with 92 tackles and teammate Patrick Willis is just a few spots below him, ranking 9th in the NFL. The third member of the unit is Aldon Smith, a rookie out of Missouri. He has accumulated 6.5 sacks thus far, eleventh most in the NFL. Need more stats to scare you about how good these three are? The 49ers have given up the fewest rushing yards of all 32 teams. But here’s the best part; San Francisco has not allowed a single rushing touchdown all year. That’s right, not one ball carrier.
Let the Gold Rush begin.
by Josh Kipnis
Game 5 of the World Series was a disaster for the St. Louis Cardinals; they couldn’t hit with runners in scoring position, they couldn’t take advantage of Chris Carpenter’s great outing, and manager Tony La Russa lost his mind.
In the most pivotal game of the series, La Russa, a two-time World Series Champion and the 3rd ranked manager on the all time wins list, complicated things beyond measure. His list of mistakes covers essentially every aspect of the game, including, unbelievably, a telephone conversation gone haywire. But hey, everyone makes mistakes right? We just have to learn from them. So here is a checklist La Russa should think about posting in the dugout for the Game 6 matchup:
1) Unleash the beast that is Albert Pujols
Don’t take the bat out of his hands, ever. Twice, a hit-and-run was called when Pujols was at the plate, and each time the runner on first was thrown out. I understand the Cardinals have set a franchise record in double plays this year, but you can’t play scared. Trust the man that has taken you to the Promised Land. Albert Pujols is a machine, seriously. If we refer to Calvin Johnson as “Megatron,” what are we supposed to call Pujols? Super-Jumbo-Ginormous-Humongo-tron? (I think we’re on to something here). Let him hit! He might just go 5 for 6 with 6 RBI and 3 HR. Wait, he already did that?
2) Don’t bet on a horse with three legs
A hit-and-run was called twice in Game 5, and both times Allen Craig was the runner on first. While the batter is supposed to make contact, he is also told to leave any “unhittable” pitches alone. So when a ball soared out of the strike zone, Pujols, wisely, decided not to swing. But how slow can Allen Craig be? Mike Napoli, the catcher for the Texas Rangers, had to leap up and turn his back just to catch the ball; and he still threw Craig out by a mile. If you can’t steal a base on a pitch like that, don’t even bother tying your shoelace. It might be less embarrassing to just trip over your own leg and fall face first into the dirt. No more gambling on the base paths.
3) A massive beard is the key to winning playoff games
Brian Wilson taught us to “fear the beard” in San Francisco’s run at the championship last year. This year, closer Jason Motte, is sporting his own frightening facial hair. Motte has been nearly perfect, shutting down opponents in every appearance except his slip-up in the 9th in Game 2. In Game 5, Cards killer, Mike Napoli, approached the plate in the bottom of the 8th with one out, the bases loaded, and the game tied--meaning a simple sac fly would score a run and win the game. With this in mind, La Russa decided to keep his lefty reliever, Marc Rzepcynski, in the game to pitch to the righty hitter. But why? Once again, La Russa abandoned the simple strategy that has consistently worked in the past; he refused to go to a righty-righty matchup with Motte. Motte strikes out nearly all of his victims, a turnkey solution for the predicament. Instead, clean cut Rzepcynski stays in and gives up the lead on a 2-RBI double by Napoli. Stick with consistency; facial hair trumps all. (By the way, Derek Holland of the Rangers? Sorriest attempt at a moustache I’ve ever seen, but it seemed to work. Last start: 8 IP, 2 H, 0 ER)
4) Make sure the delivery man knows your exact order
Ok, this is the most pathetic excuse I have ever heard. In the eighth inning, La Russa picked up the dugout phone and called his bullpen coach to tell certain players to warm up. Only problem: he didn’t speak clearly enough for the bullpen coach. Really? That’s the best you got? Instead of requesting Jason Motte, the coach thought he heard Lance Lynn. Honest mistake, I confuse those names all the time. What’s worse? La Russa called a second time to get Motte up and ready and there was yet another miscommunication. I offer two pieces of advice:
a) Think of it as ordering a pizza. If I order a delicious “za” and they get it wrong the first time, no way am I messing it up a second time. Mandate that you want some pepperonis. After all, it does sound a lot like sausage.
b) If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Think of all the ways you can get a message across nowadays. You can email, text, or Skype. If the phone lines are down, lets get a little creative in the dugout. Pull up your Facebook or Gmail and instant message the bullpen. Open up your twitter account and tweet whoever you want in the game. By far the most flawless plan-go to Hogwarts, pay a first-year for his owl, and let him sit atop the railing of the dugout next to Dave Duncan. No way Hedwig doesn’t get the message delivered.
Listen, hindsight may be 20/20, but come on; we should be able to expect a little bit more out of a hall of fame manager.
by Josh Kipnis
My favorite baseball colloquialism to call out to a teammate at the plate is “Right man, right spot.” It is the ultimate pick-me-up; it says, you are the man for the job and the time to do that job is now.
Going into the potential last game of the World Series, the Texas Rangers have taken this motto to heart in every one of their wins in this big showdown.
Texas has essentially trailed the entire series. The St. Louis Cardinals captured an early series lead in Game 1 and it looked as though the Cardinals’ pitching was going to continue the dominance they have displayed all postseason. But the Rangers proved what is possible with just three outs left in a game. Trailing 1-0 in the top of the 9th, Ian Kinsler hit a single, stole a rare base off catcher Yadier Molina, and was later driven in on Josh Hamilton’s sacrifice fly. The very next batter, Michael Young, drove in the go-ahead run on a sac fly of his own. The right men at the right time.
The next two games proved to be the most lopsided of the series. Albert Pujols put on a clinic in Game 3, arguing his case as Senor Octobre and becoming the third player in MLB history to have three bombs in a World Series game. Game 4, however, Texas' pitcher Derek Holland took center stage and watched the roses fall to his feet in his 2-hit, 0 ER dominant performance.
And in Game 5, the Rangers synced their watches once more. Trailing 2-0, a pair of solo home runs by Adrian Beltre and Mitch Moreland put Texas back in striking distance. With the game still tied in the bottom of the 8th, Mike Napoli continued his tear on the Redbirds by smashing a 2-RBI double to right center, sealing the deal for Texas.
In a game where timing is everything, the Rangers’ game was as sound and smooth as Beethoven’s 5th, while the Cardinals’ sounded more like nails on a chalkboard.
The Cardinals were a pitiful one for twelve with runners in scoring position last night. St. Louis had a total of seventeen base runners but were only able to send two all the way home. The Cardinals stranded runners on second and third in the 5th, 6th, and 7th inning, while also stranding one on second in the 8th. If you have that many opportunities to score, you have to take advantage-you have to convert.
“We did have a lot of chances,” said Lance Berkman. “But for whatever reason, we didn’t capitalize. If you’re going to beat a good team at their ballpark, you’ve got to capitalize when you have the opportunity.”
Expect the Cardinals to turn this demise around; but nevertheless, if they repeat this performance, if they are unable to string those hits together, this series will be over Wednesday night-crowning the Texas Rangers as World Champs for the very first time.
by Josh Kipnis
Never before have fans been more enthusiastic about a 1-4 team than the fans of the Mile High city. This morning, the Denver Broncos announced that backup quarterback Tim Tebow will be promoted to starter following this week’s bye. Kyle Orton started all five of the Broncos’ games this season.
The timing of this decision could not be any better for Tebow and the rest of the Broncos organization. A bye week allows Tebow to get plenty of reps with the first-string offense, and the game following the bye is against the 0-4 Miami Dolphins.
But will Tebow be the answer to Denver’s demise? Does he improve the Broncos’ chances that much more than Kyle Orton?
Versatility: Tim Tebow adds another dimension to the Broncos offense; one that Kyle Orton could never provide-a dual running attack. With Knowshon Moreno and Willis McGahee in the backfield, Tebow’s running ability is one more aspect of the game that opposing defenses will fear. In his second half appearance against the San Diego Chargers on Sunday, Tebow rushed six times for 38 yards and a touchdown. Orton has run for 17 yards this entire year, having never scored on the ground.
Turnovers: Many NFL scouts bashed Tebow’s throwing motion and other mechanics when he entered the NFL draft. Despite these malfunctions, however, Tebow has proven to be much less turnover-prone than Orton. This season, Orton leads the NFL in interceptions, throwing seven in his first five games. Tebow, on the other hand, threw three picks in the nine games he played in last year.
Energy: 1-4 is a very slippery slope. At this point in the year, a team can lose faith easily. Tebow provides a new direction, a new hope for Denver and its fans. I wish I were able to show the difference in decibel levels at Sports Authority Field when Orton was on the field compared with that of Tebow. Fans love Tim Tebow. He is a winner; he says all the right things at the right time. And not just the fans, but his teammates also love him. “There is no ego with Tim,” said veteran safety Brian Dawkins. “He wants to work, he wants to learn, asks a lot of questions…he’s trying to learn as much as he can to make himself a better player. And that’s always an encouraging sign to see a young guy who’s been a star [at the University of Florida] to come in and be a humble player.”
Gameplan: Tebow is not the only link in this chain towards success. Head coach John Fox is going to have to restructure his team’s offense around their new strengths. If Fox keeps the same system as before with Orton, Tebow will surely fail. The Broncos need to adopt a new gameplan, one filled with shotgun formations, screen passes, and running plays. Tebow is not the kind of guy who can take five step drops from under center, sit in the pocket, and throw the ball downfield. Fox is not going to be able to ask him to throw forty or fifty times a game. Denver will need to rely on quicker three step drops, dumps and screens to tailbacks, and play-action rollouts. With these ingredients, Denver may just be able to turn their dreaded season around, and put a sweet taste back into their mouths.
by Josh Kipnis
Milwaukee's Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder are two of the hottest topics in the National League MVP discussion. And although postseason play cannot be considered in the debate, Braun and Fielder both proved why they are among the NL’s best hitters in the NLCS opener against the St. Louis Cardinals.
The St. Louis Cardinals’ starting pitching was dominant, to say the least, against the Philadelphia Phillies in last week’s NLDS. St. Louis gave up just six runs and five extra-base hits in the entire 5-game series versus Philly.
The Brewers’ bats, however, were up to the test and ready to pound anyone brave enough to step foot on the rubber. Milwaukee knocked in nine runs and muscled eight extra-base hits in their 9-6 victory over the Cards.
Six of those RBI and three of the extra-base hits came off the bats of Braun and Fielder. Braun went 2-4 on the day with a HR, 2B, and 4 RBI while his fellow batsman went 1-3 with a HR and 2 RBI.
Powerful bats like these are quite intimidating to opposing pitchers, but even more so when you have to pitch to one immediately following the other. “When both of us are going good, it obviously becomes far more difficult to pitch to both of us,” Braun said about the duo. Brewers’ pitcher Zach Greinke also spoke highly of the two: “It seems like right now, every time it comes to the middle of the lineup, there’s an opportunity. They’re really good. Maybe, probably the best three-four in baseball right now.” This assumption may have to be accepted after witnessing Milwaukee’s record setting 5th inning.
The Brewers trailed 5-2 in the bottom of the 5th, but just six batters later they led 8-5.
Milwaukee peppered the outfield with hits. Corey Hart led off with a single. Jerry Hairston Jr. followed with a double. Slugger, Ryan Braun hit a ground-rule double to right, scoring two. Prince Fielder, on the very next pitch, crushed a towering shot to right for a 2-run, go ahead homer. Rickie Weeks then reached safely on an error by pitcher Octavio Dotel. And finally, Yuniesky Betancourt cleared the bases with a 2-run homerun of his own.
The Brew Crew scored six runs and took the lead without even recording an out. The five extra-base hits in the inning were the most in a single inning by any Major League team in the playoffs.
“It’s hard to imagine something like that before it happens,” said Brewers’ catcher Jonathan Lucroy. “But afterward, it’s pretty amazing when you think about it. A homer. A double. A ground-rule double. Guys getting on…You don’t know when those innings are going to happen. But when they do, they’re a lot of fun to be a part of.”
Tonight, Manager Tony La Russa hands the ball off to Edwin Jackson for St. Louis. Jackson has a 2.08 ERA against Milwaukee in his last two starts. The start before that, however, the Brewers scored ten runs on Jackson and also had fourteen hits-a career high for the pitcher. The dramatic theme of this divisional rivalry will surely continue with an intriguing matchup in game two.
by Josh Kipnis
Tampa Bay Rays’ owner Stuart Sternberg is fed up with the fans in the Bay area. “I am frustrated this year. We’ve replicated [the success of] last year and our attendance numbers were down 15 percent and our ratings were down…We’re getting to the point where we don’t control our own destiny. This is untenable as a model going forward.”
It has long been said that the best way to put fans in the stands is to win games. The only problem is that this clearly isn’t the case for Rays’ baseball. Tampa Bay, who has the second lowest payroll among MLB teams, has made the playoffs in three of their last four seasons. Amazingly, the fans don’t seem to care. The Rays completed a historic comeback on the Boston Red Sox to win the AL wild-card on the last day of the regular season, building a train of momentum that was sure to topple over the next opponent in their path. That train, however, ran out of steam when the Texas Rangers eliminated them in Game 4 of their opening series.
I had the privilege of attending a few Rays’ games this summer and I was able to witness some of the worst baseball fans in the country.
Picture this; your team is up by one run going into the 9th inning against the most established team in baseball, the New York Yankees. Most baseball fanatics would be jumping up and down, high fiving the strangers sitting next to them. Not in Tampa. Instead, just as I thought people were standing up to show a little excitement, I watched as they turned around and headed up the stairway. My jaw dropped.
Are you kidding me? What is the point of even showing up at all? You’re telling me that you would rather beat traffic and listen to the game on the radio than watch your beloved team beat the most hated team in the world? Don’t even bother calling yourselves sports fans. Sternberg is absolutely right.
Last season, Evan Longoria called out the fans for their lack of support. “We’ve been playing great baseball all year. Since I’ve been here in (2006), the fans have wanted a good baseball team. They’ve wanted to watch a contender,” Longoria said. “And for us to play good baseball for three years now, and for us to be in a spot to clinch again and go to the playoffs, we’re all confused as to why it’s only 15,000 to 20,000 in the building.”
Rumors are spreading about building a new stadium, but why even bother? Tampa citizens obviously don’t care about America’s pastime. Mr. Sternberg-the clouds are out; it’s time for the sun’s Rays to shine somewhere else.
by Josh Kipnis
The rules to trash talking are simple-if you are up, let ‘em have it; if you are down, shut your mouth. But either way, beware, because the tides turn quickly.
A quarter of the way through the 2011 NFL season, we can already distinguish between the teams that have a right to rant, and the teams that are biting their tongues.
Right to Rant: Washington Redskins
Last year, the Redskins finished last in the NFC East with a 6-10 record. Everyone expected Washington to repeat that subpar performance this year, everyone except Rex Grossman.
During a preseason interview, Grossman told a reporter “We’re fine being the sleepers right now…Nobody’s talking about us, it’s right where we wanna be. You look at us from top to bottom out here, there’s a bunch of great players. And we don’t need people saying we’re the best right now. But when it’s all said and done, I really feel like this team’s gonna win the [NFC] East.”
More people thought Rex Grossman was going to be checked into an insane asylum before the Redskins would end up atop the East. Funny how quickly those tides turn, isn’t it? Sure enough, the ‘Skins are 1st in the NFC East with a 3-1 record.
On both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, the Redskins are proving Grossman was exactly right. The trio of Tim Hightower, Ryan Torain, and Roy Helu have stomped their way towards success, ranking Washington 6th in the league in the running game. As for their defense, with NFL rankings of 6th and 8th in the running and passing games, respectfully, they are one of four NFL teams to rank in the top ten in both categories.
Bite Your Tongue: Philadelphia Eagles
Quite the opposite of the Redskins, the Philadelphia Eagles were expected to run away with the division. The Eagles had an impressive off-season, signing star players like CB Nnamdi Asomugha, DT Cullen Jenkins, and CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. But, like we learned with the Miami Heat in last year's NBA Finals, money doesn’t buy happiness (or championships). In each of their past three games, the Eagles have blown a 4th quarter lead. This past week was the most detrimental, a whopping 20 point deficit that was overcome by the San Francisco 49ers, the team with the worst offense in the NFL.
“The biggest thing that we’re missing here is attitude,” said Jenkins. “You look around, you look how people are when things are going bad, you’re seeing there’s not that fire, that attitude, that mental toughness that you’re going to make it happen.”
So the question remains, when will they make it happen? The Eagles are 1-3 this year and are dead last in the NFC East. Even more troubling, Philadelphia’s next two games are on the road against the Buffalo Bills (3-1) and Washington Redskins (3-1). The Eagles rank 30th defensively against the run, making a 1-5 record look unavoidable considering that Buffalo’s rushing attack ranks 5th in the NFL, with Washington right behind them at 6th.
Right to Rant: Detroit Lions
The Lions sit alongside last year’s Super Bowl champions, the Green Bay Packers, as one of two remaining undefeated teams.
Detroit went 2-14 two years ago and 6-10 last season. So how on earth are the Lions this successful? Much like Steven Spielberg’s movie, they have found an answer in their “Transformer” known as “Megatron.” Calvin Johnson’s nickname is right on target. If you have seen #81 go up for a ball in the end zone, you know that Johnson is part machine. He has caught two touchdown passes in each of the first four games of the season, tying Cris Carter’s previous record of most consecutive games with multiple receiving touchdowns.
Obviously, however, one player cannot be the reason for four straight wins—which made me wonder; are there any other “Transformers” to be found? This past week, Detroit became the first team in NFL history to win back-to-back games after trailing by 20 points or more. Two weeks ago, after falling behind by 20, they stormed back and beat the Vikings. Last Sunday, they beat the Cowboys despite a deficit of 24 points. With one of the best passing games and a solid defense, the Lions will be put to the test this week, when they host the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football.
Bite Your Tongue: Atlanta Falcons
Ever since Michael Turner escaped the shadow of LaDainian Tomlinson in San Diego, he has proved to be a dominant presence on the football field. Last year, he was vital to the Falcons’ success, but now it seems the coaching staff has been less reliant on the running game. In 2010, Atlanta had the fifth most rushing attempts in the NFL. In 2011, they are ranked 25th.
A balanced offense is essential in keeping the defense guessing every play. When you become too one-sided, linebackers are able to play further off the line of scrimmage and defensive linemen can pass rush more easily. The other downside to less rushing attempts is that your time of possession goes way down. This is even more of a problem for the Falcons when you consider how weak their pass defense has been this year.
Atlanta is 24th in the league in pass defense, and teams have taken notice. Tarvaris Jackson, one of the most inefficient quarterbacks in the NFL, threw for 319 yards and 3 TDs last week against the Falcons. If they give up that much yardage against a struggling Seattle Seahawks team, Lord knows what Aaron Rodgers is going to do to them in Week 5.