Simon Gagne Returns to Philadelphia

In 664 games with the Flyers, LW Simon Gagne had 259 goals and 265 assists in ten seasons.

In 664 games with the Flyers, LW Simon Gagne had 259 goals and 265 assists in ten seasons.

The Philadelphia Flyers already brought back two former players this season, and today they added a third former star. The Flyers traded a conditional fourth round draft pick to the Los Angeles Kings to acquire LW Simon Gagne. Gagne was drafted 22nd overall in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft by the Flyers, and played 10 seasons in Philadelphia from 1999-2000 to 2009-2010. He was traded to Tampa Bay in 2010 for Matt Walker and a draft pick, then signed a two year contract with the Los Angeles Kings in 2011, winning his first Stanley Cup this past season. Gagne, goalie Brian Boucher, and winger Mike Knuble all rejoined the Flyers this season.

Gagne was a fan favorite in Philadelphia, known for his speed and offensive abilities. He scored 20 goals in his rookie season, and scored 30 or more goals four times in Philadelphia, including a 47-goal season in 2005-06. He is perhaps better known for his clutch scoring in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In 2004, Gagne netted an overtime winner against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals to keep the Flyers alive. More recently, Gagne scored the overtime winner in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals in 2010 against the Boston Bruins. And the left winger forever surmounted his legacy in Philadelphia by scoring the deciding goal in Game 7 of that same series, capping an incredible comeback from three games down.

Gagne is a bit older and more susceptible to injury than he was during his prime years with the Flyers. He suffered a concussion that ended his season in 2008 after just 25 games, and another in December 2011. Gagne was out until the Stanley Cup Finals, where he played four games but did not score a point. In 11 games with Los Angeles this season, Gagne has no goals and five assists. Gagne returns to a team decimated by injuries and inconsistency this season. The Flyers have recently surged into the top ten in goals scored, but also lost center Matt Read for six weeks with a rib injury. Gagne will fill a hole for the Flyers and provide much needed veteran leadership. Joining farmiliar names like Danny Briere, Claude Giroux, and Mike Knuble in the lineup, Gagne could help the struggling Flyers get back on track.

Gagne is in the second year of his contract, earning $3.5 million this season. He will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.

Winners and Losers from the 2013 NFL Combine

The 2013 NFL Combine took place in Indianapolis from February 20th to 25th. Hundreds of college football standouts gathered to run workout drills in preparation for the 2013 NFL Draft. Here are some notable names from the Combine, for better and for worse.

Winners

Arkansas RB Knile Davis impressed NFL scouts in the bench press and 40 yard dash drills at the NFL Combine.

Arkansas RB Knile Davis impressed NFL scouts in the bench press and 40 yard dash drills at the NFL Combine.

Knile Davis, RB, Arkansas: The most impressive prospect at the 2013 NFL Combine was undoubtedly Arkansas RB Knile Davis. The 5’10”, 220 pound back put up the most 225 lb. bench press reps (31) of any true running back, and also finished in the top ten in both the broad jump (121″) and three cone drill (6.96). But Davis was most impressive in the 40-yard dash, putting up a time of 4.37 seconds, the second fastest time among running backs. Knile Davis has a history of injury problems (he missed the entire 2011 season with an ankle injury), but has also put up 1,300 yards in a season (2010). Davis saw his draft stock surge after his performance on Sunday. 

Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia & Marquis Goodwin, WR, Texas: These two wideouts proved that sheer speed can turn heads at the NFL Combine. Austin ran a 4.34 40-yard dash, while Goodwin put up an astonishing time of 4.27 seconds, second in Combine history only to Chris Johnson’s 4.24 seconds in 2008. Both receivers are considered small for the position: both are smaller than 5’9″ and 185 pounds, so it’s not likely they will win jump ball battles in the endzone, but they could be valuable to NFL teams as kick returners or slot receivers. After all, Steve Smith (Carolina), DeSean Jackson (Philadelphia), and Wes Welker (New England) are all under six feet tall and have been incredibly successful in the NFL.

Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia: Mission accomplished for the Draft’s number one ranked quarterback. Geno Smith came to the Combine, ran an impressive 4.59 40-yard dash, and performed well in his throwing drills. Smith is undoubtedly the top quarterback prospect in the 2013 draft, and the Kansas City Chiefs could take a gamble and select him with the #1 overall pick. But with rumors surfacing that the 49ers could trade Alex Smith to the Chiefs, Smith could have to wait a bit for his name to be called at the NFL Draft.

Losers

Manti Te’o, LB, Notre Dame: Ok, sure. More people probably cared about what Manti Te’o said in his press conference than they cared about his on-field drills, but Te’o wasn’t impressive. While scouts wanted to see the Notre Dame linebacker run a sub 4.75 40 time, Te’o only managed to run the drill in 4.82 seconds. Coupled with his disappointing performance in the BCS National Championship Game against Alabama, Te’o likely played himself out of the top 15 in the Draft. Oh, and he was also involved in a scam with a fake girlfriend who was actually a male admirer. Not exactly a memorable weekend for Te’o.

With heart problems keeping DT Str Lotulelei on the sidelines, his NFL career is in jeopardy.

With heart problems keeping DT Str Lotulelei on the sidelines, his NFL career is in jeopardy.

Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah: It’s really not fair to say Star Lotulelei lost at the Combine since the issue is out of his control, but nevertheless, his draft stock dropped. During his physical, doctors noticed Lotulelei had an issue with his heart, and was prohibited from working out on Monday with his group. The condition, known as a low Ejection Fraction, revealed that Lotulelei’s left ventricle of his heart was not pumping blood efficiently. Star will see specialists this week, but if the condition is more severe than originally anticipated, the top 5 prospect could be sidelined indefinitely.

Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M: Joeckel, a standout offensive lineman at Texas A&M, failed to impress scouts at the Combine. He wasn’t overly disappointing, but rather just average, running a 40 yard dash in 5.30 seconds with a poor 10-yard split of 1.81 seconds. In blocking drills, Joeckel was fair, but didn’t look like the number one prospect many people claim he will be. He could end up at the podium first in April, but he might have to be very impressive at his Pro Day to prove his worth to NFL teams.

 

National League Central Looks To Build on Previous Years’ Dominance

For the National League Central, parity–aside from the Cubs–has become somewhat of a right of passage.  You had the Brewers winning the division in 2011, with the St. Louis Cardinals taking the wildcard and eventually, the 2011 World Series in a Game 6 of epic proportions.  In 2010 and 2012, the Cincinnati Reds were the Central’s powerhouse, and while the Cubs and Astros have been a doormat for sometime, the Astros moved to the American League West, while the Cubs figure to be on the right track to a rebuilt road of success with Theo Epstein at the helm.  There’s also the Pittsburgh Pirates, who have started out strong in the first half of the last two years, but following two 19-inning affairs, the proverbial gas tank has emptied, with the Buccos two games under .500 in 2012, at 79-83.

Between Bronson Arroyo's high leg kick and Johnny Cueto's signature twist-and-turn windup, the Reds feature the most animated rotation. Photo credit: ehttp://www.rotoinfo.com/blog/arroyo-to-play-huge-role-in-cincinnatis-success.html

Between Bronson Arroyo’s high leg kick and Johnny Cueto’s signature twist-and-turn windup, the Reds feature the most animated rotation. Photo credit: http://www.rotoinfo.com/blog/arroyo-to-play-huge-role-in-cincinnatis-success.html

Cincinnati Reds (97-65):  When you have a LHP that throws 100+mph fastball with a devastating slider, it apparently becomes common practice to put bullpen phenoms into the starting rotation, and that’s what the Reds are doing with flamethrower Aroldis Chapman.  With the Reds signing Johnathon Broxton to a 3-year, $21mm deal, it appears Dusty Baker and Walt Jocketty want to see how Chapman’s 122 strikeouts in 71 2/3 IP translate into a rotation that was ranked fifth in the league last year with a 3.64 ERA.  The Reds bullpen featured a 2.65 ERA (.219 average against) in 2012 with 56 saves, leading the league and set-up man Sean Marshall help left-handed bats to a .173 average. Featuring Brandon Phillips and his .321 OBP at the top of the batting order, the Reds shored up their leadoff spot and outfield, after agreeing to a 3-team trade that sent strikeout-prone outfielder Drew Stubbs to Cleveland for right-fielder Shin Soo-Choo’s .373 OBP, who is expected to play center field in the wake of Stubbs’ absence.  Power-hitting outfielder Ryan Ludwick was also re-signed after a 26-home run campaign.  According to Jim Bowden of MLB Network Radio, many executives expect Cincy’s defense to take a hit, and this is true: in 2012, Choo had a UZR of -17.  Infielder Scott Rolen has indicated a willingness to play, but the question for him becomes where, as Cincinnati agreed with infielder Jack Hannahan on a 1-year $2mm deal and also acquired infielder Jason Donald in the aforementioned 3-team trade.  Consequently, shortstop prospect Didi Gregorius and his creaky elbow were sent to Arizona, the extent of which Arizona perplexedly knew about.  Remember, like Washington, the Reds were one win away from National League Championship Glory, but the title of ultimate choker belonged to the Reds for some time, considering they had a 2-0 lead in the Series with three home games yet couldn’t put the San Francisco Giants to bed.  Their rotation of Johnny Cueto, who led the team with 19 wins; Mat Latos, who had a phenomenal second half; the emerging Homer Bailey as well as the veteran Bronson Arroyo with Chapman features much promise despite half their games being played in a hitter’s ballpark.  Cincinnati, like Washington, could win around 100 games if all breaks right.

Breakout Player: Despite Homer Bailey’s (13-10 3.68 ERA; 3.97 FIP) name somewhat of a microcosm (gave up 26 homers last year), the 26-year-old pitched over 200 innings last year, the climax of his season a no-hitter against the then-sliding Pittsburgh Pirates back in late September.  In a loss to the Giants in the NLDS, Bailey threw a 7 IP 1 ER effort, and figures to build on his success.  For Bailey, road starts usually tend to be his strong point, as he posted a 2.32 ERA compared to his 5.16 ERA at GABP.  If Bailey can somehow figure out what plagues him at home and translate some flyballs to ground-outs, it’s conceivable to think Bailey could be a cost-efficient, underrated no. 3 starter going forward.

Disappointing Player:   Around this time last year, many picked Zack Cozart, not Todd Fraizer, to be a Cincinnati representative for Rookie of the Year.  Cozart has some pop (52 XBHs last year), but his underwhelming OBP–.288–needs improvement.  The infielder’s offense wasn’t a splits issue (.699 OPS vs LHP, .693 OPS vs RHP), he just needs to be more selective at the plate.  33 walks in almost a full season won’t cut it.

Bold Prediction: Dusty Baker manages to not ruin Homer Bailey’s shoulder and career.  Kerry Wood and Mark Prior say hello.

St. Louis Cardinals (88-74): Despite losing ace Chris Carpenter to likely a career-ending injury caused by his thoracic outlet syndrome, there is no unrest in St. Louis as depth is key, with Trevor Rosenthal, Joe Kelley, and Shelby Miller waiting in the Cardinals’ wings.  Carpenter began feeling numbness and tingling in his right arm last year in spring training  and had surgery for the issue on July 19. Carpenter than made a late season return and pitched in three games in the regular season and post season going 1-4. Carpenter will probably be done for at least this season, but has forgone shoulder surgery in hopes of making a mid-season return.Adam Wainwright, Jaime Garcia, Lance Lynn, and Jake Westbrook round out the rest of the rotation with the fifth spot likely up for grabs. Wainwright will  take over the title of “ace” and should return to his 2010 all-star form after being a year removed from Tommy-John surgery. Garcia is coming off a down year in 2012 when his era was just below four at 3.92. Still Garcia should give the Cardinals a solid number two starter. The eleven-year veteran Westbrook is the quintessential definition of average with an ERA around 4, but does get about five runs a game that has allowed him to get double digit wins. Lynn shocked the baseball world last year when he posted 18 wins.The young guns of Rosenthal, Kelley, and Miller will be battling it out this spring training for that fifth spot, and between Rosenthal and Miller, both are early favorites of 2013 National League Rookie of the Year. Rosenthal came on last season and went 0-2 in the postseason, but pitched 8.2 innings of scoreless ball. Rosenthal remains the favorite for the fifth spot though because of his ability to top 100 mph on the radar gun. Kelley, also came on last season on last season going 5-7 in and posting a 3.53 ERA. He also came out of the bullpen in the postseason and was nearly perfect in the divisional round, but then broke down in the championship series against the Giants. For this many question whether or not his stuff is good enough for him to be a permanent fixture in the rotation. Miller is the tale of two halves of the season as he posted a ERA under two at 1.32 in six games, but then crashed and burned in the championship series with his ERA ballooning to 5.43.  A bullpen that looked as shaky as an amateur photographer a year ago now looks as strong as Fort Knox with Victor Marte leading the team of  Jason Motte, Mitchell Boggs, Edward Mujica, Randy Choate and whoever doesn’t crack the rotation. Marte was solid in 2012 with a 3-2 record and a whip of 1.61. Still Marte has to improve as opponents batted .305 against him. Boggs clearly gained confidence from his 2011 postseason as he posted a 4-1 average last season, while holding opponents to just a 211 batting average. Mujica went 0-3 in the regular season, but had an ERA of 3.00 and grabbed a valuable win in the championship round; in 29 games with St. Louis, Mujica has an ERA+ of 379.  In 2012 Jason Motte was counted on to be the closer and was able to shut the door on teams a whopping 42 times and will look to repeat the feat again this season.  With one of the major’s best farm systems, it’s hard to see this team losing less than 85, unless a cataclysm of injury occurs.

How uber-prospect Oscar Taveras was introduced to many baseball fans.  Photo credit: www.huffingtonpost.com

How uber-prospect Oscar Taveras was introduced to many baseball fans. Photo credit: http://www.huffingtonpost.com

Breakout Player: Ranked no.3 among MLB.com’s Top 100 prospects, outfielder Oscar Taveras proves to be the ultimate compliment to the power of Matt Holliday and on-base wizardry of John Jay.  Of course, there’s the obstacle that is Carlos Beltran, who has one year and $13mm left on his deal with St. Louis, but more on that later.  Taveras, 20, had 531 plate appearances for Double-A Springfield and struck out a mere 56 times.  Taveras’s OPS of .953 complimented his 67 XBHs and had six outfield assists.  Admittedly, Taveras will probably start his season in Triple-A, but a swift promotion is waiting in wings for this future franchise Red Bird.

Disappointing Player: This is going to all tie in together, but in 69 games following the All-Star Break, outfielder Carlos Beltran’s .742 OPS was a far cry from the .924 he posted in the first; a few weeks into the season some were anointing him either MVP or Best Off-Season Signing.  Not knocking Beltran, who’s had a tremendous career, and in some circles, a Hall-of-Famer, but health hasn’t exactly been his saving grace, and while he played in 151 games for the Cardinals last year, he strained his left knee–the same one that has bothered him his whole career–and despite being a .375 hitter in the postseason, his walk rate dropped to 8.7% in the second half of 2012, while his K% increased from 17.5% to 23.2%.  However, should his BABIP normalize even somewhere in-between the .309 of the first half and .269 in the second, Beltran should be fine, but at 36-years-old, father time has his cross-hairs of time pointed at Beltran as well.

Bold Prediction: At the trade deadline, Carlos Beltran will have an OPS just under .700, prompting the Cardinals to promote Taveras, with Beltran waiving his no-trade clause to  go to the New York Yankees as a DH, who have lost Travis Hafner to the inevitable injury.  This is in exchange for RHP Adam Warren, whom the Cardinals somehow convert into an amazing long-man and bests an ERA of Johan Santana’s 2.67 out of the bullpen in 2002.

Milwaukee Brewers (83-79): The Brew Crew had the National League’s best offense in 2012 (776 runs scored) yet they still finished barely over .500 mainly due to their bullpen; closer John Axford posted a career-worst 4.67 ERA (4.06 FIP), and blew 9 saves.  Set-up man Francisco Rodriguez–“K-Rod”– had an ERA of 4.38, and is currently showcasing his talents in the World Baseball Classic for teams to take an interest in him. At one point, the Brewers blew three consecutive games to the Phillies in the bottom of the ninth.  Signing former Nationals LHP Tom Gorzelanny to a 2-year $5.7mm deal, it is apparent that Gorzelanny will probably slot into the back end of the rotation; in 44 games out of the bullpen Gorzelanny posted a 7.8K/9 in 72 IP for Washington in 2012.  Losing Shaun Marcum to injury, then to the Mets in the off-season, combined with a trade of then-ace Zack Greinke to the Los Angeles Angels headlined by middle infielder Jean Segura (OPS+ of 75 in 163 PAs with Milwaukee), who has been cited as some as having “great contact ability,” the Brewers rotation will feature RHP Yovani Gallardo (3.94 FIP) at the top, with RHP Mark Fiers (3.09 FIP),  RHP Marco Estrada (3.79 FIP), LHP Chris Narveson (4.19 career FIP) and rookie Mark Rogers (3.46 career FIP).   Also lost in a sense was the offensive prowess of second baseman Rickie Weeks; prior to the All-Star Break his BABIP was .267, following, it was near his career average (.305) at .310.  After averaging a wRC+ of 126 since 2010, Weeks was exactly average last year posting a wRC+ of 100.  Milwaukee also led the National League in home runs with 202, and stolen bases with 158.  The combined 68 homers between Braun (41; who led the league) and Aramis Ramirez (27; in the first of a 3-year $36mm deal) and 67 stolen bases between center fielder Carlos Gomez (37) and right-fielder Norichika Aoki (30; 2-year $2.25mm deal with option for ’14) were the offensive catalysts for the Brewers, who, by the way will be introducing multiple jerseys this year.  But, for every bright spot in a lineup there’s the inevitable injury, and for Brewers first baseman Mat Gamel, his season is over before it started, tearing his ACL again.  Outfielder/first baseman Corey Hart (who could be a trade chip) is also out following knee surgery, but should be back by May.  As such, Hunter Morris (.920 OPS in Double A) will be counted on to fill the void for the time being.  Bovada has set the Brewers over/under at 81.5, and barring another 18-5 run like last year, this team, depending on the pitching, will probably slot in between 77-80 wins.

Rollie Fingers-incarnate John Axford will have to improve to keep his team in games. Photo credit: playerswives.com

Rollie Fingers-incarnate John Axford will have to improve to keep his team in games. Photo credit: playerswives.com

Breakout Player: Already breaking out in 96 games last year, catcher Johnathan Lucroy, aside from Buster Posey and Yadier Molina, might be the best catcher in the National League.  An OPS+ of 133 last year and posting a WAR of 3.9, Lucroy, going on 27, is only posed to get better.  And while he may not out-homer Posey or be the defensive wizard in the Molina mold, Lucroy (.193 ISO), is most likely going to post 20-23 homers in the course of a full season.  If Ryan Braun is suspended for his supposed involvement with Biogenesis and Aramis Ramirez gets off to the typical slow start, Lucroy could comfortably slot into the no.3 spot in the order.

Disappointing Player: 37 stolen bases is impressive, but for Carlos Gomez, in his age-28 season, 2012 perhaps was a career year.  His 105 wRC+ was a career high, and in the previous two seasons, his average wRC+ was a meager 80. Gomez also featured a career high ISO of .202, but his BB% declined from 5.8% in 2011 to 4.4% 2012.  Featuring an injury history as well, a (likely) regression of Gomez (worth 3.5 WAR last year) could cost the Brewers valuable wins.

Bold Prediction: Ryan Braun is implicated in another PED scandal by August.

Pittsburgh Pirates (79-83)- It hasn’t been a good 20 years for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Buccos, as they are affectionately known by their fans, have gone twenty seasons without a playoff berth, a drought dating back to the 1992 season when Barry Bonds won the NL MVP in the Pittsburgh outfield. The Pirates haven’t had a winning season in those twenty years, and last season’s 79-win mark tied the highest total in that span of futility. But things could be looking up in Pittsburgh: CF Andrew McCutchen had a career year last season, batting .327 with 31 HR and 96 RBI and finishing third in MVP voting and will grace the cover of MLB ’13 The Show for the Playstation 3. The Pirates also traded for starting pitcher A.J. Burnett (who will start Opening Day for them this season); he  compiled 16 wins and a 3.51 ERA, almost throwing a no-hitter against the Cubs in Wrigley on last year’s Trade Deadline. But Pittsburgh also lost closer Joel Hanrahan to the Boston Red Sox via trade, who was the leader of the Buccos’ bullpen for several years, in exchange for reliever Mark Melancon (22.2% HR/FB!!). middle infielder Jerry Sands Jr. (career .701 OPS) and other pieces. Catcher Russell Martin was the huge free agent signing for Pittsburgh this off-season, who came over from the New York Yankees in a $17 million dollar deal. Pittsburgh also signed veteran free agents Brandon Inge and Francisco Liriano to minor league contracts.  Liriano’s contract was the subject of much debate as the left-hander broke his arm….trying to scare his kids subsequently jamming it into a door.  Manager Clint Hurdle was extended to 2014 with an option for 2015, and to be fair to him, there’s something to be said with this team and 19-inning affairs.

Breakout Player: Third baseman Pedro Alvarez will likely start at the hot corner for Pittsburgh this season. The 26-year-old Alvarez played in 149 games last season, and though his .244 batting average wasn’t very impressive, his OPS+ was a solid 117, and he hit 30 home runs for the first time in his career. Alvarez is a strong, physical batter who can provide the Pirates with extra offense to help out Andrew McCutchen (and Russell Martin/Neil Walker) this season. Look for Alvarez to hit 30+ home runs again this year, although he’ll need to improve on his career K% of 30.7%.

Enigmatic RHP AJ Burnett will be reunited with catcher Russell Martin in the upcoming 2013 Pirates season.  Photo credit: usatoday.com

Enigmatic RHP AJ Burnett will be reunited with catcher Russell Martin in the upcoming 2013 Pirates season. Photo credit: usatoday.com

Disappointing Player: For all the hype and praise AJ Burnett has been given as an elite pitcher throughout his career, his stats haven’t been that impressive. He has played for four major league clubs, and his best season was arguably 2008 when he won 18 games for the Blue Jays with 231 strikeouts. But Burnett hasn’t had a season in the majors with an ERA less than 3.30, which for a franchise ace isn’t all that impressive. Burnett is expected to lead the Pirates on the mound this season, but AJ has rarely been dominant in his career. At 36 years old, AJ Burnett is perhaps past his prime, and needs to impress this year for Pittsburgh to make the playoffs.  He’ll need to prove last year’s switch to the NL wasn’t a fluke by limiting walks (83 in 2011 vs 62 in ’12) and by keeping the ball on the ground (49.2% vs 56.9% in Pittsburgh).

Bold Prediction: Pittsburgh will earn their first winning season in two decades, but won’t make the playoffs this year.

Chicago Cubs (61-101): Despite having the third-worst offense in the league and the second-worst record, one gets the feeling from Chicago that help is coming sooner, rather than later.  With President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein’s mantra that of a Buzz Lightyear mold–“To infinity and beyond”–relevancy through home-grown talent and a World Series, the Cubs had some things break their way despite the lack of wins.  It starts with youth, and for 22-year-old shortstop Starlin Castro, who stole 25 bags last year, knocked in almost 200 hits and led the league with 646 ABs.  Defensive-minded Darwin Barney (3.6 dWAR) won a gold glove and was a beacon of health, playing in 156 games, all the while much-maligned outfielder Alfonso Soriano switched to a lighter bat, become worthy in trade discussions again with a 32 homer 108-RBI campaign.  One of my all time favorites, Kerry Wood, decided to retire but will remain with the Cubs in a front office role.

The end of a Chicago legend, who just couldn't stay healthy.  Photo Credit: examiner.com

The end of a Chicago legend, who just couldn’t stay healthy. Photo Credit: examiner.com

To pump life in the outfield, which lost the speedy fan-favorite Tony Campana–who swiped 30 bags last year–to Arizona, the Cubs added Scott Hairston on a 2-year $5mm contract (.867 OPS against LHP last year) and Nate Schierholtz on a one-year $2.25mm deal (.826 OPS vs RHP in ’12).  As for their rotation, the Cubbies lost Harry Caray impersonator Ryan Dempster at last year’s deadline to the Rangers, then the Red Sox in the off-season on a two-year $26.5mm deal, declining fastball and all.  However, the Cubs added RHP Edwin Jackson (career 4.52 FIP) on a 4-year $52mm deal, as well as RHP Carlos Villanueva (4.16 ERA last year), RHP Scott Baker (3.45 FIP in ’12) and RHP Scott Feldman (3.81 FIP last year).  These signings are all complimented by the emergence of RHP Jeff Samardzija (9.27 K/9; 3.55 FIP) as well as RHP Matt Garza, the ultimate trading deadline chip, provided there’s no elbow issues (4.17 FIP in 18 starts).  Chicago also had the third worst pitching staff last year in ERA at 4.51 and though the offense may marginally improve, the rotation could see the ERA come down a little bit more so.  While most likely only winning 70-72 this year, the Cubs are definitely on the right track of rebuild.

Breakout Player: Originally going to be traded to the Angels for RHP Dan Haren, reliever Carlos Marmol blew three saves in 2012 (10 in 2011) and subsequently lost his closer’s gig but will return in said capacity for the Cubs in 2013.  Signing 31-year-old Kyuji Fujikawa of the Hanshin Tigers to a two-year $9.5mm deal with a signing bonus of $1mm with a vesting option of $5.5mm or $6mm depending on games finished, it is apparent Chicago brass had ideas of Fujikawa being the hose of Marmol’s house fire.  With Hanshin, Fujikawa had 24 saves in 2012, a career 5.43 SO/BB ratio and a WHIP of .86 in six seasons with the Tigers.  Granted, certain differences have to be taken into account over in Japan, such as a smaller ball, but Fujikawa clocks in at about 91-93 mph, and according to one scout, has a nasty breaking ball.  Look for Fujikawa to be a huge sensation in Chicago by mid-May.

 Disappointing Player: RHP Matt Garza, acquired from the Rays after the 2010 season, posted a strong 2011 campaign (4.9 WAR), Garza saw his HR/FB rate jump from 7.7% to 16.3% while his other peripherals stayed mostly the same.  Lasting only 18 starts last year due to elbow issues, Garza has been shut down due to a strained lat (shoulder) muscle which will hurt his value given the fact Garza proves to be the ultimate trade chip come July.  For the Cubs and their fans, they’d better hope Garza can stay healthy, cut back on the homers and put up numbers (2.95 FIP in 2011 vs 4.17 FIP last year) that resemble a no.2 starter, not a back-end guy.

Bold Prediction: The Cubs finish 2013 above the Brewers.

Surprises and Disappointments of the 2013 NHL Season

We are about a third of the way through the lockout-shortened, 48 game NHL season, and things are starting to settle into place. There have been many surprising performances so far, both good and poor. And while it may be too early to look at award candidates, here are some insights into the NHL thus far.

Buffalo's Thomas Vanek leads the NHL in goals (12) and total points (23). (Image Source: USA Today)

Buffalo’s Thomas Vanek leads the NHL in goals (12) and total points (23). (Image Source: USA Today)

Most Surprising Player (and MVP front-runner): Thomas Vanek, LW, Buffalo Sabres

Thomas Vanek has been on fire this season. He currently leads the NHL with 12 goals and 25 points for the underperforming Buffalo Sabres this season. Vanek has three games with two goals or more this season, and is scoring about once every four shots he takes. If the 29-year-old forward can continue this torrid scoring pace, he is likely to win the Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player.

Disappointing Superstar: Claude Giroux, C, Philadelphia Flyers

Last season was a breakout year for 25-year-old Claude Giroux; he scored 28 goals and finished third in the NHL with 93 points. He performed especially well in the playoffs for the Flyers, leading the team to an upset of the Pittsburgh Penguins and scoring 17 points in 10 games. This season, Giroux was named as the new Flyers captain, and expectations were incredibly high, but Giroux has struggled offensively. In 17 games, Giroux has just 13 points and a meager 5 goals. Philadelphia has struggled along with Giroux, currently sitting in 10th place in the Eastern Conference.

Best Netminder: Craig Anderson, G, Ottawa Senators

We saw a glimpse of Anderson’s ability in the Senators’ first round playoff series with the New York Rangers last season, and the 29-year-old American has continued to impress. Anderson leads the NHL in save percentage (.948) and is second in goals-allowed-average (1.61). He also has 7 wins this season, including two shutouts, and his excellent play has the Senators currently in a playoff spot.

Despite winning last year's Stanley Cup, Jonathan Quick and the Kings have struggled in 2013.

Despite winning last year’s Stanley Cup, Jonathan Quick and the Kings have struggled in 2013. (Image source: Associated Press)

Disappointing Team (and Goalie): Los Angeles Kings (Jonathan Quick)

It looks like the Kings are the latest victims of the famous “Stanley Cup hangover”. After hosting the Cup after a miraculous playoff run last June, the Kings have struggled to play good hockey this season. Playoff MVP Jonathan Quick has a save percentage under .900 (.895), and is a far cry from the stonewall he was in the playoffs last year. The Kings are 27th (fourth worst) in the league in goals scored (only 2.2 per game), and currently sit in second to last place in the Western Conference.

Most Surprising Team: Anaheim Ducks

Last season, the Ducks had just 80 points, and missed the playoffs for the second time in three years. Now, the Ducks have turned their team around, currently sitting atop the Pacific Division with 25 points. The main reason for their success has been goaltender Viktor Fasth, who has not lost a decision this season. In 9 games, Fasth is 8-0-0 with a .933 save percentage and a 1.76 goals-against average. With veteran leaders like Teemu Selanne, Ryan Getzlaf, and former MVP Corey Perry, the Ducks have all the tools to succeed in the NHL this year.

Sizing Up the National League East

Depending on who you ask, the National League East features some of baseball’s best talents, and as is the case in any division, an abundance of veterans mixed with the youth of tomorrow is apparent in this division.  Today’s topic is the National League East in what will be a weekly series recapping teams’ respective off-seasons as well as some predictions.

The gloves are off for Stephen Strasburg, who is expected to surpass the 200-inning plateau this season.  Photo Credit: sportsillustrated.cnn.com

The gloves are off for Stephen Strasburg, who is expected to surpass the 200-inning plateau this season. Photo Credit: sportsillustrated.cnn.com

  Washington Nationals (98-64 in 2012): For many pundits, the expectation for the baseball team in  nation’s capital was a matter of when, not if, the Nationals would become a legitimate powerhouse.  Perhaps a little too soon by experts standards, the Nationals made it to Game 5 on the NLDS against St. Louis where an epic bullpen meltdown was their demise.     To address the issue, the Nationals signed former Yankees closer Rafael Soriano to a 2-year $14mm deal.  Also acquired was Twins’ center fielder Denard Span, owner of a .357 career OBP, averaging 25 steals a year.  For speed came the cost of power, as following a 2-year $24mm pact (mutual option for 2015) with gold-glove winner first baseman Adam LaRoache, popular outfielder Michael Morse was deemed expendable and sent to Seattle in return for Oakland’s pitching prospect A.J. Cole, the center-piece of the deal that brought pitcher Gio Gonzalez to Washington a year prior.  Seattle also sent catcher John Jaso to Oakland.  Featuring a rotation of stability, the Nationals figure to have Stephen Strasburg for more than the 159.1 IP in 2012, where his K/9 was an amazing 11.13.  Washington’s rotation lost Edwin Jackson (4.03 ERA; 3.85 FIP) but gained former Angels RHP Dan Haren on a one-year $13mm deal (Career 3.66 ERA; 3.64 FIP).

Breakout (And Disappointing) Performer: Tied into this team’s bold prediction, outfielder Tyler Moore has an ISO of .250 last year; 19 XBHs in 75 games.  Stretched into a full season, that’s over 28 homers.  A baseball season wouldn’t be complete without someone under performing and a season-ending injury, and my belief is that Bryce Harper could see some time in AAA this year. In July of 2012, Harper slowed down, featuring a .222/.306/.313 line.  This team will probably win anywhere between 97-101 games.

Atlanta Braves (94-68 in 2012):  For the first time since 1990, the Atlanta Braves will be without the name Chipper Jones gracing some aspect of their organization.  For the first ballot ., he managed a .287/.377/.455 line at 40-years old.  However, it won’t be fan favorite and contact hitter Martin Prado manning the position, as the Braves acquired outfielder Justin Upton from the Diamondbacks a few weeks ago, as well as third baseman Chris Johnson, expected to platoon with Juan Francisco (.477 against RHP).  Signing Justin’s speed-oriented brother B.J. back in November to a 5-year, $75mm deal, the Atlanta Braves outfield has historic potential.  It’s all a matter of whether or not there is an element of potential and “pushing each other” as the Uptons put it, or whether or not the Uptons’ lackadaisical approach takes shape in Atlanta.  For both BJ and Justin, rumors of such dormancy have plagued them for some time.  Also lost was back-up catcher David Ross, replaced by Gerald Laird.  The 35-year-old Ross, considered the best back-up in the game by many, signed a 2-year $6.2mm deal with the Boston Red Sox in November.  In 2010, Ross had his best season as a Bravo, hitting .289/.392/.479 in 59 games.  His loss becomes magnified by the fact that catcher Gerald Laird (signed by Atlanta to a 2-year, $3mm deal) has a meager .359 slugging percentage, and catcher Brian McCann (a free agent-to-be in 2014) saying he “isn’t sure” when he will start hitting following shoulder surgery.

The Braves outfield in 2013 and beyond. Justin Upton, left; Jason Heyward center; B.J. Upton, right. Photo Credit: David O'Brien (@ajcbraves)

The Braves outfield in 2013 and beyond. Justin Upton, left; Jason Heyward center; B.J. Upton, right. Photo Credit: David O’Brien (@ajcbraves)

Starting pitching has also been a strength for Atlanta since the days of Maddux-Smoltz-Glavine, and this off-season they traded away Tommy Hanson’s ticking time-bomb of a shoulder to the Los Angeles Angels for hard- throwing reliever Jordan Walden.  Slotting into the back-end of that bullpen with closer Craig Kimbrel leading the way will allow Atlanta’s starting pitchers (Medlen, Hudson, Maholm, Minor, Teheran with Beachy coming back) some ease of mind. Earlier this week, speedy outfielder Michael Bourn agreed to a 4-year, $48mm deal with the Cleveland Indians.  Obviously, Bourn was expendable with the two Upton brothers manning the outfield together, but between Bourn, B.J. Upton and Heyward, the Braves could have seen a drastic uptick of stolen bases, as their 2012 team was just under the league average (108) at 101 stolen bases.  The potential of Justin Upton, however, is a must.

Breakout Performer: While I’m not picking one of the sexy names in Justin or B.J. Upton, Mike Minor seems poised for more success following his second half rejuvenation.  In 14 starts (87.1 IP) following the All-Star Break, Minor posted a 2.16 ERA, a 4.19 SO/BB ratio and a .87 WHIP.  Kris Medlen’s 120 strikeouts to 23 walks is also absurdly good, but for Minor, the numbers posted in the second half could quietly make him one of the game’s best no. 3 starters for 2013.

Disappointing Player: Brian McCann saw his OPS drop to a career-low .698 last year, and following shoulder surgery, McCann’s production could be unknown.  His OBP was unspectacular (.318 vs RHP; .265 vs LHP).  For McCann, it all comes down to his shoulder.

Bold Prediction: The Braves play the Cardinals again in the wildcard format in St. Louis, only for the infield-fly rule to come back at Busch Stadium.  Atlanta will probably win around 93-95 games.

Philadelphia Phillies (81-81 in 2012): Following a 21-win drop-off from 2011, the Phillies perhaps face the most questions out of anyone in this division.  Is Roy Halladay healthy? What’s their defense like? How’s the bullpen with the addition of set-up man Mike Adams  to a  3-year $18mm deal (52.1 IP and a WHIP of 1.395)?  Losing outfielder Hunter Pence in a trade with the San Francisco Giants, center fielder Shane Victorino to the Dodgers (then Red Sox on a 3-year $39mm deal), and replacing Joe Blanton with Nationals cast-off LHP John Lannan on a one-year $2.5mm deal, the Phillies only have three regulars in their lineup from last year (Keep in mind Carlos Ruiz faces a 25-game suspension for Adderall use): Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Jimmy Rollins.  Ironic.  Lannan owns a 53% ground-ball and was stashed in Triple-A last year, posting a 4.30 ERA in 148 2/3 IP.  Former third baseman Placido Polanco and speedy outfielder Juan Pierre left for the Miami Marlins (more on that later).  Replacing Victorino, and to a lesser extent, Juan Pierre as well, the Phillies acquired Minnesota Twins’ outfielder Ben Revere for Vance Worley and top prospect Trevor May to be the everyday center fielder.  There’s no doubt Revere can swipe bases–40 in 2012–but had a meager .333 OBP with literally no pop; 19 XBHs with 0 major league home runs.  For Revere, Charlie Manuel’s preference for Jimmy Rollins in the lead-off spot will probably have Revere batting lower in the order to start the season at leaast.  However, his 2.4 WAR will probably offset the addition Michael Young’s -2.4 WAR, who was, statistically speaking, the worst full-time player in the majors last year.  Posting a .277/.312/.370 line last year with a dWAR of -2.2, Young was acquired by Philadelphia to be their everyday third baseman in early December for reliever Josh Lindblom (acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Victorino trade) and minor league pitcher Lisalverto Bonilla.  At 36, Young’s career-low .682 OPS begs the question of whether or not Young’s best days are behind him, and according to GM Ruben Amaro Jr., the Phillies feel position stability will help Young’s production, but it’s worth noting he hasn’t played third base regularly since 2010.  On the subject of defensive liabilities, the Phillies also signed another Young, Delmon, to be the everyday right fielder on a one-year, $750,000 contract.  The former first-round pick, suspended last year for an anti-semantic rant in New York, will have weigh-in clauses, subject to the team’s choosing  in his contract.  Worth -0.9 WAR last year, Delmon Young, who hasn’t played right field regularly since 2007 with the Tampa Bay Rays, had a .296 OBP, and struck out 112 times.  Left field figures to be a competition between apparent Phillies cast-off Domonic Brown and power phenom Darin Ruf, a converted first baseman.  Realistically, this team could total anywhere between mid-70s and to mid-80 wins.  It all comes down to pitching, again.  Cliff Lee, despite the pathetic six wins, had nice peripherals, and Cole Hamels had a career year.  If Halladay’s fastball slows to the 87-89 range, look out.  If he pulls a Mike Mussina and learns to locate more often, then a wildcard isn’t out of the question.

Breakout Player: Darin Ruf had three homers in 12 games last year, and while it’s unrealistic to expect the .394 ISO carrying through a full season, it’s possible he could hit 20-25 homers, especially considering most teams still have not seen the player.  At the league minimum, this would certainly be a bargain.  Again, the issue here is defense, but if he hits, the critics will quiet.

Since the 2010 NLCS against the San Francisco Giants, Howard's career has seemingly started the downward bell curve.  Photo credit:

Since the 2010 NLCS against the San Francisco Giants, Howard’s career has seemingly started the downward bell curve. Photo credit:

Disappointing Player: Recently named to the third-worst contract in all of baseball, Ryan Howard’s decline has been swift, and at this point, one can start to wonder if a platoon would almost be more effective.  Coming off an Achillies injury, Howard posted a weak .219/.295/.423 line in 2012 in 71 games, good for 14 home runs.  The main issue with Howard has been his effectiveness, or lack thereof, against left-handed pitching.  Owner of a career .739 OPS against LHP, Howard hit .173/.226/.378 against southpaws in 2012.  For a player making $25mm annually, improvements must be made.

Bold Prediction: Darin Ruf out-homers Chase Utley this season, and Carlos Ruiz is traded at the deadline.

New York Mets (74-88): For the Mets, another season of irrelevance in perhaps baseball’s biggest market took place.  The biggest acquisition this offseason wasn’t a signing, but rather a trade, unpopular by many, yet necessary for the future.  Trading National League Cy Young Award Winner R.A. Dickey to the Toronto Blue Jays along with catchers Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas, the Mets received a cornerstone piece in Travis D’Arnaud, the highly-regarded catching prospect originally sent to Toronto for Roy Halladay; as well as a stop-gap option catcher in John Buck, RHP Noah Syndergaard and minor league outfielder Wuilmer Becerra.  For the Mets, D’Arnaud’s addition might not serve importance for the upcoming 2013 season, but a core of D’Arnaud, pitching prospect Zack Wheeler and Matt Harvey (Who earned his cup of coffee in 2012) could potentially be right up there with the youth of the Washington Nationals sooner rather than later.  To fill the void left by Dickey, the Mets signed RHP Shaun Marcum to a one-year $4mm deal with another $4mm in incentives.  Marcum posted a 3.70 ERA with a 35.4% groundball rate, which given Citi Field’s spacious dimensions, could still benefit Marcum, who pitched to 124 innings last year before being shut down with elbow tightness.  For Marcum, plenty of balls will need to be caught in the outfield, and though they were in on Michael Bourn, the Mets outfield is a little uncertain from an everyday playing perspective.  With names like Lucas Duda, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Collin Cowgill and Mike Baxter, platoons would be ideal:  Duda struggled mightily last year leading to time in Triple-A; Cowgill had a .510 OPS against RHP; Nieuwhenhuis had a .315 OBP and Baxter hit .048/.200/.095 against LHP last year.  The lack of production has led the Mets to sign former Red Sox outfielder Marlon Byrd to a minor league deal as well as Corey Patterson and Mike Wilson.  Andres Torres was non-tendered, while Jason Bay and the Mets mutually parted ways much-maligned outfielder Jason Bay.  Yes, they still owe him the remaining $21mm on his contract.  Relievers have been hunted in the bargain bin as well.  40-year old LaTroy Hawkins and his 4.9 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9. was signed to a minor league deal while Brandon Lyon earned an incentive-heavy one-year major league contract for the Metropolitans.  Recently, manager Terry Collins said Bobby Parnell, he of the 100-mph fastball, is his favorite for the closer’s job with Frank Francisco’s injury history.   The best news for Mets fans, however came when third baseman and face of the franchise, David Wright agreed to an 8-year $138mm deal in mid-December, keeping Wright a Met for life.  The franchise leader in WAR, runs scored, hits, total bases, doubles, walks, strikeouts, and extra base hits, the deal is front-loaded with the six-time All-Star receiving $12mm in 2020.  Wright has seen his OPS drop since moving to Citi Field for half the season, but 2012 he posted his highest OPS–.883–since his 2007 age-24 season.  While this team’s outfield could be historically bad, this team has a lot of right pieces for the future, and will probably finish in the 72-78 win range again.

Ike Davis needs to rebound from his .246 BABIP campaign in 2012.  Photo Credit: Getty Images/Huffington Post

Ike Davis needs to rebound from his .246 BABIP campaign in 2012. Photo Credit: Getty Images/Huffington Post

Breakout Player: Prior to breaking his ankle in 2011 and missing the rest of the season, first baseman Ike Davis had a BABIP of .344 in 36 games.  Despite last year’s .246 BABIP, Davis had a nice half; .255/.346/.542 in 75 games, still eclipsing the 30-homer mark with 32 home runs in a full season.  Would 40 home runs be out of the equation? Perhaps not.  It’s possible the low BABIP was fueled by Davis’ Valley Fever.

Disappointing Player: A defensive liability in right field, Lucas Duda was sent down to Triple-A in late July after posting a .493 OPS that month.  With the previous outfield names already mentioned, Duda is going to have to out-hit his defense issues, and fast.  A return to his rookie campaign in which he hit 10 homers and had a .852 OPS in 100 games would be pretty spectacular, but at 27, time really isn’t on his side, either.

Bold Prediction: The Mets will be 10 games behind at the All-Star Break, and manager Terry Collins, a lame duck manager, will be fired and replaced by Mets fan favorite Wally Backman.  The 2013 All-Star Game will be Citi Field’s Saving Grace.

Miami Marlins (69-93): What a mess of a year for the Marlins. Just when things were looking up for the South Florida franchise, owner Jeffrey Loria decided to break up his team. Prior to the 2012 season, the Marlins changed their identity from the Florida Marlins to the Miami Marlins, opened a state of the art $600 million stadium complete with aquarium backstops, changed their colors to reflect Miamian culture, and signed great players. The Fish landed Mets SS Jose Reyes off of the free agent market in a 6 year, $106 million contract, acquired pitchers Mark Buehrle, Heath Bell and Carlos Zambrano, and hired former White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen to lead the team. A year later, none of these players remain. The Marlins traded franchise player Hanley Ramirez to the Dodgers in July for two pitching prospects. The Marlins also shipped Reyes, Buehrle, ace Josh Johnson, catcher John Buck, and infielder Emilio Bonifacio to Toronto for Yunel Escobar and prospect players. The only player remaining from last season’s starting lineup is outfielder Giancarlo Stanton. Filling Heath Bell’s closer shoes is RHP Steve Cishek, who had 15 saves last season with a 2.69 ERA.  The side-armer Cishek struck out 68 in 63.2 IP and held RHBs to a .185/.266/.282 line in 2012.  Former Phillies Juan Pierre and Placido Polanco also joined the club this offseason as free agents. Loria also fired Guillen, and has received much criticism for poor ownership and management of the club.

 

Really, is there anyone else to pick? Photo credit: sportsillustrated.cnn.com

Really, is there anyone else to pick? Photo credit: sportsillustrated.cnn.com

Breakout Player: There’s not a better player on this Marlins squad than Giancarlo Stanton. The 23-year-old outfielder broke out last season with a .290 batting average, 37 home runs, and 86 RBIs. On a team with few star players, Stanton has the opportunity to prove that he is one of the best sluggers in baseball. Look for Stanton and his career .282 ISO to put up better numbers this year if he can stay healthy.

Disappointing Player: Placido Polanco didn’t play in Miami in 2012, but his season was still disappointing. Hampered by injuries, Polanco played just 90 games for Philadelphia, worth 0.3 WAR, his worst mark since his 1998 rookie season. Polanco is 37 years old, and nearing the end of his career. He will only continue to get older and more susceptible to injury, so look for Polanco’s numbers to match those of 2012.

Bold Prediction: The Marlins will not sell out a single game this season, and will finish with the worst record in the National League. Maybe it would be even bolder to predict a sellout or two?  This team could maybe– a big maybe–win 65.

Michael Vick, Eagles Negotiate New Contract

vick

Michael Vick took a $5.5 million pay cut to remain in Philadelphia for the 2013-14 season.

Michael Vick is still the man in Philadelphia. Earlier today, the Eagles signed Vick to a new one year contract to remain as the franchise’s starting quarterback. Vick will be the center of a new, remodeled offense for Philadelphia under first year head coach Chip Kelly, who arrived in Philadelphia after coaching the University of Oregon for four seasons.

Vick has had his share of headlines in the NFL. The former Virginia Tech QB was selected by the Atlanta Falcons with the first overall pick in the 2001 NFL Draft. After four season of dynamic playmaking with the Falcons, Vick earned a ten-year, $130 million dollar extension in 2005. Two years later, Vick was charged with felonies in an interstate dog fighting ring he operated out of his Virginia home. Vick was ordered to pay back more than $20 million in salary bonuses to the Atlanta Falcons, and served 23 months in federal prison.

In 2009, the Eagles took a chance on Vick out of prison and signed him to a 1 year, $1.6 million deal. After the departure of longtime Eagles QB Donovan McNabb and prospect Kevin Kolb, Vick assumed the starting role. In two seasons as the Eagles’ starter, Vick has thrown for 6,321 yards, scoring 39 touchdowns and throwing 20 interceptions. A dynamic mobile quarterback, Vick has also run for more than 1,200 yards and ten touchdowns. In August 2011, Vick and the Eagles agreed to a 6 year, $100 million dollar contract.

The new contract will replace the $100 million dollar deal signed in 2011. Vick will earn about $10 million this season, down from the $15.5 million in base salary he would have earned under the old contract. More importantly, the Eagles retain the type of player essential for success with Chip Kelly’s offense.

Kelly will bring a high-powered, no-huddle, speed-oriented offense to Philadelphia. His Oregon teams were known for their speed and explosiveness, especially from quarterbacks like Dennis Dixon and Marcus Mariota, and running backs like LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner. Vick provides the speed and mobility at QB, and with versatile athletes like LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin, and Desean Jackson surrounding him, look for Vick to lead the Eagles on plenty of scoring drives this season. Philadelphia got their new coach, and now they have the perfect quarterback to run the offense.

The Curse of #1

Indiana was the latest victim of an upset of a #1 team when they lost to Illinois on February 7. (Photo Source: AP Photo/John Dixon)

Indiana was the latest victim of an upset of a #1 team when they lost to Illinois on February 7. (Photo Source: AP Photo/John Dixon)

The number one ranking in college basketball is something every team strives for. The ranking carries a legacy of elite programs and championship teams. Four teams have held the #1 ranking this season, but nobody seems to stay at the top. In the past month, several teams have had the chance to prove their supremacy, and the result has been a comedy of errors.

Duke held the #1 ranking for four weeks from December 17th to January 13th. On January 12th, the 20th ranked NC State Wolfpack defeated the Blue Devils 84-76 to kick off a crazy month in college basketball. The next week, Louisville (then 15-1) took over the top spot and lost at home in the final seconds to #6 Syracuse five days later. Earlier that week #2 Indiana lost to Wisconsin, so Duke once again took the #1 ranking. Well, that didn’t last long; Duke suffered its worst loss in years to #25 Miami, 90-63.

Enter Michigan. The Wolverines gained the top spot in the AP Poll on January 28th with a 19-1 record. Their reign only lasted five days, as they lost at #3 Indiana 81-73. And to add more fun to the story, #2 Kansas (then 19-1) lost to unranked Oklahoma State, starting a three game skid that continued this past week against TCU and Oklahoma.

Last week, #1 Indiana was shocked by Illinois with a buzzer-beating layup by Illinois’ Tyler Griffey. That gave #2 Florida (then 19-2) an open path to the top spot….which they conveniently blew by losing to unranked Arkansas by 11 points. Ok, how about #3 Michigan? They too lost this week to unranked Wisconsin to drop to 21-3. With #5 Kansas on a free fall out of the Top 5, that left #4 Duke with a chance to regain the top spot. They ALMOST blew it, escaping with a 1 point victory over Boston College last night. And on top of all that fun, #25 Notre Dame beat #11 Louisville 104-101 in FIVE OVERTIMES Saturday night.

That leaves Duke with the likelihood of regaining the top spot in the AP Poll once again. The Blue Devils (currently 21-2)  have no walk in the park this week either. North Carolina (16-7) visits Cameron Indoor Stadium Wednesday night in the Battle of Tobacco Road, and then Duke travels to Maryland (17-7) on Saturday. We could see teams such as Miami (19-3) and Gonzaga (23-2) vault into the top 5 this week.