Major League Baseball’s Most Surprising Teams at the All-Star Break

American League:

Boston Red Sox (57-37 1st place in AL EAST)

Now who saw this coming? After an abysmal 69 win season the Red Sox have completely turned it around. They only need 12 more wins to match their wins from last season. The difference between this season and last is that every player “wants to play all out” for John Farrell. Before being signed as manager this season, Farrell managed the Toronto Blue Jays, and before that he was the Sox pitching coach. Besides the improved pitching (mainly Clay Bucholtz) the Sox boast the league’s top offense. The Sox are second in the majors in batting average, first in runs scored, first in slugging and first in on base percentage. This team has a new grind it out mentality, and will be exciting to watch once October comes around. Let’s hope they continue to maintain their pace in the very competitive AL East.

 

Cleveland Indians (48-44 2nd Place AL Central)

Cleveland is another surprising team that is in contention heading into the All-Star break. Managed by former Red Sox manager Terry Francona, the team has adopted his style of play: a grind it out style, as indicated by their record and statistics. The Indians are in the middle of the pack in all categories including: hitting, pitching and fielding. Do statistics tell the tale? The Indians sit 2.5 games back of Detroit, one of the favorites to come out of the American League. One will question if the Indians will be able to remain in contention throughout the remainder of the season closely behind Detroit.

National League:

Washington Nationals (47-45 2nd place NL EAST)

After clinching baseball’s best record of 98-64 last season, even by limiting ace Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals caught the league by storm. That brought even higher expectations this year, after being seen as a contender with the additions of center fielder Denard Span, and pitchers Gio Gonzalez, Rafael Soriano, and Dan Haren. This team was supposed to be better than last year’s, so why are they only 2 games above .500 baseball?  They are in the middle of the pack in almost every hitting category, are in the top half of the league in pitching, but their defense has been dreadful. If the team gets back to their form from last year, they will be in contention for the playoffs, even playing sub-par baseball for half the season and only being 6 games back behind the Atlanta Braves who started the season on a blistering hot streak.

Pittsburgh Pirates (54-36 2nd place NL Central)

After last season’s impressive and surprising first half, the Pirates headed into the second half of the season with the playoffs in their sights. After a 2nd half collapse, the Pirates stand in the same position as last year, but this year is different. This year the Pirates have loftier expectations. The pitching has improved, and has survived their rash of injuries, yet maintained a high level of baseball throughout the first half. One of the most underrated signings this year MUST be Francisco Liriano; he has pitched great for the Pirates with a 9-3 record with a 2.00 ERA. The main question coming into the season was their offense, and who would be able to help Andrew McCutchen carry the load. Starling Marte and Pedro Alvarez have helped carry the load so far this season. The offense is in the middle of the pack in almost all hitting categories, but with the good pitching the Pirates stay in contention in the highly competitive NL Central. They lead the league in opponents average and whip. If this trend continues after the break, I expect the Pirates to make the playoffs and even contend in the National League.

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Ilya Kovalchuk: A Surprising Retirement

Ilya Kovalchuk will return to play hockey in his native Russia in 2013. (Image Source: Getty Images)

Ilya Kovalchuk will return to play hockey in his native Russia in 2013. (Image Source: Getty Images)

One of the most explosive, fastest skaters in the game just retired from the game of hockey to go back to his home country Russia. Only 30 years old, Ilya Kovalchuk decided to retire with a whopping 12 years $77 million remaining on his 15 year $100 million contract he signed with the New Jersey Devils back in 2010. He was the centerpiece of the New Jersey Devils (besides future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur) for the past four seasons leading the Devils to a surprising run to the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals losing to the Los Angelos Kings in 6 games.

Over his career he had scored 417 goals and registered 816 points in 816 career games for 2 teams. Kovalchuk was the first overall pick back in 2001 by the Atlanta Thrashers (when Atlanta actually had a hockey team). On March 20th, 2012 Kovalchuk was the 87th player to record 400 goals while with the Devils. With the Devils Kovalchuk scored 89 goals, 112 assists for a total of 201 points. The next question after this surprising news, is what do the devils do? Over the last 2 years the Devils have lost 3 of their top players, Kovalchuk to retirement, David Clarkson and Zach Parise to free agency. If this is the beginning to things to come for the Devils, who’s the next to go, Brodeur? The Devils management now has questions to answer during the season. Do they try to contend for the cup within the next few years, or do they rebuild due to this shocking retirement?

Let’s hear your comments.

New Fantasy Football Keeper Rule

Let’s say you’re a big fantasy football player, and you play with the same players in the same league every season. Instead of playing in a keeper league, this new rule will help one try to determine what player they believe will have a good season the next year.

Four years ago in my high school league, my friend and I came up with a new keeper rule. It was unlike any other keeper league or keeper rule I was aware of, and it made the league interesting as we had to pick a “sleeper” player on our team to keep for our team the next season. The catch to this rule was based off of limitations for the players you can choose to keep. What I mean by this limitation is that we set up the rule based off of a players draft position and players ranking at the end of the season in terms of points.

The limitations were different for each position in our starting lineup. For example, ever since my friend and I created we set up the limitation that one cannot keep a quarterback that was drafted in the top 10 or finished top 10 in points at the end of the season, for running back top 20, wide receiver top 15, tight end top 5 and one can keep any defense and kicker. This rule has kept the league interesting as it adds a new type of thinking to predict what sleeper will have an even better season the next season.

If one is ever looking for a change up in their fantasy football leagues, this is it. I now run my own leagues in college and implement this rule and it seems to be working really well so far. Play this new exciting style of fantasy football that will be sure to challenge your players this season.

Boston Celtics Rebuilding Quicker Than You Think

Everyone knows the Celtics are starting their rebuilding process going into the 2013-14 NBA season. They traded away their two franchise stats in Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, along Jason Terry to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for Gerald Wallace (with 3 years $30 million left on his contract), Kris Humphries, Marshon Brooks, Keith Bogans and 3 first round picks in 2014, 2016, and 2018. From the outside, it looks as though the Celtics are starting from scratch. However, take a closer look at this team. Ask yourself: Do you see the Celtics losing enough to have a chance to get a lottery pick or even Jabari Parker or Andrew Wiggins in next year’s draft?

The Celtics are still without a coach at the moment. I am not so sure that this team won’t be able to get to the playoffs, yet alone make a run in the playoffs even without the likes of Pierce, Garnett and Doc Rivers. You might read articles talking about the rebuilding process and how next season is already lost, but you have to motivate your players to play the right way for the full 82 game season. Again, I am not so sure that the players on the current roster will believe that. I know they still think they can win. The Celtics got draft picks, which is what they wanted, but they also cleared cap space to even sign a marquee free agent, like a Josh Smith, Paul Milsap, or even Al Jefferson.

The Celtics have a very interesting team coming into this year and if they sign a coach like Lionel Hollins, I won’t be surprised if this year’s team does just as well as last year’s. With Hollins as a coach, this team will play strong, hard defense. This team will be one of the better defensive teams in the NBA, especially with Avery Bradley, one of the NBA’s elite defenders. If Rajon Rondo comes back to his form from two years ago, he can be that elite point guard. He is the player who the Celtics are building around for the future. Pair that back court together, with Courtney Lee coming off the bench and you have one of the best if not the best defensive backcourt in the league.

Let’s say the Celtics sign Hollins and sign Josh Smith. This team would be a fun athletic team to watch. With Jared Sullinger, Smith, Jeff Green, Bradley and Rondo, Boston would have a strong defensive unit that would be able to get up and down the court. The Celtics would transition to an athletic defensive minded team that would mainly be able to score in transition from easy baskets. Coming off the bench, Brandon Bass and Marshon Brooks will actually play defense under Hollins. Combine him with Kelly Olynyk, the Celtics first round draft pick, and you have guys who can stretch the floor that will thrive under this system. Again this is just one possibility, and there is only one guarantee I have for this year’s Celtics team: this team will be fun to watch.