2014 World Series Preview

By: Sam Kluender

It has all come down to this. The representatives for the National League and the American League in the Fall Classic are the San Francisco Giants and the Kansas City Royals. In what has been a very suspenseful and more so surprising postseason the two teams that have made it to the World Series matchup probably in the least likely scenario. That is what makes baseball so great. The 2014 postseason has been very entertaining and the ratings have shown that. Almost every game this postseason has been close and tension filled. There has been a void, however, that baseball fans haven’t experienced in a while and that is no close series. While the games have been great, there have been no game 6 or 7’s and have only been one game 5. Could this be the series that changes that?

Someone could say this series is sort of a David vs Goliath story. It definitely seems like it in certain aspects. The Giants have won two World Series in the past 4 years and have been a perennial power house. While the Giants actually had a slightly worse record than the Royals in 2014, many experts and fans thought the Giants were the better team and would fare better in the playoffs. The Royals haven’t followed through with that storyline. The team that was considered an underdog has shown just how good they really are. They’ve played so good that they haven’t lost a game yet this postseason and have joined only the 1976 Reds and 2007 Rockies as the only teams to begin a post season winning seven straight games. If they continue the streak, they have a chance to become the only team to win a World Series and not lose a game in the postseason. Here are the pitching matchups as scheduled thus far:

Game 1: Madison Bumgarner(2.98 ERA) vs James Shields(3.32 ERA)

Game 2: Jake Peavy(3.73 ERA) vs Yordano Ventura(3.20 ERA)

Game 3: Tim Hudson(3.57 ERA) vs Jason Vargas(3.71 ERA)

Game 4: Ryan Vogelsong(4.00 ERA) vs Jeremy Guthrie(4.13 ERA)

The Royals will have home field advantage for the World Series thanks to the American League winning the All Star Game this year. As always, game 1 will be very important and will put the winner if very good position. What to watch in game 1 is how James Shields will bounce back. The ace of the Royals has struggled this postseason giving up 10 runs in 3 games. It was announced earlier than Shields had passed a kidney stone during the ALCS. It may have been the reason for his struggles but he claims it had no effect on his pitching. While Shields have struggled, the rest of their starters have been really good and is largely the reason why they are in this position. The Giants starters have also been equally as good apart from Ryan Vogelsong. Jake Peavy, who has had a reputation of struggling in the playoffs has pitched phenomenally with a 1.86 ERA. One player to watch is pitcher Danny Duffy. The 25 year old was the Royals best pitcher in the regular season but has since been placed in the bullpen. If an injury occurs or the Royals are despite, Duffy could be a huge weapon.

The Giants bats have definitely been in a slump in the playoffs, but have come up with timely hits. As a team the Giants have only hit .244 and a .313 OBP. Their home run numbers are also low with only 5 home runs. The pitching will only get tougher facing the Kansas City Royals so something will have to change. The Giants do have different makers like MVP candidate Buster Posey, Hunter Pence and others. If one or more of those players can get hot, it will pay huge dividends. The Royals have been better on the offensive side hitting just under .260. Add to that the 13 steals the team has and they are in really good shape. Eric Hosmer has played like a hall of famer thus far batting over .440 and a 1.314 OPS.

Given the long rest from the ALCS and NLCS to game 1 of the World Series, both bullpens should be fresh and ready to go. Don’t be surprised to see either team using their top relievers in more unconventional spots if the game is tied or they are losing. With the long rest and day off on Thursday, anyone but the long relievers should be able to go every game if needed. The Royals scary 7/8/9 bullpen arms have continued their great play from the regular season to the playoffs. Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland have combined for a 1.05 ERA. 7th inning man Kelvin Herrera has a 1.08 ERA, Wade Davis with a 0.96 ERA, and their All Star closer Greg Holland with a 1.13 ERA and 6 saves. The Giants back end has also been phenomenal with Javier Lopez, Jeremy Affeldt, Sergio Romo, and Santiago Casilla have only given up 1 earned run combined. For both teams it seems like one the game goes to the bullpen it’s over.

In the end, someone will be crowned the winner. Either the Giants will continue their string of postseason success and will win their 3rd World Series in the past 5 years. The Royals could end their World Series drought of almost 30 years and stun the baseball world. The great defense of the Royals outfield will be a huge plus this series, especially when they head over to AT&T Park. Everything I’ve seen from the Royals this postseason has shown me that they are a really good team and can win a WS.

Prediction: Royals in 6

Golson's Game

By: Joel Norman

Nearly two years ago, Everett Golson did something that he hasn’t done since; lose a game. On January 7, 2013 in Miami, Florida the Alabama Crimson Tide obliterated the Notre Dame Fighting Irish 42-14 in the BCCS Championship Game. The Irish’s dream undefeated season was not to be.

After missing all of the 2013 football season due to academic reasons, Golson is back and so too might be the Irish. The 2014 squad, while nowhere near as deep as the 2012 squad, has started this season 6-0 and has similar hopes as that team that just fell short. With Golson gone for 2013, Tommy Rees lead the team, but he was never the right fit for head coach Brian Kelly’s offense and the Irish’s 9-4 record was not good enough. Now that Golson is back, things have gone smoothly so far, but #5 Notre Dame will play their first “road game” of the year when they travel back to Florida for the first time since that fateful championship game to take on the defending champion Florida State Seminoles.

This game is all about Everett Golson. Jameis Winston has been talked about all week with the autograph controversy but if Winston plays on Saturday then everyone knows what to expect out of him. Winston has won the big games and taking on an opponent that is ranked below his Seminoles is nothing new. Golson has not proved himself enough in his time with the Irish. In the four games that Notre Dame played ranked opponents in 2012, Golson threw for two touchdowns and two interceptions all in all.

The whole 2012 season for Golson is hard to summarize, but bipolar might be the word that does it the most justice. His twelve touchdowns and six interceptions only partially describe how uncertain the Notre Dame fan base was about him, but the team kept winning so a change couldn’t be made. Each week seemed to bring out a new Golson and every so often Rees would have to come in to save Golson’s butt. While playing strong in games against Miami and Oklahoma, Golson would look average in games against Michigan and Navy.

Golson’s best game as Notre Dame’s quarterback was this season’s opener against unranked Rice when he threw for 295 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 41 yards and three touchdowns. While he has taken a huge step forward this season, things have not gone well as of late with him throwing four interceptions in the past three games.

Though he has only one loss to his name, Golson has been in plenty of close games with Notre Dame. Notre Dame’s senior quarterback has won seven games decided by seven or fewer points. The game on Saturday should be high scoring due to the extraordinary quarterbacks on both teams and the ordinary defenses of both teams that allow about 350 yard per game. Notre Dame might possess an x-factor in cornerback Cole Luke who has three interceptions in only two games this year. Keeping up with the points that FSU puts up is critical for Golson if the Irish want a shot at an upset.

In 2012, Golson struggled with consistency, but he has completely flipped the script this year. Arguably possessing the best quarterback in the nation besides Winston that can run and throw exceptionally, Notre Dame is going to be back in a big bowl game this year. Starting this Saturday, things are tough from here on out with games against Arizona State and USC awaiting. Golson needs to have the best game of his career and show that he can play consistent and beat a team that is better than him like he did when he beat Michigan State.  

Be sure to check follow @SportsHeaven2 on Twitter and "like" Sports Heaven on Facebook for a different view on sports. 

NLCS Preview: San Francisco Giants vs. St. Louis Cardinals

Unlike the ALCS, this year’s NLCS is comprised of teams who are no strangers to this type of stage. The St. Louis Cardinals will face off against the San Francisco Giants for a chance to go to the World Series. Both the Cardinals and Giants have had more success in the playoffs recently than every other team. In the past 14 years, this will be the Cardinals 9th NLCS appearance and the Giants 4rd. No other team has more than 3 appearances. In fact, with both teams in the NLCS again, this will mean that 2014 will be the 5th year in a row that the NL World Series team will be the Giants or Cardinals. The Cardinals were in the World Series in 2013 and winning in 2011. The Giants won in 2012 and 2010.

Even though no one is really shocked that these teams have made it this far, it was still unlikely for this scenario to play out. The Giants won steamrolled through the Pirates at PNC Park in the Wild Card game and defeated the NL’s best team in the Washington Nationals in 4 games. The Cardinals went to LA to face the Dodgers and beat them in 4 games. With winning the NL Central, the Cardinals will hold home field advantage and host game 1 and 2 and game 6 and 7 if necessary. As of right now, the pitching matchups are as follows:

Game 1: Madison Bumgarner(2.98 ERA) vs. Adam Wainwright(2.38 ERA)

Game 2: Jake Peavy(3.73 ERA) vs Lance Lynn(2.74 ERA)

Game 3: Tim Hudson (3.57 ERA) vs John Lackey(3.82 ERA)

Game 4: Ryan Vogelsong(4.00 ERA) vs Shelby Miller(3.74 ERA)

The rotations are lined up with both teams #1-4 matching up against each other. Normally any game Wainwright starts the Cardinals should be favorites. Although there is some worry around Cardinal Nation about game 1. For one, Bumgarner is no easy matchup and is one of the NL’s best pitchers. More importantly though is the fact that Adam Wainwright reportedly aggravated an injury in his elbow in his last start. He is going to pitch game 1, but there are question marks on how much it will affect his game. In Game 2, the Cardinals definitely have the advantage in starting pitching. Lance Lynn has quietly had one of the best seasons of any pitcher and it’s going unnoticed. His 2.74 ERA ranked 9th in the NL in ERA. His opponent, Jake Peavy, has been good but has a reputation of choking in the playoffs. The stats defend that since Peavy has a 7.39 career post season ERA. The other two games should be more even and in the Giants favor.

What is different between this year’s Giants and Cardinals than other ones is the lack of dominant offenses. That’s not to say that they don’t have a good lineup, but it has taken a step back this year. The Cardinals step back in offense has been the most significant. This year they ranked 23rd in runs, 14th in batting average, and 23rd in SLG. Their lack of offense could be contributed by a string of injuries suffered in the year, most significantly being Yadier Molina. Even when healthy, Molina hasn’t all that great batting over 30 points less from last year and only putting up a .719 OPS. Matt Holliday’s power disappeared for most of the year until picking up toward the end of the season. Even if their team offense hasn’t been amazing, their lineup still provides a punch. Molina, Holliday, Adams, and Peralta can really hurt you if you aren’t careful.

The Giants offense has definitely been better than the Cardinals. In the MLB, they ranked 12th in runs, 10th in batting average, and 13th in SLG. One thing that hasn’t changed much is the performance of the face of their franchise, Buster Posey. In the 2nd half of the season he turned back into an MVP candidate swapping time between 1B and catcher. The Giants lineup in most consistent top to bottom than the Cardinals with quality bats all over including Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, and Hunter Pence. Apart from when the Giants bats demolished the Pirates scoring 8 runs, they haven’t been so hot in this post season. They have scored no more than 3 runs since and have scored only 9 runs in 4 games. Thanks to clutch pitching, they have are in this situation.

Another place the Giants have an advantage in is the bullpen. GM Brian Sabaen has put together a bullpen of more experience veterans and it has turned out great for them. In bullpen ERA, the Giants ranked 5th in the MLB at 3.01 and in 1st in opponents’ batting average at .217. Their bullpen is lead with closer Santiago Casilla who has a 1.70 ERA and 19 saves. Others including Jean Machi, Jeremy Affeldt, and Sergio Romo help comprise their bullpen. Their #5 starter, Yusmeiro Petit has been moved to the bullpen to be a long man with Tim Lincecum being an option was well. The Cardinals’ bullpen on the other hand focuses more on youth and young arms. Their bullpen has been inconsistent at times but has leveled out as the season ended. The Cardinals closer, Trevor Rosenthal, is an example of their inconsistency but still had a very quality year with a 3.20 ERA and 45 saves. He has stepped it up in the post season and shut down the Dodgers and now leads the post season in saves. Sam Freeman has been their 8th inning guy for part of the year and has been probably their best pitcher with a 2.61 ERA. Flame thrower Carlos Martinez and side arm RHP Pat Neshek consists of the main part of the bullpen.

Both teams have been riding a hot streak to get here and have both probably slightly overachieved. The question is which will continue the streak? Adam Wainwright claims that he is totally fine and healthy enough to pitch. If that was the case this series would be much closer. I have doubts that he is healthy enough to be as dominant as we expect from him. If Wainwright shows he can pitch like himself, the Cardinals will probably win the series. If not, it’s likely we see the Giants in the World Series

Prediction: Giants in 6

ALCS Preview: Baltimore Orioles vs Kansas City Royals

By: Sam Kluender

Who would have thought at the beginning of the season that either the Kansas City Royals or the Baltimore Orioles will be in the World Series this year? For that matter, who would have thought a week ago that there would be a Royals vs Orioles ALCS? This series could be a franchise changing set of games for both teams. The Orioles are in the ALCS for the first time since 1997 and haven’t been to a World Series since 1983 in the Cal Ripken days. The Royals are in a similar situation who just broke a 28 year playoff drought and haven’t been to a World Series since 1985 with George Brett.

This series is good for baseball. It’s just another situation in which it shows that it is possible to compete and win without being a top payroll team. The fan bases for both teams are relatively small compared to the Yankees or Dodgers, but these two teams should bring huge TV ratings. People love to root for the underdog and now America has two of them facing each other. The national perception seems to be that if you aren’t a Cardinals or Giants fan, you are rooting for one of these two teams. Let’s take a look at the upcoming series.

The Orioles will have home field advantage for this 7 game series and will host Games 1 and 2 and Games 6 and 7 if necessary. As of right now, the projected pitching matchups are as follows:

Game 1: James Shields (3.21 ERA) vs Chris Tillman(3.34 ERA)

Game 2: Yordano Ventura(3.20 ERA) vs Wei-Yin Chen(3.54 ERA)

Game 3: Jason Vargas(3.71 ERA) vs Bud Norris(3.65 ERA)

Game 4: Jeremy Guthrie(4.13 ERA) vs Miguel Gonzalez(3.23 ERA)

The scheduled matchups are pretty even with both staffs being pretty similar in talent. Neither team has that Cy Young dominant ace like a Adam Wainwright or Clayton Kershaw, which will help avoid any mismatch. Neither team should be heavily favored based on the matchups in any game except maybe a potential Game 4 with Miguel Gonzalez facing Jeremy Guthrie.

On the offensive side of the game, the Orioles on paper have a clear advantage. The Orioles were ranked 8th in runs, 9th in batting average, and 3rd in SLG in MLB this year. That production was even with their catcher Matt Wieters and young star Manny Machado missing much of the year. The addition of Nelson Cruz is what has made this offense. Taking the chance on Cruz has paid off huge with him hitting 40 HR’s and 108 RBI’s this season. The powerful lineup of the Orioles carried over into the playoffs scoring 21 runs in 3 games against a very good Detroit Tiger pitching staff.

The Royals offense is not terrible, but definitely this season has been the weakest of the playoff teams. They’ve been average at best during the season. Despite their high team batting average of .263, they ranked 14th in runs, 16th in OBP and 19th in SLG in the MLB. It says a lot when your best offensive player is Alex Gordon who holds an OPS of .783. The Royals were the only team in the MLB to not hit over a 100 HR’s and only team in the Modern Era to hit no more than 95 HR’s and make the playoffs. Despite all this they have won games with their bat. In 4 games during the playoffs the Royals have scored 24 runs. While the Royals don’t have anyone in their lineup who is that terribly scary, they have great consistency through their lineup. When Mike Moustakas, who has come alive in the playoffs, is your 9th hitter, you are usually in pretty good shape. The small ball style of offense that Ned Yost deploys fits well with the type of players he has in his arsenal.

Both teams have very good bullpens which has been one of the main reasons both teams are in this situation. The Orioles were 6th in the MLB in team bullpen ERA at 3.10 and the Royals were 10th with a 3.30 ERA. The Royals have an extremely good 7th, 8th, and 9th inning pitchers in Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland. If the starter can get the Royals to the 7th win a lead it’s very difficult to beat them. The issue is the rest of the bullpen isn’t that great and if the starter can’t go 6 innings there is a big hole that hasn’t been filled yet. The Orioles 7th, 8th, and 9th inning pitchers are good, but not as scary as the Royals. Those pitchers are Darren O’Day, Andrew Miller, and Zach Britton. They haven’t been as dominant as the Royals late in the game, but the Orioles bullpen has much more depth. Oriole’s starters don’t need to go 6 innings all the time. The Orioles have other quality relieves like longman Kevin Gausman.

With the way the playoffs have gone so far this year it is tough to imagine what could happen in this series. No one expected the Royals to be here, let alone sweep the best team in the MLB in the Los Angeles Angels. The Orioles are less of a surprise, but was still somewhat shocking when they swept the Detroit Tigers. There aren’t many glaring holes that will give one team a large advantage over the other. Home field could play a role with both fan bases not taking for granted their playoff run. I don’t really see one team dominating the other. I have a feeling this series will go 6 or 7 games and will be close from the start all the way to the end.

Prediction: Royals in 7

Predictions for NHL Season

By: Joel Norman

The puck has dropped and the 2014-2015 NHL season is here. With it comes many expectations for each and every team. Some teams will use this year to rebuild for future seasons while others will look to claim the Cup. The following are four predictions for this season:

The Washington Capitals Will Return to the Playoffs

After an offseason of change, the Capitals are ready to play hockey in April again. By signing defensemen Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik to go along with Mike Green and John Carlson, Washington will certainly improve defensively. Niskanen will add to the power play and Orpik provides someone who can help stop superstar players with a physical presence. Goaltender Braden Holtby is a very solid netminder and with Jaroslav Halak gone, it will be his time to showcase his abilities. Perhaps with a mid season trade for a center to help out the oft injured Niklas Backstrom could put the Capitals in contention for the division.

The San Jose Sharks Won’t Win the Cup

Eventually they are going to, but the Sharks won’t quite do it this year. San Jose has put together an impressive run of ten straight playoff appearances dating back to 2004, but the farthest that they have gotten was the Conference Finals in the first year of the streak. Last season, after building a 3-0 lead on the Los Angeles Kings, the Sharks proceeded to lose the next four games to end their season. Things aren’t looking much different coming into this season with an incredible lack of scoring from the right wing position. Despite the agelessness of Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton, things won’t get better for the Sharks until the current team is blown up and started from scratch.

The Anaheim Ducks Will Win the Cup.

They are just too good. Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry both were a part of the Ducks team that won its only Cup in 2007 and they will be a part of the franchise’s second Cup. The acquisition of Ryan Kesler puts this team at the top of the league and the signing of Dany Heatley did not make enough headlines. The only move that the team needs to make is for another impact right winger. With lots of young legs and shrewd offseason acquisitions, the Ducks will claim the Cup this season.

Steven Stamkos Will Win the Hart Trophy

Back to back shortened seasons have hurt Stamkos from putting up his usual superstar numbers but this season will be a return to the norm. The 2013 season that began in January limited Stamkos to 48 games and 57 points and an injury filled 2013-2014 season saw Stamkos play a career low 37 games and 40 points. A healthy season and the Lightning’s addition of several players that will keep opponents away from Stamkos will bring out one of his best seasons. The former 60 goal scorer will turn back the clock and easily top his career best 97 points total. 

For a different look on sports, be sure to follow @SportsHeaven2 on Twitter and "like" Sports Heaven on Facebook.