30 July 2013

MMA: UFC 163

By StB
Milwaukee, WI

With so many fighters on the UFC roster, you may wonder how they get these guys enough fights to meet their contractual demands. I guess the answer is something like UFC 163. A card that is yawn inspiring.

The card is comprised of mid-carders at best, with Ultimate Fighter alumni filling in the bottom. There isn't a "must see" fight on this pay per view. Heck, it should be free. I will need to remember to look at the buy rate when this is over because I'll bet it will be very low.

Headlining UFC 163 is Featherweight Champion Jose Aldo versus the Korean Zombie. Seriously, that is how it is advertised because no one would know who the hell Chan Sung Jung is.

Don't get me wrong. This could be a very good fight. What is likely to happen is Aldo smacks him around for 5 rounds, beating the crap out of Jung, but unable to put him away. Hence the nickname, the Korean Zombie.

KZ is not a slouch. He just isn't necessarily that impressive. After one hell of a battle with Leonard Garcia, where he took everything Garcia offered in a loss, he beat him in the rematch with a real sweet submission.

Champion Aldo has looked pretty good. He can be lazy like Anderson Silva but I don't think that will happen. Aldo is looking to defend his title successfully for the 6th time.

Former Light Heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida takes on Phil Davis. Machida comes off a surprising win against Dan Henderson. His style has confused some but I don't think it will baffle Davis. Davis has been slowly moving up into contention. With only one loss (to Rashad Evans), he looks ready to take the next big step.

Beyond those two fights, there isn't much to brag about. In fact, the exciting part may be watching how the UFC sells this snoozer of a card.

19 July 2013

MMA: UFC on Fox 8

By StB
Milwaukee, WI

One of the best things about MMA are the weight classes. Fighters take on people their own size. At least in theory.

For me personally, I rather watch the smaller guys fight than the heavyweights. Any day. Every day.

They tend to be better fighters. I am not going to say more skillful. That is insulting because you have to be solid to fight at the top of this sport. 

The smaller guys are quicker. They tend to take more risks. They tend to innovate. 

One of the best enter the Octagon on Saturday. Its a freebie on Fox! Flyweight Champion Demetrious Johnson will take on John Moraga. Johnson is an exciting fighter, coming off an impressive and exciting victory against John Dodson. Those fighters matched up well in a quick and even fight. Johnson did just enough to win.

Can't say I know much about Moraga except what I see on Wikipedia. He earned his way into the UFC  with a 5 win streak. Funny thing is he lost to Dodson in the past. 

Johnson is going off as a big favorite at -450. Anything can happen but I would be surprised if Mighty Mouse lost this fight.

The rest of the card is pretty interesting. I think it is pretty darn solid.

Rory MacDonald takes on Jake Ellenberger in the welterweight class. Both have been trying to climb the ladder and have been impressive in the octagon. Should be a great fight. Ellenberger goes off at a slight favorite at -185.

Robbie Lawler seems to have been fighting forever. He has been up and down, seeming to find his game in Strikeforce. He'll take on Bobby Voelker. Voelker has more fights under his belt than Lawlor. It will be only his second fight in the UFC.

There are two fights with the ladies on Saturday. Can't say I know who they are. Hopefully they surprise and put on a great show.

The rest of the card looks like the Ultimate Fighter fills in. Michael Chiesa, Mac Danzig, Ed Herman all show up. Danzig takes on Melvin Gouillard which should be one very entertaining fight. 

For a free UFC card, Fox 8 looks to be pretty damn good. 

16 July 2013

A's Weekly* Digest: All-Star Game Edition

By Joe Speaker
Los Angeles, CA

The All-Star Game used to be one of my favorite things in the world. Having grown up before the advent of widespread cable television, the Midsummer Classic was frequently the one chance I got to see great players on the tube. I mean, even the local team was only on TV 15-20 times a year. There was the aspect of tradition, as well, stories of past games and heroics. Grover Cleveland Alexander, Reggie Jackson, Pete Rose/Ray Fosse.

The introductions were always the best, a parade of square jawed guys tipping their caps. I'm a sucker for pomp. The Game was a happening and didn't need home run derbies* or skills competitions (remember the skills competition? I was actually at that event in 1987--when the game was in Oakland--drunk on vodka in the bleachers). It meant a lot to me. I blew a gasket when AL manager Dick Howser didn't put Jose Canseco in the game in '86. A few years later, a couple girls showed up at my place unannounced while the game was on and my roommates and I screamed at them for having the bad sense to show up during the contest.

*Shout out to my favorite Cuban player with a sub-.300 OBP for putting on a show last night

Now, the game doesn't carry the same weight it once did. I get to see these players all the time via my Extra Innings package. There's interleague play so the AL v. NL aspect is diminished. And the game starts before I get home from work, so I don't even get to see the pomp (and the always-entertaining boos from the crowd; in that 1987 game the A's fans booed Jay Howell, who happened to be the team's closer at the time). It no longer appeals to me in the way it once did, no longer carries the weight of importance.

So you can imagine how surprised I was when I got totally bent out of shape when Grant Balfour, Jed Lowrie and Josh Donaldson were snubbed for this year's game. I mean, who gives a crap? There are always bad decisions, bad fan voting and, let's be honest, managers who don't like certain players or teams (see: Bochy not starting Kershaw tonight). A viable case can be made for the three above (and Balfour was added later to the team), but Donaldson has the strongest argument.

He's seventh in the AL in OPS and WAR. While he has the misfortune of playing a position that is absolutely stacked (Cabrera and Machado certainly deserving of their selections), his numbers and the fact he's been the best player on a first place team that has been wrecking baseball for more than a year now, should have merited a selection.

Still, why did I care? And the answer is simple as this:

The 2013 Oakland Athletics (and the 2012 version) have a bond with their fans that I can not recall ever seeing in all my years of rooting. Social media has fostered that relationship and the front office has done a great job of recognizing the efforts of the fans. So there is a closeness. I was pissed about Donaldson being passed over. For him. I was mad for him. I summoned all my righteous indignation because he and I once conversed on Twitter. We're in this together, see?

So...damn it!

For his part, Donaldson has been gracious in interviews. On Sunday, after driving in all three runs of a 3-2 extra inning victory over the Red Sox, he reiterated his stance: that he'd have loved to have been picked, it would have been an honor, but that he understands how difficult it is.

That's bullshit. He should have been on the team. But fine. It's just an exhibition. During the real games, he's been dominant. When we need him, he'll step up. He also said he's probably going to spend the break playing a couple rounds at Pebble Beach.

On second thought, I don't feel bad for him at all.

11 July 2013

Top Hoops Prospects Held Back in Middle School to Get Ahead?

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

This excerpt if from the Jalen Rose podcast. He discusses the new trend of young players being held back in middle school (usually the 8th grade, so technically he's a 9th grader playing against 8th graders), so they can gain an edge over their peers.

Top prospects like Andrew Wiggins stayed back in middle school, but then reclassified as a senior (going from 10th to 12th grade, which is technically their real "age" group) when they realized they could get to college or pros faster. Kind of weird, right?

With top-shelf players leaving college after a year or two, the overall level of talent in NCAA hoops has significantly diminished. Back in the day, it was rare for an underclassman to leave school and only seniors went into the draft. If you went to play college ball, it was a four-year commitment. That's why the 1980s had the deepest pool of talent, more so than any other era. It was the pinnacle of college hoops.

If Michael Jordan played today, he'd probably leave UNC after his freshman year. And Patrick Ewing? No way he stays at Georgetown all four years. I think about Stephon Marbury's quick stopover in Atlanta at Georgia Tech. If he turned 18 in 2013, he would have bypassed college and went from Coney Island directly to the NBA. And if the Fab Five played today? It'd be more like the Fab Three because two of them would have skipped Ann Arbor completely and joined the ranks of the NBA.

But now, parents found a loophole in the system and they're holding their super-talented kids back a year so they can get an bigger edge. Whatever it takes, right?

Here's the full podcast.

09 July 2013

MMA: UFC 162- Winner by knockout and neeeewwwww UFC Middleweight Champion

By StB
Milwaukee, WI

Chris Weidman!!!

Yes, just as I said last week, Chris Weidman defeated Anderson Silva at UFC 162 to become the new Middleweight Champion.

Silva started to get fancy and clownish in the second round. He dropped his hand and put out his chin, taunting Weidman, daring him to throw a punch. Weidman obligated and sent the champion to the mat. After a couple gratuitous shots to the melon, referee Herb Dean jumped in to call the fight.

And then the controversy started. Fans tried to call bullshit. They said the fight was fixed; Silva took a dive.

UFC President Dana White was pissed. "Yeah, the fix is in, you fucking idiots." When you watch knockout, it can look from the back angle that Silva was barely touched. 

But only "fucking idiots" would watch just the one view. When you see the fight from the other angle, it is clear as day. Weidman misses with one punch, grazes him with a glove on the next, then connects with a left. Silva's eyes roll back and as Michael "The Voice" Schiavello would say, Goodnight Gracie!

After this view, who in their right mind will say this fight is fixed? Even routine fans like myself won't go that far. Instead, I will enjoy a 6-pack of Kona beer that I won by taking Weidman in this fight.

Cheers to UFC Middleweight Champion Chris Weidman!

07 July 2013

Bronx Bums: 7/7 Report - 5-Game Losing Streak Halted; Yanks Win 6 in a Row

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

The Yanks (48-40) began the week in deep trouble riding the lows of a five-game losing streak and after getting swept by Baltimore and Crush Davis. But the resilient Yanks are fighters and they bounced back with a six-game winning streak including a 4-game sweep of the lowly Twins.

The Yanks still trail the red hot Red Sox (54-36) by 5 games, but they went from next to last place to a three-way fight for second place in the AL East. The Yanks, Baltimore, and Tampa are in a chase pack roughly five games behind Boston.

The Yanks' bats exploded in Minnesota. They dropped 29 runs in four games. They scored 34 in their previous 11 games. Vast improvement (3.1 runs per game vs. 7.25 against the Twins).

Mo = 29 saves in 31 chances

After sweeping the Twins, the Yanks improved to 14-1 in their last 15 games against the AL Central. The Yanks got lucky. They had hit the skids last week amidst a five-game losing streak and things would have gotten much worse if they had to keep playing AL East teams. They caught a lucky draw in the schedule with Minnesota, the proverbial slump buster of the American League.

Over the weekend, the Yanks returned home for a 10-game homestand. The Baltimore series was super close with every game decided by one run. The Yanks wanted revenge after getting swept last weekend. In the first game, the Yanks pulled off a come-from-behind victory in the bottom of the ninth (courtesy of Bubba Wells). They won again on Saturday to extended their winning streak to six games. Alas, the Yanks failed to sweep Baltimore on Sunday. The won the overall series 2-1, but it was another heartbreaking loss due to a woeful offensive output.

Hiroki Kuroda (2.77 ERA) pitched another gem with a bad hip, but once again the Yanks failed to give him any run support. Kuroda scattered three hits over 7 shutout innings. The Yanks held a slim 1-0 lead going into the ninth inning. You'd think Mo (29 saves, 3 last week) would be automatic, but he blew the save. Yikes. Mo hung one bad pitch and Jones tagged it. The Yanks lost 2-1. Mo blew his first save at home and only the second one all season. I guess he was due to have a bad outing?

Both Mo Rivera and Robbie Cano will be representing the Yankees in this year's All Star Game. Good to see Mo get a nod. He deserved it with his numbers, but I wonder if MLB will do anything special to honor him? And I wonder when the hell is Cashman going to bring in a big bat to protect Cano in the lineup? He doesn't think A-Roid will actually play another game in pinstripes, right? Even if he does comeback, he can't hit without his roid cocktail. Let that rotten chumpstain twist in the wind for all of eternity!

On Deck: No days off, but things are looking up for the Yanks with a rare soft spot in their schedule. The Yanks stay in the Bronx and take on Kansas City (41-44) and Minnesota (37-48). They have seven more games to go before the All-Star Break. They need to finish strong instead of easing off the gas pedal and hopefully they can pick up a couple of games on Boston.

03 July 2013

MMA: UFC 162 Preview

By StB
Milwaukee, WI

The UFC is back in Las Vegas for their annual "Fourth of July" show. This year Anderson Silva, arguably one of the best fighters in the world, takes on Chris Weidman. Anderson is of course the favorite going off at -300.

Weidman is at +280. Call me crazy but I like Weidman in the upset. Yes, I just said Silva is the possibly the best fighter in the world. Problem is he isn't always focused. He tends to underestimate his opponent. For that reason, I think he is right for the picking.

Weidman hasn't lost a fight  yet. He is 9-0. His victory in July of last year over Mark Munoz was impressive. Only downside is he hasn't fought in so long. But he has wicked elbow and throws with power, whether with fists or kicks.

Bottom line is this promises to be an interesting fight. I wonder if Silva will have something new in his arsenal. He has pulled out submissions, front kicks, and other tricks in the past.

Frankie Edgar returns trying to break a 3 fight losing streak. He went from losing the Lightweight Championship to Benson Henderson, failing to get that title back, and dropped a Featherweight decision to Jose Aldo.

He takes on veteran Charles Oliviera. Oliviera is coming off a loss to Cub Swanson. He has lost to some good fighters such as Swanson, Donald Cerrone, and Jim Miller. To get a win over Edgar would be huge for him. I don't expect it to happen. Edgar is a big favorite at +500.

Cub Swanson happens to be on the card as well taking on Denis Siver. These two usually have good fight so it should add some excitement to the undercard.

The other notable fight is Tim Kennedy vs. Roger Gracie. Yep, he is one of those Gracies. He has been steadily moving up in the UFC.  A win here could put him up for a contenders fight in the middleweights.

Kennedy has been impressive in his MMA career. He is making his UFC debut. No wants to lose that first fight. It will be interesting to see if he struggles in front of the big crowd.

Chris Leben looks to head up the undercard. He is one crazy dude. Takes a pounding as good as he gives. I am surprised he is still around. This Ultimate Fighter 1 vet looks like he would run off the rails years ago. Thankfully he hasn't as he is an entertaining fight. Hope he takes it home on Saturday.

You can view the entire card here.

01 July 2013

Bronx Bums: 6/30 Report - Sinking to 4th Place

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

No run support for Kuroda

The Yankees (42-39) are in trouble. They were swept in Baltimore and tumbled to fourth place, only 1.5 games out of cellar. The Yanks went 11-16 in June, but are only 12-21 over their last 33 games.

The pitching (both starters and the bullpen) has been exceptional, but their offense is atrocious. Opposing pitchers have been working around Robinson Cano, who walked a career high 18 times in the moth of June. Yeah, the Yanks have been mortally plagued by injuries all season, but when the hell is Brian Cashman going to get off his ass and find a power hitter to help protect Cano? The Yanks' GM should have been aggressively shopping for a big stick after the Memorial Day skid. 

On May 25th, the Yankees were 12 games over .500 and battling for the top spot in the AL East. They hit the wall at the end of May and that extreme ugliness continued in June during a scoring drought in which they scored 2 or fewer runs in 11 out of 27 games. Yes, they lost all 11 of those games.

The pitching has been solid across the board. Over the last few weeks, the Yanks lost four close games in which they only gave up 3 or fewer runs (losing by the scores of 3-0, 3-2, 3-1, and 2-0). During their atrocious sweep in Baltimore, the Yanks lost two close games by the scores of 4-2 and 4-3.

Take a look at Kuroda's stats. He has a 2.95 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP. But he's only 7-6. The Yanks dropped 6 out his last 8 starts. He got no run support. In those six losses, the Yanks scored 9 runs (2, 2, 1, 0, 1, 3) and on three instances they scored zero or a solo run. Frustrating. Kuroda put his team in position to win every single one of those games. In his last two Kuroda starts that the Yanks won, they averaged 5 runs a game.

The Yanks have a -16 run differential, which seems like an anomaly for a team above .500. Only the Texas Rangers pitching staff has given up fewer runs in the AL. When the Yanks hit and score at least 4 runs, they are in a good position to win. If they can get 5 or more, it's a virtually lock. However, most of the time, the Yanks bats are dormant and they struggle to put up 1 or 2 runs.

The pitching is there... the hitting is not. Desperately waiting for injured players to heal, but in the meantime, Cashman needs to pull of a mega-trade to find someone who can help drive in runs.

Maybe July will be better? They start the month in Minnesota, and desperately need a slump buster to end a five-game losing streak. The Yanks feasted off the AL Central this season and they're 10-1 over the last 11 games.

On Deck: The Yanks do not have any days off until the All-Star Break. They Yanks fly out to Minnesota to play a 4-game series against the struggling Twins (including July 4th, which the Yanks had historically played in the Bronx). The Yanks are 19-21 on the road this year, which is why they can't wait to return to the Bronx over the weekend and finish out the first half with a 10-game homestand against Baltimore, KC, and Minnesota.