The In-Jury’s Out: Kobe Bryant & Derrick Rose

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Kobe Bryant and Derrick Rose are two of the most exciting players the NBA has to offer. Kobe has been the face of the NBA for years, especially  after  Michael Jordan retired. Rose is a rising star in the place where Jordan made basketball relevant,  Chicago. However, these stars have been dealt tough obstacles to overcome in their careers with brutal injuries. Kobe, on the back end of his career, suffered a torn  Achilles injury at the end of last season. Rose, whose career is blossoming, tore his ACL in a playoff game two seasons ago and had to miss the entire 2012-13 season. Without these superstars, their teams are helpless and irrelevant. Without these superstars, the NBA is without two key franchises to its growing brand.

Two seasons ago Rose and the Bulls were positioned to challenge the Miami Heat when Rose injured himself in the first round of the playoffs against the 76ers. Last year, to the dismay of all NBA and Bulls fans, Rose sat out the entire year including the playoffs. The team still had Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah, but no one ever could take it  seriously as a contender. The Bulls  even matched up against the Heat in the playoffs and stole Game 1 in Miami, before they proceeded to be eliminated. You know you have come to desperate measures when the most exciting guy on your team is 5 foot 7 and that’s being generous. Nate Robinson provided a spark for the Bulls, but a spark that size is not a good recipe for success.

With Rose returning this year, the excitement and expectations are back in Chicago. Through ten games, they are 6-4 and have handed the Pacers their only loss of the season. However, Rose has struggled a bit and seems rusty. This is nothing surprising, given the injury he endured, and he should become stronger as the season progresses along. Rose wasn’t built in a day. He has hit a game winning shot against the Knicks and made some explosive plays that would make Wyle E. Coyote say, “Wow! That’s explosive.” His athleticism is unprecedented for a point guard and his ability to attack the hoop is a spectacle to watch. The Heat and Pacers should take notice.rose2

Bryant tore his Achilles tendon last year, and then tore all hope from every Laker fan. Since the Kobe-Shaq era ended, there has arguably been no player more important to his team’s success then Bryant. He is the brains, heart and courage of the team as he leads his players down the purple and yellow brick road. Just like the Bulls last year, the Lakers — barely — made the playoffs, but no one could even consider picking them to advance without the Black Mamba. The San Antonio Spurs swept the Lakers like a pushbroom after a garage sale.  Dwight Howard is no Kobe, not even close.

Even with Dwight, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash, the Lakers looked like a lottery team without Kobe. We all know how determined Kobe is to return quickly this year. He has been able to overcome injuries throughout his career like he was a Terminator Machine. Entering his 18th season, Kobe faces his most serious injury ever, and many experts out there are saying he is done and will never be the same. Maybe this is a reality Laker fans must face. Maybe not. The Laker organization has money saved up to rake in some top free agents next season.  Names like LeBron and Carmelo Anthony come to mind. Before this bridge gets crossed, it must be seen how Kobe plays when he returns. And his team desperately needs him.

The Lakers version of Robinson this year has been Steve Blake. Or as they call him, the “White Mamba.” The White Mamba has hit a game-winning three pointer on the road against theRockets this year, but more often than not, the Lakers have been mediocre and inconsistent. They have indeed shown glimpses of greatness from a bunch of young talent, but they seem to only play like this against lowly teams. Their leading scorer is averaging 13 points a game. Kobe can put that up in a quarter, maybe half a quarter.

The Los Angeles Lakers are very important to the NBA. Having won 16 titles, the NBA does well when the Lakers are doing well. The Lakers cannot do well without Kobe. It’s like watching the Dark Knight without seeing Batman in any of the movie. It is like trying to win in chess without your queen. Having a Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich is not the same without the Peanut Butter. And the Lakers as just a jelly sandwich are going nowhere. Soggy. Kobe’s team needs him, and he needs his team. The Lakers and the NBA anxiously anticipate the Mamba’s return, and hope he can overcome the toughest injury out there to flourish again on the court.

Kobe BryantThe Lakers and Bulls are more than capable of challenging for a championship this year. Most would agree that Bulls roster is more primed for a playoff run, but if Lakers can get healthy, you never know. The West is very much up for grabs. The success of the Bulls and Lakers fortunately and unfortunately is highly dependent on one player. With  Rose, the Bulls have shown this year that they are a force to be reckoned with even a matador would be scared of. Without him, there is no optimism or chance in Chicago. In LA, a new era of mediocrity is moving in quickly, with Kobe  as the last hope to restore some order to Staples Center. The Lakers without Kobe are only a contender for a lottery pick.

It remains to be seen if the Bulls and Rose bloom throughout the year, prepping for a playoff run to challenge the Heat and Pacers. If Rose does not return to form, it will  surely be only a two-team race to the NBA Finals. The Lakers need to hang in there until Kobe gets back. Even at this stage of his career, I am very confident Kobe can resume playing at a high level. How high? This is the most important question of the year. The Lakers, the NBA and this NBA fan are hoping the Black Mamba has some venom left.

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The Carolina Panthers Are Now Legit Super Bowl Contenders

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The Cover 4.com presents you with The Carolina Panthers Are Now Legit Super Bowl Contenders! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @thecover4 or facebook at theCo VerFour

Before their momentous victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Week 10, the Carolina Panthers put together a four-game winning streak in which they beat their opponents by 30 points or more. That put them in rare company, as Bill Barnwell pointed out:

Year Team Point Differential Final Record Playoff Result
2013 Panthers 82 ??? ???
2013 Broncos 88 ??? ???
2009 Saints 81 13-3 Won Super Bowl
2009 Colts 96 13-3 Lost Super Bowl
2007 Patriots 104 16-0 Lost Super Bowl
2007 Colts 83 13-3 Lost in AFC playoffs
2005 Colts 81 14-2 Lost in AFC playoffs
2004 Eagles 101 13-3 Lost Super Bowl
2004 Colts 125 12-4 Lost in AFC playoffs
2000 Rams 80 10-6 Lost in NFC playoffs
1999 Rams 106 13-3 Won Super Bowl
1998 Broncos 83 14-2 Won Super Bowl
1994 49ers 103 13-3 Won Super Bowl
1993 49ers 107 10-6 Lost in NFC playoffs
1990 Bills 104 13-3 Lost Super Bowl

 

Those are some juicy outcomes for a team that finished 7-9 last year and had calls for their quarterback’s and head coach’s heads on a stake. There were plenty of reasons for me not to like them in my preseason preview, including their patchwork secondary and lack of receiving options for Cam Newton. And with their back to the wall for cap space with an incompetent GM, the long-term outlook did not look too bright. I wasn’t too high on them in the beginning of the season either, when they started 1-3 and started their winning streak by beating up on lowly Minnesota, St. Louis and Tampa Bay. But that chart above deserves some attention, and now that they have a signature win they can hang their hat on against the San Francisco 49ers, I think it’s finally time to respect the Panthers as legit Super Bowl contenders in such a muddled NFL season where it seems like anyone can win it this year.

Although there are other factors responsible for this turnaround, the best visual representation of the Panthers’ newfound success is their franchise quarterback Newton. After all, who scored all those points for them? (Insert your Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams jokes here.) Through the four-game stretch, Newton averaged 229 yards passing, completed 72.3 percent of his passes and threw seven touchdowns against two interceptions. If you prorate those over a full season, the completion percentage, touchdowns and interceptions all put Newton in the top quarter of the league at his position.

23497707_BG1Newton surely deserves credit for the Panthers’  turnaround, but he has always been an above-average quarterback and his No. 1 overall pick aura eliminates any surprise that he is playing at a Pro Bowl-level right now. What really deserves attention is Carolina’s fearsome front seven, and how it is propping up its lackluster and injured secondary. Led by Charles Johnson’s “breakout” season (in terms of mainstream popularity) and the best young linebacker in the NFL, Luke Kuechly; the defensive linemen and linebackers as a group are arguably the best in the league. Johnson has already matched three quarters of his sack total last year and needs only 11 more total tackles to duplicate the previous year’s production. Leading the charge for the linebackers is Kuechly, last year’s Defensive Rookie of the Year. Even though he is only in his second year, it’s already established that he is one of a handful of the best defensive players in football. He led the league in tackles last year, and is poised to get back to that same number this year, while already getting one more interception than he had his rookie season. Before the Panthers played the 49ers, they were ranked fourth in defensive DVOA. After? Carolina jumped to first overall, an incredible turnaround that really puts a spotlight on the two young game changers for the Panthers.

The last piece of the Panthers’ success that warrants mention is Ron Rivera, or “Riverboat Ron” as he has become affectionately known. In my season preview, Rivera was one of the reasons holding the Panthers back. A good coach often knows when to be aggressive and when to be conservative. When it comes to fourth down, Rivera shouldn’t think twice about going for it if the yards in question are four yards or less. Carolina has the best goal-line back in Newton, and not to mention $35 million invested in running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Well Rivera has taken a turn for the better as a coach in general and especially on fourth down decisions, and there is no coincidence his increased game-managing ability has merged with the Panthers getting hot.

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So, the inevitable question is where is the correct place to gauge the Panthers’ new found success? On one hand, the chart above is pretty indicative of the success such a powerful four-game winning streak brings. You might say Carolina had a pretty easy schedule, but if you look at all the opponents those other teams faced, they weren’t necessarily world beaters either. I think the balance lands on the other side, in that the Panthers have a pretty good shot at a deep playoff run. I think their defensive DVOA will get worse a tad – their front 7 can only make the depleted secondary look so good for so long – and Rivera is always a candidate for a boneheaded decision at a critical time. Newton will return to Earth due to lack of real receiving options and that I think his high numbers are somewhat unsustainable, but with the stingy defense the pressure wasn’t on him like it was before to perform and win games for them, which the game in San Francisco proved. Their Monday Night Football game against the New England Patriots will be their best test so far, and if they manage to beat them and the 49ers in consecutive weeks, I think its time to throw the Panthers in one of the three or four teams to make it out of the NFC and into the Super Bowl.

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Boston Strong

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The Cover 4.com presents you with Boston Strong! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @thecover4 or facebook at theCo VerFour

The last time the Boston Red Sox won the World Series at home was in 1918. Babe Ruth was pitching on that team. He was later traded, and created the Curse of the Bambino. This all changed after the 2013 World Series. Boston had many things to be happy about. When the World Series began, I believed that the Red Sox had the better players and the Cardinals had the better team. I was wrong. It wasn’t the prettiest World Series or the most exciting, but the storyline was poignant and fitting. After April’s Boston Marathon bombing, the Red Sox devoted the rest of the season to overcoming this disaster.  And the Red Sox overcame adversity in this World Series as well to come back and win three consecutive games to bring a championship title back to Boston.

Going into this matchup, the Red Sox were slight favorites to win it all, but everyone knew how capable the Cardinals team was. Both teams boasted clutch hitting and solid pitching all year, and this set up to be a pretty even and contested series. The pitchers were lined up, hitters rested and coaches prepared. The Cardinals and Red Sox had each won two World Series in the past  Decade. But Tony La Russa was not coaching against Terry Francona. A new generational rivalry was born with Mike Matheny and John Farrell as managers.

Game 1 ended shortly after it started. Adam Wainwright faced off against Jon Lester, a battle of aces.. This was supposed to be the tasty appetizer for an amazing entrée. However, the Cardinals came out flat and seemed scared. They committed two errors in the first two innings, including  botching a potential double play. This allowed the Red Sox to take a 5-0 lead after two innings and they cruised to a 8-1 victory. Mike Napoli had the big three-run double in the first and the tasty appetizer did not even make it around the table to serve everyone. It was a disappointing start from a competitive standpoint but a good omen for Boston supporters.

Game 2 featured Michael Wacha, Big Papi and some unusual plays. These three things would end up playing a huge role for the rest of the series.  Wacha was dealing like a used car salesman. Up 1-0 in the sixth, Big Papi David Ortiz belted a two-run homer to give the Sox the lead. However, the lead would evaporate in the next inning on a sacrifice fly. This bases loaded, one out sacrifice fly had the ball flying from right field, to the catcher and then into the stands past third base. Two runs scored on the play and one more came across when clutch Carlos Beltran singled in the next at-bat to make it 4-2 Cardinals. This was the final score.  An ugly series of events to give the Cardinals the game, but as they say, a win is a win is a win. The series all tied up like boy scout knot. Heading back to St. Louis for three games, the Cardinals seemed to have momentum.

The unusual plays did not stop there. In Game 3, the Cardinals jumped to a 2-0 lead against Jake Peavy in the first. The game was on cruise control until the fifth. The Red Sox tied the game with one run in the fifth and sixth. The see-saw battle continued when the Cardinals took a 4-2 lead on Matt Holliday’s double in the seventh..  However, the Red Sox quickly answered with clutch hitting by Xander Bogaerts to tie it at 4 in the eighth. Whew! I just felt my heart palpitate thinking about that game again. And I have not even got to the climax yet. Or the anticlimax.

In the bottom of the ninth, the Cardinals had runners on second and third with one out. Jon Jay hit a sharp grounder to second, but Dustin Pedroia alertly threw out Yadier Molina at home for the second out of the inning. This is where normal leaves the ballpark and drama dons a whole new wardrobe, or more appropriate, uniform. After Molina made the out, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia tried to throw out Allen Craig who went from second to third on the play. And similar to Game 2, the throw went wide and into the outfield. Craig broke for home like Forrest Gump in Vietnam while Daniel Nava fielded the ball in the outfield. Nava threw a bullet and Craig was tagged out at home. Extra innings, right? Wrong. Umpire Jim Joyce ruled obstruction on third baseman Will Middlebrooks and Craig was awarded home and the game ended in one of the most bizarre endings in World Series history. Both teams stormed home plate. The Red Sox were yelling at the umpire crew. The Cardinals were reluctant to embrace victory. The crowd was confused. The television audience waited for an explanation. Utter chaos. All in all, the correct call was made by the letter of the law, and the Cardinals had a 2-1 edge in the Series.

After an unusual ending to Game 3, the Red Sox found themselves with their backs against the wall in a pretty much must-win situation. The Red Sox had grown out their beards the entire season and a bearded man came to the rescue for Game 4. Jonny Gomes blasted a three-run homer to break a 1-1 tie in the sixth and that was all she wrote. The Red Sox won 4-2 and another abnormal play occurred to end the game. Kolten Wong was pinch-running in the bottom of the ninth and Beltran was up representing the tying run with two outs. However before he could get a crack at a good pitch, Koji Uehara picked off Wong at first to end the game. Wong made his appearance one to forget, and the theme of errors, great pitching and bizarre plays continued.  World Series tied 2-2. The plot was thickening. Announcers John Buck and Tim McCarver had clever stories to tell.

Game 5 was the most crucial game in the Series. Typically, the winner of this game takes it all and this trend did not disappoint. The aces were back on the mound and Lester continued where he left off. After Big Papi doubled in Pedroia in the first, Lester dominated on the mound. His only mistake was a mammoth of a home run surrendered to Matt Holliday in the fourth. He hit it so far that Bud Selig was able to grow a full beard before the ball landed. Knotted at one, the Sox had something brewing in the seventh. With Saltalamacchia’s throwing woes, veteran David Ross had gotten the nod as catcher in games four, five and six. And he and his beard delivered a game-winning double in the top of the seventh. The Sox tacked on one more on Jacoby Ellsbury’s single. With Lester and Uehara baffling the Cardinals’ bats, the Red Sox won 3-1 and the usually energetic St. Louis fans were dead silent. Those fans are baseball smart, and they knew that their Cardinal team had blown two huge opportunities to take control in the series.

Heading back to Boston, Wacha was due to take the mound in Game 6. Despite Wainwright being the team’s ace, it was Wacha who had been the Cardinals’ best pitcher in the playoffs. John Lackey was the starter for the Sox, the same Lackey that started and won Game 7 of the 2002 World Series for the Angels. The weather was cold and the Bostonians were anxious to win. The game creeped into the bottom of the third scoreless with 2 outs, when Shane Victorino came to bat with the bases loaded. The “Flying Hawaiian” proved Wacha’s mortality by lacing a double off the Green Monster in left to clear the bases. The Red Sox took a 3-0 lead and never looked back. They never had to. Stephen Drew smacked a home run and the Cardinals for the third consecutive game could not deliver the clutch hits. They continually set the table, but nobody wanted to eat. Lackey gave up only run and Uehara fittingly recorded the final out as the Red Sox won 6-1 and became the 2013 World Series champions. Babe Ruth somewhere smoked a cigar in tribute. Boston won in more ways than one.

The St. Louis Cardinals led the major leagues with a .330 batting average with runners in scoring position during the year but batted just a puny .214 during the World Series. Some would say it was because of great Boston pitching. Some would say the Cardinals bats picked a bad time to go into hibernation. Who knows  the real reason. Ortiz won the World Series MVP boasting a videogame-like .688 batting average. Given the events of the bombing during the Boston Marathon, this World Series had much more meaning than baseball for the city of Boston. Especially the way the Red Sox overcame a deficit, unprecedented events and an intimidating opposing ballpark. Just like their city during the crisis, the Red Sox were resilient, galvanized and determined.

This World Series might not be as celebrated as the one that broke the Curse of the Bambino in 2004, but its importance to the city is invaluable. The St. Louis Cardinals are young and will be back for many years to come. They ran into the beards of the Sox. Was it inopportune hitting? Great pitching? Or could it be fate?  Maybe it just was not in the Cards. I do know that this World Series was an amazing one to cap off one of the best baseball playoffs I can remember. The better teams won. In the end, the best team won. Congratulations Red Sox. Boston has a lot to be proud of.

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Paul Culley
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Figuring out the Final Four

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The Cover 4.com presents you with Figuring out the Final Four! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @thecover4 or facebook at theCo VerFour

Well, it looks like Major League Baseball is in for a treat. For the longest time in a while, baseball has a final four that is box office gold. The Dodgers, Cardinals, Tigers and Red Sox. West Coast to East Coast, we have four storied franchises that are filled with superstars. Maybe MLB thought they would give Bud Selig a nice going away present, since he’s retiring following the 2014 season.  If that’s the case, I am super excited about next season. Let me curb my enthusiasm about the two championship series and take a look at how we got there. The Braves, Pirates, Rays and A’s all fell in the Division Series. Can anybody sense a theme? All squads are small to mid-market teams, lacking big names, with very little postseason experience.

Matt-Kemp-NL-West-ChampsCould this just be a coincidence? It might be. Maybe the other teams were just better. Three out of the four teams with home field advantage won out, with the Tigers being the only team that outlasted this disadvantage. No real shocker there. So maybe we can just chalk it up to the best teams are left, which is the way it should be. Let’s break down the series.

The Dodgers’ return to the postseason matched them up against the Braves and Clayton Kershaw reminded us why he is the best pitcher in baseball. He dealt in Game 1 in Atlanta and the Dodgers got timely hitting from the usual suspects in Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez and Yasiel Puig to cruise to a victory. The Braves responded in Game 2 by getting some clutch two-out hitting from Andrelton Simmons and Chris Johnson to squeak out a 4-3 victory over Zack Greinke. Heading back to Los Angeles, the series still seemed up in the air.

​The Dodgers quickly reminded us that this team can not just pitch, but they are capable of putting on an offensive display. In a matchup of two international rookie starting pitchers, the slugfest finished with a football score as Juan Uribe struck the big two-run homer in the fourth inning. The game was out of reach after that. The Braves scored a late safety to make the final score 13-6. Game 4 was the best game in he series. The Dodgers opted to move Kerhsaw up a day to pitch against Freddy Garcia. Yes I said Sweaty Freddy Garcia. How can the Braves be serious about winning by doing this? I laughed when I saw this matchup. And the Braves almost had the last laugh.

After trailing 2-0, the Braves answered by taking a 3-2 lead going into the bottom of the 8th. Puig led off the inning with a double and shortly thereafter, Uribe did it again. Just like he did for the Giants when he was the unsung hero of the 2010 playoffs, Uribe belted another two-run homer to give the Dodgers the lead and the series. Sorry Braves, another great regular season and division title were all for not. For the Dodgers, there are a lot of things to be excited about moving forward. Hearing Vin Scully announce on the road brought tears to my eyes.

a916f1fa16b6fc213e0f6a706700a437The other matchup in the National League showcased the new NL Central rivals in the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates. Playing in the playoffs for their first time since 1992, the Buccos definitely held their own. They forced the full five game series. After getting shelled in Game 1, the Bucs returned the favor in Game 2 to winning convincingly behind rookie sensation Gerrit Cole. They split the two close games back in Pittsburgh. In a predictable sudden death Game 5, the Cardinals, behind ace Adam Wainwright, glided to a 6-1 victory over Cole and the proud Pirates.

You have to give the city of Pittsburgh credit; their fans are electric. The crowd reminded me of the 12th man that the Seahawks have in Seattle. Waving those black flags, the Pirates and their fans have a lot to be excited about in the future. Pedro Alvarez set a record by recording an RBI in his first six career playoff games. Andrew McCutchen is a viable MVP candidate every year and a model citizen on and off the field. In the end, they were facing the Cardinals. Enough said. All they do is advance in the playoffs. They moved on to their eighth league championship series in 14 years. Simply remarkable. No Albert Pujols. No Tony La Russa. No problem. The Cards are the best run franchise in baseball, filled with a great blend of young talent and skilled veterans. They will play the Dodgers as truly he best two teams in the National League. I can’t complain.

th (1)In the American League, there were two solid matchups. The Red Sox were back in the postseason and even without Pedro Martinez and Manny Ramirez, they are still a heck of a team to watch. “Fear the beard?” Yes I do.  The Red Sox sported many beards on their squad making them fun and cool to admire this hard-nosed team. The first two games at Fenway Park had two great pitching matchups, on paper. However, this is why games are played not on paper, but on the field. Matt Moore got crushed in Game 1 and David Price was clobbered and the Red Sox won both games easily. The only series that went 2-0, it did not look bright for the Rays.

After a road trip consisting of a playoff clinching series in Toronto, a Wild Card play-in game in Texas, a Wild Card playoff game in Cleveland, and the first two ALDS games in Boston, the Rays finally were back home in their illustrious Tropicana Field. And they actually had some fans attend Game 3 and 4. Trailing 3-0, a sweep seemed inevitable until Evan Longoria tied it up with a three run knock. After wild closer Fernando Rodney blew a save in the ninth, new hero Jose Lobatob cranked a walkoff home run to give the Rays their only win in the series. Game 4 consisted of very few runs. Joe Maddon used every pitcher in his bullpen, but it was not enough as the Red Sox scratched two runs in the 7th and one in the 9th to win 3-1 and the series. The Rays once again fell short in the playoffs, but still did not disappoint since making the playoffs for a team with this payroll is a victory in itself. The Red Sox continue to grow their beards and look as if they are the hottest team going right now.

The Tigers-A’s series closes out our bracket and this one did not disappoint. Games 1 and 2 were both one run games. In Game 1, Max Scherzer was given a 3-0 lead early and made it stand all the way home. Just barely.Yoenis Cespedes rocked a majestic homer in the 7th to make it 3-2, but this ended up being the final score.  Rookie Sonny Gray took on Tigers superstar ace Justin Verlander in a pitchers duel in Game 2.  A walkoff single by Stephen Vogt capped off a very exciting 1-0 win for the Atheletics. Moving to Detroit, the series was also a toss up.

thAnibal Sanchez has quietly been the MVP of the pitching staff for the Tigers this year, but got roughed up as the A’s came out swinging. The A’s came out victorious 6-3, but the highlight of the game took place in the 9th inning when A’s closer Grant Balfour and Tigers slugger Victor Martinez got in a screaming match. Martinez fouled off a Balfour pitch and the two proceeded to stare at each other, use bleeped verbiage, causing both benches to clear. A mere shouting match. Nothing really came out of this except that some athletes take themselves way too seriously. The Tigers rallied in Game 4 behind home runs from Jhonny Peralta and Martinez to win 8-6. Scherzer came in out of the bullpen highlighting one of my favorite elements of postseason baseball in do-or-die situations.

In a rematch of Game 2, Verlander showed everyone he can be the most dominant pitcher in baseball. He had everything working and Miguel Cabrera hit a two-run homer, giving him all the run support he needed. The Tigers advanced to the ALCS against the Red Sox, leaving the A’s and Billy Beane still one win away from their Moneyball dream. It is hard not to be optimistic about the A’s future, but one can not question if this style of baseball will ever carry them over the top. For the Tigers, they are definitely not playing their best, but they still have the best hitter in baseball in Cabrera and a pitching staff full of studs. Just like the NLCS, the Red Sox and Tigers are indeed the best two teams in the American League. The Tigers look to get back to the World Series and they don’t care who stands in their way. The Red Sox will be ready.

mlb-champsOverall, baseball had four competitive and compelling division series. All four series had some great games and great heroics. The best teams won and coincidently, the four teams left have the most superstar power and should draw the best ratings. In a time where sports fans choose football and basketball over baseball, this is just what the doctor ordered. Baseball is now in position to recapture the hearts of its fans. They have the most stars, pitching and hitting, and geographically, the entire country is represented with these four teams. The Dodgers look to establish themselves as the new mainstay in the National League and how fitting to do it against the classic and respected Cardinals. The Red Sox are back and better than ever. They take on the Tigers who are looking for some revenge after getting swept in the World Series last year. This sports fan is very pleased and excited for the rest of these playoffs. Baseball should be too. These next couple of weeks  could be crucial for the revival of baseball and its fandom. Ratings will be up, and hopefully up for a long time to come.

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NHL Season Preview Part 1:Atlantic Division

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The Cover 4.com presents you with the NHL Season Preview Part 1:Atlantic Division! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @thecover4 or facebook at theCo VerFour

The 2013-14 NHL season is going to look a little different, in terms of teams, divisions and players, all of which have undergone major change. For the upcoming season, the realignment of the NHL is in full effect and there are new divisional names and a new playoff system.  The biggest change in the realignment is the shift of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Detroit Red Wings to the Eastern Conference. There will be new rivalries that were never able to exist in the past. The playoffs will take 16 teams, eight from each conference, and seed them. Under the new alignment, Eastern Conference teams, now consisting of the Metropolitan and Atlantic divisions, will have 30 games against their division opponents and 24 games against conference opponents outside of their division as well as 28 interconference games. To start our season preview, lets take a look at the Atlantic Division.

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BOSTON BRUINS

The Bruins skated their way last year into the Stanley Cup Final facing off against the Chicago Blackhawks, but lost in six games. The Bruins had a bit of a wild offseason in terms of players coming and going. The Bruins traded young forward and former No. 2 overall pick Tyler Seguin to the Dallas Stars after a disappointing year on and off-the-ice. His return netted the Bruins a natural goal scorer in Loui Eriksson, who will likely be paired on a line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. Eriksson has been a reliable source of offense, producing three consecutive 70-plus point seasons before a subpar shortened season last year. Gone are Jaromir Jagr and Nathan Horton, but Boston went out signed 36-year-old Jarome Iginla in place of Jagr. Iginla is on the downside of his career, but he should fit in nicely with Boston’s style of play. The Bruins also lost defenseman Andrew Ference to Edmonton, which is their only notable loss on defense. Zdeno Chara will continue to lead the Bruins blue line as veterans Johnny Boychuk and Dennis Seidenberg are dependable. Dougie Hamilton had an outstanding promising rookie year and could become a top pairing defenseman soon. Also in the mix are Torey Krug , who made a name for himself in the playoffs, Matt Bartkowski, Adam McQuaid  and Joe Morrow, who also came over in the Seguin trade. In goal Tuukka Rask looks to build off a career year and strong playoff appearance as he is now the long-term solution in net for the next eight years. If Rask goes down, Boston will be in trouble as backups Chad Johnson and Niklas Svedberg have little, to no NHL experience.  Boston should be the favorite for this division.

Sabres goalie Ryan Miller sits on the ice after being scored on  during their NHL hockey game in Toronto

BUFFALO SABRES

Buffalo is basically in a rebuilding mode as it has a very weak team and little depth on its roster. Thomas Vanek is the veteran and big name who is looking to lead and carry the team after having his most productive season last year. The forwards for Buffalo are less than ideal and more promise and future hope than what can you do for me now.  Cody Hodgson and Tyler Ennis are two of Buffalo’s most optimistic players as the youngsters combined for 65 points in 2013 and should be looking for a breakout year in a full season. Mikhail Grigorenko, who was looked at as a promising hope of offensive production last year as a rookie, struggled to find his game and managed just one goal in 25 games. He does have the size and skill to be productive if given a full season to play.  Other forwards include Ville Leino, who signed a $26 million contract two years ago, who needs to stay healthy and produce as he has been nothing but a bust thus far. Buffalo will also have the likes of Steve Ott, who is used to create space and open play for guys like Drew Stafford who had the one of the worst seasons of his career last year.  Once promising youngster Tyler Myers, a 6-foot-8 defenseman, saw his minutes drop as he became nothing but a problem every time he was on the ice. The Sabers need improved play from him moving forward to have any chance of success this year. In net, Ryan Miller who many thought would be dealt last year, is back. Miller has been in steady decline since 2010 and his backup, Jhonas Enroth, didn’t look very promising either last year. It looks like it is going to be along year for Buffalo and fans can expect trades to happen and wins hard to come by.

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DETROIT RED WINGS

The Original Six team joins the Eastern Conference this year and enters as an already formidable opponent. Detroit has wanted this switch for years and it finally has it now, as it has a time schedule that is much more suitable for the team.  Detroit will have a much easier conference than years past, but still play top division teams like Pittsburgh, Boston and Montreal. Detroit was expected to have a down year last year, but went beyond expectations. Detroit has an abundance of forwards but is $2.5 million over the cap, which it will need to get down to before October 2. They added long time Ottawa  Senator, Daniel Alfredsson, as their top free agent signing as well as Stephen Weiss who will be replacing Valtteri Filppula. Alfredsson should be motivated to win a Cup as Detroit is a legitimate contender and practically quit on Ottawa last year after going down in its series to Pittsburgh. Weiss escapes a bad Florida team and can finally just be the play maker he is, and not the go-to guy he was expected to be.  Having Pavel Datysuk and Henrik Zetterberg should help him finally be himself on the ice and see his creativity go to work. Darren Helm will start the season on the IR and has had trouble staying healthy. Johan Franzen, Niklas Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson and Mikael Samuelsson can all be depended upon and know what their roles are on the team. Their defense was a question mark heading into last season but this year, it should be a sound defensive unit. The defense is young, a change from years past and features Danny DeKeyser and Alexei Marchenko as players to watch. Ericsson, Kyle Quincey and Kronwall are the veteran leaders on defense.  Jimmy Howard has a chance to be a top goaltender in this league and his playoff success from last year shows he can carry them deep into the playoffs. Detroit will be fighting with the Bruins at the top of the Atlantic this year.

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at Florida Panthers

FLORIDA PANTHERS

There is not much to say about this team other than they are going to need a miracle to even sniff the playoffs this year. They have lots of high ceiling guys, but all offered minimal production. In 2012 they were the best team in their division, but are nothing more than basement dwellers now. They have the 2013 Calder winner Jonathan Huberdeau, who is their top young forward trying to lead Florida back into hockey relevancy. They signed veteran Scott Gomez, who is nothing more than a wasted paycheck anymore, during the offseason and have invited goaltender Tim Thomas to camp for a tryout. Thomas took all of last year off and even if he does make the team, he is nothing more than a backup and mentor.  Florida is led by forwards Tomas Fleischmann and Kris Versteeg on the first line. As I said before, hope is bleak in the SunshineState. A few other notable forwards will be Sean Bergenheim, Scottie Upshall and Marcel Goc as bottom-tier players.  Jacob Markstrom is expected to be the team’s go-to goalie and Florida needs him to be its future goalie. It’s going to be a long year in Florida, not that many will notice, as the Panthers have one of the lowest attendance figures in the league. Count on them to finish last.

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MONTREAL CANADIENS

The Habs didn’t really do much in the offseason in terms of getting better, as they only signed Danny Briere, George Parros and Douglas Murray. None of those three are expected to be game changers for this team. Montreal is banking off its late season surge last year, and feels it already has the necessary pieces in place to compete. Its division gets a little tougher this year but it has the skill and speed to keep up. It needs size and toughness which is what Murray and Parros are for. David Desharnais, Max Pacioretty and Rene Bourque are expected to be the point producers while the bottom two lines expect to wear you down. Lars Eller, Brian Gionta and Brandon Prust are very tough bottom-six names who can give you problems and chip in on the score sheet.  Montreal has a lot of depth on its team and remains solid overall. PK Subban will be his usual self on defense scoring goals and creating problems for other teams, as he is one of the best agitators in the league. Alexei Emelin will also be a name to look for as a key on Montreal’s blue line. Carry Price is signed for another five years and he has become a reliable goalie after showing signs early in his career that he couldn’t handle pressure. Expect Montreal to be a top 3-4 contender in this division.

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OTTAWA SENATORS

Daniel Alfredsson shocked a lot of people in the NHL by leaving Ottawa. It was a true blow to the fans to see the sides only $1 million off and not get a deal done. Maybe he didn’t really want to come back? Either way, it can be argued the Senators made the biggest offseason trade, going out and getting high-scoring winger Bobby Ryan from Anaheim for Jakob Silfverberg and Stefan Noesen. Ryan had been dealing with trade rumors the past few years and he can finally just relax and know it is over.  Ryan will be playing top-three minutes every night and has play-making ability to open space and make his linemates better. Ottawa fans should be excited about this trade because Ryan brings a wealth of talent to an already highly-skilled team.  He should be on a line with (who I assume to be the new captain) Jason Spezza. Spezza is a great passer and there should be a lot of chemistry between the two. Rounding out that line will be Milan Michalek. Kyle Turris will play with newly signed Clarke MacArthur and possibly Cory Conacher or Mika Zibanejad. Erik Karlsson is looking for another nomination for the Norris Trophy this year after being injured for most the year on a play by Matt Cooke last year. The Sens also went out and signed Joe Corvo to play with guys like Eric Gryba and Chris Phillips on the backend. If Craig Anderson can stay healthy, he is a Vezina-type goalie who should be able to backstop this team into a playoff spot. Look for them to be fighting for one of the last playoff spots in the division.

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TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING

Longtime face of the franchise Vincent Lecavalier is gone. His offensive production won’t be missed, but his leadership will. This team is looking to rebound from being one of the worse teams in the league last year, something no one in the NHL saw coming. Valtteri Filppula was their notable free agent signing and was given a lot of money after a disappointing season in Detroit. General Manager Steve Yzerman believes he will have a bounceback year centering the second line with either Teddy Purcell, Alexander Killorn, 2013 No. 2 overall pick Jonathan Drouin or veteran power forward Ryan Malone. My guess would have to be Drouin because he seems more like a natural fit for that line, However, if Drouin struggles early, could he be returned to junior after nine games? I could see Killorn on the top line after he was one of Tampa’s most productive scorers in the AHL. Head coach John Cooper, who took over late last year, should have had more time to establish a system that uses a combination of speed and skill. It could lead to a tougher time for the defense, but their strength is going to be on offense.  Tampa needs to be more consistent this year, after starting last year hot and then resembling a team that forgot how to play. It could score goals, but it could not hold onto leads. In goal, the completion between Ben Bishop and Anders Lindback provides no clear cut favorite for now. Both are big goalies and have the skill set to be number ones, but Tampa is usually a revolving door of goalies. I expect Tampa to struggle this year defensively, and be a brink playoff team thanks to its offense.

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TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS

The Leafs have what might be their best team in more than 10 years, and they are deep with talent. Their top two lines will be Tyler Bozak, Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk as line one and Joffrey Lupul, Nazem Kadri and newly-signed David Clarkson on the second. I love the addition of Clarkson to this team because he gives them another big body on the top two lines and has proven he knows how to use his size around the net. Kessel is playing for a new contract and as the old adage goes, guys in contract years are motivated and should produce. The bottom six brings new addition Dave Bolland, fresh off a Stanley Cup with Chicago, and talented Russian Nikolai Kulemin. Dion Phaneuf is the team’s best defenseman and had an up and down year last year, but was still a reason for Toronto making the playoffs. He was top 10 defenseman scoring and was often paired against teams’ best players. He may not be a true shutdown defenseman, but he knows how create problems for setting up plays. Jake Gardiner is also a defenseman who will be the Leafs go-to offensive defenseman. Toronto’s biggest concern is its overall defense, as it are often facing a barrage of shots each game. Shots lead to scoring chances and this is something it needs to improve upon. In net, James Reimer is the starter while Jonathan Bernier will push for starting duties. Bernier was the Leafs trade acquisition from the Kings in June and is considered a future No. 1 if Reimer is not capable of fulfilling his duties. I expect Toronto to be a playoff tean this team year, somewhere in the 5-7 seed range.

The Atlantic Division will see the return of some of the sport’s best rivalries with Detroit joining the division again, and it will be a fun division to watch. We are only getting started here at the Cover 4 with our NHL season preview, and tomorrow we shift our focus out West to the Central Division. Today, we will leave you with our three choices to secure the divisional playoff bids:

Boston

Detroit

Montreal

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MLB Playoffs:One and Done

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The Cover 4.com presents you with the MLB Playoffs:One and Done! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @thecover4 or facebook at theCo VerFour

The Wild in the WIldCard

The purpose of the playoffs is to provide a forum to establish the best team of the best teams over a course of a year.  As in most sports, there is a regular season to weed out the poor teams and isolate the good teams. In football, they play once a week in a 16 game season. In the NBA, they play three or four times a week in an 82 game season. In baseball, teams play six or seven times a week in a 162 game season. Why do they play that many games? Maybe it is less grueling on the body so they can afford to play almost every day, unlike basketball and especially football. So, if that many games are laid out to determine the best teams over such a large sample size, you would think baseball would have the largest and longest size for their playoffs amongst the main sports. Right? Nope.  It’s laughable. And for the Rangers, Reds, and the Indians, they receive the short end of the stick.

With baseball’s new Wild Card format, they have baseball teams competing in a one, yes I repeat, ONE game playoff to determine who moves on and who is gone. After six long moths of regular season games traveling around the country, they the new format dictates that their postseason fate is determined by one game. Last time I checked my math, this ratio of regular season games to playoff games here is preposterous, and it has me burning more than a summer in Death Valley.

world-series-trophy-rangers-cardinals-baseballBaseball, and Bud Selig especially, thought they would make baseball more meaningful in September by adding an extra playoff spot for a competing team. Instead of three division winners and a wildcard in each league, the new format as of last season includes the three division winners and two wildcard spots. The two wildcard teams however, who have experienced all the twists and turns of a 162 game season, then compete in one solitary game to determine who will play the division winner with the best record in baseball as the true wildcard representative. Give me a break! And I’m not talking about a Kit Kat. How can baseball think this is fair? No wonder Bud Selig recently announced his retirement at the end of next season. No wonder the ratings are down.

In a sport where one pitcher can determine the whole outcome of a game, to have one sudden death game be played is ludicrous. Baseball has the least amount of teams make the playoffs compared to hockey, basketball, and football. How can they truly justify the existence of such a short element in their post-season. A broken clock is right twice a day, but it does not mean that this is the best clock in a clock store. This is the World Series we are talking about, not March Madness, or a clock store.

In basketball, they have 16 teams make the playoffs and every series is best 4 out of 7. Even hockey partakes in this same format. They play half the games baseball does. And in basketball, sure winning game 1 is a good start to winning a series, but not every team that wins game 1 wins the series. This year and last year’s NBA Finals, LeBron James and the Miami Heat lost game 1 both times before moving on to win the series. If it was the baseball wildcard playoff, LeBron would still be known as the “Ringless King.” The reason this does not happen in basketball is because in a competitive sport where parody exists everywhere, the better team is determined over a larger sample sizes. It is not football, and you cannot fairly outline a system where one game determines who wins and goes home after such a long quantitative regular season.

NASCAR races do not determine the winner after 5 laps. Tennis matches do not play best 3 out of 5 games in a set to see who wins the whole match. Majors in Golf are not determined by two round tournaments or 9 hole matches. Soccer matches do not play twenty-minute games in the World Cup. I can go on and one with examples to illustrate my point, but it will not change the format that exists in baseball.  Otherwise, this article would have only been one paragraph long.

Going into the final weekend of the regular season, the National League Wildcard matchup was clear-cut and the American League Wildcard reminded me of the BCS System. The Cardinals, Pirates, and Reds had an exciting battle throughout the final months of the season. The Cardinals, class personified, took the NL Central Crown and the Reds and Pirates battled off for the Wild Card Spot. The Pirates with the better record held the home field and predictably defended their turf, winning 6-2 the re-emerging of Francisco Liriano. Pittsburgh postseason baseball has not taken place since 1992, and this victory against the Reds was a fantastic emotional watch. However, if I am a Reds advocate, I played 82 home games during the regular season to prepare me for the playoffs, qualified for the playoffs, and I do not get even one home playoff game? This is blatantly out of bounds, unnecessary, and insulting. Make it two out of three. Do something Bud. Even the WNBA plays two out of three throughout the playoffs. You cannot justify playing that many regular season games to only have one game determine a team’s fate. Not to this baseball fan. Sorry Reds fans, looks like you had to walk the plank.

In the American League, the Wild Card Playoff berths resembled a hybrid of a Presidential Election Race and the BCS Bowl system. Chaotic, confusing, and most importantly, unfair. If two teams are supposed to play in a one-game playoff for the final wildcard spot, what happens when there is a tie for these final two spots? Well, I guess you can say baseball got its wish. The Rangers and the Rays tied for the second Wild Card spot, while the Indians finished first for the top spot. There were ten different cluttered scenarios that could have happened on the final day of the season. Hypothetically if this happens; then this is the result. In the end, there was a one-game playoff for the one-game playoff, furthering the ridiculousness of this new system.

8811b8d4321303213f0f6a7067001791The Tampa Bay Rays threw their ace David Price against the Texas Rangers in Arlington. And the Rangers pitcher was Yu Darvish, their best pitcher, naturally right? No, incorrect. Martin Perez who? Why, because Yu pitched on the final day of the season to secure their playoff “berth.” Baseball features a dynamic where a pitcher can impact a game more than any player on the field. This is why they typically pitch once every five games. The format did not even allow a team to have their best pitcher throw one pitch. How can this format truly determine the best team? It is very unfair and cruel. Sorry Rangers, you just got stung. By the Rays and more importantly, baseball’s misconception of balance. And what the playoffs represent.

The Rays got to throw their ace against the Rangers and they won. Then they advanced to the real wildcard playoff against the Indians, where they showcased Alex Cobb. Their number two starter Matt Moore could not pitch because he pitched on the final day of the regular season, but is scheduled to start Game 1 against the Red Sox on Friday in the ALDS. And the Indians were unable to throw their hottest pitcher in Ubaldo Jimenez. They had to pitch rookie Danny Salazar. He gave up a couple runs, but the story of the game was that the Indians stranded baserunners left and right. The Indians outhit the Rays but lost 4-0. In a long series, they could have won 4-1 and outhit them every game. We will never know. Neither will the Indians nor their fans. Cleveland sports will have to continue to suffer because of this stupid format. One off-night after a ten game winning streak sends a team home with no second, third or fourth chance.

In the end, the best team is determined in the League Championship Series and World Series. Why? Because it is a best-out-of-seven series. All pitchers can be used, and all assets and liabilities can be used and exposed. But in getting to these final four teams, injustice is incurred along the way. Basketball playoffs take almost two months, where baseball’s takes place in one month, and Baseball plays twice as many games in the regular season. Now I’m no math teacher, but something does not add up. Here is a quick solution: Cut out the final month of the regular season and make the playoffs longer. Simple, make it a 130 game season and make more playoff games.

Yasiel-PuigC’mon baseball! Show us you can adapt. Football adopted its new overtime system because its previous format created a scenario where one team potentially did not get a fair chance. They realized a problem existed and rectified it. Baseball is moving slowly with updates in instant replay because baseball is America’s pastime. Change is hard for them, and the changes they do make are also unfair. They have the All-Star Game winner’s league get home-field advantage in the World Series. There are so many elements of this sport that I love that are broken. Baseball needs to strongly look at itself in the mirror, put on the eye black, and re-evaluate its playoff system, especially the Wild Card format. They are not only robbing the teams, but the fans as well. We all want you to succeed baseball, but you are making it very hard on yourself.

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NHL Season Preview Part 4:Metro Division

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The Cover 4.com presents you with the NHL Season Preview Part 4:Metro Division! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @thecover4 or facebook at theCo VerFour

In  the final installment of our season preview, we swing back to the Eastern Conference and take a look at the newly formed and named Metropolitan Division. The Metro is a star-studded division featuring the likes Claude Giroux, Rick Nash, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin.  This division figures to be the most intense, keeping great rivalries such as Flyers-Penguins, Flyers-Rangers and Rangers-Islanders together, while adding new, great divisional rivalries like Flyers-Caps and Pens-Caps. Let’s take a look at how the division figures to break down.

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CAROLINA HURRICANES 

The Hurricanes are one of those teams you look at on paper and wonder just why they were so bad last year? The answer is goaltender Cam Ward. He is the key to this Carolina team and when he went down last year, so did the team. Their top=six forwards are strong, and include two Staals, Eric and Jordan, as well as Jeff Skinner and Alexander Semin. The No. 5 overall pick this summer, Elias Lindholm is also supposed to make the team. Offensively this team should be ok. Where it really went wrong last year was trying to stop the puck from going in the net. In the offseason the Hurricanes lost defensemen Jamie McBain and Joe Corvo, not that they were helping out much with the defense last year, and picked up Mike Komisarek and Andrej Sekera. The Hurricanes allowed the second-most goals last season (159), ranking at the near top of list of teams who faced the most shots. It is easy to see why this team was bad. Tim Gleason, Joni Pitkanen, Jay Harrison and Justin Faulk, all return and are not exactly names that make teams think they are going to be running into a lot of problems. The Hurricanes made some improvements to the blue line, but I don’t see enough of an improvement here to be talking playoffs. The potential to be wrong with that prediction is there, but I feel they did not do enough to help themselves.

Sergei Bobrovsky

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS

Columbus is one of my favorite up-and-coming teams in this league and it has finally found themselves in the Eastern Conference where it belongs.  It has what is essentially the same roster back and barely missed the playoffs last year. It is in a much tougher division this year however, and will need to play its best hockey every night to have a chance at making the playoffs. With that said, the Blue Jackets will need to ride Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky throughout the year to succeed. Bobrovsky was practically given away from the Philadelphia Flyers two years ago and last year blossomed into what he was supposed to all along. He was out to prove many wrong, and he did just that. Their biggest off season signing, Nathan Horton, is recovering from shoulder surgery but his offensive production is expected to help when he returns. Marian Gaborik, who is in a contract year, will look to lead the team offensively, but like always with him, he will need to stay healthy.  Artem Anisimov was re-signed and is also expected to score and be a top-six forward while R.J. Umberger, Nick Foligno and Brandon Dubinsky are also secondary scorers. Jack Johnson, Fedor Tyutin and James Wisniewski are all veterans who can fill big defensive roles for this club. The No. 2 overall pick in 2012, Ryan Murray hopes an injury from last year is behind him, and he is ready to go for this season. If they can replicate everything that went right for them last year, the Blue Jackets should be in the mix for a playoff spot.

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NEW JERSEY DEVILS 

Who exactly is supposed to score goals on this team? Over the last two years it has lost any resemblance of a team that knows how put pucks in the net. The Devils lost Ilya Kovalchuk to his “retirement” to the KHL, David Clarkson to Toronto and Alexei Ponikarovsky, who was never really that great to start with. They added Jaromir Jagr, Ryane Clowe and Michael Ryder doing themselves no favors trying to get younger and still being as equally goal challenged as before. These are hard times for the Devils as they are now owned by the NHL, and Martin Brodeur fades into retirement after this season. Adam Henrique, Patrik Elias and Travis Zajac get the call to light the lamp, but don’t expect staggering numbers. If one thing went right this offseason, it was finding an eventual replacement for Brodeur via Vancouver. Cory Schneider will be the backup, but he should also get a bulk of the starts as well. The Devils likely will have their worst season in years and finish last in the division.

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NEW YORK ISLANDERS

Over the last four years, it may not have looked like it at the time, but the Islanders were building a team with a lot of potential. Last year, that team finally came out. A team built from newly-named captain John Tavares  features the young talent of Matt Moulson, Michael Grabner , Kyle Okposo Josh Bailey, Travis Hamonic, Ryan Strome and soon-to-be NHLer Griffin Reinhart. The Islanders are one of the fastest teams in the NHL and can hang and wear teams down over the course of a game. See the Pittsburgh series from last year’s playoffs. The Islanders should have beaten the Penguins, but go no help from their goaltending. Okposo had an awful year last year scoring just four goals, and will be needed this year to help contribute. The team lost defenseman Mark Streit, which hurts their power play but Lubomir Visnovsky can fill that role. Among their other defensemen, the Islanders are in trouble. There is not much there in terms of overwhelming talent and will be a weakness for them this year.  Evgeni Nabokov is 38 and played OK in the regular season, but his postseason was one to forget. Backup goalie Kevin Poulin provides no hope. Expect the Islanders to be fast and sexy, but I think this team needs some help on defense and in goal before talking playoffs this year.

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NEW YORK RANGERS

Out is head coach John Tortorella and new bench boss, Alain Vigneault formerly of Vancouver, takes over. Vigneault should be the right coach for this team, finally freeing the players from the defensive-minded vice grip Tortorella had on them. That means Rick Nash, Brad Richards and Derick Brassard have their handcuffs off and should be ready to fire at will at the net.  Ryan Callahan and Derek Stepan, two of the best two-way forwards in the NHL, will also have an easier time playing more to their game, although not much is expected to change with how they produce. New addition Benoit Pouliot is also an ideal third-line player and should be interesting to watch on this team as he can score if paired with the right players. On defense, Marc Staal is recovered from a career-threatening eye injury. It will be interesting see how he approaches stepping in front of a puck now. Also in that group is Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh and Michael Del Zotto who are all sound NHL defensemen.  Goaltending, we all know what to expect from Henrik Lundqvist, but with a less defensive sound team now, it will interesting to see how he responds. Expect for the Rangers to compete for the top of the division.

Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Kris Letang

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS

We hear it every year, they have the two best players in the world in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The team around them is built to win and score, as the Penguins were NHL’s highest-scoring team at 3.38 goals per game during the regular season. They lost all those shiny new “old” toys in Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow and Douglas Murray they acquired last year as well as gritty forward and fan favorite Matt Cooke, and Tyler Kennedy to a trade. Instead of going out and signing new players with high upside, they put all of their money into known commodities Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis. The top six will look the same, minus a potential rotating door of Beau Bennett  and Jussi Jokinen on the Malkin and James Neal line. Where the Penguins will really be hurting is the lack of size and grit from their bottom six forwards. Brandon Sutter and newcomer Matt D’Agostini will try to help with lower line scoring. On defense, they kept Kris Letang around, which is huge and signed defenseman Rob Scuderi, an old familiar face, back to the team. The Penguins are beyond loaded with organizational depth on defense and once again it should not be much of an issue (although it was during the playoffs). The biggest question mark is goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who once again fell apart in the playoffs. He saw a sports psychologist during the offseason to help, but this is a make or break year for his career. Backup goaltender Tomas Vokoun is out indefinitely with a blood clot. Vokoun carried the Penguins through the playoffs last year, so Fleury will really need to be on top of his game. Expect this Penguins team to be at the top or finish second in the Metro.

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PHILADELPHIA FLYERS 

When I look at the Flyers, I see a team who has top tier offensive talent, but lacks the overall fear I would normally have in a Flyers team. There is no question their talent at forward is one of the better looking ones in the division.  Claude Giroux is one of the most talented and gifted players in the NHL and will be the team leader in points. Jakub Voracek had a breakout season recording 46 points in a short year while Scott Hartnell will look to bounce back after breaking his foot and only scored 16 points. Wayne Simmonds and Matt Read had nice years, while Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn need to improve after producing well below what was expected of them last year. Newest addition Vincent Lecavalier, who is replacing the departed Danny Briere, should be the second line center and if healthy, he will have a similar role he shared in Tampa over the past few years. On defense, the Flyers had more injures than they could have imagined and were never able to recover. Kimmo Timonen had 29 points on defense and Luke Schenn was nothing special. Their biggest addition was Mark Streit who will ease the pressure of Timonen and become the quarterback of the power play. Health will be a huge determent again as to how well this team does. It’s never the Flyers unless they are having goaltending issues, and always, they are. Gone is head case Ilya Bryzgalov, and a tandem of sub-par goaltending in Steve Mason and Ray Emery will be called upon to play well beyond their better years.  I expect the Flyers to finish either third or fourth in the division.

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WASHINGTON CAPITALS

The Capitals were the Southeast Division winners last year, but this year they join the Wild West run-and-gun Metropolitan Division  where they will need to learn how to defend.  Adam Oates needs more credit for revitalizing Alex Ovechkin’s career, forcing him to right wing where scored a league-high 32 goals and won his third Hart Trophy. Ovechkin seemed lost and many were starting to wonder if this was beginning of the end to his career as an elite player.  But Oates brought out in Ovi what he had been missing for the last two seasons, and Ovi seems to have responded. Mikhail Grabovski was a big pick up and should be the second line center after losing Mike Ribeiro. He has a scoring reputation that the Capitals love and top to the bottom, the Caps have four sound lines. Brooks Laich and Nicklas Backstrom should have no problem putting up their expected point totals for another strong Washington offense. The Capitals defense is a big question this year. The big names; Mike Green, Karl Alzner and John Carlson will be fine, but it is the other three remaining defensemen who bring a lot questions. Green obviously will need to stay healthy, as this has become a re-occurring problem for him. The final three defensemen will be names like John Erskine, Tomas Kundratek and Dmitry Orlov. Erskine is the name that many will recognize and is someone the Capitals will need to perform as bottom type defenseman. The goaltender job is Braden Holtby’s to lose, but seems to have finally answer the call as to who should be starting. He had a strong end to his season, but struggled in the playoffs leading to questions if he was the right goalie. He is, but will need to show it was not a fluke. It can be said the team in front of him did not play well, but this is a team effort and he deserves equal blame.  I predict the Capitals will finish somewhere around third or fourth in the division, competing with Philadelphia for one of those spots.

As you can see, the Metro Division is going to be a tightly contested division, with tons of star power battling for supremacy. The headlines are there, the stars are there, and the excitement will surely be there. For our money, here is who we expect to receive the automatic bids out of the Metro this season:

Pittsburgh

Rangers

Capitals

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NHL Season Preview Part 2:Central Division

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The Cover 4.com presents you with the NHL Season Preview Part 2:Central Division! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @thecover4 or facebook at theCo VerFour

In round two of our 2013-14 season preview, we are going to head out west, to arguably one of the tightest divisions in the NHL, the Central Division. The Central is one of the most different divisions after realignment as longtime division champ Detroit and the Columbus Blue Jackets have both been moved to the Eastern Conference.  In come the Winnipeg Jets and Dallas Stars who are both going to benefit tremendously from their division alignment this year. Let’s break it down for you, starting with Chicago.

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CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS

Well, not much to say about the Blackhawks. They are the defending Stanley Cup champions, and they were fortunate to not have much turnover this offseason. The extended their goaltender Corey Crawford long term, and although backup Ray Emery left Chicago for the greener goaltending pastures of Philadelphia, they brought back Nikolai Khabibulin to fill that void. Viktor Stalberg is gone too, but the Hawks were able to resign playoff hero Bryan Bickell, and bring in rugged Theo Peckham on defense. They also retained crucial second-line center Michal Handzus who will attempt to offset the loss of long-time Hawk Dave Bolland. With a bevy of established star power in Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith, along with the emergence of rookie Brandon Saad, the Hawks will be a force to be reckoned with again this season.

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COLORADO AVALANCHE

It is a bounce-back season for the youthful Avs, as they finished last in the Western Conference last season, and sported the second-worst record in hockey, earning them the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, with which they chose Nathan MacKinnon. With such a young team, the Avs certainly suffered from a lockout-shortened training camp, and the Ryan O’Reilly holdout didn’t help, nor did the extended absence of their young captain Gabriel Landeskog. Both are in camp and ready to go this year, along with MacKinnon and budding superstar Matt Duchene. Combined with gritty power forward Steve Downie, underrated winger PA Parenteau, and former No. 1 . overall pick Erik Johnson, as well as the Avs goaltending duo of Semyon Varlamov and J.S. Giguere the Avs should be competitive and fighting for a playoff spot.

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DALLAS STARS

The Dallas Stars will be an interesting team to watch this season. Along with a re-branded logo and image, the team that takes the ice will be quite different from last season. For starters, longtime Sabres coach Lindy Ruff is the new bench boss. In addition to Ruff, their heart and soul and face of the franchise in captain Brenden Morrow was dealt to the Penguins at last season’s trade deadline, and his leadership will be sorely missed. In addition to the departure of Morrow, the Stars shipped perhaps the most underrated player in the league in Loui Erikkson to the Boston Bruins, but in exchange, they received Tyler Seguin, who has superstar potential, and Rich Peverley who will solidify their bottom-six forwards and their top PK unit. Jamie Benn had a tough season last year after a contract holdout that followed the league lockout. Benn will look to have a bounceback season, and my money is on him to receive the captain’s C to replace Morrow. Goaltender Kari Lehtonen continued his evolution into a top netminder, and will look to pick right back up where he left off. In addition, realignment has benefited Dallas more than most as they will now play in the Central Division, which will help TV ratings when the team is on the road, which will go a long way to financial security, something this club really needs.

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MINNESOTA WILD

The Wild enjoyed a ride back to the postseason last year on the backs of free agent signees Zack Parise and Ryan Suter (who finished as a Norris Trophy finalist) and longtime goalie Nicklas Backstrom. Unfortunately for the Wild, they finished eighth  in the West, drawing the eventual Cup champs in the Blackhawks in the first round of the playoffs, and to make matters worse, their goaltender was hurt in warm ups of Game 1, and missed the entire series. The Wild will look to bounce back this year with the majority of the same team from last year. The loss of underrated center Matt Cullen will hurt along with the physical presence of Cal Clutterbuck, who was dealt to the Islanders at the draft for top prospect Nino Neiderreiter. Matt Cooke was brought in to replace Clutterbuck’s physical presence, and he adds a tad more skill, along with the highly skilled Neidereiter. They added depth on the blue line with the addition of Keith Ballard from Vancouver. Parise and Suter, with one year of leading this team together under their belt, will look to pick up where they left off and with second-year stud Jonas Brodin and longtime captain Mikko Koivu, the Wild will be right in the thick of it this season.

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NASHVILLE PREDATORS

The Predators will look to rebound after a disappointing season last year. Unlike last offseason, the Preds won’t be reeling from a free agency loss as they were with Ryan Suter. Nashville will ice a slightly more talented team than last season. Viktor Stalberg and Matt Cullen join the mix along with young star Filip Forsberg. First-round pick Seth Jones who surprisingly fell to the Preds at No. 4 overall in this summer’s draft, will be on the team and will add a dimension on the blueline that the Preds have not had in some time, and that is a legitimate offensive defenseman. In addition to the talent, Nashville solidified their character players by signing Matt Hendricks and Eric Nystrom, both of whom will go along way in a playoff series. As always, it will boil down to goaltending, and Nashville boasts one of the league’s best in Pekka Rinne. Look for Nashville to sneak into the playoff hunt again this year.

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ST. LOUIS BLUES

The Blues suffered a heartbreaking defeat in the first round of last year’s playoffs, but that shouldn’t sour anyone on this team. They still have one of, if not the best, goaltending tandems in the league with Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak. Veteran Brenden Morrow signed late in the preseason at a discount because he believes they have a legitimate shot at a Stanley Cup. Young power forward Magnus Paajarvi was acquired from the Oilers in exchange for oft-injured, yet talented winger David Perron. Franchise defenseman Alex Pietrangelo just extended his contract for seven more years, and center Derek Roy was brought in for depth. Agitator extraordinaire Max Lapierre was brought in to help provide some grit and sandpaper to the lineup. The Blues have a diverse line up of skill, grit, and speed, and should be another contender for the Cup this year.

New York Islanders v Winnipeg Jets

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The Jets will benefit from a vastly reduced travel schedule, and are arguably the biggest winners of NHL realignment. The former Atlanta Thrashers played the last two years in the Southeast Division, but now will play in the Central. It could be argued that the team’s late season breakdown last year was caused by the grueling post-lockout schedule mixed with their insane travel schedule. The Jets should contend for a playoff position this season if they can stay healthy. Led by Dustin Byfuglien, the Jets should provide a pretty potent offense. Bryan Little is getting better each year, and Evander Kane is a bonafide star. The acquisitions of Michael Frolik and Devin Setoguchi will help solidify the secondary scoring, and depth players like captain Andrew Ladd, Matt Halischuk and Olli Jokinen will help stabilize the Jets in all three zones, and youngster Mark Scheifle has star written all over him. Tobias Enstrom helps QB the power play and Mark Stuart is an every situation type of defensemen. Goaltending will ultimately decide the Jets fate, as Ondrej Pavelic has shown a lot of potential over the past few seasons.

The Central Division looks to be one of the tightest and most contested divisions in the league this season, as it always is. Don’t be surprised if the maximum number of playoff teams (5) that a division can send to the playoffs comes from the Central this year. With Detroit out of the picture in the Central, the throne at the top is vacant, and these guys will all be battling for supremacy. Thanks for joining us for the Central Division breakdown, please stop back tomorrow to check out the Pacific Division preview. For now, we will leave you with our three picks for the divisional playoff bids:

Chicago

St. Louis

Minnesota

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The Small Market Superstars

The Atlanta Braves and the Oakland A’s are definitely not the sexiest teams in Major League Baseball, but they sure are good. They have quietly put together very respectable seasons, and both teams are in excellent position to make moves in October. Nipping on the heels of the Boston Red Sox, the Braves and A’s maintain the second- and third-best records in baseball. Atlanta and Oakland aren’t the most glamorous markets in baseball, but their fans are passionate about their teams, and rightfully so. With home-field advantage throughout the playoffs in sight, the A’s and Braves are looking to make it to the World Series. The ratings would be terrible to the disdain of Bud Selig, but neither team could care less.

Let’s start with the Braves. After winning 14 consecutive division titles, the Braves have been in a drought. Until this year the Braves have not won the NL East since 2005. The Braves have cruised throughout the entire season, without any obstacles in the way. They have avoided serious injuries all year and every other team in the NL East has been very disappointing. The Nationals were many experts’ World Series picks. Boy, do they look wrong now. The Phillies are old and hurt. The New York Mets do have some talent, but an underachieving season in Queens took place yet again. Finally, the Florida, I mean Miami Marlins do have a rising star in Giancarlo Stanton and a colorful new baseball stadium, but the team is pathetic. They will be sending thank you cards to the Astros for helping them avoid even more shame and embarrassment. All in all, the Braves played well enough to win the division, but many teams could have taken advantage of their weak rivals.

The Oakland A’s path to the AL West division title has been a little more challenging than the Braves’. They actually have a decent team that plays in their division, the Texas Rangers, who are fighting for a Wild Card spot. The Los Angeles Angels are just as disappointing as the Nationals and the Phillies, proving that having a big payroll only matters in the United Nations. The Seattle Mariners are a lost franchise, with no direction or identity. They have even caused their manager to have cardiac problems because they are so heartbreaking to watch. Hope you are doing okay Eric Wedge.  And as foreshadowed earlier, the Houston Astros make the word awful seem attractive. They have lost more than 100 games and probably every last fan of baseball in Houston. That organization is so desperate that it has to pay their fans to come to the games. The players are the ones asking for the autographs. The days of the Killer B’s are gone, and the Astros are grateful that this season is almost over, too. These disappointing and poor teams have paved the way for the A’s to claim the division, but this should not hide the fact that the A’s are a hell of a ballclub.

The Braves are led by rising star Freddie Freeman. His left-handed bat represents the most intimidating presence in their lineup. Justin Upton and Brian McCann contribute with their clutch bats as well, doing it in a nonchalant way.  Veterans Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton have the same story. They won’t hit for average and they strike out more than Pete Weber, but are capable of hitting some deep balls in October. They have a pitching staff full on young studs. Julio Teheran, Kris Medlen, Mike Minor and Alex Wood are inexperienced, but capable of shutting down any offense. Their bullpen is solid and they have the best closer in baseball in Craig Kimbrel. I feel bad for McCann’s hand when he pitches. Ouch.

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Bottom line is the Braves are like that nice coworker that performs well all the time. You cannot really say a bad word about him. He is too nice to want to criticize. No ego at all, very humble. Like that coworker, the Braves are not flashy, they do not search for attention and in return none is really given to them. However, they win, win, and win. Whether we notice is irrelevant. Led by Fredi Gonzalez, the Braves head into October with a lot of confidence in themselves and chances in winning it all. Do they have the real superstars, hitting or pitching that it usually takes to win it all? Only time will tell.

Similar to the Braves, the A’s are a quiet group of ballplayers that only the avid baseball fan knows about. If you thought the Braves lacked stars, then the A’s would be a lunar eclipse near a black hole. We know Billy Beane likes science with his beliefs in sabermetrics, a numbers approach to baseball. Each year, they produce players that most teams have discarded. This year’s A’s include leading hitters Josh Donaldson and Yoenis Cespedes. Cespedes is like the A’s version of Yasiel Puig, minus the cocky attitude, ego, boneheaded mistakes, sliding into home plate on a walk-off and tardiness. OK, so maybe the similarities only lie with their Cuban heritage and use of interpreters.

Brandon Moss, Jed Lowrie and Coco Crisp round out the rest of the meat of their lineup and nobody could tell you they have watched more than one of their at-bats this year. The only thing catchy about their team is that they have a guy named Coco Crisp. The A’s are the only franchise left that shares a field with another team, not worth spending money on a new stadium. Where they play doesn’t matter to them and neither does who watches them. Point being is that the A’s are not rating-friendly. Even with the Moneyball movie, most fans do not regard them as a must-see team to watch. They are not shown on Sunday Night Baseball and the A’s are perfectly content with that. They are a feel-good Cinderella story that always makes the tournament, but never makes noise. They are the Boise State of baseball, minus the blue turf. Bartolo Colon may be more bloated than the Goodyear Blimp, but he is dominating this year and leading the pitching staff. For the A’s, they will get another crack to make Beane’s dream come true for a real Hollywood ending.

The Braves and A’s have a lot in common and the same goal. They lack the big names and market that most World Series teams have. From their manager (head) to their toe (closer), their squad is full of guys who only fantasy experts and statisticians recognize. When a viewer sees Oakland or Atlanta on the TV guide, the channel is skipped over way more times than not. However, they play the game the right way. They get the runners on, over, and in, and it does not matter who does it. Winning is most important and both teams, I emphasize teams, have done it a lot this year.

The real question now is do they have what it takes to win it all this year? It is possible, but history says it is unlikely. Even though the Braves won 14 consecutive championships with solid ballclubs from 1992-2005, they only won one World Series. Even though Beane and the A’s had a movie written about their unconventional success story, there actually has been very little success for them in October. There is a reason Ralph Nader had no chance in his Presidential aspirations. The big names always win. Superstars are made in October. Who knows? This year’s World Series’ superstars might not be superstars after all. The Atlanta Braves and Oakland A’s would not have it any other way.

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Eye of the Tigers

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With the playoffs around the corner, the top teams of Major League Baseball are preparing for a World Series run. September is the month where the best of the best can rest a little bit. They have compiled such good records throughout the course of the season that they can line up their pitching for the postseason. People who have minor injuries can rest them because they can afford to. Teams contending for those wild card spots do not have this luxury. Teams like the Red Sox, Tigers, Dodgers and Braves are in position where they can visit the pit stop for some good maintenance.  All four teams represent the No. 1 seeds if this were a bracket. However, the team with the best chance to win it all this year is the Detroit Tigers.

Detroit-Tigers-Miguel-CabreraMiguel Cabrera. Need I say more? They have the best hitter in baseball and he is having another phenomenal season, chasing the Triple Crown. He may have off-the-field issues, but who cares?  He is becoming one of the best hitters of all-time in terms of power, clutchness and batting average. It does not matter what pitchers he faces. You know the adage, “good pitching beats good hitting,” Not with Cabrera. He reminds me of the Dos Equis Guy, aka the “Most Interesting Man in the World,” except Cabrera advertises hitting. They have invented a new pitching category for pitchers who start against the Tigers when he does not get a hit. A Complete Miguel Cabrera Shutout. Pitchers are relieved when he hits a double because they prevented him from scoring on his own hit. “Miggy Pop,” as his teammates call him, could outhit most of the league using a tennis racket. Slight exaggeration, but he is truly that good. With another Triple Crown in sight, Cabrera will be sharp once October comes around and lead this potent Tigers offense.

In addition to the best hitter, the pitching staff of the Detroit Tigers is second to none. The scariest part is that their ace can easily be outdone at any time by their No. 4 starter. Normally, this would be an awful thing on a team. Not for the Tigers. Justin Verlander has been one of the best pitchers in baseball for a long time. With two no-hitters on his resume, his electric fastball and breaking pitches is a devastating combo. Now, he has had a subpar year by his standards, but all experts know that on any given day another no-hitter can be thrown. He will surely start Game 1 in every series as the leader of this staff

Detroit Tigers v Tampa Bay RaysMax Scherzer is having a breakout season. Very simply, he is 19-3 with a 3.01 ERA as of September 12. His team seems to always give him run support and Scherzer looks like he will be the Game 3 starter. That’s like having to drive the Porsche third because you had to drive the Bentley and Aston Martin first. His last name may be tough to look at, but his pitching this has been anything but. Anibal Sanchez might be the most consistent starter out of the group, proving he is worth every penny that he was signed for in the offseason. Doug Fister is that crafty veteran of the group and could be a No. 1 or 2 starter for most teams. He would have to wait until Game 4 to pitch, if there is a Game 4. From top to bottom, the Tigers’ big four is lethal, all capable of shutting out any team on any given night. Good luck hitters. You are going to need it.

Now let’s take a peek at the supporting cast. The Tigers spent a lot of money landing free agent Prince Fielder and he is doing a great job playing Robin to Batman. First of all, the only reason Cabrera is able to not get pitched around is because Fielder is licking his chops in the on-deck circle. If anything, Fielder has it tougher because he is the one in position to get pitched around in a tight spot. He has remained under the radar a lot, but don’t be surprised if he ended up being the MVP of the team in the postseason. He is posting very solid numbers this year and combined with Cabrera, represent the most formidable 1-2 punch in baseball. It’s a right-handed and a left-handed punch that Canelo Alvarez could have sure used against Floyd Mayweather.

Torii Hunter joined the ball club this year and has rejuvenated his career. After some underachieving seasons with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Hunter is killing it this year. Just like his name, his two eyes help form his identity. And this year, he is seeing the ball brilliantly, hovering around a .300 batting average with a chance at 90 RBI this year. Austin Jackson, like Fielder, is having a respectable year leading the way at the top. The main reason Cabrera has a shot at the Triple Crown is because Jackson and Hunter are always on base. They set the table. A good running back cannot excel without a good offensive line. A good eater cannot eat if there is no food on the table. Maybe that’s why Cabrera has gotten so plump in recent years. This supporting cast around Cabrera makes so many of his at-bats meaningful. They all are patient and know their roles. This lineup is going to be very tough to beat.

Torii+Hunter+Atlanta+Braves+v+Detroit+Tigers+vVruMJbOmsMxSince the Biogenesis suspensions were handed out, the Tigers have reached somewhat of a lull in their season. They lost Jhonny Peralta to this steroid suspension, and some have said that this has gone hand in hand with their plateau in their performance. I think not. Jim Leyland would not let this happen. Let’s cut the Tigers a break. They played in the World Series last year and are eager for it to be October again. Every “championship or bust” team goes through this. The regular season can be boring at times, especially when you play 162 games in a season. They know how good they are and how little meaning the regular season has once a playoff spot has been secured. Leyland, the second oldest manager in the big leagues, has seen a lot of baseball in his day and knows how to manage teams through this phase. Experience is something that the Tigers have on their side all throughout their roster and Leyland is the brains of the operation. He is the jockey and is keeping the reins on his thoroughbred until the final sprint of the race.

The Tigers have comfortably led the AL Central throughout the entire season. Sure, the Indians and Royals have been feel good stories and given Detroit a little reason to cause to pause, as they say, but let’s be honest, it’s the Cleveland Indians and the Kansas City Royals. Kansas City fans have moved on to supporting the Chiefs and Cleveland fans are already looking toward the NFL Draft. They have better hitting than the Dodgers and Braves, subjectively and statistically speaking. And compared to a similar offense in the Red Sox, their pitching staff trumps Red Sox hands down.

The Tigers are equipped with the most powerful offense in baseball, led by Cabrera, the best hitter in baseball. With guys like Fielder, Hunter and Jackson surrounding him in the lineup, crooked numbers can happen in any given inning. Role players in Andy Dirks, Alex Avila and Omar Infante will be crucial as well. Look for many calls to the bullpen by opposing managers. If by some chance the offense has an off night, the hurlers will be waiting to show the team’s true stripes. Pitching is vital in October and the Tigers, led by Verlander and Scherzer, have plenty of it. Throughout the playoffs, the Tigers will have a top pitcher on the bump, and the opposing offenses will have an uphill battle, literally. Throw Leyland into the mix with leadership and experience, the ingredients are in line for a World Series title. You heard it here. Detroit Tigers will be champions at the end of October.

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Thank you for reading The Cover 4! Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook & Twitter.

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Paul Culley
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