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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Baylor Bears Football: A New Reason to not Mess with Texas

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If I asked you what team hasn’t had a victory by less than double digits this season, has a defense allowing only 17.4 points per game and beat its highest ranked opponent by more than four touchdowns, what team would you name? After another typical Saturday of hanging up more than 60 points on their opponent, the Baylor Bears have gone from unranked in the preseason to No. 3 in the current AP poll. Stanford’s loss to USC Saturday night allowed for the remaining undefeated teams to hold the top four spots in the latest BCS standings. While also undefeated Ohio State still holds the No. 3 spot in the BCS standings, it’s sweating with its .0013 advantage over the Bears in the computer rankings. Baylor heads to Stillwater this weekend to face No. 10 Oklahoma State, and a dominant victory over the Cowboys on their own home field should be enough to allow for Baylor to overtake Ohio State. While we’re still on a crash course for Alabama to meet Florida State in the BCS Championship game, barring one of the two losing, Baylor can make a strong argument for being the best team in the country.

Baylor ranks third in passing yards per game (384.4)and ninth in rushing yards per game (300.3) which explains its absurd 61.2 points per game. The Bears are the highest scoring team in the nation, averaging roughly 10 more points per game than Florida State, Oregon or Ohio State. Comparing the explosiveness of the Baylor offense to any other team is like comparing Usain Bolt to your high school track star. If the Bears continue their current scoring pace and continue to average 684 yards per game, they’ll be the new NCAA record holders for both categories at the end of the season. How explosive is this offense? When down 20-7 against Texas Tech this past Saturday, Baylor overcame the deficit in under three minutes. Oh, and that’s without leading rusher Lache Seastrunk and their second-best receiver Tevin Reese. The Bears offense just keeps rolling no matter what happens. The Bears offense is probably the most exciting thing that has ever come out of Waco. RGIII was a one-man show, the 2013 Baylor offense is a highly efficient scoring machine. While the Bears could certainly hold their own in any offensive shootout, it rarely comes to that.

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The Bears defense can simply play, allowing only 17.4 points per game. Yes, the highest scoring offense also ranks seventh in points allowed. The Bears allow more than 300 yards per game to the opposing team, but they lead the Big 12 in both total defense and points allowed categories. The Bears defense has held opponents to single digits three times this season, and only allowed more than 25 points twice. As prolific as the offense is, the Bears have the defense to be able to keep the game close when the offense can’t get going. The game against Oklahoma is probably the best example of this. The Baylor offense only managed a field goal through the first quarter and a half, before exploding for 21 points. Oklahoma had multiple scoring opportunities but the Baylor defense demonstrated itself with a goal line stand, a defensive stop from within 10 yards of the end zone and forcing a missed field goal. While the offense of the Bears gets most of the attention and the credit, the Bears defense will be crucial in the game against Oklahoma State. Not only does Baylor need to win, but it needs to win decisively if it hopes to secure the No.3  spot in the BCS rankings over Ohio State. A high scoring shootout would be exciting for fans, but it’s not going to help the Bears cause as much as a dominant victory.

Now, everyone is going to say that it’s not hard to put up stats when you play the schedule that Baylor plays. It’s like saying that it’s fair that Britney Griner gets to play basketball against women.There’s nothing impressive about hanging up 70 points on Buffalo and UL Monroe or preventing those teams from scoring. I’m of the opinion that putting up 70 points is generally always impressive and that the defense shouldn’t be criticized so long as it does its job. Baylor hasn’t just beat these teams, it has flat out destroyed them. Their closest game is a 35-25 victory against Kansas State. At the time that didn’t seem so good, but Kansas State has now rattled off four straight victories including a win against No. 25 Texas Tech. If it goes on to beat Oklahoma next week, that  10 point victory starts to look a little better. Then-No. 10 Oklahoma is the only ranked opponent that Baylor has played so far, but it won by more than 30 points. With Ohio State having games against Michigan and Michigan State (in the Big Ten championship game) remaining, Baylor will need to take advantage of this opportunity against Oklahoma State. A defining win may be enough to keep the Bears in the No. 3 spot until the end of the season, while a slight victory may only have it switch places with Ohio State for a week. The Bears need a lot of cards to fall into place if they hope to play in the National Championship game, the first being a defining win this weekend. Even if the national championship game is Florida State-Alabama, Baylor is having a record breaking season that may have us wishing the College Football Playoff was starting this year.

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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.

Panthers Chargers Football

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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NBA First Week Insights & Surprises

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The Cover 4.com presents you with NBA First Week Insights & Surprises! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @thecover4 or facebook at theCo VerFour

Aaaannnndddd they’re off! The 2013-14 NBA season has officially tipped off, which means it’s time to see which teams actually took advantage of its resources and built a team worthy of the right to hoist that beautiful championship banner on opening day next year. And my, oh my has this been a start few saw coming.

  1. Michael Carter-Williams is out here letting people know that he’s not to be taken lightly. I loved this kid’s game at Syracuse last year, but was afraid that his tall, lanky frame would not be properly utilized and possibly start warming the bench like Shaun Livingston. However, MCW has shown that his skills are transferable by nearly posting a remarkable quadruple-double against the defending champs (22 points, 12 assists, 7 rebounds, 9 steals, 1 turnover). Do not let the baby face fool you; this guy is the real deal like Holyfield. MCW is only the second rookie in NBA history to be awarded conference Player of the Week honors in the first week of the season (Shaq is the other). The only question is, will MCW have a Jeremy Lin effect and plateau before his prime? Or will he become a first-ballot Hall of Famer? Hmmmm…
  2. Russell Westbrook has found his way back into the lineup a month after surgery. Personally, as a man who has been through MANY knee surgeries in my playing career, I don’t think it’s a good look for Westbrook to return so soon. I love Westbrook, and I want to see him play at his highest level. But I know that his body and trainers unfortunately have a more impactful influence over him than I do. But for the sake of my 2k team, I pray that he doesn’t make it any worse.
  3. While we’re talking about injuries, D errick Rose is starting off slow. I guess it is to be expected after being MIA for an entire season, but the optimism still has the best of many of us and just know that his 10-game winning streak isn’t too far away.
  4. The Brooklyn Nets…well, I’m not going to say much on them because I didn’t really expect much out of them to start with. They have some of my favorite players from back in the day, however, their prime was also back in the day. I just don’t see it happening for this squad. They offered a lot of hope for the BX, but I guess we’ll just have to see how this pans out.
  5. The Suns have new jerseys! And that may be the reason why even though they are placed in last in the NBA 2k14 power rankings, they are starting off with a splash of hope. Gerald Green has finally found a system that loves him running alongside Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic. Miles Plumlee has been posting double-double averages. I’m not going to lie, I never really thought too highly of biggest brother Plumlee from the jump, but man is he giving me something to watch.
  6. Not a surprise, but the Wizards are poopsauce.
  7. Eg-Zah-Vi-Air Henry is putting on a little coming out show of his own in LA. It’s almost making me think that the Lakers have a shot at making the playoffs. Hahahaha, MAYBE! But one thing I will say, it’s time for the great Steve Nash to join the coaching staff. His game has noticeably slowed down, and he know where near as witty with the ball as he used to be. I don’t know, Tony, this one isn’t looking too good though.
  8. Toronto’s Very Own, Anthony Bennett has still yet to make a basket through four games. I thought No. 1 draft picks are supposed to show up and show out? Cleveland can’t take any more disappointments. Get it together, man!

Yes, I know it’s still early in the game, and there’s a whole lot of season left, but I am anticipating this being a GREAT year for the NBA, pending all these injuries slowing down. So, CHEERS to Mr. Carter-Williams on an amazing start to your NBA career, you have a bright future my friend. And the rest of you guys…get your shit together! PEACE!

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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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NBA 2013-2014 Season Preview

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The Cover 4.com presents you with NBA 2013-2014 Season Preview! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @thecover4 or facebook at theCo VerFour

THE DAY IS FINALLY NEAR! Second only to my birthday, and slightly more exciting than Christmas; the Rose is finally surfacing out the concrete, and boy isn’t it a beautiful sight? Of course, it’s only right that I start the first topic of discussion for the season with Chicago’s hometown hero, Mr. MVP himself, Derrick Rose. Not only am I excited about his return, but every NBA advocate is eager to see what a season-and-a-half long rehab session can do to a player. So far in the preseason, Rose has not lost a step, in fact, he’s taken control of the floor as if he never left. And I’m going to go ahead and throw this out there. Michael Jordan missed an entire season as well; granted he wasn’t injured, but a season-long absence by a superstar is nothing foreign to the Bulls. What impresses me most is how Rose has gone as far as to share advice with the second best point guard in the league in suggesting that Thunder guard Russell Westbrook not rush to get back on the floor and to properly rehabilitate his injury.

Season Superlatives:

Most Valuable Player LeBron James (MIA)

  • Only reason why I say this is because LBJ is feeling himself, and rightfully so. Don’t expect to see him post 34 points per game (even though he is capable of doing so), but do expect him to fully utilize the new talents of Michael Beasley in his effort at his third title. But I’m letting you know right now, my mans D-Rose will NOT be “giving” anything to him. October 29 will be a dogfight. Rose is showing the league that he’s back and LBJ is growing hungrier to surpass Jordan.

Rookie of the Year – Victor Oladipo (ORL)

  • Let me tell you something about this 21-year-old stand-out stunner. After coming off a PHENOMENAL summer league season he continues to make sure his name Oladipo is no longer considered foreign with his preseason play. This kid is explosive when driving to the paint, as well as a real threat from the arc. How many rookies can you consider to be multidimensional? Even LeBron had to work on his shot when he entered the league. He’s already averaging six, four and two. No, not six points, six BOARDS, four assists and two steals each game. This guy’s hustle is exactly the spark that will make an immediate impact on any team.

Most likely to NOT Succeed – Utah Jazz

  • Plain and simple: I just don’t see it happening there. They’re too unstable at this point. They couldn’t do it with Deron Williams, so naturally, I don’t see Trey Burke staying much longer than three or four years.

Most likely to Lose Your Money in a Bet – OKC Thunder

  • I’m a believer that Kevin Durant is the most lethal threat in the league, and with Jeremy Lamb and Reggie Jackson as their x-factors, the Thunder WILL be a contender…however, what’s a contender without the their oxygen tank? After last year’s playoff performance, it has been proven that Westbrook is the fuel that keeps this car going. KD just isn’t the same flamethrower without his igniter. Now, for the love of all NBA 2K14 games and tournaments that I will be participating in this season, I REALLY hope that I am wrong. But Westbrook has proven to be such an intricate piece to this puzzle that it will be nearly impossible to replace him.

The Zero to Hero Award – GoldenState Warriors

  • With the most impressive addition of Andre Igoudala in their front court and Andrew Bogut in the back, I see these guys being not-so-silent killers of the NBA. This summer, Poppa Thompson was very active in the mentoring and developing of his young offspring, Klay. With Igoudala in the lineup, the Warriors now have four potential/future all-stars in Iggy, Thompson, Steph Curry and Harrison Barnes bringing some serious energy off the bench, the Warriors will rise this year and present themselves as one of the top contenders if all goes right.

The Sixth-Man – Harrison Barnes (GS)

  • It is almost a sure thing that with Iggy moving into the lineup, Barnes will move into the sixth-man spot, and I believe it for the best. Barnes’ explosiveness and energy will allow the Warriors to compete the entire 48 minutes. Watch him work!

Most Likely to Be Named Top Dawg – The Heat versus The Field

  • As much as I hate to admit it, there aren’t many teams capable of doing what the Heat have the potential of doing. Making the finals three times in a row is a pretty remarkable feat, especially when your star player is at the pique of his prime. Don’t discount the improvements that Chicago, Indiana and Brooklyn have made, but the Heat have something that other teams are still building on: CHEMISTRY! This bulls eye that is on the backs of the Heat organization is going to cause what I believe to be a chemical combustion that will lead to a phenomenal season, and likely a third consecutive ring for LBJ and his troops.

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Pitching Reigns in October

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

The World Series matchup is set. The Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals. Two storied franchises competing against each other. The ratings will be high, well higher than usual.  It’s a rematch of the 2004 World Series where the Red Sox swept and broke the Curse of the Bambino. Truth be told, this World Series is a real treat, and on paper one of the best ones in recent memory. Both teams have big-time hitters, but it was the pitchers that dominated the League Championship Series. The adage, “good pitching beats good hitting,” came to fruition and showed who reigns supreme on a baseball diamond.

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We had two phenomenal matchups in the League Championship Series with the Dodgers-Cardinals and Red Sox-Tigers. At a glance, many experts agreed that the Dodgers had a better pitching staff than the Cards with Clayton Kershaw and Zach Greinke against Adam Wainwright and a bevy of young pitchers. Many experts picked the Tigers to win it all with Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez over veterans Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey and Jake Peavy. Well the experts were right that the better pitching staff won, but it just was not the ones they thought were better.

Game 1 in the Cardinals-Dodgers series shaped the tone for the entire series. Greinke faced rookie Joe Kelly in one of many pitchers duels in the LCS. The Dodgers and Cardinals each scored twice in the third inning. Zeroes hung on the scoreboard the rest of the way like Christmas tree ornaments. The Dodgers did what they did for many parts of the season. They got runners on, they got them over, but could not get them in. They even had a runner thrown out at home in the top of the 10th by Carlos Beltran, whose big two-run double tied the game at 2. And to seal the deal, Beltran roped a double down the line for the game-winning hit to win 3-2 and commence a great set of LCS games. The lead in the series was up for grabs and the Cardinals took it and never looked back.

In Game 2, the Dodgers put out their best pitcher, maybe the best pitcher in baseball, Clayton Kershaw, but it was another pitcher who made a name for himself. Michael Wacha, another rookie for the Cardinals, outpitched Kershaw in a 1-0 ballgame. This was not a soccer game, but it felt like it when the Cardinals scored their only goal, I mean run. The Cardinals had all the momentum heading to Los Angeles, but they got blanked by the rookie this time for Game 3. Hyun-Jin Ryu pitched beautifully and beat the Cardinals 3-0. Are you sensing a theme with these recaps yet?

Michael-Wacha

A big hit actually took place in Game 4 when Matt Holliday hit a mammoth two-run homer to help the Cardinals beat the Dodgers 4-2. A two-run lead felt like a blowout given the circumstances. The Cardinals’ World Series berth was put on hold when Greinke dealt and the Dodgers finally got some big hits, taking Game 5, 6-4. Going back to St. Louis with the Cardinals up 3-2, everyone felt Game 7 was inevitable with Kershaw on the mound again. However, people forgot about the real ace of this series, Wacha.

Yes, his last name sounds like a Russian’s favorite liquor, but the only thing strong about Wacha is his arm and his pitches. He continued to dominate the Dodger lineup while Kershaw had an inning to forget. The Cardinals batted around in the fourth, tallying four runs, and in essence, punching their ticket to the 2013 World Series. They won 9-0. In six games, the Dodgers scored 13 runs and pretty much half of them came in Game 5. Not even the antics and over-the-top emotions of Yasiel Puig could carry the Dodgers. His flaws were exposed by a gritty Cardinals team, and so were the rest of the Dodgers. Wacha, a pitcher, was named NLCS MVP, and we might just be seeing the tip of the iceberg with this young stud.

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The Dodgers made one of the most amazing turnarounds during the regular season and brought baseball excitement back to L.A. However, in the end, the Cardinals reminded us that baseball is a team sport and the team that spends the most money is not usually the one who wins. The Cardinals proved to have the best pitching, and consequently, they are now in great position to win the 2013 World Series.

In the ALCS, The Tigers and Red Sox boasted two of the most potent offenses in baseball. What a joke! The only crooked numbers seen in this series were strikeouts and number of beards, and there were many of them on both sides. There were two 1-0 games. This is mind boggling to a guy who has watched the Tigers and Red Sox score at will like an Oregon football team playing Arkansas State all year. But it still happened.  Good pitching happened. The Red Sox lost Game 1 1-0. Enough said. Those are the highlights. In all seriousness,  Sanchez pitched effectively wild and did not allow a hit in six innings pitched. In fact, the Red Sox got their first hit in the bottom of the 9th to break up the no hitter.

Game 2 will go down as one of the gems of this postseason. Down 5-0 in the bottom of the 6th, the Red Sox again got their first hit late in the ballgame  when Shane Victorino broke up Scherzer’s no hit bid. This led to their first run of the series. Trailing 5-1 in the bottom of the 8th, the Red Sox loaded the bases for David Ortiz. And the Red Sox version of Beltran did it again. On the first pitch, he cracked a line drive over the right field wall to dramatically tie the game with a grand slam. Torii Hunter missed the catch and flipped over the short wall like a gymnast. It was electric. Even Stephen King got scared in attendance with the eeriness in the air. Jarrod Saltalamacchia had the game-winning hit in the bottom of the 9th to win 6-5 and in hindsight, win the series for the Red Sox.

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Returning to Detroit, momentum was up in the air, but the Tigers felt confident throwing their ace Verlander out on the bump. The Red Sox countered with Lackey. Verlander was dominant, surrendering only one mistake to Mike Napoli in the 7th. a home run that barely cleared the fence in left. And that led to another 1-0 game. Lackey ousted the ace, like Wacha did. The Tigers could not deliver the clutch hits, like the Dodgers. The Tigers did tie up the series by roughing up Peavy in Game 4. They won 7-3, the only non-competitive game in the series, and it led to a pivotal Game 5. The Red Sox jumped to an early 4-0 lead and grinded out a 4-3 win. Closer Koji Uehara got five outs for the save and halted any chances of a Tiger comeback.

Down 3-2 in the series heading back to Boston, the Tigers still felt optimistic with Scherzer and Verlander lined up to pitch. Game 6 featured another grand performance from an unlikely hero. Pitching dominated again.  Through six innings, the Tigers led 2-1. In the bottom of the 7th, the Red Sox fans found the bases juiced with Victorino up to bat and then the unthinkable happened.  No he did not shave his beard before his at bat, but he smacked another Red Sox grand slam, this time over the Green Monster in left. Uehara closed the deal again for his third save in the series. Not to mention, he won the other game when the Red Sox walked off in Game 2. The Red Sox won in 6 games advancing to the World Series and Uehara, a closer, yet alone a pitcher, was named MVP of the ALCS.

Jon Lester

The Red Sox and the Cardinals batted poorly throughout the LCS, but they got the hits when they counted. It was their pitching that carried them to the World Series. Each team featured emerging stars winning MVPs. Wacha on the front end. He beat Kershaw and shutout the Dodgers twice.  Those two feats alone in one series are reason enough to retire. And Uehara impacted every single game the Red Sox won against the Tigers, winning one and saving three games. The entire country of Japan has new requested membership to Red Sox Nation.

It is usually the hitters that get the awards. Hitters get the highlights. The home runs and game-winning hits. Hitters are the ones that play every game and provide the most impact. However, the only thing the bats have been touching these playoffs are the racks after recording outs, and lots of them. The final four teams had the best pitchers in baseball. The Cardinals and Red Sox might not have better pitchers than the Tigers or Dodgers, but they pitched better in the LCS, when it mattered most. Their bullpens were better. Their closers were better. And now we, as fans, are better off with this fantastic matchup for this year’s World Series. Two respected and admirable teams facing off in late October.  What could be better than this? Seven games would be a nice early Christmas gift. Will the pitching dominance continue to trend or will the hitters get the last laugh? This baseball fan is eager to watch and see. Stay tuned.

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THE “NEW” QB CONTROVERSY (PART 1, ALEX)

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The Cover 4.com presents you with THE “NEW” QB CONTROVERSY (PART 1, ALEX)! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @thecover4 or facebook at theCo VerFour

An uneducated 49ers fan thinks that the team should have kept Alex Smith because they believe he’s a better quarterback and one that wins games. This same fan has the idea that Colin Kaepernick sucks and his success last year was a fluke.

An unrealistic 49ers fan thinks the opposite ─ although Kaepernick hasn’t looked all that great this year, Smith contributed nothing to the 49ers.

These two schools of though sum up what some 49ers fans believe about the current quarterback situation.  Both of these statements couldn’t be further from reality.

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Slow (and painful) Rise

Smith had not lived up to the expectations of being a No. 1 overall draft pick, at least not up until a couple years ago.  In 2011, he began to play more like a first-round pick.  He took the Niners to the 2011 NFC Championship. While San Francisco eventually lost to the Giants in the NFC Championship, the 49ers got to that game after a last-minute scoring drive against the Saints in the week before. That drive, and the ones before it in that crazy fourth quarter, was orchestrated by none other than Smith.  He did his best ‘Joe Cool” impression in that game and in many other games that season.  He was 50 percent  of the way to bound-to-be historic “The Catch 3.″

Jim Harbaugh turned Smith into the quarterback he is today, but Smith still had to become conformable in his role.  There is no arguing that he is a game manager.  This particular game manager led his team to multiple victories in the Harbaugh era.  He won a number of games for the Red and Gold.  He never gave up on the organization or the fanbase that gave him so much hatred at times.

To the Bench He Goes

In 2012, Smith looked primed to manage his team all the way to the Super Bowl.  The team started out great with him at the helm.  They were winning games and Smith was doing what he had to do to win.  Then injury struck Smith in the middle of the season and then Kaepernick made his mark.  The infamous “hot-hand” Harbaugh debacle began.

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Though Smith was healthy after a couple weeks, Kaepnerick obviously had the “hot-hand”.  Whether this was simply an opportunity for Harbaugh to make Kaepnerick the new starter or Harbaugh truly believed he was going to go back to Smith eventually, Kaepernick took over the starting spot.

Some fans that already disliked Smith, and many did, including me, (though I did start to like him a lot more during the 2011 season) were pumped that Kaepnerick was the new starter.  He possessed so much of the big play ability that the Niners have lacked in a quarterback since Jeff Garcia (Wow, did I just credit Garcia?)  Kaepnerick was more exciting than Smith, he seemed to have a better upside, and hell, he was a fresh face.

Because of the unwritten rule that no one should lose a starting position due to injury, you would think

that Smith would be extremely bitter and unresponsive to the coaches and players.  That was not the case at all.

Smith was one of the most helpful coaches that Kaepnerick had during his run to the Super Bowl.  If you look at old game film from last year, Smith was constantly talking with Kaepnerick.  He was pointing out coverages and shifts, helping him with plays and getting him to properly read the defense.  Smith was the reason Kaepnerick grew into the quarterback that he became.  Harbaugh knew it and acknowledged it, and so has Kaepnerick.

Many players would have turned a cold shoulder.  Smith kept preaching that winning is what matters, and Kaepnerick has the tools to add to the win column.

For this reason alone, I have to say that Smith showed so much class.  He helped the 49ers and Kaepernick get to the Super Bowl.  He showed a ton of respect for the organization and Harbaugh’s decision to place him on the bench.  We all know the rest of the story.  Smith is a Chief now, and Kaepnerick isn’t looking like a top-five quarterback this year.

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Final Note

Smith gave it 100 percent in his time with the 49ers.  He never gave up and he always tried to make the team better.  He took all the flak from the fans and still remained positive.  Then when his time was up, he respectfully and enthusiastically helped Kaepernick in his transition to become a starting NFL quarterback.

Now that he is gone, 49ers fans should have no true reason to hate Smith.  He always tried to make his team and himself better, even when he had no support.  He helped the 49ers win the games they won, period.

For that reason, the hate toward Smith is completely unwarranted now that he is the quarterback of the past for the Niners. I wish him good luck with the Chiefs, unless of course they make it to the Super Bowl against the Niners.

p.s. If the Chiefs win eight or more games, the Niners get a second round pick, so it is a good thing they are winning.

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The Win Now Indianapolis Colts

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

Coming into the 2013 NFL season, people weren’t expecting the Indianapolis Colts to replicate their magical 2012 success. Admittedly, I was one of these people. Through five games, the Colts are 4-1. If I told you before the season that they would be off to this type of start, you might not have been surprised because their schedule had them playing the Oakland Raiders, Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars which would seem like relative locks for wins. The Colts, however, took a different and more impressive route to their first four victories.

Miami Dolphins v Indianapolis ColtsThe lone loss for the Colts was handed to them by the Dolphins. I went back and looked at the box score, and the results were peculiar. The Colts led in all significant categories (total yards, passing yards, rushing yards, first downs, third down efficiency and time of possession) and each team turned it over once. The final score was 24-20, and you could say the Dolphins escaped with a win by the looks of that stat sheet. Their four wins include the aforementioned creampuffs Raiders and Jaguars but what sticks out is an impressive and dominant win against the San Francisco 49ers and a nail biter victory against the Seattle Seahawks’ vaunted defense. The Indianapolis Colts are no longer a team that should be regarded as average or maybe even above average. Advanced stats and metrics have come a long way, and the Colts’ 2012 season screamed overachievement by having the look of a 7-9 team while going 11-5. If you want some more nitty gritty on that, this article does a pretty good job outlining just how lucky they were last season. I tend to side with advanced metrics more often than not, but sometimes numbers can’t account for a variable that defies the logic and objectivity mathematics gives us. That variable is Andrew Luck.

 

Colts-Blog-322x276At the end of the 2012 season, Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III were the talk of the town. They were all young quarterbacks that seemed to be the future stars of the NFL. It’s hard to believe a No. 1 pick in his rookie season didn’t generate much buzz (either good or bad) after his first season, but this was just the case. People (read: ESPN) love to sensationalize stories and games even if they gloss over the players and teams that are doing just as well or even better. For ESPN, everything has to fit a narrative. Even though the numbers clearly show that Griffin and Wilson had better numbers, they were also put in better positions to succeed than Luck. For Griffin, Mike Shanahan created a hybrid offense that was tailor made for him to excel, the read option and having a surprise rookie year from Alfred Morris played perfectly with his strengths as a quarterback. For Wilson, he had the support of a top-five running back (Marshawn Lynch) and also had a top-five defense protecting the lead for him, so he was not forced to do more than he had to. Luck had none of these royalties the other two were afforded. You could make an argument that the Colts running back tandem was serviceable, but they can not hold a candle to Morris and Lynch. Beyond Reggie Wayne, they didn’t attempt to surround him with weapons in his first year, even though Coby Fleener and T.Y. Hilton have emerged as legit NFL starters after  promising rookie campaigns. On top of that, the Colts gave up the most QB hits last year (114) which over a 16 game season amounts to a little bit more than seven hits a game, a ghastly figure. And to boot, their defense was  No. 25 in yards allowed on defense, so more often than not Luck was made to throw when defenses were expecting it, and most likely forced throws to try and mount a comeback. All of these shortcomings were not lost on Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay, who addressed all the shortcomings of the Colts this offseason and during the 2013 regular season. Irsay, known for not being complacent and certainly not reserved, pushed all the chips to the center of the table and went all in to bring the Indianapolis Colts another Lombardi Trophy.

NFL: Preseason-Cleveland Browns at Indianapolis ColtsBy  saying Irsay “pushed all his chips to the center of the table” it may have given  the impression that he made a rogue decision. This is certainly not the case, it was a smart and calculated move that I would be very happy with if I am a Colts fan. Part of the reason Irsay did right by selling out for Super Bowl aspirations is because Luck (and all young players on rookie deals) are on dirt cheap contracts under the new CBA. Some numbers: Russell Wilson’s cap hit ($700,000) for this year means that Mark Sanchez will make more money in one game than Wilson will all season. Yeah. However, draft position matters. Wilson was drafted in the third round, so he is compensated less than Griffin and Luck, who are at $5 million a year. With such incredible signal callers at bargain prices, it gives teams a chance to sign impact players they might not be able to afford once those rookie contracts are up. However, before the new CBA was signed, teams had to shell out the big bucks for their first overall picks before they even took a snap in the NFL. Case in point: Jamarcus Russell, who the Raiders paid $61 million ($32 million of which was guaranteed) to be an overweight black hole under center. Somewhat related: new Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor requested to wear #2 for his jersey number after Russell was released and was denied because the team didn’t want another quarterback wearing #2 again. Anyway,  I am 100% on board with Irsay being all in; having a world class quarterback only making $5 million the next couple years is a luxury few are offered. But just because I agree with the strategy doesn’t mean I agree with what he did with all that cap room.

To be fair, Irsay did address all the aforementioned shortcomings with his team, he just went about it in an illogical and more expensive way that will eventually come back to bite him. For their offensive line, the Colts signed Gosder Cherilus and Donald Thomas. The Thomas contract was a savvy signing, but the Cherilus contract seems to be a gross overpay and is not even the worst one they made. The worst contract they made was to Erik Walden, an above-average linebacker but not one that you pay $4 million year. The last particularly bad contract that sticks out is the one they gave to the marshmellow man himself, LaRon Landry. Landry, a safety who is a workout freak, keeps putting on muscle to his frame even though it makes him slower in pass coverage, so apparently Irsay thought the next logical step was to pay him $6 million a year. I appreciate the effort Irsay put into making his team better, even if that effort was somewhat misplaced. The final move that made the Colts throw their hat in for a Lombardi Trophy was when they made an in-season trade a few weeks into this year for enigmatic running back Trent Richardson. Richardson’s body of work certainly suggested that he wasn’t worth the first round pick the Colts had to give up for him, but I thought maybe Indianapolis could put him in a better position to succeed (namely: not having Brandon Weeden as his quarterback). That seems not to be the case, as Richardson seems on his way to be labeled as a bust after being taken  No. 3 overall in 2012. Another swing and a miss by Irsay.

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I will just bluntly say what I was eluding to in those previous couple of paragraphs: Irsay was handed an opportunity on a silver platter and simply screwed it up. In a particularly weak conference, if Irsay had made savvier signings in the offseason they might have been able to afford a couple more key players that could contribute in a big way. The Colts made a big splash on the first day of free agency, overpaying players they thought would also be sought after. Smarter teams stayed complacent, waiting until they had the leverage to underpay players because the players had no other option but to sign (cough cough Aqib Talib and the New England Patriots). Looking back, you could say that I was somewhat piling on Indianapolis with the decisions that it made, but my claims were justifiable. The Colts are still a good, if not very good, team, and can do some serious damage in the playoffs assuming they make it. It seems like they will be, because it seems like someone has a Matt Schaub voodoo doll and is just endlessly jabbing it with every pick six that poor human being throws. With the Texans faltering, the division seems ripe for the Colts to grab a stranglehold on. Irsay may have screwed up some decisions this past year, but it may not end up mattering with a stud like  Luck under center.

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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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Paul Culley
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