Is the MLB in the Right for Suspending Ryan Braun? By Peter DiPaola

Major League Baseball is in the right for suspending Ryan Bruan for the remainder of the 2013 season without pay for landing on a list of players that were involved with a performance enhancing drug lab out of Florida.  Some have said this is not fair, I disagree considering how he got out of a suspension back in 2011 for failing a drug test following his MVP season after a drug test from that October became public via a leak in December 2011.  The test had revealed a high level of testosterone due to performance enhancing drugs however in a 2-1 arbitration hearing he was cleared from serving a 50 game suspension when he claimed that the test was probably tampered with (and was not), a later test had normal levels of testosterone.

Due to the fact that he lied his way out of a suspension and probably stopped performance enhancing drug (PED) usage to pass a test only makes this suspension handed down to him fair.  Had he been suspended the rest of the year without losing pay that would not be acceptable to me, but because he is not making money which may not hurt him as much because he is a highly paid player but will be a warning to the MLB.  For another player who won’t be making the money Braun is may think twice about using PEDs if it means their way to make a living will be stopped for a pro-longed period of time.

Lying to get out of a suspension and then landing on a list of players linked to a lab is pretty sad because he had his chance to just own up and take a 50 game suspension but he instead lied and is now paying the price.  Bruan’s stupidity lead to this moment and he has nobody to blame but himself, I am pleased that he got the punishment he did, hopefully as mentioned this punishment will stop more players from using PEDs.

Time will only tell for the other athletes on the list but this is a great start.

Second Half Expectations on the Pittsburgh Pirates

By Aron Minkoff

Pittsburgh Pirates Team President Frank Coonelly appeared on a Pittsburgh sports talk radio show Friday morning to discuss the high expectation of the Pirates in the second half of the season. He was asked what would he deem as an acceptable finish to the season. His answer, “The only thing that’s acceptable is the National League Central crown.”

Those are high expectations being put on the 56-37 Pirates, who before the season, were picked to finish fourth in the National League Central. Many fans are simply asking for the team to have their first winning season in 20 years. Those do however match Clint Hurdle’s pre-season expectation of 95 wins this season. Currently, the Pirates sit a game behind the NL Central best, St. Louis Cardinals, and four games ahead of the Reds for the number one wild-card spot.

The next few weeks should serve as a pretty big indicator as to whether or not the Pirates are National League Central contenders or pretenders. They open up the second half of the season tonight, at the Cincinnati Reds, who could take a huge bite into the Pirates four-game wild-card lead. Following the three game Reds series, the Pirates travel to D.C. to face the Nationals who are currently right behind the Reds for a wild card spot. Then following a quick series against the National League East last place Marlins, the Pirates have a crucial five game home series against the St. Louis Cardinals.

I predict that the Pirates pitching staff will continue to pitch lights out, and the addition of a healthy Wandy Rodriguez will bolster the rotation. Francisco Liraiano and Jeff Locke will continue their Cy Young resumes. Charlie Morton will work his way out of starting pitcher consideration for next season and AJ Burnett will continue to pitch late into games but will yield a few runs along the way. Teammates like Jeanmar Gomez, Gerrit Cole and Brandon Cumpton will make spot starts during the pennant race in an effort to keep arms fresh going down the stretch.

I further speculate that Neil Walker will pick up his batting average and continue to make stellar defensive plays at second base. Pedro Alvarez is going to finish the season with a batting average above .260 and blast 40-plus home runs. Starling Marte and Andrew McCutchen will continue to put together terrific seasons, as will catcher Russell Martin who is proving himself to be quite the leader. Jose Tabata will drop off slightly, but will still hit about .270 but will not continue at his rapid pace. Shortstop Jordy Mercer will play well enough to earn more starts than Clint Barmes, but will not prove to be the long-term solution at shortstop.

The Pirates will not make a blockbuster trade for a Giancarlo Stanton or any other pricy player for that matter. Neil Huntington is not ready to trade away Gregory Polanco, Tony Sanchez nor Jameson Tallion. The Pirates will trade for a few lesser known bench players and in the process will end Brandon Inge’s stint with the Pirates.

The Pittsburgh Pirates will win the National League Central crown, in doing so, they will finish with the best record in the National League. They will however lose in the first round of the playoffs to the wild card, St. Louis Cardinals, leaving many to wonder what would have happened if the team made that monumental trade in July.

The Trying Times of the Washington Nationals

By: Michael Clementi

Last season, the Washington Nationals took Major League Baseball by storm going 98-64 for the best record in baseball. With a young nucleus that included a healthy Stephen Strasbug and reigning National League Rookie of the Year Bryce Harper, the Nationals seemed on track to take control of a relatively weak NL East.

This season, however, has been a nightmare for the Nationals organization. After Strasburg’s worst start in his three year career against the lowly Miami Marlins, the Nationals stand at 47-46 with two games left before the All-Star Break. The season has been marked by disappointments by many of the key players from last year’s team.

Let’s start with Harper, the first overall pick in the 2010 draft who Sports Illustrated deemed as one of the best prospects ever as just a sophomore in high school. Harper has only been able to play in 56 of the teams 93 games batting a disappointing .269 with 13 home runs. He got injured running into the right field fence in Los Angeles against the Dodgers in May, causing him to miss the second half of May and all of June. In his 12 games since returning, Harper has hit a disappointing .209 with one home run and 6 RBI. Although Harper has not lived up to expectations this season, Harper is not the only Nationals player who needs to improve during the second half.

Stephen Strasburg, the first pick in the 2009 draft has played well, but he has had a trouble with consistency recently. After having an impressive 1.89 ERA in June, Strasburg has had a 6.60 ERA in his three starts in July after giving up seven earned runs in two innings against the aforementioned Marlins (yes, Marlins fans, I’m just as shocked as you). Overall, he has a 2.99 ERA this season over 18 starts with only a 5-7 record to show for it because of a lack of offense.

Jayson Werth, the major signing from three off-seasons ago, has only appeared in 62 games and is batting an above-average .298. Wilson Ramos, the starting catcher who has been fighting injuries most of his career, has only played in 21 games this season after having leg injuries all season. Then there’s Danny Espinosa, the second baseman who finished second in Rookie of the Year voting in 2011, had been struggling so much that he had to be sent back down to AAA Syracuse in June.  Denard Spahn, the Nationals big acquisition in a trade from the Minnesota Twins last offseason, is batting .257 as the teams leadoff hitter. If your leadoff hitter has a low average, the offense will struggle to produce as have the Nationals offense this season.

Although the team has not played well this season, there is still some hope as the Nationals trail the Braves by only six games and the Reds by five for the second Wild Card Spot. If the team nucleus remains healthy the Nationals will be in the hunt for the playoffs come September.

Is Jose Tabata the Answer in Right Field

By Aron Minkoff

On July 3, the Pittsburgh Pirates had still not succeeded in finding a solution to their woes in right field.  The platoon of Garrett Jones and Travis Snider was simply not producing and failing to yield positive results.  Thus far in the 2013 campaign Snider is batting .224 with three home runs, and Jones is batting .255 with eight home runs.

Jose Tabata was set to rejoin the Pirates on July 3 after suffering an oblique injury in May. Upon his return to the majors, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle told Tabata that he was going to get a chance to become the everyday right fielder. Hurdle made it clear that Tabata would have to earn the right to be the everyday right fielder. At this point, it would appear that he has done just that.

In nine games back with the Pirates, Tabata is 13-34, with 5 multi-hit games and only one hitless game.  He has started every game since rejoining the team and looks to be poised to take his starting spot into the all-star break with authority.

Is Tabata the long term answer to the Pirates right field struggles?  Boy, I would sure like to think so.  Tabata is only 24 years old and is under contract with the Pirates through 2019.  If he can continue to play at the same rate that he is now, then the Pirates have one of the best young outfields in all of baseball locked up for years.

Center Fielder Andrew McCutchen is 26 years young and under contract through 2018, left fielder Starling Marte is 26 years young as well and like Tabata will be with the Pirates through the 2019 season.  All three outfielders currently hold the best batting averages on the team, and it would be nice to see them stay together for a few years.

The only issue with Tabata is how injury prone he has been throughout his career.  He has missed over 160 games so far in his four year major league career due to injury.  That’s nearly an entire season out of four that he has missed due to injury.

If Tabata can stay healthy and produce, the Pirates may have one of the best outfields for years to come.

Pirates Poor PR Aggravates Fans

By Aron Minkoff

From the start, the Pittsburgh Pirates evening game against the Oakland Athletics on Tuesday night was delayed by nearly two hours.  Fans grew aggravated by the lack of information provided to the fans during the rainless delay.

The following night, severe weather swept throughout the Pittsburgh region, leaving many in the area without power and flooded basements.  As of the 5 pm news, numerous Pittsburghers watched and waited for word on the status of the game.  Nothing.  At 7 pm, the Pirates announced that the game would be delayed, big shocker there.

One hour went by, still no word from the Pirates at PNC Park as to if the game was going to be played and what the plan was.  Two hours went by and yet still no word.  Finally at about 9:15 PM the Pirates announced that the game would be starting at approximately 9:50 PM.  Nearly three hours past when the game was originally scheduled to start.

Many fans left the game at that point, citing that they would not be getting home till closer to 2 am if they elected to stay for the full game.  To the dismay of fans, the Pirates did not offer a voucher for future tickets or concessions.

The fans dilemma was impossible Wednesday night for this was no ordinary rain delay.  City of Pittsburgh  and Allegheny County officials warned people to stay home and even asked employers to send staff home early as the entire region was under a tornado watch and a flash flood advisory.  If a fan spent nearly $180 on tickets for the game, and did not go because of the weather, they were out the money.  If they did go, they would not get to see a baseball game till nearly 10:00, and not get home until the following morning.

When listening to a morning sports radio talk show, many fans and media members called in to complain about how the Pirates handled the entire situation.

In my opinion, the Pirates should have handled the entire fiasco differently   At 5 pm, when bad weather looked imminent, the Pirates should have released this statement: “Due to inclement weather in the city of Pittsburgh, tonight’s ballgame between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Oakland Athletics will most likely begin with a delay.  At this time it is hard to say what time the weather will allow us to start the game.  Please stay safe and listen to weather officials.  If you are unable to make it to tonight’s game due to weather, please take your ticket to any Pirates ticket box office and receive 50 percent of the purchase of tickets to a future game.”

This does accomplishes two things, it does not aggravate fans wondering if there will be a ballgame or not, and it gives fans the opportunity who want to recoup some of the money they spent on unused tickets.  Another benefit is that it almost ensures that tickets for a future game will be bought by that same fan, thus not leaving them with a sour taste in their mouth.

It will be interesting to see if the Pirates change how they handle delays in the future due to the fan backlash from Wednesday night.

SWRST: Semi-Weekly Random Sports Thoughts The Great College Switcheroo

By Zack Hauseman

Ah, the old college switcheroo. Er, more like the new college switcher-de-doo. It’s happening right now, like it or not. How about all this conference realignment? We, as sports fans get to be confused as fudge about what conference college teams are in anymore. Even the schools themselves are having trouble with this nowadays. Trouble indeed, as UConn’s omission of UCF on a conference promotional piece showed. Yes, they actually forgot that UCF was in their own conference, the American athletic conference or whatever it’s called now. My own school, Temple, will be a part of this league as well and will have its third different conference in three years. From the MAC to the BE to the AAC to the WTF. I doubt anyone really expected to have to change the logos so much. All that money to repaint probably comes out of my tuition. Or the athletic budget, whatever. Something like 40 schools are doing the conference movearoo or have done it within a few years. Chances are your school has done this this year or recently.

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The Huskies will be a part of the all-new AAC in 2013. Or is it the ACC or the Big East? I can’t remember. I’m going to go watch some good old MAC football…

But that’s not even all of the ditcharooing going on either. Butler fans simultaneously pooped themselves in surprise and began crying when they found out that the beloved Brad Stevens had abruptly decided to leave the program that he led to two national title appearances for the Celtics. Who, by the way are a ways off from being highly competitive in the NBA with all these trade shenanigans going on. Is a slightly troubled NBA ball club worth a program in college ball that is ascending like a Saturn V rocket? NO. Not in my opinion. The NBA is not directly translatable from College. Just ask Mr. Pitino. Or maybe that’s what he is going for? In any case I do get in a sense why it would be a no-brainer move. It’s just that a quality program is going to have some serious problems finding any semblance of a coach in July, and most people will not argue that Butler would’ve done so well without Stevens. And even when coaches aren’t jumping from college to the pros they are very often hopping around the college-sphere. “Shaka, don’t leave me,” says the VCU fan base. Those sheeple are right you know. It’s better for the program and college basketball alike if he stays.

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Look, over yonder! An NBA team and a higher salary. Better hop my 9 year contract!

All of this is starting to make me dizzy. At least the general structure of everything is going to stay the same, right? WRONG. College football is soon going to see its new college playoff thingy come into effect. I should qualify that actually I think this is great. It’s just that it’s one more thing I’m going to have to remember when watching sports. I watch this stuff so I don’t have to remember anything, right? And this will probably just be a bunch more late season games for Alabama to not lose. At least we still have March Madness, which ironically is the thing that makes sense to me most anymore in the college sports world. What’s next, Penn State basketball being good? *Shudder*

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I found this in my garage and that’s when I remembered that the Nittany Lions play basketball.

College sports are changing, sort of. I mean, in the end, are we losing any teams? Not really. Are we going to have fewer games? No. So we theoretically will all the same action during the college sports season. But we are losing conferences that not only make sense but also have instant name association.  The very recent past is going to be starkly different from the next year alone. What do you think?

Photo Credits:

“UCONN Huskies” by G Talan

“Coach Stevens” by bradjward

“Some Random Penn State Basketball found in my garage that I used today with shame” by Zachary Hauseman

Click on images for more details.

All photographs used are licensed under the CC Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License, the Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License, or the Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic License.

http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en

http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/deed.en

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Which Pirates Should Be All-Stars

By Aron Minkoff

The 2013 MLB All Star rosters will be announced today, and it would seem as if many Pirates players are deserving of getting All Star nods at this point in the season.  In the last 20 seasons the Pirates have only had more than one all-star on six occasions, and more than two only once.  This year it seems nearly impossible to imagine the Pirates having any less than 3 if not more than that.  Here are the cases for several Pirates in the order of their likelihood of getting selected in my opinion.

Jason Grilli-Grilli leads the National League with 28 saves, which is some five saves ahead of a second place tie between Rafael Soriano of Washington and Craig Kimbrel of Atlanta.  In fact Grilli also ranks well among ERA for closers at 2.15, which just experienced a spike following Grilli allowing three runs in a 6-5 win over the Angels.  Grilli would appear to be a lock for the National League bullpen.

Jeff Locke-Locke boasts an impressive 8-1 record with a 2.12 ERA.  His ERA is the second lowest in the National League, behind Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Locke has been a dominant force on the mound for the Pirates and is deserving of an all-star bid.

Pedro Alvarez-Alvarez leads all National League third basemen with 21 homeruns, the next closest third baseman is David Wright of the Mets with 13.  Alvarez leads National League third basemen with 56 RBI which is 14 ahead of second place Ryan Zimmerman of the Nationals.  While Alvarez only has a .243 batting average his numbers still remain impressive and he is certainly worthy of an all-star nod.

Andrew McCutchen-While he is not the most deserving Pirates player out of the bunch of potential all-stars, he is putting together a solid season.  McCutchen is the owner of a .298 batting average, nine home runs, 45 RBI’s and 18 stolen bases.  He ranks in the top 10 for both batting average and stolen bases, and is not too far out on RBI’s and home runs.  McCutchen is not the most deserving of an all-star bid, but he is one of the most consistent and solid outfielders in the National League and it would not be surprising to see him earn a spot on the National League team.

Mark Melancon-Melancon is the set-up man for Jason Grilli and has been one of the most consistent relievers in all of baseball.  In 41 1/3 innings pitched he has only allowed four earned runs for an impressive 0.87 ERA.  He has been as steady as they come and has impressed many.  While he would seem deserving, he would be an absolute long shot at getting an all-star game bid.  Relievers that are not closers rarely do.

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