Saturday, August 22, 2009

Phillies Still the Best Team in Baseball?

While attending a Phillies/Marlins game earlier this season, my friend and I couldn't help but notice the absence of any weak spot in the Phillies lineup. The game we attended was the second game of the first series following this year's All-Star Game that saw five Phillies make the trip to St. Louis, so it shouldn't have been much of a surprise to witness firsthand what Philadelphia had to offer. This was even before the addition of Cliff Lee and Pedro Martinez, when Philadelphia's pitching was nothing to scream about.

As each Phillies batter stepped up to the plate, the big screen showed their season stats. Ryan Howard and Chase Utley were no surprise, even Jimmy Rollins' solid numbers did not surprise me; but Jason Werth, Raul Ibanez and co.? I knew they were all-stars, but had no idea they were playing so well. Looking past the pitcher and whoever is setting up behind the plate, pitching against the Phillies is a complete nightmare for opposing pitchers. In the game we attended, Howard was even able to get past that ridiculous shift opposing teams put on every time he steps up to the plate.

With Phillies fans outnumbering Marlins fans at Landshark Stadium in Miami, it seemed an odd time to bring in Santa Clause for a Christmas in July celebration, but the old guy cruised around the warning track and around the infield anyway. The game was delayed when a South Florida evening thunderstorm moved in, and, having experienced these before, my friend and I decided to leave. The game would eventually resume and the Phillies went on to win 6-5 in the 12th inning.

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I already knew the Phillies were a terrific ballclub (they're the defending World Series Champs!), but sitting at that game in the upper deck behind home plate with the winds gusting and a nasty cloud threatening for virtually the entire game until finally letting loose, I started to doubt that any opposing team in the National League, even the mighty Dodgers, could take down this Phillies team. This year's Phillies already have a year's successful playoff run under their belt and the confidence that comes from winning the World Series.

Boasting a 69-50 record, the Phillies own the second best win percentage in the National League (.580) and are equal to the Dodgers (.593) in the loss column with 50. Four Phillies are among the top 20 Major League leaders in homeruns (Ryan Howard, 32, Jason Werth, 28, Raul Ibanez, 27 and chase Utley, 25). Jimmy Rollins has 15, making that five Phillies hitting double digit homeruns so far this season. Pedro Feliz and Shane Victorino have 9 homeruns each.

The weak spot on the Phillies roster was their pitching staff, but the addition of Cliff Lee has helped to quell many critics. Pedro Martinez, with only two starts and eight innings pitched this season mind you, hopes to fill the fifth spot in the rotation, sending the struggling Jamie Moyer to the pen. The return of Brett Myers, who pitched well in a one inning rehab start in the minors on Thursday, could mean help is on the way for the Phillies bullpen. Myers has been out since June with a hip injury.

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Normally a starter, Myers could work out of the bullpen for the Phillies to help bolster a banged up bullpen pitching staff that has been less than remarkable since losing J.C. Romero and Clay Condrey to injury. Myers was the Phillies closer in 2007, a role current closer Brad Lidge has had difficulty with this season.

As for the Phillies' strongest opposition in their division, the Marlins have been hot of late, winning three of their last four series and going on an historic streak of 15 consecutive games with at least 10 hits. Entering play on Saturday, the Marlins sit 5.5 games behind the Phillies for first place in the NL East. They'll have two more series against the Phillies (including the final season series in October) and more than a month to catch their division rivals before the postseason begins.

Besides being swept at the hands of the Marlins earlier this month, the Phillies have lost none of the momentum they carried into the All Star break. They even won two of three against St. Louis, their strongest opponent in the NL, decisively defeating the Cardinals 14-6 and 9-2 after dropping the first game of the series.

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With the addition of Matt Holiday and the continued excellence of Albert Pujols, the Cardinals look like the Phillies' biggest roadblock in the postseason. Even with an MLB leading .593 winning percentage, the Dodgers have been less than impressive since the break. They've lost some of their thunder from earlier in the season, even with the return of Manny Ramirez.

For the Phillies, and for every team vying for a playoff run, the next month is critical. With things tight in the NL East and the Marlins and Braves refusing to go away, the Phillies must take care of business in their division before looking ahead to the Cardinals and Dodgers in October.

With the Marlins and Braves looming, four series left against Florida and Atlanta, and their last series of the season coming against Florida at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, the Phillies have a long way to go before they can focus on defending their title in October. It's no easy task, but with their incredible lineup and improved pitching staff, they have the tools to close out the season strong and make a rare run at a second consecutive World Series title.

Written By Danny Hobrock

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The US Open – Not Long To Go

The 2009 US Open is set to kick off on the 31st of August, and this is making a lot of people look closely at Masters Series tournaments preceding The Open. Roger Federer seems to be on course to win his 6th consecutive US Open, but all eyes continue to remain on Nadal. Rafael Nadal is being touted by many bookmakers and fans alike, to be the one person that can make inroads into this Federer territory.

When it comes to betting odds, Federer stands as clear favorite, with odds of 5:4 in his favor. Nadal, despite coming out of an injury induced hiatus, is the second favorite, with odds of 4:1. American Andy Roddick also has a fair chance of taking the cup, with odds at 12:1. Englishman Andy Murray has a better chance of winning according to odds makers though, with odds at 10:3.

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Djokovic and Del Petro’s odds are the same at 12:1 (also the same as Roddick). Robin Soderling and Fernando Gonzalez, although with outside chances, could end up making bettors some good money, with odds of their winning the championship at 60:1, and 100:1 respectively.

While Federer is the favorite for winning the championship, Nadal is the favorite for preventing a Federer victory. However, one should take into account that Nadal has taken a considerable time off this season, even losing his number 2 spot to Andy Murray in the process. What remains to be seen though, is whether Nadal’s knee problems will go away, or whether they will deteriorate further. Considering that he is only 23, he should ideally have a lot of tennis left in him.

In the lead up to the US Open and after coming back from injury, while Nadal didn’t perform too well at the Rogers Cup, he did do considerably better at the Cincinnati Masters. While Nadal needed two tie breakers to get past Andrea Seppi, his game against Paul-Henri Mathieu (#31) was much better, leading to a much easier win. However, after the match Nadal mentioned that his knee tendinitis was still an issue, and this could very well be an ongoing problem.

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Knowing that the hard court surface is hardly forgiving, the possibilities of Nadal being able to give his 100% this year at the US Open do remain a little slim.

Federer, on the other hand, is currently on a role. He has now surpassed Sampras’ record of the highest number of Slams won, and he’s also managed to win the previously elusive French Open this year. He comes into this tournament without any pressure, and would be looking forward to playing some great tennis.

Over the recent years, the only player who has repeatedly managed to stop Roger Federer in his tracks is Rafael Nadal. With doubts about Nadal’s fitness continuing to linger on, Federer surely seems to be the safe bet. For an outside chance and some good odds, the playing field is really wide open.

Written By Rajiv Baniwal

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Preseason Week 2: The Dolphins Vs. The Panthers

The Miami Dolphins are all set to play hosts to the Carolina Panthers later today. This is the second preseason game for both these teams and while the Panthers come into this meeting with a 24-17 loss against the Giants last week, the Dolphins' 12-9 victory against the Jaguars in the previous meeting could have them feeling quite confident.

While the game stood earlier at Miami -1.5, the Dolphins have since risen to being 3 point favorites. The over/under of this game stands at 33.5 total points. Odds of the Dolphins winning the Super bowl stand at 45:1.

The dolphins will be looking at keeping their winning momentum going, especially after having won the 2008 AFC East. They would also like to put their dismal 2007 season in the past. Being one up so far in this preseason, Steve Sparano, the team’s head coach, continues with his no nonsense approach, wherein waiting for a player to improve is just not an option.

This has been clearly evident in the case of Eric Green. Green, the 4 year veteran, has been unceremoniously axed, and rookies like Vonte Davis and Sean Smith are in line to serve as replacements. The Dolphins’ options for the position of the cornerback include Jason Allen, Nathan Jones, and Will Allen.

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This game will also go to show whether the Dolphins will have a good running game through the season, and whether that can lead to them having a better offense.

If the Panthers are to have any chance of winning this game, they will need their starters to run the ball against the Dolphins' starters. The Panthers’ defense does leave a lot to be desired, and they would be looking at bettering their 20th place in the last NFL season.

Miami coaches spent the entirety of last week emphasising running the ball, and doing it effectively. Blocking mistakes have been addressed, and these include mistakes made by the running backs as well as the receivers. Donald Thomas has been rightly promoted as the team’s starting guard. What remains to be seen though is how much improvement the offense will show.

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Also, while Sparano has been quite happy with Chad Henne’s performance against the Jaguars, Henne should expect to be under more pressure while playing the against Panthers defense. Sparano expects the pressure to turn up a notch, and has clearly said that he isn’t happy about the team’s inability to finish drives.

Speculations about Brian Hartland moving ahead of the regular No.3 receiver Greg Camarillo have also been doing rounds. If one assumes that the spots they earn are behind those of starters Davone Bess and Ted Ginn Jr., then the other 2 receiver spots would have James Robinson, Anthony Armstrong, Brandon London, and Patrick Turner in the fray.

This is also being viewed as Chris Williams’ chance to make amends. Despite his bad decision of fielding a punt within his 5, his returns against the Jaguars did impress coach Sparano.

While the Dolphins are favored to win this game, if they wish to succeed in the 2009 season, they will have to dig deep, become more dynamic, and run the football like they actually should.

Written By Rajiv Baniwal

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Friday, August 21, 2009

The Future of Plaxico Burress and the New York Giants

On the 20th of August, Plaxico Burress, New York Giants’ wide receiver, plead guilty to a charge concerning possessing a weapon, and is looking at serving a two year sentence in prison. While this could do down to twenty months on account of good behavior, this could very well be the end of his NFL career.

Burress had accidentally shot himself with a pistol in a New York night club in November, 2008. It did not take long for the Giants to release him of his services after the story surrounding his arrest was made public. Burress is likely to begin serving his sentence sometime in September, and the earliest he can be expected out is only in April, 2011.

Losing Burress will have an effect on the Giants chances of winning the Super Bowl. While they have been given 13:1 odds of winning the Super Bowl; their NFL total season win stands at 9.5 wins.

However, even without the presence of Burress, the Giants still look like a fairly formidable team. Their quarterback, Eli Manning, has been working hard in keeping their defense together. Also, while their defense coordinator, Steve Spagnuolo, has moved to the St. Louis Rams, their defense is said to be as good as it was when they won the 2007 Super Bowl. Bill Sheridan, the team’s former linebackers coach is now the team’s defense coordinator.

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Also, while the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have gotten hold of Derrick Ward, the Giants’ offensive still boasts of Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs. The one drawback being that with Burress out of the picture, the Giants will have to depend on lesser known receiving corps such as Sinorice Moss and Domenik Hixon.

Burress, however, still has a chance of getting back into the NFL. The Washington Post has reported that as per an announcement made by the NFL, Burress stands suspended from the league but will be reinstated once the sentence is completed. The written statement that has been issued by the league goes on to say that Burress has been suspended from the league by the NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell, and that he has been informed that he cannot make deals with any team as long as he does not complete his sentence.

People have actually started placing odds on whether Burress will ever partake in an NFL game again.

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People who think that he won’t, have their reasons. Burress is already close to being 32 and by the time he comes out of prison he’d be 34. Besides, his reputation of not being a hard worker, and his list of injuries, precede him. While his physical abilities and his height will make teams think about getting him on board, his absence from the game for 2 years might prove to be his undoing. Besides, his attitude has never found too many takers, and his showing up late or not showing up for meetings, trainings, and treatments, was always a problem.

Burress now has until 2011 to see the folly of his ways. Would that be enough time for him to make amends with the Giants? Time will surely tell.

Written By Rajiv Baniwal

Underdog NFL Teams to Watch

With preseason just getting underway, it might seem foolish to try and predict the Super Bowl winner. As any sports bettor will tell you though, this is the best time to get your bets in, especially if the team you favor is an underdog. Teams like Buffalo, Arizona, and New Orleans all offer current odds at 20:1 or higher. Yet with restructuring both on the field and on the sidelines, these teams offer prices that might disappear as the season goes on.

The Buffalo Bills acquired WR Terrell Owens during the off-season. While his stats have not been consistent from season to season, he had over 1,000 yards last year. This is a huge addition to a team that has struggled over the past several years. Although he is currently on the injured list, he will be back in plenty of time for the regular season. With Trent Edwards adding another year of experience as QB, this might be a dangerous combination.

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Larry Fitzgerald was ranked the #1 pick for wide receivers by Sports Illustrated. In addition to this, the Arizona Cardinals have the #5 ranked QB in Kurt Warner. While their defense has a bit to be desired, the Cardinals look to have a much stronger offense than last year. At 30:1 odds, Arizona appears to be one of the better deals when it comes to long shots.

New Orleans QB Drew Brees is possibly the best quarterback in the game right now. With more passing yards than anyone else in the NFL last year (316.8), Brees has a mediocre at best defense to protect him. If the team can get their act together, Brees may find himself leading a postseason-bound team. In fact, New Orleans is currently leading their division in the preseason. Don’t forget Reggie Bush, either. Although Bush missed half of last season, he still put up numbers that prompted SI to rank him #31 in the NFL amongst running backs.

Written By Mathew Young

Preseason Week 2: The Vikings Vs. The Chiefs

The preseason game where Brett Favre is scheduled to make his first appearance for the Minnesota Vikings is all set to take place today. The Vikings will play host to the Kansas City Chiefs in a game that has the Vikings as 3.5 point favorites. News surrounding Favre refuses do die down, and this is a match that is bound to receive a lot of coverage, with all eyes set of Favre.

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Favre’s one year contract with the Vikings will see him as the team’s new offense commander. Reports about Favre not being up to the mark during practice sessions have been doing rounds and whether he is to receive any playing time in his comeback game remains to be seen. However, reports coming in about the quarterback Sage Rosenfels are all good.

The Chief’s second team will need them to play harder if they are hopeful of a positive result. Tom Haley, the team’s new Head Coach, has been involving his talented rookie running backs with the offence during the team’s practice sessions. Also, while quarterback Matt Cassell’s appearance in his debut for the Chiefs was quite brief, one can expect to see much more of him in this game against the Vikings. His back-ups, Brodie Croyle and Tyler Thigpen are being looked upon as good preseason tandems for people betting during the preseason.

The focus of this game, however, will remain on Favre. While some are viewing this as simply the tail end of his career, the fact remains that he has considerably improved the Vikings’ chances of winning the NFC North, the NFC championship, and the Super Bowl. As of now the Vikings are listed at +130 for winning the NFC north, at +500 for winning the NFC championship, and at +1300 to take home the Super Bowl.

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Favre, despite his age, has proved his skills as a quarterback time and time again. If his shoulder doesn’t give him too much trouble because of the offseason surgery he underwent, he will continue to be a force to be reckoned with; and definitely quite an improvement over Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels.

If Favre plays to his potential and helps the Vikings achieve success this season, he could also be a contender for the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award, for which his chances stand at +1800.

However, not everybody favors the possibility of Favre taking the Vikings all the way. This was made quite clear in Bloomberg Television’s interview with ex-broadcaster and Hall of Fame coach, John Madden. 73 year old Madden is of the opinion that Favre’s fitness levels do not really matter now, in a week from now, or in a month. What matters, according to Madden, is how Favre will feel when it gets to the playoffs. “I don’t know if he can hold up”, is what he said.

With the playoffs still a while away, all eyes are now focused on this upcoming preseason game between the Vikings and the Chiefs.

Written By Rajiv Baniwal

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Maic Man vs Baby Bull

In a classic battle of speed versus power, Paulie “The Magic Man” Malignaggi takes on Juan “Baby Bull” Diaz Saturday night on HBO.

While this matchup doesn’t carry the big names of Mayweather, Pacquaio or Hopkins, the fight should provide a fair amount of entertainment. The Magic Man is 26-2 but has lost against the two fighters he faced that are in the upper echelon of the sport.

Miguel Cotto broke multiple bones in Malignaggi en route to a decision win and Ricky Hatton won by TKO in the 11th round. Unfortunately for Paulie, Diaz is the same type of fighter as his previous conquerors.

Diaz has also struggled as of late and comes into the bout with a 34-2 record. The Houston native put together a very impressive run early in his career, going 33-0 before dropping two-of-three fights over the past two years. Diaz also fought top-notch competition in his losses against Juan Manuel Marquez and Nate Campbell. The Baby Bull was KO’d by Marquez and lost a split decision to Campbell.

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Diaz has fought better competition over the course of his career and has knockout power in his right hand. He is also coming in as the betting favorite at 4-1. As the fight has come closer to fruition, Malignaggi went from being a +300 underdog to +400 while Diaz is hovering around -500 to -550. There is also an OVER/UNDER line set at 11.5 rounds with the OVER tabbed at -250.

Although he is the heavy dog, Malignaggi could provide the big payoff for anyone that loves the long shot. He needs to use his jab and be as elusive as possible. Diaz is known to come in and throw furious combinations and he comes close to letting loose upwards of 100 punches per round. He is also known to fade as the fight progresses.

The Magic Man has a two-inch height advantage along with a three-inch reach advantage but that shouldn’t matter all that much. One of the bigger factors is that the fight is at the Toyota Center, in Diaz’s back yard.

Malignaggi has openly complained about the location as well as the officials scheduled to oversee the action. “You have Gale Von Hoy, a judge from Texas who scored the Chris John-Rocky Juarez fight a draw. Then you have Raul Caiz, a mexican judge from California who is anything but neutral. The referee is Laurence Cole and all you have to do is look him up to see his past,” the Brooklyn based Italian fighter told

This may ignite a fire underneath Malignaggi, but it also may indicate that he has already lost the mental battle before even stepping in the ring. The Magic Man will have to pull out all of his tricks to stop the Baby Bull, but if he does, he could hand a few risk takers a decent amount of cash.

Written By Brian Radewitz

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