Two starts into the 2012 MLB season, the pitcher who had over 20 wins last season is yet to record one. That’s right,Clayton Kershaw is winless; though the Dodgers have won both of his starts. Last year’s NL Cy Young award winner did pitch well, lasting 7 innings, allowing 4 hits, and fanning 7. His only earned run came in his final inning. Kenley Jansen followed to pitch a perfect 8th and Javy Guerra earned his 3rd save of the season as the Dodgers improved their record to 4-1.
The Lakers got back to their winning ways Monday night against the lowly Hornets, though they were missing Kobe for the second game in a row. Like all other Lakers games this year, there was good news and there was bad news. We’ll start with the good.
There’s good news and there’s bad news. The good news is that Andrew Bynum will eventually come back. The bad news: The Lakers are mightily struggling without him and still play again on the 27th against the Utah Jazz. The Lakers were completely exposed on both ends of the court by the Sacramento Kings. Metta finally played well with his new name, but the Lakers seemed to be one step behind the Kings on every possession, showing their age. Kobe went for over 25 again, but the rest of this rag-tag team of no-names that Mitch Kupchak assembled in the last week failed to perform at a high level.
Many analysts and fans around the country will simply write the Lakers off after this embarrassing loss the the Kings, however this is completely unnecessary. In fact, this could be helpful. As shown by the Lakers last year and in college basketball every year, winning in the playoffs is all about peaking at the right time. Last year, the Lakers peaked after the All-Star break but began their downfall as the playoffs arrived. The Memphis Grizzlies on the other hand, had finally developed great chemistry as the playoffs began, and they took down the Spurs. I’m not saying it is a good thing for the Lakers to lose early, especially in a shortened season where every game counts, but it is a symbol of what we expected: growing pains. Mike Brown’s preaching on defense has been taken to heart in the first few games as execution will improve over time, and the Lakers still have a shot of catching fire at the right time of year.
The Lakers will play the Utah Jazz tomorrow on TNT to finish of their back-to-back-to-back season opening schedule. For this game here is a quick list of 5 major things to watch for.
1. Kobe and Pau’s Energy.
Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol were the obvious stars of the team that won back to back titles, but have aged and their stamina has been questioned. In this shortened season with the jam packed schedule it is necessary to see how much and how quickly they wear down. Pau had to play with Bynum out early last season and fell apart in the playoffs, and Kobe has a wrist injury, so their level of play tomorrow must be watched.
2. Metta World Peace’s Consistency
Metta coming off the bench this season has been a mixed bag so far. In the season opener against Chicago he was less than effective but did have 19 points off the bench against Sacramento. For the Lakers to be a serious contender this season, Metta must be able to play effectively off the bench at a consistent level.
3. Offensive Fluidity
It should be interesting to see just how quickly the Lakers adjust to Mike Brown’ offense. As seen in the season opener on both sides, confusion was rampant as were turnovers. The Lakers now have 2 games under their belt without Bynum and should see those turnovers go down.
4. Who Steps up this Time
The Lakers need to stop depending on Kobe Bryant to get them out of tough situations. The Lakers used to have Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum playing at a consistent level but Odom is gone, and who knows how healthy Bynum will be. In the case of an Andrew Bynum injury, the Lakers need a back up plan other than give the ball to #24 and let him shoot it. This year we should watch to see if one single player steps up or if a group of players such as Josh McRoberts or Devin Ebanks elevates their game.
5. Which Point Guard Gets the Minutes.
So far in both Laker losses, their has been a crunch time situation. In the Bulls game, Steve Blake was the point guard in these fourth quarter situations, however in the Kings game Derek Fisher got the clutch minutes. In Game 3 it should be interesting to watch who Mike Brown plays in the high pressure situations.
The 2011 MLB Regular season awards are in the process of being announced, and so far 2 have been won by the NL West. Kirk Gibson won the prestigious award of Manager of the Year for his spectacular performance with the Diamondbacks and Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers reached the pinnacle of his career so far with his winning of the NL CY Young award. Kershaw finally made the transformation to the lefty ace the Dodgers have been waiting for for years. Kirk Gibson, who played for the Dodgers in 1988 when they last won the World Series, won the Manager of the Year Award with the Diamondbacks this year as he led them to a spectacular turnaround. Gibson has once again made baseball relevant in Phoenix, a city that has endured alternating success from the Suns, Cardinals, and D-Backs.
Matt Kemp, the other dominant Dodgers player just recently finished 2nd in the MVP Race to the Millwaukee Brewer’s Ryan Braun. The Dodgers’ center fielder was slightly superior to Braun on the stat sheet, however Braun’s Brewers made the playoffs, while the Dodgers suffered a mediocre season.
Team of Destiny. This is the perfect phrase to describe the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals. This group of guys continued to show their resilience when their backs were against the wall. With their season on the line from the wild card race to elimination game of the Divisional series to their spectacular Game 6 comeback, they just refused to go away. At one point down 5 games in the wild card race with just a week and a half remaining in the regular seasons, they eventually came back and made the playoffs on the season’s final day. They then faced year-long world series favorite, Philadelphia and responded in Games 4 and 5 where a loss would have mean elimination. They even beat two of the best pitchers in the Game , Cliff Lee in game 2 and Roy Halladay in the decisive Game 5. Ace Chris Carpenter pitched a spectacular 3-hit shutout in Game 5, as the Cardinals eeked out a 1 run win on the road. The Cardinals then decisively defeated their high powered division rivals, the Milwaukee Brewers in 6 games. They then advanced to the World Series to face repeat AL pennant winners, the Texas Rangers.
On Thursday, October 27, Game 6 of the World Series was played. After being postponed a day because of rain, the Texas Rangers were leading the series 3-2, and only needed to win 1 game in St. Louis to be crowned champs. Entering the Bottom of the Ninth inning, the celebrations for fans in North Texas was being prepared, as Texas led by 2 runs. Albert Pujols doubled and Lance Berkman was walked. Allen Craig then struck out to make it two outs, with a runner on first and one on second. David Freese then stepped to the plate, and worked his way into a 2-2 count. Texas was one strike away from winning their first ever World Series. Closer Neftali Feliz threw the next pitch and David Freese made contact. He sent it flying into the air in the directon of right fielder Neslon Cruz. Cruz reached his glove out, dove for the ball, and missed. As two runs came in to score, Freese rounded second and ended with a double. St. Louis’s next batter grounded out. In the top of the tenth inning, last year’s AL MVP Josh Hamilton hit his first home run of the post season, giving Texas what appeared to be a decisive 9-7 lead. In the bottom of the tenth inning with 2 outs and a 1-2 count, Lance Berkman singled into deep center field to score two more runs. St. Louis had once again made an improbable comeback. In the bottom of the 11th inning, David Freese was the leadoff hitter and hit a walkoff solo home run to force a game 7. The Cardinals then turned to ace Chris Carpenter in Game 7 and won 6-2, clinching their 11th franchise World Series title.
The Arizona Cardinals entered their Week 5 match up against the winless Vikings with a 1-3 record. They were looking to get back on track with a winnable game against a struggling team. The Cardinals allowed the Vikings to score 28 points in the first quarter, and were destroyed by the Vikings. This loss is extremely frustrating for the whole organization, as the team looks no better than they did last year when they were the 5th worst team in the NFL. The Cardinals have a much needed bye week in Week 6, and desperately need to fix problems on offense and defense. Kevin Kolb after the game voiced his belief that he is “responsible for leading the team away from this abyss”. Kolb, who was given franchise quarterback type money, has gotten off to a slow start. He has thrown 5 touchdowns and 6 interceptions in 5 games. After the 34-10 loss on Sunday, Arizona’s newly acquired offensive lineman from the Packers, Daryn Colledge, made an interesting observation. Colledge compared the Cardinals to the Packers in the 2008-2009. Both teams were coming off of losing seasons, had new quarterbacks on the field, had new defensive coordinators, and were still building interteam chemistry. The Packers, of course, one of the Super Bowl last season, however the Cardinals will be lucky to win their division.
Arizona 27 New York 17. That was the score with a little over 3 minutes left in Sundays’s showdown between the Cardinals and the Giants. Beanie Wells had rushed for 3 touchdowns in his return from injury. The Cardinals had outscored the giants 21-7 since halftime. Arizona appeared to be on track for a perfect bounce-back game after 2 tough road losses decided by a total of 4 points.
New York 31 Arizona 27. That was the final score as time expired in Sunday’s game. 2 Touchdowns in 3 minutes. What happened? The Cardinals happened, that’s what. Epic failures have plagued Cardinal history, and another one occurred today. A frustrating and depressing loss for both players and fans of the Cardinals was caused by an atrocious defensive performance. The controversial call made by the referees in the go ahead drive for the Giants that would have given the Cardinals the ball, and a win, is no excuse. The Cardinals once again squandered a great performance and lost. Don’t let the mask of optimism members of the organization have worn in the last few weeks deceive you: this is demoralizing. Another heart-rending defeat has put the Cardinals at 1-3. Kevin Kolb threw no touchdowns, but the team was backed by Beanie Wells’s 3 TD performance. Kolb’s only interception was picked off by former Cardinal Antrel Rolle. Arizona did muster up a small rally with a minute left, but that concluded with an incomplete pass on a 4th down and 2 at the Giants 30. Larry Fitzgerald, who became the Cardinals’ all time receiving touchdown leader last week in Seattle caught 8 catches today for 102 yards. Eli Manning and the Giants left University of Phoenix Stadium, where he won a super bowl, with their 3rd straight win. The Cardinals have lost 3 straight, but face winless Minnesota in Minneapolis on Sunday, October 9.
On Sunday, October 3, 2010, the Arizona Diamondbacks finished the season with an embarassing 65-97 record, also claiming the title of last place in the NL West. Less than a year later, on September 23, 2011, they defeated the San Francisco Giants 3-1, to improve their record to 91-66. Behind a strong performance from Joe Saunders they clinched the NL West for the first time since 2007. In his first full season as manager, Kirk Gibson has brought the Diamondbacks from the laughing stock of the division to a surprise playoff team with momentum that could keep them playing deep into October. The Diamondbacks officially clinched their playoff spot yesterday, to the delight of the 42,606 fans in attendance.
The current playoff teams in the National league are the Number One seeded Phillies, Two seeded Brewers, Three Seeded Diamondbacks, and the Braves with the wild card. The Saint Louis Cardinals currently trail the Braves by 2 games for the wildcard spot. In the American League, The Yankees, Rangers, and Tigers have all clinched their playoff spots. The Boston Red Sox currently own the Wild Card Spot, a spot rewarded to the team with the best record that does not win its division. Tampa Bay trails Boston by a mere 1.5 games with 4 games left to play for the Rays(and 5 left for the Sox). The Angels trail the Red Sox by 2.5 games for the Wild Card.
The Dodgers were officially eliminated from the playoffs, but have won 24 0f 41 and have a winning record. The Dodgers’ lefty and Cy Young candidate Clayton Kershaw leads the MLB in strikeouts, and the NL in ERA. He also is tied for the most wins with 20, and is the only Dodger pitcher to win 20 games in over 20 years. The Dodgers also have an MVP Candidate in Matt Kemp, who is 3rd in the National League in batting, tied for 1st in Home Runs, 1st in Runs Batted In, 2nd in hits, 2nd in stolen bases, and 3rd in On Base Percentage.
The Cardinals traveled to FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland, to take on the Redskins. Having only once won in that building ever, the odds were against the Cardinals, who were attempting to stop Washington from getting off to its first 2-o start since 2007. Kevin Kolb was starting for the Cardinals in his second regular season game, and once again, had a solid game. After multiple missed opportunities in the first half, the Cardinals trailed 10 to 7 at halftime. In the first half, Beanie Wells had a mere 2 carries for less than 6 yards. In the opening drive of the second half, he had 3 carries for over 40 yards. Kevin Kolb led the Cardinals to the red zone, before throwing his first interception as a Cardinal. Neither quarterback was playing exceptionally well, as Rex Grossman had 2 picks in the first half, and the Cardinals entered the final quarter leading 14-10.
The 4th quarter of this Week 2 game showed both bright and dark spots in the Cardinals team. With 10:58 remaining in the quarter, Kevin Kolb was drilled in the face by a Redskins linebacker, but not before releasing the ball. The ball was gracefully lofted into the air, and slowly floated downfield. Hanging in the air like a chandelier in a ballroom, the tight spiral slowly descended to the ground…right into the hands of star wideout Larry Fitzgerald, who walked into the end zone for a 73 yard touchdown pass. This play is memorable because it is the first of what will be many touchdown passes from Kolb to Fitz. Leading 21-13 with 10 minutes left, the Cardinals continued to worsten in the area where they needed the most help. After giving up over 400 yards to Cam Newton in week 1, the pass defense had something to prove. Unfortunately, they proved that they had the inability to perform in the clutch. Rex Grossman led his team down the field to a touchdown and eventually a game winning field goal. The Pass defense was once again highly criticized after this atrocious performance. The Cardinals lost the game, falling 22-21 in a heartbreaking yet down-to-earth loss. Next week the Cardinals take on the Seahawks on Sunday in Seattle, marking their first divison game. The Cardinals are tied for first place in the division with a 1-1 record with San Francisco.