World Cup Preview (Groups A-D)

Every four years, a single event has the ability to unite an entire nation. The World Cup, arguably the greatest sporting event in the world, can bring out the national pride in anybody. Let’s take a look at all 32 teams vying for the Jules Rimet trophy in Brazil.

Image

Group A

Brazil– The host country, a World Cup victory would send Brazil into hysterics. And Brazil has the best chance to do that. Many analysts, including ESPN FC’s Mario Kempes, can’t find a weakness in the play of Brazil. The Brazilians have the best back line in the world, with the likes of Dani Alves, David Luiz, Thiago Silva, and Marcelo. Neymar heads the attack, along with the intimidating Hulk. Brazil’s surplus of midfielders playing key roles in Europe makes Brazil a complete team. Following a convincing 3-0 defeat of 2010 World Cup winner Spain at last year’s Confederations Cup, Brazil is the favorite to win the World Cup.

Cameroon– The Lions come into the tournament without high expectations, needing a playoff victory in African qualifying to make it to the Cup. Captained by Samuel Eto’o, who has played with Barcelona, Inter, and Chelsea, Cameroon will rely on Eto’o and Barcelona midfielder Alex Song to provide leadership. Unless Cameroon’s lesser-known players can perform at a high level, the Lions will return home unhappy.

Croatia– The Croatians may not have many big names, but they are capable of solid soccer. Led by Real Madrid mid Luka Modric and Bayern Munich striker Mario Mandzukic, Croatia has a balanced team. Midfielder Ivan Rakitic and defender Darijo Srna are two players you’ve likely never heard of, but produce good performances. The Croatians will battle for the second playoff spot.

Mexico– One of the worst and most dramatic qualifying campaigns in recent memory, Mexico still managed to make it to the finals, thanks to 9-3 aggregate playoff victory against New Zealand. El Tri now needs to put that experience behind them and show why they deserve to be at the World Cup. Superstar forward Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez isn’t playing much at Manchester United, and Mexico lacks big names. Despite all their setbacks, Mexico should compete with Croatia for the second spot.

Image

Group B

Australia– Although Group G has been labeled the “Group of Death”, Australia’s group is not far off from that. Even with strong players like midfielder Tim Cahill and defender Lucas Neill, the Roos lack the firepower of the other teams in their group, and will be lucky to even tie a game in Brazil.

Chile– Although many don’t recognize Chile as an international power, it’s time they should. A very well-balanced squad that includes Juventus midfielder Arturo Vidal and Barcelona winger Alexis Sanchez, Chile possess the national pride and spirit that is required for a deep run in the World Cup. If the Chileans defense can hold opponents to two goals or less, their attackers should get them goals.

Netherlands– After getting so close to winning the World Cup four years ago, the Netherlands can show that they still belong with the world powers. Their strength is their high-powered attack, with striker Robin van Persie, winger Arjen Robben, and the versatile Wesley Sneijder. The supporting cast are also active on the offensive. However, putting lots of effort into the attack means becoming susceptible to a counterattack, and Chile and Spain can make the most of those chances. If the Dutch want to advance out of their group, they’ll have to score lots of goals.

Spain– Winners of the last three major tournaments, Spain uses their famed “tiki-taka” style of quick passing to break down opponents. As always, their midfield is one of, if not, the best in the world, featuring Barcelona teammates Xavi and Iniesta. If you have to pick out a weakness, it would probably be Spain’s defense, who don’t have the greatest size and strength to fend off large strikers. Previously unmatched in the international world, La Roja will have to compete with Brazil to retain their status as best in the world.

Image

Group C

Colombia– Similar to Chile, Colombia are starting to gain power in the soccer world and will certainly make a splash in the World Cup. Although you’ve likely never heard of most of their players, many of the starting eleven play in Italy, France, and England, so they have experience against the big names of soccer. If Radamel Falcao can return to form from his ACL surgery in January, then Colombia will be a very dangerous team.

Greece– Fun fact: Out of all the teams qualified for the World Cup, Greece lost the least amount of games during the period between World Cups (4)…Okay, so back to the important stuff. Greece’s strong suit is their size and strength, focusing on defense and hoping their big forwards can get them a goal or two. However, the Greeks are unlucky because teams like Colombia and Japan have small, quick attackers who can dart right by them. Greece doesn’t have the flair to advance to the next round.

Ivory Coast– Considered by many the best team in Africa, the Ivory Coast are a very unpredictable team. With stars like midfielder Yaya Toure and forward Didier Drogba, the Elephants have the talent to advance to the knockout stages of the World Cup. However, Toure and Drogba can’t win a game by themselves, so the supporting cast has to step up in order for advancing to be possible.

Japan– Probably the best team in Asia, Japan represented the continent at the Confederations Cup last year. Japan conceded a large number of goals, showing the level of their competition and that their defense needs to step it up. However, the Samurai also scored a considerable amount of goals, proving they can hang with the best. Led by electric midfielders Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa, Japan will compete with the Ivory Coast for second place in the group.

Image

Group D

Costa Rica– Los Cafateros just got unlucky. Drawn in a group with England, Italy, and Uruguay, Costa Rica simply lacks the star power and international experience that the other three have. The best chance they have is to just sit back and defend, and hope that they can break away on a counter-attack with their speedy midfielders and win tight games.

England– Always one of the more interesting teams to watch, England will have a challenge this year, dealt a tough group. Striker Wayne Rooney and midfielder Steven Gerrard head the Three Lions, and a resurgent Daniel Sturridge is another player to consider. All of their starters and 29 of the 30 on the roster play in the Premier League, but that also means that the English aren’t accustomed to the smaller, quicker teams like Uruguay. The English will get a challenge from Italy, and that matchup will decide who advances to the Round of 16.

Italy– The Italians are one of the most experienced teams in the tournament, and in a tough group that could be an advantage. The Azzurri also are one of the best teams position wise and keeping their shape, and can’t really be broken down with brute force. When not in conflict, striker Mario Balotelli is one of the most intimidating players in the world. One concern for Italy will be their inability to keep up with the new fast-paced, quick breed of players who dominate the game today.

Uruguay– After a surprising third-place finish at the 2010 WC, Uruguay will look to achieve a similar performance. After having arguably the best league season in Europe this year, Luis Suarez teams up with Edinson Cavani to create a dynamic duo that creates problems for any defense. The midfield doesn’t have any big names, but they play together well as a unit. If Uruguay’s defense can play at a high level, then Uruguay will be a very tough game for anybody, including Brazil.

Image

NBA Conference Finals Preview

The zaniness of the first-round has subsided and the heavyweights have emerged victorious heading into the conference finals. As crazy and unpredictable as the first round was, the second round was anything but, and the top two seeds in each conference move on to the conference finals and a chance at NBA glory. Upstarts like the Wizards and Trail Blazers are no more; only the NBA powerhouses remain.

 

Indiana Pacers (1) vs. Miami Heat (2)

Image

It’s easy to underestimate the Pacers given all the bad press and turmoil they have been mired in since March. One might look at the ever-solid Heat and presume a easy series victory for Miami. But the Pacers maintain their stingy defense and match up well with the Heat. After a miserable two months, Roy Hibbert closed out the conference semifinals on a hot streak, and Miami doesn’t have a seven-footer to match up against him, lest Greg Oden sees the floor for the first time in the postseason. David West should pose a challenge for whoever Miami chooses to start at the four and Lance Stephenson is bigger and stronger than Dwayne Wade. On the flip side, you can never underestimate the power of LeBron James, and the hunger he has for a threepeat. If Indiana comes out and competes like it did in the first half of the season, expect a series as entertaining if not more entertaining than last year’s matchup.

 

San Antonio Spurs (1) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (2)

Image

Every year, there comes a time when the “Spurs machine” reaches its highest gear. Gregg Popovich gets his players at their maximum level of efficiency and the Spurs absolutely demolish teams. We saw the Spurs machine in full action in the conference semifinals against Portland. After being pushed to a seventh game by Dallas in the first round, San Antonio won five of its next six games by an average of 20 points, despite an injury to Tony Parker in game five versus the Trail Blazers. Oklahoma City got devastating news this week when it learned that Serge Ibaka will be sidelined by a calf injury for the remainder of the playoffs. Ibaka is the defensive heart of the Thunder, who will have to lean heavily on Nick Collison and Steven Adams to defend Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter. How far can Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant carry the Thunder? After seeing how the Thunder collapsed after Westbrook went down in the playoffs last year, it will be interesting to see how Oklahoma City reacts in the face of another debilitating injury to a key player.

 

NFL Draft Winners and Losers

After the NFL Draft people like to judge. They like to judge the great picks, the not-so-great picks, and everything in between. Well, now it’s our turn to judge the best and the worst of the 2104 NFL Draft.

Image

Winners

San Francisco 49ers– One thing the 49ers do well in the draft is snag players who are talented but had a setback on the draft boards of many teams. This year was no exception. The Niners picked up Carlos Hyde, who many perceived as the best RB in the draft, in the late-second round, as well as WR Bruce Ellington, compared to first-rounder Brandin Cooks, in the fourth round. A player to keep an eye on was fifth-round pick DE Aaron Lynch, who has early-round ability, but his off the field issues plummeted his draft stock. Finally, the Niners utilized their “redshirt” program for injured prospects, drafting offensive linemen Brandon Thomas and Marcus Martin, as well as FB Trey Millard to develop this year.

Image

St. Louis Rams– In  the best division in the NFL, the Rams’ draft will probably let them compete in the competitive NFC West. Having two of the first thirteen picks doesn’t hurt, and the Rams used them to draft two solid players in T Greg Robinson and DT Aaron Donald. Also, the Rams allowed Michael Sam to become the first openly gay player in the NFL, which was met by some welcoming  tweets from Rams players, so that’s a good sign for Sam. The Rams also selected CB LaMarcus Joyner and RB Tre Mason, who both could make immediate impacts.

Image

Tampa Bay Buccaneers– In a league that’s always looking for height to catch the ball (see Johnson, Calvin and Graham, Jimmy), the Bucs got their Lion’s share. The Bucs selected 6’5” WR Mike Evans seventh overall, who could instantly create a dynamic duo with Vincent Jackson. Additionally, Tampa drafted 6’5½” TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins who, with a little sculpting, could become a Jimmy Graham-type threat. These three will surely create matchup problems for many teams. The Bucs also chose a pair of offensive lineman in Kadeem Edwards and Kevin Pamphile to add depth to a somewhat thin O-line. Although Tampa Bay only had six picks, they made them count.

Image

Losers

Carolina Panthers– The Panthers lost multiple key players from last year’s playoff team, but didn’t do much to fill those holes. In need of a talented receiver, the Panthers went with 6’5” WR Kelvin Benjamin, a solid player in the college ranks. However, Benjamin’s route running and catching ability have been in question, and how is he going to make plays if he can’t get open or catch the ball? Additionally, Carolina’s offensive line depth has slimmed down since last year, and the Panthers only selected one offensive lineman. The Panthers also selected Tyler Gaffney, who brings a fifth member into Carolina’s backfield, which is more than enough. Unless Benjamin develops into a superstar, this draft will have been pretty disappointing for the Panthers.

Image

New England Patriots– Many analysts say the time for the Pats to win another title with Tom Brady, and the front office did basically nothing to address that. The only offensive weapon that could help is WR Jeremy Gallon, but he has low expectations being the last player the Pats drafted. New England drafted three offensive linemen, but the Patriots have a more than capable offensive line. Some say the selection of QB Jimmy Garappolo was questionable, but Brady does need a suitable backup. The pick that will make or break this year’s draft for the Pats is first-round DT Dominique Easley, who has tremendous athletic ability, as well as tremendous injury concern with two torn ACLs.

Image

Indianapolis Colts– Other than selecting WR Donte Moncrief, the Colts had quite a lousy draft. The Colts traded a their first-round pick to the Browns for Trent Richardson, but Richardson played well below expectations last year, so that’s a decision the Colt’s front office regrets. The Colts didn’t get their first pick until some teams already had three. Also, the Colts don’t possess a strong safety, and didn’t address their need in the draft. Albeit the Colts should be set for the next year or two, the draft is a great opportunity to build for the future, and their future didn’t get much help this year.

Image

 

NBA Playoffs 1st Round Recap

Whew. After a wild two weeks of basketball which saw six Game Sevens, the first round of the NBA playoffs is over. We saw both one seeds go down 2-1 and claw back as well as highly entertaining series between high powered offensive units. NBA fans need to catch their breath before the second round heats up. With that in mind, here is  quick recap of the first round of action.

 

Eastern Conference:

Indiana Pacers (1) over Atlanta Hawks (8), 4-3:

It’s hard to have doubts about a team after winning a playoff series, but Indiana no longer looks like a contender to take down the Heat in the East. After being pushed to seven games by the Hawks- who admittedly, presented a matchup nightmare for the Pacers- Indiana will likely have its hands full with the surging Wizards. The Pacers three-month downward spiral is continuing, and if they are bounced by Washington, Larry Bird might start a new Reign of Terror in Indiana.

Image

MVP of the series: Paul George

George picked it up after a dreadful game three, averaging 26.0 points per game over the final four games, and leading his team to a 3-1 record in those games. He also had double-doubles in six of seven games. George looks like the only Pacer capable of carrying the offense, with Roy Hibbert producing Jeremy Tyler-type of numbers and George Hill handling the ball like more turnover prone Jeremy Lin. It will be up to him to state his case as a superstar and lead Indiana over Washington.

 

Miami Heat (2) over Charlotte Bobcats (7), 4-0:

Well, this one was boring. The Heat romped over the Bobcats, with only one really close game. Charlotte was troubled by an injury hobbling big man Al Jefferson, and simply did not have the power to withstand King James, who torched the Bobcats (now Hornets, I guess) to the tune of 30-8-6 on 56% shooting. However, if the Bobcats can maintain their defensive identity while improving young talent, they should be a perennial playoff team in the East.

Image

MVP: Lebron James

Lebron was magnificent against Michael Jordan’s team, showing the G.O.A.T. that he should soon be mentioned in the same breath as His Airness for the G.O.A.T. title. With a couple more championships, James should be in the conversation, and if he maintains his stats against Charlotte for the rest of the playoffs, the Heat will breeze through the East.

 

Brooklyn Nets (6) over Toronto Raptors (3), 4-3:

In a competitive series, Brooklyn eked out a one-point game seven win on the road to defeat Toronto and earn a second-round date with Miami. Led by strong performances from its veterans, Brooklyn alternated strong defensive performances with offensive explosions to net coach Jason Kidd his first playoff series win. Toronto, urged on by an omnipresent Drake and a rabid fan base, fell just short after a resurgent regular season performance, but looks to be contender in the Atlantic Division for years to come. Toronto also gained valuable exposure to the rest of NBA world by pushing the Nets through an entertaining seven games, which should be valuable for its brand in the future.

Image

MVP(s): Joe Johnson and Kyle Lowry

Johnson shouldered the load of the Brooklyn offense throughout the series, averaging 22 points per game as Deron Williams struggled to find the bottom of the net. Johnson earned his 21 million dollar salary in this series, with Herculean performances in games three and seven to clinch the series. On the other hand, All-Star snub Kyle Lowry proved his doubters wrong with a big series, with 20 ppg and 5 apg to lead the charge for the Raptors. Lowry nailed six three in game five and was a few inches away from nailing the series-winning floater.

 

Washington Wizards (5) over Chicago Bulls (4), 4-1:

Led by a balanced offensive attack, the Wizards surged past the offensively-challenged Bulls and into a second-round matchup with Indiana. Washington won its first playoff series since 2005 despite a game four suspension to center Nene Hilario and a relatively inexperienced backcourt. It seemed Washington had a different player step up each night, from Bradley Beal to Trevor Ariza to Nene. Chicago will cross its fingers that Derrick Rose returns to form, but it should be proud of itself for grabbing the four seed considering all the adversity it faced this year.

Image

MVP(s): John Wall and Bradley Beal

Wall and Beal were the catalysts for Washington against the Bulls, scoring and spreading the ball when necessary. Wall put up averages of 19-7-4 while Beal went for 20-4-4, shooting 45% from deep. The backcourt duo proved their worth to the Wizards and should present a good matchup for the reeling Pacers.

 

Western Conference:

San Antonio Spurs (1) over Dallas Mavericks (8), 4-3

A strong series-wide performance from the Spurs’ Big Three led San Antonio to a tight first round win over the underrated Mavericks. Dallas surged out to a 2-1 lead buoyed by Vince Carter’s game winning buzzer beater in game three, but San Antonio took three of the last four, including a decisive 119-96 game seven win. The Spurs were able to withstand Monta Ellis’ furious attacks on the basket by limiting Dirk Nowitzki’s efficiency and forcing Ellis to take large volumes of shots. San Antonio will face  red-hot Portland in the conference semifinals.

Image

MVP: Tony Parker

Parker was the little engine that made the San Antonio go during this first round series. Darting around screens, spinning in the lane, and pulling up for jumpers, Parker went for 20 point per game in the series, including 32 in the decisive game seven. However, he will have to cut down on the turnovers in order for the Spurs to keep chugging through the playoffs.

 

Oklahoma City Thunder (2) over Memphis Grizzlies (7), 4-3

After Oklahoma City looked very vulnerable for about two and a half games, it romped over Memphis in games six and seven to snatch the series from the hungry Grizzlies. With one minute left in game four, the Thunder were down five points and in danger of going down 3-1. But Reggie Jackson scored five unanswered points to bring the game to overtime, where the Thunder prevailed. Kevin Durant, hampered early in the series by Tony Allen’s incredible defense, came back to score 36 and 33 in games six and seven and drag the Thunder into a second round matchup with the Clippers.

Image

MVP: Russell Westbrook

Granted, Westbrook’s wild style of play did not help the Thunder at some points during the series. He took 23 (!) shots per game and turned the ball over five times per game. But Westbrook had two triple-doubles (one on 31! shots), including a 27-10-16 performance in game seven to close out the Grizzlies. Westbrook proved his value to the Thunder in their first round series, and OKC will need Westbrook to maintain this level of production if it wants to make a run at a title.

 

Los Angeles Clippers (3) over Golden State Warriors (6), 4-3

Amid massive controversy, the Clippers banded together behind the superb leadership of Doc Rivers and outlasted the Warriors in an emotional seven game series. Floor general Chris Paul was hampered by a hamstring injury but Blake Griffin and company stepped up in his absence of production. Everyone from JJ Redick to Matt Barnes to Darren Collison had their moments throughout the series. Stephen Curry was chased around by a pack of Clippers wherever he went, and though he averaged 23 points per game, he didn’t nearly have the impact he had during last year’s playoffs. Credit the Warriors for battling through injuries to essentially all their big men, but ultimately it was the Clippers who battled through adversity and moved on to play the Thunder.

Image

MVP(s): Deandre Jordan and Blake Griffin

If you matched Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan up against a jayvee frontcourt, you would probably get similar results to what happened against the Warriors in the first round. Jordan averaged 15 rebounds and 4 blocks per game while dunking the ball at 76% Griffin showed off his versatility at the four, running the floor for lobs, posting up, and hitting tough mid-range jumpers. While he needs to cut down on the fouls, Griffin should present a great matchup for Serge Ibaka in the conference semifinals.

 

Portland Trail Blazers (5) over Houston Rockets (4), 4-2

In an exhilarating and fast-paced series, the Trail Blazers, led by a barrage of three pointers and LaMarcus Aldridge mid-range jumpers, prevailed over the Houston Rockets. Aldridge scored 89 incredible points in games one and two, finishing with 30 points per game in the series. Dwight Howard’s Superman-like performance was not enough for the Rockets, who had another disappointing first round exit. Portland advances to the conference semifinals for the first time since 2000, bringing along with it a reenergized fan base and an offense capable of competing with anyone.

Image

MVP: Damian Lillard

Say what you will about LaMarcus Aldridge’s performance, but the series belonged to Damian Lillard. The second year guard dropped millions of jaws across America with his series-clinching, buzzer-beating, game-winning three pointer in game six, but he controlled the series from the outset. Attacking the rim with gusto, then stepping back to nail threes, Lillard averaged 25.5 points per game to go along with 6.7 and 49% accuracy from downtown. The enduring image of this first round series will be Lillard’s mug after hitting the biggest shot Portland has seen in decades while his teammates engulf him, excited and ready to move on to face the Spurs.

MLB’s Winners and Losers of April

As April winds down, we are presented with a substantial sample size of the 2014 MLB season, with most teams having played at least 25 games. Though it might be hard to project Mets as a wild card team (where they are right now), we can’t just throw away statistics from the month of April. With May approaching, here are some winners and losers from the first month of the season.

 

Winners:

Image

Old faces in new places:

Robinson Cano upset many Yankee fans this past offseason by signing a ten year megadeal with the Mariners. While Seattle has struggled, it has been no thanks to Cano, who is leading the team with a .301 average and 28 hits. The Mariners, fresh off taking two of three from the Rangers, will look to keep it up in Cano’s return to Yankee Stadium this week. In Denver, Justin Morneau has been scorching the ball (.351 average with a .628 slugging percentage and 21 RBIS)  for the resurgent and powerful Rockies, who have nine players hitting above .300.

 

Perennial AL Central cellar-dwellers:

If you had asked me on April 1st where I thought the Twins and White Sox would be on April 30th, I would have told you with a straight face that they would have no more than fifteen combined wins. But Minnesota and Chicago sit only two games behind the Tigers, led by the fourth and highest scoring offenses respectively. Wait, your telling me Trevor Plouffe is hitting .310? A guy from Cuba set a rookie record for homers and RBIs in the month of April for the White Sox? Alexei Ramirez has how many RBIs? The Twins have twelve wins despite having one starter with a sub-5.00 ERA? Who is Chris Colabello and why is he hitting baseballs so hard?

 

Who? (Chris Colabello and Charlie Blackmon)

Chris Colabello had 17 RBIs in 55 games last year. He had 18 RBIs in fifteen games this year. He had three doubles last year. He has nine this month. The question is, can Colabello keep up the torrid pace? His BABIP is hovering around .400 right now, so undoubtedly his average will fall. If Minnesota wants to hang around, they better hope Colabello keeps hitting them where they ain’t. Similarly, in Denver, Charlie Blackmon is simply raking. A career backup outfielder who was commonly shuffled back and forth from the minors, Blackmon burst onto the scene with a 6 for 6 performance on April 4th, and his average was as high as .426 on April 18th. He’s cooled off to a modest .389, but he has earned himself a starting role on the powerful Rockies.

 

Mike Trout:

Mike Trout is having another superb year, his third full year in the major leagues. His slash line of .327/.391/.606 has been aided by a ridiculous .424 BABIP but also an equally ridiculous line drive percentage of 32. Trout is hitting the ball as hard as ever, and is showing no signs of slowing down. He has separated himself from Bryce Harper, who he is often grouped with, and now is widely considered one of the toughest outs in baseball. The scariest part is that he is only twenty two years old.

 

Old arms; dealing:

One of the nicest things to see this year has been the number of solid seasons put forwards by aging pitchers. Aaron Harang, Tim Hudson, and Mark Buehrle are a few pitchers in their thirties who have opened the season by leading their teams every fifth day. Harang enters tonight’s start versus Miami with a 0.85 ERA and is only two starts removed from hurling seven no-hit innings. Hudson has been the best starter for the Giants thus far. The 38-year old carries a 2.19 ERA and did not walk a batter until his fifth start. Buerhle got knocked around a bit in his last start vs. Boston, but coming into that game he was 4-0 with a 0.64 ERA. It will be interesting to see whether these three pitchers can continue their starts across 32 or 33 starts this year.

 

Road warriors:

Interestingly, the best team in each league also carries its respective league’s best road record. Milwaukee, with an 11-2 road mark, has surprised everyone by jumping out to a 20-8 start. A balanced offensive attack led by Ryan Braun and Carlos Gomez has supplemented the second-best pitching staff ERA wise. Francisco Rodriguez has been downright nasty in the closer role, leading the league with 13 saves and striking out 23 in 16 shutout innings. Oakland, with its 11-4 road record, is off to a 17-10 start with an astounding +48 run differential. Like the Brewers, the A’s carry a balanced offense, with no starter hitting below .247 and 6 starters with double digit RBIs. Sonny Gray is emerging as an ace atop the rotation, buoyed by the unheralded duo of Scott Kazmir and Jessie Chavez, who are both having resurgent years.

 

Losers:

Image

New faces in old places:

Highly regarded rookies Billy Hamilton and George Springer have struggled as everyday players so far this year. Hamilton’s average dropped to .140 on April 13th and he has been caught stealing a league leading five times out of fifteen. He has picked it up as of late, hitting his first career homer last night and bringing his average up to .244, but his struggles to get on base at the top of the order have been a reason that the Reds have started the season so poorly. Houston brought Springer up on April 16th to provide a jolt for one of the league’s worst offenses, but Springer has failed to produce so far. Projected by many experts as a 20-20 player for years to come, Springer has yet to go deep and has only swiped one bag. Both rookies will need to pick up it up in order to jumpstart their teams respective offenses.

 

NL Central contenders:

Don’t look now, but the Reds and the Pirates are both under .500 and look incapable of catching the Brewers or the Cardinals. Both 2013 playoff teams, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh’s anemic offenses have led them to the bottom of the NL Central, only ahead of the Cubs. After a great 2013 campaign, Pirates closer Jason Grilli blew 3 out of 7 saves before landing on the DL, while reigning MVP Andrew McCutchen looks like the only Buc capable of swinging the bat. Cincinnati projects to rebound when their hitters get hot, but Pittsburgh’s pitching will need to step up for the Pirates to contend.

 

Miguel Cabrera and the Tigers:

Its hard to call Miguel Cabrera a loser after he recently signed a $240 million extension and won back to back MVPs along with a Triple Crown, but his production has dipped. For an average player, a .270/.316/.416 slash line along with 15 RBIs in the month of April would be a solid performance, but this is arguably the greatest hitter of the decade. On April 30th, 2013, Cabrera’s slash line was .363/.436/.559 along with 28 RBIs. Without the lineup protection of Prince Fielder, Cabrera is being challenged more (only one intentional walk) and pitches are simply getting by him (16 strikeouts). Without a doubt, Cabrera will continue to be the best hitter in the league and his production will pick up, but the loss of Fielder is hurting him and the Tigers right now.

 

Bryce Harper:

The young phenom had a tough April, getting benched for not hustling and then recently injuring his finger sliding into third base. More bad news followed as he will be out until after the All-Star Break. He only hit one home run all month and struck out 21 times in 91 plate appearances. Hopefully, Harper will come back firing on all cylinders and lead the Nationals back to the postseason.

 

Young aces; injured:

The injury bug has bit pitchers in 2014, and unfortunately, many young, top of the rotation guys are going down. The latest to fall was Chris Sale, who was off to a 3-0 start. He joins Clayton Kershaw (back in early May), Matt Harvey (Tommy John; out for season), Jarrod Parker (out for season), and Kris Medlen (out for season) on the disabled list.

 

Tampa Bay Rays:

The Rays, projected by many as the favorite to win the AL, currently sits in dead last in the AL East with an 11-16 record. Injuries have taken down two top starters for Tampa Bay in Alex Cobb and Matt Moore, and the Rays have struggled hard to find consistent production out of their rotation. Wil Myers appears to be absent after winning the AL Rookie of the Year last year, and while other players have stepped up to fill the void, the Rays still are not scoring enough runs to keep up with all the runs other teams are putting on board. The AL East looks like a bear, and the Rays cannot fall too far behind if they want a playoff spot.