Tuesday, April 14, 2015

"Lazzari's Sports Roundup" - - - - 4/11/15

Here we go--the toughest column I write each year. Why? Predictions are based solely on what one sees on paper in the springtime; trying to prognosticate what will happen (injuries, trades, etc.) over a seven month/162-game span is, well, SILLY. Then again, I've been known to include silliness in my work. Here's how they'll finish in 2015.......

Toronto Blue Jays
Boston Red Sox
Baltimore Orioles
N.Y. Yankees
T.B. Rays

Detroit Tigers
Cleveland Indians
K.C. Royals
Chicago White Sox
Minnesota Twins

Seattle Mariners
L.A. Angels
Oakland A's
Texas Rangers
Houston Astros

AL EAST- Reyes has a huge year as Jays finally get to the top again. Red Sox will have no trouble scoring, but the absence of an ace (Clay Buchholz--where ARE you?) and bullpen questions render them a runner-up. O's will hit a ton of HR's (will Machado finally make his mark?) but won't match the stellar pitching of 2014. Yankees have a deadly combination of over-the-hill players who make GAZILLIONS (and don't stay healthy); it's like a totally different FRANCHISE without Jeter. Tampa won't score enough (Longoria simply a "slightly-above-average" player at this juncture)--and no regular on this team will even SNIFF a .300 batting average.

AL CENTRAL- Tigers barely edge out Indians here due to a healthy Cabrera and better relief pitching. Indians will pitch well (Kluber the "real deal"), but the bottom of the lineup will underachieve. Royals will contend, but won't quite recapture the same "mojo" of 2014 due to the overall improvement of the division and a lack of power. White Sox could surprise, but the bottom of the rotation (Danks, Noesi?) may give manager Ventura ulcers before the All-Star break. I can see Minnesota being decent at home, but struggling BIG-TIME on the road--and I don't like their outfield (Torii Hunter turns 40 this summer).

AL WEST- If Fernando Rodney can duplicate his closing exploits from the past few years, there is joy in Seattle; the addition of Nelson Cruz helps with "punch." Trout will be Trout in L.A., but Pujols is no longer Pujols; they'll pitch well, but need consistency from the bottom of their lineup. A's have good pitching, as well (Sonny Gray blooms), but a lot of newcomers on offense; they just won't score enough. Rangers WILL score enough, but the starting pitching is shaky (Gallardo NOT the same pitcher that he was a few years back). Houston, we have a problem: despite Altuve's talent, they have too many .240 hitters along with being in a very competitive division.

Washington Nationals
Miami Marlins
N.Y. Mets
Atlanta Braves
Philadelphia Phillies

St. Louis Cardinals
Pittsburgh Pirates
Chicago Cubs
Milwaukee Brewers
Cincinnati Reds

L.A. Dodgers
S.F. Giants
S.D. Padres
Arizona D'backs
Colorado Rockies

NL EAST- Nats pitching staff is what managers DREAM of; it all depends on if this "best team on paper" can get great years from Harper and closer Storen. Stanton may win MVP and Miami is full of hungry players (even if no one WATCHES them play in south Florida). Harvey bounces back from surgery, but Mets' 7-8-9 guys will cause sleepless nights for manager Collins. Braves basically gave up on the season when they traded closer Kimbrel, and Fredi Gonzalez may be the first manager fired this year. Phillies have too many guys whose best years have come and gone (Howard is SHOT); the city that boos Santa Claus will be booing more than it EVER has in 2015.

NL CENTRAL- Cards' pitching staff still very impressive (Rosenthal needs to stay healthy in 'pen), and run-scoring won't be a problem. Pirates are young and talented, but can closer Melancon continue his magical run in Pittsburgh? Too many innings over the past 7-8 years may catch up to Jon Lester in Chicago ($25 million PER??); more disappointment in the Windy City as they may be another year away from breaking the .500 mark. Brewers will score a lot, but give up MORE (Lohse and Garza--THEN what?). Reds don't hit for average and the second half of the rotation puts them in the cellar; the chances of them finishing above .500 are about the same as yours truly dating Christie Brinkley by the end of '15.

NL WEST- L.A. coasts to postseason due to a combo of good starting pitching (if you need a loan, call Kershaw) and a veteran lineup (Puig stays grounded). Giants need pitchers who were once great (Peavy, Hudson, Lincecum) to contribute; regardless, they'll still find a way to contend. Padres will be fun to watch with all the newcomers (i.e. Kimbrel, Kemp), but I just don't like the bottom of their everyday lineup. D'backs will round the bases, but Addison Reed as your closer? "Tulo" will once again put up big #'s at Coors, but Rockies won't pitch well enough (what else is new?) to make any noise in this division.

*Postseason: Indians and Red Sox capture AL wild cards; Pirates and Giants to emerge as wild card winners in NL (Washington disappoints in playoffs). World Series? The usual crapshoot: I'll say the Mariners vs. the Dodgers--with L.A. coming out on top. Hey--you gotta throw SOMETHING out there, right?

Enjoy the season, my friends.................

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

"Lazzari's Sports Roundup" - - - - 3/28/15

The Connecticut Sports Writers' Alliance (CSWA) has announced that former Connecticut College runner Michael LeDuc and Tufts pitcher Allyson Fournier have been selected as the Bill Lee/Hank O'Donnell Athletes of the Year. LeDuc, a graduate of Canton High School, won the NCAA Division III steeplechase championship in 2014. Fournier--who attended East Catholic in Manchester--led Tufts to its second consecutive NCAA Division III softball championship in 2014. This pair of deserving individuals will be honored at the upcoming 74th annual Gold Key Dinner--to be held April 26th at the Aqua Turf Club in Southington. In addition to this year's Gold Key winners (Craig Janney, Tracy Lis, John Pagliaro, and John Kuczo), various other individuals involved in sports will be honored at this very prestigious event. Tickets can be obtained by contacting CSWA President Matt Conyers (mconyers@courant.com) or Vice-President Tim Jensen (tim@enfieldsource.com)..........TRIVIA QUESTION: The 1996-'97 Detroit Pistons--who finished 54-28 under coach Doug Collins--had four players on the squad who scored more than 1,000 points apiece. How many of these players can you name? Answer to follow..........My "Monday Night Sports Talk" co-host Tony DeAngelo emailed me the other day during the Yankees preseason game vs. Houston. His note: "The Yankees are now trying A-ROD out at first base. He ain't exactly a member of the June Taylor Dancers!"..........Quote by West Virginia's Daxter Miles, Jr.--the day before facing #1-ranked/undefeated Kentucky last week in the NCAA tournament: "Tomorrow, they're gonna be 36-1." Final score? Kentucky 78, West Virginia 39. A word of advice for Daxter: You DON'T provide bulletin board material for the top-ranked team in the country. Just goes to reinforce my belief that the term "student-athlete"--at the big-time college level--is a MAJOR oxymoron..........More about West Virginia (and I don't know whether to laugh or cry at this--which is usually the case in regard to NCAA "shenanigans"): Team member Jonathan Holton--who just ended his junior season following his team's NCAA run--was arrested three times in THREE days back in 2012 while a member of Rhode Island's team. These were serious charges, too--involving robbery, probation violation/being a fugitive, etc. Subsequently thrown off the team, he somehow ends up at WVU playing under Bob Huggins. My question is THIS: How did this thug end up at another school and NOT in jail? I guess this warrants attention to another oxymoronic term: 'American justice.' For some reason, I don't believe Francis Scott Key had individuals like Holton in mind when he mentioned "the land of the free" while writing the Star Spangled Banner..........One more while we're on the topic of the NCAA's "integrity." NY Post columnist Phil Mushnick was recently asked by a reader why there was a policeman standing in front of the TV review monitors at a recent tournament game. Mushnick's reply: "That wasn't a policeman--that's the NCAA's new MASCOT".........A strange thing happened to me on more than one occasion this past winter. Every time I went out to shovel snow around 7:30 PM, I'd experience an AWFUL odor coming from the south. Then I finally figured it out: It happened EVERY time the New York Knickerbockers took the court at Madison Square Garden..........I used to think that Mariano Rivera was the "poster person" for aging gracefully. That all changed the other day when I saw a recent picture of 54-year-old actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus at the Golden Globe Awards. Sorry, "Mo"--Julia wins hands down...........O.K.--here goes, folks: Jefferson Community College basketball player Alyssa Crosby marries NFL wide receiver Kenny Stills, divorces, marries recently-retired NBA player Steve Nash--divorces again--then walks down the aisle with NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young. Those out there who are into political activism and wonderful harmonies would delight in her full married name of Alyssa Crosby Stills Nash Young..........Answer to trivia question: GRANT HILL (1,710), LINDSEY HUNTER (1,166), JOE DUMARS (1,158), and OTIS THORPE (1,036)..........Suffice it to say that the football world lost one of its greatest players ever as the legendary Chuck Bednarik passed away recently at the age of 89. From blue-collar beginnings in Pennsylvania, Bednarik was a two-way player in the NFL (linebacker and center) and one of the most ferocious tacklers in the game's history. The first player drafted in 1949 (out of Penn), Chuck was a member of the Eagles' championship teams of 1949 and 1960 and was a TEN-TIME All-Pro selection. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1967--his first year of eligibility. Former Giants RB/NFL Alumni chairman Randy Minniear, who met Bednarik on a few occasions, recently told me about how tough he was as a player--and added that Chuck had the biggest pair of hands that he ever saw. The aforementioned Tony DeAngelo on Bednarik's legacy: "As a kid growing up in the NYC area, I knew of him as the man who hit Frank Gifford so hard that he knocked him out of football for over a year. But what I also remember is that he was an "old-school," simple man--true to his beliefs and values--and he held on to them throughout his life." Yes, Chuck Bednarik's # 60 jersey will forever remain retired by the Eagles in honor of his unmatched achievements on the gridiron. May "Concrete Charlie" rest in peace.