Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Lights. Camera. NASCAR!

Matt Kenseth celebrates his 2nd career Daytona 500 victory, amidst an odd race.

Nearly 40 hours of delays, rain, fire, and a green white checkered finish, pretty much sums up this years Daytona 500 ran under the lights. This was a race for the records books. With one of the most anticipated debuts in the last decade in rookie Danica Patrick, who finished the race in 38th place, but that's not the moment of the night .

On lap 160 while under caution, Juan Pablo Montoya, driver of the 42 target car, tried to make a lap up on the pack. While doing so, on turn three, Juan described a breaking sound, and seconds later, was in the rear of one of the jet dryers that was clearing debris. This resulted in what could best described a glimpse of hell (see below.) Montoya's car on impact was quickly engulfed in a ball of fire, which was only momentary. After he came to a complete stop, Juan was quick to leave his car, as well as the driver of the jet drying truck. Not long after a spark set over 200 gallons of jet fuel ablaze. Drivers of both cars were on there way to an ambulance to take them to a nearby medical center during this time, and were eventually cleared. After a nearly 2 hour delay, and a quick fix of a powdered laundry detergent, the race was back underway.

200 gallons of jet fuel burst into flames after Juan Pablo Montoya's car collided with the jet dryer truck on Turn 3.

And even a clean finish was not possible, with a green, white, checkered finish needed. Matt Kenseth, (Cambridge,WI native), had the lead at the time of the last caution. After holding off Greg Biffle and Dale Earnhardt Jr, Kenseth became the winner of the 56th Daytona 500.  It was his second win in the famed race in the last 4 years, also winning in 2009. Kenseth's pit crew was pivotal in his victory. With the crew working at the speed they did, they were quick in and out of the pits during cautions, leading a comeback all the way from the 32nd position. With a quick lead in points, Kenseth looks to keep momentum rolling into next week at Phoenix International raceway where he has one career win. If this years Daytona 500 is any indication of this race season, it will be an interesting one to say the least.

Until next time, Beers, Brats, and Championships.

-Brandon Krueger (@WSB_Brandon)

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Ryan Braun Wins Appeal and is Cleared of 50 Game Suspension

Ryan Braun's "Beast Mode" Celebration
It seems like it's been so long ago when the baseball world heard the news that Ryan Braun failed a drug test. But, now there is a huge exhale of Braun's fans, especially all of the city of Milwaukee. February 23rd, just days before Braun was expected to report to spring camp, the decision from his appeal hit the news wires from Tom Haudricourt and later confirmed by the Players Association. Braun would later release this statement:

“I am very pleased and relieved by today’s decision. It is the first step in restoring my good name and reputation. We were able to get through this because I am innocent and the truth is on our side. We provided complete cooperation throughout, despite the highly unusual circumstances. I have been an open book, willing to share details from every aspect of my life as part of this investigation, because I have nothing to hide. I have passed over 25 drug tests in my career, including at least three in the past year. I would like to thank my family and friends, my teammates, the Brewers organization led by Mark Attanasio, Doug Melvin, Gord Ash and Ron Roenicke, and other players around the league who have expressed their support and our great fans in Milwaukee and around the country who stuck by me and did not rush to judgment. I’d also like to offer special thanks to Michael Weiner and the Players Association for believing in me since day one and to my attorneys. I’d like to thank my agent Nez Balelo and Terry Prince of CAA Sports and Matthew Hiltzik of Hiltzik Strategies for all of their help and counsel through the process. This is not just about one person, but about all current and future players, and thankfully, today the process worked. Despite the challenges of this adversarial process, I do appreciate the professionalism demonstrated by the Panel Chair and the Office of the Commissioner. As I said before, I’ve always loved and had so much respect for the game of baseball. Everything I’ve done in my career has been with that respect and appreciation in mind. I look forward to finally being able to speak to the fans and the media on Friday and then returning the focus to baseball and working with my Brewers teammates on defending our National League Central title.”

With this news, I think this puts Milwaukee back into serious talks of being clear contenders to defend its NL Central title. And, more importantly, gives the Brewer's organization a brighter view heading into the 2012 season. Braun can now be looked at again as a clean player. Voting should not be altered for future awards.

According to the reports, Braun's sample was left unattended for two days, thus breaching chain of custody. Furthermore, this "technicality" has the potential to linger over Ryan Braun for a considerable amount of time. Also, MLB released a statement saying they are not happy that Braun won. Braun won on a 2-1 vote to win the appeal. We will know more tomorrow when Braun has a press conference in Phoenix at the spring training facility.

It's been 73 days since we found out Ryan Braun failed his test. These 73 days were stressful, full of wonder, full of doubt, skepticism, and hope. I think all of Milwaukee could agree that they are happy its over. It's time for baseball.

Until next time, Beers, Brats, and Championships.

-Andrew Vrchota (@WSB_Andrew)

Listen to our podcast, "Wisconsin Sports Blog Roundtable", available on iTunes and TheSportsStuff.com! Subscribe for free today!

Follow us on Twitter for up to date news on Brewers, Packers, Badgers, Bucks and more. Live in game commentary, breaking news, previews, and post game discussion. @WISportsBlog @WSB_Andrew @WSB_Nick @WSB_Brandon @WSB_Mike

Monday, February 20, 2012

Stephen Jackson: If It Fits, It Ships

With the NBA trade deadline about three weeks away and a lot of speculation circling Bucks player Stephen Jackson whether he’ll be traded or not is still uncertain. However, I can tell you that the Milwaukee Bucks NEED to trade him as soon as possible. Jackson is obviously not happy with his situation in Milwaukee, and isn’t holding anything back. He's already telling media he isn’t happy with his playing time and would like his “situation” to get better.

A lot of rumors and reports have already hit the airwaves saying that Dwight Howard would like to play with Stephen Jackson on the New Jersey Nets. Well, before any of that happens Dwight would of course have to be traded to the Nets first, but I don’t see any trade happening with Orlando since this year's NBA All Star game is being played in Orlando. Its unlikely that Orlando would trade Dwight Howard before the All Star game to only see him back in the arena with a new team’s jersey. Once the all star weekend is over I’m sure trade rumors will heat up big time and might actually see a three way trade with the Orlando Magic, Milwaukee Bucks and the New Jersey Nets.

Milwaukee Bucks' Stephen Jackson against the Bulls

If Stephen Jackson is traded that would get rid of his pricey ten million dollar contract for a player that Bucks head coach Scott Skiles has coming off the bench. If Milwaukee can swing a trade I think the main concern would be to address the center position. With Andrew Bogut out for possibly the rest of the season and forcing the duties of the center position on Drew Gooden won’t work. Gooden is 31 years old and can’t play every single game, playing Jon Brockman certainly won't work and starting rookie Jon Leuer isn’t a better substitute either. Thankfully Ersan Ilyasova has been a rebounding machine and able to give teams trouble in the paint. Last night against the New Jersey Nets, IIyasova had a career high in points with 29 and also a career high in rebounds with 25.

I'm expecting the Bucks to make a trade before the deadline for draft picks or a center, Anything is fine at this point just get Stephen Jackson out of Milwaukee. Let’s hope the Milwaukee Bucks will turn it around so we can see them in the NBA playoffs this year.

Until next time, Beers, Brats, and Championships.

-Nick Pritzlaff (@WSB_Nick)

Listen to our podcast, "Wisconsin Sports Blog Roundtable", available on iTunes and TheSportsStuff.com! Subscribe for free today!

Follow us on Twitter for up to date news on Brewers, Packers, Badgers, Bucks and more. Live in game commentary, breaking news, previews, and post game discussion. @WISportsBlog @WSB_Andrew @WSB_Nick @WSB_Brandon @WSB_Mike

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Wisconsin Sports Blog Radio Episode 5

In this episode the WSB crew goes around the state of Wisconsin and discuss news and notes from the Packers, Bucks, and Brewers. That includes talk of all of the coaching swaps and signings by the Green Bay Packers, our reactions to Stephen Jackson’s interview with the AP, and the latest from the Brewer’s clubhouse as they head into Spring Training. We then take some questions from our followers that include the Wisconsin Badgers football and basketball, the current state of Brandon Jennings and the Bucks, and the latest on Ryan Braun. To finish up the show, we begin our six part segment of previewing the 2012 MLB season. We start with the American League East.

Link to episode: http://thesportsstuff.com/?p=3841

Hosted By: Andrew, Mike, Nick and Brandon

Follow us on Twitter for up to date news on Brewers, Packers, Badgers, Bucks and more. Live in game commentary, breaking news, previews, and post game discussion.



Until next time, Beers, Brats, and Championships.

-Andrew Vrchota (@WSB_Andrew)

Listen to our podcast, "Wisconsin Sports Blog Roundtable", available on iTunes and TheSportsStuff.com! Subscribe for free today!

Follow us on Twitter for up to date news on Brewers, Packers, Badgers, Bucks and more. Live in game commentary, breaking news, previews, and post game discussion. @WISportsBlog @WSB_Andrew @WSB_Nick @WSB_Brandon @WSB_Mike 

Friday, February 17, 2012

2012 MLB Preview: AL Central

I'm going to continue with the second installment of this six part series of previewing the 2012 MLB season. First off, thank you to all of you that read the first one. I got an overall great reception from everyone on it, minus a few Boston fans. The truth hurts sometimes, as they say. So, everyone buckle in. Here is the preview of the American League Central.

The Detroit Tigers have made it known that they are serious about winning a World Series. It became evident on January 24th when they signed free agent first baseman, Prince Fielder. In a very quiet and uneventful campaign for Prince, Detroit came out of no where and locked Fielder up for nine years, two-hundred and fourteen million dollar contract. This move came on the heels of the Tigers finding out they would be without designated hitter/catcher Victor Martinez for all of 2012 with a torn ACL. Also, with the signing of Prince, Miguel Cabrera will move from first base to third base. Fielder will play for the same Tigers team his father, Cecil, played for in the early 90's.

The signing of Prince Fielder isn't the only improvement made by Detroit. They also cleared up their arbitration cases very quickly. In a span of two days, they worked out new deals with Max Scherzer, Phil Coke, Delmon Young, Don Kelly, and Rick Porcello. They also resigned shortstop Ramon Santiago. To further improve their bullpen, the Tigers signed relief pitcher Octavio Dotel. Dotel was coming off a strong season with the Blue Jays and the world champion Cardinals. Dotel was deciding between to two teams, the Tigers and the Brewers, and the Tigers turned out to be the winners on Dotel.

The injury to Victor Martinez won't shake up the Tiger's lineup too bad, minus the move Cabrera had to make. The pitching staff will be the same as it was last season. They did end up losing pitcher Brad Penny to Japan. They also did not bring back Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen, and Wilson Betemit. Other then that, and a few minor league contracts they threw out to help fill some holes, that was the Tiger's offseason in a nutshell. Here's there projected lineup on opening day:

1.) Austin Jackson, CF
2.) Brennan Boesch, RF
3.) Miguel Cabrera, 3B
4.) Prince Fielder, 1B
5.) Delmon Young, LF
6.) Alex Aliva, C
7.) Jhonny Peralta, SS
8.) Ramon Santiago, 2B
9.) Ryan Raburn/Brandon Inge, DH

Final Thoughts: What's scary to pitchers is that in 2013 that lineup will have Victor Martinez back in it. It's also scary that Detroit has a great starting 5 in Verlander, Fister, Scherzer, Porcello, and Turner and a bullpen that has Dotel, Benoit, Coke, Valverde and company. Much like the New York Yankees, this season should be a cake walk to another AL Central division championship for Detroit. Good luck to the rest.

The Kansas City Royals are going to be a fun team to watch in 2012. No, they aren't going to surprise anyone with a Arizona Diamondback of 2011 year or anything of that nature. But, they will turn a lot of heads this year for sure. They have the potential to be a Wild Card, but I'm going to hold that for a team in the AL West. The Royals will be a team that will keep your team from getting into the playoffs this year. They will win some games that will matter in the end. With the Royals to close the 2012 season with four series against divisional rivals, half of them against Cleveland, I bet that the Indians will be that unfortunate team.

The Royals had a rather quiet offseason, so this will be really brief. They started out with a bang by landing starting pitcher Jonathon Sanchez and Ryan Verdugo from the San Fransisco Giants in exchange for outfielder Melky Cabrera. They signed free agent relief pitcher Jonathan Broxton to a one year contract. They signed free agent starting pitcher Bruce Chen to a two year deal. They also brought back utility infielder Yuniesky Betancourt, a year after they traded him to the Milwaukee Brewers along with Zack Greinke. They signed Kevin Kouzmanoff to a minor league deal for more infield depth. Here's what opening day will look like:

1.) Alex Gordon, LF
2.) Lorenzo Cain, CF
3.) Billy Butler, DH
4.) Eric Hosmer, 1B
5.) Jeff Francoeur, RF
6.) Mike Moustakas, 3B
7.) Salvador Perez, C
8.) Johnny Giavotella, 2B
9.) Alcides Escobar, SS

Final Thoughts: With the youth in every aspect that this team possesses, they will be a show case of some fun baseball to watch this season. In the future, this team has the potential to be competitors as long as Hosmer, Moustakas, and Butler leading the way. They will need to focus on starting pitching next season if they want to start contending immediately. Keep up the progress, KC.

The Cleveland Indians would rank on many people's lists as one of the most disappointing teams of 2011, considering the potential they had. They were a well oiled offensive machine. They made a huge mid season trade to acquire Ubaldo Jimenez from the Rockies to help their rotation onto getting into the post season. However, they were plagued by so many injuries that they never ended up making the big dance.

That being said, they did go into this offseason with a purpose and they fixed a lot of issues from the previous season. They ended up letting Jim Thome, Kosuke Fukudome, and Grady Sizemore walk to free agency. Weeks later, however, they brought Sizemore back on a restructured one year contract. They brought in starting pitcher Derek Lowe in with a trade with the Atlanta Braves. They signed infielder Andy LaRoche, relief pitcher Dan Wheeler, starting pitcher Jon Garland, and infielder Julio Lugo to a minor league deals. Their biggest offseason move came when they signed free agent first baseman Casey Kotchman to a one year deal. Their line up looks just as strong as it did last year, if not better. Here's a look:

1.) Grady Sizemore, CF
2.) Asdrubal Cabrera, SS
3.) Shin-Soo Choo, RF
4.) Carlos Santana, C
5.) Travis Hafner, DH
6.) Casey Kotchman, 1B
7.) Michael Brantley, LF
8.) Jason Kipnis/Jason Donald, 2B
9.) Lonnie Chisenhall/Jack Hannahan, 3B

Final Thoughts: The key for any kind of success for the Indians this season will be based on how healthy they can stay. On paper, they have one of the best offenses in the league. But when one third is on the disabled list, it won't get them anywhere. The starting pitching will also have to show up big this season, as teams like Detroit, L.A., New York, Texas, etc all have power lineups that could put them to shame. The ball is in their court (field, actually).

Speaking of injury, the Minnesota Twins were effected by them all year long just like the Indians. Two of the big starters were out for the majority of the season. In order to have any kind of success in 2012, Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer need to play a full, healthy season. The front office did their part this offseason to fix what was broken on the Twins, now the stars need to lead the way. Let's look at the new additions.

To start the offseason, the Twins added free agent infielder and veteran Jamey Carroll to a two year contract. Shortly after, they added free agent catcher Ryan Doumit. This move came at no surprise as Joe Mauer will play a lot more DH and first base this season, just to test the waters on his health and ability if anything. In addition to those two, the Twins also landed outfielder Josh Willingham and starting pitcher Jason Marquis. After declaring for free agency in late October, relief pitcher Matt Capps was brought back in November after Joe Nathan went to the Texas Rangers.

Speaking of losses, the Twins lost two key bats in their lineup due to free agency. Outfielder Jason Kubel signed as a free agent with the Arizona Diamondbacks and outfielder Michael Cuddyer signed with the Colorado Rockies as a free agent. Although the addition of Willingham will help patch the hole in the lineup, I think their is still going to be a noticeable change in the Twins this year as far as runs scored stats are concerned. Here's what opening day will look like:

1.) Ben Revere, LF
2.) Alexi Casilla, 2B
3.) Joe Mauer, C
4.) Josh Willingham, RF
5.) Justin Morneau, 1B
6.) Ryan Doumit, DH
7.) Danny Valencia, 3B
8.) Jamey Carroll, SS
9.) Denard Span, CF

Final Thoughts: Starting pitching is going to make or break this team. There's a lot of weight on the shoulders of Carl Povano and Fransisco Liriano. Others will need to step up for this team to have any kind of chance to do any damage in this division this year. The middle of that order, Triple J, is going to have to produce and get runs on the board for this less then stellar offense.

The Chicago White Sox. What is there to say? Adam Dunn is coming off the worst hitter's year in the history of Major League Baseball. I mean, they might rename the Mendoza Line to the Adam Dunn line. Alexi Ramirez is a really great short stop. Alex Rios is an outstanding outfielder. Paul Konerko is the best bat on this team. A.J. Pierzynski is getting older. They traded away Carlos Quentin. They added Kosuke Fukudome. The starting pitching and bullpen on this team are an absolute joke. This team is one-hundred percent in a rebuilding stage. And, let me tell you, they have a lot of work to do. This should shed some light on what I mean by "work."

In regards to Chicago's farm system.... "And they're not particularly close to No. 29, either. When you don't spend money in the draft, you're not going to fare well in anyone's organizational rankings. The new collective bargaining agreement, which clamps down on teams' ability to acquire premium talent in the draft through higher bonuses, was the result of a long-standing effort by White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, who wanted to force other teams to play by his rules." - ESPN's Keith Law (Link to that article: Keith Law's "Ranking the Farm Systems") Opening day lineup might look like this:

1.) Alejandro De Aza, LF
2.) Alexi Ramirez, SS
3.) Kosuke Fukudome, RF
4.) Paul Konerko, 1B
5.) A.J. Pierzynski, C
6.) Alex Rios, CF
7.) Adam Dunn/Brent Lillibridge, DH
8.) Brent Morel, 3B
9.) Gordon Beckham, 2B

Final Thoughts: Good luck, Chicago. (See 2011 Houston Astros)

Predicted Final Standings

1.) Detroit Tigers (99-63) (Division Champions)
2.) Cleveland Indians (86-76)
3.) Kansas City Royals (78-84)
4.) Minnesota Twins (75-87)
5.) Chicago White Sox (61-101)

Next week, I will run down the Texas Rangers, L.A. Angels and the rest of the AL West in the same structure as this blog. I hope everyone enjoys reading this. Please leave your thoughts on here or on the Twitter feed (@WISportsBlog) if you agree, disagree, or want to make a point. I look forward to reading your comments.

Until next time, Beers, Brats, and Championships.

-Andrew Vrchota (@WSB_Andrew)

Listen to our podcast, "Wisconsin Sports Blog Roundtable", available on iTunes and TheSportsStuff.com! Subscribe for free today!

Follow us on Twitter for up to date news on Brewers, Packers, Badgers, Bucks and more. Live in game commentary, breaking news, previews, and post game discussion. @WISportsBlog @WSB_Andrew @WSB_Nick @WSB_Brandon @WSB_Mike

Saturday, February 11, 2012

2012 MLB Preview: AL East

This is going to one of six blogs I'm going to do over the next month and a half to get everyone ready for the 2012 MLB season. I'm going to go division by division, going over every MLB team on what they did over the offseason and what they still need to before spring training begins. I'll predict the standings and opening day line-up as well. These predictions of standing will be under the impression Bud Selig's 2 team wild card system will be approved for the 2012 postseason. Today, I will start with the ever popular A.L. East.

The New York Yankees have been somewhat quiet this offseason, as far as huge multimillion dollar deals are concerned. They have, yet again, come into an offseason looking for starting pitching which has plagued them in the postseason in years past. The Yankees acquired Michael Pineda from Seattle, sending prospect catcher Jesus Montero to the Mariners. This trade came as a surprise to some in New York as many viewed Montero as the man to take over the back-stop once Jorge Posada called it a career, which coincidentally was also this offseason. The Yankees also signed free agent pitch Hiroki Kuroda to a 1 year/10 million dollar deal. Kuroda posted a 13-16 win/loss record, which were both career highs. His ERA was 3.07 and he retired 161 batters.

With this two moves, the Yankees starting rotation right now sits at 6 people, but it is likely that one will throw out of the pen, most likely Phil Hughes. C.C. Sabathia, Freddy Garcia, Michael Pineda, Hiroki Kuroda, and Ivan Nova will be the Yankee's 2012 rotation, with a very strong bullpen with Jaba Chamberlain, Rafael Soriano, and future Hall of Famer, Mariano Rivera. The Yankees have recently been in the news trying to deal A.J. Burnett, and it seems the only team biting is the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Yankees offered A.J. Burnett to the Pirates for OF Garrett Jones, among others and the incentive of paying 1/3 of Burnett's 33MM dollar contract. The Pirates have reportedly turned that down, but they are still negotiating.

Offensively, New York is set in that category. Besides losing their longtime catcher, Jorge Posada, the offense looks absolutely the same. A few spring training invites have been sent out to utility infielder Bill Hall, long ball hitter Russell Branyan, and brother of Phillies outfielder Laynce, Jayson Nix. The Yankees are also looking for DH help, talking to former Yankee Hideki Matsui, Phillies outfielder Raul Ibanez, and former Red Sox, Tiger, and Yankee, Johnny Damon. With not much money to spend this offseason, where luxury tax is concerned, the Yankees have done a great job filling the holes. With that, this will be the Yankees starting lineup opening day:

1. Derek Jeter, SS
2. Robinson Cano, 2B
3. Curtis Granderson, CF
4. Mark Teixeira, 1B
5. Alex Rodriguez, 3B
6. Nick Swisher, RF
7. Andruw Jones (Ibanez/Damon/Matsui if signed), DH
8. Russell Martin, C
9. Brett Gardner, LF

Final Thoughts: Expect to see Derek Jeter get a lot more time played as the DH this season, and a lot more of Eduardo Nunez at shortstop this season. Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson both had outstanding years for New York and have earned those spots in the Yankee's line up. That being said, the Yankees have the depth to repeat a divisional championship in 2012, and I see them winning the AL East by a land slide.

Next team, the Tampa Bay Rays. Buster Olney ranks the Rays #1 in the Power Rankings to start the 2012 season, and rightfully so with the possibility of a 7 man rotation. (Could realistically do it, but not going to happen.) Matt Moore is the top rated prospect by many in all of baseball. James Shields will have another dominate season. Not to mention the also have Jeff Neimann, Jeremy Hellickson, and David Price. They have a very sharp offense set up for 2012, including guys coming back as well as newly acquired free agents. That being said, like the Yankees, its been a quiet offseason for Tampa Bay.

First, where is Tampa Bay coming from? The Rays were a miracle Wild Card Playoff team in October after the exhilarating end of the regular season. Evan Longoria hit a walk-off homerun to beat the Yankees, and with a little help from the Orioles beating the Red Sox, and the Rays were in the postseason. They would later lose to the Rangers in 4 games in the ALDS, but still many considered it to be a promising end to a season for Tampa. The one thing that will help Tampa Bay get back to the playoffs will be fan support. It was noted that the Rays did not sell out their final playoff game against the Rangers, which is a cause for concern. The Miami Marlins have gone through the same issue of not putting bodies in seats. Florida, for whatever reason, is not big into baseball. In a span of 3 season, both teams have done complete makeovers to their uniforms, names, and other aspects to the franchises in hopes to sell tickets. In Tampa Bay's case, they have one of the best farm systems in the league. That alone, for me at least, would get me excited enough to go to games. But, enough about their problems, lets look at the improvements of the Rays.

The only loss the Rays suffered was first baseman Casey Kotchman signing with the Cleveland Indians. Other then that, they have the same team as they did last year, minus the following signings. First, the Rays signed Luke Scott to be their primary designated hitter. Amidst the signing of Prince Fielder to the Tigers, the Rays made their next move by signing Carlos Pena, who previously played for Tampa from 2007-2010. And, just three days after, they signed utility infielder Jeff Keppinger. Here is where Tampa Bay sits for opening day:

1. Desmond Jennings, LF
2. B.J. Upton, CF
3. Evan Longoria, 3B
4. Ben Zobrist, 2B
5. Carlos Pena, 1B
6. Matt Joyce, RF
7. Luke Scott/Sam Fuld, DH
8. Jose Molina, C
9. Sean Rodriguez, SS

Final Thoughts: The Rays have the potential to be a dominant force in the American League. That success is up to the Rays and it's fan base. Support goes a long way. Look at what it does to teams like Philadelphia and Milwaukee. They have a team that could possibly contend against the Yankees for the top spot in the AL East. Their young pitching has to hold up, and I think it will.

The Toronto Blue Jays are going to be a very fun team to watch in years to come. They were in the mix for Yu Darvish and Prince Fielder this offseason, but really didn't have a "big" signing. The Jays are set to start the 2012 season with a new logo and new jerseys, which should give the team motivation as the new logo reminds us all of the roots and past teams the Blue Jays had. They have a very young, power hitting offense and an average pitching rotation and a very good bullpen.

To start the conversation, lets get the ridiculous out of the way. Manny Ramirez has been tied into the Blue Jays as one of the three teams he has been talking to about signing with this offseason. Manny, who faces a 50 game suspension (reduced from 100 games after being reinstatement to MLB) for failing a drug test, retired from baseball last season with the Rays when he did test position for PEDs. I don't see the Blue Jays as a team that would want Manny and his antics. They are forming into their own as a contender in their tough division. They don't need the extra distraction.

Moving onto what they did accomplish this offseason. They signed right hander Tim Redding who has played for the Mets, Nationals, and Astros. They also improved their bullpen by signing closer Fransisco Cordero, who was not brought back by the Cincinnati Reds and veteran relief pitcher Darrel Oliver who had three stints with the Texas Rangers, among half a dozen other teams. Speaking of veterans, the Jays inked 44 year old utility infielder Omar Vizquel. As far as minor league deals with spring training invites go, they have signed Drew Carpenter and Nelson Figueroa, among others. With all of these pitchers being signed, it will be interesting what the rotation will look like when opening day rolls around. Here's what I see the Jays lineup looking like on opening day:

1. Yunel Escobar, SS
2. Eric Thames, LF
3. Brett Lawrie, 3B
4. Jose Bautista, RF
5. Adam Lind, 1B
6. Edwin Encarnacion, DH
7. Kelly Johnson, 2B
8. Colby Rasmus, CF
9. Jeff Mathis/J.P. Arencibia, C

Final Thoughts: At best, this team will be a few wins over .500 this season. I don't think their starting pitching can get them enough wins to contend in the tough AL East. Its too bad Roy Oswalt told them he wasn't interested in joining their team, because I think Roy could have helped Toronto greatly with his veteran arm.  Their offense will be something fun to watch with home run champion of 2011, Jose Bautista and company. I think the Blue Jays are a few years away from being a big time contender in the MLB.

The Boston Red Sox are going to either be new and improved, or the same beer drinking chicken eating video game playing during the game headache as they were last year. It all depends on how new skipper Bobby Valentine handles the team. As most of the attention was on Theo Epstein leaving for the Chicago Cubs and previous manager Terry Francona not returning to Boston, there was serious worry in Boston as far as 2012 was concerned. With that, Boston remained active this offseason in hopes to get back on track.

The big move Boston made was acquiring Andrew Bailey and Ryan Sweeney from the A's in a 5 player trade. They also signed Nick Punto to a two year deal. They lost some key players to trades and free agency. Jonathon Popalbon signed with the Philadelphia Phillies and Marco Scutaro was traded to the Rockies. They did, however, avoid arbitration with Jacoby Ellsbury and David Ortiz. Veteran pitcher John Maine signed a minor league deal with an invite to spring training, as did Carlos Silva, Aaron Cook and Rich Hill. Hill, who was released by Boston but then later re-signed, has been with Boston since 2010. The Red Sox starting rotation does not have many concerns, minus the fact that Daisuke Matsuzaka will be back off the DL in 2012 and also if Lester and Beckett can stay healthy. If they can, pitching is great.

The biggest question going into the season is who is going to be the leader of this team? Big Papi is coming to the end of his career and can't be that guy anymore. Kevin Youkilis is aging as well, who was clearly Boston's leader in the locker room. Varitek was also a leader, but he is gone. Other questions loom the Red Sox, though. Will Carl Crawford rebound after a bad 2011 and live up to his monster contract he signed last offseason? Can Ellsbury and Pedroia continue their MVP worthy ways and carry the Red Sox offensively? Lets look at who will surround those two in the Red Sox lineup on opening day:

1. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
2. Dustin Pedroia, 2B
3. Ryan Sweeney (Carl Crawford if healthy), LF
4. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
5. David Ortiz, DH
6. Kevin Youkilis, 3B
7. Cody Ross, RF
8. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C
9. Mike Alives/Nick Punto, SS

Final Thoughts: As I said before, this is going to be an interesting year for the Red Sox. Bobby Valentine needs to get this team under control so they can compete against the Rays and Yankees in the divisional race. If he doesn't, its going to be another ugly ending for Boston as we all witnessed last season. Red Sox are contenders if they play as a well oiled machine. They will be fighting with the Orioles, otherwise.

I'm not going to give the Baltimore Orioles much time or space on here, because it's not worth your or my time. I will say this. They are in the beginning stages of rebuilding. I think they are improving as far as pitching is concerned. Signing J.J. Hardy to an extension was a good move after the season he had in 2011. But, the Orioles front office needs to learn something. Its that, in baseball, and in many things in life, its about quality and not quantity. Signing 25 people to cheap contracts hoping a few do well for you on the main roster won't get you far. And, trading your great pitchers won't help you either. (See Jeremy Gurthie). They are also in the talks as a team interested in Manny Ramirez. They did make a few nice moves, like I said before, by adding starting pitchers and some power hitters. Tsuyoshi Wada and Wei-Yin Chen will be great additions to the rotation, and if newly signed infielder Nick Johnson has a good spring, he could be the starting first baseman or play a big role as the DH. Here's what opening day will look like for Baltimore:

1. Brian Roberts, 2B
2. J.J. Hardy, SS
3. Nick Markakis, RF
4. Chris Davis/Nick Johnson, 1B
5. Wilson Betemit/Nick Johnson, DH
6. Matt Wieters, C
7. Mark Reynolds, 3B
8. Adam Jones, CF
9. Nolan Reimold, LF

Final Thoughts: Their lineup is very difficult to figure out because of how many new people are on that roster. Those 9 will be the starters, but in what order is the issue. I don't believe anyone knows, too be honest. They won't be the worst team in the league in 2012, but they will again be way under .500 and fall in last place in the AL East. If you're an Orioles fan, prepare for the long haul, because it's going to be a while until you win this division again.

Predicted Standings:

1. New York Yankees (95-67) (Division Champs)
2. Tampa Bay Rays (90-72) (Wild Card)
3. Boston Red Sox (83-79)
4. Toronto Blue Jays (80-82)
5. Baltimore Orioles (65-97)

Next week, I will run down the Detroit Tigers and the rest of the AL Central in the same structure as this blog. I hope everyone enjoys reading this. Please leave your thoughts on here or on the Twitter feed (@WISportsBlog) if you agree, disagree, or want to make a point. I look forward to reading your comments.

Until next time, Beers, Brats, and Championships.

-Andrew Vrchota (@WSB_Andrew)

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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Wisconsin Sports Blog Radio Episode 4

In this episode, Nick, Brandon, Mike and Andrew discuss the Super Bowl and what we thought of the game, the commercials, the halftime show and if it lived up to the hype. We also discuss Gisele’s comments to the Patriots as well as Skip Bayless trash talking Aaron Rodger’s MVP. We also get into the Milwaukee Bucks and their need for a center as well as getting Stephen Jackson out of town. We go over some new from around the clubhouse of the Milwaukee Brewers. And we finish up with a complete rundown of the 2012 Wisconsin Badgers recruiting class.

Link to Episode 4: http://thesportsstuff.com/?p=3832

Hosted By: Andrew, Mike, Nick and Brandon

Follow us on Twitter for up to date news on Brewers, Packers, Badgers, Bucks and more. Live in game commentary, breaking news, previews, and post game discussion.