Cardinals' Top Prospect Oscar Taveras Dies in Car Crash

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras was involved in a fatal car accident in his home country of the Dominican Republic, multiple sources confirmed Sunday evening.  His girlfriend also lost her life in the crash, Deadspin reported.

This is a very sad and unfortunate not only for the Cardinals organization, but for the entire baseball world.  The 22-year-old Taveras was one of the most talented young players in all of baseball, ranked the third-best prospect in's Top 100 ranking list compiled in January, 2014.

He was called up to play right field for the big league club on May 31st of this year, and promptly hit his first career home run in his MLB debut.  For the season, Taveras hit .239 with three homers, 22 RBIs, eight doubles, and scored 18 runs.

He struggled to adjust to big league pitching, but he had the necessary athleticism, body frame, and skill for scouts across the league to see that Taveras as a jewel.  The Cardinals even traded away their starting right fielder, Allen Craig, at the 2014 Trade Deadline to make room for Taveras.

This is a brutal loss for the Cardinals, who projected Taveras as their cornerstone player for years to come.  My thoughts and prayers go out to the Taveras family as well as the St. Louis organization.

Kentucky's Towles Has Best Game on Biggest Stage

Towles had his best game of the season on Saturday against Mississippi State.
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

The Mississippi State-Kentucky game was destined to be a good one. ESPN’s SEC Nation, led by Tim Tebow, traveled to Lexington for its renowned pregame show and Dak Prescott, arguably the front runner for the Heisman Trophy, got all the headlines.

However, Kentucky showed on national television that their quarterback is pretty good too. Patrick Towles made a big statement against the top-ranked team in the country, turning in a very productive outing against the stout MSU defense.

He outplayed Prescott, passing for 390 yards, rushing for 76 yards, and accounting for four touchdowns as the Wildcats’ upset bid fell just short. Playing from behind for most of the game, Towles put on a show. He threw the ball with nearly pinpoint accuracy, and surprisingly made terrific contributions on the ground.

Towles averaged only about 18 rushing yards per game in the team’s first seven games of the season, but took the team on his back in that regard against Bulldogs. He carried the ball a career-high 23 times, and the Kentucky running backs combined for only nine carries.

And while Prescott is known for his short-yardage prowess, Towles showed on Saturday that he is not too shabby in that facet of the game. His two rushing touchdowns both came from inside the ten yard line and he displayed tough running on several occasions.

Towles also caught a pass on a trick play for good measure. He is more athletic than he looks, and he is only a sophomore. Another year and an offseason to develop and he could blossom into one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC.

Kentucky continues to get better as well. Mark Stoops has recruited well in his first two seasons at the helm, and they have already showed vast improvement despite being so bad for so long. The players have grasped offensive coordinator Neal Brown’s schemes well, and Kentucky may be one of the league’s most productive offenses in the very near future.

If they do indeed take the next step, it will be thanks in large part to Towles. This was his coming-out party, and if he can sustain this success he has the necessary athletes around him to strike fear into opposing SEC defenses.  

Florida State Football: Winston, Fisher Not Deserving of Praise

The lack of character between Jimbo Fisher and Jameis Winston is sickening, and Florida State shouldn't be undefeated anymore.
Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

On 4th-and-goal from the two yard line and less than 20 seconds left in the game, Everett Golson threw a short pass to Corey Robinson for what initially looked like a go-ahead touchdown. However, pass interference was called on the offense, negating the touchdown and pushing the Irish back 15 yards.

Everett Golson could not find an open receiver on the last play of the game, and Florida State escaped with a narrow victory, their 23rd in a row, and Jameis Winston is now being praised like he’s some kind of superhero. Nearly every single sports analyst around the country is commending them on their supposed stellar come-from-behind performance.

This is just another example of the college football world jumping on the bandwagon of a player and team, but this time it doesn’t make any sense.

First, it was a bogus pass interference call. Was there some contact at the line of scrimmage? Definitely. Were the receivers more intent on getting in the way of the defenders than continuing on their routes? Absolutely. In the official rulebook, what Notre Dame did may technically be a penalty.

But that type of play never gets flagged. Every team in America runs crossing patterns, “rub routes,” against man coverage in hopes that it will clear space for a receiver. Notre Dame did it several times throughout the game, as did Florida State, and it wasn’t called. It’s not an illegal play, it’s simply a strategic way for the offense to create space for its playmakers, and it never gets called.

The fact that it was called in this situation is sickening. If it’s not going to be deemed illegal in the middle of the game with the ball around midfield, it definitely should not be called with the game on the line in the waning seconds of the game.

Next, the outpouring of praise for Florida State is a bit overdramatic. People are so quick to forget that they were nine point favorites coming into the game, according to CBSSports. The Seminoles got outplayed the entire first half, and then needed a phantom pass interference call to bail them out. Their performance on Saturday night did not warrant all of the praise.

However, what was even more sickening was Jimbo Fisher’s postgame interview. While talking to ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi, the way Fisher described his team was laughable.

“The heart and discipline in that room,” Fisher said. “There’s character, there’s heart, there’s a team full of great kids. It’s a high character program that’s run the right way on class, on dignity, in the classroom, on the field and off the field and this team shows it.

Using “character” and “class” in the same sentence about Florida State is a complete joke, and it makes the school, and Fisher, look foolish. The leader of the off-field shenanigans is Jameis Winston, ostensibly the leader of the squad.

His list of off-field transgressions is nearly limitless, and they include shoplifting from a supermarket, yelling obscene profanity on top of a park bench on school grounds, and allegedly raping a woman. To be fair, his rape investigation is still open and he is still in the process of attempting to rid himself of that bad publicity.

And then there are the autographs. ESPN reported on Thursday that it found over 2,000 authenticated Winston signatures online. In the wake of Georgia running back Todd Gurley’s suspension for allegedly accepting compensation for signing autographs, this is a big deal.

It seems like this would be a tough infraction to prove because it’s very hard to accurately determine whether Winston signed these items for money or he signed something for a fan and the fan is attempting to resell it. But Matt Powers, owner of Powers Collectibles and a specialist in the business, feels sure that Winston is guilty.

“No one who is not a dealer is going to submit that many autographs at one time,” Powers said. “But besides the number, the giveaway of the JSA authenticated items that you can see on eBay, that suggests it was a sit-down signing, as the consistency of autograph, the cleanliness of the autograph and the fact that the autograph is signed in the same place over and over.”

Powers goes on to say that after examining the memorabilia signed by Winston, he could tell that he was completely focused when he was signing because of the consistency of the autographs. He says that when athletes are signing in public for fans, they tend to scribble their signature. Whether or not the NCAA will make Winston pay for his infractions is yet to be determined, but I think it’s safe to take the word of a professional.

There is a good chance that Winston did indeed receive compensation for his autographs, but even if he didn’t, the wave of uncertainty that follows Winston is palpable. There was no proof that Gurley was guilty either, but he was suspended anyway.

Which is why I cannot fathom why the college football world is so dramatically in love with last year’s Heisman winner. It seems like ESPN would want a well-rounded person to be their cover boy, someone who truly has character, not a criminal like Jameis Winston.

Florida State should have lost the game against Notre Dame, but they were bailed out by a terrible call. He has not been good enough this year to warrant all of the accolades he is getting, and it is disgusting to see him as well as his school getting such publicity.

Also, how in the world Jimbo Fisher can babble such lies on national television is beyond me. “Class” and “character” could not be further from the truth describing the FSU program, and there is abundant evidence to back up that claim.

If the Seminoles manage to get a few more calls and finagle their way into the inaugural college football playoff, it will be a tragedy. They basically have to go undefeated to be a part of the Final Four due to their cupcake schedule, and the Notre Dame game should have been the loss that exiled them from contention.

Harvin's Poor Attitude Caused Trade, Seattle Won't Miss Him

The Seahawks were tired of dealing with Percy Harvin's poor attitude and ineffectiveness, so they got rid of him.
Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

The Seattle Seahawks made a very surprising move on Friday afternoon, trading wide receiver Percy Harvin to the Jets in exchange for a future draft pick. It made some people scratch their heads because they traded a first-round pick for Harvin and also signed him to a $67 million extension, but the former Florida standout was reportedly causing too many headaches off the field.

Harvin did not adapt well to his new team, as he got into physical fights with Seattle teammates on multiple occasions. He reportedly had fistfights with Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin, and Russell Wilson in his limited time as a Seahawk.

But the last straw might have come in the Seahawks’ loss last week against the Cowboys. In that game, with Seattle in need of a quick scoring drive to retake the lead, Harvin refused to go back into the game after he was dinged up earlier. The fact that Harvin would protest in that way for his usage is mind-boggling and not how a professional should act.

And Pete Carroll, who preaches team chemistry and competitiveness as much as any other coach in the NFL, did not want to have to deal with Harvin any longer. It must have been hard for the front office to trade Harvin after investing so much in him, but the fact that the Seahawks won’t miss him has to be comforting.

The first thing that has to be known is that Harvin is one of the most injury-prone players in the league. Despite being the highest paid receiver on the team, his 31.7 snaps per game ranked only fifth among the receiving corps.

Surprisingly, Harvin’s exit might actually benefit the Seattle offense. Russell Wilson has had a better touchdown-to-interception ratio, more yards per completion, and a drastically better Total Quarterback Rating (45 to 71) with Harvin off the field, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

In the future, the Seahawks are going to regret trading for Harvin rather than trading him away. He has definitely not been the versatile player that he was supposed to be when the Seahawks acquired him from the Vikings.

Harvin recorded only 150 receiving yards in his Seahawks career, which started at the beginning of 2013. He was injured for a significant portion of that time, but that is no excuse for 265 other NFL players gaining more yards through the air over that span.

The absence of Harvin should allow the Seahawks to get back to their bread and butter, running with Marshawn Lynch to set up the play-action pass, without having to find ways to get Harvin involved in the offense.

Harvin was injured last year and did not play a role in the Seahawks’ Super Bowl run, so the team should realistically have a chance to win it all again.

The Jets get a troubled player with a bad attitude who has not been productive the past two seasons, and a few years down the road the Seahawks might thank the Jets for bailing them out of a sticky situation.

Why the Future is Still Bright for Texas Tech

Kingsbury's second year on campus hasn't been pretty, but there is still plenty to be excited about in Lubbock.
Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

2014 has not been kind to Texas Tech and Kliff Kingsbury. The Red Raiders have not lived up to the hype that followed them after their dominating performance in last year’s Holiday Bowl, when they beat Arizona State 38-21 despite being 22-point underdogs.

The Red Raiders struggled immediately out of the gate, barely escaping games against Central Arkansas, an FCS team, and UTEP with victories. But then they got shredded 49-28 against Arkansas and lost their first three Big 12 games against Oklahoma State, Kansas State and West Virginia.

The four consecutive losses are demoralizing, especially for a team with aspirations to be a darkhorse in the Big 12 title race, and the 0-3 conference start is the first time that has happened since 1990.

There are some positives in Lubbock, though. Texas Tech has played pretty well in two of those conference losses. They scored 35 points against Oklahoma State, a team that played Florida State very close in their first game of the year. In that game, the Red Raider offense churned out 512 yards of total offense and their defense played better than one would expect against such a high octane offense.

And they played by far their best game of the season last Saturday against West Virginia. In that game, the Red Raiders recorded more than 300 passing yards and 200 rushing yards, an impeccable display of balance that hasn’t been seen in Lubbock in years. The defense played very well also, limiting Clint Trickett to only 301 passing yards, his lowest output of the season.

The two things that have plagued the Red Raiders the most in the Kingsbury era have been turnovers and penalties. They tied the Mountaineers one-to-one in the turnover battle, the first time of the season that the Red Raiders have not had more turnovers than their opponent.

However, the impact of each of those turnovers could have been much different. The Red Raiders’ lone turnover was a Davis Webb interception that killed a promising drive at the end of the first half, while they could only manage a field goal on West Virginia’s turnover despite recovering a Trickett fumble deep in scoring territory.

Because Kingsbury’s squad has been behind in the turnover margin by so much, they need to capitalize on the ones they do force.

Unfortunately, the penalties are another story. Against West Virginia, the Red Raiders did not limit the damage in that regard, piling on a dozen more flags to add to their nation-leading total. For the season, they are averaging more than 11 penalties and 104 penalty yards per game. That is an obscenely high total, making it even harder for Tech to win games.

These two particular aspects of the game have to drive Kingsbury crazy. He told the Dallas Morning News that he has tried everything to stop the penalties, but nothing has worked.

That’s what the Texas Tech fans and athletic department need to understand. Kingsbury is only 35 years old and has only been a coach of any kind for six years. He spent two seasons as an offensive quality control assistant at the University of Houston, then two as the co-offensive coordinator at the same school. Next, Kingsbury followed Kevin Sumlin to Texas A&M. And after one year of overseeing one of the most prolific offenses in the country in 2012, Kingsbury reached the pinnacle of coaching. He got offered his dream job, head coach at his alma mater, and is now the head man at the same place he played quarterback in the early 2000s.

Kingsbury has proven that he is one of the best offensive playcallers in the country, but not head coach. When he was solely an offensive coach, he had Sumlin there to handle discipline as well as defense while Kingsbury was able to devote all of his time to offensive schemes.

Now, it’s a different story. Kingsbury has to focus on all the aspects of the game as well as learn how to win games as a head coach. No longer can he be the nice guy on the staff, the players’ best friend. He can still be cool, but the players also have to know that they must be disciplined and that there will be consequences for mistakes.

Tech had to know that there were going to be some growing pains with Kingsbury at the helm due to his young age and overall inexperience, and they showed they are willing to be patient when they signed Kingsbury to an extension that will keep him in Lubbock through the 2020 season.

The current Texas Tech roster is loaded with talent, especially on the offensive side of the ball, which makes it even more mind-boggling that the offense hasn’t been firing on all cylinders. But it’s easy to forget that they are very, very young across the board. Their starting lineup is filled with underclassmen on both sides of the ball.

The Red Raiders have only two seniors on offense and four on defense. They are also playing with a brand new defensive coordinator, Mike Smith, who took over the position after Matt Wallerstedt resigned unexpectedly.

Tech is rife with youth, and despite the rough start to this season, the future is still bright in Lubbock. The incoming recruiting class is impressive, headlined by Jarrett Stidham, the third-ranked dual threat quarterback in the nation, according to ESPN Recruiting Nation.

Kingsbury is going to be a terrific coach, but he is not there yet. He is good looks will only get him so far as a head coach, and he has the necessary work ethic to catapult himself toward the top coaches in the Big 12.

He even said so himself in his postgame press conference. He said to reporters after the game that his team still doesn’t know “how to finish.” That goes for the players as well as the coaching staff.

There is no reason for panic in Lubbock. The Red Raiders may not win many games this year, but things usually have to get worse before they get better. Their four losses have been to good teams, Kansas State and Oklahoma State are both ranked in the Top 15 while Arkansas and West Virginia each lost to Alabama by a combined 11 points.

If anybody can bring championship caliber success to the West Plains, it is Kingsbury. Give him a few years for him as well as his players to hone their respective crafts, and the Red Raiders will be competing for Big 12 championships on a yearly basis.     

Thanks to Showalter, Rainout Helps Orioles More Than Royals in ALCS

With a great manager like Showalter, the Orioles are never out of a series.
Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

It rained all day yesterday in Kansas City, so much that Game 3 of the American League Championship between the Royals and Orioles was postponed. The rainout gives both teams an extra day of rest, but which team does the rainout help most?

The Royals won the first two games of the series, both close games played in Baltimore, but I think the rainout actually helps the Orioles more than it does the Royals.

Up 2-0 as the series moves back to Kansas City, the Royals have all the momentum. They have not lost a game yet this postseason and seem to be a team of destiny at this point. The Orioles, on the other hand, are on the brink of having their season end soon.

There have been only three teams in MLB history that have come back from a 2-0 hole to win a League Championship Series. And all three of those lost the first two games on the road and were able to regroup as the series came back to their home turf.

The Orioles, however, lost two consecutive games at Camden Yards and will have to scratch and claw to prolong the series past the minimum four games.

So the day off presumably takes some of the momentum out of the Royals, thus evening the teams a bit.

It’s not just for momentum purposes, though, it’s also the men calling the shots. Buck Showalter is revered as one of the game’s best managers, while one would be hard-pressed to find someone who disagrees that the Royals have won in spite of Ned Yost, not because of him.

The day off gives both managers the opportunity to reshuffle their pitching staffs as they see fit. The Orioles can bring back Chris Tillman on regular rest, and the Royals can start James Shields if they choose.

The O’s need a win in Tuesday’s Game 3, so it would be sensible to put their best pitcher on the hill with their backs against the wall. For the Royals, it’s a bit different.

Do they want to have Shields pitch against the opposing ace or save him to pitch against the O’s number two starter? Do they really want to use Shields again this early in the series, or give him a little extra rest so he’s ready to go if the series gets closer?

Those are all questions that Yost can ponder with the extra day off, but Showalter can as well. It seems like the tide has to turn sometime and maybe the Orioles will catch a break or two.

The rainout basically adds up to an extra day of rest to allow both pitching staffs to refuel. If the series goes six or seven games, whoever handles the pitching staff best will have the advantage.

If history is any indication, the Orioles are better suited in that department, thus they are going to benefit more from this rainout. Give a mad scientist like Showalter an extra day to contemplate future moves, and the results have a good chance of improving.

NLCS Matches Two Teams Cut From the Same Cloth

When the Cardinals and Giants meet in the NLCS, it will be a matchup of two very similar teams
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

It seems that every year in the MLB, there are teams that look, on paper, like they have what it takes to be a World Series contender. Recently, those teams are also the ones who spend the most money.

Both Los Angeles ball clubs have been throwing money at their problems in hopes of better results. The Dodgers pulled off a couple of monster trades, while the Angels acquired most of their stars off the free agent market.

Either way, the Dodgers built a star-studded team with the likes of Clayton Kershaw, Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez, and the Angels have signed Albert Pujols, C.J Wilson, Josh Hamilton and Mike Trout to megadeals.

In the Motor City, a similar philosophy has been brewing the past couple of seasons. The Tigers have been very aggressive in making deals. They signed Prince Fielder to a $214 million contract before the 2012 season, only to trade him after two years for Ian Kinsler. They made Justin Verlander one of the richest players in the league when they signed him to an extension in 2013, and Miguel Cabrera signed a $248 million extension the day before Verlander.

Then they traded for David Price, giving the Tigers the last three American League Cy Young winners with Max Scherzer, Price, and Verlander.

It seemed like these three teams were almost too good to fail. They were unquestionably the World Series favorites thanks to their star power and flare.

However, history and intangibles were forgotten in that assessment. People were so caught up in the huge contracts and national appeal that they forgot that baseball is played on a diamond, not on paper.

The St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants exemplify what it really takes to win championships at the big league level.

Cardinals’ left fielder Matt Holliday may have said it best:

Talent doesn’t equal victories. You can take all the sabermetrics, and look at everything on paper, if you like. But there are intangibles, and there is chemistry, and there is the will to win that you can’t calculate.

It’s interesting that Holliday brings up sabermetrics. The Oakland A’s, king of sabermetrics, have only made it to the ALCS once this century despite making the playoffs nine times.

So maybe it would be an accurate statement that money and sabermetrics can get you to the playoffs, but it takes a little more to advance deep into the postseason on a yearly basis.

In athletic parlance, both of these teams have the “it” factor.

If you had to guess who has won the most playoff games in the MLB over the past five seasons, the answer will surprise most people. It’s not the Yankees, Dodgers, Tigers, Angels, or Red Sox, as one might guess. It is the Cardinals leading the pack with 30, followed closely by the Giants with 27.

There are many factors that go into creating the perfect playoff team, but I will try to address as many as possible in this article.

First is the bullpen. To continue playing deep into October, a dominant bullpen is necessary. You need a lights out closer that can be trusted to keep a one-run lead safe in the final inning as well as a few shutdown relievers who can bridge the gap between the starting pitcher and the closer.

Both the Giants and Cardinals hang their hat on pitching, their rotation and their bullpen. The Cardinals feature a very young bullpen, with Trevor Rosenthal, Seth Maness, and Carlos Martinez all logging significant innings at age 25 or younger.

Pat Neshek may be the most consistent, though. The old man of the bullpen, Neshek came into the postseason with a 7-2 record and a sparkling 1.87 ERA. The Cardinals aren’t afraid to use him, either, as he was called on to pitch in each of the Cards’ four NLDS games against the Dodgers.

The Giants’ nucleus of Sergio Romo, Santiago Casilla, Jeremy Affeldt and Jean Machi has been very effective as well. Romo struggled in the closer’s role at the beginning of the season, but once the Giants switched to a closer-by-committee late August, Romo has thrived pitching in the seventh and eighth innings.

The Dodgers and Tigers showed what can happen when this integral part is nonexistent. Both teams repeatedly threw away leads in the late innings in their Division Series losses.

A trustworthy bullpen is invaluable because it gives the manager more flexibility in his handling of the pitching staff. Especially in the playoffs, where every out is meaningful and hard to get, managers can use as many pitchers as they want because in the playoffs there is no point in saving your pitchers; if you lose the series, you’re season is over either way.

Also, it makes it easier for the starting pitchers to pitch their game. In the regular season, starters don’t like to show all their stuff the first time through the lineup because they are concerned with pitching deep into the game and saving the bullpen for the treacherous 162-game season.

But with a solid bullpen, starters can throw their whole arsenal at the opponent from the get-go. Because if the starter can get through five or six innings without giving up many runs, the manager can play matchups the rest of the way to the finish line.

This leads into the next piece of a successful postseason team, the manager. The manager must be a calm presence in the dugout because weird things are going to happen. The ones that over-manage are the ones that get into trouble.

The Giants’ Bruce Bochy and Cardinals’ Mike Matheny are two of the best in the business when it comes to stoicism and handling a bullpen. Matheny is known for making double switches late in games to help with team defense, and he is also not afraid to bring in multiple pitchers in one inning if he feels it gives his team the best chance to win.

Bochy has such a phenomenal reputation as a manager that a Grantland columnist recently wrote an article saying Bochy deserves to be considered as one of the best in major league history.

Matheny has led his team to at least the NLCS in all three of his seasons at the helm of the Cardinals, while Bochy won two World Series recently where he had the less-talented roster.

In 2010, the Giants beat a Rangers team loaded with Josh Hamilton, Vladimir Guerrero, Nelson Cruz and Ian Kinsler. Then two years later, Bochy’s squad needed only four games to dispose of the Miguel Cabrera and Price Fielder-led Tigers in the 2012 World Series.

The fact of the matter is that good pitching gets the better of good hitting most times in October. Hits and runs are always at a premium in the postseason, which is why a prolific offense does not always result in wins.

It’s all about timely hitting in the playoffs. The Dodgers-Cardinals series is a perfect example. The Dodgers raked all season with their star-studded lineup while the Cardinals struggled to score runs for a large portion of the season. But in the NLDS, facing outstanding pitchers who were throwing their best pitches all the time, it was the Cards’ peskiness that reigned supreme.

Clayton Kershaw had only allowed one home run all season to a left handed batter, yet Matt Carpenter and Matt Adams, both lefties, connected on pivotal round trippers off of the likely Cy Young award winner and one of the most dominant pitchers in this generation.

Solid defense is vital as well. Not so much making the spectacular play, but the routine play. According to Baseball Prospectus, the Giants were the fifth-ranked team in the MLB in defensive efficiency, and the Cardinals were seventh.

So if a solid pitching staff, a manager who knows how to get the most out of his players, timely hitting, and consistent defense are the keys to a deep playoff run, the Cardinals and Giants are the teams that theoretically should blossom in the October environment.

When they match up in the NLCS starting on Saturday, it will be a matchup pitting two teams with eerily similar philosophies. Both pride themselves on pitching and defense, and both teams adhere to the theory that you cannot have too much pitching.

The Cardinals added John Lackey at the July 31 trade deadline, while the Giants traded for Jake Peavy. Both veteran pitchers have been stellar additions, and will be a big part of their team’s success.

Anything can happen in a best-of-seven series, but whatever happens, both of these teams have achieved more than was expected of them already.

The last time these two teams met in the NLCS, the Giants edged out the Cards in 2012. The series went seven games, and the Giants ended up winning the World Series.

Let those other teams keep spending boatloads of money, the Cards and Giants know what it really takes to win. Money doesn’t buy wins, players do. And it takes a close-knit team, one that does the little things correctly, one that just has “it.”

Don't Expect Dropoff for A's in 2015

Josh Donaldson is one of the reasons Oakland will once again be a contender in 2015.
Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Only two short months ago, the Oakland A’s were enjoying themselves at the top of the American League standings. They had the best record in the league and had just acquired Jon Lester to add yet another ace to their already loaded pitching staff.

Unfortunately, they weren’t the same after that trade. I’m not saying it was that one trade that single-handedly messed up their season, but that was when the funk set in. Starting on August 1st, when they traded for Lester, the Athletics struggled mightily. They went a pedestrian 22-34 the rest of the way, including a heartbreaking loss in the American League Wild Card game to the Royals.

Their final loss was a microcosm of the entire season. The A’s had a comfortable lead going into the final innings, but they faltered down the stretch, and now their season is over.

Last year, the A’s lost in the ALDS, but that was recoverable because they were a young team that wasn't really supposed to win. This time is a bit different, though. This time, Billy Beane put all his eggs in one basket. He traded away most of his future for Jeff Samardzjia as well as one-year rentals Jason Hammel and Lester. Now that they lost, it is going to be an uphill climb to field a competitive team for the foreseeable future.

The Oakland A’s just endured one of the most demoralizing collapses in MLB history, but there is no need to panic. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported that executives around the league are suggesting the possibility that the A’s could trade Samardzjia and/or third baseman Josh Donaldson before next season.

While both those guys are All-Star caliber players and would undoubtedly bring Oakland huge returns, I don’t think that they should do that. There is no reason for the A’s front office to make such a drastic change in plans following the collapse.

Billy Beane opted to go for it all this year, so expect much of the same in 2015.

Even without Lester, Oakland still has a very talented starting rotation as well as a deep bullpen loaded with quality arms. Samardzjia, Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir have the making of a very formidable staff, and Dan Otero, Eric O’Flaherty, Ryan Cook, and Sean Doolittle form a lethal core of relievers.

Jason Hammel is a free agent now, and if Oakland chooses not to re-sign him, Jesse Chavez and Drew Pomeranz are young, dynamic pitchers who can vie for the fourth and fifth starting roles.

However, pitching is not what let them down the last two months of the season. It was their hitting. The offense struggled to score runs after they traded away Yoenis Cespedes, and that was the main cause of their second-half troubles.

But trading Josh Donaldson for prospects is not the answer. He is one of the best third basemen in the MLB, offensively and defensively, and the Athletics should do everything in their power to lock him up long term.

Oakland still has some pieces on offense that can be very productive. Assuming they don’t trade Donaldson, they will have a powerful middle of the order with Donaldson, first baseman Brandon Moss, and right fielder Josh Reddick.

Coco Crisp is very consistent at the top of the order and also plays a terrific center field. Sam Fuld is very versatile on defense and can be a very good second hitter because of his outstanding speed, bunting ability, and high contact rate (link to FanGraphs). Derek Norris also had a solid season behind the plate and should be even better next year.

Jed Lowrie is the only starter who is a free agent, but he shouldn’t be that hard to replace assuming the A’s don’t re-sign him. He hit below .250 in 2014 and once again proved that he is injury prone, missing the end of August on the Disabled List.

Stephen Voigt and Nate Frieman are good hitters as well and can thrive in pinch-hitting situations as well as spot starts in the outfield and first base.

With a team as talented as the A’s, there is no reason to rebuild for the future, especially when Beane has built his reputation on winning more with less.

The A’s might do the exact opposite of what those executives predicted to Rosenthal. They might even go out on the free agent market and sign a player or two. They could go for a proven veteran like Jake Peavy to give the rotation more depth, or they could choose to address the offense.

Emilio Bonifacio, who finished 2014 with the Braves, would be a nice fit in Oakland. He is possibly the most versatile utility player in the league with the ability to play second base, shortstop, third base as well as all three outfield spots. He would also add more speed to a team that didn’t steal many bases this year.

And don’t forget about the two guys who make the whole process go. Billy Beane and Bob Melvin form arguably the best GM-manager combo in the MLB, and A’s fans should have confidence that they will put a winning team on the field.

There is no reason to panic in Oakland. They are just fine, and I expect them to be a playoff contender once again in 2015.

Experiment Failed: Time For Brady Hoke To Go

As the losses pile up for Michigan, it's time to fire Brady Hoke.
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

In his postgame press conference after Michigan’s most recent loss to Minnesota, head coach Brady Hoke remained positive, saying that he still believes his team can still win “the championship.” I’m guessing he was referring to the Big 10 Championship and not the National Championship, but even that is a stretch.

The fact that Hoke could say that after losing to Minnesota, who is not exactly a powerhouse, is perfect evidence of Hoke’s tumultuous tenure and that maybe he is in a bit over his head.

When Hoke was hired at Michgan, it was because he was supposedly the right man for the job. He repeatedly called Michigan his “dream job,” and his hiring brought positive reviews from many people around the football world.

ESPN college football columnist Mark Schlabach was particularly fond of Michigan’s decision. “After what the Wolverines endured the past three seasons, Hoke is exactly what they need,” Schlabach wrote in an article shortly after the hiring was announced.

Hoke was supposed to change the culture in Ann Arbor after Rich Rodriguez’s highly regarded up tempo offense had failed. Hoke was a calm, avuncular presence on the sideline, and he brought a more traditional pro-style offense to a Michigan program that had struggled mightily since Lloyd Carr’s retirement in 2007.

At the time, nobody really knew a whole lot about Hoke. He made his mark on the coaching industry in his tenures at Ball State and San Diego State, where he successfully resurrected programs that were long dormant.

However, Hoke was Michigan’s third choice to replace Rodriguez. Jim Harbaugh and Les Miles, both Michigan graduates, could not be cajoled away from their posts. Either way, Hoke seemed to be a good fit for the Wolverines.

He had spent plenty of time climbing up the coaching ladder, making several stops at lower-level schools and also served as Michigan’s defensive line coach for eight seasons. He was a no-nonsense leader who had plenty of experience under his belt in Ann Arbor.

More than three and a half years later, Michigan is in a worse condition than what Hoke inherited. Every year, his Michigan team has gotten worse. Sure, he guided the Wolverines to a Sugar Bowl win over Virginia Tech in his first year, which was the school’s first BCS victory since 2000. Michigan also defeated arch-rival Ohio State that year, as well as Notre Dame, en route to their first ten-win season since 2006.

Unfortunately for Hoke, he was coaching a roster assembled by Rodriguez, and Ohio State and Notre Dame both had rough seasons.

Since that inaugural 2011 season, things have gotten progressively worse for Hoke and Co. The team’s win total has decreased in every year of his tenure, prompting a lot of speculation that his seat is hot despite athletic director Dave Brandon calling the rumors “nonsense.”

But that was before Hoke’s most recent shenanigans. In last week’s game against Minnesota, his handling of injuries came into question after his controversial decision regarding quarterback Shane Morris.

Morris, playing in place of an injured Devin Gardner, showed definite concussion symptoms after taking a big hit from a Minnesota defender.

Despite the obvious signs that he had sustained a concussion, Morris stayed in the game. Whether or not it was Hoke’s fault is irrelevant. The fact that it happened taints the Hoke era, his fault or otherwise.

In today’s football, where head injuries are scrutinized more than ever, that kind of decision is inexcusable and downright stupid.

How a coach can send a quarterback onto the field who is struggling to walk without assistance is beyond me, and it gives the university a black eye. What are potential recruits going to think when they see what transpired? Are the parents of those high school athletes going to feel safe sending their kids to Michigan?

It’s these types of questions that put even more uncertainty in Hoke’s future. According to ESPN, several Michigan recruits are beginning to waver. If more of Hoke’s prized recruits decide to go elsewhere, the Wolverines are going to be even worse than they already are.

Meanwhile, Rich Rodriguez is building a contender on the west coast. His Arizona squad defeated Oregon for the second consecutive year on Thursday night, and his up tempo offense is humming with impeccable efficiency. He was given four years at Michigan, and after he had his best season in what proved to be his final season at U-M, he was canned.

Hoke, on the other hand, is potentially going to have his worst season in his fourth on campus. There is no way around it; Brady Hoke must be fired after this year comes to an end.

His judgment has been poor recently, and not just with Morris. In losing a 31-0 debacle to Notre Dame earlier in the season, the first time that they had been shut out in the ND-Michigan series, Hoke elected to keep quarterback Devin Gardner and star wideout Devin Funchess on the field for the whole game.

As it turned out, both of those players suffered injuries in the final minutes, and haven’t been the same since. Funchess was forced to miss the Wolverines’ next game against Miami-Ohio, and Gardner has battled minor injuries as well.

Also, the fan base is turning on Hoke. Approximately 1,000 Michigan fans and students assembled themselves outside of school president Mark Schlissel’s home, demanding the firing of both Brandon and Hoke. The fans’ agreement with what happens is not exactly imperative to success, but it can have some affect.

At the end of the day, Michigan is no longer a perennial power. Their series with Notre Dame, which dates back 1887, came to an abrupt end at the beginning of the season. There are two reasons that this could have happened, and both are a testament to Michigan’s recent futility.

Either Michigan elected to end the series because they were tired of losing to a superior Irish squad on a yearly basis, or Notre Dame wanted to fill their schedule with teams with a little more national appeal.

Notre Dame has recently announced series with Georgia, Ohio State, and Texas A&M. Michigan used to be in the same category as those teams, but they are not anymore.

Michigan desperately needs to get back to the prestigious football program that they used to be. Brady Hoke is not the answer. There are plenty of other coaches who can bring more exposure to the university as well as more wins.

Jim Harbaugh, a former Michigan quarterback, has to be the front runner. He is a proven commodity at the college and professional level, and he may be out on the market soon. According to reports, he may be losing the 49ers locker room. Harbaugh led the 49ers to three consecutive NFL title games in three years in San Francisco, and his incredible success at Stanford is undeniable.

He turned around a Stanford program that was not competitive for many years, leading the Cardinal to an Orange Bowl victory in his last college season.

This Michigan program is not even close to as bad as Stanford was when Harbaugh took over there, so it wouldn’t take long for Harbaugh to return Michigan to greatness.

Les Miles is once again speculated to be a possible candidate, as well as Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen.

Heck, if Rich Rodriguez were to take over the Wolverines at this juncture, he would likely have more success than Hoke is currently having.

With Michigan State and Ohio State continuing to churn out contending teams seemingly every year, the Wolverines are in jeopardy of losing respect in their area of the country.

Michigan can only live on its past successes for so long, meaning a change must be made. That change should be Hoke. He has been given plenty of time to bring the Wolverines to prominence, and he has done the exact opposite. He has driven them into the ground.

Hoke’s postgame comments downgrading the team’s dilemma are comical. This current Michigan squad has some talent, but Hoke has not been able to maximize that potential over the course of his tenure.

It is time to change directions, meaning Hoke must go.