I’m back

Hey everyone, I’m back for now. I started that other blog but my life is too busy for 2 blogs as well as school and family. I decided to delete that because I have loyal followers here and they don’t deserve to be abandoned.

I haven’t been making any entries because I needed a break from everything for awhile. I needed to do some thinking and I needed to figure some things out and now that I have gotten that done I can give you more entries.

~Ben

Braves preview

Check out my preview of the Braves for the upcoming season. The Phillies and Mets are the favorites but look out. Atlanta won’t go down easy.

http://downonstrikes.blogspot.com/

New Blog

Hi everyone. I just thought I would let you know that I started a new blog called “Down on Strikes” on Blogspot. I will continue to post on here but obviously it won’t be as often. I would still like my loyal readers to check out my new one. I will still be around reading your blogs and commenting when I can.

Here is the link to my new blog.

http://downonstrikes.blogspot.com/

I hope to see comments from everyone and I hope you all like it.

Sorry I keep changing the name of the new one but I settled on “Down on Strikes.”

By the way, if you linked Hardball in your top blogs I would be very appreciative if you changed it to down on strikes or made a new link. Thanks again everyone.

~Ben

Young guns ready for spring training

Jason HeywardAtlanta has invited a handful of top prospects to spring training to let them show their stuff. The first prospect is Jason Heyward. Heyward is a 6’5” hitting machine. He is Atlanta’s top prospect and is ranked #3 in all of minor league baseball.

In 120 games at A Rome last year he hit .323 with 11 home runs and 52 RBI. His statistics don’t show but he is rumored to have tremendous power. He is having great success while only being 19 years old. Heyward will most likely start the season at AA Mississippi but it should be fun to watch him hit against major league pitching.

He may not make the major league roster but the experience of spring training will do him good. Hopefully he will show a little more power at AA.

Atlanta’s 2nd ranked prospect is Tommy Hanson. Hanson is the only pitcher to be named MVP of the Arizona Fall League. Hanson toyed with fellow top prospects during the AFL and could be fighting for the 5th spot in the starting rotation. Hanson has only pitched at AA but has shown such dominance that he could be major league ready. Hanson is a huge 6’6” power pitcher that struck out 114 batters in only 98 innings at AA Mississippi. His fastball can reach the upper 90′s and he has a knee buckling curve ball. He needs to bring those with him if he will make the major league roster.

Freddie FreemanFreddie Freeman is 4th on Atlanta’s prospect list and is 38th overall. Freeman is a tall first baseman that had an even better year than Heyward. In 130 games last year at A Rome, Freeman hit .316 with 18 home runs and 95 RBI. Freeman has also shown he can find the gaps as he crushed 33 doubles and 7 triples in his first full season.

Freeman and Heyward could be a home run mashing duo in the middle of Atlanta’s lineup in a few years. Both will start the season at AA Mississippi and could move up the ranks of the minors league together. Both should be about ready for Atlanta in 2010.

Jordan Schafer, Atlanta’s #3 ranked prospect, has been criticized for his suspension for suspicion of performance enhancing drugs. Here is an interesting article that compares the 2007 or “steroid” season with last year’s season. The statistics show he arguably got better after he “got off the roids.” Schafer will be competing for the starting center fielder job as soon as spring training starts. Schafer is just as good if not better defensively than Gregor Blanco and Josh Anderson, but he provides power that both Blanco and Anderson lack. If Schafer wins the job he would most likely be placed at the top of the lineup followed by Yunel Escobar in the #2 spot.  

Kris MedlenKris Medlen has also been invited to spring training. Medlen is a hard throwing right-handed pitcher that has been used as a starter and as a reliever. He struggled as a reliever but showed progress when placed in the starting rotation.

Despite the success in the starting rotation Medlen may have to move back to a middle reliever as Atlanta is stocked with top starting pitchers. He did well in the Arizona Fall League which is traditionally known as a hitter’s league, but it doesn’t look like he will make the team as Atlatna already has a strong bullpen.

~Ben

On to victory

As most of you know the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Arizona Cardinals 27-23 in Super Bowl XLIII. Arizona took the lead with 2:37 left but Ben Roethlisberger was able to orchestrate a 2 minute game winning drive that ended with a Santonio Holmes TD catch in the corner of the end zone. Holmes would later be named Super Bowl MVP, but did he deserve it?

Don’ get me wrong, Holmes had an amazing game and without him Pittsburgh probably would have lost. But you have to give Roethlisberger his credit. Roethlisberger was able to escape trouble all night long and found a way to make some great plays. He did a great job of extending the play and moving the chains. Roethlisberger only threw for one touchdown but he also threw one interception. That interception was not a bad pass it was tipped straight up into the air at the line of scrimmage. The blocked pass doesn’t get Roethlisberger off the hook but he doesn’t deserve the entire blame either.

Ben RoethlisbergerRoethlisberger led his team on a game winning drive that would seal the game for Pittsburgh. I’m happy for Holmes but I think Roethlisberger deserved the MVP. His passes aren’t always pretty but he gets the job done. Roethlisberger may not have gotten the trophy but he was the MVP of the Super Bowl.

Last night’s Super Bowl win gives the Steelers their sixth Super Bowl. That Super Bowl gives the Steelers the most Super Bowl wins in NFL history. With all the recent success are the Steelers the greatest football franchise of all time? I think it does. In the end last nights Super Bowl was an amazing game. I’m just happy the Steelers won. Football season may be over but the draft is just around the corner.

~Ben

Going hunting…bird hunting

Super BowlIt is the eve of the Super Bowl and the clock is winding down before kickoff. The player’s nerves are running wild and emotions are running on high.

On one side you have the ridiculously good Steeler’s defense against Arizona’s high powered air attack. Match ups could be the key to the game. Who will win? Who will be the MVP? Here are the keys to the game.

Play calling and match ups will be the key to winning the game on both sides of the ball. I’ll break them down for you.

Larry FitzgeraldThe first key match up on defense for the Steelers is Ike Taylor vs. Larry Fitzgerald. Taylor must contain Fitzgerald for the Steelers to win. If Taylor can keep Fitzgerald in front of him then he can be contained. Fitzgerald hurts defenses by going over the top. There is no doubt in my mind that Taylor will have help over the top by Ryan Clark, but Clark is also crucial in run support. If Taylor holds Fitzgerald under 100 yards or out of the end zone the Steelers have a good chance of winning.

The second key match up is Kurt Warner vs. James Farrior. James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley get the press but Farrior is still the best linebacker on that team. If Farrior comes out of the game the captain of the defense is gone. All the plays go in through Farrior. Farrior spends a lot of time spying the QB so Warner needs to watch him. Farrior needs to spy and cut off Warner’s short throwing lanes.

Now the match ups for Arizona’s defense. Antrel Rolle vs. Hines Ward. Rolle must prevent the short passes and yards after the catch from Ward. Ward may not be at full health but must be respected. Pittsburgh has proven they have other options outside of Ward but he is still the primary target on third down. Third downs will be very key in this game.

Next is Ben Roethlisberger vs. Adrian Wilson. Wilson is Arizona’s version of Pittsburgh’s Troy Polamalu. Wilson can be a free runner at times and sack the QB. Roethlisberger needs to recognize where Wilson is in the defensive set to make the correct audible. The same can be said about Warner recognizing Polamalu. Wilson can also make plays in the defense and become a big hitter over the top. Arizona doesn’t have the big names Pittsburgh does on defense but still has very good play makers.

James FarriorOverall keys to the game for the Cardinals is forcing Roethlisberger to make turnovers. Arizona needs to bring pressure and force Roethlisberger to make quick decisions. He is very good out of the pocket but isn’t the fastest guy, he can be caught. Arizona needs to sack the QB and force turnovers. Pittsburgh’s D cannot let Fitzgerald beat them. They will surely double cover him most plays forcing Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston to step up. Pittsburgh also needs to force turnovers. Warner has been prone to turnovers in his career and Pittsburgh needs to make it happen. Pressuring Warner will make him act quickly and throw bad passes.  The team with the fewest turnovers will probably win.

Ken Whisenhunt needs to plan again Dick LeBeau’s zone blitzes. Pittsburgh loves to confuse the offense. Kurt Warner needs to switch up long snap counts will quick ones to make Pittsburgh show their sets and running lanes. Arizona’s offensive line also needs to use zone blocking instead of man to man blocking. Trying to block the Steelers in man blocking is like trying to get Scott Boras to give a home town discount, it ain’t a happening.

In the end I think Pittsburgh’s defense will be able to hold Arizona under 24 points. Unfortunately Pittsburgh has played a death row of teams and could put the game away quickly on offense. Pittsburgh scored 35 points on a solid Charger’s defense, they can score on Arizona’s. This game could also come down to whoever has the ball last. In a close game both Roethlisberger and Warner are extremely clutch. The game will either be very tight or put away early.

Steelers 27 Arizona 17

Roethlisberger named MVP

~Ben 

Billy Powell found dead

Billy PowellBilly Powell was found dead early Wednesday morning in his Orange Park, FL home. Taking into account Powell’s past heart problems doctors believe he died of a heart attack. Powell was not an athlete but he was the pianist of one of the greatest rock bands to ever walk this earth, Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Powell joined the band after they heard him play their hit “Free Bird” on the piano. Powell would join the band and go on to be one of the survivors of the 1977 plane crash that took the lives of fellow band members Ronnie Van Zant and Steve Gaines.

Original members Allen Collins and Ronnie Van Zant wrote “Free Bird” but many referred to it as Powell’s song. Powell’s keyboards are only overshadowed in the song by Zant’s vocals and the incredible three guitar solo the song ends on. Powell is also known to take his own solo mid way through the song. Lynyrd Skynyrd would go one to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006.

He will be missed.

Billy Powell (June 3, 1952-January 28, 2009)

~Ben

Decision time in Atlanta

Nick SwisherThe Braves have recently made a flurry of moves to make their team a contender. Now they are at a crossroad and need to make a decision. Atlanta has about $6MM-$7MM left to spend this off season. Atlanta has been rumored to be in a potential trade for Yankee outfielder Nick Swisher. Swisher will make $5.3MM this year which would leave almost nothing left in the bank for Atlanta. That would be fine if Atlanta wasn’t also trying to sign fan favorite Tom Glavine. If you crunch the numbers you will quickly realize it would appear Atlanta can only afford one. But which one?

Nick Swisher would almost certainly bring much needed power to what is a light hitting outfield. Jeff Francoeur was the only outfielder last year who had any glimpses of power but managed to only hit 11 home runs on the year. Swisher hit 24 last year in fewer games than Francoeur. Both had very low batting averages but many are attributing that to the occasional “down year” that the normal human being is known to have. Swisher is also a switch hitter and would be able to be placed in the cleanup spot in the lineup in between Chipper Jones and Brian McCann.

If Swisher produces the same power numbers and boosts his average his salary would be considered a major bargain. Unfortunately in this situation it may not be a big enough bargain. Swisher has a reasonable salary and is also under contract for 3 years. He can also play all outfield positions as well as first base. In any case I believe Swisher to be well worth the money. But what about Tom Glavine?

Tom GlavineGlavine is coming back from surgery and appears to be doing well in his rehab. Glavine doesn’t expect to be blown out of the water but does expect to be offered something fair. He deserves nothing less. Glavine is no where near what he used to be but does not deserve to be tossed aside like John Smoltz was earlier this year.

Tom GlavineAtlanta needs to bring Glavine back for themselves, for Glavine, and for the fans. I think if Glavine is not re-signed there could be an ugly backlash from Atlanta faithful. They already saw one fan favorite leave for another team and I don’t think they are in the mood to watch it again. Everyone knows that if the fans are against you then it is hard to win. Every game turns into a road game and that is going to lead to a very long season for a team trying to return to greatness.

Not only is Glavine a fan favorite but he is left-handed. Glavine would fit nicely in the 3rd spot in the rotation with four right-handed pitchers. An all right-handed rotation doesn’t exactly scream variety. Glavine has value just because of the fact he is left-handed. Either way, Atlanta needs to bring him back. Even if Glavine doesn’t produce the way he is expected to he would be a great mind to have in the clubhouse.

Personally if I had to make one move I would take Glavine. I think Swisher could be a great help on the field but Glavine will produce on the field, in the clubhouse, and is loved by the fans. Having both is great but if I had to pick one it would be Tom Glavine.

~Ben

Filling the void

Nick SwisherWith all the acquisitions made this off season the Braves still have two voids to fill in the outfield. Jeff Francoeur seems to be entrenched in right field for at least the 2009 season which leaves two spots open. Atlanta has shown interest in both Nick Swisher and Xavier Nady, though Swisher appears to be the favorite.

Nady is the superior player both offensive and defensively but Swisher would come at a bigger discount. Nady also happens to be a Scott Boras client and will hit free agency after the 2009 season. Jason Heyward could be Nady’s replacement in the likely hood that he departs, but there is no guarantee that he will be ready in time.

Heyward is already a tremendous talent but Atlanta does not in anyway want to rush him. He has been invited to this year’s spring training but is not expected to make the roster.

Atlanta’s beat writer Mark Bowman has said that the Orlando Hudson idea died about a month ago. Atlanta let the idea go over defensive worries. I don’t really buy that idea as before last year he won consecutive Gold Glove awards. Hudson was also injured for part of last year so that may have effected his range factor, which has provided concerns for Atlanta. The signing of Hudson could have made Kelly Johnson expendable and led to a possible trade for Ryan Ludwick.

Gregor BlancoI would like a trade for Swisher if Atlanta didn’t need to include too much value. It would take less to land Swisher than Nady, but Swisher is also under contract for $22.5MM over the next 3 seasons. Swisher had a down year last year but did hit 24 home runs. Swisher is also a switch hitter which gives him a lot of value to the Braves.

If Atlanta can’t land Swisher it looks like Matt Diaz, Brandon Jones and Gregor Blanco could be battling for the spot in left field. Center field is also up for grabs with Blanco, Josh Anderson and Jordan Schafer all fighting for the spot.

When this is all said and done I think Atlanta can land Swisher and that Jordan Schafer will win the starting spot in center field. Schafer is just as good defensively as Anderson and Blanco but can provide more offense. Atlanta was in desperate need of offensive production from the outfield last year and Schafer is the most likely to provide it out of the three.

Till next time,

~Ben

Four reasons Jeff Kent is a first ballot Hall of Famer

Jeff Kent1. Jeff Kent has 377 career home runs which is the best all-time among second baseman. That is 74 more home runs than Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, 76 more than Rogers Hornsby, and 240 more than Jackie Robinson. Kent brought a sense of power that has been almost absent from the position.Most teams would be happy with 10-15 home runs from their second baseman, Kent averaged 22 per season. He is one of only three second baseman to hit 30 home runs in a season and the only one to hit 20 home runs in nine straight seasons.

2. 560 doubles is good for 21st all-time among all hitters. That is more doubles than Tony Gwynn, Lou Gehrig, Frank Robinson, Ted Williams, Willie Mays and Rickey Henderson. Each one of those players is considered a tremendous hitter and has already been forever enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

3. 1,518 ranks 47th all-time among all hitters. As mentioned before, second base is thought of as a speed and defensive position. Jeff Kent redefined the position by driving in 100 RBI in 8 seasons. His run production reached it’s peak in 2000 when he drove in 125 runs on his way to winning the NL MVP.

Jeff Kent4. Hardware, Kent is the proud owner of one NL MVP, four Silver Slugger Awards, and five All-Star selections including being named the starting second baseman in 2005. Kent was awarded a World Series ring with the Blue Jays in 1992 despite being trade to the Mets mid season.

Jeff Kent is in no way one of the greatest to ever play the game, but he redefined the position he played. Before him second baseman were small and quick with a little pop (Dustin Pedroia, Orlando Hudson, Freddy Sanchez) but now second baseman can be known to hit with the best of them (Chase Utley, Dan Uggla, Brandon Phillips).

He may not be considered the best guy in the clubhouse or the best teammate, but Jeff Kent was a hell of a baseball player. Jeff Kent deserves to be in the Hall of Fame on the first ballot no questions asked. When that time comes I’m confident he will hear his name called.

~Ben

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.